Craft Beer: Malady or Misnomer?

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WTF is that STRAW doing in there?!!!

We have a great number of inventive brewers and quality brewhouses here in this country. People who have instilled a few generations of brewers, now, with an eye for quality ingredients and the care, knowledge and artistry needed to make some seriously world class beer. We riff on tried and true European styles, stamping them with our own spirit of adventure and exploration. We took the Pale Ale and made the American Pale Ale, for example. Somewhat lighter in color and body than the Brit version, but much more aggressively hopped, so creating a new species of fermented magic. We took the tradition of the Imperial Stout and applied it to, well, every style we could think of! It's not uncommon to hear phrases like “Imperial Pilsner” or “Imperial IPA” bandied about in beverage stores like sports stats or celeb gossip. We have started our own tradition of brewing, borrowing, as we are wont to do, from the great traditions that preceded us. We call it “craft beer.” And I call bullshit on that!
fest chicks

Spaten, this is how the Germans get down.

Before you break out the pitchforks and torches, hear me out. The idea of American craft beer is based on one simple fact. One easily recognized difference from our Brit, German, Irish and Scot friends across the pond. Most of the beer consumed in this country is garbage. The status quo in this hemisphere is cheaply produced, mass marketed swill that tastes like it was collected from a urinal where somebody, who may have at one point in his existence brushed against a hop plant, took a piss. A vapid and unapologetic shadow of what real beer tastes like. There is a long history behind this though, and prohibition didn't help matters at all. In fact, that's the single biggest reason Anheuser Busch is the biggest brewery in this, or any other country. Our taste for beer got dumbed down. We, collectively, would pretty much drink what was available in those dark years between 1920 and 1933. There is a lot to this story, but Anheuser Busch was a well established company before the teetotalers and pretty much just ready and waiting to seize the opportune moment, to fill the void the nanosecond alcohol was legal again. Like Cthulu, dead but dreaming, awaiting the right words to be spoken to awaken and spread darkness over the land. Well, at least that's how I envision it happened...
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Scotland, where beer and skirts are taken seriously!

So, given this wretched state of affairs, it seems any brewery in this country that is trying in earnest to make a quality product is said to be making “craft beer.” You know what they call that in Europe? They simply call that a brewery that makes BEER! The word “craft” never enters the equation because most of them actually give a shit about quality product, grains, hops, water, yeast, etc. By our standards MOST breweries in Europe (admittedly not all) are producing “craft” beer. To them it's simply what one does when one calls oneself a brewer. Quality is implied, a standard that tradition demands adherence to. The very act of calling our best offerings craft beer in itself shines light on the fact that the average quality across the board here in this country is far lower than theirs. I don't want to have to use that word. I don't want it to be necessary to use an adjective to describe quality above the norm. I want the norm to BE quality, making it only appropriate to add a descriptor if something sucks! Suck, however, is the bar by which beer is measured in this country, and so the term “craft beer” was born out of necessity, but we CAN do something about it! Stop drinking shit beer! I know there are a lot of brewers and beer nerds out there that will drink swill because, as my home-brewer uncle says, “eh, it's beer flavored.” I find that completely unacceptable! The next time you're out in public (at a metal show it will be easier to get away with this) and see a hipster (yes, even at a metal show... they are everywhere!) looking particularly smug with his beverage choice of PBR, smash that cunt in the face with a Two Brothers, New Holland, Sierra Nevada or even a fucking Sam Adams! Stop kneeling at the altar of mediocrity! Let us all unite! </ end rant /> Live well and drink better. Jack [Disclaimer: We are not advocating the use of violence against hipsters, even though it is always hilarious.]

Ramen Speed!

Ready to serve.

The word ‘ramen’ for most people conjures up images of college days or other times in their life when money was scarce and nourishment needed to be had on the cheap. Plastic bags of dried noodles with an accompaniment of soup base powder, that was primarily salt, in a small foil packet. This is a travesty. A disgrace. An outrageous insult to the soul of the real deal. Bear in mind, fair reader, that I’m not shunning the product in its entirety. The noodles are perfectly serviceable. Most of the offense comes from the contents of that little foil packet. Let’s face it though, at 20 cents a pack you get what you pay for. Most people know that going into the deal, and I’m just as guilty of slurping them down as the next guy, but with a well-stocked pantry and/or freezer you needn’t suffer through another nearly flavorless salt-bomb. My love affair with Asian style noodles has been long, and it all started with those horribly addictive foil packets. Once I started exploring outside the bag, though, and once I got my hands on the good stuff, my addiction only worsened... Ramen was one of the many things that the Japanese adopted as their own. As with many other Japanese dishes, the impetus came from China in the form of chow mein. They are a little more delicate in flavor, but fresh Ramen noodles differ little from chow mein still. The biggest difference is in how the Japanese use them as opposed to the Chinese. Often in delicate broth-based soups. Though, the heartier chow mein noodles are used in one of Japans favorite dishes and (I’m convinced of this) what could be their greatest export next to sushi, Yakisoba. That’s another post, however.

