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No Corporate Beer Reviews: Pentagram

Beer: Pentagram
Brewery: Surly Brewing Company (Minneapolis, MN)
Style: Sour – Other
7% ABV / N/A IBU

Surly’s Pentagram has generated a fairly polarizing response on the Internet. Consumer guide RateBeer gives this sour top marks, but the user community is rating the 2020 version—the latest batch—as more of an all-around average experience. Or to be more particular: Critics seem to be assigning higher grades for novelty, while the beer nerds are grading Pentagram down because it’s actually not that much fun to drink. Do not buy a four-pack, and do not follow Surly’s suggestion of cellaring the beer for a few years—unless you anticipate a global vinegar shortage.

Pentagram’s calling card is its wine-like character, which is built around the use of Brettanomyces for 100% of the yeast, and then amplified by aging in wine barrels. Both are an acquired taste, especially for those that are more accustomed to the hop and malt-forward presentation of beer than the tannic flavor of red wine. Certainly, it’s a neat trick to produce something that tastes like grape skins/grape must without incorporating either as an ingredient. But I, personally, don’t like sours aged in wine barrels. Gin barrels or bourbon barrels can add dramatic dimensions to a sour; wine barrels just make sours more mouth-puckering.

One issue with this beer is that there are four different types of malts and you can’t taste any of them. Surly is also using a pretty spiky hop variety (Warrior) for bittering, but that’s imperceptible in the mix, too. We deserve a sour with more balance in 2021. If breweries can push “smoothie” sours with four types of fruit and lactose or pasty cream, where you can taste every discreet element, an elite operation like Surly ought to be able to put together something that isn’t just excruciatingly sour. A perfect pour of Pentagram would be a 4-oz taster at room temperature; stick with Surly’s all-time great stout Darkness or any of the brewery’s more widely-distributed IPAs instead.

For more info, check out Surly here.

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No Corporate Beer Reviews: Skillet Donut Stout

Beer: Skillet Donut Stout
Brewery: Burial Beer Co. (Asheville, NC)
Style: Stout – Coffee
8% ABV / 55 IBU

Burial’s celebrated Skillet Donut Stout is meant to simulate the experience of the police patrol officer’s stand-by: a cup of coffee and a freshly baked donut. For the coffee part, it’s s slam dunk—this is in stiff competition with the Sump Coffee Stout from Perennial Artisan Ales as the exemplar of the style. Burial has tinkered with the formulation over the year, but it currently brewing (and canning) Skillet Donut Stout twice a year with coffee from local roasters Counter Culture. The coffee flavor is strong and boldly bitter, but ultimately in harmony with the nine different types of barley malts incorporated in the mash.

As for the donut flavor, that’s decidedly less pronounced. In its original formulation, Skillet Donut Stout was more of an oatmeal stout with pronounced coffee flavors, this version still uses a scoop of oats in the brew, along with lactose and molasses, but those flavors never quite meld for a “donut” effect. The chocolate notes are really from the coffee, creating more of a “mocha” taste, rather than something akin to a pastry. The donut experience, unfortunately, is something you will have to simulate in your mind.

But it’s easy to let your mind wander and get lost in Skillet Donut Stout. It’s the stuff o’ dreams. The smell of it evokes coffee in both its just-roasted bean form and freshly-brewed form. There’s a decent amount of carbonation here, too, which cuts against the norms for stouts but tickles your tongue as the bitterness clings to your palette. Thanks to the lactose, it also sports a creamy mouthfeel. The dangerous part is that it’s almost indistinguishable from cold brew coffee right out of the fridge. Not that you should start your morning off with Skillet Donut Stout, but perhaps it’s the right thing to do and the right way to do it at a civil hour.

For more info, check out Burial here.

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No Corporate Beer Reviews: My Name is Fon

Beer: My Name is Fon
Brewery: DSSOLVR (Asheville, NC)
Style: Pale Ale – New England
5.4% ABV / N/A IBU

Our definition of “session beers” has really narrowed in the last few years, particularly as higher gravity and aggressively-hopped IPAs are engineering a one-style-to-rule-them-all nationwide tap takeover. “Sessionable” is now shorthand for session IPAs – typically highly-carbonated hop water that clocks in around the 4.5% ABV mark. Decent alternatives to Mexican lagers for daylight drinking, for sure, but none offer a particularly good showcase for the one thing that really defines the pale ale and India pale ale styles: hops. It’s always about the hops.

