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Haute Beer?

Beer makers have long brewed merely for dudes that just drink beer, and not with food pairing in mind. While in some cases this still makes for a great beverage to pair with food, a good portion of the time this is not the case. Especially here in the U.S. where brewers tend to take traditional styles and amp them up in some way. A good example of this the classic British style the Pale Ale. Medium bodied with a subtle but pronounced maltiness balanced by a mild hop bite, the benchmark of this style is undisputedly Bass. Enter the American Pale Ale... typically lighter in color, equal in body and malt, but way more hops than their counterparts across the pond, Seirra Nevada is probably the ambassador of this offshoot. Other specimens of this phenomenon abound, from Russian Imperial Stouts that drink like motor oil (Old Rasputin) to IPA's that are little more than alcoholic hop flavored beverages (Two Heart). Don't get me wrong, this is not always a bad thing. I'm quite fond of a lot of these over-the-top American interpretations of classic European styles, and in fact Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale is one of my favorite domestic beers. The fact remains, however, these steroid-jacked iterations are often too much beer to successfully pair with any food outside of the realm of pizza. Fear not, though, foodies of the world, as there seems to be a growing number of breweries that are taking food and beverage pairing into account when formulating recipes. Realizing finally what the French have known for centuries, that a beverage can enhance the food it's paired with, and vice versa, a few breweries across the globe have started to embrace this concept. Chefs as well are starting to notice the potential beer holds as an alternative to wine as a beverage to pair with their creations, adding a new spin, more variety,and deeper complexity to the traditional pairing options. In fact there are a couple world renown Chefs that are joining forces with breweries with this goal in mind. To help the breweries understand what the Chef wants to see, what their food needs as far as pairing is concerned, and to help the Chefs understand how the breweries accomplish this. Ferran Adria, known the world over for his ground breaking mad scientist approach to food with his impossible to get into restaurant in Spain, El Bulli, is one such Chef and probably lead the charge. He brought his sommelier team to Estrella Damm brewery and met with their brewmasters. The result of this alliance was "Inedit". A medium bodied, golden-amber colored beer flavored with orange peel, liquorice, and coriander, it goes well with a vast array of foods. From shellfish to light game to salads and charcuterie, the pairing choices are myriad. The breweries website, and accompanying YouTube videos describe the flavors and proper serving methods better than I could, so I've included a link at the end. The only foods I'd avoid serving with this are those with big flavors, such as red meats, grilled or brasied meats, stronger game like venison and bear, ect. For those items, there is another... The brewers at Rogue combined forces with another titan in the food world, Masaharu Morimoto, to come up with their Morimoto Black Obi Soba Ale. We've enjoyed this at more than one meeting of the Estate and I've touted it's excellence more than once here, so to avoid sounding like a broken record (or obsessed fan-boy) I'll simply include links to those write ups at the end. There are many other chefs that are getting as involved as Ferran Adria and Morimoto. Does the name Thomas Keller ring a bell? Yes, he's been serving beers as the beverage pairing for certain courses at the French Laundry and Per Se for quite some time now, and in fact his chef at Per Se got together with the local team at the Brooklyn Brewery to craft a brown ale to go in a holiday gift basket for their investors and they had plenty left over to go on the menus at Per Se, the French Laundry and other Keller restaurants. It was so successful their will be more to come from that collaboration. It seems my favorite beverage is finally getting the recognition and status it deserves, putting it firmly in the "luxury" category of beverages due to the myriad of craft breweries springing up that take their beer every bit as serious as the vineyards of Bordeaux. As a chef, beer nut, and home-brewer I've been touting the merits of beer as a potential equal to wine as a food pairing beverage for nearly a decade. In my early tenure writing for this site I dedicated a post to it (link below). This follow up was inspired by a meal we had last month featuring several beer and wine pairings. A meal that also inspired my last two posts... yeah... it was pretty epic... It is one of my fondest hopes that more brewhouses hear this call and join the charge, and more chefs see this potential and encourage it. The result will further the development of both disciplines and produce a more open dialog between brewers and chefs. More fine beers listed on menus under "recommended beverages" for each dish, the exploration of new culinary territory, and a greater sense of pride for all involved. Who won't benefit from that? Jack

