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Friday, March 29, 2013

Half Acre Beer Co.'s Baume Rye Stout

  • Style: Rye Stout
  • ABV: 7%
  • Season: Winter
  • Ease to locate: Limited.  Bottle shops in the Chicagoland area are your best bet
  • Color: Solid dark brown
  • Head: Two & a half ingers of tan foam.  Wonderful lacing present for all of drink.
  • Aroma: Rye grains & hops right off the bat.  Chocolate & espresso notes as well as a hint of murk
  • Mouthfeel: Medium to full.  Creamy & smooth
  • Finish: Moderate & dry
  • Food friendly: Try pairing it with roast beef or other heavier deli meats.  It would go well with earthy cheeses, such as Camembert or with buttery varieties such as Swiss.

I have been given the impression, on more than one occasion, that most beer drinkers don't really consider the science that goes into producing a typical batch of beer. Yes, brewing a good bottle (can, bomber, growler) of beer is a craft too. But to create an amazing batch of beer, the brewer must have the soul of an artist and the know how of a mad scientist (and really, aren't all the really great scientist a bit batty?). Personally I had some rather vivid flashbacks of honors chemistry while completing my very first home brew last year. What is the resting temperature of the water?  Is the ratio of water to grain correct? Is the boiling temperature of the seepage within the right parameters? Wait, is this cheap, generic, damn thermometer even working? Luckily, I loved high school chemistry (Biology? Not so much. Better not to ask about the fetal pig fiasco.). They say that's all good brewers have to learn the science behind the craft before they can even begin to practice the craft aspect of brewing and I believe them.

                                                                                     I wonder where Oingo Boingo would fall on the Baume scale?

My hometown brewery, Half Acre Beer Company, must agree with this as well. This winter they created an interesting rye stout to commemorate the very first beer that they produced when opening their brewery on Lincoln Ave. Antonio Baume was a scientist who developed a way of measuring the density of liquid. Kind of an important part of brewing, so,  good call, Half Acre! In case you're wondering, this particular beer comes in as 8.2 degrees Baume. Throw that little fact out at your next beer tasting and watch yourself be crowned King (or Queen) of the Beer Geeks.   Of course, this gets me to thinking that more students would have done better in that chemistry class if beer was one of the examples used ( but maybe some things are better left for college.). On their label, Half Acre took the time to thank every one from the band Ween (to each their own I suppose) to the Red Shirts ( I like to think that this is some sort of Star Trek reference to drain pour versions of beers that just didn't successfully make it off the planet Half Acre) to a barber of some guy named Joe (you know, brewers aren't really known for their styling hair, so if Joe is reading this, feel free to pass your guy's digits around a bit at the next beer fest.).

Baume would have approved.  Maybe.  Do the French even drink beer?  Or do they leave that to the Belgians?

My Baume Rye Stout poured a dark, rich brown color. Two and a half fingers of head rose in the pint with dark tan colored foam. I started to get excited when I saw the lacing. I always am a sucker for really good lacing and this beer was a beauty. Clumps of foam crept up the sides of the pint glass and formed intricate webs of aroma. Speaking of aroma, this beer was taking no prisoners. The strong scent of peppery, chewy rye aggressively hit me with even the briefest of sniffs. Once I had become accustomed to the note, I could pick out the slightly bitter sweetness of milk chocolate and a darker sort of bitterness from espresso. There was a very soft scent of something earthy lurking under everything, but not muddy or green. More like burnt tuft. Upon tasting it, my first impression was that if you did not enjoy a good corned beer on rye sandwich, you would NOT like this beer. The note of rye, with it's dark wheat flavor and slightly peppery spiciness was dominant to the extreme. As it warmed a bit and my mouth grew accustomed to the rye, I could find the dark chocolate aspect and the mild roasted grain note. Try as I might, I couldn't detect any coffee flavor at all. There was, however, a smokey, almost ashy note that I couldn't quite put my finger on towards the back of the swallow. For a beer which boasted on it's label that it was "Handsomely hopped", I found it interesting that the hop presence was mild at best. The mouthfeel was creamier and smoother than I had expected. Because of the moderate amount of carbonation and the unexpected creaminess of the grains, I would give this beer a solid medium to lightly full mouthfeel over all. The finish was dry with a bit of hops coming in towards the very end.
Look at that lacing!  This was scientifically recorded occurring at minute 5.79 of the inital drink.  By that I mean i wrote it down on the scrape of paper I was taking notes on

The dominance of the rye makes this beer a difficult one to pair food with.  My best guess for a workable pairing is to try serving it with food that goes well with rye bread.  Try it with some corned beef and sauerkraut on the side (voila!  A deconstructed Reuben!)  Or serve it with an open faced roast beef sandwich with cabbage slaw and russian dressing. (voila!  A sandwich fancy enough to eat with a knife and fork!)  I think it might be fun to pair this with a fondue pot filled with a buttery cheese such as Swiss.(voila!  It's 1973!)   
 Scientifically speaking, carbonation is the chemical reaction of carbon dioxide dissolving into a liquid.  But it's sort of pretty too.  

My bottle had a price sticker in it that indicated that bottling date of 2/28/13. I drank it not quite a month later. I can't help but wonder how the rye note might mellow if this beer could be cellared for a few more months. Would it help balance the beer and pair down the wheaty aggression that concerned me or would it instead just flatten the taste, resulting in a forgettable sort of stout? Where science meets craft is a tricky sort of business in the beer world.  But I guarantee that the homework involved is a lot tastier than any assignment in high school. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

New Holland Brewing's The Poet

  • Style: Oatmeal Stout
  • ABV: 5.2%
  • Season: Year round
  • Ease to locate: In many liquor and some grocery stores in the Midwest and East coast.  The brewery is located in Michigan so consider the Mighty Mississippi as your dividing line.  Here's their beer finder
  • Color: rich dark brown with amber edging
  • Head: 2 fingers with good lacing (look to the left and see for yourself!)
  • Aroma: Chocolate, coffee, date & raisin with a bit of cereal & grains on the end of the nose
  • Mouthfeel: Medium and a little chewy & creamy
  • Finish: Smooth and moderate
  • Food friendly: Mushrooms, beef and chocolate (but separately, please.  Chocolate covered mushrooms are an acquired taste)  Pair it with earthy cheeses such as Fontina.   

