Beers of the Week: It’s Not All Beer and Skittles

In theory, I was supposed to do a better job of keeping up with the posts on this blog, at least when it came to beer. Alas travel, wedding planning (!) and a bit of bookpanic (a German word that roughly translates to “panic over the awesome responsibility of writing a book”) have conspired to guilt me out of putting more time into this. But let’s catch up on those beers of the week I’ve spotlighted on my ESPN El Paso weekly hits:

February 4: Bronx Rye Pale Ale

In 2013, Bronx Brewing began distributing its Pale Ale in 16-ounce cans — the kind utilized by Sixpoint in their bygone heyday, in 4-packs — to New York and other parts of the Northeast. In late 2014, soon after hanging out a shingle on their very own brewery, they added two more of their brews, their Rye Pale Ale and Belgian Pale Ale, to their line of canned offerings. I’ve yet to try the latter, but the former — which I first had on tap at a nearby bar, and have since enjoyed straight from the can — is right in my wheelhouse.

The Bronx offering comes in a bit more mellow than some of the more head-turning examples of the genre such as Sixpoint’s lamentably late Righteous Rye or Sierra Nevada’s all-too-scarce Ruthless Rye. While it has the distinctively peppery snap of a rye beer, it’s maltier than those two or Harpoon’s Rich and Dan’s Rye IPA, a Casa Jaffe-Span staple. The Bronx version has more than a touch of the distinctive biscuity and nutty flavors that define their Pale Ale, with the hops (Chinook and Crystal, according to their site) working in a supporting role instead of trying to grab the limelight. It weighs in at 6.3% ABV, making it a good session beer, though I will say that the biscuity-ness of it can get a bit cloying if you don’t mix things up. Drop a hop bomb or a dry stout between two of them and the whole will add up to more than the sum of the parts. Which brings me to…

• February 11: Rockaway Black Gold Stout

Another local offering, this one comes from Long Island ‘s Rockaway Brewing Company, and I’m happy to see that like the Bronx Rye, it turned up at the great new bar down the street. The Black Gold is an Irish Dry Stout, with a frothy head and roasty coffee/bittersweet chocolate notes. It’s not sweet at all, and while I love my Left Hand Milk Stout, this is a different beast — and at 5.6% ABV, a playfully tame one, suitable for session drinking. I’ve had it on both CO2 and Nitro taps, and here I think I prefer the former, but I wouldn’t kick either off a tap list.

• February 18: Epic Big Bad Baptist Imperial Stout

So in mid-month I went home to visit my parents in Salt Lake City. As is my custom, the first thing I did on my first full day was go down to Epic Brewing Company‘s brewery/store. Epic stakes its claim as “Utah’s first brewery since prohibition to brew exclusively high alcohol content beer,” which is important because Utah’s arcane liquor laws prevent beer stronger than 4% ABV from being sold in grocery or convenience stores; you either have to go the direct route or via a state liquor store.

An eerie silence fell over the store as I walked in. Had I been wearing spurs, you could have heard them jangle. I nodded to the cashier, whispered, “Better get a box,” and in short order picked out eight of their 22-ounce bombers for my stay, some for my schlep back to New York: Smoked Porter, Double Skull Doppelbock, Hopulent IPA (two of ‘em), Imperial IPA, Spiral Jetty IPA, Rio’s Rompin’ Rye — all of them repeats except for the Imperial… and this one. Maybe it was the price point ($11.95 for the bomber) and the presence of so many other alternatives in their cold case that kept me away previously. I’ll never get those chances back, alas.

Epic Big Bad Baptist is a real motherscratcher at 11.2% ABV, an imperial stout brewed with cocoa nibs and coffee beans, then aged in a whiskey barrel. I quickly fell in love with the interplay between the roasted malt sweetness and coffee-driven bitterness and whiskey finish, lamenting that I could not load up on more bottles before leaving the next morning. I’d put it in a class with Brooklyn Black Ops, my other favorite barrel-aged imperial, and at less than half the price, it’s a bargain.

Oh, and so I schlepped three bottles — all IPAs — back to Brooklyn, and my unbroken streak remained unbroken.

• Honorable mention: Payette Rodeo Rye

Man can’t live off bombers alone, so while I was in SLC I also went to pick up a 6-pack of lower-octane stuff. Rather than opt for the familiar from Uinta, Wasatch or Squatters, I spun through a few Beer Advocate ratings and took a chance on this Idaho brewer’s canned rye offering.

It was nothing short of a revelation. Unlike many a 4% beer that tastes as though it were brewed at a higher ABV and then hosed down in the yard, this one was as flavorful as a higher-alcohol offering. The hop aroma practically burst from the cans — all Citra, as it turns out, one of my favorites — and pine and citrus aromas met the spicy snap of the rye. The Rodeo makes for a great après-ski beer, a situation where low-alcohol is the way to go, and quite frankly, it throws down the gauntlet for any brewery trying to thrive within the stupid ABV limitations. I wish some of their Utah rivals were so aggressively flavored.

While in SLC, I also had dinner one night at Avenues Proper Restaurant and Publick House, where I enjoyed a pint of their Darth Lager, a delicious Munich Dunkel with dark muscovado sugar, and sampled four other beers, the most notable of which was their Skittlebrau Peach Saison (wow, did I really write this seven and a half years ago?). No candy was harmed in this one.

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