The Making of a Great Couple

The featured wines of the evening

Ian and his wife Linda recently made a trip to the northern Michigan wine country of Old Mission peninsula and brought back a pirates cache of wines. So, the mission he set before us, should we choose to accept it, would be to construct a menu around four of the wines they brought back. He sent us the list with the tasting notes and pretty much said, "go crazy!" Due to extenuating circumstances I ended up planning most of the meal. It was a huge learning experience on my part, as I'd never really started with the beverages as the impetus for creating a menu. This did not intimidate me, however, I saw it more as a challenge, and challenges are always a learning experience. At our meetings it's usually a given that once a menu is set Ian will bring wine pairings and I'll have beer pairings in tow, but since the focus of the evening was the food/wine interactions, I thought it best to leave it alone and approach the barley derived offerings from a different angle. I used them as intermezzos, rather than to pair with the dishes on the table. My concept was to use them to bridge the gap between courses, and create a flow of interconnected flavors with each dish and it's wine accompaniment.

Little cups of seawater, naturally self contained, needing little to no alteration...

The first course, as requested by Ian, would be oysters to pair with Chateau Chantal's "Tonight". A slightly sweeter than usual sparkler. With a drop or 2 of Tabasco on the Blue Points that were selected to counter the sweetness of the beverage (and because Tabasco on Blue Points just kicks ass) the mollusks and fizzy made a great couple. The brine of the oysters, the acidity and slight kick of the Tabasco countered and complimented the mild acids, sweetness and carbonation of the sparkling wine. Course one down, and a great success.

The first two beers of the evening.

To lead us into the next course I chose a beer from the Rogue brewery. Their Chipotle Ale, a light beer in Mexican style with mild smoke from the peppers and almost unnoticeable heat. The spice tied into the Tabasco used on the oysters and the smokiness was a crescendo into the curry used in the next food/wine selection. The next offering may have been the star of the meal. An Asian style soup, leaning heavily on Thai influences, that included pork loin, madras curry, a carefully selected small variety of vegetables, and coconut milk. Garnished with fresh cilantro, Bosc pear battons, crushed toasted cashews, and thinly sliced scallions, it met the wine chosen (Brys Estate Gewurztraminer) and it was love at first bite. The wine is a semi-sweet, so I used lime zest in the recipe, rather than juice, since the wine had it's own balance already. So I knew adding the lime juice, and all the acid that comes with it, to the soup could possibly over power the mild acidity of the wine. Lemongrass would be another option, and equally well suited, but I didn't see any when I hit the market. The sweetness of the pears and the brightness of the cilantro made the semi-sweet wine dance on the tongue, while the curry played well with the nose and mild dryness. The toasted cashews did their fair share, too, in bringing out the minute hint of oak in the wine that might otherwise have gotten lost in the melee. Without ever tasting the wine ahead of time, I'm happy to say I nailed this one! Everything about the pairing came together better than I could have hoped for! (Recipe for this soup here) The beer chosen to flow us into the next course was again a brew from Rogue. The Morimoto Black Obi Soba ale. Since I've already reviewed this one, I'll spare you the details, just click that link for tasting notes. It did it's job in tying the curry and pork into the next course. The mild notes of roasted nuts and caramel did well to tie the curry in the soup to the glaze on the roasted leg of lamb, the maple on the squash, and the cranberries in the risotto. (Review of this beer here) This was the main event. Mustard/Plum glazed roasted leg of Lamb, risotto of barley with Michigan cheddar and cranberries, and maple roasted spaghetti squash. This plate was built around the wine 2 Lads Cabernet Franc. While I would suggest using a smaller cut of lamb than a whole leg since not every bite gave the caramelized plum glaze that was the key to the pairing for the lamb and the wine, it still, by no means, sucked! Ian discovered this the hard way, as he went straight for the interior of the leg. Missing out on the glaze, he commented that the lamb wasn't matching the wine very well. Though, he recanted after scooping up some of the glaze in the bottom of the roasting pan, lamenting his decision to go solely for the less done cuts. Can't really say that I blame him though. Duck would be a great pairing as well, if done in a similar style. All that aside, the plate and the wine went together quite nicely. Not as well as the other courses, but by no means a failure. The fruit and berry in the nose and pallet of the wine mingled well with the plums, and cranberries on the plate, while the mustard and maple interacted with the mild tannins in the wine.