I'm not a poet and I certainly know it.  In college (many moons ago during those tragic years when flannel and Michel Bolton were both equally popular) all creative writing majors at my university had to take an Intro to Poetry writing course.  I've always believed that it was the frustrated poets of the English Department's way to knock the smug prose writing majors down a peg or two.  It was general knowledge that prose writers had a slightly better chance of actually being able to make a living from their writing than the poets (and by slightly, I mean that I'm 100% certain that more former classmates of mine have been struck by lightning at least twice than are able to list "Writer" as their occupation on their tax return.)    Sure, every Creative Writing major starts out full of dreams that one day they'd be spending their Friday nights sitting behind a  long oak table at a book store, scribbling their Non De Plume into copies of their best selling book.  The reality is that most of us end up with the equivalent of standing behind a desk for eight hours on a Friday selling some illiterate hack's (because everyone but YOU of course is an illiterate hack) book.   But of course, when you're 20, you never think that the future may not turn out as cinematic as you might imagine.  And when you  put those same young, ambitious, the world is still my oyster, prose writers into a poetry class, you'll soon get a really good idea of what mass produced flop sweat actually smells like.  Now, I love certain poets.  William Yeats.  Emily Dickinson.  Jewel (no, not really.  Relax.)  Dr. Seuss (yes, really.  Green Eggs and Ham is a work of genius.)  But write it?  Well, I'd probably need a drink or three to make it happen.

New Holland Brewing has just the thing for the frustrated writer in all of us.  An oatmeal stout named, appropriately enough, The Poet.  New Holland Brewery is located in the town of New Holland, MI, set along the gorgeously scenic banks of Lake Michigan.  When I spent a long weekend just south of New Holland last Summer, you couldn't swing a cat and not hit someone drinking a New Holland beer (not that I spent my getaway swinging small, furry, family pets around.  I did see someone walking their cockatoo on a leash there, however.)  This brewery is better known for some of their other offerings, most famously for their Dragons Milk Bourbon Barrel Stout.

Dark and creamy like dish washing soap bubbling up from a college fountain during haze week.  I told you I wasn't good at this.  I mean, that didn't even rhyme.

My bottle of The Poet Oatmeal Stout poured a dark, rich brown color.  When held to the light, I could see hints of orange glowing around the edges.  A very generous two finger head rose in the glass, forming a true tan color layer of foam.  Lovely, thick lacing crept up the pint glass and lingered for all of the drink.  The head itself settled to a thick, creamy, spongy layer until the very final drop.  I could smell the chocolate and coffee notes immediately.  A bit softer were the sweet scents of raisins and dates along with the grainy aroma of cereal.  When I took a sip, I noticed that the chocolate taste was much lighter than what I was expecting from the smell.  The roasted bitterness of the coffee flavor helped to balance the sweetness of the chocolate and malts.  Following on the sip was the almost chewy flavor of the raisins, dates and other dark fruits.  Also mixed in was a bit of the cereal/oatmeal grain note.  Like many stouts, moderate to soft hops were present.  According to the New Holland website's spec sheet for this beer, Glacier and Nugget hops were used when brewing.  Glacier hops are a relatively new variety of hops having been bred in America in 2000.  They're sometimes  referred to as American Fuggles because of their light bitterness and slightly citrus scent (I didn't notice any citrus qualities on the note or taste for this beer.)  My best guess is that The Poet used the Nugget hops as the bittering element.  Nugget is a mild sort of hop noted for a soft spiciness.  The mouthfeel was medium with a wonderful chewy creaminess to it.  Just how I like my oatmeal stouts.  The finish was smooth and slightly carbonated.

I think that I shall never see a site as lovely as a 2 inch head of foam.  Of course, trees are nice too.
The center holds very well here.  Somebody inform Mr. Yeats we found one.

I would pair my New Holland The Poet with an earthy and robust sort of meal.  Beef Stroganoff with mushrooms and a pint of this beer on a cool early Spring night sounds very appealing to me.  If you're feeling a bit vegetarian one night, Fontal Polenta with Mushroom Ragu would be a delicious option as well.  And if the overwhelming urge to wax poetic before you indulge, here's a ditty from one of my favorite American poets, Shel Silverstein.  Here was a man who understood that poetry wasn't just about sounding important or flowery.  It was all about the chewiness of life.


Friday, March 22, 2013

Begyle Brewing's Crash Landed

  • Style: American Pale Wheat Ale
  • ABV: 7%
  • Season: Year round
  • Ease to locate: Chicago distribution only (so far)  Mainly bottle shops and some liquor stores  Here's a link to their website
  • Color: Golden dark straw with a hint of orange to it
  • Head: One & a half fingers with good lacing
  • Aroma: Grains, wheat, a bit of biscuit and some slight sweetness
  • Mouthfeel: Medium with a good amount of carbonation
  • Finish: Short to medium.  I would have liked it slightly longer
  • Food friendly: Yes.  I can see this working equally well with roasted chicken or with a simple salad.  Try it with earthy cheeses like Fontina

 Being the new kid is never easy.  Finding your place in the group.  Figuring out what it is that you have to offer and then convincing everyone that they actually really want whatever that is.  It's all the insecurity of  high school, only with out the backpacks and bad hair (although I've got to ask.  Are hipster beards the brewers version of chef tattoos?   And do they have any sort of direct correlation to the IBU units in the beer they produce?  I wonder about these things.)   Right now in Chicago (and from what I'm hearing, it's pretty much the same for most other large urban areas of the country as well) there is a glut of new breweries that have recently opened within the last two years.  Some are destined to succeed while other will crash and burn on their own merits.   According to a reports recently published by the Brewers Association " In 2012, there was an 18 percent increase in the number of U.S. operating breweries, with the total count reaching 2,403. The count includes 409 new brewery openings and only 43 closings. "   Personally, I sometimes think that all 409 new breweries opened right here. It's reaching a point where I can't keep track of all of them.  Dry Hop Brewers.  Off Color Brewing.  Atlas Beer Company.   You could literally tell me that there is a place called Gullible Brewing Co. right  now and I'd probably believe you.

