The Lush Life 3: Last Lap
June 16, 2004
Everyone remembers the Mos Eisley Cantina in Star Wars; a denizen for travelers from all corners of the galaxy. Kendall Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts is a lot like that droid-free establishment in many ways. Less of course Harrison Ford carving Greedo a new stomach under the table with his blaster. And no, I don’t even recognize the retarded ‘Greedo Shot First’ revision. Lucas must have drank one too many the day he signed off on that travesty.
To understand Kendall Square’s diversity and unique patrons requires an understanding of the town of Cambridge as a whole. I’ve done my fare share of traveling and am comfortable proclaiming it has got to be one of the most eclectic settings known to man. At any given time it serves as host to Boston’s grungiest rock clubs and Harvard’s most protected secret societies. And on any given day the seat next to you in a watering hole might be occupied by a guy in a suit that could be the sax player for a local ska band or a scary bastard with 8 piercings in their face that has a Doctorate in Biogenetics and a lab somewhere home to their body part growth experiments.
Kendall Square is the melting pot for all that represents Cambridge. It serves as the home of MIT, Draper Labs and Genzyme. Genzyme! They actually grow human skin in their labs right in Kendall Square. Did you think I was kidding when I mentioned body part growth experiments in the previous paragraph?
Leaning against almost any Cambridge bar are the Noble Prize winners of the world, genetic researchers and your usual compliment of mad scientists. Alas the most extreme alchemists in this hamlet of biochemists, nuclear scientists, and skin growers are the brewers of the Cambridge Brewing Company.
My next proclamation is that the Cambridge Brewing Company is one of the first brewery restaurants in this country. It is a unique place where the science and art of brewing collide. It’s also the next stop on the tour of the Lush Life.
As my buddy Barry and I walk towards the CBC, the first thing our eyes attach themselves to is the bar’s latest innovation: tabletop mini-kegs of beer filled with the CBC brew of your choice. Being the hardcore skeptic I am, had I never been to CBC before I would have surmised these table kegs were all show to take the focus off of an inferior beer. But that is so far from the truth.
CBC has some of the most superior beers in the country, if not the world. Case in point: they actually have their own proprietary yeast strain which is most prevalent in their Triple Threat Belgian-style Strong Ale. I can sit and enjoy the aroma of CBC’s Tripel for 5 or 10 minutes before taking a single sip. I have been told this is one of the first Belgium style beers brewed in America. The triple was not available today but looking at the blackboard at CBC one of my other favorites was on tap along with another IPA for Barry.
CBC has their 4 standard beers on tap year round: Regatta Golden, Tall Tale Pale Ale, Cambridge Amber and my favorite CBC standard, Charles River Porter. Also, there are always 4 beers in rotation on the CBC blackboard. Today, among others, was the Beantown Espresso Stout. What a great beer! Jam packed with caffeine. I am getting my beer and my caffeine in one compact package. If only my boss at my day job was understanding enough; this could be the perfect way to start each day.
Beer is nothing more than fermented cereal with some hops… add in my morning coffee and I am good to go. Before I dove into my 6% ABV stout and Barry, his next IPA, we both thought it would be a good idea to grab a couple of menus.
You cannot indulge the way we have today without eating and we are definitely in the right place for both. Since this isn’t a food column I won’t get deep into the menu but the food at CBC rocks. The porter marinated steak tips and the burgers are (CENSORED) fantastic.
So now we are drinking and eating like only gods should eat and drink. I have a touch of juice running down my chin from my CBC bacon cheddar burger as once again I lift the Espresso Stout to my mouth. I now know why this place is filled with the smartest people in the world day after day.
Today was different. Fridays at CBC are legendary. Today was suspect, we could easily get a seat at the bar and there were no grad students bumming cigarettes off of us. I realized what was missing more than anything… the incisive chattering of the beer geeks. The poster on the wall reminded us that every beer geek and beer snob in Boston was at NERAX the New England Real Ale Exhibition.
Now lets get this straight, I love beer geeks, but beer snobs can get on my nerves. This would be as good a time as any to define these two groups…
A beer geek loves his beer. He may keep notes, talk about the lacing in the glass, and be able to tell you what hops are in a beer by holding his forehead against the bottle. The one thing a beer geek wont do is give you crap over your selection of beer. If you want to drink Milwaukee’s Best, go for it. If you enjoy the beer then a beer geek is happy for you. The beer geek will even sit with yellow beer guys or as I like to call them, The Fizzies, and lift a stout or two with them.
Then there is the beer snob. They will look at you with disgust and distain as you swallow your yellow swill. The beer snob may even snicker and make off color remarks. These are the guys that carry pocket thermometers to take temperature notes as they are tasting.
There are so many things that are overly segmented in this world, let’s not do this to beer… We are all beer lovers! I am calling for the geeks, freaks, fizzies, and snobs of the world to unite for the greater good of beer. After all, we all have the wine snobs to ridicule.
If I had brought a fizzie to NERAX with me, I don’t think they would have too much fun, they lost and confused at NERAX. Tonight’s beer drinking is not about Milwaukee’s Best anyway, it’s all about Cask Conditioned Beer.
The world of cask conditioned ales is very complex. There are a few things that make Cask Conditioned Ales, or Real Ales as they call it in England, so different. What I find so interesting is the fermentation process. There is usually a two stage fermentation process that starts off with top fermenting Ale yeast, sometimes brewed in open fermenters. Once the beer goes through the first fermentation process it is transferred to a cask or keg where the second fermentation will take place. Wort, yeast, or additional hops maybe be added to the beer at this point depending on the brewer’s recipe. This is also the vessel the beer will be served in.
