Latest posts by makeitsnowondem (see all)
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If there’s any one trend in beer that I’ve been especially hesitant to adopt, it’s the beer cocktail. When I want a beer, I just want a beer, not two or more beers mixed together. I want to drink the thing that a brewery carefully crafted, put its heart ans soul into, and decided was worthy of releasing to the product; I’m not as interested in seeing it that same thing mixed with another thing that went through the same process, with no intention that ever the twain should meet. Now, this is the silliest sort of purism, if I’m honest with myself about it, and it’s maybe (okay, probably) even hypocritical. After all, I’m the biggest advocate in the world of just drinking what tastes good to you. And in many of the beers that taste especially good to me, blending—of an old sour beer with a young one, or a barrel-aged beer with its unaged base beer, or of two or three or five of a brewery’s beers together, or even two different breweries’ beers—is an indispensible component of the beermaking process. So why leave it to the breweries? Isn’t this just one more form of beer tyranny in need of abolition? Why not just put beers together ourselves, and if they taste good, they taste good?
Well, I don’t know that I’m completely ready for that stage of the revolution yet, but in the meantime one of my favorite Texas breweries has released a pair of beers meant to be blended. Martin House Brewing Company, of Fort Worth, Texas, is back in the Beer Barrel this week, and their latest creation is a doozy: Two beers, made for each other, and brewed in collaboration with local rock band the Toadies (their third and fourth collaborations with that same band, after the earlier Rubberneck Red and Bockslider). I’ll get to the beer right away, but first, let me tell you everything I know about The Toadies.
Hell Below is a thick black beer with a medium khaki head. The can’s overfilled, which is not a big deal, but it means having to resign myself to spilling a few drops of beer every time I open one, and as a very serious beer conservationist, this is hard for me to do. It’s labeled a “strong black ale,” which would normally lead me to expect a black IPA or something similar, but this tends way more toward “robust porter” or “export stout,” with good roasted bitterness and chocolate undertones and not a lot of hop flavor. It’s weighty and satisfying, and I’d imagine it playing especially well with fans of Oskar Blues Ten FIDY, though at 8.7% ABV it doesn’t have quite as much heft.
Stars Above is nothing like this, with an attactive hazy, orange-pink hue that seems to glow in direct light and a paper-thin white head. It’s a sour ale with raspberries added, Tart and only mildly fruity, it’s refreshing in the way that only a sour beer can be, like a glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade. I’m getting a bit of buttery flavor on the finish, probably the chemical diacetyl, which is unfortunate because it kind of blunts the quenching acidity of the finish. It’s not crippling, though. Honestly, it still seems like a minor miracle to me that we can get sours of this quality in cans at perfectly ordinary six-pack prices; I remember when they were almost exclusively in $15-20 champagne bottles.
And Purgatory? Purgatory’s yet another thing altogether.
For one thing, the raspberry from Stars Above seems way more prominent in the blend than it was in its own beer. I’m chalking this up to the Hell Below reintroducing the sweetness that was fermented out of the sour beer. Beyond that, I think what stands out to me is that not one core attribute of either beer gets lost in the mix; they may actually heighten one another. This beer cocktail has a lot in common, really, with the last Martin House beer I reviewed, though it’s nowhere near the same strength. It’s a clever mix of disparate flavors—in this case, sweet, chocolaty, sour, fruity, and roasty—in which every aspect of the flavor seems skillfully counterbalanced by another.
And now, some very good news: After a few weeks on the sidelines, the Beer Barrel’s most valuable player is back!
lady snow says: I used to listen to The Toadies.
make it snow says: Yeah? I literally know nothing about them.
lady snow says: I saw them live. At South by Southwest, at Stubb’s Bar-B-Q in 1999.
make it snow says: Holy shit. How was the show?
lady snow says: Oh, they were really good. This was back when a wristband could get you into pretty much any show you wanted to go to.
make it snow says: Awesome. You feeling good enough to take some sips this week? For science?
lady snow says: Yeah, totally. The Hell Below’s roasty. What kind of beer is this, technically?
make it snow says: “Strong Black Ale.” Which could mean anything.
lady snow says: It tastes more like a stout to me. Is it bad that it reminds me of Old Rasputin?
make it snow says: Oh, not at all. That was one of the two beers I thought of when I tasted it, the other being Ten FIDY. No one’s going to believe me on this because I didn’t mention it earlier in the review, but yeah, your palate’s obviously as good as ever. Here’s the Stars Above.
lady snow says: I can see why this was brewed to be mixed with the Hell Below. I definitely taste the raspberry, and of course it’s a decent sour, but I don’t taste the cultures, the complexities, that you’d get in a Jester King sour, or even your average canned Berliner weisse. It tastes like a really good ingredient. It reminds me of a raspberry vinaigrette.
make it snow says: With that in mind, let’s give the cocktail a try.
lady snow says: Now, this gives me the kind of complexity that i look for in a good beer. But it’s interesting we got to taste the ingredients separately. I kind of think of it like a cake. We don’t eat all the ingredients of a cake individually. Some of them, we do, like eggs, obviously. But I think this goes to show that, when you’re blending beer or even just brewing beer, just like when you’re baking, starting with quality ingredients makes a huge difference.
tl;dr: Maybe a beer cocktail is just a blended beer with some assembly required.
Grade: Have your cake. Have the ingredients to your cake. Drink them too.
make it snow is an alot of beer who listened to Hell Below/Stars Above for the first time while writing this review. He’s not a music critic, but he thinks it’s pretty good! Also while writing this review, he drank one can of Hell Below, one can of Stars Above, and one can of Hell Below and one can of Stars Above mixed. Rise and shine, football dickjokers. It’s August.