Tracey Thomas

Tracey Thomas

So as we’ve been puttering along, there have been opportunities to enjoy some excellent brews of late. Here’s a few of them, sampled with some great eats:

The most recent came on the occasion of a swell night hearing friend Tracey Thomas sing with a sweet band at a lovely venue, Jilly’s Music Room. The sound is good, the seats (tables and banquettes) comfy, and the food and drink, excellent.

My wife loves a signature cocktail of theirs, of which they have a fair number, a Maple Bourbon Martini.

Maple Bourbon Martini

Maple Bourbon Martini

Pretty simple stuff: 2 oz. Maker’s Mark, 2 oz. cranberry juice, ½ oz. maple syrup. A sprig of rosemary with a cranberry or a cherry on the end spruces it up. Way too sweet for me, but getting pretty good responses from her mixed drink crochet squad, the Cocktail Cuties.

For my part, I started off with a Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout from Alltech’s Lexington Brewery. I have been critical of their Bourbon Barrel Ale, which I tried once in a bottle, finding it to taste like a run of the mill light ale (I think) with an overwhelming shot of bourbon flavored extract thrown in. Admitedly, I have not had it on tap. I’ve read and heard positive reviews of it from people I respect, but with so much to try, have not yet muscled up to see if a draft of it might change my tune.

indexBut, particularly in light of an old friend running the brewing at Alltech now, I thought I’d give the stout a try. This turned out to be a good idea. From the bottle, no head to speak of and not much of a nose (which I see as a good thing compared to the overpowering room freshener like nose of bourbon on the ale), this turned out to be very nice, with nothing to overwhelm the traditional toasty grain flavor I’ve come to associate with a proper stout, enhanced by far more a flavor of oak from the bourbon barrels and a touch of coffee than the bourbon itself. A most enjoyable and drinkable brew.

We ordered up some food from the Jilly’s tappas (small plate) menu. For the table (3 of us) their baked jarlsberg cheese dip with peppered crostini chips is always the first item ordered. Along with that, we each had an opened face marinated flank steak slider with goat cheese, served on a bit of toasted baguette and topped with roasted red peppers and… yes… fig jam. Tender, melt in the mouth delicious, so rich we were actually pleased that they were itty bitty three bite babies of wonderfulness.

photo credit: beersandears.net

photo credit: beersandears.net

By this point, I had finished the stout and, staying in the pocket, ordered a nitro can of Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, from across the pond. This was delicious. I really like the creamy mouthfeel of nitro cans. I love a Boddington’s this way while finding it rather pedestrian coming from a straight tap. Guilty pleasure?
The Youngs carried a big chocolate nose, and a milk chocolate flavor. Now as opposed to the Chocolate Manifesto Double Milk Stout from Flying Monkeys I reviewed in my tour of this year’s Art & Ale, which I found to be an ice cream parlor novelty brew, this chocolate milk stout was a lovely balancing act. Coming as it did, novel as well… or is it? Is the mouthfeel created by nitro cans novel, or simply yet another variation on the brewer’s beverage? If it is a bit of a parlor trick, it wasn’t overwhelming so, and it’s one I like. I would definitely drink this again.

As I sipped the stout and Dolli embarked on her second Maple Bourbon Martini, we ordered up a St. Patrick’s Day special Jilly’s kitchen was offering on the day after, a wonderful lamb and beef Shephard’s Pie. Meaty and a little black peppery, it was a fabulous dish to share. Our friend, brewer and ace musician (who I’ve sucked into my band, at present), Taylor McIntosh, then, received a text from a fellow brewer, chomping at the bit to tap a creation of his, asking for a return of his actual tap, borrowed by Taylor… posthaste! This left me, as he rushed out, with half of his Anchor Steam. This is a session strength (4.9%) “steam beer.” To best describe it, here’s a nice video produced by the gang at Anchor Steam.


There was a sweetness, and a nice measure of bitter. Taylor had mentioned that some people simply don’t like it. I can see why. There’s something in the flavor that some might describe, for lack of a better word, as a bit of the skunk, just that hint of sour to go along with the traditional flavors of a lager style beer. I found it had excellent drinkability, mouth feel and, moreover, was interesting at every sip. A big thumbs up from me, topping off a lovely night, once again, at Jilly’s.

photo: betterbeerblog

photo: betterbeerblog

Also recently sampled:

Sculpin IPA from Ballast Point, 7% IPA, boasting “hints of peach, lemon, and mango.” This comes from the fertile brewing ground of San Diego, and is regarded by The Beer Advocate as world class! I don’t know what it is with me. Some days a beer will really resonate with me, as this one should have, my being a lover of a fine IPA, and others, not so much.

I had this at another eatery with a truly tasty menu, The Merchant Tavern. I drank this with my spectacularly tasty Dijon Chicken Sandwich : grilled chicken, spinach, thick chunks of brie, garlic mayo, and dijon, served on a lovely crusty bread. Maybe I needed more spice to get this brew to raise my eyebrows as it cut through (70 IBU), but for some reason, it never managed to reach me. As a unanimous cheer goes out to this one, I’m going to have to try it again, I think.

A little bit of a polka dot post. A little of this, and a little of that. But some days that’s just how we roll. Cheers.

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photo: David Bryan Lile

photo: David Bryan Lile

Every year the Akron (Ohio) Art Museum holds an event called “Art & Ale.” We did our first piece (when they were calling it “The Art of Ale”) on this excellent event a couple years ago, one that was a bit more of a primer for our readers on Akron itself, as we drank and ate our way through the evening.

The reality is that this is a 3 hour beer festival. There are more than a dozen individual breweries present, including multiple award winners like Akron’s own Hoppin’ Frog and Thirsty Dog, plus a few distributors bringing multiple breweries to the event. There’s cider, mead, and plenty of snacks. The fact that it takes place in a Mueum is interesting, in that if you’re willing to leave your brew behind you can head in a couple directions and look at exhibits, so that’s kind of neat, but being members already, we were there for the beverages, food, and the chance to see friends who would invariably show up. $50 a head for non museum members, $35 for members, this is a great value, thinking about how much is spent with tax and tip for almost any repast outside of a visit to Taco Bell. And as we all know by now, Ohio is home to some killer brewing these days.