                                             Did you know that Lady Gaga had to open for New Kids on the Block when she started out?  Puts things in perspective, huh, Begyle?

Begyle Brewing is one of the new kids on the block  (not that they break out into a slick choreographed dance number when you visit the brewery.  I hear that they only do that at festivals.)  Begyle's niche is a bit of a unique one.  Using a CSA model (BCSA?) they eventually would like to create a series of beer subscriptions where monthly growler batches would be available for paid members.  It's an interesting concept.   But  just as a regular CSA membership intrigues me, I'm also somewhat hesitant because, well, what if the monthly offering is awful?  I mean, I don't want to get stuck with a bushel of blueberries (since they are really the only fruit I hate) let alone a growler of experimental blueberry green onion bock.  As far as I can tell, Begyle hasn't actually set up their BCSA as of yet, so you can only partake in their brews in certain pubs or bottle shops in and around Chicago.  I first tried a few of their beers at a recent winter fest in January and was rather impressed that they served some might tasty beers.  In fact, they served the beers that my group and I ended up liking the most that night.  So when I was studying the selves of my local bottle shop and found a few bottles of their beer, I had to give it shot.

For the new kid, it really was a fine looking beer. 

My Crash Landed poured a deep golden straw color liquid.  There were hints of orange in the coloring as well.  A lovely white 1 & 1/2 finger head formed, which took it's time settling very nicely into a shallow layer of foam for the rest of the drink.  Really good lacing was present, creeping it's glossy way up my pint glass with each sip.  I could smell a lot of grains and wheat scents on the nose.  There was also a bit of biscuit and a very small amount of sweetness present as well.  Although I couldn't really detect any hops on the nose, I could certainly taste them.  It was rather hop forward, with herbal notes very present.  But the hops worked in a nicely balanced sort of way.  When I spoke with one of the brewers at the beer fest back in January, he mentioned that they take pride in dry hopping all of their brew.  I think this shows in the controlled bitterness when you actually drink it.  I could taste the biscuit quality, but not much of the sweet scent that I discovered earlier.  I believe that this beer really needed a bit of brightness.  A hint of citrus (orange zest maybe, or even the go-to flavor of grapefruit) would have given the taste the complexity that I was yearning for.  A bit of resin showed up on the back of the sip after the initial wheat notes disappeared.  The mouthfeel was medium and helped by a good amount of carbonation.  It was smooth and easily drinkable.  The finish was short to medium, leaving pleasant resin note on your tongue.  I wish that the finish has lasted just a bit longer.  I think the simplicity of a beer like this could have benefited from a bit of intrigue on the finish.
No first out insecurities on this head

I would pair this beer with a variety of foods.  Roasted chicken, stuffed with aromatics like onions and sage, would be delicious served with Crash Landed.  Alternatively, this beer would be wonderful with a pizza, piled high with earthy wild mushrooms.  However, I also think it would work with lighter fare, such as a simple garden salad with a citrus vinaigrette.  You get the idea of it's versatility.
Numbero Uno

My Begyle Brewing's Crash Landed was marked as Batch #1.  To me, this is a beer that shows a lot of promise.  I liked it well enough that we quickly finished the bomber one night (and my family is not one to hesitate to drain pour something that we just aren't feeling.  Yeah, that's how we roll.)    Does it need some tweaks here and there?  In my humble opinion, yes.  A bit of brightness and a stronger finish could catapult this beer into the next level.  I was excited to find this brewery's offerings sitting on my local shop's shelves.  I'm even more excited to get an opportunity to try it again when they reach Batch #100. Because, remember, even Lady Gaga was a new kid once (but at least she got paid to be there.).

Monday, March 18, 2013

Pipeworks Brewing Co.'s Hyper Dog Milk Stout

  • Style: Milk Stout
  • ABV: 7.50%
  • Season: Late Winter (rotating, so get it while you can!)
  • Ease to locate: Some liquor stores and bottle shops in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.  If you live elsewhere, make a friend who lives here.  Here's their beer finder
  • Color: Dark brown chocolate color
  • Head: Very little.  Probably not even a half a finger
  • Aroma: wonderful scents of milk chocolate, coco nibs, mocha and roasted malts.  There was a slight bit of vanilla there too.
  • Mouthfeel: Medium.  Not too creamy but easily drinkable
  • Finish: Medium.  It begins with the chocolate notes and smoothly slides to a mild hoppy finish.  Nicely done.
  • Food friendly: As much as a mild stout can be.  It's not extremely creamy, so it could work with something like a mildly seasoned roast beef.  You could also pair it with a desert like vanilla  ice cream topped with strawberries.

Cool is as cool does.  Most people give up a good portion of their waking hours in an effort trying to be cool.  Fitting or blending into the scene isn't enough.  Cool people have an unique, effortless style that makes everyone around them  take a breath and whisper "Man, that is soooo cool."  But there are two problem inherent with this desire.  First, the definition of cool is always changing.  What's "in" one day, is seldom still popular the next (hello Kim Kardasian!)  And secondly, people who try really, really hard to be considered cool, very rarely ever are (hello Rob Kardasian!)  It's the individuals who just spend their time being 100% themselves that are the real cool ones.  Jennifer Lawrence.   Steve McQueen.  Neil Gaiman. The Black Keys.  Wynton Marsalis. These folks don't give a damn what you think of them.  They do their thing and let the chips fall where they may.  And that's cool.