Asheville brewery DSSOLVR describes its radical new hazy pale ale My Name is Fon as a “hoppy ale.” True to its description, it is a more “approachable” interpretation of a New England pale ale – lightly carbonated, with some tropical fruit notes (particularly a lemon-lime flavor from the Motueka hops), but a more light, drinkable version that what we’re accustomed to. It’s also a very attractive beer for its style; it pours perfectly opaque with no unappealing sediment.

Some of My Name is Fon’s crispness comes from its malt base, which resembles a Czech pilsner. It actually looks and drinks like one, too. DSSOLVER’s approach to hopping is not particularly radical with My Name is Fon – it is double dry-hopped, or hopped in three different stages, with two different hop varietals (the aforementioned Motueka with the more ubiquitous Nelson Sauvin contributing a slight flavor of grape must). But this hoppy ale’s balance is a revelation, a kind of doorway into a secret universe of mid-range pale ales. It’s a good thing that My Name is Fon rests at 5.4% ABV, since you can probably crush two in one sitting without getting too DRNK

For more info, check out DSSOLVER here.

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Lunachicks Vocalist Theo Kogan Talks New Band Biography ‘Fallopian Rhapsody,’ Sugar Farts

We’ve missed Jeanne Fury’s byline in Decibel over the last few years, but she has been pretty busy with an arguably more important task: Coaxing the world’s finest fart stories out of NYC punks The Lunachicks. Fallopian Rhapsody: The Story of the Lunachicks (Hachette Books) charts the rise and fall and rise of the band through the main voices of Theo Kogan, Sydney “Squid” Silver and Gina Volpe, along with commentary from the rest of the band members past and present. Fallopian Rhapsody is, at turns, thoughtful and ribald, with copious amounts of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, but also revealing insight into the band’s incredible evolution as feminists and LGBTQ+ allies.

One of the best parts about Fallopian Rhapsody is that it doesn’t dwell in hagiography. As you page through the book, you’ll encounter numerous examples of the band being utterly disinterested in celebrity or hero worship. One recurring theme, though, is food. According to Jeanne, she and the band ate so much hummus during the writing process that they considered thanking “The Chickpea Farmers of America” in the book’s acknowledgments. Lunachicks vocalist – and former Decibel Reader of the Month – Theo Kogan took a break from prepping for the band’s upcoming reunion shows for a quick round of “All Snacks Considered.” Oh, and “sugar farts”? We trumpet that concept.

Congrats on Fallopian Rhapsody. One of the most striking things about the book is that it’s almost as much of a memoir about food as it is about being touring musicians. How did your early experiences with food shape the sound and style of the Lunachicks?

Thank you! WE LOVE THESE QUESTIONS!!! We started the band in high school, and what do high schoolers do after school? Snack! Back then in the ’80s, there were new snacks and sweet drinks coming out all the time, and there were so many memorable commercials for them on TV—lots more jingles in commercials than there are today (that we know of). Snapple launched when we were in high school, and we even had a song called “Snap Attack” about the beverage. Snacking was and still is one of our favorite pastimes… aside from rocking together, obviously. As New Yorkers, we are very lucky to have grown up with so much amazing culture and food around us. The ability to get all different kinds of foods in different neighborhoods all over the city—it’s an everlasting carnival of food! It affected us on every level.

There’s a part in the book where Theo describes eating a Little Debbie snack cake in the practice space. The band also paid tribute to them on an early non-album track. So… when was the last time any of you actually ate a Little Debbie snack cake? Was the magic still present?

It’s been many years since any of us ate a Little Debbie. Theo might have been the last one to eat one—maybe once in the past 20 years? Maybe.

Given your collective love of candy and snacks, was there a point where you figure out how to hack your tour rider to get a spread that you were actually interested in?

We didn’t even know what a rider was when we started. Once we realized we could put stuff on our rider, we were actually afraid to chock it too full of sweets because we knew would eat it all. So, we kept the riders pretty healthy and would instead spend our per diems on candy.

One of the most sublime parts of world travel is finding a convenience store and checking out the local offerings. What are some of the stranger snacks and candy types you encountered on your travels? Is there anything that was too repulsive to finish?

