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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Drinking a Little Gratitude With Your Turkey



Do you know how lucky we are?  Do you?  Truly?  You and I (and the guy sitting just to your left.  Turn and give him a little friendly wave) are not only living in what might arguably be the boom of the domestic craft beer movement, we get the luxury of living in one of the epicenters of the whole shebang.  Well, I do and if you happen to be reading this from some place other than Chicago, it's a lovely place to visit and you should book a trip soon (but all bets are off come January.  You've been warned.)  As of last count, the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild listed over eighty craft breweries in the Chicagoland/Illinois region alone.  That's a lot of shelf space and tap handles.  The choice of what beer to drink has never been so diverse, exciting and yes,  occasionally overwhelming.  But you and I wouldn't have it any other way.  That guy sitting to your left, however, seems to be breaking out into a cold sweat at the prospect of pairing his beers with the family Thanksgiving meal.  For his sake, I'm going to break down a typical Chicago Beer Turkey Day.  All of the following beers are local and can still be found on the shelves of a well stocked craft bottle shop or big beer liquor store that rhymes with "Whinny's". I'll also include a Beer Menu link for each suggestion because when one of us drinks well, we all drink well.



PREPPING THE BIRD

In some houses this might start early in the morning, in which case I suggest grabbing yourself an bright eye & bushy tail cup of joe.   If you happen to be one of those folks who likes to make a day of it smoking, grilling or even deep frying the bird (Holla out to Down The Hatch Middle Brother who has never passed up the chance at playing with an open flame!) a glass of something light in ABV but large in taste is required in hand.   In fact, since you actually have two hands (well, I'm assuming that you have two.  If you happen to only have one, boy is my face red.  And I really hope that the other is a hook at least) you might need more than one glass to get your through the afternoon.  Pop open a bomber of a Berliner Weiss from a brand new Chicago area brewery, Marz Community Brewing.  Bubbly Creek is a lemon forward Berliner Weiss with a well balanced mouth pucker of tang.   And at a mere 2.8% ABV, you could probably finish off the bomber with out over cooking your giblets.  Or losing a hand in the process.  I also recommend a bright, citrus forward APA such as Ale Asylum's Hopalicious, if  Berliner Weisses aren't your thing.  I don't "get" that concept, but I also try not to judge (I kid.  We all know the truth here.  Totally judging you) which clocks in at a sessionable 5.00% ABV.  Brewed with Cascade Hops, it's crisp with a refreshing bite that quietly screams notes of  grapefruit and lemon.  Honestly, I drank the hell out of this beer over the summer during a Wisconsin Dell trip.  Yes, this was the same Dell trip that I scores a $2 pour of Toppling Goliath's Pseudo Sue APA.  And I'm still talking about Hopalicious, so that should tell you something right there. 

Marz Community Brewing's Bubbly Creek Berliner Weiss

Ale Asylum Brewing's Hopalicious APA



EATING THE BIRD

So you've successfully navigated the turkey onto the dining room table, talked great Aunt Edna down from her annual rant about teenage boys in low slug jeans that just gets creepier and creepier every year, and lead the masses in a quick speech of thanks.  As the resident Beer Geek, your family's next question is "So, what are you pouring?"  A typical Thanksgiving meal is no longer typical by any stretch of the imagination.  This year alone, I know of at least one family who is serving Pasta Marinara, Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Cranberries & Walnuts and  Five Cheese Enchiladas all on the same table.  The idea of matching any sort of drink, let alone a beer, with all of those elements is maddening.  My solution is to take the most basic component of the meal, the thing that almost everyone will have at least a slice of, and pair your beer with that.  In most cases, it will be the turkey (unless you are celebrating at a steakhouse with your crew and in that case, just get a decent bottle of Malbec and call it a day.)  I love drinking Saisons with poultry and Off Color Brewing's Apex Predator holds all the cards needed to compliment your Thursday night meal.  The fruity yeast, restrained funk and floral forward notes of lemon grass and herbs with a hint of pepper on the finish will help to bring out the meatiness of the bird while not overpowering any of the side dishes that accompany it.  Since Apex Predator is one of my go-to Farmhouse Ales when pairing with a wide variety of foods, the chances of it working with whatever odd family traditions that land on your plate are pretty darn good.  But you say that you were craving something a bit fruitier and cranberry forward in your dinner Teku?  Pipeworks Brewing has you covered with their Flavor Memory Response (yes, that is the name.  No, I think it sounds like a Fifth Grade Science Fair Project too.)  This year Pipeworks is releasing a trio of holiday beers that they call The Three Dragons of Thanksgiving (yes, that is the name.  No, I think it sounds like a children's book from George R.R.  Martin too.)  FMR (not any better.  I know) is a Wit that was brewed with cranberries and spices (mostly notes of cloves.)  The acidity of the tart cranberries and the fruity nature of the Belgian yeast will compliment your poultry and a good majority of traditional side dishes from roasted sweet potatoes to chestnut stuffing.  You're on your own with the Five Cheese Enchiladas though.


