Are you getting bored with IPAs? Tired of sours and barrel-aged stouts? Just can’t love lagers? The Beer Doctor recommends the next new thing — a craft cider.

If your first thought is, “Cider? That sticky sweet, fruit-flavored, low alcohol stuff? Uggh. I’d rather drink a wine cooler,” then think again. Think dry cider. Drier than most wines, with an ABV comparable to an IPA (5 – 7%) dry ciders pair well with food, and have the complexity you expect in a good wine. It is a sophisticated, adult beverage that most beer lovers are likely to appreciate if they give it a chance.

The Barrels of Virtue Cider

The Barrels of Virtue Cider

Cider is made from juice pressed from fresh apples. It is fermented–not brewed–using either commercial yeast, or the wild yeast of the apples themselves. Flavor complexity is achieved by combining the flavor of the apple varietal with other factors including the length of time it remains in contact with pressed skin lees, the strain of yeast, secondary lacto or malic fermentation, and barrel aging.

While many American ciders rely on sugar and added fruit syrups to produce that sticky sweet, fruity stuff–because their customers expect it–the newer craft ciders are made using more traditional European styles produced by experienced cidermakers, using local farm-fresh produce, without the addition of sugars or syrups. If you have ever had the pleasure of enjoying a bowl of moule-frites in Normandy, you were probably served a pitcher of the regional cider to go along with it. It was mellow, dry, with just a hint of fruit, and a slight mustiness–a perfect match to the food that was served with it. That’s what I mean by a good cider.

Recently I had the opportunity to taste a full spectrum of craft ciders when I visited Virtue Cider in Saugatuck, Michigan. Virtue is located in the apple country of southwestern Michigan, with a climate similar to the traditional cider regions of France, England and Spain. It is a traditional farmhouse cidery, which uses old-world, environmentally friendly methods to press, ferment, and barrel age the ciders. And true to form, it is set on a small but working farm, complete with free-range chickens, pigs, sheep, vegetable beds and, of course, apple orchards.

Greg Hall, formerly the brewmaster of Goose Island Beer Company for 20 years, and co-founder Stephen Schmakel, began this cidery in 2011. InBev acquired a majority stake in Virtue in 2015, allowing them to affiliate with Goose Island‘s Chicago brewery for bottling, kegging and increased distribution. The cider continues to be produced at the farmhouse, about 150 miles away, using only Michigan apples raised on small family farms.

Missie, Ryan, and The Good Doc

Missy, Ryan, and The Good Doc

I was given a tour of the farm and cidery by long-time friend Melissa “Missy” Corey, the Culinary Director, and her partner, Ryan Beck, the Agricultural Director. (See figure 2) The cidermaker, Steve Boeve-Head, and much of the staff were on vacation, since there are no fresh apples to press in July. Missy and Ryan are minding the farm–literally. They are managing the pigs, chickens and sheep, tending the vegetable garden and landscaping, and overseeing the Thursday night market.

Missy and Ryan are not your typical farmers. Missy has an impressive culinary background including training in Portland, Maryland with James Beard Award winners Sam Hayward (Fore Street) and Rob Evans (Hugo’s/Duckfat), and she is a winner of Food Network’s “Chopped.” Missy left her previous position as Chef de Cuisine at Chicago’s Publican Quality Meats and joined Virtue, where she is developing her program of sustainable farm practices, seasonal cuisine and whole animal “nose to tail” cooking.

Ryan Beck grew up on a farm, but his true profession is urban gardening. Now back to his farming roots at Virtue Cider, Ryan is pursuing his passion for native plants and intensive vegetable farming, planning sustainability and education on herbaceous and edible plants.

Michigan Brut

Michigan Brut

Our cider tasting began with Michigan Brut, the flagship drink. It is made from heirloom apples, French and wild yeasts, and seasoned in French oak. It pours crystal clear and golden, with a mellow apple nose. It is crisp and delightfully tart, with a slight oaky finish. At ABV 6.7%, it’s a good everyday cider that I drink with food

Next, we tried the Lapinette, ABV 6.8%, a Norman style “cidre brut” similar to what I drank with my moules-frites in France. It is unfiltered, with a bit of funky farm, barrel, and oak taste. It has a dry, mineral finish. It is recommended to pair with chicken or fresh vegetables — and to that I would add seafood.

The Percheron, ABV 5.5%, is named for the big grey workhorses of the Normandy farms. It is made with early-season apples, with fermentation based on wild yeasts, French cider yeast, and a Brettomyces; the resulting strong finish is softened by the addition of fresh-pressed juice. The resulting beverage is gentle and tart, with a great apple taste and a barnyard funkiness. Pair this with strong food, such as smelly aged cheeses or hearty stews.

Next, we went on to the Orchard Series. These were my favorites as they were made from the apples of a single orchard, relying only on the wild yeasts on the apples themselves. Like single origin wines, they present their local terroir. First we tasted Spirit Springs Farms (ABV6%), a blend of three varietals producing a rich, smokey and tannic flavor–this was my pick for the afternoon’s tasting. We also tasted the delightful Overheiser Orchard (ABV 6.7%) which blends 20 different varietals from the farm of the same name, giving a classic cider with a pronounced apple aroma.

The Mitten, and its sister Cherry Mitten, are unique in that they are aged a full year in bourbon barrels, after fermentation with American and British cider yeasts. If you are familiar with bourbon-aged beer, you will know that this process imparts notes of sweetness, vanilla and oak. The extreme tartness of year-old aged cider is then mellowed by the addition of fresh fruit juice. Food pairing? Holiday rich or sweet foods (baked ham, roast beef), or sipped in front of the fireplace.

The Southerner

The Southerner

There were more ciders left to taste, but my palate was exhausted. Time for lunch. If you are ever taken to lunch by a Chef de Cuisine, you can be sure that the unpretentious diner where you are taken is no ordinary restaurant. The Southerner, on the banks of the Kalamazoo River in Saugatuck, Michigan, is run by Chef Matthew Millar, himself a James Beard semi-finalist. His menu combines Southern styles with locally sourced fish, fowl and produce with specialty items from the South, including bacon from Tennessee and grits from South Carolina. Everything is cooked from scratch, and barbecue is made on site, smoked over local fruitwood. This could be the best fried chicken–or biscuits –or shrimp and grits–or yogurt pancakes–or fresh eggs–that you’ll ever have!

Returning to the farm, we toured the rest of the grounds. We met the pigs in their wooded free-range enclosure, watch timid black sheep as they watched us, and chase the chickens. Returning to the cidery store, we stocked up on bottles of our favorites. Time to go home after a delightful summer day in the Apple Coast of Michigan.

In addition to her fascinating essays on a variety of imagestopics to be found @ 3 Quarks Daily, also available from Dr. Westbrook: 

 

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The American Homebrewers’ Association 14th Annual “Best Beers in America” were recently announced in the July/August 2016 issue of Zymurgy, the AHA journal. The results were based on over 18,000 votes cast by the members of the AHA.

