Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is the American Ale Gold Standard

We live in a new world.  I like to think of it as the post-Anheuser era.  The neo-beer years where we are no longer shackled by watered-down lagers as the only option in our drinking lives.  The store shelves are lush with a varietal of craft-brewed beers.

As with all great eras in human history, it’s easy to lose sight of the battles fought to get us to the good years.  It’s important in our opulent days to remember our brethren who made these hoppy times possible.

Thus, I’d like to take a moment and give Sierra Nevada Pale Ale its propers.

sierra-nevada-pale-aleSierra Nevada first brewed this beer in 1981.  1981!  Imagine the desolate beer-scape in 1981.  Homebrewing wasn’t legal in the United States from 1919 to 1979.  (Thanks, President Carter for H.R. 1337.)  This means that it was illegal for innovative Americans to perfect recipes in their kitchens to ready their ales for commercial scale.

Sierra Nevada must have busted on this beer scene like a hot chick in an all-dude dystopia.  Some dudes feared her, some embraced her, but they all wanted her on some level.

How Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi were able to get their hands on cascade hops as homebrewers in the early eighties is beyond me.  I’m sure they didn’t have the luxury of popping into a local homebrew store for a convenient homebrewing experience.  Beyond just acquiring the ingredients, think about what it would take in 1981 to build a commercial micro-brewery.  Today, setting up a microbrewery just takes a trust fund and a few phone calls.  Grossman and Camusi pieced together Sierra Nevada’s first brewery with used dairy equipment and scrap metal.  WTF indeed.

It’s mind boggling that they were able to create an American Ale thirty years ago that can still hang with today’s over-the-top American Pale Ales.  And why can it still hang — and hang hard, I might add?  They perfected the malt-hop balance that has driven the American Ale experience for the past three decades.  I’ll go out on a limb and say they invented the American Ale malt-hop balance all good ales in this fine country rest upon.

And what is that malt-hop balance?  Any good Pale Ale or IPA brewer worth their weight in whole-cone hops knows that the success of their beer lies in creating harmony between the sweetness of the malt and the bitter from the hops.  Too much sweetness and the bitter is lost.  Too little sweetness and you get a mouthful of pine.  Ipso facto, the malt-hop balance.

Sierra Nevada gave us the template.  In fact, when I homebrew, I often start from the Sierra Nevada recipe of grains, malts, and yeast and work my way out from there.  It’s never served me wrong.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is, indeed, the gold standard of American Ales.  It’s the beer that took us out of the lean years of American swill and brought us into the sumptuous times we now enjoy.  Have a Sierra Nevada and celebrate the American beer renaissance it made possible.



Maine Beer Company’s Lunch is the Best Beer in Maine

Yeah, bold title, but it’s true.  Maine Beer Company’s Lunch is the best tasting beer in the great state of Maine.  And that’s saying something in a state that boasts a deluge of world class brews.

The new hip beer on the scene is the sweet/sour, yeasty saison.  In Maine, craft beer disciples are gushing over Oxbow’s array of saisons or the sour offerings of In’Finiti.  That’s fine for them and their taste desires, but I still think the best way to judge a state’s beer scene is by their tastiest IPA.

In the state of Maine, the competition is stiff.  The top bidders for best IPA in Maine: Rising Tide’s Zephyr, Marshall Warf’s Can’t Dog, Sebago’s Frye’s Leap, and Baxter’s Stowaway IPA.  They’re all brilliant beers in their own right, but they fall short of the magic of Lunch.

Let’s put it this way, I’d put Lunch in the category of Heady Topper and Pliny the Elder.

Say what?

That’s right.  This is one of the best beers you will ever have.  Yes, ever.

Maine Beer Company LunchHere’s why.  It’s a citrus wave predominately tasting of pineapple.  It’s a fresh, clean taste.  There’s nothing muddled about the citrus profile of a Lunch.  If there is, then you got a bad bottle.  At the end of the citrus experience comes a piney IPA finish that hits the right note.  It’s not at all a wimpy finish, but it’s also not a I-feel-like-I-ate-a-pine-tree taste that destroys the tongue.  The flavor profile is tasteful, dare I say classy.  The malts are pulled back, so the citrus and the pine are given center stage.

With that said, Lunch can be hard to come by.  My supplier keeps it hidden.  You have to ask for it by name, and he disappears into the cooler, coming back with a bottle.  I feel like I’m doing something illegal.  It adds a little excitement to my white, middle-class existence.

