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Monday, October 27, 2014

A Polite List of Food Beers for Chef David Chang (or, Suck it Momofuku)

I had a whole post written for this week's beer (well, I had a whole three sentences actually written down, but the gist of the piece was nicely worked out in my head.  It does too so count.)  But then I read this little gem of a piece from the famous (in his own head and on one season of the now canceled HBO show Treme) David Chang, owner and head chef of New York's Momofuko, among other places.  Here's a link to the GQ article.  Pour out a decent beer and take a moment to read it yourself.

In a nutshell, Chang makes a case for his love of crappy, watered down, frat boy beer over the well crafted, thoughtful and yes, delicious beer from any small scale brewery here in the US.  Yep.  A guy who has the audacity to charge the same price as an box set of the entire run of The West Wing for a bowl of noodles, wrote a piece about how cheap beer trumps anything that craft brewers can make.  I get that we each have our own preferences and tastes.  And I also get that there are people out there that will always harbor a not so secret love of all things Miller and/or Bud.  My best friend in the world will only drink Miller Light and I don't judge her (OK.  I totally judge her.  But that's our unique dynamic.)  But my BFF doesn't run one of the most sought after, well respected, trendsetting restaurants on the East Coast.  Nor does she write pieces for major publications like GQ (stop snickering.  You can find it in airports so it counts.)  What ticked me off most after reading his piece was this quote : "For all the debatability of my rant here, let me make one ironclad argument for shitty beer: It pairs really well with food. All food. Think about how well champagne pairs with almost anything. Champagne is not a flavor bomb! It's bubbly and has a little hint of acid and tannin and is cool and crisp and refreshing. Cheap beer is, no joke, the champagne of beers. And cheap beer and spicy food go together like nothing else. "  Really?  There isn't any craft beer out there that an amazing chef with a respected and well honed palate  can find to pair with his plate of pea shoots in a chicory, sesame, kimchi vinaigrette?  Or a bowl of pig tails with  pickled Asian pear, chili and scallion?

Chef Chang, if you should ever find your way to Chicago, I am here to help.  I scoured the city (read- drank a lot of local beer) and believe that I have found four local brews that will change your brand of beer champagne.

Transient Ales' Obelus- Saison

Transient Ales is a relatively new brewery on the Chicago scene.  They focus mainly on Sour and Farmhouse style ales and do it extremely well.  I honestly haven't been this excited by a brand new baby brewery in a long time.  I tasted one of their Saisons, Obelus, at an event recently.  Saisons are a natural pairing for food, especially spicy or flavorful dishes.  Their inherent rustic character helps to mellow out any boldness you might find on the place.  Obelus has a lovely tropical fruit element that blends delicately into the farmhouse nature of the beer's yeast.  A slight graininess also compliments  a well seasoned meal.  I would pair Obelus with both delicate dishes, such as white fish, to something a bit more complex, like Lo Mein noodles.  Transient  has begun to play around with this particular Saison, using it was a base beer to experiment with various barrels and dry hops.  I could easily see an inventive chef creating an entire pairing menu based on the various versions of this farmhouse ale.  In fact, if some ambitious chef out there wants to take up the challenge, I'm more than willing to be the guinea pig (I'm selfless that way, I know.) 

Off Color Brewing's Fierce- Berliner Style Weiss

I originally wrote about Off Color's Fierce in early September (click here to read it again. You know. In case you missed it.)  Off Color refers to Fierce as being brewed in the style of a Berliner Weisse instead of just calling it a stright up Berliner Weisse.  My understanding is that they strayed from the traditional forms of yeast that one expects to find in your Berliners.  And to that, I say, I don't care.  It's fraking delicious.  Fierce has a subtle dankness to it's flavor profile that, in my opinion, greatly expands it's food pairing options.  I love to drink Berliners with my dinner just as a wine drinker might reach for a lovely Austrian Reisling.  They are often low in bitterness, dry, bright and crisp.  Fierce takes these qualities one step further by layering in a soft, musty element that  compliments light dishes.  I love drinking Fierce with vegetable heavy plates and let the green, herbal note bring out the earthiness of my meal.  And, honestly, since most Berliner Weisses clock in under 4% ABV (with Fierce sporting a 3.8%) you can easily drink one than one if you should wish to linger at the table.  Something has to wash down those third helpings, right? 

