Beer Dinners, and Why They’re Awesome

If you’ve ever attended a well-run beer dinner, you know the treat it is– the thoughtful pairing of beer and food.  I attended one not too long ago, featuring an extensive list of Firestone Walker’s portfolio, paired with wonderful dishes, ranging from Bavarian pretzels (with Pivo Pils) to pork belly (with Double Jack).

Beer and food pairing is an excellent creative exercise, and one Garrett Oliver goes to explain at great lengths in his book, The Brewmaster’s Table.  This is also a valuable concept to understand when studying for and taking your Cicerone exam.

For those of you who follow me and are local to Warren County, NJ, I’ll let you in on a little secret:  I’m brewing up a celebration of sorts, a beer dinner that will feature the three Hackettstown breweries all under one roof.  That’s right, Czig Meister, Man Skirt, and Jersey Girl will share the spotlight one night in the semi-near future at a location I’ll disclose as I get further along in the process.

Excited?  I know I am.

Black Lagers Matter: 100th Blog Post!

To my devoted fans, my new fans, and future fans, welcome to my 100th blog post.  You didn’t think I’d make it here, did you?  Well, I’m happy to say, the time has arrived.  In honor of such a momentous occasion (in my head at least), I felt it only right and proper to do a beer review.  This one is partially in honor of my heritage, my fondness for dark beer, and of course, because my freakin’ awesome wife bought not just the beer, but the container in which this marvelous libation dwells (though soon, it will have a new home, in my stomach).  As her Valentine’s gift to me, she bought me a ceramic, 64 ounce growler from Barley Creek Brewing Co. and filled it with one of their year-round favorites of mine:  Angler Black Lager.  Below is the review:

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Angler Black Lager

On the docket:  Barley Creek Brewing Co.’s Angler Black Lager

Growler filled:  2/13/17

Poured into:  Lone Eagle Brewing Co. craft glass

Sight:  From a long way off, you’d swear the glass held the darkest stout in the world.  But come closer.  A more attentive inspection screams walnut hardwood or if you want to get esoteric, bistre (sooty brown) with reddish-orange highlights.  The head, though short lived is a quick-forming beige cap.  Lacing is braille-like and delicate.  The cap recedes into a swirl of suds and a small conclave of bubbles on one side of the glass.  The body is dark enough to prohibit the detection of bubbles rising to the surface.

Aroma:  Malt is definitely the star here, as this beer yields an aroma of darkish baker’s chocolate and cocoa powder.  There’s a slight suggestion of roasted coffee, and an earthiness that reminds me of either tobacco or leather.  Either is fine.

Taste:  Closely mirroring the aroma, is a malt-driven brew.  Chocolate, sweetish malt and a hint of brown or pumpernickel bread.  The slightest trace of caramel.  There’s a roundness here that’s appealing.  Only on the end do the hops make an appearance in the bitter balance to all the smooth, dark malt flavors.

Mouthfeel:  The commonly held misconception is that dark beers are heavy.  Well, some are.  But this?  This is light, elegant, and dances on the tongue, a medium- on the body.  Fine carbonation.  Crisp, smooth finish– just like a lager should have.

Overall:  Is it an imperial, barrel aged stout with vanilla, coffee, cocoa nibs, and blessed by a priest?  NO.  This is a fine example of a beer style that receives way too little attention in the beer world:  Schwarzbier.  For those that love lagers, for those that love German beer, for those that love dark beer, for those that love session-able beer (5.2% abv), this beer is for all of you.

Suggested food pairing(s):  banana chocolate-chip pancakes (beer with breakfast anyone?!), coffee-encrusted flank steak, smoked wurst, sharp English or Irish cheddar, chocolate-pecan terrine

 

 

Newly Discovered Blogs Worth Reading

After searching for new reading material on WordPress, I stumbled across some engaging authors worth checking out.  In no particular order:

Adventures in Whiskey

Vines and Vices

California Globetrotter

Tune in next time for my 100th post.  Can you believe it?  I’ve outlasted some of my favorite tv shows.

