In Defense of Shitty Beers

Sometimes it’s Necessary to Sacrifice Taste for Street Cred…

By Kevin Sterne


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I’ve talked about craft beer ad nauseam on this forum. Here. And here. Also, here. We’ve given a lot of attention to craft brewing, especially Chicago craft brewing, but I feel this publicity has come at the expense of non-craft beers, the un-crafters. Beers that, despite the bad reputation and unfiltered water, can pack just as much flavor—minus the prestige and sticker shock. Take Hamm’s for example, it’s an unassuming beer that has never indulged in the bells and whistles of its high-brow, new age brethren. Hamm’s doesn’t try to be something that it’s not (looking at you, barrel-aged IPA)— and that is admirable in a time when Donald Trump is still trying to be president and Kellyanne Conway is trying to be a human rather than an alien.

So even if you are a reptilian masquerading as a human, a baller on a budget, or a trust-fund hipster kid looking to augment your street cred in Wicker Park or Logan Square, I have the retro aluminum that won’t leave your wallet or palate dry.

  

Busch’s Light

Smells like your gym bag and tastes like your friend’s gym bag. Busch Light has been bringing friends together since 8th grade. The more cans you drink, the more it tastes like your friend drank it and then spit it back in the can. It pours a pale yellow, like drunk-after-sex urine and drinks as smooth as your pec flies. But not as smooth as Hamm’s.

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Natural Ice

In a glass it’s nearly translucent, like you filled an empty yellow Gatorade bottle with water. But, don’t be fooled, this beer packs a lot of flavor. It tastes how your bathroom floor smells after a party. There’s plenty for your palate to sample here: the goopy bottoms of Converse sneakers, stale urine, residual puke stain, condom residue, and more spilled Natty Ice. A cocktail of flavor that will have your taste buds YOLOing for more. This beer is good, even great if you get it fresh, but still a slight notch below Hamm’s.

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I’ve learned that this beer is drinkable at nearly any temperature. Throw it in the snow on the porch until it’s near freezing; this will mitigate any potential taste profile. Or let it simmer in your shed or garage during the dog days of summer. This helps bring out the flavors of dead field grass and skunky gym socks. You can even age a 24-pack in the trunk of your car; just let bang around for a few months until the case is sun beaten and the cardboard smashed. Remember to drink it as fast as you can, the less that touches your tongue the better.

Bud’s Light

This beer pours a faded parking-line yellow and smells like cafeteria creamed corn; both are excellent conversation starters at the next house hop. Bud’s Light is best enjoyed when found in a red cup with no name on it. You can also imbibe sips off a beer pong table. This one pairs excellently with dirty ping pong balls, cigarette ash, and 7-11 Taquitos. Overall, this is a beer worth arm wrestling over, but if you win the drunk push-up contest, you better down a victory Hamm’s.

MGD-64

Beer or cleaning agent? This dual-purpose adult beverage gives whiffs of Pine Sol and sun-dried lawn bags, making it ideal for scrubbing the hard woods or scrubbing your palate. This is my favorite chaser for any combination of the following: Malort, Jim Beam, Jose Cuervo Especial, Bacardi 151, Chivas Regal, and Canadian Mist. If you’re on a diet or if it’s cutting season at the gym (it’s always cutting season for me), then this and Hamm’s is the beer for you, bro.

Guinness

Literally, like the heaviest beer in the world. It smells like grandpa’s cigars and tastes like his garage. It’s sludge. But I drink it because he was Irish and I’m like 1/29th Irish, so it’s family tradition. I’ve had an Irish car bomb once because my older brother made me on my 21st. I like blacked out.

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Bud’s Light Limes-A-Rita

Pitbul is to John Lennon as Bud’s Light Lime-Ritas is to ___________.

  1. A) Holy Water
  2. B) Holly Water
  3. C) Holie Water
  4. D) Not as good as Hamm’s.

Milwaukee’s Beast

Tastes great with my protein. I get mad gains mixing it in my shaker after getting in a pump at the gym in Gold Coast. My Pi Kapp Alpha brothers and I killed off two 30-racks of Milwaukee’s Beast last Friday after I closed a sale with a major client. Who’s the man? Me. Now who wants to take shots of Hamm’s off my stomach.



