originally published January 26, 2013
Thursday night I was invited to my first beer release party. Having attended a few movie premieres, album releases, and even a release party for a crisper hue of goldenrod paper (the printing business is a savage and thrilling business), I was eager to go. Even more so because the beer in question was the latest offering from the nearly-local Big Rock brewery. Astute readers may recall that Big Rock is this site’s unofficial sponsor, in that they pay me no money, nor do they have any affiliation with whatever fanatical nonsense I choose to spout here. They simply provide the liquid inspiration and gustatory jubilance required to formulate a thousand words about plastic chairs.
On the surface, a beer release party is simply another night at a bar. There was a classic rock cover band playing loud enough that conversation was held in shouts, the warm lighting and busy décor distracted everyone from the hostile wind scratching at the windows, and the splash of choice on everyone’s palette was, for the most part, beer.
But the beer in question was the real star of the evening. It was the brand new Helles Bock, a lager mighty enough to kick Sisyphus’s stone over the mountain purely by accident.
‘Helles Bock’ literally translates to ‘Pale Bock’. It’s what happens when a strong lager is poked and prodded until it casts back its creamy yet persistently frothy head and roars to the strength of a bock – usually between 6.3% to 7.4% alcohol by volume. Helles bock is traditionally a springtime beer, which means that Big Rock’s introduction of this brand on that long crawl from the unrelenting talons of winter’s cruel grasp can only be seen as optimistic and encouraging. There is an end to these -25 windchill days, and it tastes sweet and refreshing.
As brewmaster Paul Gautreau (or, as I call him, the Brew-pothecarian Wizard of the Canadian West) told us, when the finished creation was sent for testing, it came back with a quirky alcohol content of 6.66%. This tied in with the beer’s name in an otherworldly explosion of divine marketing synergy, and the devil-themed brew was set for the market.
Which brings me to Thursday night.
First of all, this happened.
That’s Ryan Stock, a local madman who currently holds the seldom-attempted Guinness World Record for ‘Heaviest Vehicle Pull By A Sword Swallower’. He pulled a 2002 Audi Quattro over twenty feet with a sword in his esophagus, a chain extending from the car and wrapped around the hilt of the sword. No hands. No shit – here’s a video.
Stock put on a jaw-dangling show, ingesting a sword with an 85-degree curve, suspending a percussion section’s worth of cowbells from his nose and eyelids, and lastly heaving a full keg of Helles Bock off the ground, using only his earlobes and a mastery of leverage. It was the perfect accompaniment for the event; after watching Stock and imagining the agony one must endure to make stunts like that a reality, one needs another beer to dampen the psychological pain.
There was a chicken wing eating contest which I opted not to enter. I prefer enjoying my chicken wings slowly, savoring every bite. Speed-eating has never been my forte.
And truly, is this not the essence of the craft beer movement? Whether your intent is to complement your snail-trimmings and orange-leaf salad or simply to get drunk enough to invent new swears to hurl at the sports team you dislike, should you not allow yourself the privilege of flavor in the process?
Forsaking the opportunity to win free beer via hurried poultry consumption, I instead pivoted my focus to the free beer before me – each ticket for entry came with two complimentary pints of Big Rock’s bubbly concoction, and as my wife is a non-beer-drinker (and, as luck would have it, the designated driver), I settled in for a merry quartet of Bock-ortunities.
A quality beer should take your taste buds on a little journey, a brief but resonant musical poem in each sip. While most of our popular national brands (I don’t want to say any names here… Crudweiser… Boors Lite… Quabbat’s Spew…) emit a slightly porcine bleat as they cross the tongue, I found the Helles Bock melody to be akin to the guitar riff of Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love”: the first four notes are buoyant, radiant and almost popping with optimistic zeal, then the ensuing descent of the next six notes let you in on the secret. This is contemplative territory. Sure, you may be sharing a plate of nachos with friends, maybe you’ve even come up with a fresh insult to hurl at Tom Brady on TV (I was partial to ‘squank-nugget’ last weekend), but even if you’re only filling your thirst-hole absent-mindedly, your tongue is going to tug at your brainstem a little. Some part of your consciousness is going to notice that you’ve left the map of routine refreshment, and entered somewhere new.
The Bock is sweet – not fruit-infusion sweet or (god forbid) cider sweet, but feet-sinking-into-white-sand sweet. The trio of effulgent malts sing their flavors in such succinct harmony, not Crosby, Stills, nor Nash could ever hope to keep up. The notion of ‘sweet’ in beer so often slams other flavors to the side like a schoolyard bully. Not so with Helles Bock. Like that inner-pelvic flutter when driving down a small hill, this beer will cause parts of you to smile that probably shouldn’t smile in mixed company.
When the sweet malty cloud gives way to the gravel-voiced pepper of the Hallertau hop flavor, there is no spark of bitter, only the unveiling of the mystery – the second part of the guitar riff. As the final few bubbles use your uvula like a stripper’s pole before diving into the chasm of your innards, the flavors will surge and recede, as though offering a respectful bow for the moments they spent tickling your senses.
So are the devil horns on the Helles Bock label truly indicative of the beverage within? After three pints had swooshed into my bloodstream, I would have to say yes. Where so many strong beers – notably Big Rock’s McNally’s Extra, the beer I wish to be buried in – leave a misty aftertaste that lets every nerve ending in one’s mouth know it was there, Helles Bock deposits its refreshment and leaves without fanfare. This makes consuming three pints dangerously easy.
And – as I learned on the way home from the fabulous Big Rock fiesta – even the finest of beers takes the express route through one’s system, once one is foolish enough to head to the men’s room (or ladies’ room, but I try not to make that mistake) and open the floodgates. Thankfully, our city is stocked with clusters of concealing trees.
I would like to thank Big Rock from the bottom of my liver for the invite to Thursday’s shindig. Everything about it was fabulous, and I thankfully know which beer will be warming my spirits on that holiest of holy beer days – Super Bowl Sunday – eight days from now.