WIB Listening Party #54: The Genius Sings The Blues

featuring…

Ray Charles, The Genius Sings The Blues

🍺 Cascade Brewing Blueberry

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

How much are you willing to pay for a can of beer?

That’s today’s musical question.

Getting deeper into craft beer these past few years has undoubtedly changed my attitude about beer. It has shifted dramatically toward quality over quantity. Big drinking parties like Oktoberfest, which is all about guzzling it down by the liter, are a total turn-off. I’ve even gone off the local brew Kölsch somewhat, an easy drinking beer eminently suitable for consumption in large quantities. Instead, I now appreciate craftsmanship and premium ingredients and savor each glass of beer or even each sip as a small-scale celebration.

That means I’m also willing to pay a little more. At the local supermarket, you can still buy a six-pack of Kölsch or Pils for around five euros. A craft beer from a specialty shop, on the other hand, can start at about two euros and cost as much as six, seven or eight euros (around eight dollars) for a single can or bottle. That’s where I start to ask myself: Can beer be that good? Is craft beer really five, ten or twenty times as enjoyable as the cheap stuff?

Recently I decided to find out. I crossed a self-imposed line and invested seven euros in a single can of beer. An exotic variety I had never seen let alone tasted before. Allow me to introduce you to Blueberry, a barrel-aged blend of sour triple and blonde ales and locally grown blueberries from Oregon’s Cascade Brewing. Cozying up to the stylish 250 ml can is today’s musical selection, The Genius Sings The Blues, a timeless Ray Charles classic.

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WIB Listening Party #53: Blue Guitars

featuring…

Chris Rea, Blue Guitars

🍺 Morebeer Brewing Dutch Eagle

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

If you’re a blues fan (I certainly hope so) you’ll be familiar with T-Bone Walker’s oft-covered classic “Call It Stormy Monday” and an expression it helped make famous: “The eagle flies on Friday.”

Well at today’s Listening Party, the Dutch Eagle flies. Morebeer Brewing’s Dutch Eagle Pale Ale to be exact.

And while we soar high on eagles wings, we’ll also be skimming the deep waters of Chris Rea’s 137-song, 11-CD opus Blue Guitars – an underappreciated 2005 project which can take years to listen to in its entirety.

Last time out I documented a family vacation in Berlin and my uphill battle to get a taste of that city’s beer scene. Two weeks later we arrived in Amsterdam and it was more of the same. A pair of my favorite craft brewers, Oedipus and Lowlander, are based there. I heard their clarion call. But as I surveyed our plans for the week, I didn’t see any way I could easily sneak in a visit to one of their locations without totally blowing off my wife and kids.

Fortunately, being flexible and creative can lead to unexpected discoveries. So it was that as one half of the four-headed beast I call my nuclear family headed off to “look for shoes” – what, there are no shoes where we live? – I convinced my fourteen-year-old daughter to indulge my taste for good beer. She’s old enough to understand you must throw daddy a bone every once in a while. We don’t want him going off the rails now, do we? 

A quick Google search led us to a central but well-hidden pub called Mikkeller at Morebeer. And that is where I discovered Dutch Eagle, one of the best beers I’ve tasted in a while.

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WIB Listening Party #52: Hot Tin Roof

featuring…

Los Reyes del K.O., Hot Tin Roof

🍺 Lemke 030 Berlin Pale Ale

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

Berlin! More than Germany’s pre- and post-Cold War capital, this multi-faceted city of over three and a half million is also a craft beer hub. At least a dozen distinguished small and mid-sized brewers operate within the city limits and there’s an abundance of pubs and beer gardens serving local and international craft beer. As a vegetarian, I couldn’t help but notice all the street food and how far ahead of the curve Berlin is in offering meatless options. Vegan places have sprouted up everywhere. Similarly, as a beer lover, all I can say is that there, too, Berlin puts my home city and its decidedly more provincial tastes to shame.

But since my visit this summer was a family holiday, I had to make certain concessions. Much as I would have loved to hit every place on this helpful list of the 11 Best Craft Breweries in Berlin, I couldn’t, in good conscience, blow off my wife and kids and go on a six-day bender.

“Daddy, you’re a drunk!!” Nah, I didn’t fancy hearing that.

The situation, like much in life – family life in particular – called for compromise.

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WIB Listening Party #51: Sampling the Backlog

featuring…

Four songs & 🍺 Four beers

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

“I’m not gonna waste good beer.”  — Felix Unger

If you’re an Odd Couple fan – the syndicated sitcom Odd Couple, not the stage play, movie or any of its myriad other incarnations – then the line above, spoken by actor Tony Randall in the classic role reversal episode, will ring a bell. Felix (played by Randall, seen on the left in the photo below), imitating his ill-mannered roommate Oscar, puts out his cigar in a glass of wine. “I’m not gonna waste good beer” is his deadpan explanation.

I’ve adopted it as my motto for this edition of the Listening Party.

