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Monday, February 24, 2014

Une Annee Brewing's Quad

  • Style: Quadrupel. God I love a good Quad (although "God I love a good Quad" is not an official variation category)
  • ABV: 11.0%
  •  Ease to locate: Une Annee is a pretty new Chicago brewery just celebrating their 6 month bottling anniversary.  They are rather easy to find in Chicagoland beer stores (and the simplistically minimal label makes them stand out brilliantly on a crowed craft shelf)  Like many of the baby breweries, they keep their fans very well updated on deliveries through social media.  Here's a link to Une Annee Facebook and a link to their Twitter account.
  • Color: A soft, mahogany brown with amber undertones that is slightly see through
  • Head: A fluffy two finger head of ivory carbonation which results in a decent amount of sticky lacing 
  • Aroma: A well done nose with notes of plum, dried cherry and toffee.  Light, fruity esters remind you of it's Belgian origin.   A hint of peppery spice rounds out the nose.
  • Mouthfeel: Not quite full bodied, but almost.  A good amount of carbonation dries it out just enough to keep it from going over the edge.
  • Finish: Long and satisfying with the warmth from the alcohol trailing it's way down your throat in a comforting, almost "there, there" sort of way.
  • Food friendly: Yep.  Belgian beers are wonderful with food (Tripels and Dubbels are easier to pair, but Quads can work well too.)  Try it with a fancy dinner plate of roast beef or with something as simple as a fig jam grilled cheese sandwich (What? Fig jam grilled cheese sandwiches are not typical Wednesday night meals for you???)  Pair it with buttery or nutty cheese, such as Harvarit or with Blue cheese, such as Irish Cashel Blue.

Apple Users link: Hey, Mom. I'm looking pretty darn good, actually. In comparison, I mean.

A few months ago I made the mistake of introducing the Down the Hatch matriarch (AKA my 80 year old mother) to La Trappe Quadrupel Ale.  By introducing I mean innocently pouring her a small taste one night from the twelve ounce bottle I had opened for myself.  And by mistake I mean now having to deal with every beer that I've poured for her since not measuring up to that (rather expensive compared with what I'm used to paying for a four pack) Quad.   "It's a nice beer, but it's not as good as..." is exactly what I've heard with every single beer pour since that fateful night.  I should have known better.  My entire family really only totally agrees on three beer styles, Belgians, Belgians and more Belgians.  Dubbels. Trippels. Strong Ales. Golden Ales. They're not really picky.  Just as long as said beer pocesses a pronounced fruity ester and the sweet nectar  of the gods' candi sugar, the family unit is a harmonious place to be.  I started out in much the same way, my first real favorite craft beer being a St. Bernardus Abt 12.  In fact, way back before I even knew what a Quad or an Abbey ale were, I would actually go into a store and ask for the Monk beer with the blue label.  Oddly enough, it always worked.  So it was with a resigned sigh that I cracked open an Une Annee Quad one night at the dinner table.  I needn't have worried.  

My Une Annee Quad poured a soft mahogany brown liquid with rich looking amber undertones.  A thick, fluffy two  finger ivory head formed.  It slowly settled to a half finger head that eventually fell to a thick film which covered the surface of the beer for the rest of the drink. Clumps of delicate bubbles clung to the snifter's glass which resulted in a lovely show of Belgian lace.  Basically, this is how I like my Quads to look.  The nose didn't disappoint either.  Abundant notes of rich plum, tart dried cherry (which always smells a bit sweeter to me than fresh) and lots of toffee character rose from the glass in an appealing, we're all in this together, sort of way.  A whiff of fruity esters were there as well, but not as much as I though there would be.  A tiny bit of phenolic spice played around the edges of the nose too, layered under all of the chewy, sweet, rich, fruity elements.  It wasn't an easy to distinguish  spice note, but offered a good counter balance to the other elements.  The taste followed the nose almost exactly.  The plum and toffee added to the lightly sweet richness of the flavor while the dried cherry gave a bit of a chewy quality to the mouthful.  The expected, yet also very anticipated, fruity esters came out to play.  The fig forward ester taste was  heavier on the tongue than on the nose. The phenolic spice note off set the richness of this beer in a very welcoming way. Some Quads, by their very nature, have an element of heat from the higher alcohol quantity.  Une Annee's heat was more of an impression than a separate quality.   Personally, this is exactly how I prefer my Quads.  I don't need that throat burn to know that this baby has been aged for a bit.  The mouthfeel was almost full bodied, but lightened slightly by the abundant carbonation.  I liked the heavy carbonation.  I felt that it helped to dry the beer just enough to make it easy to drink.  A long finish ended the swallow.  The boozy heat, which can easily be over done in a Quad, was more of a warm, comforting presence on the finish.

