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Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving Beer Pairs

One of my bosses likes to tell me that whatever I am doing, it's not rocket science.  This is probably a good thing, because my math skills are, let's just call them, lacking.  Pairing beer with your Thanksgiving celebrations also should definitely fall into the "not rocket science" category (if you want to learn exactly what is rocket science, click here.)

FOOTBALL (pre dinner)

This year the Houston Texans will play the Detroit Lions in Michigan.  Houston certainly seems to be on a roll right now.  While I don't think we are going to have a blow out, I also think it's a game that you can turn to every fifteen minutes or so and not feel like you're missing anything highlight of the week worthy.  Perfect for that awkward viewing time when your early guests are arriving.  Early afternoon is a bit premature for me to enjoy a beer, but who am I to judge other's?  (actually, I'm Marie.  I'll decide later how I feel about you It's nice to meet you.)  Anyway, a lighter beer (and notice I did not write "Lite" beer.  Big.  Big.  Big difference)   is nice to have on hand for those who feel the need to partake before noon.

A fruit flavored beer is an appropriately seasonal way to begin the day.  I'm not a huge fan of fruit beers, but when they are done correctly, they can be quite refreshing.  And you can sort of justify drinking one before the coffee pot has had a chance to cool completely (it's sort of like a glass of juice, right?)  This year I bought a few a bottles of New Galrus Brewing Company's Apple Pie  to drink while my brother fries the turkey in the backyard.  I'll post my review of this beer (and the next one too) in a separate post, but I'm hoping for a tart, cider flavored brownish ale.  I also have a couple of bottles of their one-off Thumbprint Enigma beer.  New Glarus' website lists it as Sour Brown Ale flavored with a mix of cherries, oak, vanilla and smoke.  Intriguing, no?  

An English Bitter is also an interesting way to go Session Ales are usually low in hops and AVB with mild carbonation.  They smell of fruit and oak with light to moderate mouthfeel.  Two Brothers Brewery out of Warrenville, IL produces their Long Haul Session Ale year round, but I think it's particularly nice in mid Autumn and then again in mid Spring.  It has the aroma of bready yeast and citrus, which marries with a bit of spice on the taste as well.  There's a dry oakiness on the slightly bitter finish.  Plus a low ABV of 4.20% means that your guests can enjoy more than one without falling face first into their mashed potatoes during dinner.

So say you aren't a health nut and don't want fruit anywhere near your hopped up fermented yeast.  I can understand that.  Lagunitas Brewing Company's Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale is the pale ale for people who don't like pale ale (and that would be, ahem, little sumpn' sumpn' like me.)  I spoke with some of the brewers of this ale last summer and mentioned how much I enjoyed the low hoppiness of their beer.  They laughed and informed me that Little Sumpin' Sumpin' was actually their highest hopped beer.  The rye malts used when brewing it balances out the extreme bitterness of all of those hops and makes a smooth, highly drinkable beer.  It's easy to drink with food or just hanging out by the fire pit.

FOOTBALL (dinner)

If your family is anything like mine, you'll have the end of the Washington Redskins & Dallas Cowboy game on in the background while you eat.  And if you're smart, you'll be sure to seat your mom with her back to the TV as well (what she doesn't know won't hurt any of us.)

There's a lot less pressure in choosing a beer to go with the Thanksgiving feast than there is in finding the perfect wine. (read my Thanksgiving wine post here)  Maybe it's the unnecessary pretension that some people heap onto their glass of vino.  Maybe it's because it's easier to find an inexpensive brew that will work with a diverse menu.   Maybe it's just because sometimes good beer comes in a can and it's hard to get all OCD over anything wrapped in aluminum.   

Brown Ale is an easy choice for dinner.  It's food friendly and simple to drink.  There are a lot of great Brown Ales out there.  Smutty Nose Old Brown Dog would be a good choice (click here for my review.)    If you have Porter fans in  your family, Bonfire Brown Ale from Saugatuck Brewing Company is a seasonal smokey Brown Ale that also exhibits some porter-like characteristics.  Over Ale by Chicago's Half Acre Beer Company brews a solid entry as well.  It pours a chestnut brown with a decent head.  Flavors of biscuit, nuts and caramel malt are balanced by bitter hops on the back.  Medium body and short to medium finish won't overpower anything on your dinner plate.  And yes, it comes in a can (so pour it out for your guests when they sit down at the table.  We're not animals here, people.) 

