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.

beer_and_chocolate

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.

My Mash Letter to The Bruery: The Bruery’s Mash

The_Bruery_MashOn the docket:  750 mL bottle of Mash by The Bruery bottled:  8/7/15

Poured into:  logoed River Horse stemmed snifter

S:  A rich dark, syrupy brown-hued body fills out the glass, capped by a quickly rising and receding bone colored head.  The bottom of the beer at the base of my glass gives off a honey-gold spot.  Lacing is minimal, but the head lingers as a small, perforated ring and a wispy, soapy film on the surface.  Carbonation is hard to detect, as the opacity prevents me from seeing any bubbles.  I’ll meet up with them in the mouthfeel section, I’m sure.

A:  Dear Mash aroma, I love you, let me count the ways… a seductive blend of vanilla, caramel, and treacle greet the senses.  Not far behind is a subtle brown bread and raisin.  Lastly, a kiss of booze, gentle and belying the 12.5% abv of this malt-driven beauty.

T:  I’ll continue to gush about this beer.  Much of the aroma carries through to the taste.  It’s all there, working together to romance the tongue and the taste buds.  Rich creamy vanilla and caramel open the door, the molasses and raisin/fruitcake shows you to your table, and the barrel aging takes your order.  I’ll have what I’m having.  The time spent in the bourbon barrel is evident, but not overpowering.  Very often I’ve found that brewers get carried away with the barrel, and lose the beer.  Famille Rue got it just right.  It’s decadent, sweet, and woody.  Like well-aged spirits, it takes a long time for the burn of the alcohol to develop, nearly seconds later after the initial sip and its journey down the back of your throat.  As it warms up, yup, it’s boozier, but it won’t stop me.

F:  Finely nuanced carbonation.  It provides just enough lift to keep this high-gravity brew from forcing itself on you.  Medium + weight, both oily and smooth at the same time.  The finish is gentle, but does add some tannic dryness from the barrel, and a gentle bitterness from the hops to keep the sweetness in check.

O:  A finely-tuned bourbon barrel-aged English Barleywine.  Easy to drink despite its alcohol content.  I’ll go out on a limb and say Mash has great potential for aging, perhaps bringing in dark chocolate and port notes as the hops fade away.  I had my Mash at roughly 8 months, imagine what a two or three year relationship with your beer cellar might yield.  Well worth the price paid.

S:  3.75  A:  4.5  T:  4.75  F:  4.25  O:  4.5

Suggested food pairing:  Heavily-blued cheese, hearty beef stew, Crème brûlée, fruit cake (for the few that actually eat it and don’t simply re-gift it as a frozen brick, year after year in family Christmas exchanges), and most definitively as a cocktail beer (on its own).

Clear Your Schedule: Weyerbacher’s Sunday Morning Schedule

On the docket:  12 oz. bottle of Weyerbacher’s Sunday Morning Stout (with coffee and whiskey barrel aged), best by date:  2018 (could easily age for longer)

Poured into:  6 oz. wine glass

Aroma:  No words, just feelings.  This is what dreams are made of.  A voluptuous melange of vanilla, coffee, chocolate, oak, and bliss.  The hops are in there somewhere, but I think they’re laying low and letting the other elements do the heavy lifting.  There’s a definite boozy presence that gets thicker as the beer warms.

Sight:  Inkwell-black body with a khaki and orange hued head that builds and dies just as quickly.  All that’s left of the cap exists as a wispy ring and microscopic bubbles.  Carbonation activity unknown, the body pulls in all the light around it.  Lacing is delicate and grid-like.

Taste:  Even on the chilly side, this beer exhibits a twang of roasted coffee and the barrel-aged characteristics of wood, caramel, vanilla, and light spiciness common to good American Whiskey.  Some chocolate comes through as well, but just a hint.  The most important piece of this puzzle asserts itself as dark roasted malt.  Like the aroma, the alcohol comes across easily, though not in a “hot” manner.

Feel:  Rich, oily, astringent.  Finely attuned carbonation, capable of keeping this beer in the air, so to speak.  You always go back for another sip, and then another… but beware, this Imperial Stout weighs in at 11.3% abv, so be sure to actually do the Sunday Times Crossword with your beer, lest you end up needing a nap on the couch.  Finish is long and warming like the whiskey it got to know in the barrel.

Overall:  On par with the often acclaimed barrel-aged imperial stouts heralded on Untappd and BeerAdvocate, but easier to acquire (depending on your geographic region).  I still feel this one flies under the radar.  Love them or hate them, Weyerbacher is capable of producing pleasurable drinking experiences in their high abv offerings.