After the Lamb, and before dessert.

The next course was a beer chosen to be a pallet cleanser, leading into dessert. This was the wild card, as I had no clue what dessert would entail at this point, but I knew what to look for toward those ends. I was looking for something that was light, acidic, and possibly had some citrus related ingredients. I settled on Dogfish Head's Namaste. I had never had this one before, but by the label it seemed to fit the bill. A lighter beer brewed with coriander, orange peel, and lemongrass, it seemed only appropriate given all the Asian influences of the meal. Not nearly as 'over the top' as most offerings from that brewery, and as a palette cleanser, it did it's job well. By the time i finished a small glass of it I could no longer taste the lamb. Our resident baker, sadly, could not attend this time out, so dessert was a last minute purchase of apple-caramel crumb cake. "Anathema!" you might be screaming right now, especially if you've been following this site AT ALL! Even the best laid plans can fail, however... While not ideal, it did manage to play with the 45 North Peach Cremant well enough (though the spongy texture of the cake was very 'Twinkiesque'). 45 North's Peach Cremant is a light sparkler with white peach juice, so it paired with the apple and caramel sufficiently. Though, by the end of the meal we were almost on overload so the simplicity was probably a good thing. To be honest, I was really hoping to completely miss the mark at least once. Insane, say you? Why would I possibly want to disappoint THIS crowd?! It would have taught me what NOT to do in food/wine pairing, which can sometimes be a more valuable lesson than getting it right. It is my hope that this post gives you a better understanding of the intricacies of food and beverage pairings. Many factors need to be carefully considered to find that perfect match, if such a thing exists. Oak, acid, specific fruits, specific nut, specific berry, and even "dust" flavors are all terms that have been used in wine tasting notes, so the foods paired with them need to ebb and flow with the beverages. Even cooking technique needs to be considered. Coffee and peach? Might sound like an odd pair, but not if you grill the peaches! As we did this summer on our pizza night with a grilled peach turnover and vanilla ice cream paired with a coffee stout. The coffee amped up the vanilla and grilled flavors to a "punch in the mouth" level and the sweetness of the stout put the caramelized peaches on a pedestal. So here's to learning experiences! I hope you have a few of your own in the kitchen. Jack... (Click here for the full photo gallery of this meal) Chateau Chantal Rogue Chipotle Ale Brys Estate Morimoto Black Obi Soba Ale 2 Lads Cab Franc Dogfish Head Namaste 45 North Peach Cremant