Lagunitas Censored Rich Copper Ale

 Red Ales are also a good choice for dinner.  I recently drank a Lagunitas Censored Rich Copper Ale and my first though was that I have to remember this one for Thanksgiving.  Lagunitas Brewing Company is quickly becoming one of my personal favorites for well balanced brews.  It pours a really pretty reddish gold and one finger head. It opens a bit sweet with caramel malts and toffee which fades to an earthy profile.  The moderate hops will work extraordinarily with your turkey,yet not give the vegetable side dishes an off taste. 

Domanine DuPage by Two Brothers Brewing Co.

Farmhouse Ales are sort of made for Thanksgiving dinner.  By nature they are extremely food friendly.  Semi dry with only a touch of sweetness balanced by a healthy amount of tartness. Also known as Saison beers, this style may not be as popular as say your average IPA, but they are definately worth seekling out (especially for the holiday.)  Two Brothers Brewing makes a marvolous French Country Farm House Ale named Domaine DuPage that I absolutely love. (click here for my review)   Goose Island, while not necessarily a craft beer brewery any more (at least not in my opinion),  makes a smaller batch Saison named Sofie that should be easy enough to find this time of the year.  But why not seek out something truer?  Try New Holland Brewing's Golden Cap which tastes of biscuit, earth and just a touch of fruity tartness. 

FOOTBALL (pie me!)

 I'm going to be honest here, I'm not going to be drinking a beer with my pie.  I'll be enjoying a nice cup (or two) of fresh brewed coffee while watching the Patriots whip the Jets (sorry New York/New Jersey fans.  There are very few Thanksgiving miracles out there.)  But what if you have people over for dinner who (gasp!) don't like pie?  I know.  It's mind boggling, but it is my understanding that such people do exist.  I imagine that they are probably related to these people.


You might want to provide your non pie imbibing guests with a tatsy beverage to distract them while you sneak a second slice.  

Left Hand Brewery's  Nitro Milk Stout

Milk Stouts are heavier beers that usually have strong chocolate and roasted nut flavors.  They are thicker in body with a smooth lush in mouthfeel.  Nitro Millk Stout by Left Hand Brewing Co. is a great example.  To pour this beer, turn the bottle over completely into your pint glass and watch the magic happen (the beer will pour flat at first, but after a few second, the head will rise from the bottom of the glass.  See, tasty brew and party trick in one.) 

Lexington Brewing Company's Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale

Lexington Brewing Company's  Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale is also a great option.  This English Ale is stored in Kentucky bourbon barrels for six weeks, which results in a uniquely spirited drink.  Vanilla and oak flavors round out the harsh edges of the whiskey taste.  This isn't a beer for the guy who insists on passing on the pie to watch his figure.   

Thanksgiving is the day that we all should take a step back and remind ourselves of just exactly how lucky we really are.   There are 364 other days in the year to gripe about all the things that we don't have or that wish that we had.  For example, I would really like a wood burning oven in my backyard (it's never going to happen, but I can complain all I want about the lack of one.)  On Thanksgiving day we don't need to learn any special songs or search in vein for rapidly spoiling colored eggs or worry about a love one's disappointment when they open a lackluster gift (such as George Forman Grill  instead of a wood burning backyard oven.)  So be thankful for the roof over your head, the friends around your table and the craft beer in your glass.  I know I am.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Thanksgiving Wines

I love Thanksgiving.  Every year I wake up early and run a 5K Turkey Trot with a bunch of other equally demented fleece clad trotters.  It's my favorite day in Autumn, even though by mile 2, when my breath is short and I just got passed by another 10 year old in roller sneakers, I usual wonder why I thought that it was such a great idea in the first place.  In reality, I'm just happy when I can stay ahead of the under medicated middle aged guy dressed like a giant turkey.  One of my brothers and his wife host the big dinner that afternoon, so after I catch my breath, my only responsibility for the rest of the day is to provide the liquid libations.  The beauty of this arrangement is that I can take care of my contribution days before and spend the actual holiday enjoying a drink or two.  I know that some people freak out over finding the perfect wine or beer to serve with their diverse Thanksgiving menu, but not me.  I don't care I've figured out a trick or two.

