Thursday, October 25, 2018

Welcome back Speakeasy!

My introduction to Speakeasy beers was when I was living in San Francisco, the home base of the brewery. It was the late 90s, possibly early 2000s (things get a bit hazy through time and beer), and a good buddy of mine was doing the books for the fairly new operation. Back then, as you do in your 20s, I was consuming mostly garbage beers; Hamms, Schlitz, Rainier, Natty, PBR, etc, the trail of beer tears was endless, mostly because of financial woes combined with a palate that had yet to reach full craft beer potential.

One day I get a call and my friend asked me if I wanted to work the San Francisco beer festival with him and the dudes from Speakeasy. That current phase of me was being a freelance music journalist and Heavy Metal DJ and my pal said most of the guys at Speakeasy were old school punks and metalheads. Plus there'd be free beer.

Enough said.

I agreed to help them out that day.

When I arrived at the SF Beer festival, which, that year, was held in a warehouse near the wharf and right on the ocean, I signed in, got my volunteer t-shirt and found my buddy. He introduced me the Speakeasy crew and all of the guys, as kinda promised, were laid back rocker types. My duties that day were to greet people and hand out samples of their beer while the brewers did all the explaining and schmoozing. At the time they had 3 different varieties: an amber ale called Prohibition, an IPA called Big Daddy and, I think, they had a pale ale called Untouchable but I might be wrong here.

The event was filled with vendors, various local and visiting breweries plus a slew of eager volunteers. After I got my briefing on the various ins and outs of Speakeasy beers, I walked around and checked out some of the other sudsy delights up for sample. The temptation to try them was all too fervent but I didn't want to be drunk before they even opened the doors. When I made my way back to the Speakeasy booth the boys wanted me to try the beers, to, you know, have some knowledgeable input for the arriving guests.

I tried the Untouchable. Really good. A little spicy and malty. Then came the Prohibition. Sweet and very smooth. But it was when I downed the Big Daddy that I knew I was in trouble.

I had never had an IPA before. Didn't even know what the IPA stood for. So when that hoppy, citrusy, crisp wonder splayed my tongue and gullet I knew right then and there to ditch the dirt beer and go for the real gusto.

It was so good. I had no idea beer could taste like that. Had no clue that beer could affect the senses like that. By the time they opened the doors to let the throngs of ticket holders in, I was seriously buzzed. On Big Daddy IPA. I couldn't help it. My brain and stomach just couldn't get enough.

Hour 2 of the beer fest and I was floating. All of the other breweries had great products but Speakeasy was by far my favorite. By the time the event ended I was loaded. Luckily there was a big buffet for all of the volunteers and brewers and I ate as much sausage and pretzels I could to get me back to semi-reality. To top it all off I lucked out by hooking up with a sweet girl with curly blonde hair. It was that kind of magical say the least.

The remaining years I lived in San Francisco, my go to beer was the Big Daddy, but any Speakeasy variety would do in a pinch. My long defunct hangout, The Crowbar, always had Speakeasy on tap and when a limited edition line hit the shelves at random liquor enclaves I always snatched it up while the getting was good.

When I met the lady I was meant to marry in 2005, prompting a move to Tucson, AZ in 2006, I knew I had to leave a lot behind me, including Speakeasy beers. It was a sacrifice but true love was a callin'. While on a family visit in San Diego one year, and a chance visit to a corner liquor store near our hotel, I spotted some very familiar friends:

Sixers of Speakeasy beers!

I spent more than I should have on that beer knowing there wouldn't be any waiting for me back home in Tucson. Fortunately I would be proven wrong. A big box booze chain actually carried it on their shelves. Hooray! Yeah but only for a brief time. When I asked some beer rep friends about it, they informed that Speakeasy had lost funding, or got bought out, lost over state line distribution, something like that. It didn't matter. Whatever the reason, it just meant that I couldn't get Speakeasy products unless I return to San Francisco. And that wasn't going to happen. At least anytime soon.

The Prohibition went so well with Mexican take out

But then...beautiful redemption!

A friend that works for Hensley Beverage gave me the good news that Speakeasy was back up and running and distributing to Tucson. Woohoo!

Turns out they got acquired by Hunters Point Brewery and that acquisition gave them enough of a budget to redistribute to Arizona and beyond. They hired a new head brewer and have expanded their malty and hoppy horizons by adding a porter, pilsner, saison, an American lager and two offsets of the Big Daddy IPA, a Baby Daddy session and a Double Daddy imperial. I've tried them all and, wow. Am I in trouble. Again. While the Double Daddy packed a serious whallop the Baby Daddy went down a bit too easily. It's all just so gosh darn tasty.

Cheers Speakeasy but I'm gonna have to pace myself here.

I made chili with the Pop Gun Pilsner

Their new pilsner, going by the name Pop Gun, is malty and sweet and I used it recently in a giant pot of chili that I made for a rainy monsoon night. I'm also really excited to try their Old Godfather line of barleywines, but that'll have to be for a special evening as most barleywines come close to about 10% APV and I'll probably need the next day off as well.

Not too sure if Tucson will get this but Speakeasy has introduced a line called the Syndicate Series, which are barrel aged vintage ales and top the APV of their barleywines. Again, it's one of those "close the curtains and bust out the comfy chair" types of drinking sessions. Perhaps if I order some German food I should be okay. It just seems to help.