Begyle Brewing's Free Bird- American Pale Ale

American Pale Ales can be a dime a dozen.  And there is a very good reason for that.  When brewed correctly, APA can become a flagship sort of beer for a brewery.  Toppling Goliath's psudeoSue.  Three Floyds' Zombie Dust.  Half Acre's Daisy Cutter.  All APAs and all calling cards for their breweries.  Begyle Brewing's Free Bird may not yet possess that sort of  name making prestige of the best of the best, but it's a mighty fine foot in the door. Free Bird was brewed in the Spring of 2014 and, so far, has only been available in growlers at Begyle's tap room.   I've heard rumblings that at some point in the (hopefully near) future, this APA will be part of the brewery's recent six pack releases.  Free Bird was brewed with Falconer Flight Hops which are two purpose hops that work for both bittering and aroma when brewing.  They are known for their citrus and tropical fruit characters, both of which shine brightly in Free Bird.  Grapefruit and lemon notes pair wonderfully with food in much the same way that a chef might add a squeeze of lemon wedge when finishing off a dish.   Over this past summer, I enjoyed growlers of this bright and crisp APA with a wide array of meat on the grill (poultry, pork and beef all worked well as long as they weren't overly sauced.)  Free Bird is the sort of beer that should (and hopefully will) become a staple beer for a well stocked fridge. And by that, I mean mine. 

Une Annee Brewery's Quad- Ummm, a Quad?

God, I love Quads.  Unlike APAs, however, they are not a dime a dozen.  Quads take time.  I originally wrote about this particular Quad way back in the end of February (this should jog your memory)  We are very fond of our Belgians in the Down the Hatch family.  I confess to having a comfort beer (La Trappe Quad) in the way that others might have a comfort food (grilled cheese.)  Oddly enough, Quads and a gooey, cheesey grilled cheese sandwich can go very well together.  As do Quads and homeade turkey chili.  Also Quads and roast pork with a dried fruit compote.  My point is that the barely sweet toffee, slightly boozy, dark fruit forward ale pairs excellently with food.  I love to drink Une Annee's version with an array of winter meals.  The hit of peppery spice on the nose & taste lends itself to complimenting a bit of a heartier dish that I typically prepare in the colder months of the year.  But the beauty of this particular Quad actually showed itself to me this past Summer in late August/early September.  Other wise known as fresh fig season.  One evening, we cut up a few succulent figs while sipping my last bottle of Une Annee's Quad.  It was a revelation.  The dark fruit and Belgian esters brought out the fig's inherit nature, while the slight spice tempered any sort of sweetness present.  There is no way anyone will ever convince me that a bottle of Miller Light can create such a sublimely simple experience.  Une Annee will be bottling the latest batch of their Quad sometime before the end of the year.  Merry Christmas. 

Chef David Chang knows his food.  He's inventive and willing to continually push the envelope in pursuit of creating unique food experiences.  And I sincerely hope to someday get the opportunity to try his dishes first hand.  But I personally fail to see his point in bad mouthing the entire craft beer industry here in the United States.  To say that shitty beer is the only beer worthy of drinking with the food that he labors to create is not just insulting to the inventive and experienced brewers that make up the American craft trade, it also sells his own creations ridiculously short.  Anything that one puts their heart and soul into preparing deserves a counterpart that reflects this passion.  I chose four beers off the top of my head from Chicago alone to drink with food.  There is a myriad of craft choices out there, lurking in bottle shops and on restaurant menus from every corner of America.  Experiment until you find your favorites.    And then maybe send a Beer It Forward care package to Chef Chang so he can truly experience the wealth of flavors that craft beer has to offer. Oh, and please include a bottle of Chicago's own Lake Michigan drinking water.  If all else fails, the chef has to agree that that least that's better than a can of  Schlitz with his plate of smoked lamb ribs with white grapes, shishito pepper and mustard greens. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Slapshot Brewing's Gourd Damn

  • Style: Spiced Pumpkin Ale (yeah, you heard me.  I drank a pumpkin ale.  Stop judging me.)
  • ABV: 7.00%
  • Ease to locate: Slapshot has just begun their distribution. Regular beers will be canned.  I'll pause until your grateful cries of rejoicing have ended.  (We good now?  Awesome.) Special one offs like this will be in bombers. You should be able to locate them around Chicago in craft stores.  I'm also hearing rumors of a Tradewinds Rum barreled entry of Gourd Damn at this year's FOBAB (gourd dayum indeed!)  Here's a link to their Beer Menu Page
  • Color: Amber brown with red & orange highlights
  • Head: Just a half a finger of off white  head that falls fast.  No lacing to speak of.
  • Aroma: Spices up front.  Lots of cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg on the nose.  A little pumpkin character layered under.  Pleasant and Fall-like.
  • Mouthfeel: Light to Medium body, without being watery, with a nice bitter dryness
  • Finish: Medium to slightly long.  Begins with the spice to the more savory leaning pumpkin to a little herbal bitterness on the end.  
  • Food friendly?: Hmmm....that's a tough one.  I would prefer to drink a beer like this on it's own.  If I had to pair it with food, I'd try it with a salty snack, such as roasted pumpkin seeds or spiced nuts.  The more adventurous among you should pair it with grilled poultry in a brown sugar barbeque sauce
Apple User's Link: Do you believe in miracles?