In case you might need some direction in what to bring to your own family gathering, I thought that I'd do two posts on what I like to serve with Thanksgiving meals.  Today I'll concentrate on which wines you could offer your guests (I'll follow later with beer pairs for the day.)  All of these bottles should be easy to locate at your favorite liquor store and the prices are approximate.

APPS (and not the angry bird kind)

It's nice to greet guests with something to drink when they arrive.  You could go with a specialty cocktail (and I have done this in the past) but let me warn you.  It can get real old making a fresh drink every time the doorbell rings and as the cashmere sweater that I wore last year would tell you (because my cashmere can speak.  In a French accent) all cocktail shakers, no matter how insanely expensive they were at Pottery Barn, leak.   Horribly.  

It's so much easier to open a bottle or two and let your guests refill their glasses on their own. Since you may not always know exactly what sort of appetizers are being served, I'd recommend a citrus based white wine.  Nothing too heavy, sweet or cloying.  A nice Sauvignon Blanc or a sparkling wine would fit the bill.  Chill it in the fridge for an hour, then let it rest for 15 minutes before serving.

Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc $12.99

Kim Crawford wines are consistently a great value and very easy to find.   Her Sauvignon Blanc boasts a medium body and a crisp, dry finish that lingers ever so slightly.  The winery is located in Marlborough, New Zealand, a region made famous by this varietal.  As is typical for Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs, it tastes of gooseberry, citrus & tropical fruits balanced by just enough mineral and herbal notes to make it pair nicely with everything from hummus to that weird bean dip that your third cousin's girlfriend insists on bringing.  Every.  Year.   

Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut Cava $10.99
Nothing says holiday quite like a sparkling wine.  You don't need to shell out $$$ for a Champagne now that places like Spain & Italy are offering reasonable, yet very tasty, options.   In fact, a $15 bottle of Cava (Spain) or Prosecco (Italy) will taste 100x better than an equally priced bottle of Champagne.  Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut Cava is smooth with a crisp taste of apples, citrus and a bit of toast and ginger to cleanse the palate.  Sparkling wines pair wonderfully with all sorts of food, but this one will certainly liven up the standard shrimp cocktail and same old same old cheese plate.  Plus it has bubbles and who doesn't like bubbles? 

Jean Marc Burgaud Morgon Cote Du Py $15.99
So say you're the type who insists on having a red wine option for guests (and if you are, please feel free to invite me over anytime.)  When you walk into a liquor store at this time of year, you're probably bombarded with displays of Beaujolais bottles.  Bypass the ones with the yellow label and anything that is priced under $10 (unless you like drinking cough syrup.)  Ask for a Gamay varietal from the Beaujolais region of France instead and be willing to pay $15 to $25 for a decent bottle.  It'll be worth it.  Jean Marc Burgaud Morgon Cote Du Py has soft tannins and notes of sour cherries and dark fruits with under notes of moss and earth.   The bright palate works with heavier appetizers, like wild mushroom crostini or bacon wrapped anything.  Beaujolais wines should be served slightly chilled, so treat it as if it was a white (pop it in the fridge for a bit then take it out for a slight warm up before serving.) 

DINNER (or as some families call it, the battle round)

Here's where people get a little freaked out.  Most hosts try to pair their dinner wine with the actual turkey as well as all of the various side dishes being served.  And I'm sorry to say, you just can't do this.  It's like trying to set up a nuclear scientist underwear model  with your best friend who hoards cats and also happens to run the local Doctor Who fansite.  Since the turkey is the focal point of the meal, some people try to pair the wine with just the bird.  Unfortunately, you end up with a drink that combats everything but the gravy covered meat on the table.  Another philosophy is to  match the wine to the strongest tasting dish being served.  This backfires because then you have a wine that tastes amazing with the cayenne spiced roasted butternut squash, but too mellow with the run of the mill green beans.  My advice is to think moderate values in the wine's qualities.  Moderate mouthfeel, moderate taste notes and moderate finish.

