FROM THE EDITOR’S DESK :: Art & Ale @ The Akron Art Museum

by Harvey Gold on March 21, 2015

photo: David Bryan Lile

photo: David Bryan Lile

Every year the Akron (Ohio) Art Museum holds an event called “Art & Ale.” We did our first piece (when they were calling it “The Art of Ale”) on this excellent event a couple years ago, one that was a bit more of a primer for our readers on Akron itself, as we drank and ate our way through the evening.

The reality is that this is a 3 hour beer festival. There are more than a dozen individual breweries present, including multiple award winners like Akron’s own Hoppin’ Frog and Thirsty Dog, plus a few distributors bringing multiple breweries to the event. There’s cider, mead, and plenty of snacks. The fact that it takes place in a Mueum is interesting, in that if you’re willing to leave your brew behind you can head in a couple directions and look at exhibits, so that’s kind of neat, but being members already, we were there for the beverages, food, and the chance to see friends who would invariably show up. $50 a head for non museum members, $35 for members, this is a great value, thinking about how much is spent with tax and tip for almost any repast outside of a visit to Taco Bell. And as we all know by now, Ohio is home to some killer brewing these days.

When we arrived, I immediately headed for food. The dynamic of such events is that you get food into your stomach to avoid premature intoxication. An hour or so later you eat more but that’s redefined as a drunk person’s version of the munchies. So I first got some lovely pulled pork and slaw from Old Carolina Barbeque Company, and immediately followed it with the most amazing shrimp soft taco from the wonderful Nuevo Modern Mexican & Tequila Bar.

Nuevo:  Plantain cream pie, chocolate ganache, graham cracker crust, caramel, and a plantain fritter.

Nuevo: Plantain cream pie, chocolate ganache, graham cracker crust, caramel, and a plantain fritter.

(I later returned to the Nuevo stall to get a picture of one of these pillows from Heaven, but these guys had a gem here, and were sold out with at least an hour to go, so we went with a pic of one of their crazy desserts.)

Properly fortified (or so I thought), I went forth into the breach. There will be a couple breweries conspicuous by their absence. Hoppin’ Frog, for one, produces big, high flavor, high ABV beers. One of most highly regarded breweries in the world, I’ve written about them often and, to be fair, with only one man’s capacities, I opted to see what the “other guys” were offering up on this night. Sort of the same thinking led me to not be writing about Goose Island, another fave of mine.

First up was PsycHOPathy IPA from MadTree Brewing out of Cincinatti. 6.9% ABV. Not much of a nose. Now I’m a pretty big IPA fan and while finding some spectacular and others as run of the mill, I also find, thankfully, that there are also what I call good “table wine” IPAs out there, ones that simply have all the elements of what should be present in a good drinking IPA. I think of the aforementioned Goose Island’s that way, nothing through the roof, but always enjoyable and bringing what such a hoppy beverage should be bringing to the table. This was NOT one of those. As I wrote, no real nose, which I find really important in a style that should have all sorts of hoppy citrus and floral vapors mixed in with the nose of sweet malt. And none of those elements spoke to me in the drink itself, just a predictable bitter. Not the best start. Nice folks, so I really wanted to like this one but, sadly, no dice.

dark horseNext up was Dark Force from Elevator Brewing, located in Columbus, Ohio. Tagged a dark lager, on my first sip I thought “Dunkel!!!” and asked the brewer about it. He agreed it was very much like a Dunkel. I give him props for not claiming it to be one, officially, as most feel the Munich water is what makes a Dunkel a Dunkel. When drinking the award winning version of this at Church Brew Works, the conversation, then, was about the treatment of the Pittsburgh water in order to come as close as possible to what was found in Munich.
The Dark Force was very tasty, maltier, a little sweeter than the very dry Church version, a fine brew itself. There was more of the caramel malt flavor than the, Guinness like, toasted-to-burnt malt found in the Church Dunkel. At 5.3% a good session beer, by craft alcohol standards, with a very nice bitter element. According to the brewer, this was more attributable, likely, to the noble hops used, but not based on an over abundance of them in the recipe. This was a winner.

indexI moved on to Chocolate Manifesto, a triple chocolate milk stout from Flying Monkeys brewing in Ontario, Canada. I like a good milk stout and have had many brews with chocolate that I’ve enjoyed. This one, however, was overpowering in that it was like drinking chocolate malted milk that happened to be a beer. I know this will appeal to many, certainly to those who don’t care for actual beer. The 10% ABV, no doubt, rocket powered all the flavor elements, but this, to me, was much like special seasonals where the story is the spices and additional flavors to such a degree that you have to remind yourself you’re drinking a beer of some nature. To be fair, Beer Advocate rates this a stellar 92, and it appeared to be a big hit at Art & Ale, so…with huge chocolate, and huge malt, I’m thinking this may be a very special and fun brew that simply isn’t my cup of tea.

