Tag Archive: beer

drinktuition screenshot

I have finally gotten my act together and made a semi-proper website for my business. Just nuts & bolts, really, but I like the simplicity, color-scheme, and the images. Hopefully, clients will find something of use here. Eventually, I’d like to integrate this blog, vlog with live tastings and educational bits, and connect a password-protected area for clients with access to marketing and POS materials, etc..

Anyway, it’s another baby-step in fool…er, believing in my vision for my business, my happiness, and my future.


This is a reaction to this article originally reported by the Akron Beacon Journal and expounded upon best (so far) by Food & Wine here.

The premise of the suit is that WalMart willfully deceived customers into believing that their private-label beer brand, Trouble Brewing (get it?!?), actually brewed by Genesee is a true “craft beer” brand justifying a higher price point than non-craft beers. The shock here is not that WalMart took this circuitous route around forthrightness but, rather, that it wasn’t presumed to be the case from everyone from the start. I believe that there is a huge measure of caveat emptor in play here.

Keep in mind, that private label beer, wine, and spirits have been made for Costco, 7-11, Total Wine, Walgreen’s, Trader Joe’s, and many huge or widespread domestic retailers selling any alcohol throughout the US. This is nothing new. There is a measure of subverting the truth with nearly all of them, generally lies of omission. Where is the line drawn for true deception, though?

If I were a craft beer drinker in Boise Idaho shopping the beer aisle at the Overland Road WalMart Supercenter the first thing that would come to my mind when seeing Trouble Brewing (made in 2,285 miles away in Rochester, NY) is economy of scale—that in order to feed WalMart’s massive empire, this beer can not likely be a true “craft beer” made in a small brewery run by a couple of bushy-bearded beer-lovers chasing a dream. I have accepted these products in in practice and, to some degree, in theory because the waters have been muddy for a long time now. “Craft beer styles” (read: non-American adjunct lagers) are produced by several large, otherwise uninteresting breweries—from SABMiller to Sam Adams—to under the guise of being truly “craft”. It is largely a semantic argument at that scale. These Trouble Brewing beers are, at this stage in the game, virtually no different from the relatively high-production stuff that their sister brands, Pyramid and Magic Hat, foist upon the public from neither a quality nor truth in marketing perspective. These beers are simply a product of economy of scale to feed the vast WalMart supply chain and, I am sure, everything about them speaks to that, from the sophomoric packaging and marketing to the reportedly uninspired flavor profiles.

Make no mistake, this suit was not brought forth by innocent consumers who were shocked into action when they discovered they were duped. Craft beer drinkers are largely one of the most discerning, self-informed, and vigilant consumer segments in the world and this suit was brought forth by a craft beer consumer bent on enforcing transparency. As anyone who has ever read this blog will attest, I am absolutely for fighting for transparency in marketing, but I don’t genuinely believe that the wool was really being pulled over anyone’s eyes in this instance.

The core consumer that may toss these beers into their cart along with small appliances, housewares, toys, diapers, cookies, and cleaning supplies is probably not largely the core craft consumer up-in-arms over this. Most consumers outside the craft beer enthusiast market likely don’t care if it’s really a “craft beer”, only that it provides a favorable experience for the price. The argument in the suit that Walmart inflated the prices for the beers to put them in line with other craft beers as a deceptive practice is spurious. Honestly, many large-scale “genuine” craft beers have inflated pricing. All that matters is what the market will bear. If consumers feel they are getting good QPR from this stuff, what does it matter how much profit WalMart makes on it? Profit margin is their business.

To the larger part of the claim—the deception of craft provenance —WalMart may be trying to emulate craft beer, but nowhere on the packaging do they directly claim “craft” or its similars in any way.  The brewery is listed as Trouble Brewing with the same Rochester, NY address as many of Genesee’s other contract brewed products. This is all pretty easy to discern if you are a consumer who cares about that stuff. And that brings me back to my point that the vast majority of people inclined to even consider buying this stuff do not care about provenance as long as they don’t find out that it was made by poor children with a heavy metal-laden water source next to an electronic parts reclamation farm.

