I was always the only one named Eno.
Even if I was mediocre -- and I often was -- there wasn't another Eno to compare me to. I was an only child, too, so there wasn't even another Sarris brother that could have been thrown in the conversation. As weird, gangly, curly, frizzy, bookish, and awkward as I was, I often took respite in the fact that, hey, at least I was the only one like me.
Maybe I overrated the value of being unique. Maybe it was just a pat on the back -- invaluable to a teenager just trying to survive the slings and arrows of his cohort -- but only a pat on the back and no more. Maybe it meant little beyond personal solace.
I could have been John Smith and changed the world. Apologies to the John Smiths out there, actually, maybe I should have said Carlos Martinez (his is one of three player names that appears five times in the FanGraphs database). I mean, it's just a name. Marketing, really.
Here's the thing, though, to be truly impressive, I would have had to have been excellent *and* unique. So, Eno Sarris, but with a little more oomph behind the name, in other words.
So this weekend I had the Funkatronic Brett IPA from Shady Oak Barrel House.
I've had 'wild' IPAs before. Flying Dog makes one, and Mikkeller. Usually, the Brettanomyces rules the taste, and I don't get too much of the "IPA" and it just tastes like a decently hoppy Belgian pale. I mean, that's what it is, but if you ask me, I'll take my Brett in a saison and enjoy the funky finish it gives a lighter style, or in a sour and enjoy the way it offsets the fruit. That's my bag.
Funkatronic uses a crap ton of Nelson hops, and it's therefore the fruitiest farmhouse IPA I've ever had. Most reviews focus on the funk -- I mean, George Clinton is on the bottle and the name points you in that direction -- but the funk comes with the Brett usually. What you don't get a ton of is the new-wave fruity/melon hops paired with the Brett funk/pepper. (I did get it once from an infected Iron Fist Nelson, but that was by accident, and the beer really didn't stand up to the excellence of this one.)
It's weird. I served it to a group of people that liked Belgian beers, sours, and IPAs separately, and not one of the bench was completely complimentary.
"I've never had anything like that!"
What do you say when you're drinking a beer that smells like grapefruit, tastes like melon and pepper, and is layered with horse blanket funk throughout? That's not something anybody is used to. You don't even know, while you're drinking it, if you want to get used to it, or if you want every taste to be like that first taste, that first slap in the face. Maybe you'd just like to encapsulate that uniqueness, forever preserve it in amber so that later generations that find your fossalized bones can wonder what the hell this beer is he's holding.
So this weekend I also tried Lupulin River by Knee Deep.
I've had Knee Deep IPAs before, and they're insane. Hoptologist, Hop Shortage, Hoparillo, Hop De-Ranged, etc. Look at the label.
Most of their beers are a hop fist to the groin with an ABV purple nurple. Any tasting with a Knee Deep in it should finish with the Knee Deep.
But the Lupulin River is actually much more restrained. You get a bit of fruit, but it's a well-balanced hop-forward West Coast IPA with all the capital letters and heavy malting that comes with the term. Wait a second.
It tastes almost excactly like Pliny the Elder.
I might not even be able to tell the difference if you switched the labels. I don't have any Pliny in front of me, but boy do I want to taste test this one. I mean, they nailed it. This started out as a collaboration with Kern River, but it's just a bit of mouthfeel short of a Russian River monster.
But they nailed something that has come before! I guess, if you're going to imitate a beer, then you might as well imitate the third-best beer in America, right? I mean, I can't find any Pliny right now, but in a current trade I'm finishing up, I'm going to send a Lupulin, because, hey, pretty much the same thing.
Now, that's not nice. If the point is drinking good beer, this is obviously a good beer. It might even be better than the Funkatronic, if the rest of the world hadn't already happened. If we were here, drinking the first beers that had ever graced this world, and one was funkatronic and one was Lupulin, heck yeah I'll take me some Lupulin over to my clan, and you can take the Funkatronic, and you can be Eno and I'll be Carlos. I've spent enough time in Brooklyn and San Francisco and Prep School to know that being unique can be overrated. Press that button enough and you're all shaving the sides of your head, keeping it long on the top, and growing a beard down to your suspenders.
But the rest of the world has happened! And we've had many excellent beers. Apologies to Rudi Ghequire of Rodenbach, but just because we've been making a beer one way for 600 years does *not* actually mean we have to keep doing it that way, in my estimation. The point is to find new, excellent, amazing combinations of tastes. We didn't stop making new foods because of the pig roast, we shouldn't stop trying to make new types of beer because of Cantillon St. Lamvinus.
And so, maybe Funkatronic leaps ahead. It's certainly the beer that I'm more likely to recommend, especially to those that like Belgian beers but haven't loved an IPA yet. And it's also going into the trade I'm finishing up, and I'd be zero percent surprised if that's the one that leads the email response I get back. There's not a lot of pepper melon funk out there, after all.
Nobody contests the fact that excellent *and* unique is where we'd all like to live. I strive for excellence despite having a unique first name, after all. But if you were given a choice, are you sure that excellent is where you'd land?
Funkatronic American Wild Ale, Shady Oak Barrel House
Appearance = 3.5/5
That hazy lemony yello look of a dirty saison. The big head of a Brett beer. You've seen this beer before.
Smell = 4.5/5
As you lean in, you expect Brett and funk smells, but you get more -- malt, and fruit. You already know it's more than a saison, and even by smell, you're getting a blend between Belgium and California.
Taste = 4/5
The first roll of tastes is surprisingly juicy. Melons and mango and citrus. But then comes the next wave, and where you expect the traditional piney/citrus bitterness of an IPA, there's more. There's funk and spice and herbs. There's your Brett. But it doesn't finish Brett-only, which is some sort of miracle. You still get some of that piney end. What mad Jungle/Forest are we in, that it provides us mangos and herbs and pine trees and grapefruit at the same time?
Feel = 5/5
You know what I love about saisons and sours? That crisp, bright finish that makes you want to reach for more. Brett does that. You know what I love about IPAs? That thick mouthfeel that hangs, slickly, on your tongue and spreads out the taste so that you really can appreciate different waves of taste. You know what I love about this Brett IPA? You get both. Like a dark sour on the other end, if you combine thickness with a crisp finish, I will love you.