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Six-pack Workout: Pistonhead Kustom Lager

My father recently took a trip over to Sweden to pick up the newest addition to their herd of sheep dogs, (my parents are breeders and showers of said herd). Knowing that I have a fondness for beer of all kinds and delight in out-of-the-ordinary and hard to find brews he kept his eyes peeled for anything I might not be able to get Stateside. He came back with 2 cans. One was a light bodied, high octane brew that wasn't all that distinguishable from Mickey's or Steel Reserve. The other, however, was kind of an oddity and I highly enjoyed it. So, I bring to you...

No relation to the Detroit Pistons of any variety, I assure you...

Six-pack Workout: Pistonhead Kustom Lager Brewery: Brutal Brewing, Sweden Style: Lager ABV: 4.9% IBU: 100 (guessing, found no actual calculation) Price point: around $10 a six pack (Dad only bought one can so that price is based on that + exchange rate). Color: Pale blonde. Head retention: Poor Aroma: Citrus, floral, citrus peel Mouthfeel: Very light. Tasting notes: This is a very easy drinking beer. Not much body to speak of, goes down smooth and fast. Despite the fact that it's a lager, they dry hop this brew like an IPA so it's pretty hoppy, but the lack of body and malt profile that typify an IPA don't get in the way here so all you get is a glass of liquid hops. Not in a bad way though. It doesn't make you swallow your own face from puckering. It does, however, deliver a pure, unobstructed flavor profile of the Cascade and Amarillo hops used in the kettle and the fermenter. Pairings: Summer cookout foods. Brats, dogs, burgers, potato salad, etc. Cheddar, aged gouda, mustards of all types, pork in general, BBQ. Comments: Wish I could say I'll buy this again, but the chances are pretty slim. If the opportunity presents itself I won't hesitate. For the sake of humor I'll share with you what's written on the back of the can:

"CRAFTED IN OUR BRUTAL BREWING WORKSHOP.

THE KUSTOM LAGER IS A SMOOTH, NO-NONSENSE BREW.

IT'S DRY HOPPED WITH CASCADE AND AMARILLO HOPS TO OFFER

A SPICY CITRUS EDGE, PLUS IT'S ORGANIC. AND IT

GLOWS IN THE DARK. NEED WE SAY MORE?"

I didn't notice any luminescence, but the name of the brewery alone is enough to give me a chuckle.

-Jack

Six-pack Workout: Pegasus IPA

Not to sound so particular, but I’m still exploring the beers that the Chicago area has to offer that I haven’t seen back home in the D. This one is quite exceptional, another one to look for if you make it out this way.

Fur and feathers are filtered out before bottling.

Brewery: Argus Brewery, Chicago IL. Style: IPA ABV: 6.5% IBU: 60 Price point: $9 for a 6-pack Color: Amber-Red Head retention: Fair Aroma: Citrus (Yuzu?!), mild malt undertones. Mouthfeel: Medium bodied, smooth. Tasting notes: Citrus, walnut, more body and flavor than the typical American Pale Ale with the same hop bite. Pairings: Curry and spices, blue cheese, good cheddar, roast game. Avoid grilled foods with this one. The harshness of the grill will overpower the balance of this beer, I think (not tested though, so correct me if I’m wrong, please). Comments: An American IPA that’s true to the Brit style, not overly hopped to the point of tasting like soap. As much as I like the American riffs on the English Pale Ale and IPA originals, I think American brewers go a little more than overboard with the hops sometimes (Bells Two-Heart, for instance) which is why this was a refreshing change of pace for me. Some other beer review sites have dogged them for this, but I applaud them! Another thing I saw them bemoaning about was the lack of citrus notes in the nose, typical of the style. Again, I must disagree. In fact, that was the first thing that struck me. No doubt this is due to the fact that I live a few miles from the brewery, so the batch that I got my paws on was most likely fresher. What struck me the most about nose wasn’t just the citrus, but the specific type of citrus, yuzu! Whether accidentally or contrived, the brewers found the precise blend of hop varieties to give this beer the aroma of that much beloved Japanese fruit. Well rounded flavor, and balanced hop/malt finish make this a beer I will buy again. -Jack http://www.argusbrewery.com/