Off Color Brewing's Apex Predator Farmhouse Ale

Pipeworks Brewing's Flavor Memory Response



DIGESTING THE BIRD

So you and your loved ones (and that second cousin with the Cosplay addition who your mom insisted that you give your new address to) have devoured the meal in twenty minutes that took you three hours to lovingly prepare.  The next question is what to serve for desert?    In my house, we are a pie family.  Apple.  Pumpkin.  Pecan.  Honestly, I'll probably have a bit of each on my plate.  But in my glass I want a beer that I can sip slowly and enjoy it in a relaxed "I don't have to do the dishes because I cooked for all of you lazy slobs" sort of way.   A lovely, creamy, Imperial Stout is called for.  Spiteful Brewing's G.F.Y. Imperial Stout was aged in barrels from a local distillery who is also getting some nationwide accolades,  F.E.W. Spirits (I'm not kidding.  Entertainment Weekly recently featured F.E.W. in their gift selection section.  And if Entertainment Weekly tells me to drink it...)  G.F.Y. Imperial Stout is dark chocolate forward with elements of darkly roasted malts and a hint of bitter coffee with an earthiness that lends some appreciated depth to the taste.  The alcohol bite is mellow and warming as the drink trickles down your throat.  But for the people who are actually tasked with washing the dishes (thus needing to keep a clear head on their sudsy shoulders) I'll have a bomber or two of my favorite coffee porter, SlapShot Brewing's McLaughlin's Red Eye Porter.  This porter boasts one of the truest coffee notes that I've had the pleasure of sniffing.  No lie. I could spend an hour just inhaling the scent of this beer and be happy.  It's made with with locally roasted cold brewed coffee,  which works to mellow out the burnt bitterness that many coffee porters seem to posses.  Notes of slightly sweet chocolate and a hint of dirt round out a simplistic, yet effective flavor profile.  And at a laughable 5.8% ABV, you don't have to worry about Grandma Alice's china getting chipped.  Who are we kidding?  My Grandma Alice liked paper plates whenever possible too.
 
Spiteful Brwing's G.F.Y. Imperial Stout in F.E.W Barrels 

SlapShot Brewing's McLaughlins Red Eye Coffee Porter


Thanksgiving is easily my favorite holiday of the year.  There are no carols to be sung.  No balls of lights to be untangled.  And no presents to be hastily wrapped.  It's the one day a year when people take a moment to be grateful for the abundance of blessings that even the lowliest of us are granted.  It's not a time to lament what you lost, or worry about what you might want in the future, but to be thankful for what's in front of you right here and now.  I hope that you and your loved ones are enjoying something wonderfully delicious in your glasses as you pause to reflect on your present abundances of riches.  And get a good night's sleep, because Goose Island's BCBS Release Day is on the morrow and its back to the rat races bright and early Friday morning.   

Monday, November 17, 2014

Spiteful Brewing's Mrs. O'Leary's Chocolate Milk Stout with Raspberries

  • Style: Milk Stout brewed with fresh raspberries.  Can I get a collective "YUM"?
  • ABV: 7% 
  • Ease to locate: Most craft & large liquor stores in the Chicago area.  I didn't see an entry on Beer Menu for this variant.  My batch was #187 and I have recently found it on the shelf at a few local places, so I would imagine it's easily attainable
  • Color: Murky milk chocolate brown with golden highlights
  • Head: A scant, not quite 1 finger of  dark tan foam that quickly settles.  Low spotty clusters of lace.
  • Aroma: Abundant rich milk chocolate notes, a little fruity raspberry and a hint of coffee
  • Mouthfeel: Lightly creamy, but a bit more dry than expected.  Lots of carbonation
  • Finish: Long.  Begins with chocolate/raspberry, slides to dominantly chocolate and ends with a  raspberry note that lingers.
  • Food friendly?: To me this is a desert beer that doesn't necessarily need any food to fully enjoy.  But if you so wanted, you could take advantage of the beer's rich profile and serve it alongside simple deserts.  Try pairing it with a slice of pound cake or homemade shortbread cookies 
 Apple user's link: Who knew that cows liked jazz? Apparently it's a "thing"

                                        I wonder if the cows have any preference to jazz styles?  East Coast? West Coast? New Orleans?  Chicago?  Yes.  This is where my minds goes.