Beer: The Most Romantic Drink of All

That high-stress relationship holiday is around the corner, and I’m sure florists, Hallmark, restaurants, and M&M Mars are poised to make a killing.  Yes, I’m referring to Valentine’s Day.  Inspired by Ms. Puckette’s article over here on her site, I feel wine is pretty well covered.  My focus will be on my first love, beer, and its ability to pair well with chocolate.

Right out of the gate, beer already has an edge over (most) wine when pairing with food- its carbonation.  Capable of cutting through rich, thick flavors and dense fat, those bubbles in beer act as a palette-cleanser.

Couple this cleansing ability with similar flavors found in chocolate, and beer is effective, versatile, and quite the complimentary beverage to chocolate.  Dark, roasty stouts and porters may contain black patent and/or chocolate specialty malts, providing flavor.  Some brewers even add chocolate itself into the recipe, as is the case with Samuel Smith Chocolate Stout made with organic cocoa.  Another option for pairing is a milk stout, such as Left Hand’s Nitro.  It’s brewed with lactose (milk sugar) which does not ferment out, leaving the beer a touch sweet.  Try milk stouts with chocolate high in cacao, to counter and soften the bitterness.

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For those fans of spirits, a bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout or porter will provide a layer of depth and complexity to your chocolate pairing.  Bourbon barrels impart a dose of vanilla and caramel, plus a dryness due to the oak compounds.  Pair these brews with quality milk chocolate and experience something akin to a Milky Way Bar.

Something commonly paired with chocolate is fruit.  Combined with either white or traditional chocolate, fruit beers make excellent “chocolate-covered strawberry/cherry/raspberry” experiences.  A beer such as Founders Rübæus, or its big brother, Blushing Monk, are made with raspberry puree.  Raspberries also provide a hint of tartness, adding a balance to the rich, creaminess of chocolate.  Or, you could skip the fruit AND the chocolate, and blend a chocolate and fruit beer together, a la Samuel Smith’s strawberry and chocolate.

For the truly adventurous, perhaps something esoteric is in order.  The few of us who enjoy those whack-and-unwrap chocolate oranges, try Sierra Nevada’s Side Car (or any pale ale with hops that impart an orange flavor to the beer) with some creamy milk chocolate.

I know me and my wife will find some sort of awesome combination to celebrate this year’s romantic holiday.

Six More Weeks?! Six More Beers.

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With the Super Bowl done and over, we can get back to our regularly scheduled beer drinking.  I mentioned at the start of the year I’d post about deep-winter beers.  Thanks to that miserable rodent, Phil, I guess we have more time to drink them.  Below are my favorite brews for those NW-NJ days with temperature highs in the teens.

Winter Warmers:  More a concept than a style, this one has English origins and typically sports a prominent malt profile coupled with balanced bitterness, and on more than one occasion, spices.  Samuel Smith Winter Welcome is a classic example, but there are plenty of U.S. breweries with their own take, such as Bolero Snort’s Frozen Pasture.

Belgian Strong Darks/Quads/Dubbels:  A good way to sleep the winter away, these brews are usually malty, dark, and strong in the alcohol department.  Beers produced by those magnanimous monks at Chimay are excellent in quality and easy to acquire.

Russian Imperial Stouts:  A favorite dark, high-gravity style of mine.  Roasty, malty, but intensely bitter, a great way to balance out a serving of cheesecake.

Doppelbocks:  The German way to celebrate those chilly nights.  Enjoy in a leather armchair in front of a fire, bearskin rug optional.

Though this makes #7, I feel remiss without mentioning Barleywine.  If you like them sweet and balanced, go for English.  Want something hoppy, and a bit more bitter?  Go American.  J. W. Lee’s Harvest, and a one-year old Sierra Nevada Bigfoot are great choices, respectively.

