Friday, February 25, 2011

Beery News for Ticos, Gringos and Turistas.

There has been a change of brewers at Hotel Tilawa's Volcano Brew, overlooking Costa Rica's scenic Lake Arenal. But I'm told the Beach Pale Ale and as-yet-unnamed Hefeweizen are still flowing. Ideal for anyone wanting to try out some kiteboarding or windsurfing and enjoy some decent beer before or after.

George Lin recently left Volcano Brew to spend more time on his own fledgling Pittsburgh-area microbrewery, Forsaken Brew Works. (More on that soon. Belgophiles will want to know.) Meanwhile, Hotel Tilawa creator-owner J.P. Cazedessus says brewer Martin Cornelius has arrived to help out, and that off-premises sales are coming soon. I'm trying to get to Lake Arenal for another visit and will keep you posted.

Meanwhile, Costa Rica's Craft Brewing is gradually and carefully adding new accounts, better known as more joints where you can find their beers.

This week they added the sports bar Hooligans, located in Escazú's Multiplaza shopping mall. (I have to say the CRCB taps looked mighty purty sitting there between two fonts of Imperial.) You can find more locations on this section of the brewery's Facebook page. The local company Belca is now handling distribution.

Local drinkers will get the chance to try a couple more styles from CRCB in the near future. A stout is on the way for St. Patrick's Day, and a Scottish ale will make an appearance soon as well. Derrick told me the Scottish ale might become a regular beer if it goes over well enough.

So the adventure continues.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Owner Hopes Warm Water (and the Lambic) Will Flow On.

Just a brief update with some words from Lieve Polet, owner of Het Warm Water (L'Eau Chaude) café in the Marolles neighborhood of Brussels.

She said she is still hunting for prospective buyers, and any help in that area is appreciated. There have been a few people interested in buying, but nothing final as of yet.

"Indeed, many people want that Het Warm Water will live on," she said. "I hope [for] it also, but without me!"

Any angel investors out there? Maybe what we need is another Kickstarter campaign. From now on that's my answer for everything. Need to fund a documentary film about your dog? Kickstarter. Need $2 for a 40 of OE at the corner store? Kickstarter. Need to raise money to buy and sustain an endangered lambic café? Kickstarter.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Warm Water Lambic Café to Close in June.

As Felipe noted here a few days ago, it appears that the cozy Marolles lambic café Het Warm Water may close up shop in June.

A message from owner Lieve Polet on the café's website says in Dutch and French that the place will close in June 2011, although she is looking for a buyer who might choose to keep it open. The Brussel Nieuws mentioned this in September in a brief article (in Dutch), which obviously flew under my radar.

There are too few real lambic cafés in Brussels, and too few bastions of brusseleir dialect. I've written to Lieve in the hopes of learning more. I'll keep you posted. Meanwhile, should you be in the neighborhood, I suggest stopping in there for some Pottekeis and a glass of Girardin on your way to browse the brocante.

Kickstarting the Grill with Beer, or Something.

Because you are reading this, I assume you read blogs (which are going out of fashion, allegedly, but never mind). Because you read blogs, I assume you are hip to social media. Because you are hip to social media, maybe you already know about Kickstarter.

I didn't know. So I've got Ratebeer director Joe Tucker to thank for pointing this out.

Beery cookbook author Lucy Saunders is using Kickstarter in an attempt to publish a new, fatter edition of Grilling with Beer. Here's how it works: You pledge money for stuff. If she doesn't meet her goal, you pay nothing.

For $5 you can have five color recipe postcards. For $25 you can get a signed copy of a book I would have paid $25 for anyway. For $2,500 Lucy Saunders will send you 250 signed copies, come to your town, do a cooking demonstration, and wash and wax your car.*

*OK, Lucy Saunders might not wash and wax you car, but at that pledge level I think it couldn't hurt to ask.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Third Chicha Post: Corn, Tubers and Stinging Nettles

I've been corresponding a bit with beer writer/historian/raconteur Horst Dornbusch. It started when I took exception to a sentence he wrote in a 2004 Beer Advocate article: "Well, because we have no records of Native American fermented beverages, beer probably did not start flowing in North America until the Europeans arrived."

So I had to ask him: Did you really mean to put it that way?

