This past weekend I recorded an episode of the Drinking With Shirt podcast. What made this particular episode worth mentioning at this particular moment was that, for the first time, I was recording the podcast alone. While that scenario presents the sort of strange problems that are inherent with sitting alone in a room, drinking several beers in a short amount of time, and talking aloud into a microphone, the dilemma I faced was of a different variety.
Can a man surprise himself?
I wondered that very thought while preparing for the podcast (yes, there is some preparation that is involved). And not in a “what am I capable of” self analysis sort of way. I wondered if a man could literally surprise himself – like buy a present, wrap it, somehow forget, and then be surprised when it's unwrapped. More specifically, would I be able to have the podcast's traditional surprise beer if I was recording alone?
For those that are unfamiliar with the podcast, after two beers battle it out in in a bloodsport-esque two beers enter one beer wins competitive tasting competition, there is usually a third beer that myself and my guest(s) enjoy. Only I know what this third beer is, hence the it is known as the surprise beer.
And therein lies the dilemma – how can I know what the third beer is and at the same time be surprised by that very beer? I might as well turn into a snake and then a bird and then a fish and then back into a snake so that I can eat my own tail. But that wouldn't work on a podcast. Because no one would be able to see it.
The surprise beer I had in mind was Off Color Brewing's Apex Predator, a farmhouse ale. The episode I recorded featured two other farmhouse ales, Stillwater Artisnal Ales' Cellar Door and Boulevard's Tank 7. The premise, suggested to me via Twitter by @LeftField Dan, was that the BeerSport would mirror the Major League Baseball playoff series between the Orioles and the Royals, with Stillwater representing Baltimore and Boulevard representing Kansas City.
Not only does the similarity in style make Apex Predator a prime candidate to be the surprise beer following such a match up, but Apex Predator is also from Chicago. An appearance as the surprise beer following a postseason baseball edition of BeerSport would be the closest Chicago has been to a playoff series in years. It could have been good for the city. It would have definitely been good for BeerSport. Because this beer is absolutely delicious.
Apex Predator, Off Color Brewing (3.11 BAR, 120 Style+)
Appearance = 4.5/5
Pale yellow and hazy. A finger of white that sticks around. Decent lacing.
Smell = 4/5
Is fruit-grass a thing? Almost a juicy-fruit gum smell. Also some yeasty spice notes, a light clove smell perhaps?
Taste = 4.25/5
The fruitiness from the nose is here but more subtle, with more lemon than the aroma presented. Maybe some apple as well. It balances well with the nice dry earth and grain flavors. Leaves a light and clean lemon and spice tang behind on the tongue.
Feel = 5/5
This beer finishes like a cloud. It starts with nice, effervescent, tiny carbonation with a crisp bite and tingly on the tongue and then POOF, it's gone. It's as if you don't actually swallow this beer, simply goes all light and fluffy and turns to air.
Overall = 4.5/5
Really enjoyable and refreshing. Great flavors and even better feel. Lately I've been enjoying farmhouse ales with a good amount of funk, but this beer, with little to no funk, wows me with subtle, complex flavors and an outstanding feel.
Part of the reason I think I've been finding the funkier farmhouse ales more enjoyable is because of the amount of not-so-great saison/farmhouse ales I've tried over the past few years. I can't think of a specific one at the moment, and I'm certainly not referring to any of the farmhouse ales mentioned above, but I feel like a majority that I've tried have been either overly sweet for the style or overly Belgian (if that descriptor makes any sense).
It seems that as the style became more popular, more craft brewers started to release a saison or farmhouse ale. This meant that more choices were readily available within the style, which at first glance might seem like a good thing to a farmhouse fan. But then you start to try these different offerings because you're excited to see more farmhouse style ales on the shelf and it turns out that they just aren't that good. It turns out that increased quantity means increased variance of quality - to the point, at least for me, that I started to stay away from trying anything I hadn't had in that style, the exception being the ones that I heard were loaded with brett and funk because I felt confident they wouldn't be cloyingly sweet.
The only reason I bought Apex Predator was because I had enjoyed Off Color's Troublesome so much. Essentially, I trusted the brewer. And I've got several other brewers, like Prairie and Jolly Pumpkin, that I see regularly on the shelves of my bottle shop that I feel like I can go to for a solid farmhouse ale. But outside of those, it is unlikely that I'm picking up a farmhouse ale I've heard nothing about.
There seems to be constant talk about the whether or not the current craft beer bubble is going to burst. But within craft beer, the conversation might be better focused on the styles that are the current fad and whether or not, for example, the saison/farmhouse ale bubble is going to burst. Which, based on the decreased amount I'm seeing on shelves, I'd say it has. Which is fine because, for the most part, the good ones are still standing.
Obviously, a similar bubble is happening right now with sour ales. In the past year, the sour section of my local bottle shop has literally quadrupled in size. As a fan of sours, this seems like great news until you spend $25 on a bomber of a sour that just doesn't do it for you. How many times does that happen before you stop trying the new options as they appear? With the increased price tag generally associated with sour, is that fad set to flame out more quickly than the in vogue styles that came before?
I suppose the real question isn't how long, the real question is what's next?
Bring me all the Lagers!
J. R. Shirt likes a good farmhouse ale. He also likes a good lager. He would you to bring him all the lagers. He also hosts a podcast. Follow J.R. on Twitter and Untapped @beeronmyshirt.