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Monday, February 25, 2013

New Glarus Brewing's Winter Warmer

  • Style: Scottish Ale
  • ABV: 9.00%
  • Season: Limited (Winter 2012/2013)
  • Ease to locate: Like all New Glarus beer, it's only sold in WI
  • Color: Orange amber with light reddish brown tints
  • Head: Two finger white head with sticky lacing
  •  Aroma: Caramel, toast, pale malts, and a bit of booze.  No hop scent that I could find
  • Mouthfeel: Thin to medium.  Not a lot of carbonation
  • Finish: Short with a boozy chaser
    • Food friendly: Not particularly.  Scottish ale is difficult to pair.  I'd drink it on it's own.  Maybe curled on your couch watching Trainspotting or Braveheart.  Or not.  Your call.  But if you go with Highlander 2, I don't want to know about it.

I think by now, I've made it pretty clear that I'm a fan of New Glarus beers.  Spotted Cow, Back 40, Fat Squirrel are some of the best reasons to travel North to Wisconsin (Why, New Glarus?  Why take away my Fat Squirrel???  Was it something I said?  I can change!  Well, not a lot, honestly.)  So when I discovered that they brewed a Scottish ale this year as a special seasonal offering, I knew that I had to try it.  New Glarus has a Thumbprint Series of limited produced beers that change from year to year, season to season.  They wrap the neck of the bottle in pretty red foil so you know they've got to be special.  This winter they brewed Winter Warmer as part of the Thumbprint series.

Some girls like diamonds.  I prefer red foil

 Scottish ales or Scotch ales if you prefer, can be amazingly complex beers.  There's actually a bit of a debate over which term should be used for this beer depending on the country of origin of the beer and the ingredients used.  But honestly?  It's beer, people.  Not a child that you are adopting through a shady guy with an office in a strip mall.   For our purposes here, I'm going to use Scottish ale since this is what New Glarus calls it.  Anyway, Scottish ales are known for their caramel and malt flavors as well as a rich mouthfeel.  Brewers use a long boil in order to caramelize the sugar in the wort (this, of course, means extra special attention from the brewers because burnt sugar is vastly different from caramelized sugar.)  They are usually lower in hops with under notes of herbs or floral flavors.  Some of the best ones (in my opinion) have a smokey element to their flavor profiles.  Winter warmer is a separate category of beer.  Winter warmers are known for being higher in alcohol (see the 9.00% ABV listed above).  This gives the drinker a warming sensation as it goes down (hence the "winter warmer" moniker.)   They vary from brewery to brewery, but most tend to use a spice element in their flavor profile.   So is New Glarus' a Scottish ale or a winter warmer?  Or is it some weird hybrid of both, like an unholy abomination created by an insane madman,  resulting in a tragic monster that has no home, no world to call it's own?

Again, people, it's just beer.   

You know, even without the red foil it's still kind of pretty
My Winter Warmer poured a glowing amber reddish brown color.  It was only slightly hazy (as expected with a Scottish ale)  with no real bits of yeast floating around inside.  A slightly off white two finger head rose and slowly settled to a spongy layer for most of the drink.  Large chunks of foam created a gorgeous looking lacing effect on the sides of the glass.  It was definitely a lovely pint to hold.  The aroma was that of a malt bomb; sweet caramel and biscuit notes.   Again, all Scottish ale to me.   But when I looked for it, the faint scent of alcohol, all hot and bothered was there as well.  As the beer warmed, the booze scent became more pronounced.  It tasted a bit sweeter than I expected.  Caramel notes with grains and toast elements were easy to find.  I could taste some spiciness that wasn't evidence on the nose, ginger and cloves and maybe some tropical fruit (pineapple possibility.)  It was an odd combination that didn't fully work for me.  I also didn't think that the hot alcohol profile meshed well.  Personally, I was looking for the smokiness that I associate with a Scottish ale to balance it out a bit.  The hops on the back note were a welcome addition.   The mouthfeel was on the low end of medium for me (again, I was looking for the lushness of a Scottish ale) with minimal carbonation. The finish was moderate with the booze feeling lasting through the entire swallow (and yes, I did feel the warmth going down.)

Even looks nice from above.  If only looks were everything...said any sorority girl ever

If you were to ask me even now, I couldn't tell you definitively which side of the Scottish ale or winter warmer debate I come down on for this beer.  It exhibited elements of both, but I can't say that I thought it did either style justice.  It wasn't a bad beer by any means.  The over all appearance was one of the loveliest  that I've seen in a while.  It made me feel cozy just holding the pint glass. And even at 9.00% it was drinkable.   But I wanted so much more from the flavor profile.  I missed the complex layers that the best Scottish ales provide and I really think that a bit of mellow smoke would have enhanced the beer considerably.   New Glarus suggests that you pair this beer with pot roast, pork brats and smoked Gouda (but not all at once.)   I could almost see the suggestion of dark chocolate.  The right kind of Scotch and really good, expensive, dark chocolate is an amazing experience.  But a Scottish ale isn't whiskey and  it seems like an awful lot of work for a beer and a candy bar. If you ask me, Scottish ales are notoriously difficult to pair with food, so why force it?  I say sip them alone on a cold winter's night.  Kilt is optional, but not discouraged.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Horny Goat Brewing's Brownie Flavored Porter

  • Style: Porter (supposedly.  I have my doubts)
  • ABV: 5.6%
  • Season: Fall/Winter
  • Ease to locate: Midwest distribution mainly.  Their website only lists places in WI and one MN store, but since I purchased this in Chicago, I  assume it's an incomplete list.  Imagine that.
  • Color: Light brown/amber
  • Head: Decent 1 & 1/2 finger foam with virtually no lacing
  • Aroma: Cinnamon and brown sugar.  No chocolate, coffee or dark fruit scents at all
  • Mouthfeel: Light to medium.  It reminded me of a glass of flat cream soda.
  • Finish: Medium with an artificial sugar note lingering on the end
  • Food friendly: Well, I did have to eat a cookie to get the taste of the beer out of my mouth.... 