Oktoberfest 2010

Autumn is my favorite season, especially here in Michigan. The humidity starts to give us a much needed reprieve, the weather cools down a little, and the trees in this State start to show off their beautiful autumnal palette of woody browns, flashing yellows and vibrant reds. The cider mills start churning out their outstanding apple libations and otherworldly doughnuts. And let's not forget the beer! No other season makes me crave beer like the fall. The fact that the typical flavors of this brewing season are the kinds that made me fall in love with beer probably helps. Medium bodied, robust roasted malts, amber hues, and higher than normal ABV to fend off the chill of the evening. Marzen/Oktoberfest style is the undisputed king of autumn concoctions. Which will be the topic I cover this time out. I've made it my mission to explore this years batch from as many breweries as possible, and share with you the best (and worst) this year has to offer. I'll be delving into some classics (Paulaner, Hacker-Pshorr) and some lesser known micros in search of the best of the crop of 2010. I'm not going to cover food pairings in this post, since it would likely start sounding like a broken record given the fact that I'm focusing on a single style. Suffice it to say, pork (sausage form or otherwise), roasted or caramelized cabbage, nuts, fennel bulb and seed, berries, and cheeses like Butter-Kasse, Gelmini Gorgonzola DOP (specifically) and Havarti would pair well. I also don't feel it very necessary to include ABV (Alcohol By Volume), since they will invariably fall in the upper 5% to lower 7% range. So here are my tasting notes on the 2010 Oktoberfest offerings. Leinenkugel's: Generally not my favorite brewery, ranking somewhere in the area of Killians. Not horrible, but mediocre at best. Their Oktoberfest is par for that course. Smooth, and easy to drink, as it should be, it still fails to impress all that much. The sweet malty aroma and flavor right up front gives way to a mild hoppiness on the finish. The medium body and carbonation are what one would expect from the style. The price point makes it a justifiable buy, but if your looking for an exemplary incarnation of the style, look elsewhere. 4 "chugs" out of 10 Sam Adams: This brewery is very hit or miss with me, usually. While if I'm cooking with beer I will reach for the Boston Lager about 75% of the time, some of their other brews are just kind of "eh". I've never had a beer from them that made me wanna spit it out, though, and in fact their hard to impossible to find Scotch Ale is probably one of the best American beers I've had (it's been years, however, I may re-evaluate that stance if I ever get my hands on it again) but a lot of their beers just don't strike home with me, and they all have a signature taste. You know when your drinking something from that brewery, which isn't always a bad thing. With a nice head and the typical reddish amber color, the Sam Adams Octoberfest is a decent example of the style. Mild aroma and medium-high carbonation with an almost creamy smooth mouth-feel right up front tapering quickly into the sweetness of caramel malts and almost imperceptible hop finish. A very drinkable beer, but the sweetness is a bit much for my taste, didn't stop me from killing the 6 pack, though... 5 chugs out of 10 Magic Hat Hex Ourtoberfest: Magic Hat is quickly becoming one of my favorite breweries. Their quirky approach and tendency to color outside the lines (and actually do it well) have endeared them to me. Their new Hex Ourtoberfest is more of the same from an innovative brew-house. Slightly darker in color than the standard Oktoberfest, with a deeper red hue, I was not disappointed. Great malt profile that's pretty typical of the style, where they detour from the norm is the cherry wood notes on the finish and the slight berry notes in the mildly hoppy nose. The slight hint of smoke on the palate are also a diversion from tradition, though not very far from. It all works well enough that I don't think even the most hardcore Oktoberfest purist wouldn't find a reason to bitch about this offering (as I am such). This brewery is well known for canning fan favorites to do something new. Last years fall seasonal was Roxy Rolles, replaced this year by Hex. I did like Roxy Rolles, but I can't complain about their decision to move forward and explore new territory. Keep at it, guys. Doin' well so far! 7 out of 10 Sierra Nevada Tumbler: While they aren't calling this an Oktoberfest, it is their Autumn seasonal, and follows the Oktoberfest blueprint for the most part. Color is a dark brown in the glass, a couple shades darker than a typical Oktoberfest, but the flavors are on par with the style. Roasted malt, caramel and a faint hop finish on the nose. Slightly viscous mouth feel with medium carbonation. The flavor is pretty much typical Oktoberfest, but a little higher on the caramel and brown sugar flavors, and (as typifies Sierra Nevada) a decent hop finish. 