When we arrived, I immediately headed for food. The dynamic of such events is that you get food into your stomach to avoid premature intoxication. An hour or so later you eat more but that’s redefined as a drunk person’s version of the munchies. So I first got some lovely pulled pork and slaw from Old Carolina Barbeque Company, and immediately followed it with the most amazing shrimp soft taco from the wonderful Nuevo Modern Mexican & Tequila Bar.

Nuevo:  Plantain cream pie, chocolate ganache, graham cracker crust, caramel, and a plantain fritter.

Nuevo: Plantain cream pie, chocolate ganache, graham cracker crust, caramel, and a plantain fritter.

(I later returned to the Nuevo stall to get a picture of one of these pillows from Heaven, but these guys had a gem here, and were sold out with at least an hour to go, so we went with a pic of one of their crazy desserts.)

Properly fortified (or so I thought), I went forth into the breach. There will be a couple breweries conspicuous by their absence. Hoppin’ Frog, for one, produces big, high flavor, high ABV beers. One of most highly regarded breweries in the world, I’ve written about them often and, to be fair, with only one man’s capacities, I opted to see what the “other guys” were offering up on this night. Sort of the same thinking led me to not be writing about Goose Island, another fave of mine.

First up was PsycHOPathy IPA from MadTree Brewing out of Cincinatti. 6.9% ABV. Not much of a nose. Now I’m a pretty big IPA fan and while finding some spectacular and others as run of the mill, I also find, thankfully, that there are also what I call good “table wine” IPAs out there, ones that simply have all the elements of what should be present in a good drinking IPA. I think of the aforementioned Goose Island’s that way, nothing through the roof, but always enjoyable and bringing what such a hoppy beverage should be bringing to the table. This was NOT one of those. As I wrote, no real nose, which I find really important in a style that should have all sorts of hoppy citrus and floral vapors mixed in with the nose of sweet malt. And none of those elements spoke to me in the drink itself, just a predictable bitter. Not the best start. Nice folks, so I really wanted to like this one but, sadly, no dice.

dark horseNext up was Dark Force from Elevator Brewing, located in Columbus, Ohio. Tagged a dark lager, on my first sip I thought “Dunkel!!!” and asked the brewer about it. He agreed it was very much like a Dunkel. I give him props for not claiming it to be one, officially, as most feel the Munich water is what makes a Dunkel a Dunkel. When drinking the award winning version of this at Church Brew Works, the conversation, then, was about the treatment of the Pittsburgh water in order to come as close as possible to what was found in Munich.
The Dark Force was very tasty, maltier, a little sweeter than the very dry Church version, a fine brew itself. There was more of the caramel malt flavor than the, Guinness like, toasted-to-burnt malt found in the Church Dunkel. At 5.3% a good session beer, by craft alcohol standards, with a very nice bitter element. According to the brewer, this was more attributable, likely, to the noble hops used, but not based on an over abundance of them in the recipe. This was a winner.

indexI moved on to Chocolate Manifesto, a triple chocolate milk stout from Flying Monkeys brewing in Ontario, Canada. I like a good milk stout and have had many brews with chocolate that I’ve enjoyed. This one, however, was overpowering in that it was like drinking chocolate malted milk that happened to be a beer. I know this will appeal to many, certainly to those who don’t care for actual beer. The 10% ABV, no doubt, rocket powered all the flavor elements, but this, to me, was much like special seasonals where the story is the spices and additional flavors to such a degree that you have to remind yourself you’re drinking a beer of some nature. To be fair, Beer Advocate rates this a stellar 92, and it appeared to be a big hit at Art & Ale, so…with huge chocolate, and huge malt, I’m thinking this may be a very special and fun brew that simply isn’t my cup of tea.

Kettle KornI strolled over and picked up a sampler of a Main Street Joe Coffee Porter, brewed at Main Street Grille and Brewing in Garrettsville Ohio. Using Cascara (the husk of the coffee bean) and Mexican Chiapas beans, and coming in with a 6% ABV and 34 IBUs, my first impression was that it was without a lot of merit. Recognizing that the huge Chocolate Manifesto very likely blew my buds out, I strolled over to Frankly Franks Kettle Corn. Now FFs creates lots of neat flavors, bacon and cheese, ranch, some spicy chipotle or BBQ styles, and many more, but I just grabbed a cup of salty and sweet regular to clean my palate, and it did in a delightful way. I then sipped more of the Main Street Joe porter and found it to be perhaps the closest coffee focused brew I’ve had to the black coffee (usually a fresh ground mocha java) I drink ALL DAY, EVERY DAY. A really fine black coffee of a beer! Things were looking up.

Beer Critic Rick Armon and Your Getting-Happier-By-The-Minute Editor

Beer Critic Rick Armon and Your Getting-Happier-By-The-Minute Editor

I then ran into my old friend, Rick Armon, who has a great Beer Blog, a terrific book on Ohio Breweries, and a regular column on craft beer in the Akron Beacon Journal. In attendance judging beers for the event, he told me his favorite, thus far (with many more to go, no doubt) was Thirsty Dog’s Mayan Dog with Coffee. I made my way over and got a sampler from a growler. Rise of Mayan Dog is a well regarded Chocolate Honey Stout, but I’m not sure if this is the exact same formula with coffee added, or may just be sharing some of the DNA with the original as well as the name. But this is a really notable beer. Unlike the porter I had just finished, I could taste the flavor of the toasty grounds in this one. Every bit as vivid both in nose and flavor as the gigantic Chocolate Milk Stout I describe above, THIS one is dead to rights with my wheelhouse. Dry, bitter, fragrant and delicious. I can understand why this became a Rick’s Pick.

The Thirsty Dog Guys

The Thirsty Dog Guys

At this point, I headed over to the food area to refuel, or perhaps giddily stuff my face a little from the Acme Fresh Market table. Acme is a storied family owned chain of grocery stores in the Akron, Ohio area, one of the sponsors of this year’s Art & Ale. They offered Sriracha Chicken thick crust pizza. I had one tasty square, and then finished my wife’s as it was actually a bit sneaky in it’s heat, Dolli not being a big hot sauce gal. I had told her it wasn’t that hot. More for me!!!