Kettle KornI strolled over and picked up a sampler of a Main Street Joe Coffee Porter, brewed at Main Street Grille and Brewing in Garrettsville Ohio. Using Cascara (the husk of the coffee bean) and Mexican Chiapas beans, and coming in with a 6% ABV and 34 IBUs, my first impression was that it was without a lot of merit. Recognizing that the huge Chocolate Manifesto very likely blew my buds out, I strolled over to Frankly Franks Kettle Corn. Now FFs creates lots of neat flavors, bacon and cheese, ranch, some spicy chipotle or BBQ styles, and many more, but I just grabbed a cup of salty and sweet regular to clean my palate, and it did in a delightful way. I then sipped more of the Main Street Joe porter and found it to be perhaps the closest coffee focused brew I’ve had to the black coffee (usually a fresh ground mocha java) I drink ALL DAY, EVERY DAY. A really fine black coffee of a beer! Things were looking up.

Beer Critic Rick Armon and Your Getting-Happier-By-The-Minute Editor

Beer Critic Rick Armon and Your Getting-Happier-By-The-Minute Editor

I then ran into my old friend, Rick Armon, who has a great Beer Blog, a terrific book on Ohio Breweries, and a regular column on craft beer in the Akron Beacon Journal. In attendance judging beers for the event, he told me his favorite, thus far (with many more to go, no doubt) was Thirsty Dog’s Mayan Dog with Coffee. I made my way over and got a sampler from a growler. Rise of Mayan Dog is a well regarded Chocolate Honey Stout, but I’m not sure if this is the exact same formula with coffee added, or may just be sharing some of the DNA with the original as well as the name. But this is a really notable beer. Unlike the porter I had just finished, I could taste the flavor of the toasty grounds in this one. Every bit as vivid both in nose and flavor as the gigantic Chocolate Milk Stout I describe above, THIS one is dead to rights with my wheelhouse. Dry, bitter, fragrant and delicious. I can understand why this became a Rick’s Pick.

The Thirsty Dog Guys

The Thirsty Dog Guys

At this point, I headed over to the food area to refuel, or perhaps giddily stuff my face a little from the Acme Fresh Market table. Acme is a storied family owned chain of grocery stores in the Akron, Ohio area, one of the sponsors of this year’s Art & Ale. They offered Sriracha Chicken thick crust pizza. I had one tasty square, and then finished my wife’s as it was actually a bit sneaky in it’s heat, Dolli not being a big hot sauce gal. I had told her it wasn’t that hot. More for me!!!

Pretending I was suitably fortified, I headed for what would be my last couple of samplers. The first, recommended to me by a pal I ran into, was Yule Shoot Your Rye Out (great name), a winter warmer from Portside Distillery and Brewery in Cleveland. Full of ginger, nutmeg, honey and cinnamon, all these flavors supercharged by an 8.2% ABV, what my friend thought of as complex, to me, was the additives more than anything… which is the intent, of course. Cinnamon seemed to be the dominant flavor. Oddly, though again, not my sort of brew, I felt like if I was to drink something of this ilk, perhaps because of the rye boosting the overall malt component of this one, I could and, in fact, did make my way through this ale pretty easily. Given that I could tolerate it, I suspect this, for those who lean this way, was a superior example of this genre.

My final beer of the night was another one from Main Street Brewing Company, their White Walker, a Belgian Wit brewed with Coriander, Orange Peel, and Rose Hips, coming in at a 6.4% ABV. As you all know, I like a lot of Belgians, and to be fair, at another juncture I might really like this one. As it was, my first thought was an unfortunate one, that it had that overly active, smaller bubble carbonation to it, and that there was too much of the flavoring spices. After a sip or two, though, I got a suggestion of sour. I LOVE sours, so this brought a little smile to my face, and thus, the belief that with a cleaner palate, I might like this one just fine. As it was, I was finished for the night.

Or so I thought….

indexAs I approached an old friend to say goodnight, she latched on and dragged me over to the table where Crafted Artisan Meadery was serving samples of a number of things, I believe, but was on their last open bottle of Chipotle Pollinator, hopped blackberry honey wine with chipotle peppers. My experience with mead up till now has been, admitedly, modest and undereducated, and it had been with meads that were extraordinarily honey flavored and very, very sweet. I liked what I had tried, but this one was just great. There was honey, no doubt, and there was a sweetness, to be sure. But the heat of the chipotle peppers, and a flavor informed, but not identifiably dominated, by the blackberries, made for an extraordinary beverage. I will find a bottle of this and keep it stocked in our liquor cabinet as a fabulous departure from the usual.

indexA great way to end up a great night. I recommend this annual mini fest as a point of destination for anyone who enjoys fine beer, food, and…art. For the record, hints of inebriation notwithstanding, with a designated driver in our little band’s employ, we returned home, fed the dogs, then ran off to hear a band, where I had a nice Jameson. Only then did your intrepid reporter eventually find his bed and crash… happily.


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