Tuesday, May 8

Board Game Brews

Last month I was challenged to put together a team and participate in the ultimate test of geeky manhood: an Axis & Allies tournament! This was no small challenge, given the complexity of the game, the fact that I am neither a big gamer (board or otherwise) nor a strong strategic thinker (I'm a from-the-gut/emotional type), and the experience of my opponent in this seeded tourney (20+ years). On the other hand, the penalty for not picking up the gauntlet was a year of being referred to (publicly, no doubt) as Mrs. Thorp -- so I accepted the challenge and formed a team.

I also volunteered to purchase beer for the event, one from each of the nations represented in the game. Here's how I broke it down:

Germany (Axis): Paulaner Oktoberfest-Marzen. Malty goodness, start to finish. So many choices for German beer, but I wanted something I hadn't tried before, from a good brewery (I've had Paulaner Doppelbock), and something a bit more substantial than a pilsner or a pale lager, since that was likely to be close to my Japanese brew. I prefer ales generally, but this was a solid choice.

Japan (Axis): Kirin Ichiban. I wanted a "representative" Japanese beer, and from what little I know about it, the big three beers of Japan are Sapporo, Kirin Ichiban, and Asahi. Read a couple of moderately positive reviews of Kirin; those and the legendary hooved monster on the label convinced me to go with Japan's oldest lager. Maybe a step above Miller or Budweiser in that you actually get a little malt and a whiff of hops, but otherwise, this is definitely a pale (pale!) lager.

U.S. (Allies): Anchor Steam. Anchor Liberty Ale or 21st Amedment's Brew Free or Die! IPA were my first thoughts, because of the patriotic names; however, I thought they might be hoppier than the players would like. I thought about picking up a Samuel Adams brew, then recalled that "steam" beer, or California common, is the original (and perhaps only?) native U.S. beer style: a lager brewed at ale temperatures from the pre-refrigeration days of the California Gold Rush. Smooth, clean, and easy to drink, with a nice balanced of malt and hops (tipped slightly toward the latter), Anchor Steam is one of my all-time favorite beers, and sort of sets the standard for this all-American style, so it was a shoo-in.

U.K. (Allies): Bass Pale Ale. Easy to drink even for Kirin fans, without being watered down. I've shared my love of Bass on these pages before and will make no apologies, since I was buying the beer.

U.S.S.R. (Allies): Baltika #6. I was worried about finding a Russian brew, since I'd never seen any in my favorite brew stores, but a friend assured me that Baltika is available in the Twin Cities. I sent a couple of emails (to Tournament Liquor in Blaine, which carries Baltika #6 -- a Baltic porter -- but was almost out, and Kramarczuk's Deli in Minneapolis, which cannot sell for consumption offsite) -- then learned from Kramarczuk's that Surdyk's on University carries it. I bought four 17(?)-ounce bottles at $2.50 apiece, and they were the highlight of the evening for the five of us to shared them. Black in color, with dark roasted malt and coffee flavors, and solid hop bitterness, in a unique, slightly hour-glassed bottle -- maybe not worth $2.50 on a daily basis, but worth it once in a while for change of pace. This beer stole the evening, and not just because I was playing the Russians.

Our team played until 2 a.m. We were the good guys and the underdogs: we battled a much more experienced to a draw, I would say -- but they looked at the board, saw the U.K. and the U.S. stacking up against Europe and the Russian infantry bloody but unbroken in Moscow, and conceded. Completely unexpected -- but victory went to the side with the better beers!

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