                                                                                              The fact that I willingly drank and enjoyed a pumpkin beer is a miracle of  Olympic proportions, indeed.

I am almost ashamed to admit this, but up until to last year, I kind of , sort of, possibly in the nicest way, absolutely hated hockey.  OK. Hate is a very strong word.  Despised, maybe? Desperately avoided, certainly.  I somehow resisted the charms of what is basically rugby on ice for various (read: stupid) reasons for so long.  Until I didn't.  Because I realized that these supposed reasons were really just prejudices that I had made up in my own head.  And all that those idiotic notions really accomplished was to keep me from enjoying something awesome.  So I gave in.  A bit trepidatiously at first.  A period here.  A practice session there. Questions, questions, questions to anyone with any sort of hockey knowledge who was naive enough to answer my texts. It wasn't until I found myself streaming at work the Swedish Olympic team playing the Ukrainian Olympic team that I was fully able to admit that, yes.  Yes.  I am a hockey fan.  Now substitute "Pumpkin beers" for hockey and you'll get some idea of where I'm going with this.  Slapshot Brewery is a relatively new brewery here in Chicago and are just beginning to can/bottle their beers for distribution (you've been able to score their beers on tap here and there for almost a year now.)   They have very cool brewery hockey jerseys.  And I like their beer philosophy of just making solid, balanced, tasty brews (screw the IBU count and ABV percentage.  They care more about how the beer tastes.)  So when they informed the public that they were releasing a pumpkin beer this season, I suspect that you know exactly what my now, hockey enlightened, response was.  "Hell no!  Pumpkin beers are disgusting!" 

 I told you that I was slow to accept the inevitable. 

My Gourd Damn poured a amber brown liquid with with orange red tints towards the edges.  While not exactly hazy, light can be seen through it, it was a solid looking brew.  A slight, half a finger head of just off white foam fell quickly to a spotty surface covering.  I didn't notice any lacing at all, but it did create a ring that lasted most of the drink.  Since my experience with pumpkin beers is somewhat limited, and actually finishing a glass is pretty much zilch, I'm not sure if this lack of lacing is an attribute of this beer style.  I'm happy to say that the nose more than made up for the lack of lace.  I was expecting a sweet, creamy, OK I'll just say it, a wet pumpkin smell.  You know, that aroma of a just carved jack-o-lantern.  I was pleasantly surprised that the very first scent  that I caught was a mixture of baking spices.  I could pick out cinnamon (a lot of cinnamon), ginger, cloves and nutmeg.  There is a slight note of pumpkin  on the nose, but less of the wet variety and more of a pie sort of scent.  Now, I like pumpkin pie.  Come every fourth Thursday in November, I love pumpkin pie.  Suddenly I saw promise in this snifter.  The taste followed the nose.  I found the nicely balanced spice mixture towards the front of the swallow with the brown sugar baked pumpkin character appearing towards the middle.  There was a bitterness that struck me as medicinal herbal bitterness at the very end of the mouthful.  To me this worked to keep the drink from becoming a spicy, sweet, pumpkin novelty.  I recommend letting this beer warm in your glass.  As the Gourd Damn opened, I found that the spice elements really came out to play and that medicinal note blended nicely with the Autumn fruit character.  A light to medium body enhanced the flavor profile (again, I was dreading a creamy, sticky mouthfeel and was relived to find it otherwise.)  I enjoyed the surprising dryness that assured me that Gourd Damn was never intended to be a dessert beer.  This was a very easy drinking anytime ale.  The finish was medium to long.  It began with the baking spice notes, which moved to the brown sugar pumpkin pie character, and ended with the bitter herbal dryness. 

I suspect that most pumpkin beers are difficult to pair with food.  The sweet and still savory mixture of this particular pumpkin beer assists greatly in the decision of what kind of food to serve along side of it.  Personally, I'd rather drink Slapshot Brewing's Gourd Damn all by it's lonesome self.  This isn't a desert beer by any means.  It's not overly sweet nor is it hearty like so many other brews that I consider to be "desert beers."  I would drink this beer with some easy snacks, such as Roasted Spiced Nuts & Pumpkin Seeds.  The balanced spices and herbal bitterness of this beer will compliment the savory nuts in a way that your typical IPA or Stout might not.  Since the sweetness of this beer is only slight, you can also easily pair this pumpkin beer with Chicken Wings Glazed With Brown Sugar Barbeque Sauce.  Quite honestly, both recipes would be just about perfect for your next tailgate hockey game.  Wait.  What do you mean there's no tailgating at hockey games?  

I may have to rethink certain attributes of the puck life.