Monday, June 1, 2009

We Waited A Century and a Half for This???

I'm usually a pretty easy-going guy, but the one thing that always gets my knickers in a twist is when someone creates false expectations. When I pick something off a menu, be it a meal or a particular beer, only to have the server come back and tell me "Oh, we're out of that", it really irks me. Why? Because I've been anticipating having something (something I really want or I wouldn't have ordered it), only to have it snatched away. In short, a false expectation has been created.

I experienced this a few weeks ago at Humpy's Great Alaskan Alehouse up in Anchorage. My lovely wife Elaine and I walked in on a Monday evening to have dinner. The beer menu listed a cask-conditioned version of Deschutes' Mirror Pond Pale Ale. Having lived in London, I'm a sucker for any sort of cask-conditioned ale, so I ordered a pint, only to have the server come back to tell me that they were out. Disappointing, but then I know how rare cask-conditioned beers are, so I could accept that they had probably run out earlier that evening and moved on to something else.

As luck would have it, we happened to return to Humpy's for dinner again the very next night. There was a brand-new beer menu, with that day's date, which again listed the cask-conditioned Mirror Pond. "Great," I thought. "They must have put another cask of it on; after all, it's a new menu as of today." Au contraire; they were still out. Whoever produced their daily beer menu hadn't bothered to update anything except the date at the top. Which begs the question: why bother to have a daily beer menu at all, if you're not going to update it on a daily basis?

The bottom line is that Humpy's had created a false expectation, which is another way to say that they lied: they created the expectation that their daily beer menu would be updated on a daily basis, when actually they couldn't be bothered to do so.

Lest anyone think the title of this blog should be "Why I Hate Humpy's Great Alaskan Alehouse", let me quickly add that I actually love Humpy's. I just want to see them become even better. After all, loving someone or something doesn't mean being blind to their faults. Just ask any wife about her husband...

The danger of false expectations was hammered home to me again last week when I met up with my good buddy James "Dr. Fermento" Roberts at Cafe Amsterdam for a few beers Wednesday evening. In particular, we wanted to taste Guinness' 250th Anniversary Stout. Guinness is a global beer icon, with several different versions sold in different regions of the world, including big versions like the Caribbean's Foreign Extra Stout (coming in at 7.5% ABV, as compared to 4.2% of the Guinness Draught that most folks are familiar with in the US). In celebration of two and a half centuries of brewing, it's only natural to expect that such an ancient and accomplished brewery would produce something amazing in the way of an anniversary beer.

Natural, but totally wrong.

Tasting both the draft (regular carbonation, not nitro) and bottled versions, I was amazed at how "little" there was to them. To my taste, they had even less body than regular Guinness Draught. Not to mention they were totally lacking in the roasted notes usually associated with a Irish Dry Stout. Dr. Fermento postulated that the brewery might have been trying to harken back to its porter roots, from the days prior to that new-fangled thing called "Stout Porter" being dreamed up. That's a charitable explanation. Being less charitable and more cynical, I suspect this is just another step in "dumbing down" the flavor profile. Large brewing concerns seem to inevitably end up captured by their Marketing Departments, who prefer the blandest product that can be produced, so as not to put off any potential consumers. Then spend millions on ad campaigns to convince folks to buy it, regardless of what it tastes like and voila! You can be the next Miller Lite. That whirring sound you hear is Arthur Guinness spinning in his Dublin grave...

Desperate for a beer that tasted like it was made by a brewer instead of a committee, I ordered up a glass of Dupont's Moinette Brune. Produced by one of the last true farmhouse breweries in Belgium, this great beer is everything the proceeding was not. At 8.5% ABV, the strong dark ale is bursting with interesting flavors, with notes of dark fruit competing with the peppery notes from the yeast. A wonderful glass that restored my faith in the brewer's art.

For my final beer I decided to go for something closer to home, from Haines Brewing Company. Of course in Alaska, "close" is a relative term. Haines is over 900 road miles away from my home, so I don't often get a chance to sample anything from that brewery. I had a glass of their Spruce Tip Brown, in spite of the fact that I'm not usually a fan of beers made with spruce tips. Such beers tend to be a little too "piney" for my tastes, but this one turned out to be an exception. Possibly because the spruce tips used were frozen and aged for a year, the resulting beer seemed to have good balance, without the pine/resin face-slap. The malt and hop flavors were all present, with an emphasis on the malty sweetness. I suspect this one might get a bit cloying if you set out drink more than one, but I think it's probably the best representative of this particular style that I've ever had. Hopefully my travels will bring me to Haines some day, so I can check out the source.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

P.S. Zach Henry tells me that his new Marathon Mild Ale is on tap. So stop by St. Elias and have one. Or maybe two or three...

No comments: