Archive | September 2012

Fantastic Fest: The most wonderful time of the year

Fantastic Fest 2012 starts today in Austin! Billed as “a film festival with all the boring parts cut out”, it’s eight days of weird and unique films from all around the world. Horror, action, science fiction, fantasy and offbeat comedy will show in abundance.

When I’m not blogging, brewing or working at my day job, I write for the very small screen and work in independent film production with Blue Goggles Films (see the latest episode of our series De-Pixelated here, co-written by me). So great film on a budget is a passion of mine, and Fantastic Fest is my Christmas. I look forward to it every year the way some people look forward to the World Series, E3, or a major political convention. In fact, it is like a major political convention: full of deeply opinionated people exchanging passionate debate after nights of minimal – or no – sleep … but instead of arguing about the economy or health care, they’re discussing Dogme 95 or the most effective use of the Wilhelm scream in a Spanish-language film since 1996.

It’s not technically a beer event, but it does take place at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, so there’s beer and food available for purchase at every screening, and lots of parties with free drinks at night. So beer is a big part of the festival for me, because I love pairing beer with a good film as much as with a good meal. I’m hoping the Alamo has a lot of interesting stuff on tap to keep the libations as exciting as the entertainment.

I usually see about 30 films during the 8-day festival. My original idea was to do “Fantastic Fest in 30 Beers”: a different beer for every film I see. But I realized 30 pints in 8 days is going to be hard on my wallet, and I really want to enjoy some high-gravity brews if possible without falling asleep during my midnight screenings.

So I won’t try to force a beer for every showing. But I will be drinking some interesting stuff throughout the week, and seeing some fantastic films. I’ll write about both as often as I can. I’ll also be tweeting about the films and the festival as it happens – check out my Twitter feed @shawnbou21 to see my updates.

Chaos reigns!

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The Buddha and the King

On a beautiful, cool Saturday afternoon wedged between days of thunderstorms, Jester King Craft Brewery released their new Buddha’s Brew ale during their weekly open house. Beer hipsters (and garden variety hipsters) descended on the brewery for a turnout that scuttlebutt suggests was the biggest the brewery has ever seen on a “non-event” Saturday.

The new ale is a collaboration between Jester King and Austin kombucha company Buddha’s Brew. It’s Jester King’s first beer fermented entirely in oak. The wheat ale wort was pitched with bacteria and fermented in the barrel, then aged for nine months before blending it with Buddha’s Brew Classic Flavor Kombucha. Buddha’s Brew was also on location Saturday giving out free kombucha by the sample and cup. I’ve been a fan of their kombucha for years, so I was excited about the collaboration.

I haven’t been to Jester King in several months, so I was surprised to find a new system in place for the beer tasting. In the old system, $10 bought you a tulip glass and three full pours of whatever you wanted. Now, for $10 you get a card listing the day’s menu with a check box next to each of the 7 beers available:

One ticket to paradise, with a kombucha to go.

The bartenders poured 5.5 oz of whatever you ordered and marked the box next to it on the card. If you tried them all, it would equate to a little over two pints of beer and a keepsake glass for $10. So it’s not the steal it used to be, but it’s still a great value, especially if you can get there early enough to go back through the (very long) line 7 times during the 3-hour window they’re open. Even though this new system effectively raises the price per ounce over the previous system, it encourages beer flights instead of pounding pints as quickly as possible. The limited-release selections du jour are thus available to more attendees, and fewer frat boys are stumbling around drunk from too many Black Metals. I’m not sure if the new system was just for this event or if this is how they do it every week now, but I’m a fan of it in theory … if they can get the line moving a little faster.

I started with Buddha’s Brew, the hot new starlet on the set. It was straw-colored with little head and smelled like a Berliner Weisse: lactic, light and wheaty, though I was hoping for more fruitiness on the nose. It tasted like a Berliner Weisse too. Tart, refreshing and wheaty with some vinegar notes and a pleasant mouth-puckering tartness. My only complaint was that it was less complex than I expected. The kombucha didn’t add much flavor; no fruitiness, no earthiness. Nor any oakiness or vanilla from the barrel aging. It could have been any sour wheat ale, albeit a well-made one. Note that I would gladly drink it again if there weren’t more interesting beers available.

From there it was only natural that I ease into Bonnie the Rare, Jester King’s Berliner Weisse, for comparison’s sake. (It’s all for science. I swear.) Bonnie came from a bottle and had the same wheat/straw color as Buddha but was clearer. It had a lot more going on, too. It smelled of bright sour fruits and spice: sour apple, lemon pepper, grains of paradise. It tasted like an übertart lemon-lime soda with a spicy astringency and a hint of blue cheese on the back end. Dry, but not puckering. From the same ballpark as Buddha’s Brew perhaps, but Bonnie played the game better; more interesting and complex overall. If faced with a choice between the two at a bar, I’d order Bonnie, hands down.