Still, I'm an old school Speakeasy guy so my favorites of their current line of beers has to go to the Prohibition and, of course, the Big Daddy IPA, the one beer that changed my perspective on how a beer can just go beyond a cold thing to drink and get a buzz on. It's more than that. For me, its also a memory twitch. That day spent in a packed warehouse with thousands of hop heads bopping around the various tables flush with golden, red, black and sunset hued glories, some with foamy heads, some with not so much, all waiting to be quaffed, admired and thought about, then eating delicious German food before making out with a cute girl, all comes back to one beer and one brewery.

Thank you Speakeasy!

And welcome back...

And, behold...the majesty of the Big Daddy IPA

Typing, Drinking and The Last 3 Pictures
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
Almost Halloween, 2018

Metal Influence:

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Four Men Enter, Two Men Leave!

Before I started judging, I drank some Malort

Malört is known for its bitter taste. It can be found in some Chicago-area taverns and liquor stores, and is growing in popularity there, but it is seldom seen elsewhere in the United States. Jeppson's Malört, a liquor, is a brand of bäsk produced by the Carl Jeppson Company of Chicago. Jeppson's Malört is named after Carl Jeppson, the Swedish immigrant who first popularized and sold the liquor in Chicago. Malört is the Swedish word for wormwood, which is the key ingredient in a bäsk, a bitter-flavored type of Swedish brännvin.

After drinking Malort, they started cooking

In the 1930s Carl Jeppson, a Swedish immigrant to Chicago, began marketing his home-made brew. The Carl Jeppson Company is currently owned by Patricia Gabelick, who took over the business after the 1999 death of long-time owner George Brode. Brode had purchased the original recipe from Carl Jeppson in the 1930s and created the famous Jeppson's Malört testimonial that once appeared on every bottle. It was made in Chicago until the mid-'70s, when the distillery that produced it for the Carl Jeppson Company closed down. Jeppson's Malört is currently made in Florida.

Malort might have been used in this dish

While Gabelick acknowledges that the drink is a "niche liquor," selling a comparatively small number of cases annually, it has gained increased relevance among bartenders, bikers, and Chicago's Hispanic community, where Gabelick notes that it has become "a rite of passage." The satirist John Hodgman has also adopted the drink in his stage show, offering shots to his audience. For many years, it was only sold in the Chicago area.
The taste of Jeppson's Malört is extremely bitter, and is alleged to be a cure for indigestion.
In Summer 2013, Chicago bar Red Door featured Malört–infused snow cones (it has a summer tradition of serving snow cones doused with alcohol). The liquor is mixed with Benedictine and Angostura orange.
In Joe Swanberg's 2013 film Drinking Buddies, drinking a shot of malort is mentioned as a Chicago tradition for erasing past mistakes.
In an interview with Gothamist blog Chicagoisthumorist John Hodgman said Jeppson's Malört "tastes like pencil shavings and heartbreak."
In August 2015, the High-Hat Club was voted "Best Malört Bar in Chicago" and was awarded the Carl Cup, a perpetual trophy that is passed from past to future champions in a manner similar to the Stanley Cup.
While most consider "Malört" to be the common name for the style of liquor, Malört is in fact, a trademarked brand name owned by Carl Jeppson Company. The company secured the trademark on November 3, 2015. Other distillers that produced a similar spirit renamed theirs beforehand. Letherbee reverted to the generic "Bäsk", while FEW Spirits dubbed theirs "Anguish and Regret".
Malört makes up half of the boilermaker drink called the Chicago Handshake; the other half is an Old Style beer. Some Chicago bars serve various cocktails using Malört.

I think I need another shot of Malort

The city flag on the label only has three stars, and not because the designer was ripping shots of the product (which he probably was), but because it pre-dates the Century of Progress Exposition in 1933, which inspired the flag's fourth star.

Tartare with a Malort reduction

The liquor was sold door-to-door by Jeppson during Prohibition, with the loophole of being medicinal alcohol. Jeppson's Malort was the only legal wormwood product sold in American for 96 years, starting in 1912 and up until 2008, when other wormwood products (like absinthe) became legal.

After all that food I really needed some Malort

Malort is an incredibly small operation (they have two employees, including the owner), and while their budget can't afford print ads, fan-created promotions are right in the brand's wheelhouse. Here's just some of their ad wizardry:
  • Malort, kick your mouth in the balls!
  • Malort, when you need to unfriend someone IN PERSON.
  • Malort, tonight's the night you fight your dad.
  • Malort, the Champagne of pain.
  • Malort, turning taste-buds into taste-foes for generations.
  • Drink Malort, it's easier than telling people you have nothing to live for.
  • Malort, what soap washes its mouth out with.
  • Malort, these pants aren't going to sh*t themselves.

After Rod won we drank some Malort

At the Marsalle distillery in Chicago during the 1960s, women that worked there would often pull bottles off the production line and drink them when they had menstrual cramps. Guess you don't need a heating pad when you can just light your stomach on fire from the inside.

The grand prize was a fancy knife...not Malort

Congrats to Roderick and Alfredo for winning that night.

I had a lot of fun.



Camera, Judging and Malort
"Malort" Mark Whittaker
Malort, 2018

Malort Influence: