About- Niel Stender
The first image that pops into my head at the word Pilgrim involves folks wearing tall hats and large-buckled shoes while sharing turkey and Stove Top stuffing with the Indians at Plymouth Rock. You know, historically accurate stuff. Nonetheless, the general premise of the American story involves a pilgrimage — a significant, spiritual journey to a new, location of importance. And although the Swiss do not celebrate ye olde pilgrimage to the New World in search of canned cranberry sauce and green bean casserole, I found a brewery here that celebrates pilgrims in another way.
During a “Tropiquarium” birthday party for 5-year olds, surrounded by Komodo dragons and sugar-fueled children, I had a thought provoking conversation with a fellow adult about the upside of living in Switzerland — mostly the chocolate made by magic elves but also the feeling of living in a bubble. Crime is low, average net worth is high, debt is frowned upon, armies of pleasant public works employees keep the joint spotless – you know, just like the rest of the world. He suggested this is a good place to be since “the world is on fire.”
Billy Joel once said we didn’t start the fire, it was always burning since the world’s been turning, which is fair, but the fact remains the world feels like it’s on fire. Which brings me to the topic du jour – the Age of Aquarius.
If someone asked me about the Estonian craft beer scene a month ago, I probably would’ve shrugged my shoulders and guessed there wasn’t one. I would have been wrong. I’ve now had three beers from Põhjala Brewery (pronounced Poh-ya-la) out of Tallinn, Estonia and this Öö Imperial Baltic Porter is so far, my favorite.
Ever since a 6th grade math teacher corrected the spelling of my name, I’ve had an itch to visit Denmark. Even though we all know the rhyme “I before E, except after C”, the majority of folks named Niel in the States spell it backwards – Neil. But not me, regardless of what Mrs. Something-or-other seemed to think. I later learned that my family has roots reaching back to at least the early 1800s in the Danish countryside, the origin of this funny spelling. Which made me wonder, “Is there a land full of Niel’s that spell their name the right way?” Fast forward 20ish years and I now live within an hour’s flight of the homeland. And though I didn’t find anyone sharing my first name, I did find lots of good beer.
I remember being forced to read Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities in high school. To explain the tome’s epic verbosity, I subscribe to the myth that Charlie was paid by the word and have been permanently scarred by the experience. I mention Dickens because he would likely have been an inspiration to the British poet for whom this beer is named – Thomas Hardy. Hardy was a writer of world-renown but unfortunately, thanks to his compatriot’s writing style, there’s zero chance of me putting down Stephen King to pick up Jude the Obscure anytime soon. His namesake brew however, Thomas Hardy’s Ale, that’s a different story.
It’s not every day I see a 12 oz. can of beer sold with its own box. It reminds me of drinking a PBR tall boy out of a brown paper bag on NJ Transit. But, that’s Pabst and this is BrewDog Paradox Rye, a 15% ABV cask-aged beast of an imperial stout that, I suppose, gives it the right to be stored in a tiny cardboard container. Coming from the brewers of taxidermied squirrel fame, this could be regarded by many as nothing special, but as per the norm, I am a total sucker for clever beer marketing. Thus, this little box of madness pulled me right in.
Many years ago I was fortunate to participate in a group study exchange to Italy, where five Americans sent overseas for a month to see how our Italian counterparts live. Each of us were housed separately, with families, to allow for real immersion into the culture. On the whole, we were stuffed with homemade pasta, preservative-free (read: hangover-free) wine and an incredible amount of warmth and big smiles. While I did not indulge in any brews from Birra Amarcord, the bottle of Mora I recently consumed brought me back in a flash thanks to it being an Imperial COFFEE Porter.
Two years ago, I heard a shocking story. My brother’s then-girlfriend had never seen the original Star Wars.
It seems impossible that one could grow up in America and not see these epic films. I’m not even close to a full blown Star Wars nerd, but I still love those three original films from the ’70s and I am always stoked when a new one comes out. (Well, not the Jar Jar Binks one; that sucked.) I have yet to see Rogue One, but when I saw this bottle of A New Hop: Hopi Wan Galactic Ale from Federation of Malted Republics (FMR), there was no choice but to buy it.
