While seemingly every other beer-loving person in the City of Houston was packed into The Hay Merchant a few weeks back, I was alternately stuck at work reading through pages of boring technical documents, or helping my kid with math homework. I'm not complaining, exactly, but I must admit that I felt just a twinge of jealousy. I've never felt compelled to rush out and be the first in line for a new restaurant, a new bar, or a new beer, but everything I was hearing about the place made me feel a bit left out.
When my wife sent me to the store that evening, in search of something to bring back for dinner, I meandered through the beer section, in search of consolation. I'm not sure if it served as a salve or as salt in the wounds, but I ended up picking up several bottles that I had seen passing through The Hay Merchant's taps, via the seemingly constant tap updates that were clogging the bar's twitter stream. If I couldn't bring myself to The Hay Merchant, I was going to try and bring The Hay Merchant to me. I considered picking up a package of pig's ears to fry, but decided that might be a bit too much to ask of a late weekday evening at home.
Ironically, I'm no longer sure that the first beer I cracked actually got tapped in those first few days. So fast and furious were the casks moving that it was kind of hard to keep up, one special release rolling into another, names merging and meshing until I found myself looking all over the place for Karbach King Thrash Jacobins Melter. I never found it, and got some damn funny looks in the process. I did find Thrash Metal, though, and I'm glad of it.
Thrash Metal pours a hazy, copper-cored gold color. A two-finger head, creamy and with good retention, provides a handsome cap.
It smells of tangerines, lemon peel, and coriander, like a basket of Cuties wafting their way past the spice rack. It's both immediate and subtle, taking gentle but insistent hold of your senses. There's a hint of soapiness underlying everything, barely enough to notice. It smells luscious, ripe, and ready.
That's the first impression on the palate, too, with a full bloom of flavor spreading across the tongue. It's bright, salty, and citrusy. A surprisingly rounded flavor creeps in from underneath, providing an almost textural resinous quality, like tactile hops. On cask, I imagine that would get underlined to the Nth degree. Those hops come on more as it warms, showing pine and yet more citrus. A slight funk, a hallmark of many Jester King offerings, creates added levels of interest, a sort of foil to all the freshness at play.
As in the aroma, the flavor is spicy, but the coriander retreats, slightly, offering a more general kick. Alcohol (9.3 percent) shows a bit. It's not aggressive, more like a friendly reminder. An ever-so-slightly bitter finish closes things out, leaving a lingering floral note.
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The great thing about a beer like this is that it can please in multiple ways. With its immediate and vibrant flavors, it makes a great casual sipper, palate-pleasing and food-friendly. If you want to take a bit more time with it, there are layers of subtlety that reveal themselves as the beer warms, and as you let them unravel and develop. Particularly that Farmhouse quality. It's there if you want it, but it doesn't overpower the beer, leaving room for all of the other flavors to come out and play.
Almost as worthwhile as the beer itself is the label. Jester King's labels are always fantastic, with a slightly over-the-top, often steam-punk-inflected design that comes off as both serious and playful at once. Where this one really shines, though, is on the back of the bottle. Where Jester King usually spends a few words describing what's in the bottle, that space is here devoted to Thrash. I amused myself highly, and irritated everyone else in the room, doing my falsettoed best to replicate the chugging and squealing guitar parts written out, scat-style, on the bottle. I don't know that I would have the guts to do that at The Hay Merchant.