Pretending I was suitably fortified, I headed for what would be my last couple of samplers. The first, recommended to me by a pal I ran into, was Yule Shoot Your Rye Out (great name), a winter warmer from Portside Distillery and Brewery in Cleveland. Full of ginger, nutmeg, honey and cinnamon, all these flavors supercharged by an 8.2% ABV, what my friend thought of as complex, to me, was the additives more than anything… which is the intent, of course. Cinnamon seemed to be the dominant flavor. Oddly, though again, not my sort of brew, I felt like if I was to drink something of this ilk, perhaps because of the rye boosting the overall malt component of this one, I could and, in fact, did make my way through this ale pretty easily. Given that I could tolerate it, I suspect this, for those who lean this way, was a superior example of this genre.

My final beer of the night was another one from Main Street Brewing Company, their White Walker, a Belgian Wit brewed with Coriander, Orange Peel, and Rose Hips, coming in at a 6.4% ABV. As you all know, I like a lot of Belgians, and to be fair, at another juncture I might really like this one. As it was, my first thought was an unfortunate one, that it had that overly active, smaller bubble carbonation to it, and that there was too much of the flavoring spices. After a sip or two, though, I got a suggestion of sour. I LOVE sours, so this brought a little smile to my face, and thus, the belief that with a cleaner palate, I might like this one just fine. As it was, I was finished for the night.

Or so I thought….

indexAs I approached an old friend to say goodnight, she latched on and dragged me over to the table where Crafted Artisan Meadery was serving samples of a number of things, I believe, but was on their last open bottle of Chipotle Pollinator, hopped blackberry honey wine with chipotle peppers. My experience with mead up till now has been, admitedly, modest and undereducated, and it had been with meads that were extraordinarily honey flavored and very, very sweet. I liked what I had tried, but this one was just great. There was honey, no doubt, and there was a sweetness, to be sure. But the heat of the chipotle peppers, and a flavor informed, but not identifiably dominated, by the blackberries, made for an extraordinary beverage. I will find a bottle of this and keep it stocked in our liquor cabinet as a fabulous departure from the usual.

indexA great way to end up a great night. I recommend this annual mini fest as a point of destination for anyone who enjoys fine beer, food, and…art. For the record, hints of inebriation notwithstanding, with a designated driver in our little band’s employ, we returned home, fed the dogs, then ran off to hear a band, where I had a nice Jameson. Only then did your intrepid reporter eventually find his bed and crash… happily.

 

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A while ago I was asked to submit, to a web site, a few restaurants, pubs or saloons I thought were notable. Didn’t matter what or where, so I thought I’d share these notes with you. Two in Ohio, two in New York, one in Paris. Go to ALL OF THEM! It’ll get you out of the house and you’ll thank me later!

indexAt the Bistro on Main Street, in Kent, Ohio, in addition to a comfortably wide ranging menu, presenting serious kitchen gourmet meals to great apps like fabulous roasted brussel sprouts, and interesting sandwiches, a favorite of which is a grilled cheese with a thick slab of melt in the mouth smoked brisket, their equally ecelctic cocktail menu offers, notably, a Cucumber Cooler. This is made with mulled mint, lime and cucumber, lime juice, soda water and the choice of either Hendricks Gin or Effen cucumber vodka. I tried it with the Hendricks, my favorite gin, which already leans more towards cucumber than juniper. Presenting like a mojito, it’s very dry and refreshing, a perfect summer stand alone drink and a fine beverage to sip along with a meal.

Russo's Chicken Fried Steak as Originally Intended

Russo’s Chicken Fried Steak as Originally Intended

Another local northern Ohio favorite is Russo’s in Peninsula, Ohio. Chef Dave Russo, not surprisingly, is italian and leans the house slightly in that direction. I say “slightly,” because he spent several years down in NOLA hanging with the heavies, becoming one himself, so we find a great Jambalaya, and a number of Cajun menu regulars and specials. I’ll order up his Gumbo Ya Ya to start every visit there. There are also true nouvelle offerings to die for, Dave creating his own worcestershire reduction for his steaks. Then there’s my main course fave, a scary one. Named after a notable and dubious local luminary, Russo’s offers up Chicken Fried Steak for Gene Chicoine. Now I think he does an excellent pan gravy, but… he offers a nice appetizer, Fusilli with a Saute of Louisiana Crawfish Sauce. Rich, creamy, with a little heat. I’ll order the chicken fried steak and ask for the cream gravy to be replaced by this incredible delicious sauce. Yeah, along with his home baked breads and peppered olive oil I might need to chop and snort a couple Lipitors when I get home, but it is wonderful, decadent, comfort food. Russo’s always has a nice selection of multiple award winning Thirsty Dog craft beers, also brewed in Akron. Two of our YBN faves are their Orthus Belgian Dubbel and Cerberus Belgian style Trippel, one or both always available.

On an Onion bagel. A great choice if the marble is gone!

On an Onion bagel. A great choice if the marble is gone!

When in Manhattan, there are only two musts for me (now that a favorite eatery in Chelsea has changed their menu drastically). The first is Murray’s Bagels on 8th between 22nd and 23rd. With the legendaty H&H Bagels now gone, Murrays moves up on the respected elders list. Plenty of deli offerings, grilled sandwiches, specials, but…I can not go back to the city without , at least once, having whitefish salad on a marble (pumpernickle/rye) bagel with sliced onion. One has to go earlyish for this. While they have a never ending supply of plain, onion, garlic, everything, cinammon-raisin, and on and on, they only do one basket, split between spinach bagels and the marble, so it’s important to get there in time. I know, this is just a personal thing, but a great NYC bagelry really is a must stop.

