In this column, we’re highlighting a local-ish beer worth drinking right now.
With autumn officially upon us, it’s time to set our sights on a new season of craft beer. Yet our own personal vision is of no matter here. The mavens of microbrewed marketing have decided for us, collectively. It’s out with the Helles’, the Hefeweizens, the Belgian Wits. Replacing them on the shelves, in descending levels of obnoxious, is the torrent of pumpkin spiced offerings, brown ales, and, of course, the Barleywine. A hard-hitting ale, often boasting a double digit ABV, Barleywines can range in color from amber to dark brown, but they consistently unload a complex bundle of over-ripened fruit, heavily-breaded malt, and alcoholic heat. Subtlety and nuance be damned, they are the blowhards of beer.
For obvious reasons, it’s a style evocative of cable TV’s most-fired ‘newscaster.’ I speak of none other than Mr. Keith Olbermann. The once and again ESPN commentator aired a scathing critique of Yankees legend Derek Jeter on Tuesday evening, which was nothing more than thinly-veiled click-bait. In that regard — and that regard alone — it was a gloriously triumphant yarn. By Wednesday morning, the segment had soared to venerated heights of viral-ity usually reserved for grumpy cats and groin punches.
To fittingly honor Mr. Olbermann during his brief moment of #trending success, I toast to him with our latest beer of the week: Blithering Idiot. A loudmouthed, 11.1 percent English Barleywine from Weyerbacher Brewing in Easton, Pennsylvania. Is it a great beer? Hardly. Thoroughly mediocre would be a far more fitting description. Does it taste better than motor oil? Barely. Although its mouthfeel is undoubtedly preferable. But say what you will about this subpar example of seasonal suds, it remains a small miracle that it keeps getting renewed year after year. Much like Olbermann’s contract with ESPN.
The supreme irony of his anti-Jeter rant is that statistics aside (.310 lifetime batting average, .321 over seven World Series’, sixth most hits in baseball history, etc.), we’ve never heard so much as a single teammate call out the Captain for being a crappy co-worker. Although ‘class act,’ ‘legend,’ ‘stand-up guy,’ and ‘leader’ have been hurled his way plenty. For his part, Olbermann has been denigrated by an unyielding parade of former colleagues as a “bully” with “anger management issues” who had “frequent temper tantrums.” My personal favorite: “the walking definition of a hostile work environment.” Can you imagine someone characterizing DJ in such a way? You’d have to be a blithering idiot.
But in addition to the Shakespearean fool pictured on the label, another striking parallel between Olbermann and his namesake beer is that when you’re not paying attention, you could conceivably convince yourself that it’s not that bad. Then you snap out of it, realizing exactly what you’ve exposed yourself to — whether it’s mouth-tingling maltiness, or mind-stunting smugness. All of a sudden you’re fighting back unnerving swells of nausea.
Is it really that bad? Of course not. The hardworking folks at Weyerbacher actually brew a palatable product. Name withstanding, comparisons to self-obsessed, failed political reporters is flat out rude. English Barleywines have feelings, too. For it’s style, I place it squarely in the middle of the spectrum with Derek Jeter’s first ballot hall-of-fame career on one end, and Keith Olbermann’s long national nightmare of bloviation on the other. And if that’s not a solid endorsement for a beer…
Blithering Idiot is now available in bottles throughout the city and can currently be found on draught at the Blind Tiger Ale House in the West Village.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 25, 2014