Definitely. There have been times that Squid bought things like a package of Hostess Snowballs just so she could squish them up and throw them out. The extremely salty licorice we got in Sweden was too disgusting to eat. We spat that out immediately. Some stranger things were peanut butter–flavored corn puffs that they had back then in Germany. There were yummy, spicy curry-flavored potato chips and mini Indian papadum chips in England. They also had really delish chocolate treats with cornflakes in them. The snacks in Japan were exciting: Little chocolate mushroom candies; Hello Kitty and cute animal characters were on everything sweet; candy sushi; pink strawberry chocolate candies… One of the surprises back then in Japan was the vending machines that sold cans of hot coffee. And there were energy drinks in Australia that helped us with the insane jet lag. There was one brand simply called V. It was like a Red Bull on Red Bull. Made us get the sweats at night.

Assuming you don’t have the same metabolisms you had as teenagers, how have your snacking habits changed as you have aged? Is snacking something you share with your spouses and children?

Metabolism, meshamabolism. We still snack together as much as possible, and we snacked our way through the entire writing process of this book—Jeanne made us spreads to put spreads to shame! (She is one of us to the core.) We all definitely, consistently snack with our spouses and kids. A lot less candy is eaten now. We upgraded to things like dark chocolate and fancy-shmancy specialty items ‘cuz we’re so classy.

The Lunachicks have performances scheduled for Webster Hall in NYC on November 26 and 27. Woo! Can you spill the proverbial beans about the limited edition Lunachicks custom candy you’ll have at the event?

We have actually been talking about this for real, but we don’t want to promise anything. It would be chocolate poop emojis, exploding pimple candy, candy boogers and sugar farts.

Perfect snack experience, desert island style: What is it, where are you, and who are you eating it with?

We are together, Jeanne included, in Australia near the beach, with our kids and spouses eating a variety of veggie spreads, hummus, baba ganoush, veggies, crackers and chips, breads for the starchy, cheeses for the cheesy, hot sauces for the saucy, olives, pickles, hot peppers, and some desserts like classy (see above) dark chocolate, strawberry rhubarb pie, vegan ice creams and, of course, DONUTS. Duh.

Fallopian Rhapsody: The Story of The Lunachicks is available now in paperback, ebook and audiobook formats and can be ordered wherever books are sold.

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No Corporate Beer Reviews: Leveler

Beer: Leveler
Brewery: Elder Pine Brewing & Blending (Gaithersburg, MD)
Style: Red Ale – American Amber/Red
7% ABV / 66 IBU

Elder Pine’s status as a metal brewery has never been in doubt; the first time I stepped into the tap room, they were blasting metal. End of story. They’ve also developed an interesting relationship with the metalcore act August Burns Red over the last few years, starting with a fruited sour (Constellations: Antares) and a DIPA (Constellations: Pollux) to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the band’s third studio album. Bones, a saison named after the centerpiece of the band’s newest album Guardians, followed last spring. And that brings us to the latest Elder Pine x August Burns Red collaboration Leveler, part of the tie-ins (including a livestream) to celebrate the 10th anniversary of that album. Suffice it to say, this brings a completely different meaning to the idea of a brewery’s “core line-up.”

Located just outside the D.C. Beltway, Elder Pine Brewing & Blending typically knocks it out of the park with anything tied to the Nordic brewing tradition. All of Elder Pine’s farmhouse ales are worth seeking out, but the brewery has undergone a more subtle evolution since its founding and now sports a secondary mission of experimenting with hops for bittering. When deployed thoughtfully, this can have a transformative effect on a more malt-forward style, like a lager. Or, in the case of Leveler, an American Amber – a highly specific style which is the accompaniment for Hill Country-style Texas barbecue.

In truth, a red ale can be pretty underwhelming and recent trends towards ennobling maligned styles by cranking up the ABV for “imperial” versions sacrifice drinkability for extremity. Leveler is unlike any American Amber I’ve sampled, but it is easily one of the best. It presents as a typical Amber ale, with lower carbonation and a beautiful color that almost resembles a glass of rosé wine. But it’s a red ale conceived like a West Coast IPA, with bold pine-y notes from the hops and an appealing bitterness that clings a bit to your palette. It’s pretty righteous and all you could ever want out of this style. Leveler is the truth, the truth, the truth, the truth.

For more info, check out Elder Pine here.