                                                                                                 The single coolest line from a TV show to date

Pipeworks Brewing Company is sort of the Steve McQueen of the Chicago brewery scene.  Most breweries set up shop the old fashioned way.  Find investors, build a facility and then brew some "cool" yet very commercial beers to turn a profit.  Instead, Gerrit Lewis and Beejay Oslon (Pipeworks' alter egos) kind of just said, "Aw, screw it.  We want to know what a pastrami spiced beer would taste like."  They began brewing small batches of unique (some say insane) beers in 2007 as gypsy brewers, but after a successful Kickstart campaign, finally opened a small brewery in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago.   Lots of breweries try to find that one amazing beer that will define them and grant them a place at the ever expanding craft beer table.  Pipeworks takes great pride in producing as many different styles and flavors of beer as they can.  The fact that you might walk in to your local bottle shop and find a bottle of Citra Ninja one week, only to have it fade into a distant memory the next and replaced with something called Unicorn's Revenge Imperial IPA  is what makes them so interesting.  These guys don't just throw some pasta at the wall to see what sticks.  They scatter the whole freaking menu of Spago against the wall.  And more often than not, it's a sticky, gorgeously insane, tasty mess. 
I'd like to think that Pipeworks purposely created a milk stout with a small head.  Just to see if they could

My bottle of Hyper Dog Milk Stout poured rich, solid, chocolate brown.  Very little head formed on the top of the beer, barely a half a finger's worth of foam.   There was no lacing to speak of really.   I was initially disappointed that the beer didn't have your typical 1 & 1/2 to 2 finger head, but don't worry, I got over it.  The aromas of sweet milk chocolate, earthy coco and roasted coffee were present on the nose.  I could pick up some roasted grains and vanilla scents as well.  It smelled like a straight forward milk stout to me and a very good once indeed.    Tasted like one too.  The sweet chocolate and milk were balanced by the bitterness of the cold pressed coffee.  I couldn't really taste an abundance of vanilla, but I think that the brewers used the vanilla as a baker might, to enhance the more prominent chocolate flavors.  The beer had a bitter hop quality on the tail end of the sip, nicely balancing the over all sweetness.  The mouthfeel was only medium.  After the disappointing head (I feel like a judge on America's Next Top Model.  "I liked the body, but found the head extremely lacking in quality!" )  I wasn't really expecting an abundance of creaminess on the body anyway.  There was a mild amount of carbonation present, making it extremely easy to drink.  The finish was moderate, but really enjoable for this sort of style.  The sip began with the mocha ,chocolatey sweetness and very smoothly slid into a dry, slightly hoppy finish.  Really, really cool.
This proves that the beer initially had a bit of head at least
Of course, it didn't stick around very long

Milk stouts are difficult to pair with food.  The sweetness of the milk sugars, the chocolate nature of the grains and the creaminess of the body all work against most meals.  I think that because Pipeworks' Hyper Dog is so well balanced and lacks a heavy creamy mouthfeel, it might end up being a bit of an exception to the rule.  I enjoyed this with a simple roast beef sandwich and could see it pairing nicely with other simply prepared roasted meats (skip the horseradish infused balsamic glaze.)   Better yet, serve this beer as a desert option with a bowl of homemade ice cream and feel free to pile on the toppings.
Like a limited edition who's time becomes even more limited when you pour it into a glass

Pipeworks takes pride in brewing an ever changing variety of small batches (their motto is Big Beer, Small Batches.)  They hand label each bottle with a batch number and, as you can see, my batch was #80.  The brewery began brewing Hyper Dog on a rotating schedule as of last year.  It's actually a coffee variation on their other popular milk stout, Jones Dog.   Maybe this wasn't the most exciting milk stout that I've ever had.  And maybe it wasn't amazingly complex or insanely flavored with goji berries or some other trendy, of the moment ingredient.  But Pipeworks has never tried to be trendy or concerned about meeting anyone's expectations except their own.  If you look over their ever expanding portfolio of beers, one common element will leap out at you like Steve McQueen's car did on the hills of San Fransisco in the movie Bullet.  All of the small batch beers that they brew are just what Pipeworks, and Pipeworks alone, want them to be.  And that's exactly what makes them so damn cool.          

Friday, March 15, 2013

Great Lakes Brewing's Conway's Irish Ale

  • Style: Irish Red Ale
  • ABV: 6.5%
  • Season: Winter (late winter specificly)
  • Ease to locate: Widely available in the Midwest, NY, NJ, VA, WV, KY,  & Washington DC
  • Color: Golden amber 
  • Head: 1 & 1/2 fingers with nice lacing
  • Aroma: Toasted malts, sweet caramel, a bit of tea and a hint of citrus
  • Mouthfeel: Light, but crisp and dry.  A good amount of carbonation
  • Finish: Medium with mild hops on the tail
  •  Food friendly: Yes.  Because it's dry, it'll go with a variety of foods.  Personally, I'm serving it with corned beef.             

They say on St. Patrick's Day that everyone is Irish.  Well, 365 days a year I'm always Irish.  My maternal grandmother, who was also named Marie (which I'm sure is just a coincidence), came over from County Mayo when she was just 16 years old.   She left her family's small farm in the West of Ireland and sailed across the sea to a new country to join her older sisters in the quest for a better life. When I was 16, my greatest achievement was when Marvel Comics published a letter that I wrote in one of their publications (don't mock.  I was really excited.)  My grandmother was an extraordinary woman.  Actually, I come form a long line of extraordinary women on both sides of my family tree.  Talk about pressure to not suck.  My grandmother worked as a cook, a ladies maid and at one point, as the caretaker of a linen closet for a rather wealthy Chicago heiress (today we might have referred to her as a "Linen Special Needs Assistant")  When my grandfather passed away, my mom and her sister were just teenagers.  My grandmother became the sole breadwinner for her family.   She was a single mom way before it became a Rom Com cliche staple. One of the legacies she passed on to me was her pride in doing a job well done. Half-assing something was definitely not in her wheelhouse.  

