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When the circus and shuckers come to town

Schlafly Stout and Oysters Festival, St. Louis

Call it A Snapshot of Middle America or Things That Happen in the Shadow of the Eagle.

Friday and Saturday at Schlafly’s Tap Room in St. Louis: The Stout and Oyster Festival.

Saturday at 4 Hands Brewing (2 miles away, an easy walk, and you can even swing by Busch Stadium): Lupulin Carnival.

Schlafly (officially The Saint Louis Brewery) flies in 50,000 oysters and shuckers from both coasts. No tickets are necessary — but a willingness to stand in line helps. There will be lines. Schlafly will be serving five different stouts as well as oysters in different combinations. The shuckers are fun to talk to, and for some reason they seem particularly keen on trying Imo’s Pizza, a local specialty made with Provel processed cheese.

4 Hands’ Carnival really is a carnival (photographic proof) and also will have beer from about 50 breweries. Tickets are for sale here or if you hurry (deadline looms) you can enter the STL Hops contest to win two tickets. All you need to know:

“We’re going to once again pick the most creative hop-based clown name or hop-based carnival ride. For example: Citra the Clown or the Calypso Cyclone. Only, don’t use those, because they suck.”

Chocolate memories, courtesy of Boulevard

What if Dumon in Brugge sold Boulevard Chocolate Ale?

Boulevard Smokestack Chocolate AleHaving once accidentally driven a car into a large pedestrian-only square in Brugge I can assure you this is a city best enjoyed on foot. You can just stop and stare at the architecture. That the streets are narrow and winding becomes charming instead of exasperating. And there are the chocolate shops.

We are partial to Chocolatier Dumon. I cannot guarantee the chocolate there is any better, although I know it’s pretty good. First of all, I’m a sucker for molded chocolate “art,” even if everything we tried to bring back from our first trip didn’t make it in one piece. Second, the variety is spectacular. It’s a great place to just stand and inhale.

And that was the first thing I thought of when I worked the cork free of a bottle of Boulevard’s Smokestack Chocolate Ale. Cocoa dusted truffles. Rich dark fruits. Caramel and rum. A rush of aromas that themselves must be fattening.

Plus, on a personal note, there’s the Brugge (or Bruges) factor. In the movie “In Bruges” Colin Farrell’s character (Ray) mutters, “Maybe that’s what hell is, the entire rest of eternity spent in f*cking Bruges.” He’s nuts. You want to spend New Year’s Eve here; you hope your niece marries somebody Flemish and the reception is here on a bright June day. No doubt that Chocolatier Dumon and the city of Brugge itself provide a halo effect for Chocolate Ale.

Last year seemingly every beer drinking soul in Kansas City went nutso over this beer brewed in collaboration with local chocolate hero chef Christopher Elbow. There were stories about people following delivery trucks and trying to bribe drivers into selling them a bottle directly. Some liquor stores were asking $25 a bottle (instead of the standard $9-$12) and we won’t even mention eBay. The beer disappeared fast.

I can’t tell you how fast it went here in St. Louis, because Sierra and I were still in New Mexico. However a month after the madness had subsided in Kansas City we visited St. Louis and drank it at Pi Pizzeria on Delmar. It was even brighter on tap.

Last year Boulevard produced 1,600 cases of Chocolate Ale, a standard run for a Smokestack seasonal. This year they brewed two-and-a-half times that, more than any of its limited releases ever. It’s on the shelves. I’m not predicting how long it will last.

I’m pretty sure they won’t have to advertise every bottle comes with a chocolate memory of Brugge. But they could.

Feb. 15: Boulevard Brewing announced it was offering refunds on a limited number of batches — up to a third of the bottles of chocolate ale sold — that the brewery said didn’t meet its standards. You can watch the announcement here.

Monday musing, local, & links

Start with this premise: “It seems that in today’s uncertain and flagging America, one sign of community prosperity and revitalization is a microbrewery or brewpub in town.”

The Ecocentric blog examines in some detail the role of small breweries in towns where they operate. The history gets a little iffy now and then, but ultimately Kai Olson-Sawyer makes a point that “just like with food, conscientious consumers are willing to pay a little more for better quality and for the local connection.”

The leap of faith here is that local equals better quality. It’s one thing for a brewer to say, “I can order the best quality malt in the world, the best hops, source yeast that provides whatever flavor you want and replicate water from any brewing region of the world.” Another to say, “Fresh hops from the farmer up the road are just as good as from the Czech Republic or the Yakima Valley.”

To my way of thinking the first beer qualifies as local. But not everybody would agree.

This is tricky territory. I loved my grandfather’s farm. I’m all for the idea of urban farming, for finding fresh produce (in season) within the city limits. I wish all the luck in the world to those farmers from Vermont to Southern California who are giving hops a whirl. I’ve had beers I’d buy again that were dry hopped with stuff from homebrewers yards (and donated to a brewery). But I know full well how hard it is to properly grow, pick and process quality hops. Which means most of the breweries around the world are going to buy most of their hops from some place not so close.

In all fairness, the point at Ecocentric blog was not to make localness exclusive, but there are those who would. And that’s not any better for local beer than trying to come up with arbitrary definitions for “craft” beer.

More stuff to read:

Boak and Bailey offer The six degrees of beer appreciation. “There’s a fine line between enthusing about better beer and being a snob.”

1 Wine Dude (Joe Roberts) calls “this the single most important piece of wine news in years” and the implications for beer should be obvious. Australian Wine Research Institute researchers have sequenced the Brettanomyces genome.

– The New York Cork Report gives us “Your Ultimate Guide to Pairing Beer and Cheese.” Hard to argue with pairing a fresh Catapano goat cheese and Southampton Cuvee des Fleurs.

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