First I'll stick up for Horst: As he said in an e-mail, he was thinking mainly of the natives encountered by the British and French. And he was thinking about beer, not "wine or wine-like drinks." (But we'll come back to that.) Anyway I'm not after Horst or anyone else. I'm after the commonly perpetuated myth that Europeans introduced alcohol to the Americas.

Native Americans of course were fermenting drinks from corn, manioc, cactus, flowers, fruits and other things, probably for thousands of years before Columbus arrived. Maybe these weren't the same Native Americans that the Pilgrims met in the Northeast, but they were Native Americans by any fair definition. I'm not only talking about Aztecs, Mayans, Incas and their neighbors. Tribes in what is now the southwest U.S. were making beer too.

(I guess it's theoretically possible that none of the peoples in the North and East were fermenting anything from anything, not even for rare rituals, but to me it strains credibility.)

Then there is the second question, as to whether beer was flowing. So what counts as beer?

Does chicha count? Horst agrees with me that it does, but he wasn't thinking of the Southern peoples and concedes he should have been clearer.

But what about a drink made from manioc (a.k.a. yuca)? Is that beer? Horst thinks not. To him beer is "fermented grain extract." Me, I'm willing to include yuca and other tubers, since there is a conversion of starch into sugars before fermentation. But there is room for disagreement there.

But what about cactus? Is pulque a wine? Maybe so.

(What about a drink from stinging nettles? Beer or wine? From the sort of recipes I can find, it appears that sugar is adding all the fermentables and the nettles are basically flavoring. What would that make it? Maybe the wine family? Or maybe nobody cares but the tax man.)

I'm off track. My point is this: Native Americans made beer before the Europeans came.

I'm going to write that again: The Native Americans made beer before the Europeans came.

There. Maybe you can use that to win a bar bet or two.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Second Chicha Post: 'Man Never Remains Contented with Water as a Beverage.'

Have you heard the one about how civilization owes its existence to beer?

The theory goes something like this: Planting and processing cereals just for food wasn’t worth all the time and effort. So we factor in beer’s importance to feasts and sacred rites, which were key in the development of communities. Suddenly tracking down those wild grasses and taming them for farms makes a lot more sense.

I'm not sure I buy the theory, but I enjoy it. It's good marketing.

However: Bear in mind that this is not a new theory, although recent studies back it up. This article on one such study notes that archaeologists have been saying this for more than 50 years. I reckon most research on the topic looks at the Eurasian peoples who might have been brewing more than 11,000 years ago.

But what were the Americans up to?

I don't mean us gringos. I mean the Mesoamericans. The Aztecs, Incas, Mayans, and various tribes betwixt.

Just as Eurasian peoples tamed wild grass and planted precursors to barley and wheat, the Mesoamericans were taming wild grasses to domesticate corn. Incidentally they were also domesticating manioc, a root also known as yuca or cassava. And they were making beer out of all of this stuff.

Now we go back to 1892 and the words of a man named Edward John Payne. He was a 19th century barrister and historian who wrote a lot about the pre-Colombian Americas. In noting the importance of farming in the establishment of civilization, he made special mention of one use in particular: "Man never remains contented with water as a beverage." Indeed. He goes on:

Savages drink the warm blood of game, and the oil of marine animals; in hot climates, the juice of fruits, and the sweet sap of shrubs and trees, either in the natural form or diluted with water, are favourite beverages. Cookery, which preceded the artificial production of food [i.e., agriculture], suggests drinking the liquor in which the food is prepared: and in this practice we probably have the origin of the preparation of drinks from roots and cereals. Alimentary plants have been almost universally employed in the manufacture of beverages. Passing over the application of fruits in this way, it may be noticed that in tropical America the sweet potato and manioc have always been to some extent thus employed. The use of corn, of all descriptions, for this purpose is of scarcely less antiquity than its general use as food: and from our knowledge of the tastes of savage man it may be fairly inferred that the practice received a powerful stimulus from the discovery that infusions of corn, like drinks made from the juices of fruits and the sap of trees, acquire an intoxicating quality by fermentation. The facilities which agriculture afforded for making intoxicating drink, in quantities proportionate to the industry of the cultivator, must have had an important influence in inducing man to adopt it as the basis of life: it is at any rate certain that in most parts of the Old and New World the produce of cereal agriculture was from an early period largely consumed in the manufacture of some species of beer, and that the early cultivators drank it to excess.
Breaking it down: Cooking came before farming. Brewing was a natural consequence of cooking. Farming took a lot of work but made brewing much easier. So beer probably had a lot to do with convincing us louts to settle down and till the earth.