imagesThe other must in New York City is also a breakfasty/lunchy destination (though I believe one could enjoy many of their offerings for a nice dinner), La Bergamote, also in Chelsea, on 9th Ave at 20th Street. In their new location (they moved across the street to the NW corner) very much the clean NY take on a French patisserie. One can get lovely baguettes stuffed with good things, excellent coffee and numerous pastries. But there is one reason to go to this particular shop for me. Years ago, when in Paris, I discovered Heaven, in the form of a croissant stuffed with chocolate AND almond paste. It had a slight glaze used as the glue to hold the toasted slivers of almonds on the outer pastry. In subsequent trips we returned to the same patisserie but never again did they have this particular manna– and believe me, this was my personal Holy Grail – to find this combination, or at least done properly.
A few years ago I met up with an old friend for a coffee at La Bergamote and while waiting at the counter for his cappucino, I started telling him this story of lost love when he, very casually, pointed at the glass case I was leaning on. Inches from my hip was a MOUNTAIN of the exact pastries I had been searching for. Spot on, heavy, sweet, buttery, decadent deliciousness! Whenever in the city, I get there immediately, and on my day flying out, I will always buy a few and carry them home with me.

indexSpeaking of Paris, Restaurant Paul, on Place Dauphine is a favorite. I have always contended one can eat and drink very well in Paris (and New York, for that matter) and not break the budget. Restaurant Paul, located on a little island in the Seine, reachable from one of the wonderful walking bridges, is the first place I ever tried the wine that has become a great favorite, Chateaux Neuf de Pape. This is a family owned and run eatery with, in my experience, some lovely food. I’ve also had an “only OK” meal there, but I sometimes order stepping outside my comfort zone and sometimes I’m right about not liking a particular dish, regardless of how well prepared. The service is lovely, the location is perfect, a little quiet in the middle of the City of Lights, and while not cheap, certainly offering value for the Euro.

Again, go to all these places!! It’ll be a great tour. Just don’t do the northern Ohio ones in the winter! Argh!

 

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How to open a successful brewery:

imagesQuit your job in the States and move to paradise… live on a boat for a few months to save rent… bus tables to earn some cash… teach yourself how to brew beer…create a unique beer with an island character…invest your money in a brewery to make this unique beer…bottle and distribute locally…expand production to meet the growing demand…as demand increases, find a bottling and distribution partner in the US (Shipyard Brewing in Maine)… and the rest is history.

This is not your usual route to opening a brewery. The story is so unlikely that it has to be true. And this is exactly what happened to Chirag Vyas, from Providence RI, and Kevin Chipman, his former roommate at the University of Vermont. This is the story of St. John’s Brewery, in the USVI, which recently celebrated its 10th year.

Because the success of the brewery rested on the creation of a remarkable signature brew, Tropical Mango Pale Ale, I just had to find one to taste. I had the opportunity to do so on a recent trip to St. Thomas, in the US Virgin Islands. Although you can find this beer in a number of states in the US now, I would highly recommend a February trip to the islands.

Due to limitations in time and geography–St. John’s is an island, after all–I was not able to visit the brewery. Nonetheless, it was surprisingly easy to find St. John’s beers, since they are the only USVI brewery that distributes outside of their own brewpub, and almost every bar and restaurant has them on offer.

Bolongo Bay

Bolongo Bay

After settling in comfortably to our hotel room in Bolongo Bay (picture #1, the view from the room), I ambled over to the poolside bar and asked for the Tropical Mango Pale Ale.

St. John’s Tropical Mango Pale Ale, 4.5% ABV, was a very nice drink. Its color has been described as “golden tabby” and I would agree. This is not a fruity beer; it had none of the sugary flavor that you often get with fruit beers. The mango taste was subtle but apparent and there was a slight bitterness contributed by the fruit, so the low hop level was just right. Pix 2 Tropical Mango and Prime RibIt was an excellent session beer, and it ended up my go-to-beverage for most dinners. See me in the picture enjoying this with an island prime rib and US potatoes.

The other St. John’s beer that I tasted, Island Hoppin’ IPA, was a disappointment. Although it read like a typical US IPA, at 6.2% ABV and 53 IBU (Warrior, Cascade and Willamette hops), it was somewhat below average in flavor and appearance. It seemed as if the hops were somewhat washed out–perhaps the beer doesn’t travel well to and from Maine, where it is bottled? Or maybe the hops have to travel too far and to long to get to the island. I wouldn’t go out of my way to drink this beer, but there were few other IPA choices.

Next, I looked up other breweries in the US Virgin Islands. Though there are a few brewpubs, most do not distribute outside of their own restaurant or local area. I would have liked to visit Fort Christian Brewpub, on St. Croix, because brewmaster, Robert P Davis, is from Lewistown PA! However, St. Croix is yet another island, and geography intervenes.

The only brewery on St. Thomas is at the brewpub at the North Side Bistro. If you think that a classical French restaurant with a long wine list is an unlikely place for a brewpub, you would be correct. Apparently, though, the owner enjoyed home brewing and decided to make his wares available at the restaurant, where he brews in small, 5-gallon batches.

A Very Happy Beer Doc.

A Very Happy Beer Doc.

I immediately ordered the IPA, but unfortunately the tap had reached the bottom of the keg and there was not enough to taste. So I asked for my second choice, North Side Bistro’s Bourbon Infused Stout, which was a double stout, ABV about 9% (?), aged over bourbon oak chips. A dark beer seemed an unlikely choice to drink on a warm, balmy evening, overlooking the ocean, but this was a delightful drink. It was an almost perfect barley wine, high in alcohol, low in hops, with an excellent flavor from the bourbon that was not overly sweet, as you will find in many other bourbon stouts.

Since we are talking about islands, I’ll take the time to mention a few island beers that a friend brought me from Maui, Hawaii. The four beers, all in cans, from Maui Brewing Company. I was looking forward to trying them all, Briefly, in my order from best to worst:

Pix 4 Maui Beer

Lahaini Town Brown

IBU 20 with Cascade and Northern Brewer hops. 5.2%. Light crisp bitterness, almost nutty flavor. Very like an English Ale. I liked this one a lot, it’s a great session beer. But it’s in limited release, and you’d have to go to Hawaii to get it.   Definitely worth the trip.

Coconut Porter, ABV 6.0, IBU 30

The coconut flavor is not at all overpowering, it just adds a touch of interest to a porter background which is just about perfect. This one is a very good, easy drink, a bit more than a session beer but should go well with food, especially red meat and burgers. This one is available throughout the US, but if you have a chance to go to Hawaii to get it, why not?

Big Swell IPA, ABV 6.8, IBU 82.

Though this is Maui’s flagship beer, I was not impressed. It was neither big nor swell. I didn’t think the hops tasted right; perhaps it’s because they are in a can, but I have had much better IPAs. I wonder if they can get their hops fresh enough to taste good?