You see, while various factors (basically, a heavy workload followed by family vacations) have limited me to just a handful of blog entries in the past few months, several bottles and cans in my stash have been marching toward their expiration dates without any regard for my life situation. That beer – much of it kindly supplied to me by my craft beer partner Bierlager – is not something I want to let spoil.

The simple solution to this backlog was to divert from my usual “one album, no scotch, one beer” format. This time around, I’ll briefly present four different beers and let each one take me where it wants to take me. A song that comes to mind during each tasting will add to the fun.   

Remember: A beer is a terrible thing to waste!

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WIB Listening Party #50: If The River Was Whiskey

featuring…

Spin Doctors, If The River Was Whiskey

🍺 Welde Bourbon Barrel Bock

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

This particular Listening Party – number 50! – is going to be a music-heavy quickie. I do this whenever time gets tight. I’ve been stuck at 49 for a few weeks, burdened by my other work (yes, I do more than sit around and drink beer) and thus unable to reach that magical half-century mark. Now school is out, my kids are home and time is even tighter. It’s officially summer, some trips are planned, so the Listening Party will be on hiatus anyway.

But first – number 50.

We’ll toast this milestone with a really good and likely overlooked blues album, If The River Was Whiskey. Overlooked because Spin Doctors.

The record did peak at number five on the Billboard blues chart upon its release in 2013. Still for many, “Spin Doctors = blues” simply doesn’t equate. Doubters may think of the band as a one-hit wonder for their smash 1990s hit “Two Princes.” But years before that tune was blaring out of millions of car radios, the Doctors were indeed honing their chops at downtown Manhattan blues clubs.

While I have failed to dig up a whiskey-infused beer for the occasion (they most certainly exist), I have managed to get my hands on a bottle of Welde’s Bourbon Barrel Bock, which we’ll indulge in a bit later on. Let’s get to it …

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WIB Listening Party #49: Rollin’

featuring…

Jane Lee Hooker, Rollin’

🍺 BrewLab Steel Princess

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

“Keep On Rollin’” says the official tour t-shirt.

That’s what I intend to do today. Keep things rolling with another new album and another Belgian beer. Or three.

I live just an hour east of Germany’s border with Belgium. So a quick shot and I’m in another country, where the language is different, the people are different and the beer is just as good, maybe even better. My excuse for making the jaunt this time is an appearance by Jane Lee Hooker – a steaming cauldron of blues, soul, gospel and rock’n’roll from New York City. I reviewed the band’s show at the same venue in Verviers some four years ago – you can find it here – so this time we turn to JLH’s latest and arguably best release, the aptly named Rollin’.

My first stop in the city of Verviers after arriving in the afternoon is the St Raph, a corner pub a few houses down from the concert venue Spirit of 66. Both of them are situated on the Place du Martyr, a once lively square that’s been decimated by the one-two punch of the pandemic and last summer’s catastrophic flooding. Half the stores and restaurants on and around the square are now boarded up. It’s a depressing sight.

A Val-Dieu blonde, potent and spicy, helps to lighten my spirits and reacquaints me with the local drinking customs. The chalice of foamy goodness arrives with a small bowl of roasted peanuts, and after I’ve paid and tipped the barkeeper (the bill comes with the beer), he offers me some peppered cheese cubes as well.

Actually “lighten my spirits” is an understatement. A couple of sips and I feel frickin’ great! This is the magic of beer. There, I said it. You’re in a foreign country, somewhere you don’t speak the language, it can feel intimidating. Some decent hop juice is a surefire way to put an end to that.

A short while Iater I make my way to L’Orchestre à Pots, a specialty food shop that carries a small stock of bottles from the local craft brewer, BrewLab. I walk away with a bottle each of Brass Baron and its more exotic sibling Steel Princess – the beer I’ve chosen to feature in today’s Listening Party.        

So we’re all set. The bottle is chilled. Jane Lee Hooker is in the starting gates. Let ‘er rip.

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WIB Listening Party #48: Long River

featuring…

Angelique Francis, Long River

🍺 Curtius Blonde Ale

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

In the first 47 installments of the Who Is Blues Listening Party, it’s been about my favorite records of the past. We’ve gone as far back as the 1920s and Blind Willie McTell. We’ve revisited post-war legends like Howlin’ Wolf and Albert King. We’ve sampled more recent standouts that have found their way into my collection during the past few decades. One thing I have not featured until now is a current release. And there’s a reason for that.

If your listening habits are like mine, you go through different phases. At times, you’ll be open to discovering new artists and also hungrily devour the familiar. At others, you’ll feel jaded – like there is nothing new under the sun so why even bother and if I hear another twelve-bar blues I’m gonna go nuts.

That’s kind of where I’ve been the past couple of years. I’ve tired of trying to keep up with the flood of new blues releases. I’ve all but stopped reviewing CDs for magazines. Though I’m sure I’ve missed some great records (plus lots of mediocre ones) by voluntarily cutting myself off, I simply haven’t had the mental space. I’ve needed a break. It happens.