7 of 10 Abita Fall Fest: I hear a lot of people tout this brewery, but I don't really get it... While everything I've had from them is very drinkable, they have yet to impress me. This offering is no different. Pale amber color in the glass, and bread with a hint of caramel on the nose. Smooth and light mouth feel with light carbonation. The flavor is heavy on the crystal malt, with rock candy notes and a faint hop finish. Not a bad beer, but maybe I'm trying to classify it wrong. They aren't trying to put it in the Oktoberfest category outwardly, but it seems that was vaguely what they were going for. 6 of 10 Flying Dog DOGtoberfest: First let it be said that I generally like this brewery, but I tend to like breweries that are heavy handed (but not overly so) with the hops. That said, this might be my most disappointing experience with their products. Rich red color in the glass, with a very mild aroma of faint malt and hops. Medium bodied, very smooth with medium-high carbonation. The flavor is slightly alkaline, crystal malt and brown sugar in the middle and a mild hop finish. Name aside, it's a very likable beer, but since they put an Oktoberfest insinuation on the name, I was expecting more. 6 of 10 Shmaltz Brewing Company Coney Island Freaktoberfest: I was not familiar with this brew-house when I picked this one up, and I doubt I will become any more so... I did an online search, but was unable to come to a satisfactory result as to why this beer has a cherry Kool-Aid red color and head... Artificial color? Strike one! Malty nose with hints of red berries, strike two! Medium body and carbonation with malt flavors right up front and raspberry/strawberry in the middle. Strike three. No real finish to speak of. While I give them credit for trying to think outside the box, they missed the mark. I'm still bothered by the unnaturally red hue, and more so by the fact that they don't divulge why. 1 of 10 Stoudts Oktoberfest: I hate to keep panning these beers, but the best is yet to come, I promise you. That said, Stoudts Oktoberfest is yet another that I was unhappy with. Golden amber color. Malt and sugar on the nose with hints of yeast and malt extract (wtf?!). Light and smooth mouth feel with mild carbonation. The flavor is unremarkable, at best. There's a faint hint of what it's supposed to be, and under another name I might find it to be a drinkable beer, but not a good representation of the style at all. 4 of 10 Shiner Marzen-Style Oktoberfest: As German styles go, Shiner is one of the better breweries in the States. Mild nose of roasted malts and light carbonation. Amber color in the glass and very smooth mouth feel, medium bodied. In short, everything I'd expect from an Oktoberfest. While not exemplary, it's probably the best you'll find this side of the Atlantic. Add to that the fact there is much less travel and storage time involved as with imports, and this is my recommended Oktoberfest! 8 of 10 Erdinger Oktoberfest Weizen (?) Generally a good German brewery, this one intrigued me. In my search for as many Oktoberfest beers as I could find I stumbled upon this brew from a producer I'm familiar with, but had never seen this one before. It managed to slip under my radar. A Weizen Oktoberfest? Had I noticed this oddity before I surely would have tried it! Wheat is generally not used in this style of beer, but being a reputable German brewery, and the Germans being pretty damn good at wheat beers, I simply could not pass this one up. After I got it home I noticed that the bottle I picked up was last years batch, but be that as it may. Reddish amber color, and cloudy (as expected of German wheat beer) with an almost, but not quite, fruity nose. With this beer you get the best of both worlds. The typical Oktoberfest flavors blend well with the light wheat beer flavors and slight yeasty character. Leave it to the Germans to make the best deviation from the traditional style! As I said, the one I had was a year old, but if you're a fan of Oktoberfest and a fan of Weizen or Heffe-Weizen, seek this one out! 8 of 10 I'll give you the link to the website, but be warned, it's all in German... So to those of you that speak the language, enjoy! This might be the norm from here on in, as I've saved the Germans for last. Kostritzer Oktoberfest: Not one I was very familiar with, though I know of the brewery. But as I said, I was on a mission. Pale golden amber hue in the glass, with light carbonation. Smooth and light mouth feel, with pretty typical nose for the style. Yet another bottle that was a year old and I didn't notice until I got it home, so this might not be the best representation. Malty and caramelly, as one would expect, no noticeable hop finish, but I could tell it was aged. A solid beer, to be sure, but one better enjoyed fresh, I'm also sure. All in all, it stands up pretty well to a year of aging, so don't let the date scare you off. Still a formidable beer, and very drinkable! 