Bikini Blonde Lager, IBU 18, ABV 5.1%.

Very disappointing Helles Lager brewed with Pilsner and Munich malts. I am not a lager lover and I might have missed something. I expect a rich malt flavor and it was pretty bland.

In summary, from a very limited sample, tropical island beers can be very good, but not if you expect typical summer beers, with lots of sweet fruit taste, or hoppy IPAs. On the islands, most hoppy beers don’t taste right, possibly because hops don’t travel well; or maybe the brewermasters taste is dull from too much sun? Similarly, light malty beers don’t seem to come out as well as expected. On the other hand, I have tasted some of the best dark beers ever, and they go so well with suntans. You probably have many reasons to make a mid-winter journey to a tropical island, but if you need another excuse, I recommend beer-hunting. You may be pleasantly surprised.

indexAlso available from Dr. Westbrook: 

 

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indexIt’s that time of year again–time for the 2015 Motion Picture Academy Awards, the Oscars! And it’s time for the second annual YBN beer and Oscar pairing, wherein I match Best Picture nominees with an appropriate craft beer to drink, and provide a link to the trailer, for your viewing enjoyment. Enjoy the beer with the film, or with the Oscar awards.

The Academy’s nominees this year were not as diverse as last years’, and you wouldn’t be wrong if you paired each one with an American Pale Ale–especially the “Best Leading Actor” category. Of the eight nominees, half were true biopics, and the others were fictional biopics. But each was a very good–and occasionally excellent–film in its own right. Each deserved a thoughtful beer. I selected the drink based on its taste characteristics, how the style complemented the film and, let’s face it, sometimes on the names.

And the nominees are, in alphabetical order:

American Sniper

This is a biopic of Chris Kyle, a legendary Navy Seal sharpshooter. The movie is at its best when portraying the war scenes, but it’s about more than shooting people There is a lot of angst and complexity in the hero, as he deals with PTSD, guilt, family pressures, etc.

We could pair this with a real macho lager in a can to drink with the war scenes, but instead I’ll focus on the angst. We want a beer you don’t guzzle but sip, while you ponder the meaning of life. This definitely calls for a higher alcohol beer, dark, with complexity and flavor.

Raison d’Etre, from Dogfish Head (Delaware) is my first choice.   A deep mahogany, Belgian-style brown ale brewed with beet sugar, raisins and Belgian-style yeast. ABV 8%, IBU 25. And the name works, too.

Abita’s Bourbon Street Barrel Aged Imperial Stout, (Louisiana),10% ABV and IBU20, is another good pick. Strong malt flavor, with a delightful oak barrel finish.

Pliny the Elder, a double IPA from Russian River Brewing Co. in California, ABV 8.0%, and IBU listed only as “high.” A favorite West Coast, extremely hoppy drink.

Birdman

Popular action-hero movie actor wants to prove he has acting talent, and bites off almost more than he can chew, directing and acting in a Broadway drama. Tense, stressful. And great acting all around, including Michael Keaton and Edward Norton.

This guy wants to drink himself to death, and what better way to do it than with a shot and a beer? Any beer will do, as will any whiskey, but this is a man of good taste and a bit of money. So rather than a nondescript lager we’ll stick with a craft lager. In NYC that’s likely to be Sam Adams Boston Lager, or Brooklyn Lager (Brooklyn Brewery). But the real question is, “what whiskey?” For Keaton, I’d skip the traditional Jack (Daniels). Let’s go with a good bourbon. Most people would start with Maker’s Mark, a very good, smooth drink, indeed, but a bit too pedestrian. I’d want something unique, and smoother, too. Woodford Reserve double oaked is fabulous and tasty; Eagle Rare (a single barrel select bourbon from Buffalo Trace). But the best choice is Basil Hayden, a sweet, smooth bourbon with a bit lower alcohol so it won’t burn your throat and ruin your speaking voice.

Boyhood

We watch a boy grow up–literally–in this domestic drama about coming of age and the meaning of life, while his parents struggle with the same questions. The film ends when he goes off to college and leaves the nest.

A movie about leaving the nest? We just had to pair it with Hitachino Nest White Ale. A craft beer from Japan, Hitachino Nest is a brewed as a traditional Belgian-style Weissbier (white wheat beer), ABV 5.5% and IBU 13. A Belgian white. Low in alcohol, easy to drink for the novice (teenage) drinker, with no bitter hop taste, and appealingly flavored with coriander, nutmeg, orange juice and orange peel. Similar picks are Blanche de Bruxelles from Brasserie LeBebvre in Brussels, or Bottom Up Wit from Chicago’s Revolution Brewery.

Selma

The (mostly) true story of one of the great American heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Although some liberty is taken with the plot–especially in its portrayal of LBJ– it rings true, and is acted splendidly. MLK’s story is not a story about minorities; it is the great American story. And it should be matched with the great American beer, the IPA. A good IPA is strong, assertive, complex but balanced. Loaded with American hops, sometimes almost too bitter to drink, but always satisfying.

Any good American IPA will do, but some are better than others. My three all-time favorites, from coast to coast:

Harpoon Ale , Harpoon Brewery (Massachusetts), ABV 5.9%, well-balanced, moderately hoppy, the definitive New England-style IPA.

Two-Hearted Ale, Bell’s Brewery (Michigan). This IPA is hopped with only Centennial, with a mild but grapefuity taste, and well-balanced with malts. Probably the best Midwestern IPA, at 7.0%.

Bear Republic Racer-5 . (California). A full bodied West-Coast IPA, ABV 7.5%, heavily hopped with Chinook, Cascade, Columbus and Centennial to a hefty IBU of 75. You have to love hops to love this beer.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Crazy, nutty, unexpected, slapstick, possibly Wes Anderson’s most entertaining movie. It’s the story of the concierge of a hotel, and the trouble he gets into, accompanied by his young sidekick, the Lobby Boy. The concierge is played deftly by Ralph Fiennes, and loaded with stars like Jeff Goldblum, Tilda Swinton, Ed Norton, Bill Murray.