Six-pack Workout: Victoria

Taking a cue from Ian, with his fast growing back catalog of wine posts, and realizing that I'm not doing a good job countering that with scribblings on barley derived beverages (as is one of my duties) I've decided to start a short and sweet review series of my own. Having recently moved to the Chicagoland area, I thought it would be appropriate to start with a beer that is pretty popular out here, and that isn't available in Michigan, Victoria. Brewery: Grupo Modelo Country: Mexico Style: Vienna Lager ABV: 4.04% IBU: 20 Price point: $7.99/6 pack Color: Amber Head retention: Fair Aroma: Caramel and roasted malt. Very mild citrus notes of orange and lemon peel. Slight Hazelnut around the edges. Mouthfeel: Light body and medium-high carbonation. Tasting notes: The effervescence hits you right up front along side a mild sweetness. Blooming into a mild roasted malt bitterness as the fizz continues it's journey across the mid-palate. Hoppy finish that lasts just as long as you want it to, lingering sweetness. Pairings: BBQ, grilled meat, picnic and cookout food (brats, burgers, dogs, etc.) Comments: Made by the oldest and largest brewery in Mexico, Victoria is only available in limited markets here in the States. Should you get the chance to try it, I recommend you to take that opportunity. Very easy to drink and a great summer beer. This doesn't really say much, but all other Mexican beers I've tried do not compare. The intended Vienna style comes through, but with the little twist of being lighter, bubblier, and having it's own personality while still staying true to the expectations of the style. So next time you're out in Chi-town (especially if it's summertime and there are cookouts to attend), look for a 6 or a 12 of Victoria. Corona, Pacifico, and even Negro Modelo can all take a hike, this is a Mexican beer that won't make beer snobs roll their eyes. All Mexican beer really isn't crap after all! -Jack

Practical Pairing: Some Notes for Beginners

Pretty clever, if I do say...

We seem to be running short on pairing tips and tricks, so this seems as good a time as any to expand on that subject. Food and beverage pairing can be intensely intricate and daunting, but it needn't be. Simplicity can, and often does, yield amazing results, so you don't have to be a Master Sommelier or Brewmeister to find a beverage to go with your meal. With a little knowledge, experience and thought, it can be as easy or as complex as you make it. First, when contemplating a beverage pairing I always think in terms of comparative or contrasting flavors. I like to go with contrasting most of the time as it tends to add more interest, unless there is a really special ingredient (read as rare or expensive or both), then I try to go with something understated and complementary to let that ingredient be the star. Complimentary flavors are the easiest to start with. Certain foods will always pair well with certain beverages, but always keep in mind the full ingredient list of the dish and method of cooking when looking for a good pairing. Pork and shellfish, for instance, will go with beer no matter what the method of cooking. It's the other ingredients involved that will determine what you should pair with it. Mussels steamed in white wine can certainly be paired with a beer, but it's a trickier pairing than just going with white wine. The same or similar, maybe even a better quality wine than was used in the cooking process, is a no-brainer as far as pairing for such a dish goes. If you used a $5.00 bottle to steam them, serve them with a $15.00 bottle (especially if you are already familiar with that bottle) and life is easy. Bottom line with the complimentary method is you really only need some basic knowledge of beverages to pull off a successful pairing. The typical flavor profile of the various beer styles and for grape varietals and blends. Intuition often helps immensely here, too. Once you have that vision of the final dish in your head, what you want the end result to taste like, just stand in front of the beer or wine shelf and browse with that in the back of your mind. In any well stocked beverage store I'm sure something will jump out at you. Trust your instincts, and if it doesn't work out the way you wanted it to, ask yourself why. What was the beverage lacking? Was it too heavy or too flat? Did it overpower the food, or vice versa? Once you determine the answer, congratulations! You've just had a learning experience, and that is never a bad thing! This will guide your future selections. The point is, don't take this too seriously. The comparative flavor method is fairly forgiving, and works well enough most of the time. Acidity cuts through fat, is probably the best advice to give to someone who wants to venture into this endeavor. If the dish at hand is rich or has a rich and fatty sauce, go with a beverage that has some acidity. Braised pork, for instance, loves a lager or a white wine with higher than normal acidity. Hard cider is also a valid option since there's a fair amount of acid and apples are a classic pairing with pork. But, as I said, the other ingredients in the dish might scream for something more specific. Curry braised pork? I'd go with a light or medium bodied beer, depending on what sort of curry is used. Jerk braised pork? Would benefit more from a light lager, or maybe even bold white. Of course, if there is a particular beverage used in the construction of the dish, then that beverage is a no-brainer for