Here’s the back-up plan if your beer store doesn’t have Lunch: Buy a Mo.  It’s always available, and the flavor profile is close to Lunch.  Though, ultimately, nothing in the state of Maine beats a Lunch.

Literary Death Match Throws Down in Portland

Portland’s art calender is filled with poetry readings.  From Port Veritas to Rhythmic Cypher, Portlandites can get their poetry fix a few nights a week.  But what about us prose guys?  Those of us who write and read in lines that wrap around the far edge of the page?

You’re right, we have Word Portland.  And thank God we do, but it only happens once a month at LFK.  Like any corn-fed American, I want more.

Literary Death MatchIt might not be weekly or even monthly, but the internationally touring show, Literary Death Match, is such a strong representation of Portland prose, you can ride out that prose high for a few weeks.

Here’s the skinny.  Literary Death Match rolls into town having chosen four local writers to fight to the death using only their stories and their stage presence.  (Spoiler: no one actually dies, so if you were planning on attending for morbid purposes, you’ll be let down.)

The night is hosted by the show’s creator, Adrian Todd Zuniga.  He’s witty, ever-present, and willing to let the humor slide into a sort of high-minded bawdiness Shakespeare would be proud of.  Zuniga encourages the crowd to laugh, gasp, and drink all through the evening.

In the first round, two writers go head to head, reading for about six minutes each.  I promise you — seriously, I promise — you will not be let down by the quality of writing.  So far, I’ve heard stories from some of my favorite local writers: Ron Currie, Jr., Lewis Robinson, Jessica Anthony, Crash Barry, and Bill Roorbach.  The readers Zuniga procures are worth the price of admission alone.

After each round, three judges evaluate the readers based on Literary Merit, Performance, and Intangibles.  The banter between the judges and Zuniga after each reading is a performance in itself.  The hardest you may laugh all night will be when the judges let their wit and pith rip.

After the first round of readings and judgings, you have two finalists.  If I have one complaint, I’d love to hear each finalist read another piece.  Maybe even a two to three minute final death match throw down.  What follows, however, is a literary game of sorts — differing both times I went.  The winner of the Literary Death Match, ends up being the person who wins the game of literary pictionary or guess that novel.  Though devoid of original prose, this round is entertaining.

The two Literary Death Matches I’ve attended at Space Gallery have represented Portland’s prose scene in a classy, engaging way.  Next time you see this event in the Portland Phoenix calendar, surrounded by poetry slams and open mics, get yourself down to Space.  Just know, this town is so hungry for prose events, it often sells out before the bell sounds for round one.

To the Lighthouse and Other Stories of the Heart (Part Three)

Lighthouse EssayI handed in my essay on To the Lighthouse on Friday morning and spent the afternoon fretting over what I was going to wear that night.

As I doubted every plaid shirt I owned, Emma knocked on my open door.  “Hey,” she said, standing in the hallway.

“Hi,” I said, holding two near identical flannel shirts.

“It sounds like your neighbor had to take off, so he won’t be at my brother’s place tonight.”

She wore her hair down at her shoulders.  Suddenly, I realized I was supposed to say something.  “Oh.”

“You probably don’t want to come tonight,” she said.  She looked down the hallway.

“I’d still love to come.  You know, hang out with you and your brother.”  I nodded earnestly.

“Really?” she said.

Over a decade later, I understand that the normal thing to do here was to say, “You know, why don’t you just go alone and maybe I’ll go next time.”  But I was nineteen.  And she had the cutest dimples when she smiled.  So what actually came out of my mouth was, “Yeah, it will be a great time.  I’ll come down to your room around seven.”

She smiled.  Her dimples appeared like the sun in the East.  She nodded and walked away.

Before I could doubt my answer, Couture barged in my room.  “Patterson,” he said, “let’s get some beers.”

“I’m going to Johnson tonight.”  I added, “With Emma.”

He laughed.  “You aren’t getting anywhere with her.”

“It’s not about that,” I said.  “We both read Virginia Woolf.  She read my essay.”

“Sure, Hemingway,” he said.

The drive to Johnson took forty-five minutes.  After the first ten minutes, I realized I didn’t really know much about Emma, and I didn’t really know what to talk to her about.  For months after this car ride, I ran fluent conversations in my head between her and me about wildly entertaining topics.  But that day, wit and charm was ne’er to be found.