 Nobody sets out to make a bad beer.  What would be the purpose in that?  Just like no producer has ever purposely tried to make a horrible movie.  Yes, directors such as Ed Wood, Roger Corman and Michael Bay have made films that could give you pause as to whether anyone actually informed them that the camera was rolling for most of the footage.  But even these people (well, OK, you could make a case against Bay on this one) created their movies from the heart.  When a brewery creates a recipe for a new beer, of course they hope that it will be tasty.  Of course they hope that people will love it.  Of course the reaction they are hoping for is a resounding "MORE BEER" from the thirst quenched masses.  I'd also like to be 5'9 and never have to do a sit up again in my life.  Things don't always work out the way we wish.

Oddest looking brownie I've ever seen

Horny Goat Brewing is a brewery/brewpub in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  They make an array of beers, some that sound less appetizing than others (watermelon wheat beer, anyone?  Really?  No takers?)  During the winter months, I'm  a stout & porter sort of girl.  And, truth be told, I'm pretty much an all season brownie  sort of girl.  So a brownie porter sounded like a match made in heaven.  My boss loves this brewery and on his recommendation, I picked up a bottle of their brew to review (and to get him to stop saying "horny goat" to me.  It was getting uncomfortable.)    

Nice lacing.  But I guess even Hitler had his good points

My Brownie Porter poured a light brown with red tints.  It looked pretty enough, but nothing like I'm used to for a beer labeled a porter.  Honestly?  It reminded me of a brown ale in appearance.  A white one and a half finger head foamed and quickly fell to a shallow film covering the surface of the beer.  I was surprised that the head was so snow white, since in my experience, most heads found on porters are off white to a robust dark tan.  The lacing was impressive with large chucks of foam clinging to the glass.   In fact, it was the wonderful lacing that gave me some hope.  I mean, a beer that has decent lacing might turn out alright in the long run, right?  And Damien was just a misunderstood kid with an unusual birthmark.  

This was a good Omen. 

The heady scent of the "porter" (and yes, I'm going to use quotation marks when calling this beer a porter from now on.  Feel free to imagine my eyes rolling as well) was unlike any sort of porter I've ever tried.  The heaviest note was that of cinnamon, but not in a snooker doodle cookie or lovey warm pastry shop sort of way.  More like sticking your face in a bowl of cinnamon spice and snorting it sort of way.  Almost as heavy was the aroma of brown sugar.  To say that these two scents were overloaded was an understatement.  I placed the pint glass on a table to snap a photo of the head and I could smell the spice and sugar without even lowering my  head.  There was no chocolate or coffee scents that I usually associate with most porters.  Let's just say that my expectations weren't sky high when I actually took a sip of the beer.  It pretty much tasted just as it smelled.  An abundance of cinnamon and brown sugar.  I detected a bit of roasted malts thankfully, but it did little to improve the odd dominant  flavors.  There was an unpleasant undernote that tasted artificial, like a bad diet cookie (and that's saying something because I don't personally think that there are any good diet cookies out there.)  The mouthfeel was thin to medium with no carbonation at all.  For all intensive purposes, it reminded me of a flat, off brand diet pop (click here if you aren't from the midwest .)  The finish was mercifully short, with the artificial belch flavor  lingering ever so slightly.

This happened in less than a minute.  This was not a good omen
I feel that I need to take some of the blame here.  I was the one who entered into this drinking session with certain, obviously unattainable, expectations.  Since the name of the beer was listed as "brownie porter" I actually expected the beer to reflect the attributes of at least a brownie and/or  a porter.  Silly, silly, stupid me.  My best guess here is that the brewers themselves were eating brownies and drinking porters when they came up with this beer (and I'll leave you to figure out what kind of brownies they might have been ingesting.  I mean, the brewery is called Horny Goat.)  They never meant for you and I to associate their beer with the dark, chocolatey mochaness of either brownies or porters.  If a beer ever needed a fine print, this is it.  I can't help but wonder if they had named the beer something along the line of "Roasted Cinnamon Nuts Ale" or "This is Not A Brownie Porter" I may have gone a little easier on them.  I still would have drain poured half the glass and ate a cookie to get the taste out of my mouth, but I wouldn't have had to use those quotation marks as much when reviewing.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Great Lakes Brewing Co's Edmund Fitzgerald Porter

  • Style: Porter
  • ABV: 5.80%
  • Season: Year Round
  • Ease to locate: Widely available in the Midwest, NY, NJ, VA, WV, KY,  & Washington DC
  • Color: Dark cola brown with amber highlights along edges
  • Head:  Two finger head with amazing lacing
  • Aroma:  Milk chocolate, roasted coffee sweet caramel and a bit of raisin. Well balanced
  • Mouthfeel: Medium with moderate carbonation.  Pretty much exactly what you want from a Porter
  •  Finish: Long with a pleasant hop dryness on the tail end
  • Food friendly: Yes.  A well balanced Porter such as this will pair with a lot of winter favorites.  Try it with everything from hamburgers to roasted meats to grilled cheese sandwiches.  Service with butter cheeses such as Swiss or Brie.  I happen to enjoy it with sharp cheddar        

"The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down of the big lake they called Guitche Gumee.   The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead when the skies of November turn gloomy.  With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty, that good ship and true was a bone to be chewed when the Gales of November came early.