These listings are eagerly awaited by AHA members, brewers, and craft beer lovers throughout the world. Beer lovers can’t wait to read the results and compare notes: are there brews they haven’t tasted and MUST go out and find? Did all THEIR favorites make the lists? No doubt these lists are scrutinized by commercial craft brewers, too, who want to see how their beers fared, and look for the direction of their buyer’s tastes, and what to brew next. YourBeerNetwork readers will undoubtedly enjoy reading these lists, so I’ve included them at the bottom of this article.

Hellooooo IPAs!

Hellooooo IPAs!

When I reviewed the list, I noted that many of my favorite IPAs were at the top of the list, as expected (Pliny the Elder, Two-Hearted, Hopslam, Lagunitas IPA). As I read further down the list, though, I was immediately struck by the fact that almost the entire list was about hoppy beers–IPA or derivative styles, including Double IPAs, Imperial IPAs, American Pale Ales, Black IPAs and American Pale Wheat Ales. Of these top 50 beers, only 15 were non-IPAs–mostly dark beers (stouts, porters, imperial stouts, and barrel-aged stouts); there was only one saison and two sours:

#19. Boulevard Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale (* saison)

#T29. Russian River Consecration (* Wild Ale / Sour Ale)

#T50. New Belgium La Folie (* Wood Aged sour beer)

NOT IPA!!!

NOT IPA!!!

Surely something was missing. Where are the excellent craft pilseners and lagers, such as Yeungling’s India Pale Lager (IPL) or Upland’s Champagne Velvet pilsener? Where are the classic American oak-aged, fruit-based beers, such as New GlarusSour Cherry? Or the delightful summer wheat beers? For that matter, where are the English and Belgian-style ales? Yes, many small breweries produce these styles, most of which are excellent and well-crafted, but somehow the members of the AHA did not see fit to rate any of them high enough to vote them into the best beers in America.

Even more perplexing were the top ten imports (see below) of which 8 were Belgians (including Unibroue’s Fin de Monde, which is a Belgian-like Canadian).

LOVE their beers, but...!

LOVE their beers, but…!

The other two were Samuel Smith‘s Oatmeal Stout (England) and Guinness Draught (Ireland). Guinness? Really? C’mon AHA members, such uninspired and pedestrian picks! Of course the Belgians make good beer. But if you want a good Irish stout, why not Murphy’s? And for English beers, what about Olde Speckled Hen or Old Peculier? Did you completely forget that Germany and Czechoslovakia have a centuries-old tradition of producing world-class lagers and pilseners, not to mention the astounding Gose made by Gosebrauerie in Leipzig, or the Heffe-Weissen wheat beers, of which Franziskaner reigns supreme?

Overall I was very disappointed by the AHA’s “Best Beers in America” listings. They told me less about the skill and creativity of American craft brewers, and more about the preferences of the members of the AHA. To be fair, the lists were compiled by vote of the AHA’s membership, representing a specialized subset of craft beer aficionados. Although I am a member I didn’t vote this year, so I am partly to blame for the uninspired lists.

For so many years craft beer aficionados have been castigating mass-market beer drinkers for their love of lagers and their dislike of American hops. Admittedly, we have an axe to grind, because it was the expansion of these large breweries which produced low-quality lagers that led to the closings of thousands of old-time local breweries many decades ago. Today, with the rise of craft beer, many of us vowed never to let a mass market beer cross our lips. (Notwithstanding the fact that Goose Island is owned by InBev, and their Bourbon County Stout made the top 10 list this year). Yet lagers are not inherently bad! Noble hops and old-world brewing styles have been perfected over centuries, have been loved by millions of people, and many are produced by breweries that are smaller than Guinness (which is owned by Diagio) or Unibroue (which is owned by Sappora). Why ignore these classic beer styles produced, especially when produced by craft breweries?

What this list shows me is that craft beer lovers can be just as narrow-minded in their apparent dislike of noble hops as they accuse the great American public to be in disliking American hops. Do I detect a note of hypocrisy? Perhaps its time for us craft-beer lovers to expand our horizons and take another look at older, more traditional beer style, rather than dismissing them offhand.

Here is the list of the AHA’s Top-Ranked Beers, as published in Zymurgy, July/August, 2016. The annotation is mine, and it indicates non-IPAs. (T = tie)

  1. Russian River Pliny the Elder
  2. Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale
  3. The Alchemist Heady Topper
  4. Ballast Point Sculpin IPA
  5. Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin
  6. Founders Breakfast Stout (* oatmeal stout)
  7. Three Floyds Zombie Dust
  8. Bell’s Hopslam
  9. Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout (*stout)

T10. Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA

T10. Stone Enjoy By IPA
index

T 12. Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout (*stout)

  1. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
  2. Lawson’d Liquids Sip of Sunshine
  3. Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA

T16. Founders All Day IPA

T16. Sierra Nevada Celebration

  1. Cigar City Jai Alai IPA

19 Boulevard Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale (* saison)

  1. Firestone Walker Wookey Jack
    images
  2. Arrogant Brewing’s Arrogant Bastard Ale
  3. Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’
  4. Deschutes Black Butte Porter (* porter)

T24. Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro (*stout)

T24 Troegs Nugget Nectar (*imperial amber ale)

  1. Firestone Walker Union Jack

T 27. Founders Backwoods Bastard (* Scotch Ale, bourbon barrel)

  1. 29 Lagunitas Lagunitas IPA

T29. Odell Odell IPA

T29. Russian River Consecration (* wild/sour ale)
TroegsImperialAmberNuggetNectarT34 Ballast Point Victory at Sea (*coffee Vanilla porter)

T 39 Oskar Blues Ten Fidy (*double stout)

T42 Fireston Walker Parabola (*russian oatmeal stout, barrel aged)

T 42 Surly Todd the Axe Man

  1. Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter (*porter)

T46 Prarie Artisan Ales Bomb (*imperial stout)

T46 Surly Furious

T 46 Victory DirtWolf Double IPA

  1. Maine Beer Lunch

T 50. Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA

T50 New Belgium La Folie (* wood-aged sour beer)
edfitz-fixed_2Top 10 Imports:

  1. Unibroue La Fin du Monde
    Canada

T2. St. Bernardus Abt 12
(Belgium)

T2. Guinness Guinness Draught
(Ireland)

  1. Dupont Saison Dupont
    (Belgium)
  1. Orval Brewery Orval Trappist Ale
    (Belgium)

T5. Rodenbach Grand Cru
(Belgium)

  1. Chimay Grand Reserve/Blue Label
    (Belgium)
  1. Brouwerij Verhaeghe Duchess De Bourgogne
    (Belgium)
  1. Trappiste Westvleteren Westvleteren XII
    (Belgium)
  1. Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout
    (England)
    orval_trappist_aleIn addition to her fascinating essays on a variety of imagestopics to be found @ 3 Quarks Daily, also available from Dr. Westbrook: 

 

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RIP Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds Gold

RIP Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds Gold

I’m sorry. We haven’t been out and about too much. The principal reason is that one of our two pups, Eddie and Debbie, both of whom we tragically (though kind of expected) lost within a week of each other, was on a couple different diuretics, so the days of the 5-7 hour held bladder had long ago left the station.

