Barbarous Book Club

Exclusive Interview: Adem Tepedelen, Author of Decibel Presents: The Brewtal Truth Guide To Extreme Beers


Brewtal TruthLast fall, Adem Tepedelen, the five-year veteran of the beloved “Brewtal Truth” column in Decibel Magazine, devoted to all things craft beer and metal and every parallel between the two, decided to take his commentary to the next level and write a book. The result is Decibel Presents: The Brewtal Truth Guide To Extreme Beers, a two-hundred-page adventure through the history and fruition of the world’s most bizarre, interesting and intriguing yet well-crafted and inarguably extreme beers.

The book reads like a an episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy from hell, with bits of history (Apparently Russian Imperial Stouts were invented because Catherine the Great loved English Stouts, but they had to make a hoppier version that would withstand the journey to her palace, and America’s founding fathers originally brewed beer with pumpkins because that’s all they had available! Did you know that? Now you know!) interspersed with FLAMES! RECIPES! FACTS! And of course, over a hundred reviews of craft beers made with every “extreme” ingredient imaginable that read like fair, fascinating and hilarious critiques of your favorite metal albums. Oh, did I mention he also has a metal-band recommendation to pair with every beer in the book? Tell THAT to your snobby wine-and-cheese friends.

Now that the holiday dust has settled, and the press coverage of this book can move away from “last-minute gifts for friends and family!” and other fluff pieces, Tepedelen joins MetalSucks over the phone to discuss what we really want to hear about: metal, tasty beer, and the two of them combined.

How did you go about getting all of the beers that were featured in the book? Were they given to you by the breweries or did you have to go into massive debt attaining them all?

That’s a really good question. The financial viability of me doing this book was dependent on me not having to buy them because it would have been very expensive. I did have to buy some along the way, and that’s fine—they all get written off as a business expenses when I’m doing taxes, but really, because I wrote about more than a hundred beers in there, I did need to depend on the kindness of the breweries. So I kind of wrote up a list of the breweries and the beers I wanted to include and I just set out contacting everyone, and I really was amazed at their willingness to work with me—in a lot of cases, with them never having heard of me before—and to take this leap of faith and supply me with their product. It was kind of funny because with a lot of these breweries, I can tell that they just don’t send out their product much this way. I mean, they send their product to stores and stuff on pallets, but when it comes to just shipping samples of their beer to a writer or whatever, I would get stuff arriving in the most bizarre boxes and packed with weird stuff. It was hilarious. I felt like I should’ve documented just how some of these things arrived.

What’s one of the weird things a beer was packaged with?

One of the boxes was just crammed full of a local craft beer magazine as the packing material. There must have been fifty copies of this thing in there protecting the beers. [laughs] I guess it’s not that unusual, but one place packed each bottle individually in those wine-bottle shaped bubble-wrap packages. So I was having to cut these things out of there. Mostly it was just the look of them. You could tell that some of them were like, “What have we got on hand here?” Some places, like Deschutes, send out samples a lot to people, so they’ve got a system with these proper cardboard containers and things to protect the beer, but there were a lot of places that just kind of winged it.

When you initially got into beer, how did you develop your palate for all of the subtle flavors?

I just have a curiosity or an interest in these things. The first craft beers I tried were in Eugene, Oregon, when I was going to University Of Oregon, and they had a brewpub that opened up there. It was in the late ‘80s, so it was pretty novel. I had had just drank the university beers up until that point—whatever was cheapest, basically—and, at that point, given the opportunity to try these different styles, because I don’t think I knew the difference between a porter or a stout or a pale ale other than, you know, they were different colors, but I didn’t really know anything beyond that. And then I got the chance to try them and they tasted great. Living in the Northwest gave me the opportunity to try more and more of these beers because they sort of became more popular.