The clues of provenance, and scale, and, ultimately, honesty are all there in front of us with these beers and many other products that we just don’t care enough to be cognizant of and reactive to. No one can deceive you unless you are open and available to the deceit.

None of this is to suggest that I have grown less vigilant in my own pursuit of transparency in marketing. I strongly believe that there is a pervasive problem in marketing within an industry where the only regulations of import have to do with taxes and very little of substance to do with consumer protection. But this is another instance where we do not seem to take enough personal responsibility for our consuming habits. It is incumbent upon us to engage ourselves a bit more in our buying habits if we care about this stuff. Once we have made that commitment, the mere subterfuge becomes white noise and we can zero-in on the genuine deceit. Otherwise, all of the after-the-fact griping and class-action suits hold no water when real hard-core deception that actually hurts people comes along.

Black Falcon (Falco subniger)

One resolute bird.

Earlier this week, the Atlanta Falcons made a curious and rare decision to listen and respond to its fan-base (press release). Upon the opening of its new stadium, the NFL franchise will charge far more fair and reasonable prices for its concessions.

Long irksome for sports fans, the cost of concessions has reached a point wherein it can cost more for a beer than a seat on a given night. Increasingly, only those named Walton, Hearst, and DuPont are able to enjoy a family outing to the ballpark complete with sustenance through the often four-hour events. To be fair, concessions are luxuries—not truly necessary to the enjoyment of the game—but they are, and should be, part of the experience (and can be the key to maintaining a positive experience/sanity for those with children). But, at what point is it reasonable for a team or venue to dictate the terms of bankruptcy for a family to enjoy the ostentatious luxury of some dogs and sodas?

Atlanta Falcons CEO, Rich McKay, no longer believes those terms are reasonable at all. Why? Because research consistently showed that concession prices, quality, and wait times ranked as the worst of all fan experiences. This is across all leagues, teams, and venues.  The Falcons, who just completed a new stadium, had the opportunity to right that wrong and lead the charge on new paradigm.

What does any of this have to do with the wine/beer/spirits industry? Well…in short, everything. Recognizing and reacting to broken practices is key to any business’s health, particularly when relating directly to customers. The lessons from the Falcon’s decision are powerful. What McKay and his team realized is that doing things the old way just because that is “how it has always been done” is not a sufficient excuse for poor customer relations. Sure, there’s lots of money to be made on jacked-up soft pretzel prices, but is it worth the cost of a positive overall fan experience?

Alcohol beverage retailer—are you buying a 10-case QD deal on National Brand × Red Blend and still selling it at full markup? That’s fine, but you must give your customers enough credit that they likely know what the competitive price should be. Trust me, your customers may be loyal as a matter of convenience but they shop around.

The Falcons identified this need to treat their customers as knowledgeable consumers and not simply as cash machines. They realized that there was a long-term cost associated with overcharging their customers in the concession lines and that is that they would likely eat and drink at tailgates before the game and hold off on the second beer or soft pretzel inside the stadium opting instead to save the money and get a proper meal after the game. In the short-term, under the old model, they may make better margin but they will have significantly lower volume.

The difference for you is that you do not have the captive audience that a sports franchise has. If a ticket-holder wants a drink or food during the game, they have to pay the whatever the concessionaire charges. If a customer walks into your store and doesn’t like the prices they see on the products they like to buy, they can walk out and go somewhere else. The Falcons still made the decision to cut their concession prices even though they have a captive audience because the trade-off of lower volume over time coupled with constantly disgruntled fans was not worth the extra margin on the short-term. You need to think the same way.

Respect your customers. Listen to them. Find ways to appease them—be willing to cut prices on what should be high-turn products, trial run customer requests at less than standard mark-up to be competitive with the market at-large, etc., and be fair and reasonable in finding alternatives to your customers when it simply doesn’t make good business sense to do exactly what they want. You are in this business for the long-haul anyway—the short-term margin losses will be made up over time with greater volume and happy customers.

