Closing the Book on 2013

Each year, every year, December comes and goes too quickly to be fully appreciated.  This year, it felt especially blurry: finding the time for all the holiday cheer, travel, and glad tidings, before the 25th arrives and before plunging into the cornucopia quivering with desire and ecstasy of unbridled avarice (thanks Jean Shepherd).  Not to mention the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in our front window (yes, we have a nearly four-foot tall replica).

Christmas flashes by, then it’s New Year’s, which for me has never caused much of a to-do.  Sure, I used to go out and drink and actually care about doing something.  Yet it was never as much fun as hoped and always absurdly expensive.  Even the most epic eventualities cannot reduce the annoyance of waiting 10 minutes for a cocktail,  delivered weak and in a plastic cup while skinny girls step on your toes to get faster service.  Such is hell.

But I won’t get ahead of myself.  December, even with its hurry and bustle, still remains and was indeed enjoyable.  I spent time off from work, with family near and far, and poured a fine drink or two.  So before the clock strikes midnight and 2013 concludes, here are a few late year discoveries and favorites.  To you and yours, Happy New Year.

– Samuel Smith’s Taddy Porter.  Difficult to find a bad brew from this old, traditional English brewery.  Much like their Oatmeal Stout, the porter is another fantastic cold weather beer – perfect for sipping in front of a fire.

– Devils Backbone Kilt Flasher Scottish Ale.  This wee heavy ale is another hit from this new-ish craft brewery located near Shenandoah National Park, a few hours southwest of Washington, D.C.  (Read my take on their Vienna Lager here.)

– Barrel Trolley Amber Ale.  Brewed by the Genesee Brewing Company, in Rochester, N.Y., this amber is fairly sweet and light bodied, especially considering the range of amber ales these days.  Decent overall, but finishes too weakly.

As per usual, here are a few additional selections, for the interested reader and drinker.  Not all booze related, but mostly.

– PUNCH.  This new online wine and spirits magazine ( seeks to “bring the worlds of wine and cocktails together,” as stated in a Wall Street Journal feature earlier this month.  The site is a creation of Brooklyn-based writers Talia Baiocchi and Leslie Pariseau and is backed by a small division of Random House Publishing.  I particularly enjoy the site’s long-form writing, a format similar to my own.

Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary, by Tim Federle.  2013 saw much writing published on the intersection of literature and drinking.  Here it continues, but with a more lighthearted touch (a Christmas gift from the wife).  Mr. Federle’s short text proffers literary-inspired cocktail recipes: impress your friends the next time you host book club.

Endgame, 1945: The Missing Final Chapter of World War II, by David Stafford.  Professor Stafford shines a bright light on several often overlooked months following the Allied victory in Europe.  Although formal hostilities with Nazi Germany ended, chaos, uncertainty, and death did not.


Devils Backbone Vienna Lager

devils backbone vienna lager

Every so often I find a beer so delicious, it magically disappears. I open one and perhaps another, then amazingly they’re gone! Where did they go – I certainly didn’t drink them all myself!

Devils Backbone Vienna Lager is one such beer – two six packs have managed to vanish in as many weeks. I think my fridge may have been burglarized.

I have a soft spot for Vienna lager, as it sits nicely beside other Central European beers I enjoy – Czech pilsner, German lager, even lager variations such as schwartzbier and märzen. Vienna lager, amber or light red in color, is slightly sweeter and softer than its Bavarian or Bohemian brethren. Honestly, it’s hard for me to choose a favorite style of beer originating from Germany, Austria, or the Czech Republic.

Oddly enough, the number of U.S.-brewed Vienna style lagers seems to outnumber the actual number of lagers exported from Austria. Domestic microbrewers have capitalized on the American thirst for these lagers by producing their own versions. A quick search on Beer Advocate easily shows the few European imports among the vast American selections. (This list of course says nothing about what is actually available here in the states.)

This brings us to Devils Backbone, the Virginian microbrewer producing the beer I’ve struggled to keep stocked. The beer itself is lighter than ordinary ambers, but is nonetheless complex on the tongue, finishing clean and crisp – yet not so abruptly as to confuse it with a German lager. Vienna lager is also rounded and comforting, without the filling quality of a hefeweizen or the sharp snappiness of a pilsner.

The lager’s characteristics are reminiscent of Vienna itself: similar to its regional neighbors of Prague and Munich, yet approachable and navigable. Vienna is simultaneously Eastern and Western European (if such a distinction still exists). It is inviting and expansive, seated at the crossroads of western luxuries and eastern functionality. Both decadent and conservative.

My visit to Vienna was all too brief – a few days during a nearly month-long journey through Europe almost 10 years ago. Still, the lager brings fond memories of a few days spent casually walking the city, enjoying its cafes and cuisine, relaxing in palace gardens between meals and museums. To this day, it still ranks as one of my favorite cities.

How nice to be reminded of such a wonderful place by such a wonderful, easily available American microbrew. All I have to do is open the refrigerator – if there’s any left.

Published in: on August 19, 2013 at 9:03 pm  Comments Off on Devils Backbone Vienna Lager  
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Happy 3rd Birthday, Hip Flask

birthday candle

Three years old – The Hip Flask has officially reached blogging toddlerhood.  Over 200 posts and counting!  So let’s take a moment for a birthday celebration, to fondly look back over the past year.

Much of the last year was indeed spent looking backwards into history: into 1920s era writers and slang; into the history of American brewing; and into books reminiscing about drinking during a simpler time.

I’ve discussed modern topics as well, from workplace drinking (and its fallacy), to globalization, as well as several new beers (domestic and international), and even whisky.

It’s been a great third year for the blog – more of you are reading and subscribing than ever, from both the U.S. and around the world.  And it’s been great fun writing, although my posting frequency is less than I’d like. If only there were more hours in the day.

So what’s on tap in the coming months? Here are a few ideas you’ll likely soon see:

– Some words on Devils Backbone Vienna Lager, including a few nice memories of visiting Vienna some years ago.

– My thoughts on rum on the rocks as a simple, alternative, summer cocktail.

– New Recommended Reading entries, including Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl, by David Wondrich, and The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It, by Tilar Mazzeo.

– A special (non-drinking) piece remarking on two Polish heroes of World War II, based on two books I’ve recently read (but not discussed here).

– The completion of a couple of partially written posts on Krušovice Černé, a dark Czech beer as well as my thoughts on high-efficiency bartending.

– New installments of my recurring series, Booze News and A Drink With…  (Have a favorite celebrity or historical figure – fictional or not – you’d like to see? Let me know with a comment or by email.)

Most importantly, thanks to you all for liking, subscribing, commenting, and generally making The Hip Flask’s third year so enjoyable.  If you like what you read, be sure to tell your friends – maybe they will, too!  The more, the merrier!