                                        The elder Marie may never have recognized The Pogues as Irish music, but as we've already established, this Marie has her own way of doing things

Pat and Dan Conway, the owners of  Great Lakes Brewing, must have had a similar upbringing.  They named their Irish ale after their paternal grandfather, Patrick (again, I'm sure just a coincidence.)  Patrick Conway the elder was a Cleveland traffic cop for over twenty five years, often directing traffic on a corner where his grandsons' brewery now sits.   I believe that these brewers were raised with the same determination and drive that only an Irish grandparent can provide.  Irish grandparents also tend to give you a love of all things shamrock, a high tolerance for guilt complexes and the ability to slap on a friendly grin all the while you are plotting a rival's take down, but I digress.

I had to take these photos on my IPhone.  I'd prefer if you consider the lighting here as "artistic" and not "crappy"
 My Great Lakes Brewing's Conway's Irish Ale poured a slightly hazy, golden amber color.  A 1 & 1/2 finger off white head formed in the pint glass.  Although you can't tell from photos that I took, a lovely bit of lacing reached high up the sides of the glass.  I could smell a bit of sweet caramel and toasted malts right away.  As it warmed, the aroma of weak tea and a hint of citrus emerged.  The aroma of the beer wasn't strong, but I think that this style benefits from a lighter scent profile.  I could taste the toasted malts right away.  There was a bit of nuttiness on the grain and a well balanced, mild hoppiness just under the malt.  The mild tea flavor helped to balance out the sweetness with a bit of herbal fruitiness.  There was a smidge of the citrus, but just enough to give the drink a bit of brightness.  I think the last two flavors are thanks to the presence of Willimette hops, which are the US version of Fuggle hops.  They have a similar flavor prifile and is listed on Great Lake's website as one of the hop varieties used in this beer.  The mouth feel was light to medium with a nice amount of effervescence.  The carbonation helped to make this an easy to drink pleaser (while not technically a "session" ale because of a 6.5% ABV, it's certainly a sessionable sort of beer.) The finish was meduim with a very mild and tasty hop presence on the end.   

This gives you a good idea of the beer's color.  It gives you an awful idea of the lacing

Sort of like the fog settling softly over Galway Bay.  OK, not really, but it certainly tastes better

 I would pair Conway's Irish Ale with a variety of food Of course you can go with traditional corned beef sandwiches, but we're Irish Americans, damn it!  Embrace your Yankee boldness and try something less traditional.  Serve it with meatless shephard pie with horseraddish cheddar potatoes    (yes, it's a Rachael Ray recipe.  Don't judge me.  It said CHEDDAR POTATOES, people!)  I think it could equally go with with an easy  braised chicken thighs dish (and yes, this one is Emeril.  Apparently I'm on a Food Network roll.  Sometimes you just have to ride the wave.)  No matter what you pair it with,  try to serve it with a huge helping of family.  Yes, they sometimes drive us to the brink of insanity, some times to the precipice of financial ruin and sometimes we want to just change our names to Consuela and set up a surf shop in a small Mexican costal town (unless your name is already Consuela, then feel free to change it to Marie and move to Chicago instead.)  But family is also the reason that we who we are today.  And on most days, that's not that bad. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

North Coast Brewing's Brother Thelonious Belgian Style Abbyey Ale

  • Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale/ Belgian Style Abbey Ale
  • ABV: 9.4%
  • Season: Year round
  • Ease to locate: Well distributed in grocery and liquor stores through out the US. Here's their beer finder.
  • Color: Mahogany reddish tint
  • Head: 1 & 1/2 fingers with bits of lacing
  •  Aroma: Fruity with a good hit of caramel and bready yeasts.  A bit of fig and biscuit as well.
  • Mouthfeel: Medium
  • Finish: Medium with a pleasant mild hop note on the tail
  • Food friendly:Yes.  Like many Belgian style ales, this is a great food beer.  Try it with marinated grilled or roasted meat & chicken.  Serve it with sharp cheese such as Cheddar or pungent cheese such as Gorgonzola

There are two types of people in the world.  Those that love jazz and those that are tone deaf.

                                                                                     Brother Theo and his quartet.  Admit it.  You sort of want his hat, don't you?

    I love jazz. Not that smooth, "hey baby, want to come up to my pad and see my etchings" sort of music. If it's something that you might hear in your dentist's office during a root canal, it's not what I'm talking about here. But the soulful moans of Charlie Parker's alto sax? The playful tinkling of Oscar Peterson on the ivories? The mellow California casualness of Dave Brubek and his trio? Yes, yes and more, please. I love how a bunch of jazz musicians must stay in the moment and really listen to what the others are playing in order to break free of the sheet music and put their own spin on the tune. To me, it's more than just a style of music. It's an American style, unique and malleable within our own history. If you know jazz, even marginally, you can tell the difference between what Wynton Marsalis or Kermit Russell have done down in New Orleans from what Stan Getz or Charlie Parker did in New York. And Chicago' s contribution to the great jazz scene? I could go on all day (and as many before you can attest, have been know to) about the late great Von Freeman.  And Gene Krupa.  And King Flemming.  Jazz musicians understand that by working together as a group, they each will get their chance to solo, their chance at their one moment in the sun.

    Honestly?  It's too pretty to be snarky

    A good beer is like a great piece of jazz. All the elements have to work together in order to let each individual piece shine when the time is right. North Coast Brewery must understand this dynamic. When they set out to brew a Belgian influenced ale, they named it after one of it's greatest ambassadors, Thelonious Monk. Monk was a pianist who recorded on iconic labels such as Blue Note and Columbia. He jammed with other greats, like Miles Davis and John Coltrane. The man was a legend. He was known for using his piano as almost a percussion instrument, banging on the keys as if he was attacking the music. Yet he also knew how to play to the silence. In many ways, a good beer does the same thing. Hit me with a flavor and then with another, but give me a bit of rest to appreciate not only the notes I've tasted, but to anticipate the ones yet to come.

