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The Oakes Weekly - October 10th, 2002
The Makings of an Iron Liver
October 10, 2002
Written by Oakes
<P>Before I get into my rambling story about the Iron Liver Sessions, I just want to follow up on my GABF bit last week. It was very heartening to see so many Ratebeerians at the event, enjoying great beer. I was also happy to see them follow my recommendations, and ever more so that they panned out. I wish I could get a crack at the Cuvée de Tomme sometime, but it was nice to see a few of you guys did. A beer that rare, having won Malt Advocate's Domestic Beer of the Year award is a nice thing to have on your tasting resume. Now, on to my weekend.
<P>When I first moved to Ontario, it was a treasure trove of new beers.
Import, micros, macros - all kinds of stuff I’d never seen before. Six
months later, I was getting close to tapping it all out. New beer releases
are not particularly frequent around Toronto, so it wasn’t hard to keep up
with that end of things, and it wasn’t long before my desire to try new
beers lead me to some rather sketchy macros that I’d been avoiding because I
could only buy them in six-packs. I think I made it through three of these
in two months, then called off that strategy. By the end of 2000, I had
refocused my efforts to something I hadn’t had to do in a few years - enjoy
all of my favourites. And so it continues today that on a week-to-week
basis I drink Trois Pistoles, St-Ambroise Oatmeal Stout, Black Oak Pale,
County Durham Signature, and whatever Belgian or German I can dig up at the
liquor store. New beers have been relegated to major events. The problem
is, vacations are infrequent at best, and I have access to so many beers
thanks to my many beer-loving friends around the world.
<P>And so, the Iron Liver Session began. It started with a big box of Swiss
beers from Bov, and later editions have been built around shipments from
England, Sweden, Australia and more. It is not the ideal situation to
gather forty bottles and attempt to taste them all in one weekend, but given
the difficulties of having beer shipped directly to me (thank you, Canada
Post), there is little other option. The basic plan is to gather beer from
all over, and gather the beer lovers to drink it.
<P>The latest edition, Iron Liver Session VI, was held this past weekend in
Syracuse, NY, and featured four tasters and one non-taster (two if you count
the dog). As I said, this type of tasting session is not ideal, and for
some is simply not desirable at all. But for those who are willing to put
their bodies, palates and brains on the line, it can be a very worthwhile
experience. “Can be” being the operative phrase, as Iron Liver Sessions can
be trainwrecks if things go off course.
<P>The first aspect is the beer. In this latest case, the majority of the
beers came from my trip to the UK this past summer. Immediately, the
concern is freshness, as my trip was two months ago. Thankfully, there were
only two bottles that were totally off, though there were a couple others
that likely had seen better days. Past sessions have seen a dozen dumpers,
which is simply tragic. Variety of beer is also paramount. For people who
have tasted a huge number of beers, finding new stuff that is excellent is
not easy. This time, the clear winner was Oud Beersel Gueuze, a score from
my day at the Bière sans Frontières booth at the GBBF. The rest of the
English beers were pretty reasonable, but there was also a long string of
generic lagers from places like Latvia and Uganda. A few of these are fine,
but too many (or too many bland ambers, or overhopped anythings) can really
drag a tasting down.
<P>Once you’ve got the beers gathered, you need to gather the people. Some
are pretty easy with regards to schedule, some are not. The cat-herding
aspect comes into play when you start trying to organize four or five
people. This part wasn’t too bad in the end.
<P>The next step is the destinations. Most of these sessions have involved
a brewpub visit or two, and perhaps a store as well. The key here is not to
leave your maps at home, unless you think spending an hour farting around
Henrietta, NY looking for Beers of the World is a good thing. Our stay in
Henrietta was brief, but we took in some Krispy Kreme, which leaves one with
an odd combination of sugar rush and upset stomach at once. It is
miraculous that one can achieve a level of physical torture in just five
minutes at Krispy Kreme that used to take several hours of post-Hallowe’en
gorging as a child. Speakings of gorging, Radek at Beers of the World was
classic Ratebeer. Every new beer went into the cart, which made for quite a
sight, but the staff were unfazed, having seen all this before. As sickly funny as it is to see a grocery cart stuffed with single bottles, it was sickly unfunny for Radek to pull out a forty of Lucky Lager Force 10 at 8:30 in the morning to start things off. That wasn't right.
<P>Once in Syracuse, we discovered that the allure of the Orangemen is tough
to overcome, and half the city was crammed into Armory Square to drink,
watch college football, and then drink some more. While on the waiting list
for a table at the Empire Brewing Company, we popped over to the Blue Tusk
(all four beer destinations in Syracuse are very literally within a stone’s
throw of one another in Armory Square). I was disappointed with the lack of
Dreadnaught on tap, as that top ten beer still eludes me, but they have 69
taps, so there was something for everyone. Empire also had something for
everyone. They had 11 or 12 house brews on tap, including a Berliner Weisse,
though that turned out to be a very light and restrained example of the
style. The beers I found to be merely serviceable, with no standouts like
the Rochester Empire had when I went there. That said, the food was great
and the service stellar, with very quick delivery of our rather complicated
<P>The next stop, two doors down, was the Syracuse Suds Factory. This was a
wood-floored sports bar, and the atmosphere was rather anarchistic. Our
relatively simple order caused confusion, much of it instigated by
ourselves, unfortunately. But it was the kind of place in which it was
difficult to think straight. I found their beers to be lousy, with the lone
exception of a wonderful Pale Ale - brilliantly balanced. I’ve seen this a
couple of times where a brewpub has nothing going for it except one really,
really good product.
<P>The session itself then got underway. I thought the first half of the
beers were run through too quickly, and sure enough by the end I was in
great shape, thanks to my slow pace and high water intake, whereas other
members of our party basically missed the last half dozen beers. The real
lesson was learned the next day, of course!
<P>Aside from the Oud Beersel Gueuze, I thought the standouts were the
Syracuse Suds Factory Pale Ale, Nynäshamns Anytown Pale Ale and Yr Hen Darw
Du from Ceredigion of Wales. Duvel Groen was a hit with most of the tasters, though I missed the punch of the classic version. Overall, I found this session to be one of the
most relaxed, as we seemed to have enough time and not too much beer.
Having the extra tasters really helped in this regard. Also, the travel
distance wasn’t too bad, which has been a problem in the past. I still wish
I could taste these beers some other way, but for now the Iron Liver
Sessions will have to do.
<P>Lastly, pour a pint of Polish pilsner for Radek, as he celebrates the quarter century mark today.
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