But hang on, Payne isn't done yet. You haven't heard the bit about how civilization bears the seeds of its own destruction. Those silly barbarians drank too much and ruined themselves. Hmmm.

More to come.

For Your Planning and/or Dreaming Purposes.

Maybe I should trademark that phrase. It often pops into my head when I tell you about stuff. Maybe because I've been doing more dreaming than planning lately.

Did you ever buy a guidebook to a really excellent place that you might never get to visit? You keep the book next to your armchair or porcelain throne, and over many months' time you absorb facts and fantasize about how it all might go down. Then, one day, you wake up and realize that you have a few vacation days and some saved duckets. And that you might actually be able to make it happen.

So, for your planning and/or dreaming purposes, I present to you a few beer lists. The common threads here are Belgium and the first weekend in March. Yes, that's in two weeks. Lots of last-minute airfare deals these days.

The Alvinne Craft Beer Fest, a.k.a. the artistry formerly known as pre-ZBF, is on March 4 and 5. Bring a strong liver for strong beers. Those who get all giggly for rare ones might pee themselves, just a little. Lots of wood and hops and half-wild yeasts and sheer creativity in them there liquids.

Wake up early Saturday, March 5, for coffee, croissants and lambic at Cantillon's twice-annual Open Brewing Day. Like a moment of geeky calm between the madnesses.

Then it's off to the trusty old Zythos Beer Festival in Sint-Niklaas, happening March 5 and 6. There is no detailed beer list yet, but the list of brewers will give you an idea. Many of them bring a surprise or two.

However: My favorite has to be the planned draft list at Moeder Lambic Fontainas. Much better for those who would rather drink full glasses of drinkable beer for an extended period of time, rather than just jot notes on a series of mini-snifters. And better for lambic fans too. And an excellent reason to base oneself in Brussels for the weekend.

Hmmm. Maybe the dangerous extremophiles would stick to ACBF, while the radical sessionistas would stick to Moeder Lambic. And the other 99% of us would try to go to everything.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The First Chicha Post.

I'm researching the history of chicha. Corn beer. But first you get to hear my history with chicha.

Eight years ago (or so) I was in Peru, mainly in the Cuzco area to study Spanish and have a few adventures. One of them was to investigate those mysterious red bags that hung on long poles over the road. At some point I learned what the red sack meant: Chicha on sale here.

Now, we're not talking about the fruity, nonalcoholic, koolaid-like chicha sold in Peruvian restaurants. We are talking about the real stuff, fermented from the corn chewed up by village women. However, in the roadside shack I visited just outside Urubamba, the kindly abuela in charge didn't seem to have many teeth at all, let alone a whole set of chompers strong enough for chewing corn. Sadly my Spanish wasn't yet snappy to ask for an explanation, as she dipped my glass jar into a five-gallon bucket of what looked like dishwater.

If you count the skinny brown chicken darting around the inside of the shack, there were five of us in there. Besides the lady and I, a couple of grimy construction workers sat at the only table. They gave me big grins and made the hand gestures universally understood to mean, "Drink up, gringo!"

Funny: The drink that looked like dishwater also tasted like it. Soapy and a bit sour. Oh well. So maybe that old lady wasn't the Armand Debelder of chicha.

Have any of you tried Dogfish Head's chicha? Let us know what you thought. The video here includes Sam Calagione chewing and spitting, which will probably get my wife all hot.

Did chicha contribute to the downfall of the Incas and Aztecs? We'll find out very soon. Maybe even tomorrow. We'll even learn more about how to brew it at home. If you are so inclined.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Late Sunday Brew Day Musings.

A major beery disadvantage of living in the tropics: Hops and barley and Orval don't grow here. You've got to order them. Or pack them into your luggage.

A major beery advantage of living in the tropics: The weather is nearly always suitable for brewing out of doors.

And so we do, on many Sundays. Today it was a red ale extract kit at a friend's house. We threw in some extra aroma hops at flame out. You know, for good measure.