So by the time I moved to Seattle in 1990, there was Red Hook Brewery and others that you could get everywhere. You didn’t really have to seek them out, they were just on tap everywhere. And Red Hook was making great beer—their flagship was like an ESB, an extra special bitter, which was hoppy and had these really interesting flavors. So this was the beer people were drinking, and I enjoyed it, but as a writer I had this natural interest and curiosity about these things. I’m always wanting to try new things. In a lot of ways, my interest in craft beer mirrors my interest in metal because I was the same way when I first got into metal in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. I just wanted to find new bands and I was constantly trying to consume new stuff and hear new things. It was the same way with beer. I loved what I was getting into and just wanted to try as much as I could. You know, if you’re paying attention to what you’re doing, and you’re interested in it, then you kind of go, “Oh, that’s what the porter tastes like,” and, “Oh, that’s what the stout tastes like,” and, “Maybe I prefer hops over a maltier flavor.” So you know, it’s just a process like that of just trying a lot of different things and figuring out what I like and what I don’t like and just being open-minded about it because there are so many flavors out there and so many kinds of beers.

In the introduction of the book, there are some pretty fascinating stories about the histories of different styles of beer. How did you research all of that?

Well, I like to read a lot, too! [laughs] One guy really sort of changed writing about craft beer. If you think about it, I tell people sometimes that I’m a beer writer, and they look at me like, “Really?” Like I just made something up that doesn’t actually exist. But there’s this guy from England. He was known as “The Beer Hunter,” and his name is Michael Jackson. He wrote these really interesting beer books and was writing about different styles of beers. At that point, this was probably the ‘80s when he was getting published, he was sort of speaking out and documenting all of these styles that, at that time, had sort of fallen out of favor in a way. Some people were making them but they were hard to find.

So anyway, he wrote these books about all of these styles of beer from all over the world. A lot of them had really interesting stories, just by how they were developed, and a lot of it had to do with what was available in the world during those periods of time. Like for instance, lagers weren’t invented until there was refrigeration. And stouts are called stouts because when they were made, they were just a stronger version, or a “stouter” version of a porter. There are all of these things that different things that played into how the different styles were made and I just found it really interesting. As long as humans have been on this earth, they’ve been fermenting something and drinking it. It’s kind of interesting—I have an anthropology degree, so I’m already interested in humans and culture and stuff like that. So it kind of goes along with that, you know? Just learning how these beers were developed in relation to the times. The names, the recipes, all of these things are fascinating to someone like me who’s really curious about craft beer. Again, using the metal parallel, I’m the same way with bands. I want to find out as much as I can about them. What are their influences? Where did they come from? What was the city like that they originated in? I always found that those things played into what makes them good or interesting, and it’s the same way with a lot of these beer styles. A lot of them originated based on the circumstances of where they arose from.

 Describe your reaction when you first tried the Ghostface Killah beer.

[laughs] I knew what I was in for—I had a sense for what I was in for, anyway, they warned me—they said something like, “We suggest you have this in two to three ounce servings,” and, “Maybe share a bottle with friends,” or whatever. So I knew. Basically it went something like this: I smell it, because that’s the first thing I do with any beer, smell it and I go, “Oh my god, that really smells like chilies.” Like, it really smells like chilies. So I tasted it, and it’s like, “Oh, well this tastes like chilies, and it tastes like beer, and it seems like it’s well made and balanced. And then, oh my god. It’s like searing fire down your throat. It’s one thing to eat spicy food, but when you combine alcohol with spice, it’s something. It’s really eye opening. I didn’t yell or anything, but at that point, I was just like, “Okay when is this going to stop?” On one hand it really does taste good. I hope I gave that impression in the book. But you really have to like hot stuff. And that persistent, really searing burn. And really be okay with that to want to consume it. But after I had my two or three ounces, I was like, okay! I’m good! I’ve tried it! I know what the experience is about. I don’t need to repeat that any time soon.

There’s one part of the book where you interview Brann Dailor of Mastodon and he tells a story where he commits the terrible sin of drinking Chimay out of the wrong type of glass in Belgium and the bar owner gets really upset and throws his beer away. Has anything like that ever happened to you?

No, but from what I understand, that is not an unusual Belgian response. I actually share that story with people all the time because I found that hilarious [laughs]. If you go to Belgium and drink Belgian beer there, they have a bloody different glass for every kind of beer. It’s pretty hilarious. They will, I’m sure, assure you that this is the correct glass for that beer. That is so particular to Belgium. To the point where some of these glasses are so ridiculous that they can’t even stand on their own; they have to have their own special wooden holder for the glass. You order a beer and they bring it to your table, and once you take a drink, you have to put it back in the little wooden holder. So yeah, it’s very funny. I’ve never experienced that myself.