Spy Valley Pinot Noir $23.99

 My go to red for Thanksgiving dinner is a Pinot Noir.  Pinots, by definition, are delicate wines with just a bit of roughness around the edges.  They have soft tannins and a light to medium body.  They are definitely one of those wines that you get exactly what you pay for.  I've drunk cheap Pinots before, and let me tell you, they aren't worth the energy to wash the dirty glass.  $20 is usually the lowest I will go for a decent Pinot Noir.  Spy Valley Pinot Noir is one of the great low priced bottles.  It's from the Marlborough region of New Zealand and is 100% Pinot Noir grapes.  It has a medium body with notes of nutmeg, clove and red fruits (think raspberries) and just a hint of oak.  This is a wine that will cut through the creamy gravy and starchy potatoes yet not over power the more delicate vegetable side dishes.   Pinots Noirs (and other medium bodied reds like Zinfandels) should be slightly chilled in the fridge for 20 minutes or so before opening.  If you have the time, most bottles will benefit from uncorking and sitting a little while before serving.  This gives the wine a chance to open and come to full flavor. 

Rancho Zabaco Zinfandel $11.99

Let's say that you are providing wine for a larger gathering and need to have a few bottles on hand.  At  $20-$25 a bottle, that could blow your Christmas budget before any stores even open on Black Friday (and the way things seem to be going, I'm pretty sure that Black Friday will begin on Halloween next year.)  I would recommend picking up a few bottles of Zinfandel for dinner.  You can usually get a nice bottle from California's Somoma or Paso Robles regions.  Rancho Zabaco Zinfandel (Somoma) is a good choice.  It has a medium body with flavors of dark fruit (currants and black cherries) balanced by black pepper with softer notes of roasted herbs and a bit of earth.  Zindfandels usually possess a spicy finish which will help to cut through the heartiness of a large meal.

Off dry, slightly spicy white wines were made for Thanksgiving dinner.  I'm pretty sure that after those kill joy Pilgrims hurried off to bed early, their Indian dinner guests broke open the good bottles of white wine and had themselves a proper day of thanks.  

What?  I'm pretty sure that I read all about Wrestles With Bear in a comic history book in fifth grade.

Fitz Ritter Gewurztraminer Spatlese Pfalz $20.99

A German or an Austrian Gewurztraminer is a wonderful pairing for the holiday.  They are highly aromatic wines with round mouthfeels, but with just enough acidity to work with a variety of foods.  Fritz Ritter Gewurtraminer Spatlese Pfalz has the classic taste of lychee fruit, rose petals and stone fruits.  The under notes of spice (think ginger) and minerals gives the wine a crisp finish.  German and Austrian labels can be a bitch to read (they are the IKEA instruction manual of wine labels.)  Spatlese denotes that the grapes were an early part of the late harvest (as the grapes ripen, they become more intense and the flavors truer.)  If the label refers to the wine as a Kabinett, it means that the grapes were harvested early and will not be as flavorful, much sweeter in taste  and the wine will most likely not be as well balanced. Typically, I'd recommend drinking this bottle with something spicy, such as Thai food.  But in this case, I also believe that the balance of ever so slightly sweet and spicy will work with, and more importantly, not against anything that gets thrown onto your Thanksgiving dinner table.  Including that marshmallow pretzel concoction that you only spooned onto your plate out of a sense of familial pity.

Nora Albarino $14.99

There are some really great deals to be had on wines from Spain, especially whites.  Albarino wines  are from the north of Spain and share many similar characteristics with German Gewurztraminers, but for a lower price point.  Nora Albarino uses late harvested grapes (much like a German wine labeled Spatlese) which allows the fruit to fully ripen.  These juicy, ripe grapes give the wine a medium, slightly silky, body and a crisp finish.  It tastes of honeydew melons, green apples and lemon zest, balanced by a spicey bite and more lemon on the finish.  This is the sort of wine that is perfectly fine to drink on it's own, but really comes alive when paired with food.      

Wine doesn't have to be a mysterious, intimidating beverage.  After all, it's really just smushed fruit that's been left around too long to eat.  Have fun with it.  I've yet to leave a holiday meal thinking that the choice of wine ruined the dinner for me.  Now, being forced eat canned green beans smothered in Campbell soup and dried onions is a whole other matter. 