7 of 10 Didn't find an official website. Spaten Oktoberfest: Now we're gettin' into the big dogs. Reddish amber color, and light carbonation that typify the style. All the hallmarks of a great Oktoberfest are here... malty caramel nose, smooth mouth feel, nutty flavor from the crystal malts, and an ever so slight hop note on the finish. Despite the green bottle, if you get it fresh enough you can't go wrong. Look for it around the beginning of September and only at reputable beer stores simply because of the green bottle. (The photo I included is an old stock photo, it's packed in green bottles now.) Didn't see a "best by" date on the bottle, but I'm positive the one I got was a year old. That aside, a classic of the style. While not the best, nothing to turn your nose up at. If you do, you need to drink more beer, or give up on it all together... 9 of 10 Hofbrau Oktoberfest: For the style, and being from Germany, this one was surprising, but not in a good way. Golden color in the glass, so much so that it's almost a Pilsner color. It pretty much follows all the hallmarks of a Pilsner, as well. Light nose of hops, smooth mouth feel, mild maltiness and carbonation. Yet another bottle that didn't have the "best by" date on the label, and I'm sure the bottle I got was last years batch. The green bottle didn't help matters at all... As harsh as this may sound, the "Bud" of German beers... If only they would go with a brown bottle and not call it an Oktoberfest, I may have liked it more.... I would expect more from the Germans, so my rating may be harsh... 3 of 10 Hacker-Pschorr Original Oktoberfest: As soon as I raised the glass to my nose, I knew that this was the real deal! Brown bottle with an expiration date of 6/11, this is the good stuff, here. Amber color in the glass with a hint of red. Smooth mouth feel, medium carbonation. The flavor up front is pure German malt, and the carbonation enhances the mild hoppy finish. Undertones of hazelnut, brown sugar, and citrus peel. I pretty much knew which ones were gonna be my favorites from the onset, though Hofbrau shocked me a little. Hacker-Pshorr and Paulaner were saved for last for a reason. That, and I didn't want to sit down to them first and spoil the rest of the flight. 9 of 10 Again, the site is in German, so have fun! Paulaner Oktoberfest Marzen: I haven't had a Paulaner in a few years, but I remember holding it as the benchmark of what an Oktoberfest should be. Like Bass with Pale Ale, Newcastle Brown, or Samuel Smith Taddy Porter, it is exactly what this beer should taste like. Amber-red in the glass, nice white fluffy head. Malt, hazelnut, mild caramel, and very faint hops on the nose. Caramel, malt, and nuts right up front, smooth going down with an almost dusty quality in the middle, and a silky hop finish all make this beer King of the Hill for it's style. And yes, they print the "best by" date on the label. This one also said 6/11. 10 of 10 You simply can't tell sometimes what year the beer was made with imports. Some print a "best by" date on the label, but not all, so with beer it's usually best to go with domestic brews in a brown bottle unless you're vigilant enough to actually look for the printed date. Beer in clear or green bottles, especially imports that are subjected to more storage and transportation, tends to spoil much faster than in brown bottles. This is due to light contamination. Light is a bottled beers worst enemy. To much exposure to light will cause "off" flavors in a beer, when this happens the odor will be off as well, having an almost sulfur/metallic tinge to the nose. A brewer or beer aficionado would call this beer "skunked" because the scent is faintly reminiscent of skunk spray. If you've ever noticed this yourself it didn't come that way from the brewery, light did it. One last tasting note, if you're a fan of Guinness, don't drink it after an Oktoberfest. The flavors in Oktoberfest are pretty much the same as the middle flavors in Guinness, so if you drink the Oktoberfest first the flavor left on your tongue cancels out those middle ground flavors in Guinness. Leaving you with nothing but the sweetness and the bitterness. I found this out the hard way. I thought I got a bad batch of the Irish Titan of beers, but when I went back to it the next day it tasted perfectly fine. Somewhat counter-intuitive to the "lighter beverages always first" guideline, I know, but I just thought I'd pass that on. If you live in South Eastern Michigan, or better yet, the Western suburbs of Detroit, you can find all of these beers and more at the Wine Barrel Plus in Livonia. They also carry (as the name implies) an astounding array of wine, liquor, several large cigar humidors, and an on-site temperature and humidity controlled wine cellar for the higher end bottles. If they don't have what you're looking for just ask Mark, he'll get it in for you if it's available in Michigan. So to recap quickly: Best American Oktoberfest I found - Shiner Worst - Shmaltz Freaktoberfest Best German - Paulaner (with honorable mention to Hacker-Pshorr) Worst - Hofbrau These reviews are, of course, subjective. So feel free to tell me I wouldn't know a good Oktoberfest if it hit me in the face. I hope this little list helps you all out though, at the very least in what to avoid like the plague. If I missed something or you actually WANT my opinion on a beer not included, let me know in the comments. Life's too short to drink shit beer! Jack

