It's funny, the way we form associations with things. Names are a big one. In recent discussion with a sister-in-law, regarding potential names for a potential kid, we cast names aside willy-nilly, citing former relationships and kids we hated in our youth.
At one point, someone advocated Jolene (I voted nay, in solidarity with Dolly), suggesting the oh-so-cute nickname "JoJo." I only had to flash a quick picture of Fedor Jeftichew, and JoJo was abandoned to carny legend. For storied Northern California's Mendocino Brewing Company, I can't help but think of Yo La Tengo.
I'm sure that makes no sense, so allow me to explain.
I've counted the Yo Las as my favorite band for more than a decade. Back when I still did such things regularly, I even penned an article about the group over in the music section. In the course of that interview, bassist James McNew and I discussed the impact playing other people's music has had on Yo La Tengo, and I wrote about what happens when a bunch of music fans become musicians.
That all comes back to Red Tail Ale through New Jersey free-form radio station WFMU. Back in 1993, The Yo Las started performing on-air requests to raise money for the seminal station. Pledge $100, and the band would play whatever you wanted. From Iggy Pop to a jingle for beloved home team The New York Mets, callers have requested a ridiculously wide-ranging array of tunes, and the band has obliged. Mostly well. Sometimes hilariously badly.
On their 2006 release Yo La Tengo is Murdering the Classics, the band compiled a bunch of these cuts. Doug Sahm's "Mendocino" is among them. As soon as I picked up this six-pack, the Yo La's version beginning ringing through my head. Followed by "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head," which forms the other half of a medley on the album.
As I thought about this column (with Ira Kaplan's nasally voice trilling out "Teeny bopper ..." in my head), it occurred to me that there are plenty of Yo La Tengo analogues in the world of craft brewing. An entire industry essentially launched by people who liked to drink beer, then learned to brew it in their basements and garages, then opened up shop as professionals, echoes pretty closely the notion of Ira Kaplan obsessing over music in his bedroom, becoming a professional music writer, then forming his own band. I'm sure this is a phenomenon that repeats across creative industries, but it seemed particularly applicable here, the audible and imbibable combining in my brain like some sort of synesthetic cultural convergence.
As Doug Sahm's lines of teenage longing reverberate in my ears, Red Tail Ale pours a dark, reddish copper. A very slim, off-white cap fades relatively quickly, like the love of those fast talkin' guys.
A sweet, malty aroma hints at toffee. Grapes and grain dominate, with a slightly malty cereal character. Years of cooking Malt-O-Meal for my kids' breakfasts come flooding back.
Grapey fruitiness leads in the mouth, with just a hint of chasing bitterness. Nutty malt (Malt-O-Meal, again, along with toffee and Grape Nuts) follows after. Despite the fruit and toffee notes, it's much drier than the aroma would indicate. There's an almost dusty character to it, recalling uncooked grains.
In the background, a hint of citrus and a slight herbal/floral finish add another layer, along with very (very) slight phenols.
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My wife looked askance at this description, but I think this is kind of like what it would be like to eat grape Laffy Taffy with a slice of pecan pie, while you have a cold. The dusty, unsweet fruit, malt, and toffee flavors lean me in that direction, though I'm not sure I'm ever going to verify the parallel.
Overall, this was sort of middle-of-the-road for me, but I've never been much of a fan of Amber as a style. I will admit some increased enjoyment came from having Yo La Tengo on repeat as I was sipping this one, and I recommend you do the same. A classic with a classic sounds pretty good to me.