Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Kicked in the Butternuts

"Things do not pass for what they are, but for what they seem. Most things are judged by their jackets." -Baltasar Gracián

Oh, Baltasar! You never cease to speak so truly. Maybe that's why we all know and love you...

...okay, I have no idea who this guy is. But, he has a wikipedia page, so he must've been of some notoriety. Looks like you and I have learned some excessively obscure trivia today.

But the quote is true: ideally, we should all judge a product on what it is, not in how it is presented to us. But, as with wine, the labels and packaging of beer so often determine our purchasing habits. Perception is often reality, and a clever or appealing wardrobe can often suggest a product of equal ilk. Hey, there's a lot of competition on those shelves. Can't blame anyone for trying to get his product stick out.

If the can alone is to be the only metric by which we measure our beers, then New York's Butternuts Brewery's Farmhouse Ale lineup is clearly the greatest brew around. "Porkslap Ale"?! ...c'mon, that is beyond solid-gold. Note to marketeers: you put two jovial pigs belly-bumping on your product, and I will buy it. Food, drink, cars, baby clothes, fine furnishings...it matters not.

Yet, as this is a consumption-centric blog, I guess we'll have to try the product within said can. And, as a side-note, I do appreciate folks putting their craft beers in cans. Oskar Blues seems to be the recent pioneer, and more should put aside the "cheapness" stigma of the can and go for it (perhaps directly against the whole "perception is reality" argument). But, anyone who knows beer understands that a can keeps damaging light out, and it keeps the product fresher, so the perception of the knowledgeable beer-drinker may be positive. As a good ol' boy friend once- so adamantly- exclaimed, "son, you need to put that beer back in the can where it was born."

With all that said, on to the good stuff...

Porkslap Pale Ale: Perhaps I'm viewing this beer through hog-colored glasses, but I think it's more than the overwhelmingly-awesome hype created by the can. A mild, drinkable Pale Ale with good hop character. However, the pleasant bitterness of the hops- which can often be the focus of Pale Ale- took a backseat to a nice sweet, malty, caramel flavor. This beer is almost creamy, and the relatively-low 4.3% ABV makes it an easy drinkin' companion. I poured one into a glass and drank one out of the can. Perhaps it was novelty. Maybe it was the power of the leaping pigs on the aluminum shell. Whatever the case, this one worked the most magic straight up from whence it came. Forget the glass and throw a six-pack in the cooler when you want to drink classy at the tailgate...without the unpleasant affect of "looking classy". Give me a trotter up high, Porkslap.

Snapperhead IPA: When you want to trick judgmental friends, go with the Snapperhead. Unsuspecting teetotalers will be fooled by the bright yellow can. "Man, that guy sure does love his Country Time Lemonade!" But you know what's up. Just make sure the kids don't accidentally get into the "lemonade"; it really does look like a soft drink can.

Good malty character, like the Porkslap, but with a much-more prominent backbone of citrusy, grapefruit-bitter hops. IPAs (short for "India Pale Ale") were originally crafted to weather the long sea voyage from England to the rest of the British Empire (India being one of the imperialist states), so a hefty dose of hops was needed to preserve the beer. In addition, the higher alcohol helped on the journey. At 6.3%, the Snapperhead fits the bill. Fortunately, this brew has a touch of malty sweetness to balance out the bitterness. Smoother than many British and American IPAs, but not without the signature bite. "Snapperhead", indeed.

Moo Thunder Stout: I'm stout-crazy. Blame it on the red beard, but for my money, beer perfection doesn't stray far from a properly-poured pint of Guinness. That being said, I'm always eager to try a great new dark beer. The Moo Thunder, while its namesake makes me giggle at the perhaps poorly-veiled reference to bovine flatulence, doesn't really do it for me. While the virtues of a nice, creamy mouthfeel, coffee/roasted aromas, and a dryness akin to a good Irish Stout offer hope, the finish makes me "have a cow", as in "don't have a cow". Too late. I'm having one.

Why? The finish on this beer- and I can't think of any way to mince words- tastes like an ashtray. Cigar and cigarette ash. Have I ever tasted an ashtray? Yes, and make sure your friends don't ever mistake your can of Mountain Dew for a cigarette-butt depository. Jerks. Anyway, it's just a very unpleasant and unsettling finish. I don't know...maybe a cigar smoker would like this beer with a stogie.

And- for the record- I say all this as a past smoker, just so you don't think I'm one of those annoying "Truth" mongers.

Ranting aside, let's summarize these beers: Can design = A+. Product within = well, 2 out of 3 ain't bad (and, to be fair, they also make a hefeweizen that I need to try). But please remember (as I've said with wine): my taste buds and your taste buds may be completely different. I always encourage you to try what I love and what I hate. Otherwise, you too are just making a judgement call based on the packaging I present to you.

Try the product within these words. Give Butternuts a go, especially the "Porkslap" and "Snapperhead", and even the "Moo Thunder"...

...If not for me, do it for Baltasar Gracián.

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