On November 10, 1975, the Edmund Fitzgerald, a great freighter carrying a load of ore pellets, was bound for an island near Detroit.    At 7:10 PM, the captain responded to a well being call with a reassuring "We're holding our own."  Ten minutes later, they could not be reached by radio nor could they be detected on radar.  The entire crew of 29 sailors were lost when the ship went down in a massive November gale. The Edmund Fitzgerald is arguably one of the most famous of American shipwrecks.  A year after the wreck, folk singer Gordon Lightfoot released the now famous "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald", a somber sea (OK, lake) chanty detailing the final moments of the great ship.  In 1988, Great Lakes Brewery out of Cleveland, OH, began to brew a porter with a desire to honor the 29 crew members.   Four years later, they won the first of many well deserved gold medals for the ship's namesake beer at the Great American Beer Festival.  In fact, Edmund Fitzgerald Porter took another gold recently in 2012.

A dark and stormy brew

The ballad of the Edmund Fitzgerald is a powerful story and an important piece of American industrial history.  The Great Lakes were once vital shipping ports, but as anyone who has ever heard the story of The Christmas Schooner or viewed a very special episode of Due South, it's well known that being a sailor on the Great Lakes was a dangerous and often fatal career option.  Massive and deadly storms can creep up on you in on the Great Lakes.  Lake Michigan itself is a virtual underwater graveyard of lost vessels .  There is a certain respect you must give to the people who brave those waters.  Great Lake Brewery Co. shares this respect.  When they decided to name their porter the Edmund Fitzgerald, the brewery reached out to the families of the sailors who died in order to get permission to use the name.  I like that.  I think that a brewery's values are often reflected in their beer.  And if Edmund Fitzgerald Porter is any indication of the values of Great Lakes Brewery, they're certainly on the right track.

Love the texture that a well done head creates

My Edmund Fitzgerald Porter poured a dark brown, thick cola -like color.  When held up to the light, a warm amber glow shone around the edges of the glass.  A dark ivory two finger head emerged and took it's sweet time before slowly settling to a 1/4 finger layer that stayed with me for most of the drink.  I enjoyed sipping the beer through this thick foam, adding a second level  to body of the porter.  Craters and peaks were etched onto the top of the head, looking for all intensive purposes, just like a storm cloud.  I could smell milk chocolate, roasted and caramel malts and a bit of medium roasted coffee.  I could pick out a very faint scent of something like raisins or possibly dates.  The aroma was well balanced between sweet, bitter and a toasty.  The flavor reflected the aroma perfectly.  The creamy milk chocolate was offset by the just right amount of coffee and toast flavors.  The sweetness of the raisins (or dates, I'm still debating between the two) helped to bring a deeper level to the sweet notes of the porter.  Sweet can be cloying or it can be complex.  Like most things in life, I prefer complex.  As it warmed a bit, a smokey quality emerged slightly.  The mild hop note arrived on the back of the sip.   With all of these components, it's easy to imagine a mess of a beer, but some how Great Lake created a well balanced and deeply layered drink.  The mouthfeel was just what I want from a porter, moderate and well carbonated.   The layer of foam still present on the surface held to create a creaminess that coated my lips with every sip.  The finish was long and layered as well.  It began with the sweet caramel/chocolate/dark fruit notes, sliding into the roasted coffee flavors and ending with a bit of the dry harshness the bitter hops.  Really quite lovely.

Sipping the Porter through this layer was almost decedent

Great Lakes' Edmund Fitzgerald is really an amazing porter.  To me, this is a benchmark example of a well balanced, complex beer that still remembers that beers are meant to be drunk.  It's sort of shocking how many well regarded, "big" beers out there seem to forget this very simple idea.  Beers are meant to be drunk by people.  I would pair this porter with almost any sort of substantial, wintery dish.  I think that it would compliment something as simple as the perfect cheese burger as well as with a labored dish such as a horseradish and herb crusted beef rib roast.  Great Lakes Brewery chose the name of this doomed freighter as memorial to the brave men who sailed the Great Lakes.   Breweries decide on beer names mostly from a marketing perpective.  Of course there is a time a place for nonsensical beer names, some being better than others of course  (I'm looking at you, Clown Shoes, OK, not just you, but let's face it, clowns are creepy.  You must have known that.) And then there are those rare, some what surprising  beers that have the ability to tell a story.  They use the name as a jumping off point and continue to spin their yarn through complexly layered yet well balanced flavors.    To me, Edmund Fitzgerald Porter such a beer.  Pick up a bottle for yourself and let it tell you it's tale.      