One of the nicer things about Chicago's craft beer scene as it builds to a solid foundation is that the more established brewers can start to experiment with their beers.  Let their collective hair down and enter the world of imagination (and THAT folks, is the only Willy Wonka reference that you will ever get out of me.  Unless I someday write about the serious trauma which that movie has inflicted upon my soul.  I may save it for my memoir however.)  Spiteful Brewing is suddenly on this bandwagon now, or so it at least seems.  In the last four or five months, they have released every version of their popular God Damn Pigeon Porter that an average beer geek could imagine, except maybe for God Damn Excessive IBU The Sulfur Is Burning My Eyeballs Pigeon Porter (Spiteful, please do not brew this.  I'm pleading with you.  Don't. But if you do, yes, I will probably buy it.  I'm so weak.)  Some variants, of course, are better received than others.  And other versions just knock your fraking socks off.  In August of 2013 I posted about Spiteful's Mrs. O'Leary's Chocolate Milk Stout (here's the link if you want to familiarize yourself with the base beer. I'll wait.)  I loved this milk stout.  In fact, in my food pairing recommendation, I suggested pairing it with a berry forward desert.  On hindsight, I suppose one (and by one, I mean the brewers over at Spiteful who probably came up with the idea all on their own) could just put the berries in the damn thing.

My Mrs. O'Leary's Chocolate Milk Stout With Raspberries (that is a mouthful.  I'm going to just refer to it as Fruity Cow) poured a murky, milk chocolate brown with lightly golden highlights.   A not quite one finger dark tan head rose in the snifter and then quickly fell.  The foam settled into a solid ring which left behind shallow, spotty clusters of lace.  The aroma of slightly sweet milk chocolate wafted from the glass.  An easy to detect scent of tart raspberries was present as well as a hint of bitter, earthy coffee on the very back of the nose.  But if I have to be completely truthful here, both the aroma and taste reminded me of the Harry & David's Chocolate Covered Raspberry candies that I'd sneak every year at Christmas.  They were delicious.  As was this beer.  The flavors of rich milk chocolate, a bit sweet with milk sugar but still ever so slightly bittered by the chocolate element, were tempered by the fruity, tart note of raspberry.  There was nothing artificial or fake about either flavor and each were very well balanced.  I also could taste a hint of dark coffee and a very light earthiness layered under the chocolate, milk sugar and fruit notes.  Like most well done milk stouts, Spiteful decided to let the flavors be true and stand out instead of over complicating the profile.  As I found with the original Mrs. O'Leary's, Fruity Cow is rather lighter in mouthfeel than I was expecting.  There was a creaminess present for certain, but it wasn't a decadent, tongue coating  sort of body at all.  The abundant carbonation helped to keep the stout on the dry side as well.  And as I believed with the original beer, I didn't think that this medium bodied mouthfeel detracted from my enjoyment of the stout one iota.  I loved the long finish.  It began with the chocolate milk sugar note off set by the tartness of the raspberries, slid to a singular domination of chocolate and then trailed off with just the raspberry, a note which lingered seemingly forever.  Maybe not the best finish profile for food pairings, but a hell of a good sip.


As I mentioned previously, I don't necessarily think that you need to pair this beer with any food in order to enjoy it immensely.  Some beers benefit from outside flavors.  They use the food as a springboard to bring out or temper the beer's inherit notes.  Fruity Cow (AKA Spiteful Brewing's Mrs. O'Leary's Chocolate Milk Stout with Raspberries for those of you who skimmed the previous paragraph.   If you did, I'm not mad at you.  I'm just disappointed.) is not one of those beers.  If you really feel like you want to serve something of substance alongside of the stout to justify opening a bottle of alcohol and calling it desert (again, not mad, just disappointed) try pouring it in a snifter with some Chocolate Dipped Shortbread Cookies.  They're simple to bake and even simpler to eat.  Maybe you could also play a little Charlie Parker or Oscar Peterson for the cows' sake. She looks like she's had such a day.






Monday, November 10, 2014

Forbidden Root Brewing's Sublime Ginger

  • Style: Wheat Ale
  • ABV: 3.8%  Halla-freaking-lula 
  • Ease to locate: Most craft beer stores around the Chicagoland area.  Sold in 4 packs.  Here's the link to their Beer Menu Page
  • Color: Gold with amber and orange undertones.  Slightly hazy with visible carbonation.
  • Head: Easy two finger of tight, off white foam which falls fast.  Leaves a cluster of soapy, spotty, pretty as a picture lacing
  • Aroma: Keylime, hints of black pepper, lemon, honey and the tang of fermented wheat
  • Mouthfeel: Medium body with a bit of creaminess from the wheat ale base.  I really, really,  REALLY wish it had been dryer
  • Finish: Short but with a nice acidity on the tail that dropped off at the end to a rounded, flabby feeling
  • Food Friendly?: Depends.  I like wheat ales with a variety of meals, but the distinct key lime, black pepper and honeybush character does limit this one.  Forbidden Root suggests pairing it with New Orleans inspired foods such as gumbo and po'boys.  I also recommend drinking it with a vegetarian inspired dish, such as vegetarian chili or butternut squash  soup.