Remember: there are always ways to make up the difference in margin. You can never make up the difference in lost customers.

ommgot3erSpring is coming.
Winter is a technicality. It hit the mid-6o’s here in Baltimore today and I figured I better get the last of the winter in now. Thus, I cracked open this dark saison from Ommegang. Coincidentally, this particular bottle was packaged on February 22, 2015—a year and six days ago. Ommegang first released these beers to coincide with seasons of the Game of Thrones TV series, but this one comes to me late. To be fair, it was colder this time last year and it is always a bit colder up in Cooperstown where this is brewed, so this would be a pretty good late-winter beer as a matter of style.Now, I know this beer pretty well.

Always a fan of Ommegang, I brought this in on draft for our growler program in the store I worked in when it was first released in the winter of late-2014/early-2015. I remember liking it a lot more then. Perhaps it was simply the newness of it back then. Perhaps it was colder (the beer this time, not the weather) as, today, I am pouring this five-ten degrees warmer than I should be per bottle instructions. Perhaps it was the wonder of draft presentation. Whatever the case, it is solid and inoffensive, if not particularly engaging.

Poured from a cork & cage finished 750mL bottle.
Lots of billowy tan head with a deep walnut color. The nose is decidedly high-toned—almost orange zest—with fresh rye bread and toned-down cinnamon/nutmeg aromas. These character are reflected on the palate along with licorice, pecan, and finishing with slightly astringent dark-roasted coffee. Acid is high (as expected from a saison) but tinged in a acidic coffee kind of way. Perhaps due to its temperature, it is showing a hard metallic edge, too. None of these perceived negatives undo the beer, though. It is just fine and there is nothing particularly off-putting. It is simply solid and that’s about the best I can say about it.

I have noticed my tastes changing toward lighter, crisper styles of late and I am drinking this by itself when it begs for food. But on a cold winter day with a plate of barbecued ribs or a hearty root vegetable stew, this would hit the spot. I just might be more inclined to share this one than others.

Snow Day. All Day!


Watching the snow swirl around the city from my fogged-up windows is mesmerizing. Beer is Yards “Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce”–very appropriate for the weather.
Time well spent.

New Job

Beginning January 2, 2014 I will have a new job at Roots Market in Olney, MD. Managing a beer and wine department with a focus on sustainable/organic/biodynamic and local products, while not an absolute necessity to me, is in line with my personal philosophies (as is likely evident to many of you who have read my prior posts). Ideally, this will provide me with more time and material for this blog which has languished badly over the last year.

With that said, I wish you all joy akin to that which I am experiencing so far this holiday season. Merry whatever you’re into and happy next go-’round!

Schlafly Pumpkin Ale

Holder of a three year hit streak.

I don’t get all giddy about seasonal beer releases like some people. I appreciate some seasonals and make a casual effort to try some products every year (RJ Rockers Son of a Peach, Southern Tier Choklat, Tröegs Nugget Nectar, and The Bruery’s holiday release to name a few), but I don’t get frothy in anticipation of anything. The one seasonal category that has been the most polarizing for many and most inconsistent in my view is Fall pumpkin beers. There is a glut of production—just about every US brewery makes one or, at least one (or thirteen)—and they range from a small number of exceptionally good to mostly uninspired to several downright horrible. When done right, a pumpkin beer can be magical. It’s just that it is so rarely done right.

The primary problem with pumpkin beers is that they typically lack any hint of, you know…pumpkin. Most are flat amber ales with little to no character at all, or spice bombs laden with so much cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove that they’re like licking a spilled Yuengling lager off of a bakery’s spice rack. But where’s the pumpkin? The issue for most brewers is that, like any fruited beer, it requires a ridiculous amount of pumpkin to flavor a beer. This is a huge cost-benefit concern going in and, generally speaking, the pumpkin seems to get cut back before brewing even begins. Note to brewers: if the cost of pumpkin is too prohibitive to effectively impart its flavor into your beer while keeping the shelf price attractive, please don’t make the beer. Make another fall seasonal style that you can control more effectively and try wow us beer geeks with something new, fresh, and, most importantly, well executed.