Next time, craft beer pairings for your Turkey Day. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

5 Rabbit Golden Ale by 5 Rabbit Cerveceria

  •  Style: Golden Ale (AKA American Blonde Ale)
  • AVB: 5.3%
  • Season: Year Round
  • Ease to locate: Grocery & liquor stores around Chicago, Ohio & Philadelphia; served in select Chipotle restaurants 
  • Color: Golden with hints of orange
  • Head: One finger
  • Aroma: Weak malts with hints of pine & honey
  • Mouthfeel: Light
  • Finish: Moderate with spice on the back
  • Food friendly: Mexican (see Chipotle partnership!) but also nice with grilled pork

Sometimes a person can get a little tired of European style beers (simmer down, people, and see where I'm going with this before you storm off in a soccer jersey eurotrash huff!)  Don't get me wrong.  I like a good red ale or a smooth dubble as much as the next craft beer enthusiast (and if I happen to be standing in a crowd of kindergarteners, then I think it'd be safe to say more than most people present.)  But just like J Lo and her latest boy toy would tell you, one can only frolic in the French Riviera so many time before it gets boring.  Sometimes we want something a little wild.  A little spicy.  A little hot blooded.  Up to recently, ordering a Latino influenced beer meant a Corona, or if you wanted to get all fancy, a Dos Equis.

Neither of which really shake my maracas taste-wise.  Luckily, we now have a third option to satisfy our longing for a tasty south of the boarder cervesa (if your boarder is the Chicago River, that is.)        

5 Rabitt Brewery is a relatively new Chicago brewery.  For the last two years or so, they've been renting spaces in other breweries around Chicagoland and Wisconsin.  Recently they've begun construction on their own space in the Pilsen neighborhood as well as expanding into an interesting partnership with local Chipotle restaurants (which I think may be a first for Chicago craft breweries not named after a goose.)  I first heard of 5 Rabbits Cerveseria two years ago, just after their Chicago debut, and began a bit of a long and winding road to taste one of their beers.  Apparently, everyone else in Chicago was also on this Quixotic quest because every time I attempted to order a beer, I was told that they had just sold out.  The first time was disappointing.  The second time was annoying.  By the fifth or sixth time, I'll admit that I was feeling a bit persecuted (and I was pretty sure that my server and the rest of the crew were smuggling all the kegs of 5 Rabbit out the back door in some sort of craft beer black market ring.)  Finally I got lucky at a tasting event last January and I can honestly say that they were a stand out brewery there.  Their mother ship beer, also called 5 Rabbit, became a bit of a summer staple for me this past season.

5 Rabbit is a golden ale (also known as an American blonde ale.)  American blonde ales originated in the United States  and are widely considered a stress-free way to transform this nation of Budweiser and Coors fans into craft beer lovers.  Sort of a gateway beer, if you will.  American blondes are heavy on malt, have a lower hop rate and don't require too much thinking in order to drink. Think of them as the Jessica Simpson of beers.

The 5 Rabbit Golden Ale poured a soft, orange tinged golden yellow color that was slightly hazy in appearance.  It had a decent one finger head, which dissipated pretty quickly.  Delicate, minimal lacing slid down the sides of the pint glass with absolutely no cling.  The aroma was rather weak.  I could detect faint malts as a top note with under scents of pine and sweet honey, but it took some real effort to do so.  When I drank this bottle in early November, I was disappointed that the aroma was so slight.  But upon reflection, I think that the last thing I want on a hot July day is to have a heavily scented beer.  Obviously seasonality does make a huge difference in the enjoyment of this brew.  It did taste better than it smelled though.  The malty yeast, of course, hit me right away, but it was quickly balanced by the bitterness of noble hops and piney resin.  I also detected hints of the honey and some light caramel.  My favorite part (regardless of the season) and what I think makes 5 Rabbit unique in the American blonde ale category, was the spicy cayenne pepper note on the back.  Really a nice touch and provided just enough heat to give it a bit of a bite.  The back note of the heat defined the character of what was otherwise, a pretty simple and straight forward ale.  It was smooth and mildly carbonated with a light mouthfeel, just as one would expect for this type of beer.  The finish was medium, letting the hops and spice linger just a little, like a welcomed house guest (and you know what they say about fish, house guests and craft beers...)

It's really eye opening to try a beer out of season.  I enjoyed 5 Rabbit Golden Ale quite a bit this summer, but it felt like a completely different drink come November.  The lightness and ease of the beer felt out of place, kind of like seeing a a guy shoveling snow in shorts (I have witnessed this before and chalk it up to Darwinism at work.)  Now, if you have a buddy who refuses to give up his precious bottle of Miller, this would be the perfect beer to slip him instead, regardless of what month it is.  It's simple and uncomplex enough for a person to develop a craft beer palette on.  But if you have already imbibed in your fair share of craft beers, save this one for summer.  Serve it with grilled pork in a lime and honey marinade or with fish tacos and a fresh tomatillo salsa.  I suppose if you're feeling lazy, you could always just hike over to Chipotle, but I'm pretty sure that they were the ringleaders of that black market craft beer scam and I WILL find a way to bring them to justice one day.  Mark my words, faithful companions...  