To represent Switzerland as one of PorchDrinking’s 12 Beers of Christmas, I’m not sure there is a more perfect fit than Samichlaus Classic from Schloss Eggenberg. I was told of this brew by a friend back in the States. Upon learning I was going to become a pretend Swiss resident, he told me about Samichlaus. Not the fat guy in a red jumpsuit – more on that later – but the beer. He said something about it being released once a year and having several years’ worth sitting in his cellar awaiting a vertical tasting. Seeing it on the shelf at the local beer store, I wasted no time buying it. But then wasted lots of time staring at it wondering when I should drink this fabled brew. Along came the 12 Days of Christmas article and my problem – when to drink a beer – was solved.
ABV: 8.5% | IBU: ALOT
BrewDog continues to impress me with their beers. In fact, every one I’ve had thus far has been excellent even with styles I don’t normally go for, such as lagers. They also appear to be complete lunatics, which I appreciate.
ABV: 6.0% | IBU: 50
I’ve been on something of a Scotland kick lately. An excellent recent read, Burning Down George Orwell’s House by Andrew Ervin, got me started. It involves a disenchanted executive who heads for a small island off Scotland to find George Orwell’s house and drink lots of whiskey. While there, he gets caught up with a local werewolf legend. I’m also visiting the island next summer for the whiskey and beauty of the place of course but also for my first alcoholic love–beer.
ABV: 6.9% | IBU: 77
I have become something of a fresh IPA snob. With so many amazing hoppy ales to choose from these days, once you’ve tasted a super fresh IPA, it becomes difficult to stomach a dust-covered bottle that says India Pale Ale, but doesn’t include a bottled on date. Have you had a Stone Ruination bottled the same month you bought it? WOW. The difference is palpable.
Under normal circumstances, i.e.: Living in America, this is typically a non-issue – as many of the best beers have date codes. But moving to Switzerland, which is outrageous, and not living in a major city means access to true American-style IPAs have become limited. Cue the violin and tears.
ABV: 6.7% | EBU: 65
I took four years of French in high school. I was an AP student, as in Advanced Placement. Oh yeah, really serious about it. So serious that 15 years later, I remember how to say hello, goodbye and count to 10. The fact that I’m living in the French-speaking part of Switzerland is in fact clearing out some deeply recessed cobwebs of learning in my brain. But judging by the label text, this tasty XXA IPA from Bier Factory is brewed in the GERMAN-speaking side of Switzerland. Damn.
I’m a sucker for Girl Scout cookies. When the little ladies are selling door-to-door, I lose control and start checking off order-form-boxes wildly. When they’re sitting at a table outside the supermarket, I slide my arm across the display shoveling all available product into the cart. And of course, I double down on Thin Mints.
I really appreciate the stories Urban Chestnut Brewing Company spins on its beer labels. The ancient tale referenced on Erlkönig is especially interesting. This beer, a double wheat bock ale, falls into their “Revolution Series” which is a nod to the revolution of modern craft beer in America taking place in urban areas like St. Louis. The story behind Erlkönig however, could not be less modern. Dating to a poem written in 1782 by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, it describes a boy and his father resisting the lure of a mysterious Elf King. It’s worth a read if you’re into the strange and supernatural. So, how’s the beer?
The debate on who invented the porter style of beer is heated. Do a quick search of “Ralph Harwood” and prepare to get lost in online comment threads full of finger pointing and righteous rightness. While the inventor of the style is disputed, it is clear that porter came about as a combination of three beers common in 1700’s England – ale, beer and strong beer. Some called it Three Threads, perhaps a riff on Three Thirds. It was also known as Entire, as in Entire-butt, or all from a single cask. Whatever the truth may be, Harwood Myth from Urban Chestnut is a classicly English-style porter.
ABV: 9.3% | IBU: 70
Magic Hat #9 was my gateway craft beer. Easy drinking with just a hint of apricot. Still a favorite. So when I heard about Sorry Not Sorry being brewed with peaches, it immediately triggered a happy #9 association. Then I saw who was involved. Stone, check. 4 Hands, double secret probation check. And Bale Breaker. I’ll be honest, I’m not familiar with them but to be a part of this crew, they’re obviously top shelf.
ABV: 7.2% | IBU: 65
Schlafly Bottleworks’ Tasmanian IPA (TIPA) is part of the brewery’s Special Release series, and is available only from October to February. Per the Schlafly website “Our Special Release Series represents a seasonal lineup showcasing bigger beers… with a focus on unique process and huge flavor …” TIPA certainly fits that bill.