Holding my eyeball in my head at an altitude of 36,000 feet was a new experience. I was excited to get out to Utah during ski and Sundance season, yes, but the best part was having finally kicked the cold that had been holding me down like the Hand of the Man since before baby new year started crowning. I was enjoying the novel luxury of breathing through my nose when the plane ascended through 20,000 feet or so and the sea level air pressure trapped in the bone behind my eyebrow went all slumlord and attempted to evict my right eye for the next five hours. I didn't know an ex-cold could turn me into Popeye, but upon landing I did know this: I needed a drink.
Red Rock Brewery in Salt Lake City is a sort of brewpub which is in many ways along the lines of Southport Brewing Company on our shores. I had never seen one of their beers in a bottle, much less a double IPA, so I ordered one straight away. Red Rock's Elephino is a low-SRM amber with a frothy, determinedly lasting head, so I had to pour it quite gently from the stubby, half liter bottle that felt like a was holding a beer from some former Yugoslavian country. There are lots of citrusy/piney American "C" hops to the nose (Cascade, Centennial, Chinook). A nice and smooth initial mouthfeel was quickly shredded by the vibrant complexity of the six hop varieties used in the boil and dry-hopping of this beer. This is a serious hop head beer in that it's aromatic and just short of viciously bitter, but the six differing strains of hops end up fighting it out - complexity in this case leads to confusion.
I was confused, too, because somehow I had about twenty of these while I was out there. The remarkable (for Utah) ~8%ABV wasn't helping matters of confusion. Garrulous at the best of times, and apparently insufferably verbose at others, I of course chatted with the bartender. He told me the original name for Elephino, when the brewer tried to register it, netted him a cease-and-decist-that's-our-name-dammit from another brewer in Europe. A roundtable back in Utah went hours with many prospective replacement names being thrown at the wall before frustration lead someone to shout out "Hell if I know!" Thus the beer got its name, and I got a descriptor for why I like it. Respect to Red Rock for stepping up their game.
From a beer I was surprised to like, to a brewer I know I like: Epic Brewing, also of SLC. I've mentioned their Spiral Jetty IPA here, I've had a few others, and they were all above average at the least. This time I took the advice of a local and ordered a bomber of their Santa Cruz brown ale. Epic plays around with the formula for their beers, sometimes several times a year, and I had release number three of this ale, which was bottled just after Christmas.
It poured a very dark, cloudy brown with a medium head that stuck fiercely to the rim of my glass. There was a piney nose to the beer from the Apollos they dry hopped it with, but Santa Cruz is utterly dominated by the roasted malts which give the brew its color, pervade the nose and flavor, and add a decidedly dry finish to the whole affair. The 7.2%ABV is unnoticeable underneath that malty blanket. Blankets, boozy or otherwise, were to be appreciated during a walk home in three degree weather, both by myself and my walking companion, Corn, who was making his equally unsteady way to "the home" where he sincerely hoped no one had stolen his calculator, because if he didn't weigh the Earth once in a while it might tip over and we'd fly away from the Sun. This was a problem because then it would be cold all the time and ladies would like, never wear short shorts again. I agreed that this represented a grave emergency and promised to send him positive calculator vibes.
I love barleywine season, and an uneventful return trip lead me home to one of our local[ish] examples, Old Howling Bastard from Blue Point Brewing in Long Island. The ale has a reddish, cloudy hue, accompanied by the raisiny sweet aroma of many barleywines, over a thin but persistent head. There is a strong malt body, shot through by twenty proofs worth of alcohol, and slightly funktified by ale yeasts and a large enough dose of hops to earn it 70 IBUs. Here's the thing, though - the sweet malts, the heat of the alcohol, the hop bitterness and the aromatics - they all blend together into an unusually mild concoction. It's easy to down a snifter or three and be well toasty before you realize what you've done. Which is, of course, the purpose of a barleywine. Mission accomplished in that respect. This one's available locally on draft and in 22oz. bottles if you feel like doing a little howling of your own. I encourage it.