You probably thought I would get off easy by pairing this one with Pilsner Urquel, that quintessential Czechoslovakian beer. But no, that would not work with this film. Too insipid! We need a crazy, surprising, unexpected beer that’s fun to drink. A beer that’s full of flavor and, admittedly, low enough in alcohol to keep drinking as the story gets crazier. The winner?

Well’s Banana Bread Beer. Produced by Wells & Young’s Brewing Company in Bedford, England, this traditional English bitter is a dark golden ale, at only 4.2% ABV — typical of style for a bitter–and made with fair trade bananas! The brewery writes, “Its aroma of banana and wheat may remind you of childhood memories of waking up to the smell of your mother baking this dessert bread. Up front, the banana flavor comes through and is blended with a backdrop of toasted malt for a bread-like taste similar to the baked good it’s named for.”

The runners up:

Magic Hat #9, Magic Hat Brewing Company, Vermont. I recollect that it is with apricots, but the description is: “A beer cloaked in secrecy. An ale whose mysterious and unusual palate will swirl across your tongue and ask more questions than it answers. A sort of dry, crisp, refreshing, not-quite pale ale. #9 is really impossible to describe because there’s never been anything else quite like it.”

Serendipity, New Glarus, Wisconsin. This delightfully cheerful ale is brewed with a mix of Wisconsin fruits (cherries, strawberries, etc.) and aged in oak. At about 4.5% ABV, you can drink lots of it. It’s fun! The trek to Wisconsin is fun, too, because that is the only state where you can buy it. Brewery policy–they don’t distribute out of state.

The Imitation Game

This film is about Alan Turing, considered by many to be the father of the computer. It is set in Cambridge, England, during World War II, as the English desperately race to crack the Enigma code that enabled the Germans to send encrypted radio messages. We watch the team led by Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) achieve success while, at the same time, Turing learns how to become less arrogant and more human, with Kiera Knightly as his teacher. The portrayal of 1940’s England is beautiful and realistic, and we see the group congregating after hours in the English pub, drinking pints of ale.

Of course we pair this one with a pint of English porter, which I like to imagine that Turing and his group were drinking. (Note the dark color of their pints). My recommendation is Fuller’s London porter, very close to the original style. At 5.4% ABV, brewed with brown, crystal and chocolate malts, not hoppy at all. I like this beer a lot, it’s an easy ale to drink without demanding your full attention.

The Theory of Everything

Yet another biopic about a genius Englishman, who has his own set of problems. This one is about Stephen Hawking. As his body declines rapidly due to ALS, his mind continues to reach greater heights. The portrayal of Hawkins by Eddie Redmayne is realistic, and both heartbreaking and uplifting.

Another English ale? Not at all. Stephen Hawking has the greatest mind in the world. And his story should be paired with the greatest beer in the world. It will be a Trappist beer, or course, and my pick is Rochefort Trappist10 ABV 11%, the top product from the Rochefort Trappist brewery (Belgium). Dark color, full and very impressive taste. Strong plum, raisin, and black currant palate, with ascending notes of vinuousness and other complexities.

An alternative is Chimay Red, another fabulous Belgian Trappist beer, that has been brewed to the same recipe since the 1800’s. The yeast contributes an apricot taste, and the overall effect is delightful. A runner up for the best beer in the world. 8% ABV.

Whiplash

This is the story of Andrew (Miles Teller) a young jazz musician who is striving for excellence as a drummer, under the tutelage of Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). Fletcher is a hard-driving teacher who will stop at nothing to push his students to the edge, and sometimes beyond. It is a story of art, of passion, of cruelty, of heartbreak…and redemption.

There is only one match: Arrogant Bastard Ale, Stone Brewery, California. ABV 7.8%. This is a strong ale, very dark, and so full of hops that it goes beyond IPA. Yet it is complex and delightful. Not for the faint of heart.

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oysterWe stopped for a late meal at a local restaurant, Cooper’s, in Pittston, PA, a favorite spot for fresh seafood and, when in season, oysters. Readers familiar with the long-running TV show, The Office, may be familiar with its sister restaurant in Scranton, PA, which is the bar where the office crowd frequently met after work. So it was no surprise that Cooper’s has made an all-out-effort to become a beer destination, offering high quality craft beers on an ever-changing list. Seafood and beer just naturally pair, and I was looking forward to selecting something from the list to go with my oysters, preferably a porter or stout.

I was pleased to find a new draft, Cooper’s Low Tide, which was an honest-to-goodness oyster stout brewed with oysters! I couldn’t wait to try this rare brew. We all know that stouts and oysters go naturally together, with Guinness being the traditional favorite, but most so-called “oyster stouts” are brewed to drink with oysters; it is unusual to find one that is made with oysters! Yet the 3 Guys and a Beer’d Brewery, in Carbondale, PA, brewed this beer in collaboration with Cooper’s using fresh Virginia Salts.

If you are an oyster lover, as I am, you may know that Virginia Salts (also called Olde Salts and Chincoteague Salts) are a species of the native American oyster, Crassostrea viriginica, which are traditionally harvested from the ocean side of Chincoteague Island. Because of this, they are saltier, and some would say plumper and cleaner, than oysters that are harvested from the warmer and less saline waters of river estuaries. I have had many of these tasty creatures, which are often used in oyster shooters, in which a fresh oyster is added to a fresh pint. But brewed into a beer? That was new for me. I had to try one.

Flying-Dog-Pearl-Necklace-Oyster-Stout-570x280Oyster stout is not a common beer style, and if you can succeed in finding one, the chances are it is not brewed with oysters. A few are brewed with oyster shell added to the mash. But beers which have whole oysters or oyster meat added to the mash are harder to find — in addition to Cooper’s Low Tide, the only one I have been able to find with regional distribution is Flying Dog’s Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout, brewed in Maryland with whole oysters from the Rappahannock River (a percentage of sales goes to support the Oyster Recovery Project). But do not get the idea that brewing with live oysters is just another crazy idea thought up by craft brewers just to be different–though I’ll admit that 3Guys and a Beer’d is a crazy bunch of brewers. Brewing with oysters is a bona fide tradition with a long and rich history.

oyster & beer festSo let’s taste this wonderful brew. It was delightful. In addition to the oysters, it was made using a combo of roasted barley, black patent malt, chocolate malt and 2 row along, with a mild hop back bone of Warrior and Willamette. The IBU was low at around 18, and the Alcohol 5.5% Not only was it a good oatmeal stout, with a nice tan head and mahogany color, but it was possibly the sweetest dark beer I have ever tasted, with absolutely no bitter or burnt taste. A very sweet finish, I would call it butter-toffee. 3Guys attributes it to the oatmeal; I would offer that it is a result of the alkalinity due to the addition of the shells to the brew, since they add whole oysters to the mash.

