Month: October 2016

Broken Language

The “beer nerd” can be pretentious and annoying. Reading pedantic and bombastic beer reviews can be insufferable. But, the existence of this highfalutin drivel might actually serve a greater purpose.

Hip hop has grown to become the dominant global pop culture, yet despite the occasional Hamilton outlier, it remains relatively segregated to the artistic ghetto. Many still don’t consider rap to be “real music” and don’t see a lack of familiarity with even the most seminal artists as a cultural blind spot of note. Why is this?

I would argue that language itself is a significant factor in the gulf between hip hop’s cultural influence and artistic standing and acceptance. Specifically, the manner in which something is discussed greatly influences how it is perceived. Given the ubiquity of hip hop music and culture, there appears a relative dearth of scholarly, poetic, and critically analytical discourse surrounding it. There aren’t enough successful people in the mainstream speaking personally and passionately about the impact of hip hop in their lives.

While some of that kind of discussion can also ring a bit precious, it goes a long way to legitimize culture and art to the masses. We’ve seen this happen with previous generations of music, morphing from sex, drugs, and rock and roll to revered artistry, and birthing cultural touchpoints with which we are all supposed to be familiar. The evolution of the discourse around the music was a substantial driver of that transition.

Nowhere is the notion of language influencing perception more familiar than when it comes to food and drink. You can have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or a pureed nut spread with grape relish reduction on artisan brioche.

Food and drink is not only tasted, but experienced. So, the way a beer is represented is part of the priming of that experience. This is especially relevant for a restaurant or bar. Ideally, a description of a beer will communicate its vital stats as well as a bit of insight into its flavors in an accessible, descriptive, and succinct manner.

big_pun‘Language is fatal and it’s hypnotizing. I’m only emphasizing, I’m all about business and enterprising.” – Big Punisher

My last post touched on the fact that beer has remained in the alcoholic beverage underclass. The emergence and now unprecedented growth of the craft beer movement is a huge step in evolving the perception of beer, but the existence of these products is not enough on its own. Changing the discourse around beer is an important next step as well.

Have you ever been to a nice restaurant with an extensive wine list and asked your server about their beers, only to get a list of six generic, bland beers, five of which are the same varietal (usually lager)? Implicit in this kind of offering is the assumption that a beer is a beer. Some of the nerdy beer talk plays a role in forcing people to re-examine that naïve premise, which – in turn – leads to better and more diverse offerings for consumers.

So, when I read forced beer review that waxes poetic about notes of caramel, pure golden hues, aromatic complexity, and a crisp finish, I try to also keep in mind that if this was how we spoke about beer more broadly, it would be very rare to walk into a decent restaurant and be unable to get a good beer.

A BierWax Guide to Barcelona Beer

As soon as we exited the Barcelona airport, the shining tanks at Estrella Damm’s brewing facility greeted us. And that’s the last you will hear about the most popular beer in much of Spain. This guide, though not exhaustive, will focus on the exploding craft beer scene in Barcelona which has experienced a rapid growth spurt during the last couple of years. I wish we had more time to tick off a few more spots on our list. The following photos and words will highlight a handful of spots that we explored before and after an epic Spanish wedding. Based on the quality of the beer and the ambiance of these spots, I think we visited the best of the best (for the most part).

Abirradero – Carrer de Vila i Vilà, 77, 08004 Barcelona | http://www.abirradero.com/

We were eager to try Barcelona-made craft beer. Abirradero was our very first stop and it surely did not disappoint. With 40 taps for your imbibing enjoyment, we focused on sampling their roughly 20 house beers. The brewpub’s beer is brewed right next door in a space that is part brewery part brewing school. El Instituto de la Cerveza Artesana (I.C.A.) is the official name of the brewery, so we intentionally only ordered beers labeled I.C.A., not beer from their several guest taps. We had two flights.  Nearly everything we had was above average and spot on for the style. Our bartender, once he discovered our special love for craft beer, scribbled a few names and addresses on a napkin. We then had a few more spots to add to our list and find. Next time we return to Barcelona, we’ll certainly try their food menu.

