I recently found myself in central Texas on business. As is often the case, I tried to mix in a little pleasure as well, and I think I succeeded. In the course of 12 hours, I attended two meetings in two different cities, procured approximately ten pounds of barbecue from Louie Mueller's in Taylor, made not one but two kolache (klobasnek, if you're going to be pedantic) runs by Hruska's and stashed a large box of beer in my trunk, thanks to my first ever visit to the Whip-In in Austin. The meetings went well, too.
When I first walked out of the mid-afternoon sun into the darkened interior of the Whip-In, there was a moment in which I felt very much the outsider, like the stranger who walks into the saloon in an old Western, the doors swinging significantly back and forth behind him, slowing to a stop as the locals finger their triggers. I had opened the door too hard, and it clanged into the wall, its bell ringing insistently. All conversation briefly stopped, all eyes turned toward me. I felt the cool stare of hipster appraisal, all tattoos and funky hairdos, looking askance at my work attire and the slight awkwardness that always seems to accompany me into new places.
My discomfort was blessedly brief, and almost certainly more in my head than in reality. The drinkers at the bar went back to their drinks, the record skipped back into its groove and I pretended like I didn't feel weird about the whole thing. Personal insecurities are a real handicap in the world of cool stuff.
A world of cool stuff is exactly what the Whip-In is, by the way, and I soon had a cart loaded with things I've not seen in Houston. Giant box of beer stashed in the backseat, I headed back to Houston, where I popped open a Pale Dog Pale Ale from Austin's Hops and Grain Brewery to wash down a reheated pan-sausage and cheese klobasnek. I enjoyed the pairing thoroughly, though I wish I could say the same for about the beer itself.
Pale Dog pours a clear, light caramel color, with moderate carbonation producing a slim, off-white head. It fades quickly, leaving a spare, sudsy cap. The nose is full of ripe, peachy aromas up front, with citrus and young pine shimmering around the edges. It smells, for lack of a better word, bright.
That's a bit of olfactory obfuscation, though, as those aromas get swept under the rug once you taste Pale Dog. A strident hop bitterness leads the charge, rounding out to a dry, almost willfully un-sweet caramel malt, then right back to a bitter finish. The hops, more vegetal than citrusy now, flit around the roof of the mouth, smelled more than tasted.
That first volley of bitterness has staying power, lingering along with a tightening sensation and some salivary action around the sides of the tongue. It's not particularly pleasant if you focus on it, so I took another sip instead. If you drink it quickly, the overt bitterness doesn't have the chance to take hold.
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I will say this: Pale Dog Pale Ale sure goes well with a reheated pan sausage and cheese klobasnek from Hruska's, the bitterness balancing out the rich and fatty flavors of the klobasnek, and the sausage spices actually conjuring up some of the citrus from the hops. The sweet yeast dough completes the caramel picture, turning it from a ghostly and hollow simulacrum into an actual flavor. Weird. With klobasnek: good. Without klobasnek: not so much.
While at Hruska's, I couldn't help but notice that they had an admirable beer selection for a gas station. They should add Pale Dog to their list and put it up as some sort of BOGO special, a six-pack of beer with every dozen klobasneks. With a slightly greased paper sack in hand, I'd be more inclined to give this another go. I bet it'd pair nicely with a sausage and sauerkraut roll...