I love to serve Belgian style  beers with food.  They just go hand in hand with so many meals.  Try serving this  Une Annee Quad with a fancy dinner of Roast Beef Brisket and Potatoes Au Gratin.  The bottle is such a simplistic and classy design that you can pour it for your fancy guests with just as much pride as you might with an expensive bottle of wine.  I double dog dare you to try that with a bottle from Clown Shoes or Flying Dog (Host: "More Tramp Stamp or Raging Bitch anyone?"  Me: "No thank you.  I prefer my misogyny with desert.") My favorite comfort food is a simple grilled cheese sandwich.  Easy to make, even easier to make interesting.  This Quad would be wonderful with just about every variation you can imagine from Grilled Cheese With Peanut Butter to Inside Out Grilled Cheese (which might just be the most brilliant thing I've ever seen.)  As to my mom's reaction to Une Annee's Quad?  The only thing that disappointed her about this beer was the empty bottle.

    Monday, February 17, 2014

    Great Lakes Brewing Co's Blackout Stout

    • Style: Russian Imperial Stout (RIS)
    • ABV: 9.00%
    • Season: Starts showing up in November and lasts most of the Winter season.  This is an excellent snowy day sort of beer
    • Ease to locate: Relatively easy as long as you live East of the Mississippi River (or in Minnesota.  They must be fans of the Cohen Brothers.)  Here's a link to their beer finder, dontcha know?
    • Color: Black and completely opaque.  I've had dark RISes before, but this one seemed like it could suck my soul right into the bottle.  Sweet.
    • Head: Almost two finger khaki head with oodles of thick lacing sticking to the snifter.  And yes, oodles is a technical term.
    • Aroma: A heavy nose with dark chocolate, roasted malt, some coffee, bits of caramel and vanilla with a slight hint of alcohol on the very tail
    • Mouthfeel: Medium body yet still creamy and slightly carbonated. 
    • Finish: Long with a tasty almost citrus bitterness on the end.  A warmness from the alcohol shows up on the tail as well.
    • Food friendly?: RIS is a difficult beer to pair with food.  If you absolutely needed to serve it with something, try a grilled medium rare (err on the rare side) hunk of beef.  It's basically desert in a glass, but you could also try it with a couple of homemade butter cookies on the side.  Personally, I like a mild yet nutty cheese such as Blarney.

    Apple Users Link: Here's another thing I should probably remember, but don't. Anyone recall Peter Wolf???? Anyone?  Bueller?
                                                                                                              You should watch this if only to remind yourself that some dance moves are better left in the dark. 

    Apparently back in the Summer of 2003 there was a massive blackout that affected a good portion of the Eastern half of the US.  But not Chicago. So I have absolutely no memory of it beyond a vague feeling that there was a How I Met Your Mother episode devoted to it that Fall (although, it could have been a Queer Eye for the Straight Guy show now that I think about it.  I'm almost definitely sure that it wasn't Star Trek: Enterprise.  Maybe.)   Luckily for us, Cleveland was in the dark.  Well, maybe not so lucky for them, but we got a really good beer out it at least. So that's worth almost utter chaos and apocalyptic fever, right? Thank god Facebook wasn't a huge thing then or else people might still be in therapy  over the unfortunate day. I don't even like it when I can't get my email to immediately load.

    My Blackout Stout was a dark as a moonless night.  Black, black and deeper black liquid poured into the snifter (and why yes, that is a 25th Anniversary Great Lakes snifter.  Nice huh?) resulting in a completely opaque beer.  Almost two fingers worth of khaki foam rose in the glass and took it's RIS sweet time in settling down.  Clumps of sticky, thick lace clung to the sides of the snifter. It's been a while since I've seen such gorgeous lacing in any sort of a stout.  The nose was a honker too.   So looks AND substance?  Be still my beating heart (well, not literally.  Because then I'd be dead and it's difficult to drink when one has expired.  Not impossible though.  I am Irish after all.)   I could smell the dark, bitter sweet chocolate immediately.  Roasted dark malts and coffee were layered under the chocolate with bits of caramel with a little vanilla as well.  The taste was similar to the nose, with an abundance of bitter, dark chocolate.  To a lesser extent there was roasted malt, a good amount of coffee and chewy dark fruits.  There was an underlying sweetness playing around in the mouth too.

