I’ve been doing these On-Tap Recap posts documenting my weekend beer tasting adventures for a few weeks now, and it seems I’ve just been reviewing bottled beers from my home cellar. I haven’t actually posted a review of anything on tap. Guess that’s my bad, but I do have a good excuse. With a small child at home to take care of, I just don’t make it out to the pubs like I used to. For the most part, I drink what I can drink at home.
Luckily for me, my adopted home town of Austin has many pockets of craft brew indoctrination, with more popping up all the time. Craft brew taps are appearing in the unlikeliest places, and so it’s getting easier for even a boring old homebody like me to get a pint. One such unlikely place is the Happy Trails Saloon at the Whole Foods Market a mile from my house. Springing from the floor of the store like an oasis in the desert, halfway between the pizza counter and a refrigerator case stocked with hummus in little plastic tubs, Happy Trails is a bar with about a dozen taps, four devoted to wine and the rest to a rotating selection of craft beers from the likes of local heroes Austin Beerworks, Hops & Grain and Adelbert’s to national favorites like Southern Tier and Ballast Point. Here the weary grocery shopper can take a break with a beer and food from either the Happy Trails pub menu or from any shelf or counter in the store (including the esteemed pizza counter).
This Sunday, halfway through our weekly family grocery trip, we stopped at Happy Trails, bolted the baby’s high chair to a table and let him bat his eyes adorably at Whole Foods employees and customers while he munched finger foods and we relaxed with slices of mushroom pizza and a couple of pints.
First up, a Baltic porter from Hops & Grain’s Greenhouse rotating line of experimental beers. This beer, I was told, was made with Whole Foods’ in-house roasted Allegro coffee. The coffee was noticeable, but mostly a background flavor in a very smooth, smoky black porter. Medium body with a lot of flavor, not too much alcohol, and not syrupy or thick. Great for an afternoon pizza break with the weather outside getting into the 70’s.
Next, a Southern Tier 2XSTOUT. Much as I love (almost) everything I’ve had from Southern Tier, and as fond as I am of milk stout, this one was a little anticlimactic after the Baltic porter. It was smooth and sweet, what I want out of a milk stout, and a good example of the style. But next to something as complex as Baltic porter, a milk stout was like a blunt object, beating me over the head with malt/sweet instead of the nuanced profile of the previous beer.
Really, the true star of this story is not either of the beers I drank, but the location. Good beer and good food right in the middle of a market I visit once or twice a week? That gives me hope that maybe the pub life isn’t behind me after all.
Fantastic Fest 2012 is now a happy week-old memory. I saw 33 films from September 20-27 and emptied more than a few pint glasses. My highlights from the festival are below:
Day 1 – My Fest started with Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie in 3D. But that wasn’t until 6pm, so before the show, I had lunch at Bangers Sausage House & Beer Garden, where I enjoyed two barrel-aged Texas beers: Bourbon Barrel Alt-eration from Hops & Grain, and Real Ale Shipwrecked (aged in Jameson barrels for extra deliciousness) with an antelope and venison merguez sausage in honor of the reanimated pooch. Once I got to the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema for the movie, I found myself in the Shiner-sponsored theater, and enjoyed a free Shiner Bock. But my favorite film that day was Antiviral from Canadian director Brandon Cronenberg – son of film legend David Cronenberg (The Fly, Videodrome), and worthy of his father’s directorial legacy.
Day 2 – Two major highlights: The Conspiracy, also from Canada, which I watched with a couple of pale ales: an Austin Beerworks Fire Eagle IPA and a Shiner Wild Hare Pale Ale. Later that night, a friend and I got to the bottom of a pitcher of Real Ale Firemans #4 while watching Dead Sushi, the latest from Japanese director Noboru Iguchi. Iguchi’s shock/splatter/gross-out horror-comedies aren’t for everyone, but I find them great fun; and Dead Sushi is one of the better ones. Before the screening was a live in-theater eating competition between Iguchi, SFX guru Yoshihiro Nishimura and four audience members eating bull penis sushi, duck fetuses and ghost pepper tuna roll. Kudos to them; I couldn’t do it.