Beer Review: Morimoto and Bourbon County

morimoto-black-obi-soba-labelI'm going to take a departure from my usual M.O. with this post. I will be reviewing 2 beers I recently picked up that were so damn good I just had to write about them. The first one is from the Rogue brewery (great name, huh?) in Newport, Oregon. First off, let me tell you that any beverage with a celebrities name on it I tend to shy away from, be it beer OR wine. Rogues new Morimoto Black Obi Soba Ale is an exception to that rule, and being a huge Morimoto fan my curiosity got the best of me and I HAD to try it. I was not disappointed. It claims to have roasted Soba in it, but that seems to be a supporting character to the 6 different malts and the 4 different hops used in this wonderfully nutty and crisp offering. Nutty and slightly sweet right up front, pleasant floral hoppiness in the middle, bright and well balanced clean bitter/sweet finish, with a mild nose of pure Caramel and Carafa malts and a faint smokiness. You barely notice the 30 IBU and at 36 degrees Lovibond the color is a gorgeous deep, rich, nutty, reddish brown. The slightly mild carbonation makes the medium bodied mouth feel that much smoother. This beer would pair well with any mushroom based dish, grilled or roasted red meats or pork, spiced duck, dark berries, Butterkase and aged White Cheddar cheeses, and chocolate. Rogue brewery has rarely disappointed me, though sometimes they do tend to get a little out there, but this may be one of they're most well rounded libations yet. It goes for around $7 - $8 for a 22oz. bottle, but it's money well spent for a beer enthusiast. bourbon-county-stout-newThe next beer is from Goose Island in Chicago, their 2009 Bourbon County Stout. This special run beer was surprising, to say the least. Goose Island makes good beer, but not usually mind-blowing. They've outdone themselves with this one. As the name implies, they age this stout in used Bourbon barrels, infusing the beer with the nose and flavor of that sweet, caramel heavy Kentucky whiskey. The nose hits you first, Bourbon, held up by the black barley scent typical of the style. Satin smooth mouth feel, and sweet Bourbon flavor right up front, bitterness from the heavily roasted malts in the middle, finishing with a heavy sweetness, hoppy bitterness, and the smell of Bourbon yet again as the fumes rise up through your nasal passages from the back of your throat. The heavy bitterness from both the black barley and the hops is well balanced by the sweetness. Lightly carbonated and almost syrupy with a whopping 13% alcohol, this sweet stout is purely a desert beer. Heavy, very sweet, but wildly complex, this beer would pair well with creme brulee, chocolates flavored with Raspberries, ganache, balsamic vinegar, peaches, granny smith apples, bleu and very sharp goat cheeses (Humboldt Fog comes to mind), or anything with enough balls and acidity to stand up to it. I wouldn't pair this with citrus, though. While citrus does have the acidity, citrus flavors are pretty mild and would get overpowered leaving you with just the acid cutting through. This is, however, a pricey one at around $14 per 22oz. bottle, but it's a rare treat for fans of the style, and fans of good Bourbon alike. 22 ounces is hard to get through on your own due to how heavy and sweet it is, so have a friend help you or serve it in small snifters after or during desert at a dinner party. I will endeavor to bring you new beer reviews in between my recipes, commentaries and rantings as I encounter inspiring new malty goodness. Until next I post, live well and drink better! Jack

