Brewery: Firestone Walker
Medium: Pilsner glass
Well, it’s been about eight months since the last review, but that’s not to say I haven’t been consuming a fair amount of cervesa over that time. The break was more so due to the fact that I hadn’t come across anything I found worthy of a review…until now.
With the onset of fall comes the onslaught of fall seasonals, which, if it weren’t for an unexplained obsession with pumpkin (which is gross and serves no purpose on this planet other than to cultivate mold on doorsteps well into November), could be the greatest season for seasonal beers. Specifically, fall brings us Oktoberfest Marzens, the greatest seasonal style.
Marzens are, in essence, slightly stronger lagers that tend to pack more bitterness and flavor than their cousins. They tend to pour a darker copper color than a traditional lager, and pack a heavier malt flavor almost completely bereft of any hop character. This brings us to Firestone Walker’s Fall Seasonal — Oaktobefest.
First, it’s important to note that the “Oak” in the name is simply a nod to Firestone’s origins in Paso Robles (which means “Pass of the Oaks” in Spanish), nothing more. There is absolute nothing oak-y about this beer, so, wine snobs, go ahead and get back to sipping your glass of chardonnay in between huffing your own farts. This is not for you.
The beer pours a very light amber-orange, and produces a very thin and fleeting white head — which immediately distinguishes it from the traditional heavier marzens. The nose consists mostly of caramel malts, with a hint of hops on the end — which is again unique for the style.
The first taste on the palate is of bready and almost biscuit-y malts, much like you would find in a pilsner. That maltiness remains light and crisp throughout, never once feeling heavy or overwhelming. That makes this beer incredibly easy to drink, and again further distances it from true Oktoberfest marzens. At the finish, crisp and floral hops come out, giving the beer nice balance. Again, this is a departure from the traditional style (which are usually barely hopped at all), but makes the beer much smoother and balanced, thus sacrificing authenticity for deliciousness.
The beer is labeled as a marzen, but in reality drinks more like a pilsner/marzen blend with some hops thrown on top. The end result is a hybrid beer without a clear category to call home that is incredibly nice to drink. Given the low alcohol content and low bitterness rating, throwing back a large number of these would be effortless. The four rows of German malts, combined with Bavarian hops have resulted in a beer that is far from boring in its flavors, yet easy and smooth enough for even the lightest beer drinker. I would highly recommend picking some up before all the leaves fall.
Put your hands on the wheel, let the golden age begin.
This is an easy drinking session-type beer, and deserves some easy listening session-type music to go with it. So throw on Beck’s Sea Change, and start your journey with the first and best song on the album (and the best song of Beck’s extensive and diverse catalog), “The Golden Age.”
I went and saw Beck a few weeks ago, which reaffirmed the notion that the guy is by far the most underrated musician of the last 25 years. Seriously, he’s incredible.
He opened the night with an all-acoustic set comprised songs from his two folksy-albums, Sea Change and the 2014 release Morning Phase, which currently edges out the Black Keys’ Turn Blue as my album of the year. It was intimate, sensitive, quiet and incredible. Finally, he strums the final chord of “Waking Light” on his Martin six-string, a roadie walks out and hands him his signature no-name hand-pieced-together single-coil electric guitar, which screams out its first power-chord of the night as he and the band rip into “Devil’s Haircut,” and suddenly you’re launched into a full-blown rock show. But not for long, because then he ventures into his hip hop catalog, then comes back to rock, then decides it time to become the white version of Prince as he tears through some late night R&B hits off Midnight Vultures, and eventually finishes out on a 15-minute jam of “Where It’s At,” blending hip-hop, rock, soul, funk and R&B — a perfect summation of what Beck is.
No musician in history has been able to navigate through such diverse genres as effortlessly and seamlessly as Beck has. He can do any style of music he wants, and be a virtuoso at it. It never once seems forced, it never once sounds contrived, and it always sounds like Beck. It’s hard to realize how impressive that feat actually is until you compare against other “experimental” attempts from other artists. When John Mayer decided to try his hand at folk music with Born in Raised in 2012, it sounded like a city-boy putting on a cowboy hat and doing a bad John Wayne impression (granted 2013’s Paradise Valley was much, much better, and much, much more natural).
When Sea Change came out, I was ten years old, and still stuck in Backstreet Boy purgatory. Therefore, I can only imagine what it would have been like to have been a Beck fan listening to the album for the first time, and to hear such sparse, sincere arrangements combined with such sparse, sincere vocals. All of a sudden, the “get crazy with the cheese whiz!” guy is singing this stark yet emotionally dense ballads that are making me actually, like, feel things. How is that even possible? Someone who can be so funny and ironic and nonsensical should not be able to make music like this.
“The Golden Age” is comprised of 95 words symmetrically distributed between two verses and two choruses, and Beck doesn’t waste a single one. The imagery he creates of desolation and loneliness is nothing short of breathtaking, and is as engaging of poetry as anything you’ll ever read. He puts that on top of a sparse, simple and accessible three-chord progression, and , suddenly, Beck’s driving through the dessert, and you’re in the passenger seat looking out the window, wondering how did it all go so wrong. It’s an incredibly start to one of the greatest albums of all time.
I recently went to the beach and listened to Sea Change start to finish. It was a religious experience. I’m fairly certain I saw God during the chorus of “Lost Cause.” Although, given that Beck is a scientologist, it was probably actually Xenu. Or just a Thetan. Or Tom Cruise. From what I understand, those are all pretty much the same thing. Side note: How upsetting is it to find out that someone you previously admired is a scientologist? Answer: On a scale of 1 to that time when Scar killed Mufasa, it’s a 9. Beck. You’re better than that.
Regardless, Sea Change and this beer pair excellently. So, put your hands on the beer*, and let the golden age begin.