There are lots of new brewers popping up around here, but for the above reasons, along with a few others, I’ve visited none in about a year, which I hope to correct in the near future. I’ll pick up something untried at the store here and there and often write a shorty about it.
But there ARE a couple establishments that rear their lovely heads fairly often of late that give me the opportunity to eat, drink, and write about it.

One is The Valley Café, a neighborhood haunt in West Akron, now with a new location in Wadsworth, Ohio. Principally a breakfast/lunch restaurant, the VC has not been highlighted on this site much. Once, I think, for an astonishing burger, but as they’ve served no beer or spirits, I’ve had little reason to mention them much, despite their ridiculous homemade corned beef hash (order it “well, well, well” done and the carmelized nuggets of heaven awash in the yokes of a couple o’er easies a fine example of how cholesterol offers true value to humanity), awesome home fries, shrimp & grits and a sausage gravy with a little special heat. But the Valley Café has made it to the YBN facebook page on a few occasions, so the name may be familiar.

Chef B.J.

Chef B.J.

But now, having opened a second location, they have embarked on turning their newest hash slingin’ joint into a swanky high end eatery on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, Valley Café at nite. We had to miss the soft open, but after all the conversations over breakfast had with Chefs B.J and Ron—– about what they aspired to do, and what I would like them to do (I mean they DID name a sandwich on the menu after me), we made reservations to try it as early on as we could.

A bright and airy high ceilinged, bare wood floor daytime eatery, the transformation into a venue consistent with the prices and style of the dinner menu was great. Done simply with lighting, black linens, nice china, glassware and cutlery, there was a level of intimacy and the suggestion of some pampering coming our way. We’re going to credit Nicole Mikoda, co-owner with husband B.J. with this understated tasteful transformation. Always staffed with great folks, this was the case with the evening crew, the family atmosphere that has always been so appealing about the VC kept intact even as the stakes raised.

B.J had told me he was getting in a few craft brews especially with me in mind. I’ll admit, I figured it would likely be a couple standard issue brews from Great Lakes and/or Thirsty Dog, two exceptional local brewers, but leaving me with little to write about. indexMuch to my delight, there were more than a couple beers I’d never tried, so I started out with Fresh Squeezed IPA from Deschutes. The description they offer is as follows

“A juicy citrus and grapefruit flavor profile, as if fresh Citra and Mosaic hops were squeezed right into the bottle.”

With a 6.4% ABV and 60 IBUs, not a lot of malt presence in the nose or the flavor, both flowery and citrusy at once. Super hoppy and citrusy with a nice bitter hitting the tongue at first blush, an interestingly well balanced beer, the malt serving to give its some heft while really profiling the Mozaic and Citra hops. It was almost like an American Pale with a few more bullets in the clip. As tasty as they come.

As we perused the menu, BJ approached the table with a long serving plate presenting a beautiful steak tartar, a mound of fresh steak chopped fine, topped with a raw egg yoke. It was accompanied by crisp lightly toasted baggette, finely chopped onion, capers, and seed mustard. This was not on the menu, but most definitely should be. I’m a little embarassed I didn’t snap a pic of it, as it was a thing of beauty. Delicious, and the IPA from Deschutes went perfectly with it. But to be fair, the Fresh Squeezed IPA would go great with anything placed before me.

indexOne of my dinner companions ordered a Goodwood Bourbon Barrel Stout. The nose vividly represented the chocolate component of the roasted barley, as did the flavor. The surprise was the bitter on the front of the tongue presenting at first sip. There was also an immediate sweetness. After waiting for it to warm up just a bit, the chocolate continued to rise up as the statement this stout makes. At 8% ABV, the alcohol was not terribly noticable, but it did push the flavor notes. There was a bit of an oakiness to it but no obvious suggestion of bourbon, a pleasant surprise coming from a Kentucky brewer wishing to focus in on this technique. I also found this to be the case with their neighbor Altel’s offering in their Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout, which I very much liked, as I prefered the woodiness of the barrel to an overstated bourbon flavor, which can really dominate.
While not described as such by the brewer, I would simply call Goodwood’s offering a very decent chocolate stout.

A table appetizer was ordered in the form of Butternut Squash Ravioli in Sage Brown Butter. I’m not a big squash fan, and as our dates at the table were a little squeamish about raw steak (and/or the raw egg) my pal and I had eaten most of the bountiful tartar, so I just had a bite of the ravioli, which was sweet, savory, and really delicious. Everyone else at the table LOVED it.

indexWhile the ravioli was being devoured, our server brought me a Lager Heads Bed Head Red, brewed in Medina, Ohio, as you might guess, from the name, an American Amber/ Red Ale. The tale of the tape has it presenting at 5.9% ABV, and pouring a little darker than expected. A tasty, proper red, there was a little smoke, a little bitter, a little caramel. Exactly what I would hope for.

My only note about the salads is that the VC white french dressing is excellent. My Caesar was fine, but for my obnoxious palate, more of a anchovie presence would have made it perfect.

BEST-PORK-CHOP-EVER

BEST-PORK-CHOP-EVER

My main course was perhaps the most beautiful pork chop I’ve ever seen, served on a bed of mashed potatoes and a smoky and sweet braised red cabbage, flavored by apple cider vinegar and amish smoked bacon. Big, moist, and along with being the most beautiful pork chop I’ve seen, it was also the best pork chop I’ve ever eaten. I should note here that it’s own smoke, sweetness, and caramel made the Lager Heads ale a perfect complement.

My table mates all enjoyed different dishes. One had seared scallops on a mushroom risoto so rich, I believe the one forkful I had added 2 inches to my waste. Another, braised shortribs on rosemary mashed with roasted root vegetables. You could cut it with a fork, dark, meaty, and rich. My buddy had the broiled fresh steelhead trout which had a great texture, but compared to the other dishes we ordered, probably left him a little envious.
indexChef B.J hails from the south, which explains his shrimp & grits, the fact that he’s always a little dangerously generous with the heat in some dishes, which I love, and always offers up bountiful portions.

indexSo while we were all happily stuffed, when we learned he was serving a dessert of fresh made beigniets and Café du Mond, bringing a little NOLA to our northern Ohio table, we had to order some. Then again, he was also offering an espresso crème brulet, so… we ordered one of each, drank lots of delicious chicory coffee and chowed down. The desserts were mouth watering and yet light enough to not kill us, for which we were grateful.

How can I conclude this review other than declare loudly, “We are going back!!!” Congratulations to the Valley Café at nite.

 

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It’s Oscar time again. On February 28, 2016, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will present Oscars for cinematic achievement at the eagerly-anticipated 88th Annual Academy Awards Ceremony. That means it’s also time for the eagerly-anticipated 3rd Annual Beer and Oscar Pairing, in which I recommend a beer to drink with each of the nominees for Best Picture. This year I have added a ninth (unofficial) nominee for one of my favorite films of the year, which was somehow overlooked by the Academy but deserves a beer pairing.

This year, the nominees showcased strong actors–or ensembles– portraying strong characters. Overall the best films were more about the characters than about the plot. I’ve chosen beers which complement these characters’ strong spirits.  I’ve carefully avoided spoilers except when relevant to the beer selection — if so, I’ll warn you in advance.