Day 3 – A great day. I sipped a Ranger Creek Small Batch #2 saison during Holy Motors by French director Leos Carax, a dense and symbolic film that begs rewatching. Next I saw the brutal yakuza revenge sequel Outrage Beyond by Japan’s Takeshi Kitano (a.k.a. Beat Takeshi), which went well with a Brooklyn East India Pale Ale. I watched an English-language remake of Pusher (the Danish original was the directorial debut of Drive and Bronson director Nicolas Winding Refn) with a Live Oak Oaktoberfest in hand, and I enjoyed another Firemans #4 at midnight during my most anticipated movie of the festival, the kung-fu-steampunk epic Tai Chi 0. All these movies made it into my top fifteen of the fest, and I’m still thinking about that Ranger Creek saison.
Day 4 – Started with my initial pick for best of the fest, Lee’s Adventure, a Chinese sci-fi film starring Jaycee Chan (son of Jackie) as a slacker-gamer with a disease that randomly slows and speeds his perception of time. China scored again in the evening with the aptly titled Vulgaria, a crude comedy about a Hong Kong softcore porn producer that kept me laughing out loud. At midnight, I saw the awesome British action-comedy Cockneys vs. Zombies, whose title pretty much says it all. I watched that with my favorite beer of the day, a Deschutes Obsidian Stout that was perfect for a midnight show.
Day 5 – The standout film was Black Out, a Dutch crime caper that played like classic Guy Ritchie. Day 5 is usually when I start to get bleary-eyed and need rest; unsurprisingly, I have no beer notes from this day. I recall drinking one or two Fire Eagle IPAs and at least one Hops & Grain Pale Dog Pale Ale.
Day 6 – My evening film was Vanishing Waves, a sci-fi thinker from Lithuania. There’s always at least one quiet, sterile and cerebral sci-fi film at the Fest every year, and whatever it is usually ends up in my top ten. This was no exception, and it inspired me to dig up and finish an incomplete short story I drafted last year (hooray for inspiration!). I watched it with a Thirsty Planet Buckethead IPA.
Day 7 – The penultimate night of the Fest brought me Hellfjord, by far the most fun I had all week. A new series from from a team of brilliant Norwegians (including writer Tommy Wirkola, director Patrik Syversen and writer-stars Zahid Ali and Stig Frode Henriksen) whose combined resume includes the zom-com Dead Snow and the geek comedy You Said What?, Hellfjord touted itself as Twin Peaks-meets-Hot Fuzz, and that’s pretty spot on. The complete first season screened – seven episodes – and I simply could not stop laughing during the entire three and a half hours. “Brilliant” doesn’t begin to describe this series. It was my definitive Best of the Fest. I’m counting the months until it may someday be released on American DVD, and if you have any sense of humor at all, you should look for it too. I also finished off another pitcher of Firemans #4 (with help) and had a spectacular barbecue chicken pizza with jalapenos before heading to the Hellfjord Norwegian Party at the Highball, where friends and I donned Viking helmets and drank Austin Beerworks Black Thunder Schwarzbier with samples of lutefisk and other pickled Nordic delicacies. And the mighty Thor smiled down upon us.
Day 8 – Somewhat anticlimactic after Day 7, but started with the poignant, entertaining Canadian drama I Declare War, about kids playing a game of war that skirts dangerously close to the real thing. After a couple of underwhelming afternoon screenings, I ended the day with a few complimentary Shiner Wild Hare Pale Ales at the Closing Night Party at the Austin American Legion hall.
So there you have it. Seven days have passed and I’m already looking forward to next year’s Fantastic Fest. There’s a reason we call it “geek Christmas” in my house. It’s a time to celebrate film, storytelling, inspiration, good friends, good food and good beer. And these are a few of my favorite things.