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Monday, May 19, 2014

Middle Brow (Beer Co.)'s The Life Pursuit

  • Style: Dark Sasion brewed with vanilla & cinnamon
  • ABV: 6.6%
  • Ease to locate: Most craft & large Chicagoland liquor stores.  Here's a link to their Beer Menu page.  You can also check them out on their Face Book page here
  • Color: Hazy, ombre caramel brown with amber tones.  Think of it as a saison undercover
  • Head: One and a half fingers of foam with good retention.  Soapy, minimal lacing
  • Aroma: Carmel sweetness with a hint of vanilla, fruity yeast esters with nice peppery spice. Maltier than usual for a saison, but in a delicious way
  • Mouthfeel: Medium with lots of carbonation.  Dry & drinkable
  • Finish: Long that starts sweet and ends with pepper & cinnamon spice on tail 
  • Food friendly?:  Hell to the yes!  Saisons in general are great with food, but the maltier aspect of this beer gives it a bit of a heft.  Try it with something meaty like steak or mushroom dishes.  Pair it with a nutty cheese such as Asiago.

Apple user's link: Malkovich meets Malkovich

         Admit it.  After seeing this movie, you could name at least three people's minds that you'd love to briefly jump into.  John Malkovich wouldn't have been my 1st choice

I'll tell you a secret.  Sometimes I buy a beer just because the artwork is interesting and cool.  When I get to my usual store and scan the shelves for a new beer to try, a bottle that doesn't look like the same old same old will catch my  eye.  I may have just a passing knowledge of the brewery (or not), but if the label looks unique, I'll at least pick up the bottle to study it closer.  And if it is a style that I happen to like, it's going in the cart.  A few weeks ago I spotted Middle Brow's A Life Pursuit that exact way.  The very cool image created by Matthew LaFleur grabbed my attention immediately amongst a shelf of brightly colored and comic book inspired beer labels (not that there's anything wrong with those labels.  But just as they were once an unique presence on the shelf, can you really tell one brewery from another now with a glance?  I can't.)  It's a classy sort of drawing that is exactly what I imagine a brewer's brain to look like inside.   Minus a few empty bottles of aspirin and the random cat I always seem to see lurking around most breweries.   Plus it reminded me of Maurice Sendak books and that's always a good thing.    To top it off, I happen to adore saisons.  A dark saison brewed with vanilla and cinnamon, however, left me slightly skeptical.  This beer could either be wonderful or a total mess.  Either way, I plunked down my money, figuring that at least it would be an adventure. 

The Life Pursuit was a slightly hazy, ombre caramel brown color in my glass.  Soft amber tones reflected back when it was held up to the light. A well sized one and a half finger light beige head quickly formed with wonderful retention.  Minimal, soapy lacing coated the sides of the glass.   The first scent to hit me was a sweet, malty caramel note with the barest trace of vanilla.  Not what I was expecting from a saison.  It was quickly followed by the typical fruity yeast that I know and love in my farmhouse ales.  Some stone fruits and a bit of tropical notes were followed by a peppery spice on the nose.  The taste was very similar.  An abundance of caramel flavors, their sweetness off set by the slight vanilla note, mingled with the the bready, fruity yeast.  Subtle flavors of cinnamon and pepper balanced out the rest of the notes wonderfully.  This beer seemed to take the best characteristics from both a brown ale and a saison to make something perfectly unique.  Sort of like a mad scientist experiment gone horribly genius.  The body was firmly in the medium zone and nicely dry.  Personally I thought that it might have leaned a wee bit too carbonated for my taste, but that was ne of those "to each their own" sort of things.  A long and layered finish rounded out this ale.  It started out sweet and malty but ended with the expected spice on the tail.

Middle Brow's The Life Pursuit is the kind of beer that welcomes a variety of food pairing.  The fact that it's well balanced helps greatly, but it think it's even more important that it borrows food friendly qualities from two different styles.  Yeasty esters automatically lend their fruity qualities to many lighter dishes, while the malty sweetness help to add some heft to this drink.  This is the exact type of beer that you could bring to a summer party and just know that it will work with anything that the host may throw at you.  I'm going to drink my next bottle with Portabella Burgers on the Grill and a side of Memphis Sweet potato Fries made with a hint of Cinnamon..  If you've never tried any sort of french fries off of a gas grill, you have not fully lived my friend.  Middle Brow (Beer Co.) is a rather unique sort of brewery.  Many new breweries are started by former home brewers.  Middle Brow plans to actively seek out (via contests and other means) homebrewers to work with them in developing various homebrew recipe beers to be publicly released through out the year.  Sort of like Top Chef in the world of beer.  Or American Idol if you prefer.  God, I really hope that you don't prefer.  Judgement free zone here though.  (Not true.  If you tell me, I will totally judge you.). They will also distribute beers brewed with their own recipes in between the homebrew releases.  It's an intriguing concept for a brewery and a very exciting opportunity for a handful of talented homebrewers.  In fact, The Life Pursuit was developed from a personal recipe by a homebrewer named  Matt Holley.    And if you ask me, the dude has chops.  If you have chops as well, check out one of their competitions and maybe pursue a bit of a brewer's life yourself.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Pipeworks Brewing Co's Nagami Equinox