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No Corporate Beer Reviews: Mad Ear

Beer: Mad Ear
Brewery: Trinity Brewing Co. (Colorado Springs, CO)
Style: Farmhouse Ale – Bière de Garde
8.1% ABV / N/A IBU

Think of the Bière de Garde as the yin to the Saison’s yang. Both are considered “farmhouse ales,” due to their origins as ale-type beers brewed in actual farmhouses. The saison has come to be known as a Spring/Summer style – lighter-bodied, crisp and with a very dry finish. There isn’t often a lot of variation with saisons, save for how they are spiced, and that makes for a someone polarizing style. People either love ’em or hate ’em and there’s no room for fence-sitting.

The Bière de Garde, by contrast, is a top-fermented, malt-forward, higher ABV brew and even the range in coloration is pretty stark. Trinity’s delectable Mad Ear pours a copper hue, which is right in the middle of where Bière de Gardes typically land, halfway between the coloration of a golden ale and the character of a brown ale. And although Trinity’s Mad Ear is an unfiltered brew and a little sediment is to be expected, the way light passes through when it’s poured into a glass is super-cool, as is the creamy swirl on top of the beer and the lacing produced by the carbonation.

Unfortunately for Mad Ear, malt-forward styles are currently considered somewhat outré. This is where the old ways are truly the best ways, because the European tradition of mid-range ale styles like the Belgian strong ale, the dark ale and the Bière de Garde still hasn’t taken flight across the Atlantic. If Daft Punk can make it here, why can’t they? Trinity’s Mad Ear is an exceptional rendition of that style. The malt clings to the front of your palette and features strong caramel notes that evoke a Stroopwaffel cookie. But truly the best part is the high level of carbonation and uniquely effervescent sensation it creates. As the beer settles, that carbonation dissipates and gives way to an Earthier kind of experience. That’s OK, but this beer is built for harsher weather and meant to be consumed cold.

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No Corporate Beer Reviews: Loral Roberts

Beer: Loral Roberts
Brewery: American Solera (Tulsa, OK)
Style: Kŏlsch
5% ABV / N/A IBU

By definition, the Kŏlsch is a low gravity and highly drinkable style, representing old-world brewing traditions centered around the city of Cologne. Germany. It bears some similarities with filtered and top-fermented German hefeweizens, marzens and festbiers – where these beers flow, steins and dirndls can’t be far behind. But the calling card of the Kŏlsch is that it’s quite pale and light-bodied, with a taste that recalls lightly-hopped mineral water. It’s so low gravity that open-air festival fans can pound it to avoid heatstroke and/or use it as a bathing aid.

I came prepared to hate American Solera’s Loral Roberts. The Kŏlsch is a style that practically resists innovation and one that is very elemental – it’s reliant on local ingredients that are out of reach for most American brewers. It’s also a highly specific and regulated style (based on Germany purity laws), so much so that anything brewed outside of a 50km radius of Cologne is truly a Kŏlsch-style ale. But Loral Robberies is a very good rendition of the style, reasonably authentic in execution but with a character-transforming twist of dry-hopping.

Loral Roberts pours with a thick and creamy head, leading to foam residue on the side of the glass and a uniquely fluffy, cloud-like type of lacing. This is one that you can probably drink straight out of the can, because it’s not much to look at, but the flavor is great. Loral Roberts is, in turns, fruity like a Granny Smith apple and floral (thanks to the Loral hops). It also smells faintly of honeysuckle, which you really pick up on when it’s poured into a wide-mouthed goblet. And the dry-hopping is a master stroke. American Solera keeps finding new and novel ways to showcase hop varietals; now we’re waiting to see what magic the Tulsa brewery can perform on other styles that are not typically hop-forward.

For more info, check out American Solera here.

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No Corporate Beer Reviews: Black Miso

Beer: Black Miso
Brewery: Japas Cervejaria (São Paulo, Brazil)
Style: Stout – Russian Imperial
11.5% ABV / 68 IBU

Part of the incredible story behind Japas Cervejaria can be found on each of the brewery’s can releases. Japas is a collective of three Brazilian women—Fernanda Ueno, Maíra Kimura and Yumi Shimada—paying homage to their shared Japanese heritage with beers that riff on Japanese concepts and ingredients. Black Miso proves to be a great showcase for this type of novelty, a high-octane Russian Imperial Stout that incorporates a totally different type of fermentation: red miso paste.

