Ghost Gauntlet 

The Flying Saucer: renovated and ready for takeoff.

I was drinking a brown ale. At least that's what I think that it was. It was brown and certainly an ale — but there are purists who will argue that this doesn't qualify it as an official brown ale. With all due respect, it was a brown ale.

This state of confusion was caused by the Flying Saucer's "Ghost Gauntlet," which consists of four unnamed local brews, numbered sequentially to keep you in the dark about just what you are drinking. The ABV is listed, but I'm pretty sure that's just the legal department being a wet sandwich. I ordered number ... well, why spoil the surprise? It was brown, an ale, and very good.

The bartender, Brandy (such a fine girl), wouldn't even tell me what I'd ordered after she'd laid it down. So the only option at that point was to drink up and hope my luck held out. It did. Kirk Caliendo, the Flying Saucer's friendly GM, assured me that all the Ghost Gauntlet beers have been vetted.

The point, of course, is to drink all four in the gauntlet sometime in the next couple of weeks, then go online and vote for your favorite. Whichever candidate garners the most votes goes into the 75-draft-beer lineup.

The Ghost Gauntlet is good for anyone falling into a "beer rut," or worse, overwhelmed by the choices out there. For me, whatever the hell I was drinking was a pleasant surprise, one that I'd almost certainly have missed had I relied on my own waning brainpower to order. The purpose, other than having a little fun with beer, says Kirk, is to "judge based on the palate, as opposed to the perceived value of the brand."

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If running the Ghost Gauntlet is a bit much, or you're one of those control freaks who wants a modicum of control over what you ingest, higher up on the menu is the Transcendent 20: a selection of beers that takes the guesswork out by focusing on the absolute best of the best of a style, as picked by Kirk and "touched by about four or five others," locally and from the corporate office in Dallas. This includes Brandy (who does her best to understand).

Anyone remotely familiar with the current beer scene will recognize most of the names on this list: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Duvel Belgian Blonde, and standbys like Founder's, Oskar Blues, and Dogfish Head — but even the most pedantic beer snob will admit these are standbys for a reason. The list isn't definitive and will change from time to time.

Then there are the Exceptionals, the silver medal winners that rotate out a little more often. The bottom line is that one side of the menu style lists beers by region and style, and the other by excessive awesomeness.

All this is part of a remodeling and grand re-opening which closed the Saucer down for six weeks. As Kirk told me about the kitchen (about three times larger), the new food menu, and improvements to the beer garden to enhance the acoustics, all I could think was that the contractors had done a fantastic job, because I still couldn't see what they'd done.

It is still the Flying Saucer, though, and they still sport 75 beers on tap and about 150 labels in bottles. The remodel has left the famous porcelain saucers festooned on walls and ceiling — a testament to those who have tried 200 different beers. Don't get too ambitious. The Saucer will only give you credit for three a day, so thanks again, legal.

Of course, it's for your own good, and no one wants you bathing in the stuff — it's bad hygenie and bad manners. For the true beer adventurers (in this harbor town), you try four of the Memphis brews on the gauntlet and get another local kid on tap.

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