  • Style: Golden Ale brewed with Kumquats & Honey
  • ABV: 9.0%
  • Ease to locate: On most craft shelves in & around Chicago.  My bottle was #360-61 Here's a link to the beer menu page on this ale
  • Color: Golden straw color with a hint of orange.  Slightly hazy.  It's as if you can almost see the honey in it
  • Head: Huge 2 1/2 finger snow white head that falls slowly.  Delicate, uniform lacing.  Very pretty.
  • Aroma: Kumquat tartness hits you immediately.  Some citrus & a bit of fruity yeast. No real sweetness on the nose
  • Mouthfeel: Medium body that's slightly dry.  Easily drinkable
  • Finish: Not as long as I'd like.  Mostly citrus & fruit that falls off rather quickly.  
  • Food friendly? Great with a variety of Spring & Summer dishes.  Try it with grilled chicken or fish paired with some lemony vegetables 
Apple user's link: There is truely a YouTube for every occasion

                                                                                    I take all my food advice from guys wearing a hemp shirt and have access to video equipment, don't you?

Every year for Lent my mom would make my brothers and myself give up something that we loved for the forty days of the season.  And she didn't let us get away with picking things like meat loaf or green beans (which I happen to love, but if green beans were an actual choice as a sacrifice back in the day, I totally would have jumped on it.) Most years, we went with giving up things like pop or ice cream.  One fateful year I gave up popcorn and let me tell you, those were the longest forty days of my twelve year old life.   My father, however, gave up the same thing year in and year out.  Kumquats.  To a ten year old who lived in Chicago during the Eighties, it certainly sounded like an exotic sort of sacrifice to make each year.  The fact we had never actually ever seen my dad eat a kumquat at any other time of the year did leave us a bit suspicious.  Hell, my brothers and I didn't really even know what the frak a kumquat really was in the first place.  As an adult, I've come to appreicate my father's tricky sort of logic now.  As a lover of craft beer, I think that I may appreciate more that Pipeworks might have finally found a way to throw a monkey wrench into his nefarious Lenten plans.         

I know that this has been troubling you all since you saw the title of this post.  And I'm here for you (and by here for you, I mean that I took five seconds to google it.)  Nagamis are a variety of kumquats and not some furry, bucktoothed creature that lives in the forests of Middle Earth.  Now we can all breath a sigh of relief and go on.  My Nagami Equinox poured a golden yellow color with a slight orange tinge to it.   A huge (and sort of surprising to me at least) two and a half finger head of pure white foam rose in the glass.  The head had staying power and left behind some very pretty, delicate and yet uniformly spun lacing.  It was certainly a good looking beer to say the least.  I could immediately smell the tartness of the kumquats without even bringing the snifter very close to my nose.  What I could have been just another sort of Pipework add on,  easily demonstrated that it was going to more than just a one trick pony sort of beer.   A layered citrus (I want to say orange and lemon) bitterness emerged under the tartness as did the fruity yeast aroma.  I loved the brightness of the scent.  The taste was first and foremost kumquaty (yeah, it's a word.  At least it is now) tartness with a balanced citrus element.  I could taste lots of juicy orange, grapefruit and a bit of lemon mixing with the puckering note from the beer's namesake.  A good amount of fruity yeast and a very welcome sweetness from the honey balanced out the flavor profile.  This was exactly the sort of ale that I wanted to drink on a gorgeous Spring day.  The mouthfeel was what one would expect from a Golden Ale; medium body with a bit of dryness.  I wasn't one hundred percent behind the drop off on the ale's finish, however.  With the wonderfully balanced nature of the flavors mixing together on the taste, I think that it should have lasted longer on the swallow than it did.

I love pairing Golden Ales with food.  They are inherently well suited for most meals (this is why Goose Island's Matilda is such a popular restaurant choice for beer drinkers.)  The tart nature of Nagami Equinox does require some thought though to insure that this ale will enhance the meal and not over power it.  I'd serve it with a Honey Mustard Grilled Chicken and a Side of Lemon Green Beans (unless you have a more lenient mom than I do and you decided to give them up for Lent.)  A Citrus Marinated Tuna Steak would also be delicious, especially since the oily nature of the fish would work with the brightness of this beer.   It's really a wonderful Spring or early Summer beer to add to your Golden Ale repertoire.  Plus, kumquat is just an awfully funny word to say out loud.  