    Belgian lacing is like a soul patch for your pint
     My Brother Thelonious Belgian Style Abbey Ale poured a gorgeous mahogany color, layered with a warm tints of shades of red. A one and a half finger head formed. Off white, almost ivory, bubbles foamed and sat on the top of the beer for most of the drink. Moderate Belgian lacing was present, nothing extraordinary, but just enough to make a swirl or two worthwhile. I could smell Belgian yeast and a bit of caramel sweetness on the nose. Then came the dry scent of biscuit and and earthiness of fig, each taking their own time in making a contribution to the overall aroma in front of me. The taste was well reflected in the nose. I could first sense the the sweet caramel harmonizing with the dryness of the yeast and toastiness of the malts. The fruit was reminiscence of the earth, tasting of grapes, raisins and, of course, the figs. I think that there was a bit of cherry flavor under it all as well. Each flavor note worked in conjunction with the others, yet still took it's own brief moment to riff a bit on their own place in the grand scheme of abbey ales. The mouthfeel was medium, with a nice bit of carbonation to make it easily drinkable. Just as Monk new it to be true, Brother Thelonious showed that playing to the silence could create a great amount of drama in a short amount of time. The finish started out normal enough, the caramel and fruit notes lingered shortly on my tongue. But then, just as I felt slightly disappointed that the finish was somewhat short and sweet, it took a brief pause to collect itself in the absence of flavor and burst back into existence with a mild hop note at the very end. The first few times, it was an unexpected pleasure and just made me smile at the mere fact that it was there.

    Monk's middle name was Sphere.  Coincidence?  Yeah.  Probably. 

    Since Belgian ales are one of the more food friendly types of beer, Brother Thelonious is a great beer to keep in your cellar for a casual, impromptu dinner party.  Marinate some steaks using a slightly spicy and earthy set of notes,  such as pan grilled flank steak with soy mustard sauce .  Or roast some chicken pieces with a savory set of elements, such as roasted chicken with dried plums and shallots.    If you're planning on serving a mixed cheese plate, go heavier on the sharp and smelly set of cheese varieties and let the sweet, fruity and dry qualities of this beer shine.  North Coast Brewing donates a small portion of their profits from each bottle sold of Brother Thelonious to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, a non for profit program that assists in promoting jazz education.  I like that I can enjoy a tasty, food friendly ale and help promote a music style that I adore at the same time.  Brother Thelonoius may not be the most complex or exciting representation of an Abbey Ale, but it's a solid, easy to find beer that does the job for a Saturday night.  So crack open a bottle, throw something that once mooed or clucked on the grill and relax to the musical styling of our Brother Theo.  

    Friday, March 8, 2013

    Kona Brewing's Pipeline Porter

    • Style: Porter
    • ABV: 5.3%
    • Season: Fall/Winter
    • Ease to locate: They now distribute in at least 36 states and in 9 countries.  Here's a link to their beer finder. Mahalo.
    • Color: Dark brown with ruby hints along edges
    • Head: Two & a half finger tan foam
    • Aroma: A bit of coco and coffee on the nose.  I didn't get the Kona coffee experience I was looking for though
    • Mouthfeel: Light and a bit watery, but with a lot of effervescence
    • Finish: Medium
    • Food friendly: Sure.  Since it's a lighter porter, it'll go well with most winter foods and even some lighter summery dishes.  I think it'd be excellent with any sort of barbecue.  Cheese selection should stick with buttery varieties, such as Swiss or Gouda.

     It is a universal truth that anyone who has ever been to Hawaii on vacation, has spent a good portion of his or her time post trip plotting a way to go back one day.    There's an almost instant connection between two people, possibly as different as they can be without one of them actually being a space alien, who have both spent time on one of the islands.  You don't get that sort of bond from traveling to,say, New Hampshire or Miami.  I think that if the United Nations was serious about the whole Pakistan/Israel thing, they would just insist that both sides take two weeks on a beach in Maui and then get back to us with their solution.  My best guess is that the solution would revolve around matching turtle tattoos and a mutual timeshare in Lahaina.

                            How I first learned of the magical place known as Hawaii.  I also first learned about not playing ball in the house in much the same way.

    My personal Hawaiian hangup is that I covet Kona coffee.  I literally horde it, squirreling bags away behind all the other bags of coffee in my pantry.  Sometimes I worry that this might give my boring old bags of Arabica beans some sort of caffeine inferiority complex.  But then I inhale that rich and slightly smoky roasted goodness and I no longer care.  So imagine my excitement when I realized that Kona Brewing made a porter using genuine Kona coffee.  Kona Brewing was founded in 1995 and it's main brewery is located on the Big Island.  Of course, they also have satellite breweries in Portland, OR, Woodinville, WA and Portsmouth, NH.   This makes sense once you realize just how far Hawaii actually is located from the mainland of the United States (the Big Island is 2551 miles from Los Angeles just in case you didn't know.  The distance between New York and LA is 2785 miles for comparison.  So yes, a long freaking fraking way.)    I have to admit that I did wonder what a paradise with an average temperature of 80 degrees on most days, would want with a porter (their Koko Brown ale? Brewed with coconut?  Hell to the yea.)  But after trying the Pipeline Porter, I realized that just like most things in Hawaii, Hawaiians have their own way of  doing things.