The keg is then moved to a stillage or a stand of some sorts. The keg cannot be disturbed or moved from this point for 24 to 48 hours, allowing it to settle. Real ales are unfiltered so there is quite a bit of sentiment in the beer. This sentiment can drastically affect the flavor of the beer if it is disturbed before or during the pour.
The pour is unique in itself. The beer is gently pumped out of the beer by various methods including hand pumping and old fashioned taps. No CO2 is pumped into the keg. This would disturb the beer and, as I said, drastically affect the taste.
We were staring at keg after keg of this meticulously prepared Ale as a familiar name jumped out at us. Rouge had sent kegs of beer cross-country from Oregon for this event. Seeing that Rouge had taken the time to ship cask conditioned beer over 3000 miles for my enjoyment, I thought it would be very disrespectful not to partake in their offering. I cannot stress how good the rouge Ale was. I have tasted citrus tones in beer before to many degrees, but never something like this. The Rouge was like drinking a glass of Grapefruit juice. The finish was so clean and crisp I thought I was in beer heaven. Just as I thought the beer at Nerax couldn’t get any better, Barry gave me a sip of his Mona Lisa Mild from Martha’s Exchange.
The Rouge was a ten and the Mona Lisa was just as good if not better. Do I start rating beers on a sliding scale now? Is the beer at Nerax just going to keep getting better and better until I just fall over bloated?
The next beer I had was a strong 8, so my theory of the beers getting better and better was dashed. With the 8 being the worst beer of the night, I can safely say that every beer I tried at Nerax was phenomenal. This will now be a yearly event for me and I do encourage all of you to partake in this great beer experience.
We wrapped up our pub crawl and I tried to gather my thoughts and come to some conclusion about Jazz and beer and bring this whole thing full circle. What I came up with is that I can’t come to any conclusion! You know what? I really don’t care either. I had the opportunity to try a ton of great beers on a great spring day with my best friend. That is what beer is all about. It doesn’t matter if you are a beer geek or a Bud swilling fizzie. Sit back crack a beer with a friend and try to enjoy life a little more.
I would like to take this time to thank all of the people that helped make our Classic Boston Pub Crawl a great time. Al, Liz and Skyler from Harpoon, Mark and his staff at The Sunset Grill, The staff of Cambridge Brewing Company and of course the fantastic staff of Nerax.
Cambridge Brewing Company’s Beantown Espresso Stout: This is a new dimension in the world of coffee stouts. The color of this beer is the classic pitch black body with a tan head. What is different about this beer is the aroma, the roasted malt tones have to fight their way past the strong roasted espresso tones. The mouthfeel is creamy and as you swallow, the coffee flavors emerge. They never totally go away but as they start to fade a bit, a fantastic hop profile arises.
Commercial description: The body of this beer is pitch black with a generous light tan head.
Cambridge Brewing Company’s Red God IPA: The body of this Imperial IPA is a cloudy red with an off-white, almost tan head. The aroma is all about hops as an Imperial IPA would be, but this one had extremely floral tones departing from the usual heavy dosing of Cascade hops usually found in beers of this style. The strong hop profile does not take away from the malt presence in any way. As this beer finishes, there is a malt flavor that mixes fantastically with the alcohol flavors that arise in the finish of this almost 8% ABV beer.
Rogue Brutal Bitter Rogue: Got Hops? This is one of the most interestingly hopped beers I have ever tried. The body is a dark amber and cloudy with a quickly disappearing white head. The aroma is all about citrus mostly grapefruit. As you lift the glass to your mouth the citrus tones continue, but not in a bitter or sharp way. It is hard to describe, I can only say this beer tastes beautiful.
Commercial description: Brewer John Maier describes his Brutal Bitter as a cross between a Very Extra Special Bitter and an Indian Pale Ale. Brutal Bitter was first brewed in 1996 for the 20th Anniversary of the Horse Brass Pub in Portland. Customer demand prompted Rogue to continue brewing Brutal for the Horse Brass as well as using it as Rogue’s premier pour at the 1998 Oregon Brewers Festival. At the 1999 SpringFest in Portland, Oregon, Brutal Bitter was unscientifically voted the Peoples Choice–it received twice as many votes as the runner-up. Brutal combines Oregon hops with English Malts. Brutal Bitter is packaged in Rogue’s classic 22 ounce silk-screened bottle and is available on draft.
Number One Pick for a classic pub crawl…
Martha’s Exchange Mona Lisa Mild: This beer simply blew me away. There were so many different malt tones going on in the aroma, I could have sat back and simply enjoyed the nose of this beer for 5 or 10 minutes. The flavor is all about malt but surprisingly it is not overly sweet. It is crisp and clean with a perfectly balanced hop finish. There were no overbearing alcohol tones as you may find in some malty beers, making this a perfect beer for a summer day. I don’t know who named this beer Mona Lisa but they named it correctly, it is truly a masterpiece.
Commercial description: Brewed with Munton’s Mild Ale malt, Crystal malt, Cara-munich and a touch of Chocolate malt. Designed to be a lighter version of a brown ale. The malt takes front stage. Subtley sweet with a balanced bitterness provided by Northern Brewer and Fuggles hops, it is a session beer in every sense of the word. 4% ABV.