Beer: The Culinary Underdog

beer-vs-wine When it comes to cooking or food/beverage pairing, wine is most often the elixir of choice. Be it in sauces, braisings, or imbibed with the meal, this is nearly universal. There is even an entire profession dedicated to it, most likely due to the huge impact French technique has had on cooking as a whole. As a chef and home-brewer I believe that beer is every bit as qualified for the task. Granted, it's more difficult get the dark berry notes out of beer that you can out of wine without additives, but it is possible, just add it! The myriad of hop choices can give you an astonishing array of floral notes. The even greater choices in roasted barley will get you whatever earthy, dusty, or even tobacco hints you might be looking for. Even the choice of what yeast strain to use can influence the citrus, sweetness, dryness, or fruity characteristics you desire. Even still, the monopoly remains. When sitting down to a fine meal in a fancy restaurant it's usually expected to see a good wine list. As well it should be. I'm not trying to marginalize or denigrate the merrits of a good wine list. Not nearly. I'm trying to promote beer to be seen on level ground with wine in respect to pairing with food and in the cooking process. They both have their place, but sometimes (in my eyes at least) wine just doesn't cut it... Case in point, oysters. One of my absolute favorite foods period! Kumamoto and/or Malpeque oysters WILL be served to me on my death bed, and if not, I'll be sure to mercilessly torment from the grave whoever it is that fucks up that request! Just as importantly, they better be served with Guinness!!!! I can't think of a single wine that that pairs with oysters, or most shellfish for that matter, as well as beer does. Maybe that's just a personal preference. I'm willing to concede to that, but I think there are more than a few oyster fans out there that would agree with me. On the same note, I can't imagine short ribs braised in anything other than copious amounts of red wine and veal stock. But you can still pair the finished dish with a good stout, porter, or barley wine. As I said, they both have their place. I mentioned earlier the probable cause of this imbalance, the French influence on cooking technique as a whole. If you are a serious beer nut you know the reason why the French opt for wine over beer..... French beer sucks! The French don't even drink French beer, they drink mostly German beer! Masters of cooking and wine making, they should leave the beer brewing to the Germans, English, Irish, Scottish, and Belgians. The true masters of that particular art, though some of the American micro-breweries are on their heels. Another possible root to this is the cost. Beer is cheaper than wine, at least any wine I'd wanna drink, and how good can it be if it's $5 a glass at most restaurants that are charging $10 and up for a glass of good wine? There is something to be said for the snootiness of people with money to burn, trust me.... I've been feeding them for over 15 years... But to this I say, "Pull your heads out of your collective asses and open your damn mind!" Give me just about any dish and I can tell you a good beer to use in it's preparation or to pair with the final dish. If I can't think of a specific beer, I should be able to come up with a style choice to explore to find the best match. I already mentioned short ribs and shellfish, here is a short list of other meat preparations and their respective beer pairings to the best of my abilities: Sushi - a dry, hoppy Pilsner such as Sam Adams Noble Pils Chicken: Grilled - Pale Ale such as Bass Roasted - Nut Brown Ale such as Sam Smith or Pete's Beef: Grilled - IPA or ESB such as Fullers Stewed - Brown Ale such as Newcastle or Stout such as Guinness or Murphy's Duck - Belgian Lambic or other fruit beer such as Pete's Wicked Strawberry Blonde Pork: Grilled - Helles or Grolsh style Roasted - Porter such as Sam Smiths Taddy Porter or see Duck Red Game (venison, elk, bear ect.) - Barley Wine such as Shipyard or see Beef Pale Game (boar, quail, pheasant ect.) - Heffe-Weizen such as Paulaner or Bock such as Spaten These are, of course, gloriously oversimplified. To get a true "match" all the elements of the dish need to be considered when weighing your beverage choices. I hope this has opened your eyes a little to the possibilities (assuming I'm not preaching to the chior) that beer present as a viable alternative to wine for the next time you sit down to great meal. This post is meant to be the lead off to the much neglected "Beer Snob" category of this site. I/we will endeavor to keep the beer section alive, especially now that we have a dedicated wine writer. I could go on for pages! I will, however, end it here to leave room for future reviews, discussions, tips, and rantings. So until then, eat, drink, live! Jack periodic table of beers