Next weekend it'll be a more involved affair at our place: an all-grain 10-gallon batch of saison that we'll split in half. Each half will get different sorts of yeast. We are experimentating.

A few months ago, we were swimming in a pool on the Nicoya Peninsula. Having cocktails and making merry. Another friend stepped on my eyeglasses and broke them. He felt pretty bad about it, and he offered to pay for them. I told him all he had to do was mail me some Orval. So he did. Two bottles. I still believe I came out ahead in this deal.

I'm not sure, but there might not be another Orval within thousands of miles of here. Now there are none. I drank them both, after I threw the dregs of both bottles into some fresh wort. Hopefully those little buggers will multiply and find themselves prospering in five gallons of that saison. Sooner or later.

It might not work. Either way, I just finished drinking more than a half-liter of Orval. I win.

And to think I used to be able to buy this stuff at the corner market.

Have I ever told you that the famous and beautiful Orval glass is worthless, except for as a showpiece? It does that beer no favors. Try a pint glass.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

News and Notes From Belgium, February 2011 Edition.

Let's shake the notebook a bit and see what falls out.

First off: The kind Mr. Paul Briggs has updated his comprehensive list of Belgian beer festivals, and I've updated the link on the left. And this one. Check it out for your planning and/or dreaming purposes.

Second off: Speaking of festivals, word arrives from Achouffe co-founder Chris Bauweraerts of an interesting little do up in Antwerp. The Antwerps Bier College is organizing its first Modeste Bier Festival on October 1 and 2 at the De Koninck brewery. The name honors the late Modeste Van den Bogeart, the longtime De Koninck brewmaster often credited with popularizing the bolleke. Duvel Moortgat now owns De Koninck. I think it's OK if we all hope the fest features some non-Duvel breweries.

And looky there at the Flying Chouffe video attached to Chris' e-mail. Pure Belgian chicanery.

Third off: The Hopduvel in Gent has apparently closed. Again. For now.

Chris "Podge" Pollard, he of Podge's Belgian Beer Tours, notes a Flemish newspaper article on the closure. According to the report, fire inspectors shut the place down and paint a grim picture of its stability. It's not clear whether it would burst into flames like so much toilet paper or simply collapse like a house of toothpicks, but you get the idea. The company that now owns it will assess the cost of rehab whether it's worth it.

The current owner, by the way, is the Amadeus chain of spare rib restaurants that launched in Gent. There's one in Brussels too. Not a bad place for all-you-can-eat pork debauchery with a chalice or two of Westmalle Dubbel. Unless you've ever had real American-barbecue-style slow-cooked baby backs done right. In which case you're ruined for life and will be disappointed. (Why eat barbecue in Brussels anyway? It's like eating fish and chips in Paris. Makes no sense.)

Right. Where were we? Podge. Has an interesting lineup of tours coming up. Check them out and plan and/or dream.

Fourth off: Have you been keeping tabs with the draft list at Moeder Lambic Fontainas? Facebook is a handy way to do it. Between this week's Zoigl, Uerige Alt, Dupont Monk's Stout, Rulles Estivale and Agullons Pale Ale, it's hard to know where I'd fit in the Taras Boulba and IV Saison. Between every other glass, I guess. Hmmm. Again with the dreaming.

Fifth off: Taylor Brush has posted a newer, more refined version of the Beer Amongst the Belgians promo. Definitely worth a watch if you haven't yet. Offer them some feedback or, better yet, money.

I like when Tim asks Jean Van Roy of Cantillon how much of his work is art and how much is science.

"I think there is no science. Everything is a question of feeling."


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Today's Tico Booze News Update.

From dessert beer to bottled methanol... A few pages from yesterday's and today's La Nación offer an interesting glimpse of the local drinks scene. Except for a few flourishes it probably represents a snapshot of the wider Central American scene as well.

So: Yesterday's paper brings the obligatory ad-filled section of Valentine's Day gift ideas. Suggestions include a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label with matching leather carry-on bag for about US$315; several different wines, Old World and New, ranging from $5 to $28 a bottle; and 375 foil-wrapped milliliters of Lindemans Kriek for about $6.50. (The caption says "cerveza belga con sabor a cereza" -- Belgian beer with cherry flavor. Surprisingly accurate if we pretend that it tastes like actual cherries.)

