Kids today have never known a world without iPods (get off my lawn!), but anyone of legal drinking age remembers that transporting a library of music was once an onerous task involving boxes of albums or casettes, binders full of CDs. Much as the Kindle has done to bookstores and libraries, the digital age has sounded what many have declared to be the death knell of those bastions of tangible, fungible music: the record store. But there are still those fighting the good fight, those noble souls poring over, debating the relative merits of, and even occasionally selling the painstakingly cared for and meticulously organized vinyl LP’s. Before your mind automatically jumps to visions of Jack Black in High Fidelity, bear in mind that even so venerated a figure as George Orwell directly prefigured Rob, Dick, and Barry when he lamented the lack of “really bookish people” in his Bookshop Memories, bemoaning the first edition snobs who were more common than actual literature lovers, or the odd passerby who didn’t really know what they were looking for.
So it’s a well-attested phenomenon, this seeming disdain for the uninitiated, and while there is a wide spectrum of attitudes that can be unleashed on the neophytes – from guile to guidance – I don’t think these analog retailers in a digital age are actually mean-spirited at bottom. They just have a genuine love of music and have a visceral, emotive response to the particular combination of chords emanating from the stereo, especially that of a vinyl album on a turntable. They want to share that experience, and just might get a little over-exuberant at the opportunity to impart the ever-branching tendrils of influence and heritage in a particular piece of music. It’s not too far from analogous to the current craft beer scene in America, where longtime beer nerds get annoyed with the whale-hunters (Orwell’s first edition snobs) who just want to check that Jester King or Cigar City or 3 Floyds off the list, or, worse, just trade it for some other rare beer instead of simply appreciating it. Perhaps a noble endeavor, that, but these same aficionados can risk turning off the greenhorns by turning up their noses when asked for a Miller, or mocking instead of suggesting alternatives.
April 18 marks the 8th official Record Store Day, celebrating the unique culture of the independently-owned record store, its staff, customers, and the artists who make it all possible. It’s really not far off from a city or state’s Craft Beer Week, extolling the hard-working local breweries and ensuring their continued existence. Hundreds of stores around the world have special music releases and performances, like Houston’s own Cactus Music on Portsmouth, near the Shepherd/Richmond intersection, opening early for the festivities. To that end, I herewith present a list of craft beers to toast your local record store for the occasion.
1. North Coast – Brother Thelonious
First and foremost, you gotta start with some American classics, and what better genre to do that with than Jazz. North Coast’s Brother Thelonious is brewed in partnership with the legendary jazz pianist’s music institute, so you can drink a delicious Belgian Strong Dark Ale and know you’re doing some good at the same time – though I’m not sure you can claim a 9.4% ABV beer as a charitable tax deduction. It pours a luscious ruby color and features that characteristic Belgian biscuity maltiness that’s almost nourishing, without an overwhelming hop bitterness.
2. Dogfish Head – Bitches Brew
Sticking with Jazz, Dogfish Head brewed this Imperial Stout in 2010 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Miles Davis’ landmark album of the same name. It’s part stout and part honey ale with a nod to Davis’ groundbreaking fusion, and has launched an entire Music Series at DFH, yielding other brews such as Pearl Jam’s 20th anniversary Faithfull Ale – to the point that Dogfish Head has been named the official brewery of Record Store Day. Bitches Brew is a limited release 9.0% ABV stout that pairs perfectly with curry or vinyl.
3. Odell – Tree Shaker
This Double Peach IPA from Fort Collins, Colorado, isn’t as overt a musical reference as the first two, but as soon as I say, “I really love your peaches, wanna…” you’ll fill in the rest and now you’ve got Steve Miller in your head for the rest of the day. Odell’s only been distributing in Texas for about a year now, but they’ve come on strong with a huge lineup on retailers’ shelves. Tree Shaker is a touch lower in ABV than the jazz beers above at 8% but a bit higher in IBU at 48 – to be expected from a Double IPA. The natural citrus fruitiness of the hops plays well with the peaches, and that’s no Joker.
4. Boulevard – Long Strange Tripel
Though they don’t come right out and say it – instead coyly noting on their website their “grateful” appreciation of a certain employee’s “dedication” – it doesn’t take much expanding of the mind to catch Boulevard’s reference to the Grateful Dead and their “Best Of” compilation, What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been. As the name implies, it’s a Belgian Tripel, clocking in at 9.2% ABV, with a noticeably sweeter malt flavor and lighter golden hue than North Coast’s Belgian above.
5. Karbach – Sympathy for the Lager
The name of this brew from Houston’s Karbach Brewery has something to do with why it’s the only lager on this list. Few craft breweries make many lagers, at least right out of the gate, because lagers take longer to ferment and condition than ales do, thereby tying up valuable real estate in the brewery. But another reason is that lagers have become the most widely consumed beer style in the world, taken up by all of the largest conglomerates and bastardized with adjuncts like corn and rice to achieve as light a body as cheaply as possible. The track Sympathy for the Devil – from the Rolling Stones’ 1968 album Beggars Banquet – recounts all the historical atrocities carried out in the devil’s name from his own point of view. Karbach sought to rehabilitate the lager’s image by taking the style back from the big breweries and brewing it the way it’s supposed to be brewed, showing that it’s been unfairly treated and is a perfectly cromulent style. An easy-drinking 4.9% ABV, it’s got a richer color and fuller body than your typical lager, given its all grain malt bill. The folks over at Karbach have even penned an alternate version of the Rolling Stones tune in homage to the worthy, though sullied, reputation of the style.
Get out there and support your local record stores on Saturday, and support the independent craft breweries while you’re at it. Evangelize your favorite albums and choice beers, but don’t turn into that insufferable pedant who rolls their eyes at anyone who may just be starting out on their musical – or fermentable – journey of discovery.