Another issue is providing enough malt backbone to support the strong flavors of the spice while helping lift the delicate pumpkin flavors. This is critical to me but, apparently, not to many breweries. If you are going to attempt to use sacks of spice in a beer, that beer sure as heck better have enough malt body to at least round out the edges. Too many pumpkin beers are light and over-carbonated which only heightens the bitterness aspect of baking spices. The bitterness from cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and clove is not the same as those from Chinook, Warrior, Saaz, or Simcoe hops. I have tasted so many pumpkin beers that reveal an attempt to use the hard-edged, burnt flavors of these spices as IBU builders. But they just don’t work the same way and taste terrible when used in excess. Balance.

One beer that gets this right is Schlafly’s Pumpkin Ale. While there are flavor and density variations from year-to-year, this is one of the most qualitatively consistent pumpkin beers in production. What is surprising is that this is accomplished with one of the “biggest” pumpkin beers produced (generally, very rich, full-flavored, and not alcohol-shy). I rank this up there with Southern Tier’s Pumpking and Cape Ann’s Fisherman’s Brew Imperial Pumpkin Stout as the most rewarding pumpkin beers every year (of those available in the state of Maryland).

2012 Schalfly Pumpkin Ale
Dark amber in color with a visibly creamy body and minimal head upon pour. The clove and nutmeg are aggressive on the nose to the point of almost scaring me away (but I know better). This is where it gets good: the front-palate is sweet and spicy with caramel, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove building to a crescendo on the mid-palate. Then the sweet malts take over allowing the pumpkin—yes, actual freaking pumpkin—flavors to rise through the very delicately bittered back-palate. The mouthfeel on the whole is a kind of creamy/chewy that is evocative of pumpkin pie filling. The richness along with the 8% alcohol make this a  one-and-done 12 oz. pour, but, it is an extremely pleasurable one worthy of a long session of savoring.



It is not often that I am compelled to write a review of something that I don’t really like. I suppose it is an affect of such things being so easily dismissible as to not warrant comment. This will be an exception.

I must be clear, however, that it’s not that I dislike this so much as to be compelled to write about how it made me wretch—it’s really not terrible. It’s just that it’s not that good, either. I’m just in a mood to write and this is what is in my glass at the moment.

Harpoon Summer Beer
Appearance: rich, golden yellow with an immediately dissipating 1″ head leaving behind a thick, textured lace
Smell: grassy, light citrus flowers, delicately toasty
Taste: sweet, toasty malts and slightly over-the-top bittering hops dominating and, ultimately, undoing the long finish
Mouthfeel: fuller and creamier than expected with just enough fine carbonation to keep it from seeming flat
Drink-ability: meh—not light or refreshing enough to drink a couple after mowing the lawn. I’d prefer to drink a domestic macrobrew to cool off in a pinch.

Drunk once directly from 12 oz. aluminum can and a second time from a DAB pilsener glass.

I’m simply not feeling the Harpoon Summer Beer. Ostensibly a Kölsch, but lacking the clean balance typical to the style (though the Kölsch style is one of the most widely interpreted). Pleasantly toasty and slightly sweet malts make up the all-too-short front-palate. However, there is an overriding citrus-pith bitterness that is nearly as bracing as biting into that one bad pecan. And it lingers…forever. Sometimes bitter is just plain bitter—that is the case here. It is also just a bit too heavy/creamy for a Summer beer.

I am going to guess that it is the American obsession with over-hopping that brings this about. The problem is that with classic Bavarian bittering hops (which I assume are in use here, though the tech data on the Harpoon website does not say), that is a sticky wicket as they, typically, don’t have sufficient flavor character to support the bitterness. Don’t get me wrong, I love those hops when used judiciously. I wish Harpoon showed a bit more restraint with what should be a restrained style.

This beer is oh-so-close to being just right, but that one detail completely undoes it for me. Perhaps if I get them super-cold and drink them super-fast, I can get through the rest of the 12-pack.

13.5/25   54%   D

Two truisms: we all have distinct tastes and we all enumerate them in one form or another. Here I meet expectations and list my favorite music artists, a video link to what I consider a quintessential track for each, and the beverages that most represent them.

