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How can I write a beer review without pita chips or peanuts? I mean, c’mon! You’d think, in this house full of crap, there’d be some stinking peanuts around! There are almonds, even snooty dark chocolate covered ones from, ooh la la, Trader Joe’s, but peanuts? There are various forms of potato-like chips, in variously colored “individual serving” bags, sealed inside even bigger bags – I swear, there’s more plastic than there is potato in those stupid chip bags. All that stuff they tried to teach my generation about saving the Earth and recycling and conserving resources and not throwing trash out the car window at wandering Indians apparently didn’t resonate with the kids who grew up to run potato chip factories. Considering the amount of packaging that surrounds even the simplest of foods or snacks today – since when did Lifesavers candies start being individually wrapped?! – I’d hate to be an Indian standing alongside the interstate these days.

After half an hour of searching, I finally rustled up a can of Planters Cocktail Peanuts. They don’t seem to have the little red husks on them anymore. That’s okay, those husks were kind of annoying anyway. I wonder how they get the husks off of the peanuts? I’m guessing they use big Japanese-built Kubota tractors driven by illegal Mexican laborers to dig up the peanuts down in Georgia. They probably ship the peanuts to China in big containers, where children in slave labor camps break off the shells. Then the Chinese ship the shelled peanuts to Cambodia or Laos where even more impoverished child slaves, the ones who are too ugly or sickly to work as prostitutes, painstakingly strip the little red husks off the peanuts. Then the bare peanuts are hauled in canvas bags on the backs of elderly men traveling on foot to Vietnam, where they are packaged into cardboard containers with metal rims and plastic lids. The cardboard containers are made in China out of formaldehyde and the shells removed from the peanuts. The metal for the rims comes from shrapnel fragments collected from the rice paddies in Vietnam, remnants of the American war against unarmed civilians which resulted in countless deaths and injuries, decades of devastation, and a humiliating defeat for Freedom and Democracy. The plastic lids for the peanut cans are dredged out of the mid-Pacific gyre, a lucrative side catch for the Japanese whaling fleets. Once they’re all boxed up, the cans of peanuts are shipped halfway around the world to Arkansas, so Wal-Mart can distribute them throughout the entire U.S.

If I recall my geography, Arkansas is hardly more than a country mile from Georgia, yet the process by which these peanuts travel from Georgia to Arkansas to my kitchen cabinet very likely takes them completely around the world. In fact, considering that I live in one of the stupidest places in the world to expect to be able to buy stuff, a little island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean (conveniently located near the mid-Pacific gyre, which results in fabulous multi-colored beach sand), these peanuts have been almost halfway around the world yet again!

But, like, who cares? I can still get a can of peanuts for two or three bucks, which is twice the average daily wage of 43% of the population of India, but less than half what this bottle of beer I'm sipping cost me.

So I finally found some peanuts (I would have preferred pita chips) and cracked open a beer. This evening our sommelier has presented us with a rich, dark oatmeal stout from the Yellowstone Valley Brewing Company of Billings, Montana.

I was in the Yellowstone Valley just a bit over a year ago. As I held the chilled Black Widow bottle in my hand and looked at the label, I thought back to an evening of hot-potting on the Yellowstone River; me, two cute girls, a bottle of champagne, clear blue sky, snow on the ground, and steam rising from the riverside pools warmed by underground thermal activity. Unreasonably, perhaps, I hoped that this oatmeal stout might bring back, for a moment at least, a hint of the delight of that January evening.

The beer poured rich and red, a mahogany which seemed to glow from within even in the grey light of late afternoon. As the last of the bottle drained into my pint glass, I caught my first whiff of the aroma… and nearly gasped aloud. No, not… a fruity oatmeal stout?!? Cautiously, I breathed more deeply. Errr… yeah. Orange. And not what I’d call entirely fresh orange. More like, the kind of orange you’d find in an old bread sack under the seat of your car. Well, under the seat of my car, anyway. A decidedly past-sell-by-date orange.

Cautiously, I took a sip. I’ve been surprised before. Sometimes the initial fruity aroma dissipates quickly, leaving a roasted flavor. I know I’m a bit overly sensitive to “fruitiness” in my beers; it’s a personal preference, rather than a broadly applicable statement about beer – I usually don’t care for fruit-tinged beers. I couldn’t imagine that this oatmeal stout could possibly carry a strong fruit overtone.

My sip nearly triggered a gag reflex. Is vinegar a fruit?

According to Wikipedia, “the word ‘vinegar’ derives from the Old French vin aigre, meaning ‘sour wine’", and that pretty much sums up my experience with Black Widow Oatmeal Stout from Yellowstone Brewing Company. It was like drinking a glass of vinegar, with just a hint of a roasted finish.

The Yellowstone Valley Brewing Company web site uses terms like “gentle,” “full-flavored,” “caramel,” and “malt” to describe Black Widow Oatmeal Stout. I’m having a difficult time applying any of those terms to this 12-ounce bottle of beer. Except, perhaps, for the full-flavored part. It was full of flavor, all right. Full of rancid vinegar flavor!

Now, to be fair, I’ve had this bottle on-hand for a while. Okay, for nearly a year. Most… okay, some… of that time it’s been refrigerated. Some... uh, okay, most... of that time, not so much. And while it seems a bit chilly this evening by local standards (69˙F, 21˙C), the daytime temperatures tend to average in the mid-20s˙C, or in the low 20s on the Réaumur scale. The Réaumur scale is used in the cheese-making industry, particularly among Italian dairies making Parmigiano-Reggiano and Grana Padano cheeses. I’m not sure at what temperature milk curdles into cheese, but I can give you a pretty fair estimate of the range at which oatmeal stout ferments into vinegar.

I used to use vinegar to clean the oxidation off the brass rails of my toy trains when I was a kid.

I have several more bottles of beer that have been in storage – meaning sitting on the counter at 22˙Ré. After tonight’s experience, I’m starting feeling a bit leery about the raisin-flavored one.

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
sjonsvenson
Feb. 22nd, 2010 06:35 pm (UTC)
You know they make biodegradable plastic from starch. Potato starch. So there may well be more potatoe in the bag than potato inside the bag.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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