So pop some popcorn, pour yourself a beer, sit back and enjoy the show! The nominees for Best Picture of 2015 are:

  1. Bridge of Spies

The movie opens in Brooklyn, in 1957 at the height of the Cold War. James R. Donovan, an insurance lawyer played by Tom Hanks, is recruited to do his patriotic duty and defend a KGB spy. After the spy is convicted, the FBI approaches him for a secret mission: to arrange for an exchange of this spy for Gary Powers, the American pilot who was shot down and imprisoned in Russia for spying. Donovan must cross the Iron Curtain and travel to East Berlin, just as the Wall is going up. The atmosphere is tense, the drinking is heavy. Russian vodka is ubiquitous, and the beer of choice is Pilsner Urquell.

Almost certainly Pilsner Urquell would have been served to Mr. Donovan in East Berlin. I have this on good authority from my husband Rick, who visited East Berlin on an education mission in the 1960’s. Beers produced in Western countries were simply not available in the Eastern Bloc, while Pilsner Urquell, brewed in Czechoslovakia since 1842, was everywhere. Pilsner Urquell has changed little over the years. It is a light lager, moderately hopped but low in alcohol (ABV 4.5%, IBU 40).

If you don’t want to be accused of being a communist sympathizer, and prefer to stick with an American craft beer, an alternative beer pairing would be Rev Pils, a pilsner made by Chicago’s own Revolution Brewery. Brewed with all German malts and hops, it is true in style to a classic pilsner, and true in spirit to the Revolution.

  1. Brooklyn

Though it takes place in Brooklyn in the 1950s, the atmosphere is very different from the 1957 Brooklyn of the Bridge of Spies. Brooklyn is the heart-warming story of Ellis Lacey, a young woman, fresh from Ireland, who immigrates to America under the sponsorship of a kindly priest. We watch as Ellis, flawlessly portrayed by the Irish actress Saoirse Ronan, survives her homesickness, falls in love, and gradually begins to love her new country.

Brooklyn is heart-warming, smooth and sweet. There is very little bitterness, though it has its dark moments. And this is a perfect description of Guinness Stout the quintessential Irish beer.

Guinness Stout is brewed in Ireland, but is available throughout the world. It is the beer of choice for the Irish, their descendants, and the “honorary” Irish who enjoy its mellow flavor and easy drinkability. It is relatively light, at 4.5% ABV, so you can drink it all evening–as did the out-of-work immigrant Irish laborers at the parish Christmas dinner in the film. Guinness pairs well with food, including popcorn and movies. Slaínte!

  1. Mad Max, Fury Road

It is the not-too-distant future. The earth has been ruined by pollution and climate change. Civilization has collapsed and many people have died. The remaining populations have been enslaved by warlords fighting for limited resources. Travel is not safe, fuel is in short supply, and water is even scarcer. Enter the warrior Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who forges an uneasy alliance with Mad Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy). Together they drive a massive armored truck, alternatingly outrunning and outshooting the pursuing warlord and his henchmen, as they lead the tyrant’s five wives in a daring escape to find a better place to live. In Mad Max, Fury Road the action is always on the move as they speed through the beautifully desolate but unforgiving Wasteland. The action is incessant, with Furiosa leading against all odds with her strength, determination and wits. She is clearly the star of this film.

“You killed our world” is the recurring cry of the beautiful young wives. And what better to drink with a ruined world than Stone’s Ruination Double IPA?

Ruination Double IPA is a marvelous high-hop beer. It is assertive, strong, and bitter, like our heroine. As a double IPA it has a high alcoholic content, at 8.5%, and is extraordinarily hopped with an IBU over 100, more than three times that of a standard IPA. It is not a beer for the faint of heart, making it perfect for the warriors of Fury Road.

  1. Room

A young woman (Brie Larson) and her 5-year-old son (Jacob Trembly) have been held captive in a small space since before the boy’s birth. Finally able to escape, the boy enjoys his first experience of the outside world. Room can be a difficult and uncomfortable film; what glues you to the screen is the compelling performance of Brie Larson, who was nominated for an Oscar for this role.

How does one choose a beer for a woman who has probably not had any alcohol to drink in 7 years, and a 5-year-old boy? Why root beer, of course! I’m not referring to that latest fad of hard (alcoholic) root beers, but to the good old-fashioned, non-alcoholic soft drink, which traditionally was made in a brewery. Root beer is brewed with yeast and sugar, and flavored by the roots of the sassafras tree, with added spices and flavorings such as vanilla, licorice, honey and molasses. It is best served it in a frosty mug, with or without a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

A number of craft breweries produce this kid-friendly beer, though you might have trouble finding it, since supermarkets often don’t carry gourmet sodas, while beer distributors don’t usually bring them around to the beer store. (You might try asking for some). Two notable craft root beers you might enjoy are: Abita Root Beer and Saranac Root Beer.

  1. Spotlight

Spotlight is a riveting story of investigative journalism. It is based on the work of a team of Boston Globe reporters who, in 2001, uncovered the Catholic Church’s cover-up of widespread pedophilia among priests in Boston. They published their findings in the paper’s “Spotlight” column. This team is portrayed by an ensemble of actors that includes Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams. We get caught up in their passion to pursue this story, fighting resistance both to uncovering the facts and to publishing a story that Bostonians did not want to hear. Though we know how it turns out, it’s fascinating to watch the process unfold and the reporters interact as the pieces fall into place.

From time immemorial, reporters did much of their work in a bar, over a drink. This movie is true to the stereotype, and the drink of choice shown in most of these scenes is Harpoon IPA. And it’s the perfect choice — Harpoon IPA is the only beer that I drink when I am in Boston, too. Brewed in Boston by Harpoon Brewery, Harpoon IPA is a well-balanced beer, IBU 42, ABV 5.9%, medium bodied, and perfectly hopped. It pairs well with seafood, Irish stew, and the Boston Globe.

  1. The Big Short

In 2008, a few astute Wall Street investors, market researchers, and hedge-fund specialists come to the recognition that the majority of subprime home loans were in danger of defaulting. Their colleagues believe they are crazy. As they begin to realize the extent of these loan defaults, this small group — portrayed by a talented ensemble of actors including Ryan Goslin and Steve Carrel–devises the “credit default swap” in which they bet large sums of money that this default will happen. The Big Short is based on the true story of these investors, who made their fortune by betting against the market while the economy collapsed.

Early in the film, the investor Jared Vennet (Ryan Gosling) says, “You smell that? What’s that smell? I smell money.” If you savor the taste and smell of money, you would probably want to drink the most expensive beer in the world. There are a number of contenders for this distinction, most of which are pricey because their production requires a large volume of expensive ingredients, which are then concentrated into a small volume, followed by years of aging. The result is a small batch of, highly alcoholic, flavor-packed barleywine. These specialty beers are excessively priced not only because of their production costs, but because they are impressive status symbols and people are willing to pay dearly for them.

