By Brian Skaggs
Price Range : $6 - 8
Brewed in: New Orleans, Louisiana Format: On tap ABV: 5.2% Availability: At the brewery
Originalist interpretation of Bavaria’s Reinheitsgebot, the beer ‘Purity Law’ instituted 501 years ago, would dictate that nothing should be in your beer outside of water, barley, and hops. Pragmatist interpretation of this law, enacted in the late Middle Ages possibly to benefit Bavarian bakers, might argue that a non-Reinheitsgebot ingredient could be added in situations where the beer benefits from its presence.
It’s an odd thing, the Reinheitsgebot—in the modern age, where clam juice, bull testicles, and even coffee beans pooped out of a monkey’s butt are added to beer, why do so many beer nerds… like me, right now… get hung up on the simple alchemy of the three ingredients (plus yeast, of course)? “Three chords and the truth, man,” or “dude, Rush was way better when they didn’t have keyboards,” applied to brewing? Maybe it’s that inherent human desire to be contrary, the never-ending war within to be cool?
Anyhoo, the observationalist, looking to avoid all that theoretical mumbo-jumbo already blathered on ad nauseum—as well as avoiding the high humidity—steps into an old movie theater1 in the Mid-City/B.W. Cooper neighborhood of New Orleans. Said observationalist is intrigued by WAYWARD OWL’s The Grind, an “oatmeal coffee brown ale with lactose.” Unconcerned with the Reinheitsgebot, or most rules in general (outside of the Golden one and the speed limit), he observes that this very clear, amber-brown liquid with a sparkling white head, looks enticing but doesn’t look much like coffee (too bad the observationalist isn’t much of a photographer-ist, see above).
“Ah, there’s the coffee, freshly ground, light-roast grounds,” he thinks, sniffing the beer while getting some foam on his nose. “Perfectly balanced with complex, roasty chocolate malt aromas.” Heading back to the continuing Phase 10 marathon, he sneaks a sip and is quite impressed with the perfectly balanced, crisp, clean malt and coffee flavors. It also seems completely dry—the observationalist is on the hunt for the sour/creamy mouthfeel expected from lactose, but he’s unable to find a trace at the beginning of the pint (a slight lactose tang is present as The Grind warms, for a little foreshadowing).
Briefly distracted by fatalist thoughts during a stretch where he can’t make a phase in three hands, the observationalist suddenly remembers that oatmeal usually adds some haze to clear beer, but there’s none of that here. What the oatmeal seems to contribute, though, is part of a wonderful mouthfeel—there’s a lovely, lingering grape nuts, roasted malt, and bittersweet chocolate aftertaste that sticks around forever, along with a pleasant, almost hidden sourness. There’s very little hop character or bitterness, yet The Grind doesn’t need it—it’s a perfectly crafted beer, with every component expertly in balance. The observationalist considers New Orleans Saint Steve Gleason’s quote on the Wayward Owl website: “We simply must be steadfast, maniacal idealists”—and smiles, knowing this New Orleans brewery clearly believes in the best philosophy out there. —B.S.
1The Gem Theater, where Wayward Owl’s entire operation is based, is a fantastic old theater that’s completely open, with the brewery in the back and comfortable seats and couches in the front by the bar. You can read extensively about the history of the Gem while playing any number of games—including, quite recently, Hoot Owl Hoot (hey, I see what they did there!) for the kids and Cards Against Humanity for you depraved adults.