I wanted to learn more about oyster stouts, and did some searching. The late Michael Jackson (not the pop star), one of the most prolific writers about beer, wine and spirits, wrote a comprehensive article in his Beerhunter blog in 2001, which details the history of this storied beer in England, its home. Mr. Jackson admits that he hadn’t ever tasted an oyster stout at the time, but he did his research. He points out that oysters and stouts (or porter) were a natural pair in England since they were both plentiful and inexpensive in the days of Dickens and Thackery and consumed daily by many individuals. As he writes,

“Despite the intensity of stout and porter, and the delicacy of oysters, their marriage turned out to have been made in heaven.”

The earliest Oyster stout, he believes, was Oyster Feast Stout, made in Colchester, England, around 1900 by the Colchester Brewing company to celebrate the annual oyster harvest on the river Colne. It probably did not have oysters added. The brewery changed hands a few times, but they continued to make a stout under this name until at least 1940.

abita-oystersSome brewers used oyster shells as finings, and as an adjunct to alkalinize and sweeten the beer, since they are a natural antacid. Some oyster stouts are still made this way, using only shells without oysters. Jackson refers to a colleague who tracked down a retired brewer, Mr. Harold Read, who worked as a brewer at Hammerton of Stockwell, London. Read remembered trials with an oyster stout in 1938, in which they used oyster concentrate from New Zealand, adding it to their Oatmeal Stout. It was believed to have a “nourishing” quality. The trial went well, but apparently they had one batch with contained a faulty can of oysters, and the smell was “so appalling that we cancelled everything and dropped the idea,” he was quoted. Later JJ Young Brewery of Portsmouth, England, used the same concentrate and brewed an oyster stout, which they continued to market until the war.

I thought that Oyster stouts were the only beer which uses animal matter in the brewing process. Of course bacon beers are made with bacon, though it is not added to the mash, it is used as a “dry hop” or flavor adjunct after brewing is complete. There is, however, Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout by Wynkoop Brewing Company in Colorado, which is brewed with steer parts–the less said the better.

I contacted Johnny “The Beard” Waering, from 3Guys and a Beer’d, about the beer. He told me this is the second year they are producing it, and this year’s offering is much better. He said, “last year we added a lot more oysters and it ended up a little briny, so this year we cut back a bit and it came out great!”

He said they will probably make Low Tide an annual offering, but have no plans to bottle it. I inquired about the brewing process, and he elaborated,

pyster & Beer“Shells and all go right into the mash tun! Not even shucked, the heat of the mash opens them up throughout the process. Then we eat the oysters after! Quite delicious! ”

I predict that we are going to see more of this beer style from craft breweries throughout the country, especially those near the coasts, where fresh oysters are available. An oyster stout seems to be as much fun to brew as it is to drink. This should be incentive for any brewery to give it a go.

Epilogue:

Last night I had the opportunity to try another stout brewed with Oysters.  Flying Fish’s Exit 1 Bayshore Oyster Stout.
This was a very nice, and again a very sweet stout.  This one is not an oatmeal stout, but brewed with English chocolate and roasted malts. Irish ale yeast adds a bit of fruitiness and a dry crispness.   ABV 7.5%

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HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!! MERRY CHRISTMAS!!! HAPPY CHANUKAH!!! HAPPY KWANZAA… AND ANY OTHER APPLICABLE  SEASONAL NOD!!!

This is going to be a very fLuid (yeah, I know) piece as we try some of the brews below throughout the evening and the next day or two. As we have observations, we’ll edit them in and let you know via facebook and Twitter. But let’s get to it… cut to the chase, as it were.

Chase Cutting

Chase Cutting

Thought I’d share what, going into Christmas Eve, is in the YBN beer fridge! As many of you know, I’m not big on super spiced/infused seasonals. I’ve found a couple Fall pumpkin based ales that are lovely, because they don’t make me feel like I’m drinking a liquid pumpkin pie, but there’s a narrow tightrope being walked on that subject, if for no other reason than a lot of folks LIKE that kind of brew.
I’ve had a couple Christmas brews over the years that I’ve liked, but I still go with brews that might better reflect the season in terms of weather, temperature, the type of foods that might be devoured… less looking for Egg Nog Ale here.

So, this is what we just bought to get us through the holidays:
index6) North Peak Blitzen Festivus Ales
We have very much liked a couple of North Peak’s IPAs in the past, so figured it was a benign enough name we could give it a try. Beyond benign by miles. Dark, sweet, hoppy wonderfulness. These guys simply know beer!

1) Fort Collins Chocolate Stout
Tried this while a visitor was trying one of the Festivus Ales, so I could compare a little. It was darker, drier, and less bitter. The chocolate melding with the traditionally edgy toasted grain flavor we come to associate with many stouts made for a delicious beverage. Fort Collins rocks it.

1) McChouffe Artisinal Belgian Brown
1) Houblon Chouff Dobbelen IPA Tripel
index
Tried their brown stuff before and enjoyed it. The eyebrow clearly raised over the belgian IPA business, a fave of mine. Flavorfull, floral, spiced, with a bite. Just started with the Brown, a big (8%) Strong, and it’s every bit as good as remembered, spicy, stewed raisin, brown, caramely… delicious. 8% ABV, so will likely not be reporting on another until after dinner.

1) Southern Tier Dark Robust Porter

1) Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout
1) New Holland Dragon’s Milk Bourbon Barrel Stout
I’ve had pretty bad things to say about Altech’s Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale. But first, this is a stout. Second, an old friend is now running things down in Lexington, and he’s a guy who knows his stuff, so we’ll do a comparison between his and the New Holland… which was more expensive, so it better be good, right? Yeah, sure.