The raw ingredients.

This is a dish I recently made for myself that is a good representation of Ramen done right. Simple ingredients and simple, technique driven preparation. The format of soup/noodle/garnish is usually a very forgiving one. As long as the right noodle is served with a sauce of the right intensity the rest of the cast of characters is more or less interchangeable. I wouldn’t recommend that approach with this recipe though. Maitake mushrooms are very delicate, and easily stepped on or shoved out of the way by other flavors in my experience. With that in mind I would advise against using other mushroom varieties in conjunction with them under any circumstance. Just let them and (in this case) the clams shine on their own, the noodles and the broth will do the rest of the work. Fresh Ramen can be found in the freezer section of most Asian or Japanese markets, and some have a section dedicated to refrigerated or frozen noodles specifically. Ramen with Baby Clams in Dashi: Serves 2
  • 1 lb. Littleneck, manila or any small variety of clams
  • 1 bottle Hakutsuru Draft Sake
  • 2 tsp. peeled and minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp. crushed garlic
  • 3 cups(ish) dashi stock
  • 1 bunch Maitake mushrooms, sliced thin, stems discarded
  • ¼ pound snow pea pods, cut across into ¼ inch strips
  • 1 lime
  • 2 packets or bundles fresh Ramen noodles
  • 1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
  • Soy sauce
  • Kosher salt
  • Shredded nori and sesame seeds for garnish
   

Tightly closed and ready to steam. (Insert tight clam joke here.)

Start by putting a large pot of salted water (1 gallon or more) on a back burner over high heat and bring to a boil for the noodles later.   While that's coming to a boil check the clams thoroughly. The general rule when cooking ANY bi-valve is if they are open when they’re raw, they’re garbage. If a tap doesn’t get the little bastard to close its shell, throw it out. And conversely, if they are closed after they’re cooked, they’re garbage. In either case you may be dealing with a dead mollusk, and it’s not worth finding that out the hard way. Throw it out. After inspection, heat a 2 quart sauce pan over medium heat with a small amount of sesame oil and a small amount of any other light, tasteless oil. Sesame oil can be overpowering, so it’s sometimes a good idea to cut it

Ready for a sake steam bath.

with a lighter variety like peanut or canola. When the oil is hot and with your Sake already opened and at the ready, stir in your crushed garlic and minced ginger. DO NOT LET IT BROWN! Continue stirring for about 30 seconds, or until the smell of garlic and ginger fill the kitchen, and pour in half of the Sake. Bring to a boil and reduce the Sake by ¾, then add the clams and cover. Steam the clams for 90 seconds and check on them. If they aren't open yet replace the lid and count to 10, repeat until they do. When they are open kill the heat and pull them out of the pot. It will not take long to cook them and the penalty for overcooking is tiny rubber balls of unchewable nastiness. Remove them to a plate and after they have cooled a bit pull the meat out of the shells. All but the 6 prettiest shells, leave the meat in these and use them for garnishing the finished plates or pull the meat but place it back in the shell for easier extraction at the table.

All opened and fit for consumption.

Now put the dashi in the pot with the clam cooking liquor and bring to a simmer. DO NOT BOIL! Boiling will destroy a well-made dashi. If you need a recipe for dashi stock, it’s simple. Soak a strip of konbu in 2 quarts cold water for 30 minutes then bring to a simmer. Remove the konbu, add 6 onces shaved bonito flakes and bring to a full boil then immediately kill the heat and let it sit, unmolested, for another 30 minutes,  or until the fish flakes fall to the bottom. Strain and use, refrigerate, or freeze. Once the soup base is at a simmer, add the soy sauce in small amounts and taste between each addition. The goal of this is so the soy flavor doesn’t dominate the broth. Once you can taste the soy on even terms with the dashi add some kosher salt to bring the salt content up to where you would like it to be. You want the broth to be about as salty as seawater. This may seem like overkill but the noodles will absorb it, and if the salt content isn’t high enough once the noodles are added the whole dish will taste flat. Add the noodles to the boiling water on the back of the stove and cook as the package directs. Probably in the neighborhood of 4-5 minutes. Drain and rinse the noodles

