A Sad Weekend, With Beer


What kind of beer do you bring when you are going to spend a weekend with a friend whose elderly canine companion is clearly nearing the end of its life? That’s what I asked myself when I went to spend a weekend with Autumn, a sweet, 15-year-old rescue dog who I had known for the last half of her life? I am not a pet owner, but I am an animal lover, and Autumn and I were pals.

So I know I’m going to my friend’s house for what is going to be a sad and solemn weekend. What beer should I bring to what amounts to a weekend wake for my still-living canine friend?

I decided on something bright and golden, and something I’d not seen before, California Lager from the Anchor Brewing Co. of San Francisco.

Autumn wasn’t eating. Her hindquarters were weak and shaking when she stood. Her sad, dark eyes seemed to have accepted the inevitable. I sensed that even Autumn knew it was her final weekend. In the past, she always liked to have a little taste of beer, but now she wouldn’t even try it.

My heart was breaking for this beautiful animal. The delicious lager didn’t make it any easier.

Anchor’s California Lager is based on a 19th century recipe. It’s made with two-row California barley and Cluster hops, which the brewery says was the premier hop of 19th century California. The beer is also krausened, a brewing term that should be familiar to Old Style drinkers, since it used to proudly proclaim “fully krausened” when made by G. Heileman’s in LaCrosse, Wis. In 2009, virtual brewer Pabst, which now owns Old Style and many other old-school American lager brands, returned Old Style to its roots and declared on the label that it is “authentically krausened.”

Krausen is nothing more than the thick head of gassy foam that develops from yeast and proteins as the beer ferments. Brewers introduce krausen – which in reality is actively fermenting beer – into another batch of beer further along in the fermentation process, thereby naturally carbonating that batch of beer. This traditional method of carbonation has largely been replaced by introducing sugars or other fermentable adjuncts to the unfinished beer.

So, nice to see Anchor is using this traditional method for its delicious 4.9 percent California Lager. Up until June, you could only find California Lager in the namesake state, but Anchor has been rolling it out in 15 other states, including Wisconsin.

Thinking about these things while drinking the beer helped take my mind off Autumn for a bit.

When we had exhausted the supply of California Lager, my friend pulled out a real treat in the form of a large bottle of 2010 Miles Davis Bitches Brew from Dogfish Head Brewery. First brewed in 2010 in honor of the 40th anniversary of the release of Miles Davis’ great jazz fusion double album, Bitches Brew, this liquid Bitches Brew celebrates African roots with an actual root from an African bush in place of hops.

(For the record, so to speak, I prefer Davis’ earlier fusion work, In a Silent Way, but it doesn’t have the great artwork of Bitches Brew by the late, great Mati Klarwein, who also gave us the ever-trippy Santana Abraxas album cover.)

The gesho, as the African root is called, has to tone down the natural sweetness of a very malty imperial stout mixed with a honey beer, which is what this 9 percent brew is.

Dark cane sugar is the first thing I tasted, not exactly sweet, but with the powerful initial molasses tang of Turbinado sugar. There’s an earthy taste as it goes down the gullet like black silk liquefied. Smooth and unfathomably black, so fitting for the occasion.

I guess it’s a good thing you can’t get Dogfish Head in Wisconsin any more. It would only remind me of that sad last weekend with my good pooch friend. Farewell, Autumn!