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Black Jack Porter by Left Hand Brewing Co.

  • Style: English Porter
  • AVB: 6.40%
  • Season: Year Round
  • Ease to locate: Most large grocery & liquor stores (I got mine at Marianos)
  • Color: Dark black/brown like strong coffee
  • Head: Half a finger
  • Aroma: Strong chocolate malts, coffee & dark fruit as the beer warmed
  • Mouthfeel: Medium, but smooth
  • Finish: Shorter than expected
  • Food friendly: Roasted red meats, any sort of Bar-B-Que, earthy cheeses

Election Day.  The day we, as American citizens, exercise our privilege to choose who we want to shape our government for the next few years.  The day that epitomizes the democratic ideals that our founding fathers and mothers (you go Abigail Adams!) fought for, battling against the autocracy of the British Empire.  And, most importantly, the day that we can finally stop blocking friends on Facebook who tend to, let's say,  over share their political opinions.   I will admit that the British did give is a few good things since we've kicked them to the curb, such as The Beatles, salt & vinegar chips and Doctor Who.  You can add English Porter to that list too.  I can forgive them for forcing us to create a system of government that relies on a bevy of loud and pointless attack ads to distinguish between indistinguishable candidates if I have a good English Porter in my (left) hand.  Hell, I can almost forgive them for this after two pints.

Maybe make that three.

English Porter was first brewed as a cheap & filling drink for British transportation workers, hence the name "porter."  And thank god for them.  As far as I know, all that American porters have given us is a decent Johnny Cash song, but how far can that take you on a cool November night?  Traditionally it's a blend of three different ales: stale or sour ale, brown or pale ale and a mild ale.  Basically, it was a concoction of  whatever the brewer had left sitting around in his carboys, much like a hotel restaurant will use up creatively cook three day old seafood in a Sunday breakfast quiche (Anthony Bourdain graphically documented this practice in his book, Kitchen Confidential.  Thus insuring that I will NEVER eat anything but boxed cereal at brunch ever again.)   Nowadays, brewers use a combination of malts instead of leftovers to achieve the same result. Left Hand Brewery Co. in Longmont, Colorado is the home of a few beers that I happen to really enjoy (their milk stout is like drinking a fizzy adult chocolate milk, pre-bubbled for your convenience.)  When I saw that familiar hand print on a bottle of porter, I knew that I had to give it a taste.

Left Hand's Black Jack Porter poured a deep, rich chocolate color, a thick black/brown.  There were scarlet highlights towards the bottom when held up to a light.  I had expected a thick head and was surprised when only about a half a finger of tan foam appeared.  The head settled almost immediately and left a thin sheet of lacing, almost like a biting rain sliding down a window pane.  The aroma was heavy with chocolate and malts.  This beer was not playing coy.  The scent immediately told you exactly what you were in for taste-wise.  In addition to the sweet notes of chocolate and toasty malts, I could also distinguish the bitterness of roasted coffee and toffee nuttiness.  As the beer warmed slightly, subtle dark fruit flavors emerged.  It became less sweet as it sat for a bit and the depth of flavors made it a much more interesting beer than the first sip had promised.  The mouthfeel was only medium, which struck me as odd for such a thick looking and heavily scented beer.  I don't think that the moderate mouthfeel detracted from the porter, but I was expecting a bit more creaminess and a longer finish.  I did really like that Left Hand brewed a porter that was lower in ABV without sacrificing the flavor profile.  It was a smooth and easy to drink porter that ultimately just didn't live up to it's full potential (like many politicians, if you ask me.)