Evicted from their homes, but not finished yet!

under hot running water until the sticky film coating them is gone. While the noodles are draining and rinsing, now that you’ve seasoned the soup the way you want it we can add the mushrooms and snow peas and stir until the peas are cooked. Cook ONLY until the snow peas are bright green, any longer and their color will be unappealing and they will lose most of their sweetness to the soup liquid. At this point add the shelled clam meat and heat through. Squeeze the lime juice into the pot until you can just taste it. Lime, too, can overpower.    

Block of dashi pulled from the deep freeze and into the pot.

To plate, put the noodles in serving bowls and ladle the broth over, making sure to distribute the veg and clams evenly. Arrange the reserved clams still in the shell around the bowl and add the sliced scallion, black and white sesame and shredded nori, and serve.

Veggies in for a VERY quick swim.

Some of these instructions may seem a little intense. For optimum flavor this is not a dish you can walk away from, though. It will need constant attention, but it will come together and ready to serve in less than half an hour if you already have dashi on hand, so this is also not a long babysitting job like a stock. (Tip: make dashi, or any stock for that matter, in large batches and freeze it in usable portions for future consumption.)   These are not high level techniques, in any case. If you can’t focus on your cooking for half an hour at a time then I can’t help you anyway. At that point I would suggest following the package instructions and just cover your ramen with water in a bowl, add the contents of that foil packet, and let “Chef Mike”(rowave) do the work for you.

Pre-dinner snack. Sashimi plate of Surf clam, Hamachi belly, and Bonito tataki.

Live well and cook better, Jack-                        

Happily Cooking Into The New Year

Wow, it's been a while! We've been doing a lot of less than blogworthy stuff on the Rogue Estate Facebook Page lately, if you've been wondering what happened to us. Head over there and throw us a "like" to catch chef's night food porn in near real-time as we cook stuff on Monday nights and join the discussion on relevant topics posted by other blogs. We've got lots of new recipes, tasting notes and rants, a site re-design and some exciting product announcements in the coming months for this blog page as well, so stay tuned! -///    

TBIFOM #11: Everything New is Old Again

(The Bottle In Front Of Me is a series of somewhat irregular, brief tasting notes from the Rogue Estate’s resident wine guy, Ian.) Everything New is Old Again I have an old friend. By that I mean he is a friend from my distant past that I have not been in contact with for a very long time. In addition, I am old now. So is he. In every sense of the term, we are old friends now. Somewhat recently, he moved to South Carolina and dove right into gardening and the local wines, dominated by an active Virginia scene. Excited by social media, and good local wine options, he decided to share with me. I uncorked one of his gifts tonight. And it was lovely. I like what Virginia's producing now, and hope the region gets larger scale and better distribution at a steady pace, without sacrificing quality.
Blenheim 2010 "Painted Red"

Blenheim 2010 "Painted Red"

2010 Blenheim Vineyards Painted Red (About $30, but SOLD OUT) Half Merlot with Cab Sav, Syrah, Petit Verdot, and Cab Franc. Learn more about the winery: http://blenheimvineyards.com/about_blenheim/ Learn more about the bottle in front of me: http://store.nexternal.com/blenheim/painted-red-2010-p53.aspx SEE: A very pretty bright clear medium red with a tiny rim of rose. For a wine this young, I had expected a larger, pinker rim. Someone knows what they're doing. SWIRL: The color amplifies with a swirl, leaving soft slow irregular legs on the glass. SMELL: Heavily perfumed and ripe, with light floral and cherry scents, an undercurrent of tree bark, and warm sweet muffins. SIP: On the tongue, the body is thin, with firm tannins and a refreshing bit of acidity. The flavor moves on to caramel and creme brûlée, with a faint finish of red apple. SAVOR: Bordeaux, baby! With many of the typical characteristics artfully integrated. Final impression: There is care here, and even a sense of terroir. More interesting and successful than the dozens of cheap (under $15) French Bordeaux's that are creeping into the U.S. market. Pair with: game birds, funky french cheeses or honest cheddars, walnuts. And the whole Dave Matthews connection? I like Dave's wine better than I ever liked his music. But I could just be getting old.

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