Apple user's link: And he's STILL not a Ginger. Just old(er)

                                                      Let's not kid ourselves, people.  You knew it was only a matter of time(lords) until I used a Doctor Who clip here

The world can only handle so much IPA and bourbon barreled everything.  At least, that's how it seems to feel some days.  Every time I turn around, there seems to be a new one.  Don't get me wrong, I love a well done IPA or bourbon barreled anything as much as the next person.  It just that I'd like a bit more, shall we say, variety from certain breweries out there.  Which is why I was excited to find Forbidden Root's four packs at my local craft store.  Forbidden Root is a relatively new Chicago brewery who has only just begun to bottle their beers.  On their website , they refer to themselves as  crafters of  "botanical beverages" and focus on brewing beers using natural products such as roots, herbs, honeys and bark.  Yes, I want to drink a beer brewed from bark.  I didn't actually realize this longing until the opportunity to do so was presented to me, but now?  Yes.  I want one.  Desperately. However, this time I decided to go with their light, spicier, more sublime offering instead. 


My Sublime Ginger poured a golden amber liquid with subtle orange tones around the edges.  It was hazy and juicy looking but easily visible carbonation rising through the ale. A two finger head of just off white, tightly packed bubbles formed from the initial pour, which settled nicely to a half finger's worth of head for a majority of the drink.  The foam left behind some gorgeous lacing; spotty and soapy clusters that clung to all sides of the glass.  It was a pretty, photogenic sort of beer and I'll admit, I wasn't expecting that at all.  The first scent to hit me was the key lime  note.  The very distinct key lime note.  The "Oh yeah. It's brewed with key lime JUICE" note.  There was a gentle spice character of black pepper layered under the key lime as well as a hit of lemon citrus, the anticipated tang of fermented wheat and a mellow sort of sweetness of the herb honeybush.  I couldn't locate any ginger on the nose at all.  The taste was also dominated by the key lime note and was backed up by the brightness of the lemon, spiciness of the black pepper and sweetness of the honeybush (is it just me who thinks "Honey Bush don't caaaarrreeee" every time I hear that name?  Really?)  I was able to make out the promised  ginger quality here, however.  It was subtle and a very welcome addition.  I found that the ginger sliced off some of the sharp edges I was experiencing from the abundance of the key lime taste.  The mouthfeel was firmly medium and a bit creamy.  I also personally found the finish of the beer a bit lacking for my taste.  There was a nice acidity on the front of the finish, but it dropped off quickly to a flatness that I found lacking.  It was round and almost flabby to me as it ended.  Basically, I wanted, no, I longed for a drier mouthfeel and finish.  Now, I really dislike people who insist on reviewing the beers in their heads instead of the beers in their glasses and I am under them impression that the good brewers of Forbidden Root produced the less than dry beer that they intended to.  But I would have enjoyed my pour a lot more if it had left me with a dry crispness begging me to take another sip.  


When I think "food beer" I tend to think of the art of pairing food with beer.  Forbidden Root Brewery, however, takes a slightly different track with their conception of food beer.  The process of brewing beer with items foraged from nature, such as herbs, spices, tree bark (yeah, I cant get off the whole tree bark thing.  It both fascinates and repels me.  Much like Katy Perry songs and any TV show involving ghost hunters.)  Sublime Ginger was brewed with fresh key lime juice, ginger, honeybush (don't caaarrreeee.... really?  Still just me?) and lemon myrtle.  New Zealand Motueka hops and their subtle spiciness and citric aroma layers so well with the malt profile (caramel, lager, flaked wheat and honey malts.)  Forbidden Root's website suggests pairing this beer with Cajan/New Orleans inspired foods and the more I consider this, the more I like it.  The disappointing finish that I spoke about earlier might just be the key to serving this ale alongside a spicy Bowl of Shrimp & Sausage Gumbo.  The flatness that I complained about could tame the heat of the peppers and Creole seasoning that might fight a more citrus, heavier hopped beer.  Personally, I wanted to try Sublime Ginger with a vegetable heavy dish, such as steaming bowl of Slow Cooker Vegetarian Chili With Sweet Potatoes.   The key lime citric sweetness and spicy ginger notes will marry well with the hearty but slightly sweet character of the sweet potatoes.  Sublime Ginger is one of those beers that I want to experiment with more before making any final judgements on.  I opened a second bottle after my initial one to let the Down the Hatch family give it a try.  Results were mixed, but those who liked it, enjoyed it even more with a plate of food.  Sublime Ginger strikes me as a well constructed and deliberately thought out beer.  I love that Forbidden Root has embraced such a character driven, unique mode of brewing by harkening back in history and utilizing a more natural ingredient approach to crafting it's beer.  Plus, I got to discover exactly what a honeybush is and that it may or may not care (it doesn't.)