Tony Robbins, take note: How to Fail by Aaron Goldfarb is not your average read.

 “Goldfarb…” you’re thinking to yourself. That name sounds kind of familiar. And you’re right, as he’s best known around these parts as the man behind The Vice Blog, in my opinion one of the most entertaining and provocative beer blogs around. With his first novel, Goldfarb uses his trademark wit to cleverly bring us the world’s first self-hurt guide, a blue print for failure success (emphasis on the blue). The book completely flips the self-help concept on its head, delivering a hilarious account of one man’s ill-fated journey failing his way through every aspect of life. And when I say every aspect, I mean every aspect. From the website:

In How to Fail follow the misadventures, misgivings, and massive mistakes of this satiric novel’s narrator Stu Fish as he tries to find success in 2010 New York. With hilarious chapters such as How to Fail to Make Your Parents Proud of You, How to Fail to Do Something Productive All Day, How to Fail in Love, and How to Fail All the Way to Rock Bottom, and even more ribald “footchapters” such as How to Masturbate at Work, How to Develop an Addiction, How to Get Usurped by Your Girlfriend’s Ex, and How to Acquire the STD That’s Right for You, there’s not an aspect of life How to Fail doesn’t tackle and offer a terrific non-solution for. All of this is delivered in perfect single serving-size chapters for our modern A.D.D. culture more used to reading blog entries on their phone while riding the subway or waiting in line at Subway than in carefully reading a book.

I’d offer an interview with the author himself, but Goldfarb is currently occupied on a book tour bender across the east coast, hitting 30 bars in 30 days to try and wrap as many vices as possible into a month-long period. I’m guessing it’ll make for amusing fodder for his follow-up book, Everything You Wanted to Know About Shitty Atlantic City Bars But Were Afraid to Ask.

So put the kids to bed, grab a beer, and cozy up to a copy of How to Fail. I assure you, it’ll be the most fun you’ve had failing in a long time.

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The guys over at Lift Bridge have been very busy of late. Earlier this year, Dan and company acquired a site in their hometown of Stillwater which will give them a little over 10,000 square feet of space for a physical brewery. They’re also actively looking for a brew master to come on board and oversee the build-out and ongoing brewing operations. These developments should allow the brewery to expand distribution in the Twin Cities, although I’m unclear if their relationship with Cold Spring will continue as usual. I’m looking forward to visiting when things are up and running.

Lift Bridge just released Chestnut Hill for the first time in bottles, an American-style brown ale that’s brewed with a dash of cinnamon and all-spice. While it’s a limited seasonal release, it’s a welcome addition to their already solid Farm Girl Saison and Crosscut Pale Ale, also found on shelves. From the pour, Chestnut Hill  has a deep mahogany coloring, a very clear appearance, and a dense head of carbonation. The aroma is sweet caramel malt, toffee, brown sugar, and subtle cinnamon. I’m glad they didn’t overdo the spicing, which can get out of hand with some beers this time of year (pumpkin, in particular). The flavor is slightly nutty, and noticeably dry throughout. Brown malt and Yakima hops are evident, with a fairly bitter finish that lingers. If it were any sweeter, I’d say this might border stylistically on a winter warmer. This one comes in at 6.5% ABV, making it a very nice autumn beer for those cool evenings by the fire pit.

Rating: A-

The Twins are booking flights direct from LaGuardia to Cancun International. Politicians are spewing more venom than a knotted cobra. And department stores are running pre-holiday holiday sales like they’re afraid we’ll all forget what Christmas is really about. It can only mean two things – fall is officially here, and a bevy of fresh-hopped beers are starting to hit the market.

Twin Cities beer drinkers are blessed in that a variety of fresh-hopped beers – ales made with undried whole hops usually picked days, and in some cases minutes, before they’re used in the brewing process – are readily available on the shelves and in favorite pubs. Sierra Nevada’s Harvest Ale Series is solid. Great Divide’s Fresh Hop Pale Ale is impressive. And Founder’s Harvest Ale is heavenly. But beyond these beers, brewers in our own backyard have a handful of phenomenal offerings that arguably lead the way as some of the best examples in the country. And true to form…local means they’re fresher than the rest.