Friday, February 15, 2013

Two Brother's Brewery Nothwind Imperial Stout

  • Style: Russian Imperial Stout
  • ABV: 9.10%
  • Season: Winter
  • Ease to locate: Easy to find in Chicagoland liquor and grocery stores.  They are currently carried in IL, IN, OH, NY, & MN.  
  • Color: Solid black brown with no light shine through
  • Head: One & half fingers that dissipated quickly.  Light lacing 
  • Aroma: Dark chocolate, coffee & roasted malts.  A bit sweet.
  • Mouthfeel: Moderately lush & a bit chewy
  • Finish: Medium & bitter, but softened as the beer warmed
  • Food friendly:  Not so much.  Imperial Stouts are heavy & hearty.  Makes a fine desert all on it's own, but try it with a slice of pound cake or strawberry shortcake.
     When I think of Russians, I think of the TV shows and movies of my youth.  Back then, the go-to bad guy usually had a thick Serbian accent and a yen for crystal clear, but lethal vodka.  Except for Pavel Chekhov.  Even as a kid watching reruns, I could tell that Chekhov would have been flat under a table after one night of carousing with Kirk & crew.  Sort of like The Hangover in space.  Instead of the tiger and baby, you'd get a sehlat and a slew of Tribbles.  Honestly, I think I could successfully pitch that idea to Warner Bros right now.  Look for it next summer!      

                                                                  Now picture this with Kirk and McCoy holding pints of Stout and Spock missing a front tooth  Yep, Hollywood gold

 Today we have a new TV show staring Felicity herself (Keri Russell for the uninitiated of the Ben or Noel saga of the late 90's) as one half of a sleeper cell Russian spy couple.  Although the show is set in the 1980s, I could easily see Keri and hubby knocking a beer back after coming home from a long night of undermining the Regan administration and resisting the corrupt American lifestyle of Pac Man and Aqua Net (they might have been right about the Aqua Net.  Some days I can still taste it in my mouth when the breeze blows from the West.)     And do you think that they would be drinking bottles of Bud or Coors?  No way, comrade.  It would have been Russian Imperial Stouts or nothing for these protectors of the Motherland. 

Russian Imperial Stouts are actually British in origin, brewed in the 18th century by a brewery in England for export to Catherine The Great's court.  They are generally high in ABV with most hovering around 9% to 11% ABV (Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout is only 7% while Three Floyd's legendary Dark Lord clocks in at a whooping 15%.)   The hop profile differs from Stout to Stout, but most fall into the mild category.  Known for their huge chocolate and almost burnt malt flavor profiles, these are not beers for the meek and mild.  These are brews that are constructed to keep you warm on a frigid Moscow (or Chicago, for that matter) night.  

Like a nuclear summit, everything starts off very promising

My Two Brother's Brewery Northwind Imperial Stout poured a dark brownish black color.  This was a solid beer, with no traces of lightness to it when held to a light bulb.  A thick 1 & 1/2 finger head rose, tan and creamy.   The lacing started off strong with medium sized bits clinging to the glass.   I was disappointed when the head quickly settled to a bare film covering the drink and the lacing disappeared completely.  The beer smelled wonderful, however.  Strong dark chocolate, substantial roasted coffee and sweet caramel malt scents wafted from the foam.   The taste eventually followed suit.  I say eventually, because this was the type of beer that benefited from a bit of a warm up.  I initially drank the beer too cold and the taste suffered because of it (I found it hot from the alcohol and the burnt coffee & malt were unpleasantly bitter.)  I then let the stout warm for about 20 minutes and the taste improved dramatically (lesson learned.  Patience, Grasshopper.)  I could taste dark bitterly sweet chocolate and black coffee.  The caramel sweetness of the malts balanced the harshness that I found so off putting at first.  The hot booze note mellowed as well, but it softened too much in my opinion.  Imperial Stouts should have a sort of heat from the alcohol that warms you from the inside out.  There were also notes of dates and maybe a tinge of smoke.  There was no hop notes as far as I could tell.  The mouthfeel was moderate with a nice lush feeling coating your tongue.  There was a chewiness to it that I enjoyed.  It wasn't the thickest or most decadent Imperial Stout that I've tasted, but the mouthfeel and good carbonation certainly made it an easy to drink beer.  The finish was medium with a bit of the alcohol coming in on the very end.  

All that foam and yet, Nyet

Northwind Imperial Stout isn't the sort of beer that you'd want to serve with dinner.  Most Imperial Stouts are difficult to pair with food because their inherit sweet and boozy qualities.  However, pour a pint alongside a simple pound cake or homemade strawberry shortcake, piled high with fresh whipped cream (which is less sweet & dense than Cool Whip) and you've got yourself a satisfying desert. The Cold War is over and the era of making the good citizens of the former Soviet Union the all encompassing symbol of evil has past.  Because, Russian and American alike, we all now know exactly who the real enemy are.  Reality show contestants.