But [laughs] on the other side of things, I have been at places where they serve me beer in totally inappropriate glassware, and I almost feel like doing the same thing to them, pouring it out and going, “You idiots!” Because—and not to be pretentious about it, because I’m actually really not—I was at a bar that was rolling out the red carpet for these four new amazing beers that they were finally able to sell up in British Columbia. They were Belgian beers—sours. And they were very strong. So we went to this little tasting event to introduce the media to these beers, and they were serving them in pint glasses! Which is just stupid, right? Any beer that’s like nine or ten percent should be a smaller pour. That’s the most important thing. You don’t want to be serving people these giant glasses of really strong beer. I almost felt like telling them they shouldn’t be serving people these giant glasses of strong beer because they could be getting themselves into some trouble.

On that note, how do you deal with it when you see someone being an obnoxious beer snob?

Hah, it’s funny—I usually just try to ignore it. I’m really interested in wine as well, and I’ve written about wine, and it’s one of the things that’s sort of hard to navigate around. There are some people who definitely take this kind of stuff too seriously. And there are probably times when I maybe sound like I do. So I don’t know. It’s tough. I really do just try to laugh it off in a way.

I felt like a lot of craft beer books out there sort of follow the wine path in that they present craft beer as something that needs to be taken seriously. I agree with that to a certain extent, but beer—whether it’s a Belgian sour or a lager—is more of a fun, social beverage. Even if it’s a really complicated, complex and well-made beer, it’s still beer. So, my approach to the book was to write knowledgeably about craft beer, but do so in a hopefully fun way. Incorporating the musical pairings and such, was one way of accomplishing that.

I don’t know that I’ve directly confronted anyone or had to deal with that kind of thing. But it’s mostly, you know, you’re going to deal with that everywhere. It’s like the people on some of these metal forums that are just so intense in what they believe to be true or not true! Like, “This is real metal and this is not real metal.” With these people, there’s no convincing them otherwise. They’re just going to be the way that they are. They’re going to think that they’re right and everyone else is wrong.

Sounds like MetalSucks commenters!

Hah! Yeah. Those are funny. It’s really the weird nerdy ones like black metal where these people are just so into their subgenre. Or subgenre or a subgenre. And anything beyond that is just horrible. That’s the kind of stuff where I’m like, “Are you serious, dude?” [laughs] With half of the MetalSucks commenters, you can tell they’re trying out their comedic act there, as much as anything else. They don’t actually give a crap about what’s being written. It’s just like, “Hey, look at me! I’m writing something funny!”

What do you do when someone orders a Bud Light in your presence?

[laughs] I have friends who do that! On one hand, it depends on the situation. But people who do that will order what I would consider more flavorful, more interesting, maybe better beers. So I kind of give them leeway in that regard. It’s like, “Okay, you clearly know, and appreciate better tasting beers, and maybe you’re feeling like you want something that’s a little more water than beer, so that’s fine!” I really do try to not be super judgmental because people’s tastes are what they are. I don’t understand why they would want to drink those beers and  I don’t drink it myself because I want things that are flavorful, things that are giving me some kind of an experience, and not something that’s just going to quench my thirst because I can get that from a glass of water. So I guess my reason for drinking beer might be different than people who are drinking Bud Light. So I really try not to get too judgmental because then you start getting into that snobbery kind of area and I don’t really want to do that.

I semi-jokingly wrote a column in Decibel—there were a couple of dudes in these promo photos. One was holding a Coors Light and one of them was wearing a Coors Light t-shirt in another one. So I was just jokingly making this argument that you’re not really representing your “metal-ness” well by doing that, you know? But, honestly, if people want to drink Coors Light that’s fine. Go ahead. I’m here to tell you that there are better-tasting beers out there and maybe you’d like one. But the craft beer market is so much smaller than the macro market, so what that means is that most people by a large majority like those pale lagers. So I can’t condemn them for it. But I can’t appreciate it or personally understand it.

Last question for you: What is the metal band equivalent of Bud Light?

It would have to be a band that everyone knows about and a ton of people like or liked, but that is actually barely metal. Like maybe that ‘80s band Europe that had that song called “The Final Countdown.” They kind of looked metal, they came out during metal’s ‘80s heyday and everyone kind of lumped them in with metal, but, man, were they weak.

You can purchase The Brewtal Truth Guide To Extreme Beers now in Decibel’s online store.

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