Monday, May 5, 2014

Ten Ninety Brewing's Imperial Porter

  • Style: Imperial Porter brewed with Pomegranate juice and Cayenne Pepper
  • ABV: 13.10% Beacuse the cayenne pepper note simply didn't make it a bold enough beer on it's own.  Go big or go home, right Ten Ninety?
  • Ease to locate: Although they are still a rather new brewery, most craft stores in the Chicagoland area carry Ten Ninety bottles.  And while their website leaves A LOT to be desired, they do have a beer search section.
  • Color: Dark brown chocolate color with red highlights on the edges
  • Head: A half a finger or so light tan head that disappears almost immediately.  No real lace, just a thick ring around the surface
  • Aroma: Very sweet. Lots of rich milk chocolate with a tart sharpness from the pomegranate juice. No real spice on the nose
  • Mouthfeel:Medium body that almost verges on full.  Very little carbonation presence 
  • Finish: Long and red hot from the cayenne pepper.  Ay caramba!
  • Food friendly?: Simply put? No.  The heavy spice of this beer would over power almost any dish I could think of.  A very mild and creamy cheese, such as a full fat Swiss would help underscore the heat from the beer.  This is the sort of drink that you want to experience on it's own.

Apple User's Link: If Roger Ebert was a Doctor he'd have used bow ties I'm sure

                   We never see The Doctor actually drink anything alcoholic, but if he did, I imagine that it would be a good craft beer.  From the Third Ring of Saturn.  Or a Pipeworks Custard & Fish Sticks Golden Ale. 

If you have noticed, I never use any sort of point or rating system here on this blog.  You wil never see me give a beer 4 out of 5 stars, thumbs up or whatever arbitrary symbol that you want to use to convey enjoyment of a beer.  If I did, it would be bow ties.  Because bow ties are cool. My reasoning for this is because we all have different pallets.  What might be an amazing beer for me, could very well be a lackluster one for you. You would be wrong, of course, but that goes without saying. When I started this blog, I made the conscious decision to describe a craft beer in terms that allow you, the reader, to make an informed decision whether to try the beer for yourself or not.  Since this is the case, I some times find myself cracking open a bottle from a style that I know that I'm not fond of.  The things that I do for you....  So I want to temper this piece with a disclaimer that I don't generally enjoy heavily spiced stouts/porters.  I've tried a handful in the past and have come to the conclusion that they simply aren't my cup of tea (I also do not enjoy hot peppers in my nightly mug of Bewleys Tea, for the record.) But since Ten Ninety Brewing is a new local brewery, I did want to give one of their bombers a try.  OK.  Full disclosure.  I really went in the store to buy their Tripel, but all that was on the shelf was this Imperial Porter.  And God knows that I certainly was not going to leave that bottle shop with a full wallet.

My Ten Ninety Imperial Porter poured a dark brown beer with very pretty scarlet highlights on the edges.  It looked just as a Porter brewed with Pomegranate juice should look.  A tight, half a finger head  of light tan foam fell almost immediately after the pour.  I was a bit disappointed in this, as well as in the lack of almost any sort of lacing.  But since I've experienced more than one Imperial Porter with similar heads, it didn't greatly surprise me.  The aroma was amazing.  Heavy notes of rich, milk chocolate were laced with the distinct tartness of the Pomegranate juice.  The sharpness of the fruit juice helped to temper the sweetness of the chocolate malts, creating an intriguing sort of nose.  I didn't detect any spice from the pepper on the nose at all, not even after the beer reached room temperature (it took me a long, long time to finish my snifter.). I did love the nose and if the taste had fully reflected that aroma, I might have fallen in love with this beer.  Of course, that would mean that they wouldn't have brewed with with the cayenne pepper element and label changes can be very expensive just to please one little old blogger.   At first, the taste was that of the nose, rich milk chocolate (very similar to a milk stout flavor wise) with the tart Pomegranate juice layered just under the sweetness.  But that's where the similarities to the nose ended.  A fiery, eye watering hit of cayenne pepper lit up my mouth on the swallow.  I like spicy food.  I love mouth burning salsa.  I'm the type to add extra hot sauce in my bowl of chili just to give the already spicy food a bit of a kick.  But for some reason, I just don't appreciate this note in my stouts or porters.  To me, this cayenne pepper note was over powering and distracting. The body was a little thinner than I expected for an Imperial Porter.  It was firmly medium mouthfeel that seemed to long to be full bodied, but unfortunately just didn't have the extra oomph needed.  A long finish that ended with the hot hit from the peppers left my mouth on fire.  It was just too much for me.  

Pairing food with this bad boy is not an easy task.  Any time that you have a heavily spiced beer, it can be a challenge to find a match that enhances the brew rather than competes for attention.  Add on the characteristics of an Imperial Porter and you have yourself a conundrum.  I recommend drinking this beer on its own.  Maybe on a cool, dreary night when you need a bit of internal warmth.  Ten Ninety's Imperial Porter is obviously not the brew that is going to convert me to the dark side of spiced porters.  Maybe there just isn't a beer out there that will.  Of course, as it is with most things in life, the search is half the fun.  If Ten Ninety should happen to one day brew their Imperial Porter with just the assistance of Pomegranate juice, I'd be more than willing though to pony up some extra cash for the new labels.