    Monday, February 11, 2013

    Lagunitas Brewing Co.'s Lagunitas Sucks

    • Style:American Double Imperial IPA
    • ABV: 7.85%
    • Season: Year Round (yes, you heard me, it's now YEAR ROUND!)  EDIT- Lagunitas just announced today that they will soon be selling this in 32 oz bottles.
    • Ease to locate: Well distributed in mainland USA.  But in my experience it files off the shelves.  Grab it when you see it.
    • Color: Golden yellow with hints of orange amber
    • Head: Two finger head with wonderful lacing
    • Aroma: Piney hops, grapefruit and toast
    • Mouthfeel: Medium with a good amount of carbonation
    • Finish: Long and hoppy
    • Food friendly:  Yeppers.  Go beyond the basic grilled meat and try it with salmon or other oily fish.   Plays well with an abundance of cheeses.   Perfect for a mixed cheese course: Montary Jack (Peppery), Camembert (Pungent) and Cheddar (Sharp)
    Some people take themselves way too seriously.  Some beers do this too.  When I was just a kid, my mother would tell me that I had a "dry" sense of humor.  As a ten year old, I wasn't really sure what the meant.  Nowadays, it's one of the qualities that I search for in a person.  If you don't understand my sarcastic humor or love of the absurd, well, we might as well part ways right now because I'm just going to end up annoying the hell out of you before too long (we're talking hours, not days.)  This might be why Lagunitas Brewing Co. is one of my absolute favorite domestic breweries.  They get me.

    Golden Boy in a glass

    OK.  Lagunitas also makes pretty damn good beers too.  I like to think of them as the Bonnie Hunt of beers: well balanced, self effacing and always with one foot firmly planted in Chicago.  This April, Lagunitas will officially open a brewpub here in the Windy City, with plans to build and operate a second brewery on the same site to open in September (their original Petaluma, CA facility will remain open.)  The brewery is going to be sharing some property at Cinespace with various TV shows and movies that film here.  I'll be interested to see if their beer somehow leaks into scenes.  I mean, if Two Brothers can show up on Whitney, think what Langunitas can do for an actual semi decent TV show?

                                                                                           Bonnie Hunt & Fabio.Life doesn't get any better than this

    The legend behind Lagunitas Sucks demonstrates exactly why I love this brewery.  Two years ago, they released a special holiday beer named Brown Shugga.    And a mighty tasty beer it was.  Or so I've been told.  For you see, this beer proved to be as popular as an insecure  college cheerleader at a high school  prom.  It flew off the shelves, leaving a large mass of disgruntled and thirsty craft beer fans, well, disgruntled and thirsty.  Lagunitas, in their infinite wisdom, decided to strike while the iron was hot and released what they called Lagunitas Sucks: Brown Shugga Substitute Ale.    You've got to love a brewery that acknowledges what everyone is thinking when they shoot death stares at the poor liquor store employee who stupidly decided not to call in sick that day.  Their disappointment was short lived, because substitute or not, Sucks proved to be the Godfather 2 of beers.  It was just as good, if not better, than the original.  This year, Lagunitas put it in as a year round offering.  And angels sang in the heavens.

    Hop in, the head's fine

    My Lagunitas Sucks poured a deep gold straw color with hints of orange when held to the light.  A well carbonated, two finger, ivory head rose to the surface.  Lovely light lacing adhered to all sides of the pint glass. It settled nicely as the beer sat, but still retained the wonderful lacing throughout the drink.  To say it poured a pretty pint is an understatement.  It was like King Midas in a glass.  A powerful aroma of fresh pine rose from the head.  I could pick out under notes of grapefruit and a bit of toast as well.  This was the kind of beer that you could smell from a mile away.  I was almost frightened to take a sip because of the aggressive nose, but I was certainly glad I summoned the courage to do so.   At first taste, I could certainly denote the fresh hoppy resin flavor, but the zest of grapefruit quickly corrected the chinook hops course.   A welcome delegation of caramel malts arrived just behind the bigger notes of the resin and citrus. I could pick out some orange zest and almonds as well.  What struck me as impressive was that it was very obvious that some serious consideration had gone into the flavor profile of this "substitute' beer (the current year's release is no longer a real substitute, but a beer released on its' own merits.  However, I've been told that the flavor profile differed very little from the year before.)   The mouthfeel was a solid medium with good carbonation.  I personally think that a beer can get away with a more aggressive profile as long as the mouthfeel and carbonation backs it up.   The finish was long with a back note of bitter hops emerging once again in the end, as if to remind you who exactly was boss (and we all know that Angela really was the boss.)

    Check out that ring of lacing
    This is the sort of beer that could elevate a mundane weeknight dinner.  For all of it's power, I find Sucks extremely food friendly.   Try it with a a simple lemon and onion scented roasted chicken with root vegetables cooked in the poultry's own juices.  Or break out of the chicken/beef rut and grill a salmon fillet with brown sugar, lemon and garlic.  There's quite a debate over the label for Sucks.  Some see the red splat as paint ball that was hurled in protest over the lack of Brown Shugga.  Others think that it's a tomato thrown at Lagunitas in shame (I'm in this camp.)  And there are those, some what deranged few, who insist that the red splatter is Santa Claus, or what's left of him, after being pushed from a great height (the original label depicted a star-like Santa on it, but still, really?  A dead Santa is what you get here?   If this is you, please click here. )  Whatever the label actually means and no matter how awkward you might feel (or might not feel, no judgement here) asking a bartender for a "Sucks",  give this fine, well balanced brew a try.  In fact, I think that this is the perfect craft beer to drink with your non craft beer, Bud Light-is-healthier, Corona-is-a-real-Mexican-Beer  swilling buddies  I mean, this way at least you all can imbibe with something that "sucks." 