Dave, The Beer, from Hair of the Dog Brewing Company in Portland, Oregon, is our choice. Dave is a barleywine, at 29% ABV, which sells for over $2000 per bottle–if you can find one. It was originally produced in 1994 by multiply concentrating one of the brewery’s flagship beers, reducing 300 gallons to less than 100 gallons. A small number of these 375-ml bottles is be released at a time, usually at auction, and the competition is fierce. Apparently this is a flavorful beer, having won first place in a 1998 beer festival. You cannot find it for sale at the brewery, but if you search you may find a bottle or two from a private collector. Have your agent keep an eye out for it. Dave, The Beer is best sipped out of a brandy snifter, preferably a cut crystal Waterford glass, while you watch the movie or, preferably, the stock reports.

  1. The Martian

The Martian is the story of a lonely astronaut, played by Matt Damon, who is stranded on Mars, and must find a way to survive for years with only a few months of supplies. He must use his wits and his scientific expertise while he waits for rescue.

The Martian, almost 3 hours in length, requires at least 3 beers. I’ve paired each with individual segments of the movie. Warning: beers two and three contain spoiler alerts, so if you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, then stick with the first beer, or read on at your own peril.

First beer: If the astronauts had packed beer in their provisions, they would have chosen a local Texas favorite, brewed in Houston. That’s because astronauts are trained in Houston, and spend a lot of time there. And in their spare time at bars they would probably drink Shiner Bock.

Shiner Bock is a Texas icon. It is the signature beer of Saint Arnold Brewing Company. It is dark and full-bodied, brewed with German malts that give it a classic bock flavor, and a “smooth Texas aftertaste.”

Second beer: This beer is poured when Matt Damon’s character succeeds in getting potatoes to grow, and has his first successful harvest. His harvest ensures him an unlimited, renewable food source. Time to celebrate with a beer! Make that beer a harvest ale.

Harvest Ales are usually produced in limited supply after the fall hop harvest, frequently using hops that are freshly picked, before they have a chance to dry. My selection is, Founders Harvest Ale, from Grand Rapids, Michigan. This beer reaches an IBU of 70 with a remarkably hoppy taste and a well-balanced alcohol content of 7.6%. Like an IPA, it is a hazy golden color with a clear white head.

Third beer. Finally the end is in sight. Rescue is on the way, and Damon will soon say goodbye to the Red Planet. Let’s toast Mars with a red beer, an Irish Red Ale. Since we are all-American in this film, we will forego the Irish breweries and choose an Irish Ale that is brewed in America.

Boulevard Brewing Company’s Irish Ale is a beautiful red-brown, bottle-conditioned beer, with pleasing carbonation and a fully mature flavor. It is true to style, with a medium body of high malt flavor, low alcohol content (5.8%), and only a slight hoppiness, IBU 30. Cheers! And good-bye to the red planet!

  1. The Revenant

The Revenant is loosely based on a true tale of 1823 Montana and South Dakota. It is about a mountain man, Hugh Glass, left for dead after being mauled by a beer, as he crawls back to civilization (such as it is). The struggle to survive takes place amidst a backdrop of the most spectacular and beautiful scenery in the world, filmed in the Canadian Rockies and Argentina. We agonizingly watch as Glass faces unimaginable hardships, experiencing the brutality and hatred of both white settlers and Native Americans toward each other in the Old West.

We need a beer to match our hero. Let’s drink a beer that it strong, dark, heavy and challenging to drink. That beer is Sinebrichoff Porter . Brewed in Finland at Sinnebrichoff Brewery since 1817, Sinebrichoff Porter is an intense Baltic style porter, unfiltered, and so dark it is almost black. It is brewed to an alcohol level of 7.2% using strong malts and a lot of hops; in fact, it has quite a high bitterness level for a porter, with an IBU of 45. The resultant dark beer has a strong taste but a wonderfully flavorful finish.

  1. Straight Outta Compton

The ninth (unofficial) spot goes to Straight Outta Compton. Although slighted by the Academy this year, it is one of the best biopics of the decade, and certainly one of the best musicals in the last few years. It is a story about the rap group N.W.A. and the early years of hip-hop. The story is engrossing, and the music will grab you. O’Shea Jackson Jr. does a masterful job playing his father, Ice Cube, the rapper who is now a screen actor in his own right.

Sit back, enjoy the film, and pour out a 40–that is, a 40-ounce bottle of malt liquor. If you watch the movie carefully, you will see that whenever a beer was drunk in this film, it was always St. Ides Malt Liquor poured out of a large bottle and shared among friends. A 40-ounce bottle of high-alcohol malt liquor may be the cheapest and fastest way to get drunk, but it also reflects camaraderie among friends who don’t have a lot to share. Sometimes a small amount is poured out in remembrance of a fallen gang member, too, a custom immortalized by the rapper 2Pac, in his song “Pour Out a Little Liquor.”

St. Ides is a high alcohol beer (ABV 8.2%) with a very light body and minimal hops (IBU 11). St. Ides is to the rapper what PBR (Pabst Blue Ribbon) is to the hipster. Highly unpopular with craft beer aficionados, this beer nonetheless has a strong following, and was awarded a Bronze Medal at the 2004 Great American Beer Festival. If St. Ides is not to your taste, then substitute a PBR–but whatever your choice, make sure that you don’t drink it alone. Get yourself a 40-ounce bottle and share it with your homeys while you watch this excellent film.

imagesIn addition to her fascinating essays on a variety of topics to be found @ 3 Quarks Daily, also available from Dr. Westbrook: 

 

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indexI recently tried a Brooklyn Brewery Lord Sorachi Imperial Saison.

This is kind of a big deal. We don’t often see Sorachi Ace hops, and this is a limited, draft only, release, so I was kind of excited to try it. It came to me very cold, presenting almost no nose, the citrusy, a little peppery & cider like flavor not at all overstated, even coming with a 9%ABV. I liked it, as did my tablemates who also sipped it.

As it warmed just a touch, I began to detect a unique flavor, one of perhaps orange along with the lemongrass nature of the Sorachi hops? Not sure as this was my first time with these hops. Still nice, a good tart sour, and interesting. The nose also was starting to present a unique orange.

Warmed another couple degrees, I short circuited at the table and launched into this:

“When I was a kid, there were times certain things made me nauseated. Not so much anymore, but back then, more than a couple things. When I would warn my parents (or, notably, my Aunt Frieda) that if I had to ingest whatever was before me I would throw up, it would often be met by a ‘No it will not! Eat it!!!’
Amazing!!! Adults actually believed that their authority was so omnipotent as to be able to impose a settling of those naughty regurgitative esophageal muscles. Of course, far more important to a frightened, sick to the stomach kid, was the implicit notion that throwing up would be blatantly disobeying my folks, thus exposing me as a bad kid for doing so. As my folks, trusting they could just order this away would not wisely fetch a waste basket, bucket, or rush me off to a sink or toilet, the result was (100% of the time, btw) a really yucky mess on a table, bed, carpet and, always, me, presenting evidence that I had, indeed done a very bad thing. I mean vomit is creepy, right?
Now they would always respond as good parents, clean me up (likely while muttering and sniping at each other as they struggled to stem the rushing tide of stink), put me to bed, get me water, and be quite sweet.

imagesnb : Eventually they might have learned not to try to pull their weak shit on me anymore – one would have thought once or twice was more than enough of a lesson – but I think I also grew out of both frequent vomiting and situations where my intake was so controlled by my parents, but make no mistake, these experiences stuck with me to the point that I’m, at this moment, imposing my pathology on you in a beer review.

