Friday, April 20, 2012

Big Sexy Beer of the Year

Beer is good. But it hasn’t always been. I wonder if my feelings toward beer have changed as my taste buds changed or has beer actually gotten a lot better. I am sure it is a combination of both.

Most people call beer an acquired taste. It is an impressive marketing job beer companies have done over the years to force impressionable young men to continue to ingest it. Young Big Sexy drank for all of the reasons Middle Aged Big Sexy is worried my boys will drink. For YBS, Beer was relatively easy to acquire. Beer was relatively inexpensive. Beer made me more attractive. Beer made me cool. Beer made it possible to talk to people. Beer was the ultimate escapism from the awkward, confused and damaged mind of a teenaged loser with bottomed-out self-esteem.

I remember when I first had beer. It was the worst liquid I ever had.  My first “beer of choice” was Stroh’s. I remember my friends and I would often say “Alex, two cold Stroh’s” in reference to our favorite commercial at the time. Stroh’s had good commercials and they worked on their target audience of High School seniors. Stroh’s was horrible.  I don’t think they make it anymore. If they do, it is likely exported to Egypt or some other beer-poor land as Imported American Beer. Beer is so bad, that YBS would have to play drinking games to be able to force down the swill in an attempt to become the Big Sexy that was bottled up (no pun intended) inside me.

My next beer of choice was MGD. Miller Genuine Draft.  Another horrible beer, but it was an improvement. It had a bit of a lighter feel to it. My uneducated mind attributed it to the fact that it was draft beer in a bottle. All beer in bottles is draft beer that is bottled. They still make MGD but now they target it as a 64 calorie beer that is more like the flavored water that you can get that has a hint of orange or gives you the essence of blackberry. MGD 64 has a beer-like taste to it.

I remember one of the first peers that I ever respected for just being himself. He was not just being a sheep like myself and doing what was expected by other people to be cool. Eric was a college rugby teammate of mine. There has never been a sport more married to beer than Rugby. Not pool, not bowling, not darts. I’d like to argue that rugby goes more hand-in-hand with beer than beer pong does. Anyway, any time we ruggers would go drink, Eric would order a strawberry daiquiri. I loved strawberry daiquiris but there was not one chance I was going to order that at some bar with all my rugby teammates. I could only come up with two reasons why Eric would not drink beer. Clearly, he either has some fatal hops allergy or had been told by a girl that she wouldn’t kiss him if he smelled of beer. Nothing else made sense. I asked him one night, in the least judgmental tone I could muster. Eric told me flatly, “I don’t like the taste of beer. “ My first reaction was to say, “Of course, you don’t like the taste of beer. Who could?” But I didn’t. I simply said what was really true to me, “That’s cool.”

Over the years, the Mad Men successfully found time between bedding their secretaries to change my taste buds. Now, I can honestly say that I love beer. I don’t like it. I don’t prefer it if given the choice at a restaurant. I seek out variety. I enjoy finding local brew during my travels. I write paragraphs expounding its virtues. In fact, I wish I could crack one right now as I write this. I do a lot of “research” to make the annual Big Sexy Beer of the Year awards. I hope that you will take the opportunity to sample the products of my past year of sacrifices in the name of art.

Best Travel Beer – I love to travel and as I stated, I always like to search out local beers. This year’s major trips took me to Cancun (Corona - ugh), Hawaii (Maui Brewing Company – meh) and San Diego. As you might surmise, San Diego was the beer winner. There are many great places to drink in San Diego’s Gaslamp District. Great place. There, I first enjoyed a tasty Sierra Nevada Tumbler Brown Ale. As past readers may know, I don’t like Sierra Nevada and it doesn’t like me. However, the Tumbler Brown Ale has more focus on the malty brown and not the hops. It found a way into the top 10.

The winner for Big Sexy Travel Beer of the Year goes to Karl Strauss Red Trolley Ale. Red Trolley is a highly malted brown ale. Has a big caramel taste. It began as a Holiday Beer for Karl Strauss and was so tasty that it is nearly the brewery’s flagship beer. After my trip to San Diego, the Sexy family went to Disneyland. I’m sure it’s a good thing that they don’t typically serve beer with that huge crowd of people. But if there is a place that a parent craves a refreshing brew and 10 minutes of peace it is Disneyland. Imagine my elation to settle in for lunch in California Adventure and see Karl Strauss on sale. It truly was the Happiest Place on Earth.

Best Every Day Beer – I’m not saying you should drink every day, I’m just saying, if it isn’t a special occasion and you aren’t food pairing with beer, the beer I like to reach for is Samuel Adams Light. I’m heading to Boston this summer and I’m sure my kids are going to learn quite a bit about my favorite patriot.

Best Place to Quaff a Brew – I am so excited that the Kilt Pub opened up within stumbling distance to my house. I’m not sure, but I think my home value went up $5,000 when they opened. Maybe just my internal value of living there did. Either way, the Kilt workers are very nice people that serve (sadly) hit-or-miss food and a wonderful array of beer for Anglophiles and local microbrew lovers alike. They always have Bass, Harp and Smithwick’s on tap. I usually will go with a nice Imperial Pint of Smithwick’s. Every so often, John the owner, will pop the Fuller’s London Pride handle behind the bar. I think he does it just for me. He’s cool like that.

Best Imported Beer – I have mentioned my love of London Pride above and it is definitely a favorite of mine. This year, I am going to go with my favorite special occasion brew, Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale. It’s smooth and dark, but not too dark and not too smooth.

Best Beer to Enjoy with a Burger – Spoetzl’s Shiner Bock. There is a great little burger place in Sacramento named the The Flaming Grill. I originally thought it was called The Flamingo Grill. A little "O" always changes things, or so I've heard. Anyway, The Flaming Grill is owned by a very affable and large fellow. And my man loves beer. We stopped in for the tasty burger, but he turned me onto this dark little number on tap. The Flaming Grill is the only place I have ever seen Shiner Bock on tap but I’m sure it will be all over soon. The name is growing and growing. The contestants of Top Chef Texas could be seen tilting back the distinctive yellow labeled bottle of Shiner Bock when taking relaxing time from cooking to snipe at each other and swear like sailors.

Best Fruit Beer – Pyramid Apricot Ale. I can be more than a little fruity from time to time and I’m not ashamed to say I like a beer with a little fruit flavor. That is the tricky part. The fruit flavor needs to be subtle. Ape Ale was my first ever fruit beer and it is atop the list this year. I am glad they abandoned whatever Generation Y name they were trying to give it and just went back to calling it Apricot Ale. This beer is substantially better on tap, but still tasty out of the bottle is you can get your swirl done right. A very close runner up here is Sam Adams Blackberry Witbier. It may take top honors next year if I can get a little from a tap after hoofing the Freedom Trail.

Drumroll for the ranking of the beers...

10. Newcastle
9.   Sam Adams Light
8.   Smithwick’s
7.   Sam Adams Blackberry Witbier
6.   Sierra Nevada Tumbler
5.   Pyramid Apricot Ale
4.   Fuller’s London Pride
3.   Sam Smith’s Nut Brown Ale
2.   Spoetzl’s Shiner Bock
1.   Karl Strauss Red Trolley Ale

Congratulations to Karl Strauss!! From unranked last year to the top of the board. It’s a big jump that is well deserved. To honor these selections, please find a 6 pack or two at your convenience and think happy thoughts about me while enjoying. There isn’t one beer on this list that I need to chug just because some guy made up a rule prohibiting pointing with my finger.

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