I rounded up the first few local fresh-hop beers out of the gates from Brau Brothers, Minneapolis Town Hall, and Surly, and subjected myself to some brutally wonderful palate punishment.  

Brau Brothers 100 Yard Dash Fresh Hop Ale
This beer completely bowled me over when I tried it at Autumn Brew Review, likely my favorite of the day. The Brau bros pick their estate-grown hops just a short sprint away from the brewhouse, and toss them in minutes after they’re off the bine, literally as fresh as it gets. Beautiful light gold coloring, with a creamy, building off-white head following the pour. Not exactly certain when this batch was brewed, but even a week or so after packaging it’s evident the aroma is beginning to fall off, not nearly the West Coast-style punch in the nose I remembered. However, Centennial, Cascade, Mt. Hood, Sterling and Nugget are used through all stages of the brewing process to deliver what, in my opinion, is the most bitter beer of the selected bunch, a shocking bite that really impressed. At 6.8% ABV, a slightly alcoholic finish, leaving a dry, prickly sensation on the tastebuds.  

Rating: A- 

Minneapolis Town Hall Fresh Hop Ale
This is Town Hall’s annual Fresh Hop Week, and they came out swinging with this year’s version. Poured from the growler with a rich amber coloring, the darkest of the group. Thoughtfully garnished with a whole Citra hop cone that surprisingly emerged from the growler as I poured, a very fun touch. The aroma is potently dank, with strong notes of fresh green onion. Slightly sweeter than the offering from Brau Brothers, but a smoother, more mellow bitterness throughout. The beer finishes full and rounded, the most balanced of the bunch.    

Rating: A

Surly Wet
Probably one of the most anticipated releases from Surly since…well, they’re all anticipated. But this is the first time they’re offering this in cans. And I can assure you, if you don’t have any in your grubby little hands by the time you’re reading this, odds are you’re already out of luck. The lightest coloring of the bunch with a straw-like appearance, Wet greets with an intensely aromatic combination of balsam, lemon and cut grass, with more of the green onion (and no wonder it’s intense, as this beer was canned earlier this morning). More bitter than Town Hall’s version, with a highly attenuated, dry finish. The 7.5% ABV sneaks up on you. This is what I think of when I think of a West Coast-style IPA.

Rating: A

I pulled together a profile on Surly for the cover of this week’s Vita.mn, check it out.

The new label art for this year’s Surly Darkness from local artists Aesthetic Apparatus. Love it.

Two years in the ground, and my hop bines are finally starting to show some production.

At the beginning of the growing season, I transferred my three bines to a sunnier location in the backyard beneath an existing clothesline pole that I planned to use as the backbone of my trellis system. I trained the bines to grow vertically, using some metal garden stakes and strong twine to create a simple support structure tied to the top of the seven foot pole. From the pole, I then ran a series of thick pieces of clothesline to my garage, providing about 25 feet of additional runway for the bines to grow horizontally.

The idea seemed to work well, as the longest of the Cascade plant’s two stalky trunks has grown to about 18 feet so far this year. Small hop flowers are beginning to emerge from the winding runners, with a few legitimate cones taking shape. It’s a pretty cool feeling knowing that I’ll be able to harvest these guys and use in one of my own beers before the end of the year, perhaps in a fresh “wet hop” style pale ale.

Unfortunately, the Fuggle and Horizon bines haven’t fared as well, only reaching five or six feet with no flower production, which is in line with their growth last year. In fact, the Fuggle bine looks like it is nearly dead, with most of its yellowed leaves withered away to the point where it now more closely resembles Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree.

I haven’t done a ton of research into it, but I suspect these species may be more temperamental than Cascade, as I really didn’t do much in the way of fertilizing (thus the yellowed leaves, likely an iron deficiency), and I watered only occasionally when Mother Nature hadn’t provided recent moisture. Anyone else growing these hops with any luck?