“Along with Alka Seltzer, Del Monte boiled string beans and asparagus, and any amount of goo in scrambled eggs, a sure fire, no doubt, “first time/every time” source of nausea was children’s aspirin. I could easily take Bayer’s Aspirin for Children, even liked it, but the weird, chalky, super strong not orange orange of the, far more popular St. Joseph’s Aspirin for Children made me vomit, sometimes by just imagining having it in the same room.”

So as the beer warmed this sort of strange orange became more and more vivid. At first I was thrilled as I declared it more like Bayer than St. Joseph, but the THOUGHT WAS THERE, right? Continuing to drink it, as the nose and flavor became more and more present, I started to sweat a little. Not that it tasted like THAT aspirin, but because it was becoming SO FRIGGIN’ ORANGE… and an odd one. Maybe the combo of oranges and the hops made the engulfing vapors odd – and yeah, the NOT psychotic 8 year old me, along with many, would agree that what I just called “odd” was actually “really interesting!”

The server told me it was his understanding that Brooklyn made this with tangerines, (or was it blood oranges?) something a little off center and highly flavored. In any event, while I continued to regale my tablemates with this story of my childhood, occasionally shrieking & shivering demonstratively as I continued to drain the glass, I did -in fact- drain the glass… and with no grown ups telling me I had to do so!

imagesSo… while I will not likely have this fascinating witches brew from Brooklyn again, even if it wasn’t in such a limited release, I would…. wait for it… also highly recommend it as a totally unique and interesting drinking experience.

“Sorry Harvey, our time is up today. Next week, same time?”

 

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This year I was privileged to give the opening talk at the annual meeting of the MBAA, the Master Brewers Association of the Americas. My charge was to discuss the health effects of beer. My audience: the premiere brewers’ organization in the US. Present a scientific talk about beer to a group of professional brewers who know as much about beer as anyone else in the world? Now there’s a challenge for the Beer Doctor!

Pix 1 mbaaThe MBAA was founded in Chicago in 1887 by three Braumeisters (Master Brewers), Louis Frisch, Charles J Schmidt and William J. Seib, all German immigrants. The ties with Germany were so strong that they originally conducted all of their meeting in German, though they switched to English with the onset of World War I. Nonetheless, the German influence on American brewing is evident in the lagers and pilsners that Americans prefer.

The MBAA promotes the science of brewing and the training competent brewers. Their meeting emphasizes scientific research into brewing, the quality, consistency, process, and the ingredients of brewing. They provide resources including the basic brewing guides and manuals used throughout the world. If you have had a good beer recently, whether small craft or mass-produced, chances are an MBAA member had a hand in it.

What could I say that the MBAA members didn’t know already? As it turned out, quite a lot. Brewers are just as vulnerable as the rest of us to the myths and urban legends about alcoholic beverages. I wanted to set the record straight, particularly
on nutrition, metabolism, and health, subjects about which I know a lot. The title of my presentation was, “A Bottle a Day Keeps the Doctor Away: Facts and Fallacies About Beer and Your Health.”

I began by reviewing scientific and medical literature. There are a large number of publications, including clinical and epidemiologic studies, investigating the effects of consuming alcoholic beverages. There is no space here for details, but suffice it to say that the general consensus is that a drink or two per day is good for you (Technically, one per day for a woman, two for a man). In fact, for most people, it’s healthier than not drinking at all. And don’t let the wine enthusiasts fool you–beer is
just as good as wine, or possibly better, because it is more nutritious, and contains more silicon for your bones, and more vitamins than wine.

Pix 2 nutritionThe most controversial topic, though, was the calorie content of beer. Beer calorieshave become very important to the brewing industry due to new ObamaCare-based regulations requiring nutritional labeling of all beverages served in restaurants. Although nutritionists have accurate understanding of the fat, sugar, protein and carb calories in beer, we honestly don’t know how many calories are contained in alcohol. The FDA claims that alcohol has 7 calories per gram–based on burning it to completion, but this is misleading. Our bodies cannot obtain 7 calories from a gram of alcohol any more
than we can obtain 5 calories from eating a gram of wood (based on burning wood to completion). At least 30 to 50% of alcohol’s energy content is unavailable to us, and the true value is closer to 2 to 3.5 cal/g. Regardless, the FDA labeling of alcoholic beverages will continue to mandate that the calorie content of beer specify 7 calories per gram of alcohol, which amounts to toughly 98 calories in a 12 ounce bottle of 5% beer. Interestingly, the label doesn’t have to give the alcohol content.

Pix 3 coffee breakAlthough this labeling appears unscientific and misleading, it would take an act of
Congress–literally–to change it. And it is not likely that Congress would be
receptive to a lobby that wants to make beer appear to be healthy (even though it
is). At least the brewers’ consciences can rest easier, knowing that their creations
are much healthier than everyone thinks–even if they aren’t allowed to say it.

After my opening talk I was able to relax and enjoy the rest of the meeting. It was a
delight, even for an amateur home brewer such as myself. The coffee breaks were
the best part of the meeting. There wasn’t much coffee to be found, but there was a
lot of beer! Many breweries contributed cases and cases of their wares, and it was
available on ice throughout the day… and into the evening.

I was especially intrigued by the presentations on barley, which included an
opportunity to taste a number of malted and roasted barley varieties. Roasted
barley is crunchy, chewy, and sweet, and some of the hull-less varieties are like
candy. I learned that there is a wide range of flavor in barley varieties, not to
mention the nuances added by malting and roasting. More fascinating, though are
the newer varieties that have been bred or discovered as heritage grains. There is a
resurgence of interest in hull-less varieties of barley, which have some advantages
in the brewing process.

Brown Malt-Barley

Brown Malt-Barley

Purple Barley

Purple Barley

My attention was especially drawn to a heritage variety called Purple Egyptian, also known as Obsidian. This ancient grain originated in the headwaters of the Nile River millennia ago. Unlike typical brown barley this grain is purple. I tasted it; it has a remarkably nutty flavor. It will soon be available to brewers, and I look forward to trying a beer brewed with this grain.

Can you Pick Out Dr. Carol in this crowd?

Can you pick out Dr. Carol in this crowd?

At the closing reception, I was introduced to the past presidents of this Society, and I met many other interesting people as well, from many countries and with diverse interests. These are the folks who create beers, insure their quality, fix what goes wrong, make sure the yeast strain is faithful, help insure consistency in the product, and get them to us to enjoy. They are passionate about brewing, whether they work for a large multi-million barrel brewery, or a small craft operation. The meeting slogan, “share the passion” captured the spirit of this meeting.