Kevin Sterne is a writer and journalist based in Chicago, the editor of LeFawn Magazine. Apart from Shuga Records, he’s written about beer and music for Mash Tun Journal, The Tangential and Substream Magazine. His creative fiction has appeared in Drunk Monkeys, Potluck Mag, Defenestration, Praxis Magazine, Down in the Dirt Magazine, and Word Eater, among many others.

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Twitter: @kevinsterne
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Chicago’s own Pipeworks Brewing Company and Dark Matter Coffee have a threesome with 18th Street Brewery.

Review by: Kevin Sterne


Pipeworks Brewing Company and Dark Matter Coffee are two institutions of experimentation in Chicago, consistently twisting tongues and bending palates with S’mores and Chile flavored lagers and hop-infused roasters, respectfully. The two cross pollinate the other’s nectar on many occasions; DM releases beans aged in Pipeworks barrels during holidays. In turn Pipeworks has brewed several coffee-forward beers: Dark Matter Machine Coffee Cream Ale and Grand Guignol: Act Two Oatmeal Stout.

For their latest sexual intermingling, they invited a third party, 18th Street Brewery. The child of this threesome—Attack of the Devil’s Lettuce, whose name and artwork alone raise expectations as high as a Wicker Park hipster’s brow. ADL is ultra-dank, coffee-infused imperial IPA that leaves the tongue pulsating from so much flavor arousal.

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My tongue felt how my brain does when heavily caffeinated. I was wired to everything. And with so much going on in this beer, the stimulation can be a bit overwhelming. But I’ll break it down in simple terms:

• Look: No filtering leaves this golden child hazy and deep amber.
• Smell: Coffee, Coffee, Coffee. Some hops, a bit of malt. But mostly Coffee, Coffee, Coffee.
• Taste: A tome of flavor. Coffee in the front accented by tones of peppercorn, lemon, orange peel. The Sorachi Ace hops lend intense Earthy flavors, giving the swallow a pucker of vegetables plucked from the soil—maybe lettuce? This makes for a flavor clash that’s difficult to reconcile.
• Feel: Big and bulbous, with noticeable alcohol.
• Overall: The bomber size demands two mouths. Full disclosure: I didn’t finish the whole thing, there too many flavors fighting for attention, making the drink experience more taste chore than drinkation.

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While this three-pronged sexual conquest may have resulted in some tainted birth flued, this is by no means a bad brew. There’s a lot for the tongue to touch, and if you can get your slimy paws on it, pick up the Brain Tentacles and Wild Jesus & The Devil’s Lettuce record to stimulate your audio nodes in conjunction. A droning chamber of bass, sax and metal darkness pulled from the murky pools of Lou Reed’s long ago Berlin. Stir the brew and the tunes in a cauldron and puff on your devil’s lettuce. Now THAT is a sensory orgasm.



Kevin Sterne is a writer and journalist based in Chicago, the editor of LeFawn Magazine. Apart from Shuga Records, he’s written about beer and music for Mash Tun Journal, The Tangential and Substream Magazine. His creative fiction has appeared in Drunk Monkeys, Potluck Mag, Defenestration, Praxis Magazine, Down in the Dirt Magazine, and Word Eater, among many others.

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Twitter: @kevinsterne
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Beer Review: Telehopic by Hop Butcher

This New England Style India Pale Ale instantly legitimizes Chicago’s “East Coast” IPA game

By Kevin Sterne


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I’ll be honest, I can’t taste much difference between an East and West Coast-style IPA—other than the obvious signifier of location. Beer Advocate is equally at a loss here. Ten to fifteen years ago—when there was a fraction of the microbreweries as today—it might be like comparing apples to oranges. Now, it’s comparable to finding subtleties between Kardashians. They’re all the same to me.

I’ve had Heady Topper from Vermont and West Coast IPA from California; Boom Sauce from Massachusetts and Fresh Squeezed from Oregon. Full disclosure: I have not had the opportunity to try Pliny the Elder nor any beers by Tree House or Trillium. Heading into this write up I would say West Coast IPAs have a more prominent pine taste and malt backbone while their East Coast counterparts forgo malt for citrus flavors and a more juicy body (insert your Kardashian joke about juicy body here). But even those big tent differences feel like big straw grasps.