 

Brew Pub Le Sec – Carrer de Margarit, 52, 08004 Barcelona, Spain

Per the Abirradero bartender’s recommendation, we made our way to this tiny brewpub a few blocks away. It was a charming space; however, their two house-made beers were forgettable.  The space was extremely cozy and I appreciate their nano-brewery sized set up. I’d return again to give another two beers a shot.

 

La Rovira – Carrer de Rabassa, 23, 08024 Barcelona

What a kickass beer bar!? We loved their tap-list and thoroughly enjoyed their food menu. I was even able to stomach (and enjoy) olives for the first time EVER! I had a fantastic mouth-puckering Biere de Garde from BFM (Brasserie des Franches-Montagnes) and sipped on a few other really great beers. If La Rovira was located in NY, I’d be a regular for sure.

BrewDog Barcelona –Carrer de Casanova, 69, 08011 Barcelona | https://www.brewdog.com/usa/bars/worldwide/barcelona

I was excited to finally visit a BrewDog location. I only really had BrewDog beer a few times in the states. I enjoyed their TV show on the Esquire Network and appreciated their penchant for pushing boundaries. This visit was a complete letdown. We ordered two flights to try as much as possible. The beers were all lackluster and the server was even more of a letdown. During our layover in England, a few local beer-heads also spoke badly of the brand. Bollocks!

 

BierCab Barcelona – Calle Muntaner, 55, 08011 Barcelona | http://biercab.com/

After drinking Sevilla’s own Cruz Campo for most of the wedding, we craved something with more hop bite and ABV once the reception was over. A fellow craft beer enthusiast at the wedding pointed us in this direction and we were in for a treat. BierCab, short for Bier Cabron, has an extremely impressive bottle-list and beers on draught that are tough to find in the U.S. I started off with Westbrook’s Mexican Cake on tap. Manuel, the super gregarious owner/manager, opened up the next door bottle shop for us and we were mesmerized. I hear the food at BierCab is equally excellent, so put them on your must-visit list.

 

Mikkeller Bar Barcelona – Carrer de València, 202, 08011 Barcelona | http://mikkeller.dk/location/mikkeller-bar-barcelona/

We’ve brushed shoulders with Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergso and the folks at Tørst numerous times, so his twin brother’s bar in Barcelona was high on the to do list. I’ve enjoyed all of the Mikkeller beers I’ve tried and I adore Keith Shore’s art which adorns most Mikkeller labels and the walls of their bars. The bar is simply gorgeous. We were able to observe each corner since the bar was totally empty, in complete contrast to Tørst in Greenpoint. Each beer we tried was excellent. Yet another place we could have spent much more time at.

 

Barcelona Beer Company – Carrer de Muntaner, 7, 08011 Barcelona | http://www.barcelonabeercompany.com/en/Taproom

Based on the name alone, we had to visit. Pretty taproom, decent beer. We didn’t have any food, but the options looked great. I wasn’t blown away by the beer, but it’s another much-needed alternative to Spanish lager. It is important to note that there is no such thing as a “flight” in Spain.  Just ask for a “mix.”

 

Garage Beer Company – Carrer del Consell de Cent, 261, 08011 Barcelona | http://garagebeer.co/en/

Garage Beer Company is churning out amazing beer, collaborating with top-notch American breweries such as Other Half, and is certainly making a name for itself in the growing Barcelona craft beer scene. Their American IPA, Slinger, was excellent. Blacksmith, their Imperial Stout, was also solid. They will be expanding to a larger space in the near future. Garage Beer Company successfully crowd-funded over 490,000 Euros, 90,000 more than their original goal. They will soon be able to move out of the garage, but keep their name.