Porcupine Tree 2005 (credit: Lasse Hoile)

  1. Steven Wilson/Porcupine Tree/Blackfield/No-Man/Bass Communion/IEM/Storm Corrosion: This starts with Porcupine Tree, but it is so hard to separate Steven Wilson from all of his projects. These are all fascinating experiences ranging from hard prog-rock, to krautrock, to intellectual pop, to ambient/drone, to experimental rock. With Porcupine Tree, Wilson (along with some of the finest musicians in the business) has created the perfect synthesis of prog, metal, psychedelic, alt-rock, and ambient forms. Lyrics are almost exclusively melancholic (though ironic humor often courses through) with themes of generational angst/apathy, anger at nothing and everything, emotional disorder. You gotta love a guy whose works are so dark, melancholic, and socially astute but still is not so serious as to shy away from calling one of his bands The Incredible Expanding Mindfuck. Wilson may be the most prolific man in rock over the last 20+ years but is still, more or less, a cult artist. I recognize him as rock music’s most erudite voice of the first 10+ years of 21st century. Porcupine Tree is also the most engaging live band I have ever seen, too (eight times and counting).
    “Way Out of Here”
    — There are a handful of songs I prefer over this one, but I think this gives the best example of what Porcupine Tree is all about. Plus, everyone in the band plays an important role in this song (pretty common for PT, actually). Steven Wilson’s and John Wesley’s guitar and vocals are powerful counterbalances.
    He’Brew Bittersweet Lenny’s RIPA— My favorite beer on the planet. Brings together several elements (eight malts and seven hops) with a reverence for the irreverence of Lenny Bruce as well while decidedly modern. Rich and supple with an exceptionally well masked and dangerously drinkable 10% alcohol punch. Its darkness, density, and complex melange of difficult flavors yet deceivingly easy drinkability that makes you want to come back for more is Steven Wilson in liquid form.

    Bob Mould (courtesy Bob Mould’s official MySpace page)

  2. Bob Mould/Hüsker Dü/Sugar/LoudBomb: Mould’s “wall of noise” guitar with Hüsker Dü influenced countless guitarists and is largely referenced as a progenitor of “grunge”. Beyond that legacy, Mould is one of the finest song writers of the last 25 years capturing universal themes love/loss, heartbreak, mistakes, untended wounds, addiction, and personal trauma in a poetically down-to-earth voice. During my pre-teen and teen years, Mould was just a rock god to me, blending hardcore American punk with a catchy pop melodicism. Most importantly, his lyrics made sense to me (most ironically, in the song “Makes No Sense”), seemingly speaking, albeit vaguely, to much the same confusion, anger, and heartbreak I was feeling. In the years since coming out in the early ’90’s, Mould seems to be a new man. Much more sure of himself and comfortable in his own skin, he has put many of his earlier conflicts behind him and now kicks ass in a more wizened, relaxed, and joyful way.
    “Circles” — My strongest memories of Bob are from 1989’s Workbook solo tour, but this recent song is a beautiful sign that he’s still got it.
    Water— in honor of Bob’s sobriety. Alcohol was his greatest nemesis, but look at him now—the fittest and, clearly, happiest he’s been in his life. Take a drink of whatever you like, but follow it with a glass of water.

    Lyle Lovett (credit: Michael Wilson)

  3. Lyle Lovett: When, as a 15 year-old, I first saw Lyle Lovett perform “She’s No Lady” on Late Night with David Letterman in 1988, I was hooked. Here was a guy whose interests and influences seemed as varied and incongruous as mine looking as awkward and uncomfortable as humanly possible on live TV singing a song of such incredible humor and undeniable style that I was mesmerized. His lyrics make a lot more sense to me now than then, but, as strong a lyricist as Lovett is, what still enthralls me is his impeccable songwriting range. Lovett simply squeezes every last bit of passion, honesty, pain, irony, and wit into every last song he writes as skilled with silly turns of phrase as he is with George Jones-ian heartache. There is no compromise—just plain awesome country/swing/pop at every turn. Also, one of the most satisfying live acts (I’ve seen him half-a-dozen times now) who consistently surrounds himself with musicians of the highest calibre that so overtly share his love of the music they perform.
    “What Do You Do?” — While the dark and/or melancholy bases are covered by other in this list (I do prefer Lovett’s “She’s Already Made Up Her Mind”, “Pontiac” and “Lights of LA County”, to name a few), this is the prototypical Large Band song. And, who can deny Francine Lee’s power?
    D-Cubed Howell Mountain Zinfandel 2007— Texans love domestic macro-brews and Dr. Pepper. Neither of those fit L. L. particularly well. Texas also has an exceptionally long and successful wine-making history, but you’re not likely to find Texan wines outside of the South West, so I’ll forgo that temptation. This Zin has a Dr. Pepper-like spicebox angle that should get Texans giddy. Given its richness, complexity, spice, and fruit-sweetness—never at the expense of balance and finesse—it could just as easily be called “L-Squared”.