Having happily run through a 12 of Goose Island’s seasonal Red IPA, this is what’s left from the Turkey Day holiday:

1) Hop Crisis Imperial IPA
2) Full Pint’s Night o the Living Stouts
1) Great Lakes Burning River Pale Ale
1) Great Lakes Elliot Ness Amber Lager

 And you….?

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1 HersheyWhen you hear “Hershey” you may think “chocolate” but I think “beer.” Tröegs beer, that is.

I found myself in Hershey PA a couple of months ago for a meeting, and as soon as I had a chance I made a beeline for Tröegs Brewery, conveniently within a mile or two of Hershey Park. I was anxious to taste what’s on draft, get some dinner, and share a pleasant, relaxing evening with other craft beer lovers.

I usually feel rather awkward as an unaccompanied woman in a bar, but that’s not the case in a craft brewpub. I may walk in alone, but when I leave I’ve made friends with whomever I happen to be sitting next to at the bar. We may have nothing else in common, but we all have a love of craft beer– enough love to make us go out of our way to a find the brewery’s home base, so we can try the drafts that may only be available on site, or for limited time. On my left, a biker who did construction work and rode 20 miles to get here; on my right, an IT guy from even farther afield. We talked, tasted, and compared, while each enjoyed a snack or dinner.

2 Food TroegsFirst, a word about dinner. Pennsylvania laws require bars to offer food as well as spirits, so you can always get a good meal at pub. Most brewpubs take as much pride in their menu as in their drafts, and Tröegs was outstanding in this regard. Their snack bar covers the range from small snacks to large platters and dessert, and they even have a good kids’ menu. What I liked is their insistence on fresh, local meat, and produce from independent farms, all of which are listed on the menu. And you can’t go wrong in the middle of Pennsylvania Dutch country. This posed a problem for me, as there were too many choices and I over-ordered so I would have a chance to try some of the superb craft cheese with designer pickles, as well as the beef marrow bones with house-made fermented horseradish. Not shown is the salad with fall greens, figs, pistachio & blue cheese, dressed with barrel-aged Mad Elf vinaigrette. All of which paired extremely well with my selection of hoppy beers.

3 TroegsAs with the food at Tröegs, there were too many choices on draft beer, too, so I settled for a selection of small pour samplers. Tröegs is well known for a couple of its year round beers, most of which are available in bottles in my local deli; their HopBack Amber Ale, and Perpetual IPA are two favorites, both on draft that evening. But I was interested in their “scratch beers,” or experimental single batches that may or may not go on to become standards. The theme appeared to be fresh hops and new hops.

There were two fresh hop ales. Scratch #162 was brewed with wet whole flower Mosaic hops from the Yakima Valley; at 7.6% ABV and 62 IBU, with that wonderful Mosaic pine-citrus flavor really coming through. Very similar was Scratch #161, brewed with wet whole flower Cascade and Chinook hops from Maryland, with added local PA honey. At 8.1% ABV and 79 IBU it was a delightful drink, similar to #162, hoppier, but perhaps a bit smoother due to the honey, though honestly I didn’t taste honey at all. Perpetual IPA, 7.5% ABV and 85 IBU, is the hoppiest of the Tröegs beers, while their Sunshine Pils, at 4.5% ABV and 45 IBU was a bit unbalanced to me–too hoppy for this low alcohol.

There were two beers featuring a new hop, designated as “871” by the American Dwarf Hop Association, ADHA. The ADHA is an organization of hop growers in the northwest committed to improving new hop production techniques that are more environmental friendly, including being easier to harvest. Dwarf hops are varieties that grow on low trellis systems, unlike the standard 18-foot high vines, which require specialized equipment and high labor to harvest, as I described in At the Hop (Harvest), YBN October 28, 2014. Since these are new varieties, they don’t always taste like the old standards, but every so often they hit a winner, as when “369” was christened “Mosaic” and really took off.   Since 871 is mellower and not as piney as the classic IPA hops, but carries a lot of bittering, the brewers chose to use it in a pale ale, Scratch #163. It was a nice, rather bland IPA, at 4.5% ABV and 54 IBU, a very good session beer which paired well with food. The real knockout for me was Scratch #160, a Belgian Style Saison: a farmhouse ale brewed with rye, wheat, French saison yeast, and ADHA 871. It was about as good a Belgian saison as I have ever had (6.7% ABV and 20 IBU). ADHA 871 may have found its niche.

4 mad-elf-picNow to The Mad Elf. I was disappointed The Mad Elf was not available on draft at the brewpub when I visited; it was still in production and was scheduled to be released later in the month. I was looking forward to trying this beer, which is a holiday tradition with Tröegs. It is a Belgian Strong Ale, brewed with PA honey and West Coast cherries. It is brewed with traditional noble hops, Saaz and Hallertau, using a grain mix that combines with the cherry, producing rich red color, just right for the holidays.

I finally had a chance to try The Mad Elf on draft at a local bar in Wilkes-Barre, where the bartender poured me a standard 16 oz. draft. (Most bartenders would have poured this in a smaller tulip-shaped glass). I hadn’t done my homework, and didn’t realize that the ABV of Mad Elf is 11%.   Needless to say, it was the ONLY beer I had that night. For an 11% beer, one draft = two drafts of 5.5% beer. Get the picture?

So enjoy a draft of Tröegs during the holiday season, but beware The Mad Elf!

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FROM THE EDITOR’S DESK :: A New Trip Through the South

by Harvey Gold 11.25.2014

So a new trip to the south. The difference this time, is that, as opposed to a one stop straight shot to our beloved but isolated burg of Okeechobee Florida, this tour had more stops and, thus, more opportunities to try some brewage. First up, Winston-Salem North Carolina. We revisited a watering hole we’ve reported […]

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MASSIVELY FAST REVIEW :: 4 brews, 4 breweries

by Harvey Gold 11.23.2014

These bottles have just been sitting here. Let’s cut to the chase! Left to right: Yes, definitely! Night of the Living Stout, from  Full Pint Brewing NO, NO, NO!!! Argh!!! Cranberry Stout from Meantime Brewing You Betcha! Hop Ryot Rye IPA from Jackie O’s Woo Hoo!!!! D.O.R.I.S. the Destroyer from Hoppin’ Frog   QUESTIONS?

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