    Friday, February 8, 2013

    Deschutes Brewery's Black Butte Porter

    • Style: American Porter
    • ABV: 5.2%
    • Season: Year Round
    • Ease to locate: Dueschutes has just begun to distribute in the Chicago region.  Well represented West of the Mississippi.  Here's their beer finder
    • Color:  Solid dark brown/black
    • Head: Two finger with great lacing
    • Aroma: Heavy on the chocolate scent, with notes of coffee and roasted malts
    • Mouthfeel: Medium with minimal carbonation
    • Finish: Short
    • Food friendly: Relatively easy for a porter.  Grilled or roasted meat and barbeque.  Pair with buttery cheeses such as Havarti or Brie.

    Every one needs a bit of encouragement now and then.  An affirmation that you, yes, YOU!  The ponytailed one clad in the men sized 5K Turkey Trot t-shirt and faded jeans with holes in each knee.  Even you can conquer the world.  If by world, you mean your own kitchen and by conquer, you mean brew a batch of stout from scratch. It was with this in mind that I attempted my first batch of non-kit beer two weeks ago.   Last Spring my youngest brother, P, and I tried our hand at homebrewing.  I was in search of a new hobby that would challenge me and lead to a deeper understanding of the wonderful world of craft.  And P, well, he just liked to drink beer.  We bought the necessary equipment, took the instructional class and decided on a Scotch Ale kit.  It went surprisingly well for a first attempt. Well enough for us to get a little cocky.  For a follow up we decided "Kit?  We don't need no stink'n kit."  And we didn't.  What we did need was a blow off tube, however.  The brew day went as by the book as you can get.   The grains and hops melded together to make a liquid (AKA Wort) that smelled, for all intensive purposes, like beer.   The yeast was pitched and the air lock secured with packing tape.  This unorthodox securement was a process that we would be eternally thankful for the next day   For you see, when I checked the carboy before I left for work Monday morning, I discovered that at some point over night, our gorgeous glass carboy had been transformed into Mount Vesuvius.  Brown sludge dripped from the top most part of the carboy, even going as far up as to infiltrate the air lock on the tippy top.  And as for that packing tape, well that clear film is probably the only thing that stood between an almost impossible to clean glass water bottle and me ever being allowed to brew in the house again. 

    Wort at work
    It took me almost an hour of scrubbing that carboy with an oversize pipe cleaner before I could successfully remove all of the gunk.  And after all that work, I needed a beer.  But the last thing I wanted was a Stout.  So, of course, I poured myself a pint of Porter.  (Now is not the time to debate the differences and interchangeability of the terms Stout and Porters.  I'll be sure to let you know when.)  Deschutes Brewery is a hugely popular Oregon brewery that has just begun to distribute to Chicagoland.  Their Black Butte Porter is regarded as one of the best selling Porters in America.  You'd think that there was a solid gold coin in each bottle of the beer the way people reacted when they heard the news here.  I had to pick up a bottle to see what the fuss was all about.

    Tasty pint for a hard working girl

    The Black Butte Porter poured a solid dark brown, cola colored drink.    A healthy two finger, light tan head formed.  It took it's time settling down to a fluffy, rich layer of foam for most of the pint.  Thick clumps of lacing clung to the sides of the glass.  At times the lacing reminded me of another famous Chicago import who went by the name of Michael Jordan (well, I suppose he still does, he just hasn't returned any of my calls for a while.)  Both had amazing air times, you know.  The head smelled heavily of milk chocolate with under notes of acidic coffee and sweet roasted malts.  I absolutely loved this beer, right up to the moment that I took a sip.  You known that moment when your lofty expectations meet the settlement of reality?  My mouth was ready for a lightly carbonated, sinfully chocolated, perfectly caffeinated Porter bomb.  What I got was a pleasant enough beer, but nothing overly special to recommend it at all.

    Soon to be in the starting line up for the Bulls
    The chocolate taste was artificial and reminded me of those fake chocolate sprinkles you see on cupcakes.   I could also detect the roasted coffee from the nose, some caramel malts and a bit of dark fruit.  None of the flavors impressed me.  I would have liked a heavier hop presence to give the drink some depth.  There was an appetizing earthiness to the taste which most likely could be attributed to the hop profile.  It had a lightly carbonated, medium mouthfeel, but it also slightly verged on the side of watery for me.  A bit more bubbles would have been welcome (good possibility here that I simply was expecting more carbonation because of the gorgeous head that poured.)  The finish was short and sweet.  I would have liked the hops to jump in on the last note and give the beer some most missed bitterness.

    Tales from above

    On the plus side, I think this beer would work well with many food pairings.  The "lightness" of the taste and mouthfeel would work with grilled or roasted meats beyond the requisite simple beef dishes.   Try drinking a pint with barbeque chicken or a molasses bourbon beef tenderloin.  Personally?  I'm thinking of trying it with this Bacon & Broccoli Mac & Cheese recipe.  Yum.  Black Butte Porter isn't necessarily a beer that I will reach for again on my own, but I could see it as the perfect gateway Porter for friends who claim that all Porter and Stouts are too heavy for their delicate palates.  Sometimes everyone needs a bit of a push to try something new.  I think that Deschutes' Black Butte Porter understands this.  In fact, I know that they do.  Because, you see, after scrubbing the hell out of that krausen crusted carboy.  And swearing curse words that would make a teamster blush.  And wondering if this whole homebrewing thing was just not meant for the likes of me, I discovered that Deschutes had printed a phrase on the underside of the bottle cap of my Black Butte.

