Tuesday, February 19, 2013
You're Not Getting Any Younger
So I've got this friend who has lived such a wonderful life that because of that very life (that included the high years--hint hint--of the '60s - '80s) he can't remember much of it in detail. Consider it lost in a fog of sorts. Well, this friend, he sort of casually let slip that he had once slept with Faye Dunaway. As a huge fan of Chinatown, Bonnie & Clyde, Network, and ridiculously gorgeous women, I replied, "And?" My friend generally isn't bashful, more likely to try to say something to shock than, well, say anything at all. He said he didn't remember. That is, he admitted he didn't remember this:
Now, comparing a lovely woman to a beer might be a massive error in scale, but I'm going to take that risk. I'm pretty sure I've had a Pliny the Younger. Those of you in the hophead-know know that Younger is one of the most sought after beers in the world, often topping Beer Advocate's list of the best brews around the globe. Russian River in Santa Rosa releases just a tiny bit of it each February, mostly at its own brewpub, but some to its best accounts.
But a timeline here is important. Russian River started brewing Younger (it also brews the rare but not Holy Grail-esque Pliny the Elder) in 2005; Beer Advocate's high-hosanna praise made it the Honus Wagner baseball card of beer in 2010. So for five years in between, it was just a damn good brew. I think I had it then, not knowing it would "grow up" to become something like saying you saw the Beatles in Hamburg and Stu Sutcliffe sweat on you. I've had a lot of good beers in my good life, and I keep having them, so it's hard to be transformed by one pint (or half pint, as Younger is generally sold now, so the keg can get to 248 servings). I mean if we only talk double and triple IPAs, there's Pliny the Elder to start, 90 Minute and 120 Minute Dogfish Head, Avery's Maharaja, Green Flash's Imperial (even better, my wife's favorite beer), Green Flash's Palate Wrecker, Alpine's Pure Hoppiness and Exponential Hoppiness, Ballast Point's Dorado Double, Oskar Blues' Gubna, Port's Mongo and Hop 15, Bear Republic's Racer X, and then locally Firestone's Double Jack, Figueroa Mountain's Hurricane Deck, and Hollister's Hip Hop. That's enough drinking to numb your tongue--and perhaps your memory--for a couple of decades.
So that's why I figured 2013 was the year I got Younger. For sure. I even set up a Google Alert to try to track it, not that doing so kept me from searching too (and a good thing, as my alert was merely for news--if you want to learn anything, these days, follow the blogs). Timing just kept not quite working out, but we decided a road trip to Haven Gastropub in Pasadena on Presidents' Day might work, especially as it was already a day off. We couldn't get a super early start, but figured hitting the road from SB at 8:30ish for an 11 o'clock event kickoff might work.
I bet you thought this would be a story of LA traffic and 202 minutes on the 101. But that wasn't the issue--the first real line we hit...was the one outside Haven. That photo at the top (no, keep going past the Dunaway picture, and I know you lingered) is the mere first turn in the line that snaked down McConnell Alley and then turned left again to where we stood at 10:20 am, and most probably too late. But after that, you wait, cause you never know. There was at least one baby in the line in front of us, so that was one person not drinking. Oh, and for Gaucho pride, the first two guys (yep, the line was mostly guys, mostly in their 20s and 30s) in line were wearing UCSB sweatshirts and got there at 6 am. Clearly we weren't devoted/crazy/young enough for this.
The line started forward at 11. And stopped. Every ten minutes it would proceed another 12 feet or so, but it was only 11:40 when the word came out--the keg of Pliny the Younger was done. At first everyone just stood there, afraid it was a trick to shake the trustworthy out of the line. But then the word came out even stronger. Up to 45 people in front of us still didn't get in, so we weren't really close. I was prepared for this eventuality, storing away the title for a blog entry just like this one (look above, oh, there she is again...).
The day got more refusatory (ok, that's not a word, but I like it) as we walked the couple of blocks to Lucky Baldwin's, figuring we could drown our sorrows in their Belgian Beer Fest. We got a table, sat, waited. Tried not to breathe too much--it didn't smell the best in there, as we were close to a clean-the-plate dump and then there's years of spilled beer and someone with too much perfume. One server said she'd get to us, but then didn't for another 5 minutes. We bailed. After all, we were supposed to be enjoying hoppy beer, not malty yeasty beer.
We were headed across the street (Pasadena aside--is it good to have so many bars in a town that allows for diagonal street crossing? Discuss) thinking let's try Umami Burger, as we never have. At this point it was lunch time, too. There we saw the two guys from behind us on the failed Younger line, and they suggested Congregation Ale House (thanks, guys whose names we don't know!). Turns out the place wasn't too crowded and does the Father's Office style, order at the bar, get it delivered to your seat kind of thing. Five minutes, and we had ordered and sat, with beers. The place was already better than anywhere else we'd been.
It's one more of the LA places that figured it out you can do tasty sausages, even vegan ones, on the cheap. For $7 we each got a sausage (a vegan apple sage for Chryss, a duck bacon for me) draped with perfectly cooked onions and peppers on a non-pockety pita and spread with stone ground mustard. Plus fries, Belgian for her, sweet potato (with a bit too much sugar as well as salt--they are ALREADY sweet potatoes, folks) for me, with chipotle mayo and Sriracha ketchup. As for beers, we got to try three we'd never had before, and what more could one want form a beer hunt (of 90 miles or more)--a Birrificio del Ducato Nuova Mattina (which is Italian for a mild and pleasing saison rarely on tap in the U.S.), an Epic Hopulent DIPA (it must make the Mormons of SLC wild), and a Victory Ranch R Double IPA. Add two more DIPAs to the hops happily drunk by this pops list up above.
There was some walking. An independent bookstore. Buying of a book about my favorite indy band. More walking and back to Haven, figuring we needed to see the inside, needed to have Elder, at least. The beer board still teased us with Younger, but isn't that the young for you.
I was hoping, a bit, to hate Haven as it turned me away before I could even ask it for a date, as it were. The place was quite nice, though, the bartender busy as heck but on top of his game (anyone who offers you a taster wins in my bag), and Pliny the Elder, you know, is a mighty fine beer--no double IPA seems so balanced, so full, so in control but still threatening. Haven brews, too, and their 100 Rubles Imperial Russian Stout warmed my Ukrainian heart, or is that liver, oaky and pungent and willing to spank your nose with every bit of its 14% ABV.