We were both relieved when we got to her brother’s apartment.

“Jeremy, this is Dave,” Emma said.

“You know Kevin’s not here?” he said.  He gave me a look older brothers give you when you show up to their apartment with their sister. 

I shook his hands and wished for the power of teleportation so I could go back to St. Mike’s and drink beer with Couture.  Lots of beer.  Enough to drown my heart once and for all.

Desperate CourageInside, Jeremy handed me a Natty Light.  The three of us sat in his living room, and he and Emily talked about people I didn’t know.  I finished my first beer quickly and went to the kitchen for another one.

In the kitchen, I had a Socratic dialogue with my heart.

Me: Why did you make me do this?

My Heart: She has that hair and those dimples.

Me: And a boyfriend.

My Heart: She reads Virginia Woolf.  She’s your lighthouse.

Me: You need to get me out of this.

My Heart: That’s not my job.  I get you into this.

Me: Thanks.

“Who are you talking to?” Emily asked from behind me.

“No one.  You want a beer?”

“Jeremy wants to know if you want to smoke.”

Not knowing what else to do, I said, “Yes.”

In the living room was Jeremy and his three foot bong.  Every ounce of my body said not to hit that bong, but I was already in deep.  Why not go deeper?

Lighter.  Smoke.  Coughing.

After an unknown amount of time, Emily and I ended up in the basement together playing darts.

“That was a pretty big hit you took,” she said, tossing darts at the dartboard.

“Yeah,” I said.  I leaned against the wall for balance.

My heart: Kiss her!

“I’ll probably go to bed soon,” she said.

My heart: She totally wants you to kiss her!

“I handed in my essay this morning,” I said.  “I think it’s pretty good.”

“It was pretty good,” she said.

My heart: Do it!  She loves your insight on Modernism.

My fingers tingled.  Blood rushed to my cheeks.

“I’ll leave some blankets out for you in the living room,” she said.

When she turned, I was only a foot from her.  Listening to my stupid heart, I took a step forward and leaned in.

“Good night,” she said, and she ran up the stairs.

Me: I knew that was a bad idea.

My Heart: So why’d you do it?

Me: Are you kidding me?

I sat in the lone chair in the basement and drank my beer.  When it was gone, I walked upstairs.  Both Emily and her brother were in bed.

My Heart: Maybe you can crawl in bed with her.

Me: Maybe you can go to hell.

I lifted the blanket Emma put out for me.  I smelled it; it smelled nothing like her.

I collapsed on the couch.  In the morning, Emma woke me up.  Hungover, I slept on the ride back to campus.  We took separate stairwells up to our rooms.

Lighthouse GradeOn Monday, in British Literature, my professor handed back our essays.  I turned to the last page.  In pencil, I saw the B+.  It was a kick in the aorta.  I hadn’t gotten Emma, and I hadn’t gotten an A.

My Heart: We’ll get ’em next time.  We’ll make it to our lighthouse.

Me: I guess I don’t have a choice.

My Heart: That’s the spirit.

To the Lighthouse and Other Stories of the Heart (Part Two)

I was drunk when I went to Emma’s room.  Not real drunk, but drunk enough to think it was a good idea to talk about Virginia Woolf on a Friday night.

“I have some ideas about my paper,” I said, sitting on the edge of her bed.

She wore jeans and a black tank top.  Bob Marley sounded from her stereo.

“Let’s see.”  Before taking my yellow legal pad, she hopped off the bed and bent forward, collecting her wheat colored hair into a ponytail.

I handed her the pad when she stood up.  “Be gentle,” I said.

Her head moved back and forth as she read.  I could have watched her read all night.

“What do you think about the idea of exploring power dynamics through the use of artistic representations?” I said.  I leaned close to her and pointed to the words.

“It’s interesting,” she said.  She started to say more, but her phone rang.  “Hello,” she breathed into the mouthpiece.  “Hey,” she said in a voice that went up an octave.  She covered the phone with her palm and said, “I’ve gotta take this.  Go with that idea.”

As I closed her door, I heard her say, “I miss you, too.”

“You’re really trying,” Colleen said when the door clasped shut.

“It’s about Virginia Woolf,” I said.

“It smells like it’s about Jack Daniels.”  She smiled and went into her and Emma’s room.