     Great Lakes lists their malt selection as Harrington 2-Row Base Malt, Crystal 77, Black Malt and Roasted Barley.  As far as I can tell (and I'm not as well versed in malt education as I'd like to be.  Then again, I can quote almost the entire series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer so we all have our strengths) but I believe that Black Malt and Roasted Barley are resposnible for the deep color of the beer, while Crystal 77 gives it the underlying sweetness I mentioned earlier.  What I found interesting was that Harrington 2-Row Base Malt (and by the way,why does this malt sound like it was named by an accountant?) is sort of the vanilla of the malt world.  Often chefs will add vanilla to a recipe, not to incorporate the essence of vanilla flavor, but instead to enhance the rest of the flavor notes involved.  Harrington Blah Blah Blah (which, in my humble opinion, is a much better name) works in the same sort of way for Blackout Stout.  Also worth noting, this RIS has a IBU of 50 (OMG! Actually, RIS typically go up to almost 90 IBUS so 50 is pretty middle of the pack.)  Their hop profile is a bit unusual for a RIS however.  Great Lakes uses Northern Brewer which is a typical English sort of hop.  Where they break tradition is by adding Simcoe to the batch.  Now, I love Simcoe as a bittering hop.  I'm just used to it in my IPA (think Pipework's Simcoe Ninja.)  In a stout?  That's thinking outside the box. And it totally works.  There's a layered complexity to the bitterness that you don't often find in Imperial Stouts.  The mouthfeel was only medium bodied, but there was sill a creaminess present that coated the tongue in that delightful RIS sort of way.  A long finish with a citrusy bitterness and a comforting, lightly boozy, heat ended the sip in an amazing style.

    Personally I prefer to sip most Russian Imperial Stouts, including Great Lake Brewing's Blackout Stout, by itself.  Heavy, chewy, creamy beers are almost meals in and of themselves.  It's trendy this time of year to pair craft beer and Girl Scout Cookies for some reason.  Let's just say that if this was the case thirty odd years ago, I would have made a killing.  So if you have a box of Trefoils sitting around, this is the beer to drink with them.  But say you're the type that gets more than just the munchies around full snifter glasses.  You could try pairing Blackout Stout with a simply prepared, perfectly grilled piece of steak  Serve the steak with a baked potato and maybe some Sauteed Green Beans with Slivered Almonds and you have yourself a delicious feast fit for a king.  Or Czar.   In any case, if I should happen to get stuck in the dark during an apocalyptic loss of power, at least I know that I'll have something good to drink while I wait for the mongrel hordes to reach my front door.       

    Monday, February 10, 2014

    Lake Effect Brewing Co's Espresso Gone Stout

    • Style: Coffee Milk Stout
    • ABV: 6%
    • Ease to locate: Lake Effect Brewing is carried in most Chicagoland craft beer stores now and is getting easier to find on tap as well.  Here's a link to their Beer Menu page.  If you follow them on FaceBook (link) or on Twitter (link) they usually keep fans informed of deliveries almost daily.
    • Color: Rich, rich, RICH! solid dark brown with no hint of black.  The color alone make you want to drink it all down immediately. 
    • Head: 1 finger tan head with tight carbonation that settles after a minute.  Delicate lacing coating the glass.
    • Aroma: A big nose with lost of milk chocolate, fresh perfectly brewed espresso, sweet milk sugar and a bit of wood
    • Mouthfeel: Full and just creamy enough to lightly coat the tongue.  Lots of carbonation to cut the creaminess.
    • Finish: On the long side of medium. Mostly coffee notes on the finish, but just the hint of earthiness on the tail
    • Food friendly: Maybe. Coffee milk stouts can be tricky.  If you like milk chocolate and love espresso, then yes, I could see making this work with a coffee forward mole sauce and, of course, with some tangy barbeque sauce (what kind of beer doesn't work with some sort of barbeque?  I don't want any part of that beer, thank you.)  Serve it with a nutty cheese like Gouda or Swiss.
    Apple User Link: I think I found the next collaborator for Lake Effect Brewing

                                                                   Dark Knight Java Porter.  Just think about it.  Call me, Lake Effect.  We can make this happen.