New Holland Breweries Mad Hatter being added to a Cheddar-Ale soup. I wonder what I should pair with this?

pairing. Beef Burgundy (Bourguignon) loves a bold red wine, because that's one of the liquids in the braise, and beer poached bratwurst on a summer afternoon cannot and should not be paired with anything other than a good beer! I doubt even Ian, our resident wine guy, would argue that.   Another thing to consider are the ingredients used in the brewing of the beverage before you. This counts more for beer and cider than wine, since wines are nearly always made with grapes alone. Many beer styles incorporate herbs, spices, citrus, even seaweed in the brew kettle. If those adjuncts would pair well with the food on the plate if they were part of the dish, then they will work well when present in your libation. Beer with citrus peel works well with deserts and fish, one with heavy spices like a winter ale will go well when game or curry or jerk seasoning are on the plate, and one with fruit additives will go well with anything that particular fruit would. Chocolate and raspberry, for instance. A classic combination. Chocolate cake and/or ganache loves a raspberry lambic. And lambics are high in acidity, which will cut through the fat and richness chocolate brings to the table, thus washing your palate clean and preparing you for the next mouthful.   So let your intuition, instincts, and sense of adventure guide you. Count failures as learning experiences. Above all, dare to explore your options. Some great pairings can come from unlikely places, and the only way to find out is to try! There is a universal “ah ha!” moment in this endeavor, one that every beverage snob has had. Most people just don't get it until they've experienced it. The synergy that can occur with food and beverage mingling on the tongue, making each other greater than the sum of their parts.   I have a few more ideas in mind for future posts right now, but I'll get back to this subject. Next time I touch on this I'll tackle the not-so-easy pairing ideas of contrasting the potable with the plate.   -Jack

Walkin’ in a Winter Wonderland… (of beer)

Last year I posted an extensive (though, by no means complete) review of some of the most common and some of the most obscure Oktoberfest offerings from Germany and the U.S. I was originally planning a repeat of that, covering exclusively more of the obscure breweries, but I quickly realized that most of the beers I didn't cover fell into the “Fall Seasonal” category and weren't specifically Oktoberfest adaptations. So, to spare you a long list of boring and over rated “Punkin Ales” and the like, I decided to shift focus (and because I got a late start on the project so most of this seasons Oktoberfest batch was sold out). Winter seasonals are not as popular as their autumnal brethren hailing from Munich, but they are a fun variety to explore. Especially in food pairing. Typically lightly spiced with the flavors most associated with the season, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, pine, et al., they provide a great pairing option for roasts and pies. I was surprised by the sheer number that are out there. Equally surprising to me was the relatively low number of them that totally sucked! I covered 15 different Oktoberfests last year, of which 5 of them scored a 5 or lower. This time I'll be covering 10 different Winter seasonals, of which only one scored less than a 6! In fact, they all fell in the 6-8 range, save for the one. None of them scored the highest mark possible, but none of them were unpalatable, and honestly, in my opinion, any bottle sitting in front of me that doesn't say “Guinness Draught” or “Paulaner Oktoberfest” is gonna have a tough fight to get a score of 10 outa me... So, enough gibber-jabber! Let's start at the bottom and work our way up.

Run away! Run away!

