Monday, July 26, 2010

Castlevania: Portrait of Sorrow with 2004 Chateau Lalande-Borie

A reader recently wrote to me to ask whether handheld games require special consideration when it comes to booze pairings. Having never owned a Gameboy, Game Gear, PSP, or any other portable system, this had not been something that had previously crossed my mind. The question intrigued me, however, and I decided that I would look into it during the vacation that I just returned from. My girlfriend let me borrow her Nintendo DS, and suggested that the tiny bottles of liquor given out on planes might be perfect for the smaller system. While this seemed quite plausible, both of my flights were early in the day, and I'm just not dedicated enough to start drinking straight gin before noon.

My first plane ride at least offered me an opportunity to find a game that I enjoyed playing. Being a big Metroid fan, I tried out Metroid Prime: Hunters, but quickly grew impatient with its awkward controls. I settled on Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin. I haven't played any Castlevania games since the SNES versions. Portrait of Ruin was a pleasant surprise. I really enjoyed the RPG elements thrown into the mix. It's a bit like a platformer take on Diablo. I had previously advised a different reader to try fine brandy or a red Bordeaux. I put this to the test, pairing the game with a 2004 Chateau Lalande-Borie.

Lalande-Borie is from Saint-Julien, and thus presumably contains a majority of Cabernet Sauvignon. It is dark ruby, with a nose of cherry, oak, and subtle spice. After a restrained wave of cherry and currents, the wine smoothly fades into a lingering spiciness that is held up by its acidity and soft tannins. Chateau Lalande-Borie, like many red Bordeaux, is a dignified and balanced wine. I found it to be entirely appropriate for a journey into the heart of Dracula's castle. Perhaps it would have been more appropriate for earlier Castlevania games, which maintained a drearier aesthetic than Portrait of Ruin. In any case, the wine was a satisfying match for the game. Both were interesting and delightful without being brash. As for the question of the game being hand-held, I can't say it made a big difference for me. I was just as absorbed in Portrait of Sorrow as I have been in any number of games that I've played on much larger screens. The physical format of video game controllers, screens, etc. really only affects booze pairings when it comes to the number of hands that one must be using at any given time. For example, I would not recommend drinking mugs of beer over 2 liters in size while singing in Rock Band. A smaller mug will ensure that your arm does not get tired and that you will not have to put your beer down in the middle of a song.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Stay Tuned

I haven't posted in about a week, but don't worry. I've been on the road, but I've been doing some important research on my DS. And, as we all know, Starcraft 2 comes out in less than 48 hours. I will most likely do a series of posts concerning Starcraft, as I will be playing it a lot in the next couple weeks.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Altered Beast with 2006 Avery The Beast

A while back, I vowed to try out the combination of Avery The Beast with Altered Beast. Tonight I finally made that dream come true for myself and all of my fans. Sure, it was just in my last post that I rambled about the beauty of finding pairings that are based on more than just common words shared by the two products, but I like to think that this particular pairing isn't quite that simple. After all, anything deserving the title of "beast" must be extraordinary in some respect.

Avery's The Beast is certainly extraordinary in several respects. First of all, it is a massive beer. At 14.7%, it is not fucking around. Tonight I was lucky enough to be drinking the 2006 vintage of The Beast. If there was ever any alcoholic heat to this beer, it has faded into a smooth, luscious elixir that bursts at the seems with raisiny maltiness. It is somewhat oxidized, more in the nose than on the tongue, bringing to mind good tawny port. Despite having mellowed with age, The Beast is still intense, and it clamors for a suitably ferocious video game.

When Sega released the Genesis in the US in 1989, Altered Beast was packed-in with the console. It is a side-scrolling brawler featuring a muscular protagonist who, over the course of each level, finds power-ups to transform him into a man-beast. Each level contains a different man-beast, such as a wolf-man, a dragon-man, etc. The game eventually becomes ridiculously difficult. I've certainly never beaten it, and I don't aspire to. Altered Beast is one of those old-school games that is hard largely because of its clunky mechanics. I generally have little patience for such games. However, I have a strange little place in my heart for this particular one.
I impose a strict rule in my residence that anyone playing Altered Beast must loudly yell "ALTERRRRRRED BEEEEEEAAST!!!!" anytime they are altered into a beast. Drinking The Beast substantially decreases the danger of one becoming self-conscious, and is thus entirely conducive to this aspect of playing the game. It also helps to have a sturdy alcoholic companion (I mean the beer, not your large wino friend) to get you through some of the more frustrating parts of the game. With the aid of The Beast, I lasted at least a couple more levels than I normally would have. I did finally give up when, while dodging spiky balls and satyr pugilists, a goddamn fish came out of nowhere and ended my life.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Punch-Out! with Ayinger Altbairisch Dunkel

I have fond memories of playing the original NES version of Punch-Out! as a child. Many of them involve tears. The sweet tears of frustration that old school games supplied so handily. I don't think I ever made it farther than Soda Popinski, but damn it, I tried. I've wanted to play the Wii version ever since it was released last year, and I finally got my hands on it a couple of days ago. The newest version of Punch-Out! (Yes, I insist on using the exclamation point every time) is very similar to the original. It is challenging, and contains the same brand of ridiculous ethnic stereotypes. Thankfully, it does not try to have you use any newfangled special moves. The game is all about learning the movements of your opponents, and then wrecking their face.