Come back in a few days when I opine about pairing adult beverages with chocolate, providing ideas for that most romantic holiday, 2/14!

 

Rye Sense of Humor: High West Double Rye!

High West Double Rye!

High West Distillery’s Double Rye!

On the docket: High West Distillery’s Double Rye! (46% a.b.v.), a blend of a 2 year old and 16 year old rye.

Poured into: Manhattan cocktail glass

S:  Honey-apricot with just the barest hint of haze plus a fleck or two of particulate.  A note, this is not chill filtered.  The aforementioned process is used to produce a more brilliant color, but robs the spirit of congeners, compounds that help impart favorable flavor.

Let me say something about the bottle:  The bottle has microscopic air bubbles trapped inside, its surface.  It’s dimpled; giving it a rustic, rugged look.  The logo of the distillery in addition to some of the lettering is textured on the glass.  Nice presentation.

A:  The description on the back of the label is quite surprising, citing evergreen, gin, clove, anise, and eucalyptus buttons to name a few flavors.  I certainly a get green, floral element in the aroma, in addition to a sweet corn bourbon-esque note.  Also present in a spicy, earthy component that no rye should be without.

T:  Mirroring much of the aroma, I detect young, green nearly minty flavors.  They subside and the more mature, corn-heavier 16 year old sweetness helps to smooth out the spice.  The finish is slow and pretty long, the heat taking its time to build on its way down the throat.  The clove and anise are most noticeable on the lips and the tongue long after you take a sip.

F:  Full, coating.  Sip this slowly, and it might be a great, natural cough remedy.

O:  Do I like it?  Certainly.  Had this been just the young, brash 2 year without its partner, the 16, I’d deem it undrinkable.  However, High West was wise to blend this spirit in this fashion.  It’s flavorful, it’s affordable, and a thoughtful example of what a blended straight rye whiskey can offer.

Suggested pairings:  Spice cake, my ideal sandwich from my previous post, sweet vermouth in the form of a Manhattan

 

Rye Are You Looking at Me Funny?

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In having to choose between the many varieties of distilled grain alcohols, rye is my favorite by far.  I suppose it stems from my love of intense and savory flavors.  While most kids were high on PB&J on Wonderbread, I wanted my roast beef on caraway-studded rye bread with a thin coat of spicy brown mustard and a side of garlic dill pickle (hungry yet?).  I still love that meal.  When I started drinking adult beverages, and learned that rye is an option, I embarked on a journey.  Though bourbon is nice (though for me too sweet), and Single-malt Scotch quite divine (though for me usually too expensive to buy a bottle that’s old enough to vote), rye offers me the quality, flavor, and affordability I look for in a finely crafted spirit.  Just like scotch and bourbon, rye comes in many varieties.  The key, if you like the spicy, earthy, and more savory qualities of the spirit, is to find bottles with a higher rye content.  This might take a little research, but each brand usually provides ratios on their website.

Distillers can blend rye with corn, barley, or even wheat, each other ingredient adding something to the mix.  Also like scotch, separate batches are often blended together.  In the case of High West’s Double Rye!, a 2 year old with a 95% rye/5% barley melds with a 16 year old 53% rye/37% corn blend.  The young rye provides the spice and bite, the older provides sweetness and smoothness that tames some of the bite.

My favorite spirit also goes into my favorite cocktail, the Manhattan.  Two parts rye to one part sweet vermouth gets added to a dash of bitters and finished with a maraschino cherry.  Splitting the vermouth into equal parts sweet and dry results is what the bar industry calls a “perfect” Manhattan.  In a world that seems to favor the bigger, the better, and the new, this classic cocktail agrees with my sensibilities and palate.  If it was good enough for my 93 year old grandmother, who had one every day at 5pm, it’s good enough for me now!  She’s since moved on to the great Bar in the sky, sharing a table with my grandfather and his beer, but I still honor her memory with every Manhattan I consume.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s edition, and my first rye review.

Cheers!