    Aloha, my pretty

    My Pipeline Porter poured a dark drown cola color with glowy bits of red around the edges of the glass.  A generous, springy 2 & 1/2 finger light tan head formed.  It slowly settled to a half finger foam that covered the surface for most of the beer.  It wasn't the creamy sort of head that affects the mouthfeel, however.  The head was dry and extremely carbonated.     While it looked impressive, I don't think it added anything positive to the enjoyment of the beer at all.  It did provide a nice bit of lacing on the glass, so I'll give it points for appearance. The nose on the head was light, with bits of chocolate, coffee and roasted malts.  There was a sweet smoke element to it as well, and I think that is what sold me on the beer.  The smoke scent took the porter from just a run of the mill porter to something that caught my interest.  The taste was a bit less sweet than the nose.  The taste was very roasted coffee forward, followed quickly by the  bitter sweet chocolate flavor that you expect from a porter.  Now, I'm going to nitpick just a bit (I know, how unusual for it to take me so long...)  Anyway, I was looking for the richness and roasted goodness of Kona coffee and was disappointed to find just a normal generic sort of coffee element in the beer.  I was promised Kona beans and yes, I was ticked off when I couldn't find them.  The coffee flavor that was there was certainly fine and didn't detract from the beer.  It just wasn't special.  The caramel sweetness from the aroma was less present, but there was a fruity sweetness in the middle note of the sip.  I think that the fruit leaned more towards a tropical element (pineapple possiblely) than citrus, but whatever it was, I really enjoyed it's presence.  The mouthfeel was light and rather effervescent, which I liked in this sort of warm weather friendly porter.  A mild hop note finally emerged on the tail end of the medium finish. 

    A porter that you can enjoy on the beach?

    Just don't get sand in it. 
    As far as porters go, Kona Brewing's Pipeline Porter is a pretty light and easily drinkable beer.  If I felt like a porter on a coolish July evening, this would be a great option.  I'd pair it with barbeque or any substantial grilled foods.  I can easily see myself having a pint with this recipe for polynesian flank steak. for dinner.  If you want to pair Pipeline with something a little riskier, I think that the coffee flavor and hint of smokiness would be excellent with some brown sugar glazed grilled salmon.   And if you are the kind of main-lander who likes to live dangerously, cook yourself up a batch of Spam in tinfoil.  Then close your eyes.  Imagine that your folding chair isn't sitting on a concrete slab of sidewalk, but resting gently on a bed of coarse, grainy sand which squishes pleasantly between your bare toes. That overpowering stale city smell, heavy with a mix of smog and SUV exhaust is really a light tropical breeze, slightly salty with kisses from the sea.  Because if you can't send your sorry broke self to Hawaii for the night, at least now you can bring a little of Hawaii to you.  Even if the coffee isn't the same.

    Monday, March 4, 2013

    Central Waters Brewing's Satin Solstice Imperial Stout

    • Style: Imperial Stout
    • ABV: 7.50%
    • Season:Year round
    • Ease to locate: The brewery is located in Central Wisconsin.  I  bought mine in Chicago.  Other than that, I have no clue.  Their website  details exactly how they make their bottles but not one bit on where to buy their beers. 
    • Color: Dark, dark brown with red hints 
    • Head: Generous three finger beige foam with lots of sticky lacing
    • Aroma: Roasted, dark coffee, good chocolate and dates
    • Mouthfeel: Just this side of lush, but still a bit chewy
    • Finish: Medium
    • Food friendly: Smoked meats, roasted meats and thick stews.  Serve it with buttery cheeses such as Brie and Havarti to match the thick mouthfeel 

     We've reached the point of the year where I begin to hate snow.  I don't particularly hate winter.  Winter means comfy sweaters, hearty foods and the return of favorite cable shows.  But that stupid white stuff?  I hate it with a red hot fiery passion (if only passion was enough to melt the damn thing.)  I hate the way it piles up on my car making me late to work each morning (because that's the only reason I'm late, I swear to God to a nonspecific deity who will not strike me dead for lying, but understands that sometimes an extra 10 minutes of sleep really does make a difference.  For our purposes here, I will call him "Carl".)   I hate that I have to clear paths like a tracker in the Amazon in order just to leave my house (you don't have to shovel cold.)  And I really hate that I have to wear ugly shoes so I don't do a face plant on a daily basis.

    What I do like about snow is that it that means there still time to try new porters and stouts before the Spring thaw makes me crave lighter fare.  I recently picked up a bottle from a brewery located in Central Wisconsin that has been gathering a bit of good press lately.  Central Waters Brewery is located in Amherst, WI (about three and a half hours north of Chicago) and claims to have 200 retail outlets in Wisconsin.  Of course, as anyone who has ever driven through Wisconsin knows, you can buy great craft beer at just about any reliable gas station,  So maybe this isn't that amazing of a claim to fame.  However, they celebrated their 15th anniversary with a party that got a lot of Chicago beer geeks talking and traveling north, so I thought I'd grab a bottle or two and give them a shot.   I'm sort of glad that I did.

    Excuse me, Mr. Imperial Stout.  Your bubbles seem to be showing
    My Satin Solstice poured a rich dark brown color with reddish tints when held to the light.  I could easily see the individual bubbles from  the carbonation rising quickly in the glass, which I'm not really used to finding in an imperial stout..  A generous three finger, light beige, spongy head quickly formed.  Sticky, encompassing lace clung to the glass and stayed that way almost to the last drop.  I was really impressed with the foam's retention and thought that it's presence greatly added to the creaminess of the beer.  The top note of roasted coffee and roasted malts rose from my glass and mixed with scents of quality chocolate and dark chewy fruit (dates, I believe.)  It was a delicious aroma that perfectly set me up for the taste to follow.  I could discern the roasted malts, roasted coffee and rich chocolate flavors immediately.   The dark fruit and booze notes that one expects in an imperial stout found me in the middle of the sip.  I thought that the boozy note was well balanced for the most part, but that it didn't really add anything wonderful to the beer .  Some imperials are able to use that alcohol flavor component to their advantage in order to add an extra layer to their beer.  Personally, I don't think Satin Solstice used their's to up the ante any.  It was sort of just another note.  Nitpicky?  Maybe.  Definitely.  But the devil is in the details.  The mouthfeel was just this shy of lush.   I've had thicker and more luxurious imperial stouts, but I certainly wouldn't classify this one as watery.  The beer  was thick, a bit creamy and just carbonated enough to make it drinkable.  The finish was smooth like it's namesake.   It was moderate in length, with a hop note finally emerging on the end.