    "Done Bravely." 

    My half batch of Saison is fermenting quite nicely right now in it's primary, thank you very much.

    Monday, February 4, 2013

    Founders Brewing Co.'s Breakfast Stout

    • Style: American Double/Imperial Stout
    • ABV: 8.30%
    • Season: Fall/Winter
    • Ease to locate:  Well distributed east of the Mississippi, but this is a popular beer that sells out quickly.  Grab a 4pack if you see it.  Here's a beer finder to give you a head start
    • Color: Black as the darkest night, deep as the bottomless sea
    • Head: Two finger head with amazing lacing
    • Aroma: The fudgy scent of chocolate and cream, backed by a bit of coffee bitterness and  roasted malts
    • Mouthfeel: Thick, lush and creamy
    • Finish: Long with a friendly bit of bitter hops
    • Food friendly:  While it's full & flavorful enough to be a food on it's own, try it with simply prepared beef.  Pair it with buttery cheeses such as Gouda and Swiss. 

     Hype is a difficult thing to live up to.  I sometimes tend to avoid overly hyped things for as long as I possibly can, then delve head first into super fandom.  Thus, I became obsessed with Battlestar Galactica a year after the final frakking episode aired.  Smartphone technology?  Up until three months ago, I owned a cheap $30 flip phone from Target that wouldn't even text.  Now I feel positively naked without the Iphone in one hand and an Ipad in another.   Why not jump on the bandwagon sooner?  Because it's a rare and beautiful bird that can actually deliver on it's own hype.  So it was with a bit of trepidation and a healthy amount of skepticism that I poured out my first bottle of Founder's Breakfast Stout.

    You will meet a tall, dark stranger...

    American Imperial Stouts are inspired by the traditional Russian Imperial Stouts, only without the thick accent and fuzzy hat.  These stout are typically aged in bourbon or whiskey barrels and infused with coffee and chocolate flavors to give depth to the beer.  American Stouts in general tend to have a higher ABV (alcohol  by volume) than those from Asia or Europe and the Imperial version is no different.  The IBU (international bitterness units) is often greater in American Imperial Stouts as well.  This means that there is a more distinct hop presence in the American cousins, but since they are still stouts after all, the presence is only a minor note.  Because American Imperials are heavy in malts, the higher IBU is used to balance out all that sweet roasted maltiness.  For instance, you may drink an IPA with an IBU of 30 and an American Imperial Stout with an IBU of 50, but still perceive the IPA as being more bitter than the stout.  Yes, I know that you were promised that there would be no math.  Just be glad it's an American Imperial and doesn't use the metric system. 

    Kind of makes you want to lick the glass, doesn't it?

    Founder's Breakfast Stout poured a very dark black/brown color.  Imagine the absence of all light and you'll be close to the coloring in the glass.  Delicious mocha foam formed a two finger head that settled nicely to a thick, spongy surface skin for most of the drink.  Gorgeous clusters of lacing clung to the sides of the glass like they were  shipwreck survivors grabbing at a solitary life raft.  I could smell the chocolate without even lifting the pint to my nose.  As I inhaled the aroma, I also found strong scents of coffee and fresh creme.  It was almost as if I had walked into an old world  Swiss chocolate shop.  If I thought that the smell alone was decedent, I was in heaven when I actually tasted the beer.  Rich dark and milk chocolate mixed with caramel malts.  The coffee note was a true coffee flavor.  It was if they had bottled that first fresh cup of coffee for the morning.  As the beer warmed, a bit of roasted nuttiness emerged and the welcome burn of the alcohol poked it's head out to see what's up.  There was even a little hint of smoke layered in.  I had finally found a stout that delivered on it's promise of creaminess.  The mouthfeel was lush and thick, coating my tongue in imperial  luxury.  The bitterness of the hops arrived on the tail end of the long finish, giving the perfect balance to all of that decadence.  After taking that all important, yet heavy with the possibility of disappointment, first impression sip, I literally sighed and declared out loud "That's what I'm talking about."  Of course, I was alone in my kitchen so only the microwave and overhead light could appreciate my satisfied declaration of love, but what can a fangirl do?

    Look at that lacing.  Fan pages are made of this.

    Founders Breakfast Stout is more than enough of a drink to stand as a desert course all on it's own.   You could also try pairing it with roasted or grilled meats, but I think it might be more interesting to drink it with a smoked standing rib roast basted in bourbon and steak seasoning.   The smokey heat and the bourbon baste will echo back notes of the beer's subtler flavors, but still be hearty enough to stand up to all of the richness in the drink. I have hear tales of craft beer enthusiasts (sounds better than drunk beer hoarders, doesn't it?) cellaring bottles of this stout with amazing results.  I'm going to sock a bottle away and see what it tatses like next year.  If it doesn't kill me, I'll be sure to let you know.