Two grafs in and we haven’t even talked about how the Midwest factors into this discussion. My take on the Midwest IPA and pale ale game is of fizzy, fructose-forward ales that cater to the demands of entry-level craft drinkers. IPAs are the Marijuana of beers, providing an easy gateway to the world of craft. But Midwest (aside from a few exceptions) hasn’t pinned down a style, nor exceeded (caveat to come) in copying the coasts. Chicagoland area microbreweries, in particular, have been culling from the same well of inspiration, and it’s only slightly better than the Chicago River. No doubt, Chicago is an IPA-thirsty market, but most Chicago IPAs exhibit what I like to call “the 7-Up taste,” where most of your sip is syrupy and overly fizzy (subtle nod towards a particular anti-establishment fizzy fist).

To totally bury the lede, Telehopic by Hop Butcher is the exception to everything above. This beer all but legitimizes the “east coast” style IPA in the Chicago.

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For tasting notes here, look no further than the Denali, Mosaic & Columbus hops. Denali takes the driver’s seat with tropical pineapple while Mosaic rides sidecar, splashing heaven-sent mango juice. Don’t let the weak orange color of this beer fool you, this one packs a tropical punch.

I’d place this one a few notches below The Alchemist’s Heady Topper in terms of New England styles. It lacks the complexity and full body flavor. And to keep with this theme of East/West-Coast confusion, I’ll say it’s on par with the West Coast-brewed Fortum by Firestone Walker. Compared to the Chicago’s best beers, however, it’s among the best—as juicy as 3 Floyd’s Zombie Dust but with far less malt compared to Pipeworks’ Citra. People I talk to say this isn’t even the Hop Butcher’s best New England Style IPA. Which, in terms of quality and consistency, puts Hop Butcher in a class with 3 Floyds and Pipeworks.

I admire Hop Butcher’s bent for perfecting a specific style, in this case the “East Coast” IPA. In such a saturated IPA market, many a microbrewery take a jack of all trades approach to their brewing, ultimately creating good, but not great beers. But Hop Butcher has nailed down a style, albeit a style that’s hard to define.



Kevin Sterne is a writer and journalist based in Chicago, the editor of LeFawn Magazine. Apart from Shuga Records, he’s written about beer and music for Mash Tun Journal, The Tangential and Substream Magazine. His creative fiction has appeared in Drunk Monkeys, Potluck Mag, Defenestration, Praxis Magazine, Down in the Dirt Magazine, and Word Eater, among many others.

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Twitter: @kevinsterne
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As fun as the idea of a new At the Drive-in album is, I’d rather exist in my Relationship of Command echo chamber…sipping Lagunitas Waldo’s Special Ale

by Kevin Sterne

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17 years is a long time to hang with a feeling. But that’s what this so-called “emo revival” is propped on. Nostalgia is what brought Mike Kinsella devotees out of hiding for a second American Football LP. And why the Internet shuts down over so much as a rustle from Brand New’s camp. The Lonesome, Crowded West. Full Collapse. What it Feels Like to Be Something On. These are pillars of 90’s, lower middleclass suburbanite feelings. Whatever you call it, be emo, post-hardcore or “screamo”—At the Drive-in’s Relationship of Command was the high-water mark for which all subsequent music was weighed against.

No band played with as much cathartic energy, or barely corralled violence (however you want to view Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s relationship with a microphone stand). The El Paso four-piece was in another stratosphere with their sonic intensity, and that’s exactly how the media portrayed them in the ironic quest to commercialize a band that was so sincerely anti-mainstream. When the closest comp at the time was Nirvana’s Nevermind it’s easy to see how At the Drive-in was unlike any band in the 1990’s.

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So how’s the music 17 years later? In•ter a•li•a is a return to familiarity in the same way Saosin’s Along the Shadow of a Man sought to be. It satiates a need for aggressive, post-hardcore without eyeshadow and every song is relentless. Omar Rodriquez Lopez still plays like he’s trying to break his guitar in half, manic and unrestrained (no more clearly than on the song “Continuum”). Bixler-Zavala’s lyrics still land on the spectrum between cryptic and nonsensical: Smuggled in their faith like an orbit in decay // Drools the cloying adulation of piss ants // One shot for every snitch leads the needle to the stitch. The rhythm section is still a raw, stutter-stop conglomeration. There’s even those little interludes of noise following each song.

All the pieces are there. “Incurably Innocent” and “Call Broken Arrow” empty the adrenaline glands just like their predecessors: “Cosmonaut” and “Mannequin Republic.” It’s not a stretch to imagine “Pendulum In A Peasent Dress” tucked between “Sleepwalk Capsules” and “Invalid Litter Dept.