    Choosing a beer in a crowded craft aisle at your local bottle shop can be a daunting task.  More enjoyable  than say picking out a health plan on line or deciding on which Kardashian sibling is most annoying (it's always the one actually speaking at any moment), but still daunting none the less.  It's never a quick in and out trip for me when I visit my local shops.  I do have a routine though:
              1) say hi to whoever is working that day because it's only polite (plus, it's ALWAYS a good idea to be nice to the people I like to refer to as The Guardians of Beer)
              2) Check the front cases for the new stuff
              3) Wander the aisles, picking up bombers, looking for old favorites, discovering brand new breweries
              4) Check the front cases again because it's possible I missed something special
              5) Ask the Guardian of Beer what's new because I'm certain that I missed something special
              6) Repeat

    You can see how an hour can simply fly buy before I finally bring my purchases to the checkout.  Except last week when I actually went to my local haunt with a specific beer purchase in mind.  Lake Effect Brewing Company is a relatively new brewery that opened last year on the Northwest side of Chicago in the Portage Park area of the city.  They started bottling in early 2013 and slowly made their way onto the beer menus of other smallish places in Chicago. Now beyond the usual things one may look for in a beer (taste, taste and, oh yeah, TASTE!) I really love that Lake Effect Brewing seems to have a real passion for collaborating with local businesses.  The brewers not only drink at my local haunt, they also make an effort to reach out to Chicago businesses for interesting partnerships.  For instance, they're in the process of brewing a beer in collaboration with another local gem, Superdawg Drive In (and seriously, if you ever find yourself on the NW side of the city, you need to check this place out at least once.  I always half expect Fonzie to give me a thumbs up every time I pass by.)   In the near future, the world will know what exactly what kind of beer is the perfect pairing to imbibe in while chowing down on a hot dog while sitting in the comfort of your own car.  And I love that.  For their take on a coffee milk stout, the good people of Lake Effects teamed up with Regulus Coffee, a coffee company also located in the Portage Park area of Chicago.  Regulus may have closed their brick and mortar coffee house at the end of 2013, but they live on through the awesome power of the internet.  And the awesome result of this beer.  

    My Espresso Gone Stout poured a dark, solid brown liquid.  Sometimes you find a murky, dank blackness to the coloring of a stout, but this one produced a rich looking beer that gave off the perfect impression of a coffee infused brew.   A one finger light tan colored head formed  with very close quartered bubbles.  Spotty, delicate lacing clung to the glass as the head dissipated (sort of quickly ) to a very thin rim around the glass.  Personally I tend to prefer a thick head with lots of sticky lacing that takes it's time to settle, but experience has taught me not to judge a beer by it's foam alone (Which, by the way, would make an excellent movie title.  Picture a fresh face cherub craft brewer left behind as all of his friends leave for a beer fest.  He's forced to defend the brewery against evil AB-INBEV cronies intent on breaking in and stealing the secret to their break out coffee stout recipe.  FOAM ALONE, coming soon to a back alley brewery near you.)  The nose on this stout is a honker.  I detected a horde of roasted espresso bitterness, lots of milk chocolate malts, some sweet milk sugar and a little bit of wood.  The aroma is a nicely balanced scent of milk stout and a coffee stout.  The taste is a bit heavier on the espresso note with some deeply roasted espresso bean character taking the forefront.  It's followed by the milk chocolate and lactose sweetness.  Their is absolutely no mistaking this drink for anything other than a coffee milk stout.  A very shallow note of woody earthiness could be found under all of the bitter sweetness.  It's a tasty, coffee forward milk stout. The mouthfeel was just creamy enough to lightly coat the tongue but not so much that it made eating food with the beer difficult.  An abundant source of carbonation helped to dry out the body as well, keeping the stout from tipping over to a heavy feeling.  The finish was medium to long with a tasty bitter espresso note on the very end.

    Lake Effect Brewing's Espresso Gone Stout is an enjoyable drinking and just rich enough beer that you can easily drink it on it's own and feel like you've had a snack.  But the dryness of the finish means that it can pair well with food if you are feelinga bit peckish.  The freshness of the coffee note when mixed with the milk chocolate character makes me want to drink it with a Mexican inspired meal.  Try it with some Grilled Shrimp in a Coffee Mole Sauce and a side bowl of Pinto Bean Soup.  The spice of the dish would be mellowed by the semisweet chocolate notes in the sauce as well as the coffee milk stout.  In fact, I'm sort of wishing that my favorite local Mexican restaurant, who make the absolute best mole sauce I've ever had the good fortune of tasting,  served this beer along side their mole chicken enchiladas.  And I'm really wishing that I had a plate of them right now (reminder, don't write the blog when hungry or thirsty.)  Lake Effect Brewing is showing up at more and more local bars and restaurants around my place.  I would absolutely love (like rainbow unicorn puppy sort of love) to see this beer (or some of their other offerings) on more places outside of the 606 zip code as well.  As for now, I'll just have to be content to to know that somewhere close by, busy little brewery bees are working their beards to the bone to make the Northwest side of the city proud. And slightly buzzed.