Noel de Calabaza Jolly Pumpkin, Dexter Michigan $13 for a 25oz. Bottle 9% ABV Tasting notes: Nose- coffee, caramel, sourness Color- dark brown/black Mouthfeel- medium body, light/medium carbonation Taste- sweet, sour, mild citrus, sour malt, roasted malt Pairings- crème brulee, spiced game, goat cheese, anything to overpower the beer, the drain Comments: This was the first one I tried from Michigan, sadly. I've seen other sites giving it high scores, but I have no idea why... Those reviewers must not have a taste-bud in their heads. I get that they were trying to go for a hybrid of the Belgian Sour, but in my opinion at least, they woefully missed the mark. Too sweet, too sour. The kicker is, and this is one of the reasons for it's low score, have another look at the price. I was able to choke down the whole bottle, only because of what I paid for it! Had it been ANY worse it woulda went down the drain... If you're feeling brave give it a shot and let me know what you thought. With all the high scores for it I've seen maybe I got a bad batch or I'm missing something. Failing that, it sucks. Period. After reading up on it, it appears they employ a secondary fermentation for all their beers using wild yeast. Wild yeast in Michigan is NOT the same as wild yeast in Belgium... so knock it off! Score: ...and I'm being generous Jolly Pumpkin

Kerstmutske? WTF?

Kerstmutske, Christmas Nightcap De Proef, Belgium $4.80 for an 11.2oz. Bottle 7.4% ABV Tasting notes: Nose- caramel, brown sugar, malt Color- deep brown Mouthfeel- medium/heavy body, medium carbonation Taste- sweet, smooth, slightly nutty, hints of spice Pairing- pecans, chocolate, vanilla, sharp cheddar, roasted pork, roasted squash Comments: A good portion of our list today is from Belgium, and I don't know why that surprised me. I guess I just always associated winter seasonals with the Brits, but it seems the Belgians produce far more of these than the islanders do. This one in particular is fairly forgettable. Not vomit inducing, not spectacular. I say this because I actually have forgotten what it tasted like... In my notes I gave it a 6, so we'll go with that. Score: No official link available.

... more goofy Belgian names...

Noel des Geants Brasserie des Legendes, Belgium $4.00 for an 11.2oz. Bottle 8.5% ABV Tasting notes: Nose- spices, malt, faint citrus Color- amber-brown Mouthfeel- medium body, smooth, mild carbonation Taste- spices dominate up front, brown sugar middle, malty finish, little if any hops Pairing- squash, pumpkin, nuts, spiced game birds Comments: Another from Belgium and another I can't recall. It scored the same as the previous one though, and I had them on the same night so no surprise, I guess. Drinkable, but not mind blowing in any way. Score: No official link available.

Noel again... I'm sensing a theme here...

Brewery De Ranke, Belgium $4.30 for an 11.2oz. Bottle 7% ABV Tasting notes: Nose- mild, white wine qualities, faint maltiness Color- golden amber Mouthfeel- light body, medium carbonation Taste- white grape up front, mild maltiness, mild hop finish Pairings- fish, curry, chili peppers, chili, Mexican, Thai Comments: I wasn't eating anything during any of my tastings, but this one I'm betting would go great with food. The subtle complexities will make this a damn fine pairing. Maybe I'm a little bias because I think it would pair well with some of my favorite foods, but be that as it may. I didn't mention shellfish in the pairings because in my mind beer and shellfish pairing goes without saying, but this one would be exceptional for aquatic critters of all types. Score: No official link available. (What's with these fukin Belgians?)

Bark at the moon!

Howl: Black as Night Lager Magic Hat, Vermont $8.50 for a 6-pack 4.6% ABV Tasting notes: Nose-mild nose, hint of black malt Color- black Mouthfeel- medium body, light carbonation Taste- slight sweetness, mild bitterness from a combination of heavily roasted malts and hops, coffee Pairing- BBQ, chili, grilled meats, dark berries, sharp cheddar, Gruyere Comments: My admiration for this brewery is well documented. This isn't their best effort to date, but it by no means sucks either. Good with food or on it's own. Score: Magic Hat

Brewer, patriot...

Sam Adams Winter Lager Boston, Mass. $8.99 for a 6-pack 5.8 % ABV Tasting notes: Nose- malt, faint hops and spice Color- amber-brown Mouthfeel- smooth, medium body and carbonation Taste- rich malt but not cloying, very mild spice, clean finish Pairing- roasted meats, pilaf, game, aged cheeses Comments: Sam Adams is usually hit-or-miss with me, normally falling to the hit side. While none of their beers I hold as a benchmark for, well, anything, they are damn consistent and produce a quality product. This one is no exception. A solid beer probably better suited to cooking into foods than drinking with, however. Of all the things I can think of to pair this with I can also think of better options. Still a good beer though, and nothing to turn your nose up at. Score: Sam Adams

Pine trees in Michigan are rarely that sparce...

