American Muscle returns to the Local Option

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A snifter of American Muscle
  • Alexi Front
  • A snifter of American Muscle
Maybe for you double IPAs are to craft beer what Chuck Norris jokes are to the Internet—weird macho nonsense that was only halfway entertaining to begin with and has definitely overstayed its welcome. ("There used to be a street named after Chuck Norris, but it was changed because nobody crosses Chuck Norris and lives," for instance. Or "Chuck Norris can slam a revolving door.") In that case you'll probably want to skip this week's column, because Local Option Bierwerker's American Muscle double IPA is the kind of beer that can win a game of Connect Four in only three moves. Its alcohol content is a burly 12.5 percent, and in the words of the Option's Alexi Front, it's meant to be balanced but "obnoxious."

American Muscle isn't the first Bierwerker beer I've reviewed—you may remember my posts on Voku Hila (a maibock) and La Petite Mort (a modified weizenbock aged in bourbon barrels). But it's by far the most aggressive. This is the third batch, and the first to be brewed at Dark Horse's facilities in Marshall, Michigan; the first two, both brewed at Against the Grain in Louisville, arrived in spring and fall 2012. It's made with four American hops and an all-malt mash—that is, Bierwerker brewer Noah Hopkins decided to shoot for 12.5 percent alcohol without leaning on any of the fermentable syrups or adjuncts sometimes used to boost the strength of a beer. In the Local Option's words, it's "built like houses used to be built."

For your seven bucks you get about eight ounces of American Muscle in an adorable little snifter, and that's probably all you'll want to tackle at once. The beer is a ruddy, coppery amber with a dense, clingy head, and its aroma is deceptively gentle and pleasant considering what a powerful whomp it's about to deliver to your palate. I must preface this with the caveat that somebody was eating hot Buffalo wings four seats down from me at the bar, but I'm pretty sure I could smell mango, caramel, freshly cut ruby red grapefruit, resiny cedar, peach, and something spicy and herbal like cardamom and Thai basil.

When American Muscle shows up in bottles, I wouldnt be surprised to see this patriotic fellow on the label.
  • When American Muscle shows up in bottles, I wouldn't be surprised to see this patriotic fellow on the label.

The stampeding flavors of American Muscle don't really pick a direction—fruity, earthy, herbal, bitter, sweet, spicy—and on the tongue it's creamy, tingly, unctuous, and astringent. Ripe pineapple and tangerine mingle with sticky malts that remind me of butter toffee, honey, and molasses. A pungency like green garlic and white pepper shades into a prickly finish full of white grapefruit rind, spearmint, and pine. Eight ounces of this isn't hardly enough to sort out everything that's going on, but by the end of my glass I was convinced I could even taste candied walnuts and blue cheese. (This had nothing to do with those Buffalo wings.)

This review might not sound like a recommendation, but it very much is. I happen to like it when I can't get to the bottom of a beer before I finish it. American Muscle is the sort of DIPA that demands your undivided attention—it doesn't play well with food, even if the dish is merely in the vicinity. But on the other hand, it's a beer that can easily absorb your undivided attention, and reward it too.

If you google the phrase "American Muscle," the results ought to convince you that it usually refers to muscle cars—and there's no shortage of metal on the subject, though admittedly I don't own a lot of it. This is "Crucial Velocity," from Clutch's recent tenth album, Earth Rocker.

The "Rocket 88" that Neil Fallon mentions in the chorus is the Oldsmobile 88, introduced in 1949 and equipped with a new V8 engine nicknamed the "Rocket." A precursor to the American muscle car, it won six of the nine NASCAR late-model division races in 1949, 10 of 19 in 1950, and 20 of 41 in 1952 (or at least that's what Wikipedia says).

Locals Tight Phantomz specialize in the kind of hard, swaggering rock that sounds like it's about fast cars even when it's not. I don't actually know the lyrics to "Seek Thunder" (from last year's double album Silk Prison), but give it a listen and you'll see what I mean.

And I mustn't forget the video for Earth's "Tallahassee," from the 1996 album Pentastar: In the Style of Demons. Sorry for the low quality, but this was the only copy I could find online. (Steel Pole Bath Tub's "Soul Cannon" apparently isn't out there at all.)

Philip Montoro writes about beer and metal, singly or in combination, every Monday.

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