    Like frosted window panes.  Only lickable.

    You can almost see the creaminess 

    Central Waters has apparently jumped on the bottling date label bandwagon.  I was a little surprised to see  that they bothered to mark the beer's birthday on the side of their label.  I can understand why a freshness date is important when I'm drinking an IPA or another hopped up beer, but for a regular old imperial stout?  In any case, mine was bottled in December and I bought it in February.  Now, if they marked the year on the imperial stout's label, I'd be a bit more impressed.  I could see cellaring this beer for a year to discover if the boozy note changed enough to enhance the beer complexity in any way. 

    DOB December.  Could be 2012, could be 1996
    Like most heavier beers, I'd pair Central Water's Satin Solstice Imperial Stout with  food that matched it's weight, such as a hearty stew or thick pot roast.  The level of carbonation and relatively low ABV (for an imperial stout) in this brew actually makes it a little easier to serve with food than other beers in the same category.  If you wanted to try it with something a bit out of the ordinary, pair the Satin Solstice with balsamic strawberries and ricotta cream for a desert.  And then invite me over.  I'll start shoveling a path to your door right now without one complaint, I swear to "Carl."

    Friday, March 1, 2013

    Smuttynose Brewery Co's Robust Porter

    • Style: Porter
    • ABV: 6.20%
    • Season: Year Round
    • Ease to locate: Well distributed East of the Mississippi with an emphasis in New England.  Apologies to my West Coast friends.  But you get the good weather, so suck it up
    • Color: A rich, dark brown
    • Head: Generous two fingers with tasty looking lacing
    • Aroma: Roasted coffee beans, dark chocolate, caramel sweetness and bit of dark fruit 
    • Mouthfeel: Medium body
    • Finish: Long and satisfying.  A bit of hops on the tail
    • Food friendly: Barbeque meats, grilled portobello mushrooms and any sort of hearty, meaty dishes.  Pair it with buttery cheeses like Havarti and Swiss.

     Is there such as thing as truth in advertizing?  Not too long ago, there was a huge brouhaha over false claims by the dairy industry regarding milk's ability to help you lose weight.  Apparently it's illegal to imply that people can become Superman if they drink a glass of milk.  Who knew?  Personally I'm more concerned that people are being lead to believe that this guy is actually Superman.

    Man of aluminum
    So when I picked up a bottle of Smuttynose's Robust Porter, I had to wonder if a beer with such a simple and direct name could deliver on it's promise.  We live in a craft world filled with beers named things like Blood of the Unicorn and Prolonged Enjoyment.  There's a certain graceful elegance  in naming your beer something so to the point.  There's also a bit of bravado there too.  Robust Porter.  With a name like that, Smuttynose basically has thrown down the gauntlet and had better deliver on their claim of brewing a big, hearty porter.    Any sort of muted flavors or watery mouthfeel wouldn't just disappoint me.  I'd be forced to take it as a personal affront and demand retribution Kill Bill style (minus the bumble bee jogging suit.  I just don't look good in yellow.)   

    Like waves on a rough sea.  Because sailors are a robust lot.  Except for Disney pirates.  
    You almost need a spork. 

    My Robust Porter poured a rich, oaky, dark brown color.  It was a solid looking beer, no hints of any color but brown, even when held to the light.  It produced a hearty, two finger head with thick, light tan foam.  Amazing lacing stuck to the sides of the pint, like puffy, fermented Colorforms (and no, there aren't any beer specific  Colorforms.  Yet.)  The head takes it's time in settling down to a dense layer that lasted for almost all of the drink. The beer itself smelled wonderful.  Roasted, almost burnt, coffee beans hit me first.  Good coffee.  Like "I'm willing to pay 5 bucks for a tiny paper cup of it" coffee.   Bittersweet dark chocolate  and sweet caramel aromas mixed on the nose.  The overall result was not too sweet, just enough to balance out the almost burnt quality of the coffee.  The porter's taste reflected the nose extraordinarily well.  Dark roasted coffee, dark bitter chocolate and dark chewy fruits mingled like rejected American Idol contestants at a Karaoke night open bar.  There was a bit of sweet, nutty toffee to lift the dark veil a bit.  As the porter warmed a little, I could also detect a smidgen of smokiness and a tinge of earth there too, which lent the beer some extra depth.  The mouthfeel was on the high end of medium, thicker than a regular porter but not as lush as a good imperial stout (which it wasn't claiming to be.)   I think the fair amount of carbonation helped make the chewiness of this beer work.  I never felt as if it was too much to handle mainly because of the fizziness of the bubbles. The finish was long and complex.  It started off with the coffee and chocolate flavors and smoothly transitioned to a slightly hopped up, yet satisfyingly dry, finish.   I noticed some coffee ground-like flecks of sediment at the bottom of my glass after finishing most of my beer (robust to the last drop indeed.)  Next time I'll remember to pour a bit more carefully.      

    The gorgeous head was still robust after a few minutes

    I would pair Smuttynose's Robust Porter with dishes that I think of as Ron Swanson foods (and if you know who I'm talking about, a) you're awesome and b) you need to check this out for food pairings.).  You want to serve this beer with big, bold foods, but I also think that a hearty stew of roasted root vegetables  would be a great vegetarian option (as I understand it, vegetarians like good beer too.)   Robust Porter was one of the better balanced porters out there.  There was no hype, no gimmicks, no unreasonable, unfulfilled  expectations.  Smuttynose promised robust and they delivered.  I can't help but wish that more companies (breweries and otherwise) would follow suit.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to use my Shamwow to clean up the spots that the Glass Wizard  missed on my window after things got a bit out of hand while mincing some Chia Pet Herbs with my Slap Chop .