 

NaparBCN – Carrer de la Diputació, 223, 08011 Barcelona | http://www.naparbcn.com/

Hands down, this was our best beer and food experience in Barcelona. I do have to admit a minor bias: Our friends who were recently married are friends and neighbors with Sven, one of the owners of Napar, so we were able to really get to know Napar’s food and beer quite well. Sven, a Spaniard of Belgian descent, is a beer fanatic. We spent time with Sven, trying various Napar beers and sampling an assortment of tapas. Sven wanted NaparBCN to stand out in Barcelona’s emerging beer scene, creating a locale that is recognized not only for great beer but also for its gastronomy. He is pairing cloudy Vermont-style IPAs and Imperial Stouts with plates that push the boundaries of traditional Spanish cuisine. Napar’s beer cellar list is the most impressive I’ve seen in a long time, with bottles of La Trappe from as far back as 1968 mingling with Westmalle Dubbels from the 1990s. His most prized cellared beer is an Oude Geuze that is allegedly 55 years old. As the story goes, the bottles were found in an old barn in Belgium under piles of hay and wrapped in newspapers from 55 years ago. Sven told us that he is the only person who has paid the 195.00 Euros to see what the beer actually tastes like. The photos don’t do NaparBCN justice. The brewpub is unlike any beer venue I’ve seen before. Immaculate!

 

Ale-Hop – multiple locations in Barcelona | http://en.ale-hop.org/

If you are looking for beer, don’t go here! If you need an emoji pillow or mole-skin notebook, you’ve found the right place. Apparently, there is an actual Ale-Hop beer spot in Barcelona. I wonder if it also has a life-sized cow to greet customers in the front.

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Vale?

I USED TO LOVE H.E.R.

BierWax unquestionably loves hip hop. But does hip hop love beer?

As impressionable teenagers coming of age in what many canonize the “golden era” of hip hop, the music and culture greatly influenced our sensibilities and preferences. While I believe most of us stopped short of seeing rappers as role models, they were certainly among the arbiters of cool and taste. So, it’s no surprise that long before embracing the glorious world of delicious craft beer, many nights were spent passing forty ounce bottles of malt liquor around park benches with friends.

Hip hop had us believing that Heineken and Guinness were atop the pantheon of brews and that St. Ides, Olde English, and Ballantine were standard, every day fare. Rappers even made commercials advertising malt liquor. While BierWax is chiefly devoted to beer, I can’t help but also note some of the equally poor choices of spirits lionized in golden era hip hop, such as Brass Monkey, E&J brandy, and Bacardi rum. And, who could forget “thug passion,” hip hop’s Arnold Palmer – a mix of Hennessy and Alize? Craft beer was neither available nor marketed to “the hip hop community.”

As boom-bap gave way to bling-bling, the tastes embraced by hip hop began to evolve, though largely driven by conspicuous consumption as opposed to connoisseurship. Strictly Timb boots and army certified suits were replaced by Versace silks. Henny became Louis XIII. And, somehow champagne became a beverage of choice among a group that otherwise seemed quite concerned with representing itself as alpha males. But, what happened to beer?

Judging from a lyrical content perspective, one might conclude that beer was phased out of the hip hop lifestyle. Absent glamour brands to serve as low common denominator proxies for wealth, one could posit that beer went “underground.” Those with more refined taste in both hip hop and beer were nudged away from the mainstream to find flavors that simultaneously reflected such “purist” sensibilities, yet broke molds and expanded palettes.

BierWax does not see fine beer and consciously curated vinyl music as two random interests, but rather a foreseeable pairing. Those passionate about beer will seek brewers and varieties the way one might “dig” for records. One can grab a six-pack of Bud off the shelf as easily as one can turn on the radio, but the discriminate consumer tends to gravitate toward forms that better capture the essence of the entity.

In that respect, it’s understandable why contemporary rappers haven’t embraced good beer. With a more electronic soundscape for the music, and computer programs replacing turntables, the music itself presents as less “craft.” Good beer and good music strive to leave a signature imprint, while beer and music for the masses seek to be inoffensive, often achieving that through blandness. The notes in a good craft beer can remind me of Large Professor banging out drum loops or the layering of samples in a Bomb Squad record.

Unfortunately, the golden ages of craft beer and hip hop didn’t really overlap. Still, I can’t help but wonder what would have been if they did, since they are something of a natural philosophical fit. Perhaps Eazy-E might have rapped that he had the Imperial Coffee Stout rollin’, and maybe we wouldn’t have wasted so much of our youth drinking bad beer!

What are your beer and hip hop related memories? And, what are your favorite beer-related songs or lines?

Good Hip Hop Inspired by Bad Beer Playlist