    Morphine (image attribution: unknown)

  4. Morphine: Morphine was my Grateful Dead. This band spoke to me on a fundamental level and if I could have afforded to, I would have followed them all over the world. I frequently refer to Morphine as the first definitive musical voice of the new millennium though they pre-dated it and folded in 1999 (due to the untimely on-stage death of genius front-man, Mark Sandman) because they captured the uncertainty, self-absorption, and apathy of the time with a sound that melded rock, jazz, and blues in an entirely new, experimental-yet-accessible way. This new sound, comprised primarily of drums, baritone sax, a homemade electric two-string slide bass, and Sandman’s low, monotone vocals was intoxicating and could, surprisingly, rock. There was nothing like them when they hit the scene and there will be nothing like them again.
    “All Wrong”/Whisper” — The sound level is pretty low on this upload, but this is a crisp live performance by the band. “All Wrong” is pretty much the archetypal jumpin’ Morphine track and “Whisper” is a prime example of their sultrier numbers.
    Los Nahuales Mezcal Reposado— Known as Los Danzantes in Mexico but labeled as Los Nahuales in the USA due to trademark conflict with a high-production Pinot Grigio brand from Marchesi di Frescobaldi. The quintessence of the new breed of sipping mezcal. The singular flavor of agave fruit fights through a profound Islay-like smokiness and peppery spice. Tastes just like my memory of the smoke-filled/sweat-laden Black Cat in D. C. in 1993 when I first saw Morphine and spoke briefly to Mark Sandman who was standing at a red velvet upholstered wingback near the bar after the show.

    Kate Bush (courtesy: KateBush.com)

  5. Kate Bush: Bush as always been more about fulfillment of a philosophical ideal than of consistent, marketable product (though critical and popular response to her work may belie that). Truly a serious performance artist (in the vein of Laurie Anderson or early Wall of Voodoo) who actually had the pop songwriting and performing chops to reach a large audience without ever compromising her integrity. What is not to like about that? Well, the sometimes screeching nature of her vocals in the early going or the seemingly pretentious theatrics of her stage performances or the obtuseness of her lyrics (by comparison to her pop contemporaries) seemed to put some people off. But those elements never bothered me as they were components of her big picture as a performance artist first and pop star a distant second. The fact remains, though, that she could (can) write and perform some of the most alarmingly beautiful, intellectual pop songs I have ever heard. Really, she is a genius. A prodigy who, in 1978 at 19 years-old, release the first UK #1 single written and performed by a female artist, “Wuthering Heights”, her star would only shine brighter through the ’80’s.  In 1993 Bush called it quits at the peak of her fame to devote herself to family only to return 12 years later with a new album, Aerial, a stunningly gorgeous release with which she showed she had kept with the times while never losing her distinct voice (though her actual vocals have become more subdued, breathy, and alluring). Her two 2011 releases confirm she has returned with conviction and I couldn’t be mushier about it.
    “King of the Mountain” — Upon first listen of this impeccably produced, multi-layered work which opens Bush’s first album in 12 years, I was immediately enthralled and shocked that she had come back with such force. The song is a strange mash-up of Elvis and Citizen Kane themes, and every bit as intriguing as that combination seems.
    Weingut Robert Weil Kiedricher Gräfenberg Riesling Erstes Gewachs 2007 — I should state that, to me, Riesling is the world’s most noble white wine grape and, despite all the terrible plonk out there that most people associate with Riesling, the most compelling white wines I have ever tasted have been from this most gorgeous and versatile grape. This particular bottling is my favorite all-time Riesling. Dry, citrusy, stony, petrol-y, floral, and unctuously textured. Its complexity and broadness on the palate reflects Bush’s silky lushness yet airy lightness.