Now, before I tell you about today's news, I ask a question: What do you suppose your typical working tico likes to drink?

It's clearly not $300 bottles of Scotch nor bottled Belgian cherry candy. It's not wine, which is still working to gain a foothold among the middle classes and can forget about the working stiffs.

What's your guess then? Cheap lager? Wrong! Because the cheap lager here is actually not cheap at all. A can of adjunct-laden Imperial in your typical supermarket or pulpería costs the princely sum of $1 or more. In fact $1.50 is not uncommon, which puts a six-pack in the neighborhood of $9.

Now, what sort of sixer can you get for nine bones in your neighborhood? Do you see any blue-collar types drinking that stuff?

Now for today's news: Government-backed mobile labs found, analyzed and confiscated 6,000 liters of adulterated hard alcohol from various small shops in the past 15 days. According to these officials, some of this booze had more than 13 times the legally permitted amount of methanol in them (3.3 ml instead of 0.25 ml). That would make them even more poisonous than usual. Others had less than two-thirds the correct amount of alcohol (20% instead of 35%), which might mean that some sneaky dilution is going on.

But a lot of this stuff is clandestino or contrabanda. Where I'm from it's called moonshine, and in Costa Rica it goes for a $1 or $1.25 for 365 ml--cheap and efficient, no?--which is exactly why it's been gaining traction.* Even the cheapest stuff from the national liquor factory (Fanal) is only about three times that cost, about $3 a bottle. It's still very cheap compared to beer, but choosing the poisonous homemade vodka means two more bucks that can buy beans and rice for the family.

More to the point: When the market is loaded with cheap vodka, the overpriced lager becomes either a real splurge or a luxury for the middle and upper classes.

In Europe, North America, and some other parts of the world, beer is a democratic drink for everyone. That may not be the case in Central America. We'd do well to bear these realities in mind while waiting for better beer to gain popularity in certain parts of the world.

*Pictured is the backside of a label from a bottle of Cacique Guaro, made by Fanal. It says "Consume legitimate product. Destroy this label after drinking." A humble request from a national monopoly that knows its bottles are being refilled with contrabanda and re-sold.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Session Versus Extreme and Other Fictional Controversies.

Todd Alstrom says we're "fucking clueless." Lew Bryson says "bite me." What a hoot! Let's all admit straightaway that it would be fun to watch this battle rage between the sessionistas and the dangerous extremophiles.

Except, sadly, there is no battle. Not really. That's a problem, and I have a solution: We pretend that there is an ugly conflict and we all exploit it ruthlessly for fun and marketing.

Let me back up. If you read this blog with any frequency you know how I feel about session beers. Simply put, there ought to be more of them widely available. Find me an extremophile who disagrees with that basic argument.

Meanwhile, I still enjoy a glass of really strong or bitter or otherwise extreme beer now and then. If you could find me a bottle of that stout made with coffee that was shat out by the ferret, I would really like to try it. All in good fun. And guess what? There are very few sessionistas who would disagree.

I hate to get all lovey-dovey-Kumbaya on you, because it's frankly boring, but the fact is that most of us craft beer drinkers like to try all sorts of beers. Regular and irregular. The Allstroms have enjoyed their session beers, even the un-extreme ones. And don't you think Lew enjoys a strong beer from time to time? At best, we might call it a difference of emphasis. So there's no need to stir up trouble.

But we should do it anyway.

Why? Because it would be a hell of a lot more interesting than everyone being on the same rah-rah-craft-beer page. It shows there is a lot more to the "better beer segment" than the Ratebeer Top 100 and Sam Calagione. It shows there are options. And it's probably good for publicity, if that San Francisco Chronicle article offers a glimpse of what's possible.

Here's what I think: Lew and the Alstroms ought to get on the horn and conspire about how to raise the most hell.

I'm thinking cage match: a two-day festival with two completely separate rooms or experiences. On one day, you drink some of the finest session beers from the brewers who brew them best. On the other day, you drink some of the finest extreme beers from the brewers who brew them best. The only rule is you can't visit both areas in the same day... The idea is to keep them separate, or else (I think) the session beers would seem unfairly bland and the extreme ones would seem unfairly undrinkable.

At the end, everyone votes on which day they liked best. And argues about it until next year.