LighthouseOver the following days, I crafted the best essay I could muster.  It occurred to me in the middle of writing that I might not have any idea what the novel was really about.

My heart pressed on.

The exploration of the role of art in the lives of these characters seemed to me just the right topic to woo a fellow English major.  Especially a fellow English major who leaned forward and collected her hair into a ponytail in one graceful action.

I revised until I couldn’t stare at the paper any longer.

Emma’s door was open; she sat at her desk.

“Hi,” I said.  I leaned against her door frame.

She hit a few keys before looking up.

“I have the essay.  I think it’s pretty good,” I said.

“I’ll check it out.”  She reached for the essay and started reading the first paragraph.  “Are you going to stay here while I read it?”

“It’s fine,” I said.  “I have nothing else to do.”

She smiled.  I was in deep enough to think she smiled for me.

While she read, I sat on her bed and watched to see how my arguments affected her, but her lips held the same pursed expression the entire time.

“It’s good,” she said when she was done.  “I marked some confusing sentences.  Also, your conclusion doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

“Oh,” I said.

“But you have some strong readings of the novel,” she said, sensing my disappointment.  “You know what, I just found out my brother’s roommate at Johnson State was your neighbor as a kid.”

“Kevin?” I said.

“Yeah.  They’re having a party this weekend.”

“I’d love see him,” I said.  “Do you think I could go up with you?”

“Sure,” she said.

I left before she could rescind.

(Part Three)

To the Lighthouse and Other Stories of the Heart (Part One)

Emma lived one floor below me.  We were sophomores.  Her blonde hair was the color of a wheat field in August.  Her smile made you lean towards her when she talked.

Brett was the one who told me she had a boyfriend.  “She’s been with him since she was a freshman,” he said.  “In high school.”

“Maybe that’s good.  Maybe she’s bored,” I said.

By the way Brett shook his head, he knew I’d already made up my mind.

“She’s an English major,” I said.  “I’m an English major.  We speak the same language.”

“We all speak English,” he said.

I found myself walking up and down Emma’s floor during the day, hoping to run into her.  I carried my copy of To the Lighthouse.  It would give me an in.  Me, a guy her age, reading Virginia Woolf.  I was hedging my bets that her high school boyfriend couldn’t talk high modernism.  Though I couldn’t really talk high modernism if pressed.

Emma’s roommate Colleen caught onto my new habit.  “I see what you’re doing,” she said.

“What am I doing?”  I looked into their room to see if Emma was sitting on her bed.  She wasn’t.

“She has a boyfriend.”

“I know.  I was just going to ask her about this book.”  I held up my copy of To the Lighthouse.

Colleen laughed.  “You’re not the first to try.”

“I’m not trying anything,” I said.  “Is she in class?”

“It won’t work, but go ahead.”  She patted my shoulder.  “She’s in the laundry room.”

I’d done laundry a few days before, but I tossed clean clothes in my laundry bag and headed to the basement.

As Colleen had promised, there was Emma, sitting on a washer with a folded copy of an American literature anthology resting in her lap.

When I pulled my copy of To the Lighthouse from my back pocket and dropped it on a dryer, Emma looked up from her reading.

“This novel’s so good,” I said.

She eyed the cover.  “Yeah.  I read it last semester in Brit. lit.”

“Oh yeah,” I said coolly.  “What do you think about Woolf’s thoughts on decaying Victorian ideals?”  I dumped my clothes in a washer.

“I saw the book as more of a commentary on man’s relationship to the idea of God.”  She looked back down at her book.

“I’m fascinated by the book’s examination of the frailty of human relationships,” I said, repeating a line from my professor.  “I have a paper due next week.  Would you mind looking at a draft before I hand it in?”

“I’d love to,” she said.  She smiled at me.  Even then I knew this was all just part of her benevolent personality, but her use of the word love and that smile fueled my hope.

“Maybe I could run some ideas by you before I start writing,” I said.  She was too nice to say no.

“Sure,” she said.  She hopped down and checked on her clothes in a dryer.

I started my washer.

She pulled her clothes into a laundry basket.  “See you later,” she said, walking out of the laundry room with the basket snug against her hip.

I spent the next hour sitting on a washing machine, scouring the pages of Virginia Woolf’s novel for a paper idea and washing already clean clothes.

(Part Two)