I’ve been watching the “Classic Albums” series on Netflix streaming obsessively over the last few days. The first was Phil Collins: Face Value, followed by Iron Maiden: Number of the Beast, Steely Dan: Aja, Lou Reed: Transformer and, Metallica: The Black Album. All of the installments—even the ones about albums that I don’t even have an emotional attachment to (The Black Album and Number of the Beast)—are quite good. Today, I very consciously watched Cream: Disraeli Gears and Classic Artists: Cream while enjoying a fitting pairing: Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye.

November 1967 brought the seminal second album from Eric Clapton/Jack Bruce/Ginger Baker British blues-rock supergroup, Cream—Disraeli Gears. Cream was already a magical coming-together of three (nearly) equally brilliant musicians (as well as lyricist/splitting maul, Pete Brown) in their own right that had established a strong following in the UK as well as the US. This new album, featuring hits, “Strange Brew”, “Tales of Brave Ulysses” and “Sunshine of your Love” and a slew of oddball original songs and rearranged blues classics masterfully produced by Felix Pappalardi and engineered by the late genius, Tom Dowd, would be the band’s greaest success and harbinger of the end of the band. The blazingly bright psychedelic cover art by Martin Sharp is the time and band encapsulate.

It should be noted that I am generally indifferent towards Clapton (largely diminished as a result of the yawn-inducing creative direction of the last thirty-plus years of his career) though his sound was ideal for this band at its time. However, I feel that Baker is one of the greatest jazz/rock drummers ever to pick up the sticks and the Bruce was the great rock singer during his tenure with Cream time and a superb bassist. It’s a shame that the guys couldn’t, or, more to the point, wouldn’t, work to repair their dysfunctions.

These videos are tons of fun. It’s always entertaining to hear Atlantic co-founder/VP of A&R, Ahmet Ertegun wax nostalgic about his “discoveries” (though his relentless fawning over “golden boy” Clapton is ridiculous). The Classic Artists video features lots of great interview segments with Clapton as the typically uninteresting, gentle, diplomat; Bruce as the haggard, personable old man in a dirty suit coat; and Baker as the hilariously acerbic, belly-acher. One can tell that by the time of the 2005 reunion concert at the Royal Albert Hall/Madison Square Garden that Bruce and Baker were still at loggerheads (or, more likely, Baker spitting acid and Bruce just dismissively absorbing it), but all worked out just fine.

What is more fitting a psychedelic blues-rock album from 1967 that includes the track “Strange Brew” than, well, a strange brew? In this instance I chose Sierra Nevada’s Ruthless Rye (largely because it was already in my fridge). The beer features great modern/old-West “cover art” by an Aussie artist (Ken Taylor) just like Disraeli Gears. Here’s the skinny on the beer:

12 oz. bottle poured into a New Belgium globe glass
Appearance: rich, hazy, reddish amber with a quarter-inch light beige head
Smell:  broadly green/herbaceous overtone, floral hops, spicy and yeasty
Taste: dark, toasty malts and piney/citrusy hops in balance
Mouthfeel: rich but well carbonated to help dissipate hop bitterness

Overall, a bit disappointing. The rye is just hinted at with an earthy spiciness that one has to concentrate to notice. My hope was for more obvious rye presence given that it is, ostensibly, a rye beer. Certainly very drinkable and a nice, darker-malted IPA, but I would expect a bit of actual, you know, “ruthlessness” given the name. The overall balance makes it good for a couple of these in a session at 6.6%. This is a spring seasonal that is on its way out, but you may be able to find a six or twelve pack hanging around somewhere.

Worked for de-glazing the pan and steaming Italian sausages from Wagner’s Meats with sauteed red onions and green peppers on Challah rolls (most ingredients by way of the Baltimore Farmer’s Market). Served as a fine pair for the finished meal, too, holding up to the strong flavors well without competing.

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