My third pour was Mad Meg, an organic bière de provision – a high-alcohol continental style intended for extended aging. At 9.6% ABV, it was a step up from my earlier tastings but smooth enough not to be a shock. It poured a handsome red-orange I attribute to Cara-Munich malt, but I enjoyed thinking of it as an “albino amber”. The aroma was mouth-watering: floral hops and a rich mandarin-like citrus with noticeable alcohol. The flavor didn’t disappoint, either, delivering piney hop bitterness at the start and boozy, bready malt on the finish with no alcohol burn. It was smooth and brilliantly balanced, easy to drink on a fall afternoon or warm enough for a cool night.

I made my way through the tastings leisurely and only got three in my 90 minutes there, but it was well worth the price of admission. Between beers I cleansed my palate with lots of free kombucha from the Buddha’s Brew tent (thanks!). Peach and Pineapple-Super Greens flavors were on tap and delicious.

I left happy (alcohol + probiotics, mmm mmm good!) and inspired. I’ve been thinking about homebrewing kombucha for a long time, and I might start soon using some Buddha’s Brew dregs to culture a starter SCOBY. Someday I actually hope to have draft kombucha in the kegerator for those non-beer occasions. I’m not sure I’ll ever use it in a beer myself, but who knows? And I toast Jester King for their innovation. After all, that’s what supporting local business is all about.

On Snobbery, Science Fiction and Saison

In hindsight, the last post I wrote before going to Mexico may have come across as snobbish – despite my protestations to the contrary – in my hard-line stance against Mexican lager. But I’m now pleased to report that during my time in Mexico, I learned that even I can enjoy a cerveza in the right circumstances. Tequila on ice proved too intense for drinking throughout the day, and soon became an exclusively after-dinner indulgence. Mojitos were a nice afternoon distraction for a few days, and I eventually found myself craving (of all things) white wine during the brunch-to-dinner stretch. Oh, but the afternoons of room service nachos on our poolside patio, of brick oven chorizo pizzas overlooking the beach … on those occasions, I gave in and popped a few Coronas, and man were they tasty.

So it seems that there’s a time and a place for Mexican beer: hot summer afternoons on the beach in Mexico, with spicy foods that don’t require forks. So viva regional traditions, and si, quiero un limón con esa.

(NOTE: That’s about as good as my Spanish gets. Unimpressive, certainly, but all self-taught based on four years of high-school French, three years of college Latin, and twelve years puzzling over Spanish billboards in California and Texas. Several of our servers in Mexico applauded my pronunciation, while laughing at my attempts to place orders for things like “Don Julio in the rock, and water that has been carbonated” or to break the ice with Hugo the bartender by observing that “Sunday is a crazy man, yes?”)

Last night, several days home and still nursing a George Romero-esque horror of a peeling sunburn, I relaxed with two saisons and a Blu-ray viewing of John Carter, an unfairly maligned film that I’ve seen twice now. It was a fine epilogue to the Mexico trip, because Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars – the novel from which the film was adapted – was the first book I read on vacation.

Beer #1 was Saison du BUFF 2012, the feted three-way collaboration between Dogfish Head, Victory, and Stone breweries. This was one of two bottles I bought Saturday – I’m cellaring the other. It poured tawny golden and surprisingly clear, even with the dregs roused. The initial herbal aroma blast from the parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme passed quickly to apple and pear aromas. The flavor was powerfully herbal, with a resiny character I’d attribute to middle/late high-alpha hops if I didn’t know better … and finishing quickly leaving a brie-like aftertaste. My only complaint was that this enticing flavor experience didn’t stay on the palate long enough. It was fleeting, and left me wanting more (of the same). But it went very well with popcorn and a kosher dill spear, and Captain John Carter’s sudden appearance on the red planet.

Beer #2 was Lift Bridge Brewery’s Farm Girl Saison, a personal favorite and one of a dwindling number of bottles I brought back from a recent trip to Minneapolis. I can’t get it in Texas, and that’s a shame. It faced some competition in the Saison du BUFF, but held its own despite its underdog status. It poured a pale burnished straw, cloudy with respectable head retention. Fruit aromas took the lead, with apricot and pear overlaying a familiar funkiness. The flavor was simple, delivering on the promise of the aroma: apricot and pear with some funk. Sweet, and maybe a little cloying. I preferred its mouthfeel, as it lingered on my palate longer.

So if Saison du BUFF is the princess of Mars, mysterious and seductive like the alluring (and buff) red-skinned warrior-maiden Dejah Thoris; Farm Girl Saison is, well, a farm girl. Not as exotic, not as well-pedigreed and certainly not as complex; but sweet, pretty, and a delightful comfort. I’d gladly be alone with either on a dark autumn night … on Earth or Barsoom.

In other news, I’m getting excited for eight genre-bending days at Fantastic Fest 2012, starting next Thursday. It’s my fourth time attending the biggest horror/sci-fi/fantasy/action/Asian/cult film festival in the United States. This is my favorite week of every year, and I’m sure once again it’ll be a blast. Great food, great movies, and great beer! What could be better?