Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Beers of 2010, Revisited

As noted previously, I was sufficiently shamed over how few of 2010's top beers I had actually tried. Here are the targets that I've been able to track down to this point. The others have been warned... I'm coming for you next.

21st Amendment Back in Black IPA, Score: 6
you know the cascadian dark ale style is here to stay when they start arriving in a can. good, if somewhat watery -- like many of 21sts beers.

Brooklyn Sorachi Ace, Score: 6
there was a note of liquorice here that i couldn't get into... i suppose it was coming from the yeast. a good beer but certainly not worth the $16.50 i paid for it...

Pretty Things Babayaga, Score: 7
description from dann and martha says it all: "Our winter seasonal beer, Babayaga is a 7% export-strength woodland stout. The mash contained over 4000lb of malt (the biggest beer we've done) and there were also rye, oats and wheat in the grist. Fermented with a mix of English and Belgian yeast strains." a little thinner than hoped, but tasty.

Pretty Things Our Finest Regards, Score: 5
first barleywine i have had since i swore them off, so take this rating with a grain of salt. while i thought it was a well constructed beer, at 13.5% it was a chore to drink the whole bottle.

Sierra Nevada Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale, Score: 7
a good, hearty brown. not that i would expect anything else from sierra nevada.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Drinking in the dead of winter

During those cold winter months, many hunker down and put on a warm mug of cocoa. I decided to go the other way with it. Since 2008, I have rounded up a few friends, drove to northern Maine, and drank a few cold beers. Previous destinations have included Ebenezer's Pub, Oak Pond Brewing, Bray's Brewpub, Great Lost Bear, Sea Dog Brewpub, and Shipyard Brewing. The road less traveled I guess.

Guy's Weekend started at Gritty McDuff's in Portland's Old Port. With solid food, comfortable atmopshere and communal tables, and reasonable prices, Gritty's has never let me down. While it would be nice to see a little more variety in their largely static menu of beers, their seasonals are very strong and there really isn't a bad beer in the lineup. Pitchers of their 21 IPA, Best Bitter, and Black Fly Stout all went down nicely.

Stop two for the evening was one of my new favorite bars: Mama's Crowbar. Not everyone in the group was grooving on the atmosphere as much as I was, but after spending so much time in trendy brewpubs, I've really become a sucker for a dive / townie bar with good beer. Crowbar definitely meets this criteria with Allagash and Stone on tap, and bottles ranging from Smuttynose IPA to North Coast Scrimshaw Pilsner. After a game of trivial persuit and marathon round of cricket, it was closing time before we knew it.

Our destination for Day 2 was a University of Maine hockey game up in Orono. On the way, I had arranged for a visit to Penobscot Bay Brewery. Operated by Mike and Joan Anderson, also owners of Winterport Winery, were kind enough to invite us in for a tour despite being officially closed for the season. It was a very nice facility with kitchen, tasting room, gift shop, the winery and brewery, all overlooking the Penobscot River.

This small brewery is pretty new, only started in 2009. Mike gave us a very entertaining tour, tracing each piece of brewing equipment back through its previous owners. While the room had the feel of a garage, I was impressed with how well organized and clean the whole operation was. Needless to say, Mike isn't haphazardly throwing handfulls of chipotle pepper's into the brewpot like I do when homebrewing.

The tasting room is simply beautiful, with shelves jammed with fruit wines, winery merchandise, and local Maine products. They even sell Bay Brew Ice Cream, made with their own Half Moon Stout! (My stout float later that night was indescribable.) On tap was their Old Factory Whistle Scottish Ale, Stout, and Wheat and Brown Ale described below. It all made for a very enjoyable taster and afternoon. Seeing as you can only get Penobscot Bay's beers in Maine, this is a great stop on any beer road trip. Highly recommended.

The last beer destination of the weekend was Black Bear Brewpub in Orono. Two years ago we stopped here only to discover they were out of all of their beer! We decided to give them one last chance and we are glad we did. My pulled pork sandwich was phenomenal and prices were downright cheap. Only three basic beers were available (pale ale, red ale, and stout) but I thought the stout was excellent. As good as you are going to do in Orono, Maine, that is for sure.

The weekend allowed me to revisit a lot of old favorites, with a few newbies as well. Suddenly a road trip to Maine in February doesn't sound quite as crazy, huh?

Penobscot Bay Meadow Road Wheat Beer, Score: 6
most of the traditional banana / clove characteristics come out in the aroma. wheat dominates flavor but there was a medicinal off-note present too. pretty drinkable, but i prefer their whig street blonde ale as a sessionable brew.

Penobscot Bay Red Flannel Ale, Score: 7
brown ale meets winter warmer. sweet malt and fruity hops combine in aroma. i recall some minor spices in the taste, but flavor is ultimately more of the same. the half moon stout was the group's favorite beer of the day, with this as a close second.

Black Bear Microbrewery Stout, Score: 7
a seasonal beer from this small microbrewery. nice looking beer on pour with great lacing. chocolate malt is oh so tasty. so smooth you have to watch that 6.3% abv. i'm already looking forward to drinking it once again next february.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Beer and cheese unite!

A super pairing for the big game
By JOSH SMITH February 2, 2011

As disappointed Patriots fans, we're definitely going to need some quality beer and snacks to get through the Super Bowl this year. While chicken wings, pizza, or chips and dip will be served at most houses come kickoff, I'm opting for what I consider to be the ultimate Super Bowl snack: beer and cheese.