The passion was palpable. And the beer was cold.

imagesIn addition to her fascinating essays on a variety of topics to be found @ 3 Quarks Daily, also available from Dr. Westbrook: 

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I’ve always carried with me a sense of seasonal disbelief. I grew up in Akron, Ohio, once (and maybe still) the American city credited with the least number of sunny days… along with being, by far, the most disparaged city in America, framed in countless books, films, and comedic monologues as a dirty little industrial town populated by simple minded immigrants. I also sandwiched in 20 years in New York, so the northeastern seasonal experience is what I’ve always lived.

Just one shade of Akron, OH

Just one shade of Akron, OH

Important note: I’ll not use this space to speak to what an amazing town Akron really turns out to be, boasting an embarrassment of riches in terms of cultural, athletic, and intellectual contributions to the world… especially for such a small, dank, dreary, low I.Q. burg.
But I will note here that, when in bloom, it is a singular, brilliant place, the mix of greens so stunning as to appear to be almost golden in it’s vibrance.
But those days are, admittedly, not all that prevalent, and this just feeds my confusion.
I’m assuming here, that the seasons are considered quarterly events, but I’ve always been surprised, on some sub-atomic level, based on my belief that we, of course, get three months of Summer, but with a couple or three weeks on either end to gently buffer it, or maybe just by acceding to my will, this is the longest season of the year. Maybe it’s because summer is so vivid in our childhood memories, a long and lustrous vacation from everything. No wonder, as I believe we are everyone we’ve ever been, the 9 year old out playing in July a particularly strong component informing my delusion.
So given my screwed up body clock, I’m always surprised by the coming of Fall, followed by the Great Grayness (reads like a Tolkein location, yes?) Once undone, I never really recover. So yesterday, 12/22, I was even more disoriented, as there was the great conflict between going to lunch with the sun out and temperatures approaching 60 at odds with my disbelief that it only NOW is officially Winter I always figure we’ve started Winter right around Thanksgiving and this one was just particularly mild.

Yet another...

Yet another…

As I review the above mess, I see how completely off I’ve always been, Thanksgiving considered the penultimate Fall holiday.
All the above is just getting this personal weirdness off my chest as I was planning on addressing a couple darker brews, more easily considered “Winter Warmers” than sunny time fare, when it’s only NOW become Winter… on THIS day also approaching 60 with a misty drizzle. Pretty meek stuff.

First, a brief mention of Stone’s Coffee Milk Stout. Got it in a 12 pack variety ensemble a couple weeks ago and had stashed it away for myself when the band came over. As it goes for most offerings from Stone, this is a real brew, not a novelty. Starting with a beautiful, sturdy tan head, there’s a lovely bitterness to it, almost all bitter upon the first sip or two. Then that touch of sweetness from the milk sugars reveals itself on the back of the tongue. Stone’s handling of the coffee is expert, evoking the wonderful, time tested Mocha Porter from our friends at Rogue. At 5% ABV, one could happily drink a carload of this tasty bev.

Yesterday, that unseasonably warm first day of winter, we went with a friend to a favorite local eatery/watering hole, The Lockview. We’ve mentioned this tavern often, as they carry a billion beers in bottles, while offering a nicely rotating 12 taps, growlers, and a really talented kitchen, as evidenced by previous posts here ranging from a random act of burger heaven to a brilliant Founders Beer Dinner.

imagesThis time we were in for a late lunch that turned into a super early dinner. When our server came up for drink orders, having perused the board, I opted for the Breckenridge Nitro Vanilla Porter. I love this beer as it is, but I’ve also come to really enjoy nitro offerings, sometimes as a novelty, sometimes simply by moving a beer into a different realm. My favorite example is Boddingtons Pub Ale. I’ve had it straight from a tap and found it to be good but nothing extraordinary. From the nitro can, however, it’s a piece of creamy heaven.

breckenridge-brewery-vanilla-porterAnother interesting one is Left Hand Milk Stout. I thought of it as I tried the above mentioned Stone Coffee Milk Stout. Frankly, I think it’s just a psychological thing, but as I very much like the Left Hand in bottle and tap, when poured from a nitro source, the milk sugars along with the extra creamy mouth feel is really quite the symbiotic delight to me.
So having the Vanilla Porter, with that red bean sweetness emerging when experienced with salty, savory food, more than enough joy as it is, adding in the creaminess with the nitrogen makes it a real treat.

It’s important to note what I ate with this drink, as it turned out to be outstanding. First up, whenever someone is offering a New England style clam chowder, I have to try it. It’s a pretty simple soup, and while there are variations on the theme, more often than not, there’s something of a ceiling to how good it can get. In this case, it was spectacular. Perfect consistency, creamy, but still a soup. Sometimes, people find it better as it closes in on the texture of library paste, thinking it that much richer. Not me. Everything was perfect, with a surprisingly different flavor element I couldn’t put my finger on.

That first bite inspired this post

That first bite inspired this post

When Jimmy Morris aka Jimmy Jams, one of Lockview’s chefs (and one of the overseers of their new taqueria, which we’ll be heading to for their soft open on the Monday after Christmas), the creator of one of the best burgers I’ve ever had, stopped to say hello, I asked about the chowder, whipped up by one of the owners, Bob Bassone. As Jimmy listed ingredients, the one that stood out was the touch of thyme Bob put in it. Now if you were to ask me what thyme tasted like, I could never tell you, but it was clearly the difference in this delicious chowder.

Then came the daily special, which I can only attribute to Jimmy, our burger-meister. As it read on the board:
“8 oz. blue-ribbon burger topped with tender roast beef, applewood bacon, swiss, arugula and garlic aoli on a ciabatta bun, served with hand cut french fries.”
Nothing super exotic but, a perfect medium rare as ordered, it rivaled the burger Jimmy created for me in the piece linked above. Drippy, flavorful goodness.

indexI then came home, stuffed to the gills, and watched my alma mater, the University of Akron Zips, win their first ever bowl game. Admittedly, it was just one of 40 bowl games this year, the… not making this up… Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, but still, an 8-5 season and a bowl win is a bowl win, as opposed to no bowl, or a bowl loss, right?

A great day.

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Breaker Brewing Company, BBC, is named for the coal breaker, a large structure used to break and sort coal as it comes out of the mines. Breakers, once common features in the hills of Northeast Pennsylvania (NEPA), have all but disappeared, due to the collapse of the mining industry in 1959 when a river breach flooded all the interconnected tunnels.

The abandoned Huber Breaker, now demolished

The abandoned Huber Breaker, now demolished

Though the mines are closed, people are proud of their mining heritage. Many residents’ forebears moved here to work the mines, emigrating from Wales, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Poland, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia and other parts of Europe. They established ethnic communities, with their churches, schools, and taverns. People remember the stories of their grandfathers who worked the mines, and keep alive many of their traditions, including stopping at the local pub after work for a draft; filling their lunch pail with beer to bring home after work; gathering often with friends at church socials, school halls, or bars; and going to church–a lot.

Grandpa Rikoski enjoying a Sunday afternoon beer with his friends in rolling Mill Hill, not far from BBC, early 1900's

Grandpa Rikoski enjoying a Sunday afternoon beer with his friends in rolling Mill Hill, not far from BBC, early 1900’s

Like the miners’ bars, the Breaker Brewpub has become a gathering place for locals who stop on their way home from work for a draft or to bring home in a growler. It has also become a destination for beer tourists who come from around the region, jamming the brewpub on Saturday afternoon. The brewpub is a treasure trove of mining paraphernalia, old prints, photographs and paintings of mining operations and local history.