Then some weeks ago, quite by accident, Angelique Francis – an extraordinary young singer from Ottawa – jolted me out of my ennui. Two songs into her newest record Long River, I knew I was onto something: A singular talent with a sound not quite like anyone else’s.

An exceptional talent deserves an equally distinctive beer, so as we listen to Ms. Francis, we’ll be sampling Curtius, a blonde ale from the Belgian city of Liége. It’s the flagship beverage of the curiously named microbrewery Brasserie C and comes packaged in a sleek 375 ml corked bottle.

Here’s to becoming excited about music again …

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WIB Listening Party #47: Don’t Give Up On Me

featuring…

Solomon Burke, Don’t Give Up On Me

🍺 Crew Republic In Your Face West Coast IPA

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

Today’s my 57th birthday. I feel moderately OK, calm, at peace. But my mood is not celebratory. Current world events, a black cloud as of late, are not the primary reason. It’s that number. 57. I have a problem with it.

My graying hair, my daily aches and pains, the slight gut that now sags from my scrawny frame – they all tell me that the number fits. It’s gotta be true. But I don’t want to be 57. I’m possessive of my time on this earth. I love life and don’t want to surrender it. I don’t want to count the days.

Turning back the clock is not an idea that appeals to me. My youth wasn’t all that wonderful. I like where these 57 years have taken me. I’m so much stronger in so many ways. If only I could have had the life skills I have now – the confidence bordering on fearlessness – when I was young and bursting with physical energy. I still have the passion and desire, but now it’s packed inside this aging, slowing, declining body.

I know what the solution is, what the goal must be today: To find my way from wishing things could be different to accepting what is. Being in the moment and arriving at a place of gratitude is always the answer.

Or maybe it’s music and beer.

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WIB Listening Party #46: Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down

featuring…

Ry Cooder, Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down

🍺 Maisel & Friends Hopfenreiter #6

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

I walked past a brewery today. Not just any brewery, but the one I lived across the street from in the mid-to-late 1990s. Yeah, I’ve been in Cologne a long time. That brewery made Gilden Kölsch, one of the numerous local Kölsch brands, and was a mid-sized operation – not massive enough to be deemed industrial, but big enough that on brewdays, a sweet bready aroma hung in the air throughout the neighborhood.

Not everyone who lived nearby was in love with that smell, but I was. It’s one of my main associations when I think back to my five years at that address and may well have planted the seed for my subsequent fascination with all things beer.

After being swallowed up by a big fish many moons ago, then by an even bigger fish in the bottled beverage industry years later, my old neighborhood brewery shut down last year. Soon it will be flattened and give way to a newfangled office and apartment complex due to be completed in 2030. Lots of that going on in that section of town, which still manages to retain its red brick, 19th century industrial character despite all the new buildings going up.

As I carried on walking along streets I hadn’t visited in years, I felt a little sad and nostalgic. Not about Gilden Kölsch – it was never a favorite – but simply about the passage of time. Saw a poster for an upcoming concert by Joe Jackson. His was the first band I ever saw live in concert as a kid. There’s no other way of saying it – the picture on the poster made Joe look like an old man. I guess he is by now. Which means I’m getting up there, too.

Today, I’ll reflect a little about days gone by as we enjoy a beer and some good music together.   

As Jim Lange used to say: And here they are …

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WIB Listening Party #45: Mississippi Blues

featuring…

Big Bill Broonzy, Volume One – Mississippi Blues

🍺 Ratsherrn Dry-Hopped Pilsener

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

I usually post these things on Friday afternoon. Perhaps my favorite feel-good time of the week. I generally go pretty hard from Monday to Friday, working and looking after my family. So when Friday afternoon rolls around and I close up shop, a satisfying weekend feeling of freedom sets in. I have pushed through and gotten things done and the Listening Party is one way I reward myself for not being a total goof-off in life.

This time, though, it’s a lazy Sunday. I’m recovering from a friend’s Saturday night birthday party. It involved live music and a healthy variety of adult beverages. As it’s Sunday, I’ve decided to turn this Listening Party into a kind of casual backyard barbecue. We’ll have beer of course, and good, down-home southern-style cooking … aww, who’m I kidding? I’m a New York boy. The barbecues I knew growing up were burgers and hot dogs, roasted peppers, Italian sausage and corn on the cob. We’d eat out on the patio with maybe a ballgame on the radio or my dad’s favorite music playing.

I can definitely imagine the great Big Bill Broonzy having played a barbecue or two during his time on this earth. In fact, I believe there are stories of him playing the fiddle at such gatherings before he switched over to guitar. We’re going to listen to a few classic Broonzy tunes from Volume One – Mississippi Blues, a vinyl EP released in 1955 on the British Nixa label that somehow found its way into my collection. Broonzy mastered rural and urban blues styles during his career and the four-song disc touches on each.

Our beer, Ratsherrn Dry-Hopped Pilsener, comes from the city of Hamburg.

Let’s take it slow and easy this time, shall we?

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