I was getting ready to leave for work on New Year’s Day, when I had an idea.
There was a beer I’d been waiting to share with my wife Christina, and, since it was a holiday, I knew I could head into the Times a little later than usual. So I cracked open the bottle, a pint of PKL FKR, from the small New Braunfels Brewing Company in New Braunfels, Texas, and poured and set out two small, 6-ounce glasses for us.
Yes, if you’re wondering. PKL FKR (3.2 percent, 7 IBU) absolutely is a traditional berliner weisse sour wheat beer fermented with ... dill pickle juice.
Let’s back up.
A few months ago, a friend of mine in Texas asked me to do him a favor. He wanted to work a beer exchange so he could get his hands on some Southern Tier Pumking — the glorious imperial pumpkin ale previously cited in this column as one of the best pumpkin beers on the planet. Well, my friend was itching for some of New York’s finest, and having lived in Texas for six years, I wasn’t going to say no to swapping the ’King for a taste of the Lone Star State.
And man, my friend came through. There were some serious highlights from some of my favorite Texas breweries.
From St. Arnold Brewing Company in Houston, which bills itself as Texas’ oldest craft brewery, there were five cans each of Fancy Lawnmower, a German-style Kolsch, and its cousin, Weedwacker.
Fancy Lawnmower (4.9 percent, 18 IBU) is a really crisp, refreshing beer that’s a little bit sweet and suitable for day drinking. One of the things I like about the Houston Astros’ ballpark is that they have a variety of brews from St. Arnold on tap, and I definitely spent an afternoon or two with a few of these bad boys watching Houston play through some ugly, tanking seasons.
Weedwacker (4.9 percent, 18 IBU) is a hefeweizen that is pretty much the exact same beer as Lawnmower, except brewed with a different yeast. Kind of light for a wheat beer, but with some nice, spicy clove and a little bit of banana in the finish, I kind of forgot how good this one is.
There were also two cans each of Karbach Brewery’s Hopadillo (6.6 percent, 65 IBU), a terrifically bitter IPA out of Houston and 3 Nations Brewing’s Texas XMas (8.3 percent), an imperial milk stout out of Farmer’s Branch near Dallas. Brewed with Mexican chocolate, this was one of the best new beers I’ve had in a while. Sweet, but not too heavy and terrifically boozy. Christina and I split the two of them one night a few weeks back; and though not typically a lover of high ABV beers, she was disappointed we didn’t have more of them.
There were also three selections from Spoetzl Brewery, out of Shiner, Texas, and better known, you guessed it, as Shiner. Shiner’s pretty well-known for its Bock, a terrific beer you can find in New York everywhere from Watertown to the bar in Red Hook, Brooklyn, where we had our wedding party. But while they’re known for their flagship, Shiner has a pretty deep and pretty solid roster. The highlights of my shiner haul were the Morello Dark Cherry (7 percent), which is their (terrific) Bohemian Black Lager, sweetened up a bit with hints of cherry and vanilla and the Candied Pecan Porter (6 percent), another sweet one, with notes of vanilla and carmel to go with Texas’ famed pecans. Pretty heavy and sweet, so I wouldn’t power through six of these on a lazy Sunday if I were you, but terrific dessert beers that will warm you up on a winter night.
So there was a lot to like in my Texas haul, but there was one beer I was saving for last. Probably out of fear.
I cracked open the PKL FKR and poured us each a portion. The first thing you notice is the nose ... that aroma of pickles. This was not going to be a subtle flavor.
Christina, never timid, took the first taste, and her face curled into a kind of sickened frown as she set the glass down and physically backed away from it. She hastily grabbed another beer from the fridge and took a healthy swig of it, trying to kill the taste.
“It actually seems like this could be good,” she said. “But it’s like somebody played a joke on me, pouring pickle juice into a nice wheat beer.”
“So it’s bad?” I asked.
“Try it,” she said.
My first impression wasn’t so bad, actually. It felt kind of light and had some nice, initial sour notes ... and then the pickle hit me. Now, I love a good sour, but typically when you have a good sour, there are notes of citrus or something that help it stick the landing a bit.
Instead there was pickle juice. And like I said, this wasn’t exactly subtle. I felt like I was drinking straight from a jar of Vlasic.
I tried to like this one. I really did. New Braunfels Brewing Company seems like a pretty cool company, actually. A family run business that took up the mantle of a prominent brewery brought down by the authorities for bootlegging in the 1920s, NBBC strives to use only local materials to brew their beer and on each bottle it implores you to “please put our beer in your face.”
I was quite charmed by the crude cartoon on the label, and it had a nice, pale, cloudy presentation (I was worried it’d be greenish) and I absolutely WANTED to enjoy this beer. So much so that I kept drinking it, even after Christina had long-since moved on and was sitting on the couch with the kids while I suffered in silence.
I bet there’s a market for this, but I’m not that market. I was probably going to wind up dumping some of it out at the end, not just because I needed to get ready for work but because the aftertaste — all pickles, man — was lingering long after each sip.
“You know you don’t have to drink all of it,” Christina told me, “but you can have mine.”
I found out that I screwed something up the last time we talked. When I interviewed Mark Jessie at Racquette River Brewing, I cited him as the owner, when in fact he has a co-owner, Joe Hockey, whom I did not meet. There are also two brew masters, Jack and Alex Lewis, who do the brewing and deserved credit for how much I enjoyed their beer. Mr. Jessie didn’t mention any of that, but the fault is mine ... I forgot to ask. It’s been a few years since I was a reporter, and apparently I’m a little rusty and a little presumptive. Apologies to all and I hope to get up the Tupper Lake before too long to pay it back with patronage.