blackout beer

26 Aug


Last week as I was lying in bed trying to accept the fact that it was time to get up and go to work, a story came on NPR about the massive blackout of 2003 in the NE U.S. and Canada. What startled me most was the reason for the story: it was the 10 year anniversary of the event! What was startling is how ten years can pass with barely a blink of an eye. Because if I sat and thought about it, of course I knew it had been ten years, but it only felt like a couple really. I remember exactly where I was, what I was doing, and everything that happened that day.

I was living in New York City and the second anniversary of 9/11 was quickly approaching. Words can’t express how we were feeling. It was like the whole city was holding its breath. I was riding the subway, from Manhattan to Brooklyn, in the middle of a tunnel when the lights went out and our train came to a halt. The silence was thick. You could have heard a pin drop. We held our breath, fearful of the worst, hopeful it was just a normal subway glitch and that we would quickly be on our way. But as the generators brought the emergency lights on, and the conductor announced truthfully that the cause of our delay was unknown, emotions flooded forward.

Thankfully it wasn’t too long before they could use what little backup power they had to pull us into the station.  And we were asked to exit the station as there was no news on whether or when the power would return. I’m not sure any words can express the hesitation, anxiety, fear, and desperation involved with walking up each of those stairs unsure of what we would find outside on Jay Street. I don’t need to explain the scene we knew was possible.

Tears in my eyes, they darted around quickly noticing that everything was in one piece but ALL power was lost: street lights and storefronts were dark. The next few hours involved a packed bus, a long walk home, and a quest to find out what happened. There were countless rumors that it was another terrorist attack, and although the cracks were forming, we were all holding it together until we could get home and find our loved ones.

But by nightfall, the city’s skyline was intact, music was still playing on the radio and in the streets, and you could get free gelato and italian ice on every other corner. I had lemon and coconut. There was nothing to do inside our stuffy, dark homes, so neighbors relaxed together on stoops and the streets were alive with the best of New York. That spirit, that energy, that love, that I don’t think anyone who hasn’t lived there can quite understand.

That was my last night in the city. The next day I was moving to attend graduate school. In fact, all of my belongings were already on their way and we had already checked out the rental car (thank goodness). I missed my own going away party. Instead, the whole city had a little party, sending me off with love and one more unforgettable memory.

So, that part of me that longs for The City now and again, and remembers the events and the emotions of that day ten years ago, decided to celebrate with an equally special beer.

Lompoc’s 2010 Bourbon Barrel Aged Dark Side Porter from deep within the beer cellar. This was one of the first beers I fell in love with at the Sidebar. I have only two left. I cherish these; saving them for the right occasions. Over the years I have lauded this beer, to everyone I meet that loves porters or the beers at the Sidebar. I have even waxed on about it with Lompoc brewer Bryan. I guess it worked because I’ve seen the Dark Side back on tap over the last few months. I’m hoping that means a barrel aged version will be released again at some point. But for now, we’ll go with the old and see how it is aging…

It poured a near black shade, carbonated but with no lasting head. Off to a good start. The aroma was powerful and complex with notes of sweet syrup, creamy coconut and vanilla, nutty oak from the barrel, alcohol, and subdued dark malts of sweet tobacco. All of this comes through with each sip as well (except the alcohol which I thought was kept perfectly in check). Very complex and rich. There is a sweetness that is moderated and well complimented by the roasted quality (almost coffee-like) of the malts as well as the tannins, vanilla notes, and slight dryness from the oak barrel. It was remarkably not too heavy for a summer day either. Michael and I both thought this had thinned a little with time – not to its detriment. Medium, maybe slightly heavy bodied but not overwhelming. This was definitely enjoyed as an after dinner drink, at room temperature, all by itself. The creamy chocolate and vanilla flavors were much like dessert and although the barrel is clear and sits on your tongue, it is not overwhelming, but perfectly complimentary with all of its complex flavors.

Everyone agreed this beer aged very well (3 years in the barrel, 4 years total). A good way to celebrate both a dark and memorable occasion. Cheers!


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