The brewery itself is a piece of history, since it occupies a local landmark, the old St. Joseph’s Church, School and Monastery in Wilkes-Barre Township, PA. Many of the BBC regulars were baptized there, attended the school, were taught by nuns, and were married in the church. St. Joseph’s closed its doors in 2009, and would have been demolished had not the brewers, Chris Miller and Mark Lehman, purchased it in 2011 to expand their growing microbrewery business. The taproom restaurant opened in 2014. It serves great food, all prepared on the premises with locally sourced ingredients. The specials are reminiscent of the food you might have gotten in church socials, and in fact Breaker recently celebrated a Coalminer’s Heritage Fest, featuring miners’ favorite ethnic foods paired with their beer.

People visit for the nostalgia, but they come back for the beer.

Recently I visited the BBC Brewpub with my friend Jaime Jurado, who is from Abita Brewing in Louisiana. We wanted to taste their beers, and see how the brewery is doing. We ordered a taster of all twelve beers on draft, plus the weekend special firkin. We accompanied our beer with soft pretzels, hearty bowls of borscht, Irish stew, and good pub camaraderie.

Jaime Jurado and Carol Westbrook, tasting beers at Breaker Brewing Company

Jaime Jurado and Carol Westbrook, tasting beers at Breaker Brewing Company

With twelve drafts there are a lot of choices for the beer lover, and even a few which will appeal to those who are not so crazy about beer. Most of the beer names have a reference to coal, making them easy to remember. BBC’s traditional ales–dark, light, and IPAs–are good and true to form; their flagship brews, such as Lunch Pail Ale, are consistent–which is important to a regular who comes to expect a certain taste.

There is always something on draft to interest the beer tourist, and it usually features fruit, most often as a flavoring added after fermentation. The high-gravity Abandoned Mine Barleywine Italiano is a variant of their usual barleywine, this one with wine grapes. They also featured Banana Nut Bread and Sour Pear Ale. You will always find a firkin, a fun mixture of beer with a fresh ingredient, like the Potbelly Pumpkin Ale spiced with cranberry, cinnamon and sugar that was on draft for our Halloween visit. Thus, there are a number of drafts that appeal to the many visitors who just don’t like hops, or the non-beer lovers who want something different.

Here is our tasting list:

  1. Olde King Coal Stout (4.5%)
    This is a very drinkable dark stout, like a Guinness but a bit more “toasted” in flavor. A lovely session beer.
  1. Five Whistle Wheat Americano (4.5%)
    A take on their flagship wheat ale. Usually brewed with wheat malt and white yeast, this was done with American Ale yeast. It went down easy but I think it was lacking the clove & spice flavor I expect in a wheat beer.
  1. Sour Pear Ale 5%
    A sour, low-hop beer brewed with local pears. Reminiscent of a Belgian beer, not too sweet, and easy to drink. My favorite new beer for the afternoon.
  1. Lunch Pail Ale (5.5%)
    This is the flagship, a pale (pail) ale verging on an IPA with 42 IBUs. Good malt balance and hop balance with Columbus, Cascade and Nugget hops. It is my all-around favorite BBC beer.
  1. Banana Nut Bread Ale (5.5%)
    Fun, on the sweet side, mild banana nose and taste. Where are the nuts?
  1. Potbelly Pumpkin Ale (6.5%)
    Their seasonal autumn offering.
  1. firkin: Potbelly Pumpkin Ale (6.5%)
    This week’s offering — over cranberry, cinnamon and vanilla. If you like spice, and pumpkin pie, this one is for you. The additions go well with the otherwise bland pumpkin ale. A pleasant drink

8.   Detonator series: Pine Ridge IPA (6%)
9.   Citra Hop IPA (6%)
10.  Mosaic IPA (6%)

The brewers love hoppy ales, and BBC IPAs are always made well. I liked all of these; the complaint is that there are too many, all competing with each other for your attention. All the ales have the same excellent malt background, and 6% ABV. Citra is made with Citra hops, Mosaic with Mosaic, and Pine Ridge contains both. Yes, it’s fun to drink them together and see if you can tell them apart. (Yes, you can always taste the Citra hops).

11.  Goldies XXX (10%)
Goldies Tripel is a high gravity blonde ale that is low in hops, and brewed with Belgian yeasts.

12.  Abandoned Mine Barleywine Italiano (10.6%)
Fall is the season that local home vintners make wine, so the brewers gave it a try, adding wine grape extract to their barleywine. Whoever would have thought a high-gravity, hoppy barleywine would pair so well with grapes? The result is surprisingly like a cask-aged, fruit wine, such as New Glarus would make. Although this flavored rather than brewed with grapes, it is definitely a must-try for the beer tourist.

Jaime, Chris and Carol at Breaker Brewing Company

Jaime, Chris and Carol at Breaker Brewing Company

Chris Miller, one of the two owner-brewers, stopped by for a chat, and took us around to see what’s next for BBC. The brewing operation will be growing and moving into the church itself, to keep up with the growing demand, and continuing a trend of situating brewing operations in churches (see YBN, May 27, 2015. Church Brew Works ). The crowded pub will be expanded with more tables and another bar, spilling into an adjacent room in the old school–to be furnished with blackboards (but no nuns). Chris and Mark are doing most of the carpentry themselves. Chris then excused himself “gotta run–I have some beer to transfer, and some pretzels to roll out. “

If the fun and romance of brewing beer is giving you thoughts of starting your own brewery–think again. It may be rewarding, but it’s a helluva lot of work. One of the reasons for the high quality at BBC is that Chris and Mark still do everything themselves, from rolling pretzels to carpentry to brewing. They have now hired a chef, but they still have to produce 11 beers for taproom and regional distribution. At some point they will have to slow down. But for now… Enjoy the fruits of their labors.

NOTE: Since the piece was written the brewery expansion has been completed and has been a great success.

Breaker Brewing Company, 787 E. Northampton, Wilkes-Barre Township, PA

imagesIn addition to her fascinating essays on a variety of topics to be found @ 3 Quarks Daily, also available from Dr. Westbrook: 

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The Editor’s Desk :: Home Brew – Chocolate (Sour) Cherry Stout

by Harvey Gold 10.05.2015

YBN pal, Taylor McIntosh plays sax and keys for my band, Half Cleveland. An excellent musician and a great guy, Taylor is also a man of science (don’t get him started on Nicola Tesla) and as a logical extension, a fine brewer. For a time, he worked at the award winning Thirsty Dog Brewing in […]

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THE EDITOR’S DESK :: The Big Eating and Drinking Review … and stuff

by Harvey Gold 08.27.2015

There’s an art installation here in downtown Akron, Ohio, within a teeny tiny common space possessing a few tables, benches… a picnic area cum smoking section on the edge of what is now being called Akron’s Historic District. My band, Half Cleveland, rehearsed in the building that sits just across the alley from this little […]

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