Black Jack Porter is a year round option from Left Hand Brewing Co., but I can't imagine enjoying this beer in the middle of July.  On a cool November night?  Hell yes, it hits the spot. I think that the disappointing mouthfeel and finish actually enhances the food friendliness of this beer.  This porter would be brilliant drunk with a traditional beef stew or a pot roast, served with carrots and potatoes cooked in the roast's own juices. It would also be delicious with any sort of bar-b-qued meats.  Personally I'm think ribs, sticky with a molasses and coffee sauce.  If you're putting together a cheese plate, match it with an earthy cheese, such as a Wisconsin goat milk white cheddar.  Sit tight, have a beer and know that political ad season will be all over soon.  Just in time for the Christmas commercials to start.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Iron Works Alt by Metropolitan Brewery

  • Style:  Alt (Altbier)
  • ABV:  5.80%
  • Season: Year Round
  • Ease to locate: Most decent sized grocery & liquor stores around Chicago.  Their website has a retail locator.  
  • Color:  Cooper with orange highlights
  • Head:  Two fingers
  • Aroma: Yeasty with notes of raisins & woods
  • Mouthfeel: Dry and smooth
  • Finish: Short 
  • Food Friendly:  Any sort of sausages, German food (Das ist gut), & earthy cheeses (such as Fontina)

They say that Chicago is a big sports town.  What does that mean exactly?  I think it refers to the fact that we willingly shell out $$$ for outrageous ticket prices year after year, even though it's pretty much a given that our team is going to break our hearts before the night's over.  In Chicago, sports is more than just about winning.  It's about lounging in the bleachers on a hot June day.  It's about singing Bear Down Chicago Bears at the top of your lungs with your nephew.  What it's not about is paying $7 a glass for the dredge that the concession guy wants to convince me is "Ice Cold Beer!"  I'm pretty sure that what's in the can that they pop open, pour into a flimsy plastic cup and pass down an aisle of complete strangers (who I really just hope have, at least, washed their hands in the past week) is not beer.  I'm sure that it's beer-like.  Just as I'm sure that turkey bacon is kinda bacon-like. Personally, I say lose the "like" and give me the real stuff.

When I cracked open a bottle of Metropolitan Brewing Iron Works Alt, I immediately fantasized about a summer's day spent in the Friendly Confines.  It was the bottom of the 6th, that sweet spot for a beer when the game has gone on long enough that your throat is parched from yelling at the left field outfielder, but you still have at least three more innings to get through before the enviable is over & done.  I think it was the hoppy, yeastly smell that reminded me of the ballpark.  Altbiers are German brown ales, usually from the Dusseldorf region.  They are top fermenting beers that are then lagered (AKA stored) after fermentation for long periods of time.  Yep, this ale is treated like a larger.  The longer conditioning helps to mellow the fruit flavors and can result in a very smooth beer.  Chicago's own Metropolitan Brewery takes pride in creating their personal twists on traditional German beers.  Iron Works Alt  is a wonderful example of just what a little extra Germanic TLC can do for a brown ale.

My pint of Iron Works sported a burnt amber color.  There were lovely highlights of orange to it when you held it up to a light.  It poured quite clear and stayed so.  There was a healthy two finger head that sunk down to a half fingered ivory foam which lingered for most of the drink.  The lacing was heavy with distinct rings sliding down the sides of the glass.  I could smell bready yeast and slightly sweet whiffs of caramel on the foam.  The bitterness of the hops did come through on the head, but not enough to knock me over.  The first taste gave me an image of brown bread: all grains and raisins.  There were grassy and woodsy notes present as well, but only slightly so.  The back note was singular in it's herbal, noble hoppiness.  A snappy, dry, short finish, which I rather enjoyed.  I usually prefer my finishes to linger a bit, but this really worked with the beer overall.   No trace of a harsh alcoholic taste in my throat at all, and truthfully, I was half expecting there to be from the rather assertive hops.  I think this just goes to show that the Germans knew what they were doing when they first started putting Altbiers into cold conditioning  for an extra few weeks. 

Full disclosure here, I am not a huge bitter hop lover.  When I read "assertively hoppy" on the label, I was pretty much prepared to treat the bottle as if it was the Cubs in the playoffs.  All froth and sweetness that will only leave a bitter taste in my mouth by the time it was all over.  I was really pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong.  I'm eager now to check out Altbiers from other breweries.  I'd drink this brew, served cold, with any sort of cased meats.  You can go obvious with a hot dog of course, but try branching out to smoked sausages or even game sausages (every tried a deer brat?  I have.)  I love appetizers and would definitely serve this Alt with sliced kielbasa sausages wrapped in bacon and dusted with brown sugar.  If next year the beer guy at Wrigley began to yell "Ice Cold Alt here!" I'm pretty sure that I'd gladly plunk down $7 bucks for one.  Plastic cup and all.  Because like all Chicago sports fans know, it's not really about the game or the score.  It's about being a fan.