After playing it for a while the other night, I found myself at a loss when trying to come up with a pairing for it. I received advice from several people, most of which involved pairing the game with very strong liquor. I resisted these suggestions, as Punch-Out! is a game of finesse. Countering the brutal attacks of your foes with nimble jabs is an essential aspect of the game, and I wanted the pairing to reflect this. I found myself at one of Chicago's more comprehensive liquor stores, wandering the aisles while humming the game's classic 8-bit tune that plays while Little Mac is running around New York in his pink sweatsuit.
I want to digress for a moment here to discuss some of the theory behind the art of playing video games and booze. As we all know, some of my pairings are based on naught but shallow connections and mutual superficialities. I try to avoid pairing dark games with dark beers, hard games with hard liquor, etc. soley because of these common descriptors, but sometimes I do it anyway because it just seems right. I prefer, however, to ascend to greater thematic heights. Sure, Stone Smoked Porter and Diablo II: Lord of Destruction are both dark in their own ways, but the pairing worked well because the beer made me feel like I could taste the acrid (no offense, Stone) smoke of hell as I journeyed through its depths. Also, ale styles of British origin are just natural fits for fantasy games.
There are other pairings that occur for no discernible reason at all. As an experienced video game and booze pairer, I may be better able to rely on instinct than some, but it does not always work out as well as I hope. Fortunately, tonight's pairing worked out just fine. As I walked through the liquor store, singing to myself, my eyes settled on a selection of beers from Ayinger. Ayinger has long been my favorite German brewery. Every beer I've had from them (mostly wheat beers) has been extremely well done. I noticed the Altbairisch Dunkel, which I had never had before. I thought to myself "Why would you pair this with Punch-Out!?" to which I replied, "I don't know, but it's about to happen, so shut up."

Ayinger Altbairisch Dunkel is an old-style Munich dark lager. It pours a clear reddish brown, with a lovely head and a nice, malty aroma. Up front, one tastes a surge of caramel and raisins, which quickly fades into a long, roasty, dry finish. The beer is light in body, but rich in flavor. It is simultaneously quite refreshing and quite complex.
Altbairisch Dunkel was a good match for Punch-Out!, not least of all because it quenched my thirst while providing a lengthy and delicious finish. The game is not like Mega Man 2, where I can literally drink and play at the same time. Once a bout starts, it demands my full attention until the bell rings. Taking the occasional sips between rounds was a great strategy, as the flavor kept on going after I put my glass down. The beer is light enough that it did not hurt my reflexes. It is earthy, and tastes subtly of iron, which reminds me of blood. Drinking it while playing Punch-Out! was wonderful, and surprisingly appropriate. It also provided an important lesson on pairing video games and booze; while sometimes useful, logic and reason have no certain place in the performance of this art. I'll do well to keep that in mind in the future.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


I'm having a hell of a time deciding on a pairing for the relatively new Wii version of Punch-Out! The only ideas I've had are Bareknuckle Stout, which is terrible, or some kind of punch, which is stupid. I'll try to come up with something by tomorrow. It's been too long since I've posted.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands with Dogfish Head Midas Touch

I remember playing the original Prince of Persia on my parents' old Macintosh SE. It was incredibly unforgiving and altogether frustrating. When the series was resurrected a few years ago, I was delighted to find that the newer games were not only very enjoyable, but also carried on a bit of the comically tragic brutality of the original. Naturally, the newer games are much easier than the older ones, but I'll take what I can get. Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is better than the last couple PoP games I've played, and I'm glad to have a good pairing for it.

When I solicited ideas for a pairing from readers, both Avery Maharaja IPA and Dogfish Head Midas Touch stood out as inspired suggestions. I was only able to find Midas Touch at the stores I visited, and it worked out quite well. Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head, took it upon himself to use an ancient Turkish recipe involving barley, Muscat grapes, honey and saffron. The result is a powerful golden ale bursting with fruit and spice. It tastes slightly oxidized, adding to the seemingly aged quality of the beer. Aside from the themes of wishes gone awry shared by the game and the title of the beer, the exotic aesthetic of both go hand in hand. This pairing makes for an intoxicating experience, and I give my thanks to the anonymous reader who suggested it.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Fourth of July

I was going to try out the Prince of Persia/Midas Touch pairing tonight, but I got distracted by a rooftop party in Ukranian Village. It was fun watching random people's fireworks displays go off across the city. I paired that with some Anchor Liberty Ales. I have tremendous amounts of respect for Anchor Brewing, and I can't think of anything more appropriate for celebrating everything that is good about the USA. I'll get around to Prince of Persia ASAP, I promise.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Coming Soon

I finally got my hands on Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands. I had received two inspired suggestions for pairings. I was going to try to do both, but since I couldn't find Avery Maharaja in stock at my favorite beer shops, I'm going to go with Dogfish Head's Midas Touch. I should put it to the test tomorrow, unless I get distracted by things like work and Fourth of July festivities.