The band followed their blueprint and delivered an album that checks a lot of musical boxes, but missing is the context of its construction.

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In 1999-2000, Emo/post-hardcore was riding a wave (cresting with “One Armed Scissor”), washing up the sediment of: The face palm that was Y2K; the now tame cluster fuck of the Bush v Gore election; American Beauty; Nu Metal; and Fucking Nu Metal. Relationship of Command held a mirror to the lunacy of Adidas rock, consumerist mall shopping and the tech boom. But In•ter a•li•a cannot deliver the same effect.

This isn’t a failure of its design, it’s a failure of our time. The world we know is beyond satirical in representation. 2017 cannot be pinned down through funhouse lyrics masquerading as a dystopic metanarrative. We are a society numb to nonsense, and few among us have the attention span to decode lines like these: TV’s gonna comm lag, jettison the populace // Disassociation in the belly of the beast // Break the fourth wall, break the fourth wall come on // Lobotomize the question of my infinitude. Bixler-Zavala need look no farther than Jon Mess of Rise Record’s label mate, Dance Gavin Dance for lyrics inundated with sarcasm and misanthropy and cynicism.

With so much to distract us, it would take a post-post-modern version of human centipede with Trump, Kellyanne Conway and Putin in the lead roles for us to unplug from the Zucklord and actually pay attention.

I’ll just live out my remaining days in my Relationship of Command echo chamber.

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Join me in the echo chamber where I’ve befriended The Waldo’s Special Ale. Purportedly the dankest and hoppiest beer Lagunitas rolled. This ale smokes contemporaries in the imperial IPA game. Hyper citrus fruits cover the heavy alcohol—but unlike Dogfish Head’s multi-minute ales or Stones palate ruiner, the Waldo’s creamy caramel and melon finish won’t leave your tongue tasting gravel.

 

Kevin Sterne is a writer and journalist based in Chicago, the editor of LeFawn Magazine. Apart from Shuga Records, he’s written about beer and music for Mash Tun Journal, The Tangential and Substream Magazine. His creative fiction has appeared in Drunk Monkeys, Potluck Mag, Defenestration, Praxis Magazine, Down in the Dirt Magazine, and Word Eater, among many others.

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Twitter: @kevinsterne
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Vinyl on Tap: Pairing Music with Beer

by Kevin Sterne

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Girlpool’s Powerplant

On their first album Before the World Was Big, Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad navigated age and introspection—feeling young but being old—through specific lyrical scenes. Their sophomore effort Powerplant takes a more abstract and poetic approach in to the lyrics:

“She’s like a shelf the way she looks at the wall
A stock market dance while the poetry falls”

The addition of drummer Miles Witner gives backbone to the dual harmonies of Tucker and Tividad—the deserved draw of Girlpool. With Witner, the sonic representation is more expansive. We see the group explore Lyncheon dream pop, and classic stop-and-go alt rock that everyone seems to be doing. All is standard hipster-indie fare for the cool crowd, but the dreamy atmosphere and lyrical poignancy are what set Powerplant from what you’ll hear over and over and over in 2017.

The video for titular single, “Powerplant” shows the trio half-heartedly performing to coffee-shop art-types in a bowling alley—a setting so “un-hip” it’s fetishized for its irony. The video explores the theme of a singular moment, specifically live performance and a recorded one that is the same the first time and the hundredth. This idea plays out when the video’s director breaks the fourth wall, commanding the band to show more energy.

The moment and the video are comical and offer a meta commentary on the music industry, not unsimilar to Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Good Squad.

Pair the album and the book with Lakewood Brewing’s Vienna-Style Lager.

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Skip the $5 bowling alley pitcher of lager for one that is as drinkable but more flavorful. Subtle caramel aromas, a coppery pour and a light, malty sweetness paired with hop bitterness will make you rethink your notion of a lager. Enjoy this one with one of those rotisserie pretzels and accompanying Dixie cup of nuclear cheese melt. Cheers.

 

Kevin Sterne is a writer and journalist based in Chicago, the editor of LeFawn Magazine. Apart from Shuga Records, he’s written about beer and music for Mash Tun Journal, The Tangential and Substream Magazine. His creative fiction has appeared in Drunk Monkeys, Potluck Mag, Defenestration, Praxis Magazine, Down in the Dirt Magazine, and Word Eater, among many others.

kevinsterne.com
Twitter: @kevinsterne
Instagram: Kevinsterne
Instagram: LeFawnZine