Friday, April 30, 2010

Mega Man 2 with 2008 Weingut Baron Knyphausen "Baron K'" Riesling Kabinett

Growing up in the golden age of Nintendo consoles, I never fully appreciated Mega Man games. I believe that this stemmed from my tentative approach to platform games, where I'd tiptoe up to each pit, take a deep breath, and then jump, with my heart pounding and palms sweating. Mario games have always had the elusive ability to be fun for players of varying skill levels, and I preferred them in my early years for this reason. It wasn't until I was much older that I took on The Lost Levels (Super Mario 2 in Japan). Tiptoeing simply doesn't cut it in The Lost Levels, and in order to make it through levels, one needs to generally maintain a great deal of momentum. A balls-to-the-wall approach was my only option, and using it, I prevailed.
Returning to Mega Man games after this revelatory experience made me realize what I had missed. Sure, I had played a bit of Mega Man 2 and 3 and maybe even a little 4 or 6 as a kid, but it had always been an exercise in frustration, resulting in tears and controllers hurled from my tiny, useless hands. Upon downloading the first game to my Wii from Nintendo's Virtual Console service, I found myself able to progress steadily through it. It wasn't a walk in the park, but it was challenging in an incredibly fun way. I found Mega Man 2 to be even more delightful. Playing through the entire game in one sitting became a regular late night activity for me and my buddies. Sometimes I took it too far, like the time I called in sick to work and played through it three times in a row. Basically, I like this game, and though I've tried many different booze pairings with it, one of the best happened last night.

More than any other in the series, Mega Man 2 is a tightly-constructed game. It is not difficult, but playing through it quickly requires skill and focus. Above all, it is a pleasure to play. It is tricky enough to make players feel rewarded, yet it does not contain the sadistic bosses and ridiculous jumping puzzles that can be found in the rest of the series. It is a clean and comfortable celebration of the essence of its genre, neither too serious nor too frivolous. The 2008 Weingut Baron Knyphausen "Baron K'" Riesling Kabinett that I enjoyed alongside Mega Man 2 shared these properties. Though kabinetts are generally the driest rieslings, the Baron K' possessed a perfumed honey sweetness that was balanced perfectly by flavors of ripe granny smiths, peaches, and citrus. Like Mega Man 2, the wine was not terribly complex, but was well-rounded and delicious. It was crafted with precision, and succeeded at being exactly what it set out to be.
At 9.5% alcohol by volume, the Baron K' was not going to impede my gaming skills. Or so I thought. Having had a couple beers beforehand, and being in a state of exquisite relaxation after a hard day's work, I let my enjoyment of this pairing get the better of me. At my peak, I was able to beat Mega Man 2 in 47 minutes without dying a single time. Last night I died two or three times, once in a manner so embarrassing that I continue to feel the bitter sting of shame from it (and surely won't describe it here). I ended Dr. Wiley's life (or did I?) after 1 hour and 4 minutes. Nothing to be proud of, but then again, I wasn't setting out to best any records. As when I enjoy a tasty steak with a good Bordeaux, I took my time, but still finished faster than most people would.

Other suggestions for Mega Man 2: Chopin on the rocks, Weihenstephaner Original (Munich Helles).

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Diablo II with Stone Smoked Porter

Like any man in his mid-twenties, I love me some Diablo II. I have played it on and off since it was first released, and while it's rarely much fun, I never get tired of it. Having moved from Philadelphia back to my sweet hometown of Chicago a couple of months ago, I have started to occasionally play the game online with a couple of my good friends out on the east coast. We don't have great conversations when playing, but in some ways it's a pretty good way for us to stay in touch. We planned to play last Sunday, and in preparation, I bought a 22oz. bottle of Stone Brewing Company's Smoked Porter, which I poured into a glass mug.Perhaps it was an obvious choice, but many classic pairings are. As we descended through the depths of hell to the Chaos Sanctuary, the subtle smokiness of the beer made me feel as if I was really on Diablo's doorstep. The deep caramel and dark fruit flavors were as delicious as the vengeance that my dual-wielding sword barbarian (named "DoubleTrouble") laid down upon the minions of the Lord of Terror. A sturdy hop bitterness was similarly appropriate to our terrible mission. I strongly recommend this pairing. Alternative pairings for Diablo II are Rochefort 10, large quantities of English mild ales, Jagermeister, peaty single malt Scotches, or any bold Italian red.


Welcome to The Art of Pairing Video Games with Booze! I never dreamed of starting a blog on this topic until recently, when I encountered a situation that made it all too clear that the public has an overwhelming need for my services in this department. Recently, I attended a fantastic dinner at a friend's house. It was a beautiful day for grilling, and to celebrate the warm weather, we had a leg of lamb roasted on the grill along with saffron couscous, roasted potatoes, braised carrots, and a cold cucumber salad. My friend served a 2005 Sierra Cantabria Rioja Crianza and a 2006 Porter Creek Syrah, which were extremely enjoyable and fantastically appropriate to our meal. This was followed with a fine selection of Spanish cheeses accompanied by a bottle of Sandeman Royal Corregidor Oloroso.
I could hardly have felt more satisfied after the meal, as my friend (who will not be named for reasons that will soon be obvious) is a talented cook and a great host. He told me that he had recently picked up his old Nintendo 64 from his parent's house, and asked if I would be up for playing some F-Zero X. Naturally, I was excited by this proposal, and we soon sat in his living room, untangling a mess of cords attached to plastic three-pronged controllers. As I was connecting the system to the TV, my friend went to the kitchen to get us some beers. When he returned, my jaw dropped. He had brought back a 750ml bottle of Brasserie D'Achouffe's Houblon Chouffe! Could it be that my same friend who had displayed such appropriate taste with his choice of wines for dinner had now committed this faux pas? Certainly, F-Zero X is not the easiest game to find a pairing for, but a Belgian IPA? Unthinkable. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy Houblon Chouffe, along with everything else I've had from Brasserie D'Achouffe. But drinking it while playing this particular game is tantamount to serving an imperial stout with chicken soup, or a Sauternes with the arcade version of Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Needless to say, I left my friend's house immediately, and we have not spoken since.
You now know the somewhat painful story of the origin of this blog. I hope to provide guidance to all of those like my friend, who, though perhaps possessing the best of intentions, wouldn't know their ass from a hole in the wall when it comes to pairing booze with video games. I hope I can make a difference.