Food pairing:  Nutty or earthy cheese, beef stew, Cannoli, vanilla ice cream, or, as a cocktail beer (on its own)

Wake this Giant: B. Nektar’s Sleeping Giant Mead

Since it’s not a Sunday, I have a non-beer review with which to enlighten you.  At the urging of various individuals, I finally decided to try beer’s buzzing cousin, mead.  I’m not familiar on how to evaluate it, so I looked up some guidelines.  While I didn’t do a very scientific review, I did try to detect any glaring flaws, in addition to elaborating on the experience to give others a sense of what all the buzz is about.

On the docket:  375 mL bottle of B. Nektar’s Sleeping Giant (Limited Release)

Poured into:  Odd Otter stemmed tasting glass

S:  This giant pours a pale gold, with crystal clarity.  Reminiscent of a mature chardonnay.  No bubbles are present.  During the course of drinking this, legs appeared on my glass, providing evidence of the alcohol and sugar content.

A:  A light floral note cedes to a spicy, woody aroma.  The rye whiskey barrel finish is quite evident.  A honey sweetness emerges as the mead warms up, too.  Higher alcohols present themselves, but in a pleasant way.  This mead clocks in at 15.1, also known as sack-strength.

T:  Sweet honey, a mingling of peaches and apples, maybe even pears.  When warmer, herbal, medicinal flavors show up.  Though I’ve not had many, the impression suggests a sweet Riesling- as odd as the comparison might be.  The combined elements of the abv and the barrel aging create a piquant, drying, woody quality.  I’ll be so bold as to say the end has “Manhattan” qualities to it, a favorite rye-based drink of mine.  Crazier- it seems like this guy has the vermouth and the bitters in it, too!  Or, that could be the power of suggestion.

F:  Full-bodied, sweet, rich.  It dries out on the finish, a small tannin-like sharpness from the barrel aging.  As they say in the whiskey world, this one has a medium finish.

O:  Though not experienced with mead, I truly enjoyed this offering, and feel fortunate enough to get my hands on a bottle.  I’m not usually a fan of barrel-aged beer, but enjoy rye whiskey.  One sip allayed my fear.

S:  4  A:  3.75  T:  4.5  F:  4  O:  4

Suggested food pairing:  I’ve heard it’s hard to wrong with food pairing regarding mead.  My picks?  Earthy or nutty English cheese, fruit with a caramel dipping sauce, spiced nuts

Lost in the Maze: Uinta’s Labyrinth

On the docket:  750 mL cork and cage bottle of Uinta’s Labyrinth, bottle date:  7/26 (year unknown)

Poured into:  Jester King Snorkel snifter

S:  The inkiest, blackest, consuming black fills my glass.  On top, espresso-foam head wells up, then settles to a small ring.  It’s completely opaque, so I cannot detect bubble activity.  I could stare into its depths for hours, but I have to smell and taste it, too.

A:  Roasted coffee, wood, the darkest of chocolate, and Oh My Sweet Lord!  Black Licorice.  Bright citrus aroma off the hops.  And yes… booze.  This black beauty weighs in at 13.2%.  Sip with care!

T:  If I were Adam, in the Garden, and Lucifer were to slither up to me with a glass of this and start speaking of rebellion–well–let’s just say he wouldn’t have to try very hard.  This is most of everything I look for in a dark, dangerous beer.  Sweet date and fig up front quickly yields to coffee, dark chocolate, and black licorice.  The bright note from the hop aroma shows up towards the end, only to be outdone by a dry, roasty, woody finish.  The faintest hint of vanilla.  Your tongue turns to 800 grit sandpaper and you go back for another seductive barrage of flavor.  A note- the black licorice is smooth and silky, like that of gourmet product, not of a candy that rhymes with sizzler.

F:  Creamy, oily, slick, coating.  Rich and luxurious.  As it warms…. so does the finish, though quite dry.  Drink cool for crispness, drink warmer for richness.

O:  Quite possibly the best imperial stout I’ve ever tasted, and though I may not have had offerings such as The Abyss, Dark Lord, Hunahpu, Speedway, Black Note, or those whales that people chase… good God!  Give me one of these every year, and I’ll consider myself a blessed man.

S:  4  A:  4.5  T:  4.75  F:  4.25  O:  4.5

Suggested food pairing:  smoked charcuterie, braised beef, low and slow barbecue, tiramisu, and my personal pick- traditional Slovak poppy seed roll.  Divine flavor synthesis.