Monday, February 7, 2011

How About a Kielbasa With That?

Hip-hop head nod to Lew Bryson for pointing out what's happening that little corner of the beer world. It should be interesting for anyone who likes session beer or obscure historical beer styles. Grodziskie, a.k.a. Grätzer, an extinct, low-alcohol, well-hopped style made entirely with smoked wheat malt. Barbecue beer of the past and future.

Funny this should come up, because I was just flipping through Randy Mosher's Radical Brewing, reading about Grätzer, and pondering whether to put some wheat malt in my smoker. Unfortunately, my handy little would-it-be-a-big-pain-in-the-ass versus odds-that-the-beer-would-wind-up-drinkable scale computes a pretty low score for this idea. I'm a lazy man. Better to keep an eye on Chris Lohring's project and hope a bottle of it finds me one day.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Beer Fest on Costa Rica's Pacific Coast.

Yes, it's really short notice. Yes, it's on Super Bowl Sunday. But it's worth mentioning anyway, just on the off chance you're lucky enough to be anywhere near that beautiful corner of the world this weekend.

The Black Sheep Pub in Nosara is celebrating its Fifth Anniversary with a beer bash starting at 5 p.m. Sunday, February 6. There will be four different draughts from Costa Rica's Craft Brewing Co. Besides the blonde Libertas and Segua pale ale they're offering an IPA and a Dunkelweizen made special just for the event.

Officially it's a private party for the locals. Unofficially I don't expect they'd turn away any thirsty pilgrims out there.

Session #48: Laws of Gravity and the Flow of Ideas.

It's a global age, as they say. People travel more than they used to, and ideas travel even more swiftly. Most of the great beer ideas have been swiped and cannibalized and improved and deconstructed and sent back home again more than once. Methods of dispense are no exception.

And so, thankfully for most of us, the days of arguing which is superior--cask? keg? nitro? bottle? and so on--are gone. Oh, we can still argue favorites. For fun. But besides a few anachronistic holdouts, the majority of aficionados have tasted enough beer from enough places to know that great beer flows from all sorts of vessels. The main prerequisites are that you have (1) great beer to start with, and (2) people who know how to handle it until the moment it arrives in your glass.

The British have their cask ale, even if most Brits would rather drink pints of gassy lager. The Americans have their keg beer, even if most Americans prefer to drink straight from the bottle. The Belgians have their re-fermented ales in the bottle--or how about some soft, flat and sour lambic straight from the barrel?--even if lager from the tap is widely favored. And so on.

Now, are you ready to argue favorites? Here's mine: vom Fass. I'm talking about an Altbier or a Kölsch or an unfiltered lager--although we can imagine other possibilities--which has escaped from a naturally carbonated barrel of beer and fallen gently into my glass, then carried with haste and delivered with brusqueness to my table.

Especially Altbiers. Especially Uerige.

Now, what's the best way to re-create that on the homebrew level? There's something I'd like to swipe and cannibalize. All suggestions welcome.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

See You Sooner, I Hope.

It's not easy, but I'm trying to be a well-rounded beer drinker. Not just one who bangs on about sessionability or disses the latest beer rankings from "dangerous extremophiles." Maybe someone has to fight those battles--and Martyn Cornell is the man I'd pick--but I'm not sure there's any sport in it. Fish, meet barrel.

Also, "dangerous" is a strong word. We know the extreme beer lovers. We've seen them around. (Really, do they look dangerous to you?) They are among us. Sometimes, and let's try to be honest here, they are us.

Wouldn't it be boring to be the same sort of person all the time? Wouldn't it be boring to be the same sort of drinker?

Even we session-beer types need to remember that there are different drinks for different times and places. There are strong, special ones that we don't kick out of bed. Sometimes they wait for a good long while for that moment to be popped and divided into snifters among friends. Sometimes they are smuggled out of Missouri in a suitcase and brought to the tropics, for example. Hypothetically speaking.

Sometimes they are a cedar-aged Doppelbock of 9.5% strength, which even without actual spices tastes more like Christmas than any spiced ale you've ever known. Easily tasty, and what's the point in wishing it were lower in alcohol? I certainly wouldn't wish it had less flavor.

I wasn't taking notes. I was just hanging out. But if I was scoring, its number would be high. Funny how that happens. Might explain a few things.