Bell's Christmas Ale Comstock, Michigan $9.00 for a 6-pack 5.5% ABV Tasting notes: Nose- barley, caramel, mild spice notes, brown sugar Color- deep amber/red Mouthfeel- medium body and carbonation Taste- malt, caramel, ginger, toffe, mild hop finish Pairing- ham, squash, cinnamon, anise, clove, vanilla, curry Comments: Say what you want about Bell's, I like 'em. One of Michigan's better, if not most eccentric at times, micros. But eccentricity is something I admire in a brewery. Why confine yourself to making beer styles that are already well defined and no one will ever top the benchmarks of? Color outside the lines once in a while! Admittedly, this usually only yields good results if the brewers know what they're doing. The fact that I mentioned spices a couple times in the notes belies the fact that there are actually NONE used in it's brewing. All the spiciness in this beer is derived from the malts used and how they use them. Also of note, they use 100% Michigan grown barley that's custom malted and roasted for them by Briess! (The home brew nerds will recognize that name...) Score: Bell's

Two Bell's a'ringing...

Bell's Winter White Ale Comstock, Michigan $9.00 for a 6-pack 5% ABV Tasting notes: Nose- light spice, canned meat? Color- light golden, some starch haze Mouthfeel- smooth, medium body and carbonation Taste- well balanced, malt, faint spice, little hops Pairings- plainly put, holiday foods. ham, turkey, sweet potatoes, cranberries, ect... Comments: Duped again by the alchemists in the Bells brewery. No spices were used in the brewing of this beer, they relied on the mixture of barley and wheat malt and Belgian yeast to deliver the mild hint that there may have been spices involved. At a meeting of the Rogue Estate where I had this on offer everyone present enjoyed it. R.E. Tested, R.E. Approved! And to those of you who bitch and moan about Bells, fuckin buy some of this and get back to me... Seriously! Go! NOW! Score: Bell's (again)

Twelve Days of good English Ale!

Twelve Days of Christmas Ale Hook Norton Brewery, U.K. $4.50 for a 16.9oz. Bottle 5.5% ABV Tasting notes: Nose- roasted malt, coffee, toffee Color- deep brown, nearly black Mouthfeel- full bodied, medium/light carbonation Taste- heavier black malt bitterness than a porter, but essentially the same as in all other ways Pairing- roast beast, pudding (both the American and Brit variations) vanilla, aged cheddar, plums, spices Tasting notes: Another great food beer if you pair it with the right things, and the right things happen to be popular Christmas and winter foods. Not spiced like many of the others on this list, but I certainly don't think that's a requirement by any stretch of the imagination. I'm a huge fan of porters and Irish Stouts (see intro) so the fact that this beer is kind of blending those two styles won me over pretty quick. The score might be predictable then, given that admittance. Score: No official link available. The Brits too? Really?

Samuel Smith, say "what" again!

Samuel Smith Winter Welcome U.K. $5.00 for a 550 ML bottle (18.7oz.) 6% ABV Tasting notes: Nose- malty, nutty Color- red/amber Mouthfeel- medium light body, mild carbonation Taste- caramel, vanilla, spice, smooth hop finish Pairing- game, oily fish, nuts, squash, mushrooms Comments: Sam Smith has a reputation as a truly world class brewery that is completely deserved. If a beer newb asked me to recommend an English beer the first words outa my mouth would be “anything from Sam Smith or Fuller's”. This may be my bias talking again, as I'm a huge fan of beers from the British Isles, but I'm sure my comrades in beer snobbery would agree. I've never been disappointed by this brewery. 'Nuff said... Score: No official link available. (Bloody hell!) I would love to hear feedback on this post, so please don't hesitate to leave a comment if you've had any of these and agree or disagree with my assessments. The holidays are soon upon us, and some of these (at least the best of the batch) are not hard to find. Tote a 6 or 12 pack of one to grandmas for Thanksgiving or Christmas. But not the Jolly Pumpkin crap... leave that one on the shelf lest you want your family to hate you... Live well and drink better! -Jack