Black Miso is a bit thinner that your typical Russian Imperial Stout, with a body that more closely resembles the closely-related Baltic porter style. But despite its thinness, it hits all of the right notes, especially with its beautiful onyx color and its rich, full flavor. Black Miso has truly bold, roast-y notes of coffee and chicory (or the world-famous coffee at Cafe du Monde in N’Awlins). The balance of malt and bitterness in Black Miso is perfect.

And the red miso paste adds incredible dimensions to the stout base, much like the niche trend of adding butter to coffee to amplify the richness. Black Miso is actually one of three similar variations on Russian Imperials that Japas has experimented with, including Hiratake mushrooms and kombu, the edible kelp that forms the base of the Japanese soup stock dashi. With contract brewing agreements in place with Great South Bay Brewers in Long Island, Japas Cervejaria has extended its reach in the Western Hemisphere and will be leading the charge with this type of cultural fusion. Love, thy name is umami.

For more info, check out Japas Cervejaria here.

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No Corporate Beer Reviews: Puff Puff Fish (Venom Series)

Beer: Puff Puff Fish (Venom Series)
Brewery: Tripping Animals Brewing Co, (Doral, FL)
Style: Sour – Fruited
6% ABV / N/A IBU

Puff Puff Fish is light, airy and refreshing—a mid-range ABV sour that drinks like a session beer. Daredevil thrill-seekers questing for an epic mouth-puckering experience may be a little put off by the final installment of this upstart brewery’s “Venom Series.” But Puff Puff Fish knows which way the wind is blowing with fruited sours: the sour base provides the framework for experiencing the fruit, and the more radical the combination of fruit, the better.

With sour styles (slowly) on the rise in popularity, Puff Puff Fish embodies a general micro-trend towards tropical sours. Having experienced coconut and pink guava in other sours, the combination of the two is pleasurable, but I really like the addition of lychee, a small Chinese stone fruit with not-overly-sweet white pulp. It’s something that tastes great in a martini, and that is kind of the effect with Puff Puff Fish.

For a series of beers named after nature’s predators, Puff Puff Fish and its predecessors emphasize drinkability. Tripping Animals is a small operation that is only a couple of years old, but the brewery is already making a name for itself with its creative fruited sour and fruity berliner weisse combos. The Miami area brewery seems to have cracked the riddle of how to make accessible styles of beer that are otherwise not universally adored. And if Tripping Animals only did sours, they’d have an impressive line-up, but of course they can brew higher gravity beers and make that look effortless, too.

For more info, check out Tripping Animals Brewing Company here.

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No Corporate Beer Reviews: Morticia

Beer: Morticia
Brewery: Barrier Brewing Company (Oceanside, NY)
Style: Stout – Russian Imperial
10.1% ABV / N/A IBU

For a beer conditioned on oak, this Russian Imperial Stout doesn’t bowl you over with that familiar oak smell or flavor. There’s no more tragic way to ruin a perfectly good beer than extending aging in oak barrels, but Morticia owes its unique character to a more subtle technique of conditioning on bourbon barrel spirals, a way of strategically imparting a bit of barrel character into spirits without full-on barrel aging. There’s a hint of bourbon on the nose with Morticia, and a little bit of a palette-warming effect as you swig it, but it doesn’t taste like a stout that fell into a barrel of bourbon and drowned.

This is great, because there’s already a fair bit going on with Morticia between the inclusion of coffee and milk sugar. The latter seems to be the key to the beer’s creaminess, and although still subtle, edges Barrier Brewing’s delightful stout towards the milk stout range. The former is what contributes just the perfect amount of bitterness, enough to evoke the sensation of a cup of coffee, but not in stark opposition to the milk sugar and infused bourbon barrel spiral flavors. With all of that going on, plus the typical chocolatey malts associated with stouts, Morticia ends up with the overall flavor profile of a mocha.

At 10.1% ABV, Morticia packs the same punch as celebrated imperial-style stouts like Ten FIDY from Oskar Blues and Surly’s Darkness. While lightweight considering the trend towards 14-15% ABV Russian Imperials, mo’ booze is not necessarily mo’ better. At that concentration, you taste the alcohol and experience a burning sensation in your throat. Around 9-11.5% ABV is where it’s at for a beer like this, especially for a stout as balanced as Morticia. Swish it around in the glass, breathe in a little bit with a sip in your mouth, and experience the narcotic bliss of a beer that claims to be the final word on imperial stouts.

For more info, check out Barrier Brewing here.

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