    Monday, February 3, 2014

    Begyle Brewing's Oh Hey! Porter

    • Style: English Porter
    • ABV: 6.0%
    • Ease to locate: Growler fill at their brand spanking new tap room!  OK, full disclosure, I did NOT get spanked when I got my growler filled.  It's possible that you have to pay extra for it.  I've also seen it on tap in Chicago 1 or 2 places.  Here's a link to what Begyle has available for fill right now
    • Color: Medium brown with golden highlights around the edges.  
    • Head: One finger, light beige head of tight carbonation.  Settles quickly, leaving a spotty & delicate webbing of lace
    • Aroma: Lots of roasty brown malts, chocolate and brewed coffee notes.  A straightforward nose for a straightforward English Porter
    • Mouthfeel: Medium body with a good amount of carbonation
    • Finish: Medium and slightly dry
    • Food friendly: Porters, especially straightforward ones like this, work well with a variety of food.  Try it with a sloppy, saucy barbeque pork sandwich.  Or up the sophistication level and serve it with a smoked standing rib roast.  Pair this porter with an Extra Sharp Cheddar cheese or something more earthy, such as Camembert. 

    Apple User's Link:  Most people don't agree on music, but everybody loves Johnny

                                                                                                       Did every one have to look like Elvis back then?  Was it some sort of King Presley ruling?

    My family enjoys the occasional pint.  And by that, I mean we vehemently look for occasions to have a drink together frequently.    My middle brother's recent 40th birthday party provided us with such an event.  Coincidentally, the party date also coincided with the first day of growler fills for Begyle Brewery, one of his favorite local brewers.  I took that as a heavenly sign and used it as an excuse took time out of my busy Saturday to visit their new tap room for a growler (or two.)  And of the eight or so beers available to be tapped into my  brand spanking new growler, his favorite (and one of their flagship beers) Crash Landed  found a home.  But do you know what's better than one growler filled with beer goodness?  That's right, my pretties.  TWO growlers. And the second one was blogger's choice.  I went with the one Begyle on tap that I hadn't tried yet, Oh, Hey Porter.  Partially because I love the name.  But mainly because it was a Porter.  Duh.  It's like you people don't even know me at all.

    My Oh, Hey Porter poured a medium hued yet still rich looking brown beer with golden highlights around the edges.  A one finger, light beige head formed, full of tight, crowded together as if it was the EL at five o'clock on a Friday carbonation.  The foam settled  after about half a minute, leaving behind spotty, web-like lacing and a complete ring around the top of the liquid (I defy you not to hum "Ring of Fire" in your head right now.)  The nose was dead on for your typical English Porter profile.  Right upfront was the aroma of roasted brown malts, sweet and chocolatey.   A bit of fresh brewed coffee followed.  The barest hint of bitterness was layered in (I'm guessing Fuggle hops were used, but don't quote me on that. Or do and just realize that I could be wrong.)  It was a straightforward nose for a straight forward beer.  And I appreciate that.  Now I love a well done, coconut, halzelnut, Oreo cookie inspired, White Russian flavored experiemental beer as much as the next Pipework's fan girl.  But sometimes when you want a good Porter, you just want a good Porter.  The beer tasted as straighforward as it smelled.  Notes of roasted brown malt, chocolate and coffee were rounded out by a slight earthiness of the hops.  This is pretty much what I assume all the characters in the British mystery novels that I read are drinking at their various pubs as they dig into their kidney & eel pies.  Hell, I'd drink my lunch too if those pies were the only options and this was on their beer menu.  The body and finish were medium and smooth on the tongue.  It was just dry enough to make it easy as (eel) pie to drink down.

    I'd serve Oh, Hey Porter with your family's favorite Eel pie recipe (only kidding, but if you insist, here's a link. Use it at your discretion).   Seriously, this Porter would be excellent with a Dry-Aged Standing Rib Roast with Sage Jus.  The moderation of the beer would play beautifully with the juiciness of the meat yet still be able to hold up to the heartiness of the meal.   Maybe it's just me, but a freshly filled growler always tasted better to me than a bottled beer.  There's something about bringing a jug to the brewery and having them pour the sweet, hoppy, malty goodness out of their own taps that just makes the beer extra special. We enjoyed both of our growlers on my (now a bit older) younger brother's special day.  And, being the generous soul that I am, I actually gave one of the growler to him as an extra present.  The fact that I now have two Begyle growlers at my disposal never once occurred to me.  Cross my scheming, duel growler, hoppy heart.