    Founder's Breakfast Stout will most likely serve as my benchmark for all other American Imperial Stouts.  Hell, I doubt any other stouts at all will ever really measure up from now on for me.  They will always be the Buck Rodgers to Founder's Star Wars.  When I was a kid, I could recite lines and rattle off facts & figures on every major or minor Star Wars character at the drop of a Bobba Fett helmet.    Why?  Because when something promises you hype and then actually delivers, it deserves all the acclaim, obsessions and fan pages that it can get.   Now I'm just wondering if Founders makes action figures?       

    Friday, February 1, 2013

    Slumbrew 's Porter Square Porter

    •  Style: American Porter
    • ABV: 6.5%
    • Season: Year Round
    • Ease to locate: Well distributed around the country.  Plug your zip code into their beer finder to find a location near you
    • Color: As dark as brown can get without being black
    • Head: Respectable two finger tan foam with minimal sticky lacing
    • Aroma: Chocolate, roasted coffee, and a bit of sweet toffee notes
    • Mouthfeel: Medium but with a light amount of creaminess
    • Finish: Medium to long with the taste of alcohol on the end
    • Food friendly:  Try it with grilled beef or sticky barbeque.  Serve it with buttery cheeses like Gouda or Brie

     I like to travel.  After paying off all my student loans (before turning 30, thank you very much) my first priority was to book a trip to Italy.  I don't need to buy designer shoes or expensive bags or the latest tech toy out there (although I do accept donations if anyone is so inclined.)  I do need to hike up Haleakala to see the sun rise or have midnight beignets with my youngest brother at Cafe Du Monde or to stand on the southernmost tip of Portugal, wind whipping so hard that tears form, staring out into the Sea of Gibraltar.  I need moments, not things.

    However, I do enjoy buying little reminders of my trips.  I'm not a big snow globe, shot glass, t-shirt sort of girl.  A bottle of wine or beer and I'm more than happy.  On a recent trip to Boston, I may have accidentally taken my mother to a (very respectable) gay bar one night for dinner.  Mitigating circumstances were present.  It was the last night of our trip.  It was cold.  And raining.   And my seventy-something year old mother was beginning to suffer from a head cold.  I needed a place to eat that was close and looked decent.  I had noticed a cute, little, neighborhood joint just behind our hotel during one of my wanderings.  So we ducked in there that evening instead of the jazz club that I had originally intended.  It wasn't until after we had ordered that I took a quick look around the room and noticed that not only were we the only two women in the whole joint, we were apparently also the only ones there not on a date.  Memories are made of this.  Our waiter recommended that I order his favorite local brew with my dinner.   Not only was a porter exactly what I needed, it also worked perfectly with my roasted vegetable flat bread.  And like that once in a lifetime Portuguese view from the edge of the Old World , my experience of explaining to my seventy eight year old, very old school, Catholic mother just why those nice looking young men two tables over were making out,  was done and over.  Until, that is, I unpacked my bag back in Chicago and discover that my souvenir beer from Boston was the same exact bottle of local porter. 

    On a dark and stormy night....

    Slumbrew is a brewery located in Somerville , MA (it also goes by the corporate name of Somerville Brewing Co.)  They brew a variety of year round and seasonal beers.  The Porter Square Porter that I tasted is probably one of their most popular.  It sports a flavor profile that is high on chocolate and coco notes and lower in pale malts.  I love they use the mild hops of Columbus mixed in with a bit of Fuggles.  I know, it sound like they're a distant cousin of the populace of Fraggle Rock, but in reality Fuggle Hops are a common hop used in brewing porters.  Fuggles give the beer a mild, woodsy flavor profile (British Fuggles are a bit more assertive than the American variety, but as you can tell from watching any episode of Downton Abbey, the English are made from rather solid stock.)  

    My Porter Square Porter poured a dark, dark brown color.  It was about as dark as brown could get without becoming black.  A lovely two finger head formed, creating a creamy looking tan foam.  The lacing wasn't amazing, but decent enough for a porter.  Solitary bits of tan suck to the side of my pint glass for a good part of the drink.  The first whiff reveled a chocolatey powerhouse of scents.  A bit of roasted coffee and sweet nuttiness was mixed in as well.   The taste followed the scent note for note.  Dark chocolate, lightly bitter coffee and chewy toffee flavors emerged.  As the beer warmed, I could find the soft hop profile come out to play.  The woodsy, earthiness of the Fuggle hops helped keep the sweetness of the chocolate and coco flavors in check.   The mouthfeel was a solid medium.  There was just enough creaminess to remind you that you are drinking a porter, but not so much that you felt like you were eating one as well.  The finish was medium to long with a hot note of alcohol on the back that I wasn't overly fond of.

    You can feel the creaminess, can't you?

    I would serve Porter Square Porter with grilled or roasted beef.  A sticky barbeque sauced shredded beef sandwich would be pretty amazing with this beer as well.  I ate it with an assortment of roasted vegetables (eggplant, squash, kale, onions, you get the picture) on flat bread.  I thought that the creaminess and chocolate profile of the brew worked well with the sweetly chard bits of veggies and saltiness of the bread.  I can pretty much guarantee that the stormy evening spent in a certain bar in the Back Bay section of Boston will be a memory that my mom and I laugh about for years to come.  I also know that the next time I need to duck in from the rain, I will probably check the front window of said establishment for a huge sign reminding every one that Karaoke Drag night has been moved to the next Saturday night.  I, for one, do not want to miss something like that again.