Some pictures from the weekend:

Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier, Duvel, Schneider & Sohn Aventinus, Unibroue La Fin du Monde, and even Bell’s Two Hearted Ale…all beers now ranked in the top 20 on Beer Advocate’s newly redesigned Top Beers on Planet Earth list. And for once, I couldn’t agree more.

For many of us who closely follow the general goings-on of the craft beer world, and wait with bated breath as brewers announce the next offering in their [insert name of rare beer series here] or host limited release parties of draught-only mega-hopped DIPA’s and waxed bombers of Russian imperial stouts, you likely fall into one of two camps when it comes to how you’ve historically viewed the Beer Advocate Top Beers list. You either 1) look at the list as holy scripture, a true reflection of the beer zietgeist that accurately ranks the top beers on the planet based solely on objective ratings by site reviewers, or 2) a list of beers that are generally considered by most to be “the best” to be had, but also a list that’s significantly contaminated and largely driven by hype and limited availability versus objective sensory evaluation.  

Clearly, I’m in camp #2. And I’ve always looked at the list with a skeptical eye, questioning how beers such as Russian River’s Pliny the Younger, which I recently reviewed with a firm tongue in cheek, could be considered to be one of THE BEST in the world (I think #2 on their old list) when only a few hundred people ever had the opportunity to try it. Is it a good beer? Of course it is. But given the relatively small sample size of reviewers, can it legitimately be considered the best in the world? According to the Alstrom Brothers — the founders of Beer Advocate who recently changed the minimum number of reviews for any beer to potentially make the list from 10 to 1,000 — the answer was a firm no.

And in my opinion, here’s why: Beer Advocate has done a great deal to raise awareness for craft beer made with passion and love by the more than 1,500  craft breweries around our country, and beyond. However, over the years, the community has slowly drifted from fulfilling part of its original stated mission, which is to “wake the masses to better beer options.” In short, it went from truly advocating for craft beer, to acting more as a repository of incredibly inside reviews and discussions on ultra rare, difficult to find beers that only the most determined of beer geeks could ever hope to lay their hands on. Not necessarily what I’d call a truly representative take on how most of the country views the beer category.

So now that Westy 12 is no longer the king of the hill (for now), who are the top contenders? They are beers with critical mass behind them…offerings that a significant number of people view as the best of the best. And in creating a high bar for admission, in one fell swoop we’ve eliminated the majority (not all, of course) of the hype driving many of the old rankings.

To that end, they’ve also created a handful of new sub-lists that break out the rankings by geography, by how poorly they’ve been rated (a “bottom of the barrel” list), and even by how new a beer is to the marketplace (in other words, what beers are getting “buzz”). These newer, often highly limited beers of course have their place…but at least for now, not at the top of the beer world until more folks get on board with them, the economic principle of scarcity be damned.   

I can see only good things from this change. This is a much more credible and realistic list. Regular folks who may not be exposed to the craft world may now truly have an opportunity to understand what this thing is all about, and why people like you and me get so excited when talking about the beer we tried the night before. And in looking at the current list, I couldn’t agree more with how many of the highly available beers, including many that are standard bearers of their respective styles, are positioned. 

No matter what system or criteria you employ, it will never be a perfect representation. But I believe that this change in criteria was truly a move in the right direction. So now that I’ve made my case, what say you?

* Huge footnote to this post…in many ways, my commentary above was significantly negated, considering moments after publishing this, the “Bros” announced that their shift to a 1,000 review minimum to make the top list was in fact an “experiment” meant to solicit feedback on how the lists were generated. Instead of 1,000 reviews as the threshold, they’ve set the criteria at the mean number of reviews across all beers listed on the site, which currently sits at 105. Is 105 better than 10? Yes. Is it statistically more equitable than using an arbitrary number such as 1,000? Yes. But do I agree with the notion that they’ve significantly minimized the hype factor involved in their ranking system by going this route? Absolutely not. The amended list is largely unchanged, and does nothing to fulfill their stated mission of bringing greater awareness and visibility to “better beer options” for the masses.