Of course, many of us have been taught that it's wine and cheese that go together best. Don't believe it. Truth be told, wine and cheese is a very unnatural marriage. The characteristics of each are such that rather than complement, you are reduced to creating pairings that contrast flavors. This is especially true for dry and red wines.

If you ask a cheese expert, they will grant that beer is a better match for several simple reasons. Historically, both beer and cheese were made on the farm, and even today the two craft industries bear a striking resemblance. Grain is the core ingredient in beer (malted barley) and cheese (via the cow's diet). And the two share many of the same characteristics. Think about some of the words used to describe both beer and cheese: earthy, nutty, grassy, toasty, musty, floral, and rich.

Thanks to this common ground, you have the ability to seek either contrasting or complementing pairings for beer and cheese. There are so many different pairings that can work, it seems at times as if you can't go wrong (though particularly intense beers and cheeses can clash). These are the general rules that I use:

• Fresh cheeses (like Mozzarella) should be paired with lighter beers (Pilsner, for example).

• Nutty and buttery cheeses (Gouda, Brie) should be paired with malty beers (Amber).

• Sharp cheeses (Cheddar) should be paired with bitter beers (IPA).

• Blue, pungent cheeses (Stilton, Gorgonzola) should be paired with strong, sweet beers (Barleywine).

Again, these are meant as suggestions rather than hard and fast rules. Given that this snack is going to be enjoyed alongside the Super Bowl, we'll pair our cheese with more sessionable beers. (Warning: while these beers aren't sessionable by the strict definition of containing no more than 5% Alcohol By Volume [ABV], they're all very easy drinking.) Here are some ideas:

FULL SAIL PALE ALE and Extra Sharp Cheddar: The sharpness of the Cheddar allows it to stand up well to the assertive, even brash bitterness of this hoppy Pale Ale. Full Sail fits especially well here as a flavorful, yet drinkable new arrival from the state of Oregon. As the one type of cheese I always have in the house, I've found that Sharp Cheddar tastes great with almost any kind of beer.

SOUTHAMPTON PUBLICK HOUSE DOUBLE WHITE and Dill Havarti: This is one of my favorite semi-soft cheeses for its rich, buttery flavor. The dill herbs have a tendency to upstage most beers, which is why I chose to pair it with this well-spiced, lemony Witbier. This is one of those beers that drink so smoothly you have to be careful or the 6.7% ABV can sneak up on you.

SHIPYARD OLD THUMPER ESA and Aged Asiago: As an aged cheese, Asiago is very aromatic and dry. The distinct nuttiness of the cheese allows it to complement a range of beers, especially those on the maltier side of the spectrum. And while porters and stouts work with certain cheeses, I think beers that are malty but not dark, like Old Thumper and other Extra Strong Bitters (ESB), ensure the cheese isn't lost amidst other flavors.

THOMAS HOOKER BLONDE ALE and Monterey Pepper Jack: As a beer connoisseur I'm required to tell you that spicy foods are not an ideal pairing for its tendency to dull one's palate. However, the spiciness of the pepper and the creaminess of the cheese is just too delicious to pass up. Instead, save it for the end of the night and pair it with a quenching lawnmower beer like Thomas Hooker. With snacks like this, you're going to feel like a winner no matter who prevails in the big game.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Homebrew Retrospective

With Homebrew #15 hot-off-the-press, it felt like a good opportunity to look back at my accomplishments in 2 1/2 years of brewing. There is no question in my mind that the quality has improved steadily and it's worth noting that all but one (my only all-grain recipie, an oatmeal stout) were thoroughly drinkable. It has been a lot of fun to use new ingredients and brew exactly what I have been hankering for!

For the occassion, Dan has put together his ranking of my first 14 homebrews. He did a pretty good job, but if you are looking for the answer key, I included it below.

(Note: Homebrews in picture to the side are in chronological order from left to right, and front to back. #1 Waiting Pale Ale, #2 Promised Porter, #3 Vain Stout, #4 Hoppy IPA, #5 Crimes Bitter, #6 Kahawa Porter, #7 Wedding Saison, #8 American Wheat, #9 Mr. Jack Pumpkin, #10 Naughty Stout, #11 Wit, #12 Stash IPA, #13 Google Pale, #14 Cherry Dubbel, and the soon-to-be-reviewed #15 Pilgrimage Porter!)

Dan's Rankings
1. It Must Be Wedding Saison
2. Stash
3. Bia Kahawa Afrika
4. Cherry (Hold-the-Chili) Christmas Dubbel
5. Hoppy Holidays!/Obama Beer!
6. Promised Land Porter
7. The-Waiting-Is-The-Hardest-Part Pale Ale
8. GoogleDoc Draft
9. Crimes Against Humanity Bitter
10. Wit and Wisdom
11. Hold-The-Lemon American Wheat
12. Mr. Jack Ale'Lantern
13. You're So Vain... You Probably Think This Stout is About You!
14. Naughty or Nice

Josh's Rankings
1. Stash
2. It Must Be Wedding Saison
3. Bia Kahawa Afrika
4. Crimes Against Humanity Bitter
5. Cherry (Hold-the-Chili) Christmas Dubbel
6. Promised Land Porter
7. Wit and Wisdom
8. GoogleDoc Draft
9. Hold-The-Lemon American Wheat
10. Hoppy Holidays!/Obama Beer!
11. Mr. Jack Ale'Lantern
12. The-Waiting-Is-The-Hardest-Part Pale Ale
13. Naughty or Nice
14. You're So Vain... You Probably Think This Stout is About You!