Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Fourth Annual Beer + Oscar Pairings, in which I present my picks for Best Beer to accompany each of the films nominated for “Best Picture” by the American Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.

In contrast to previous years, the 2017 Oscar nominations celebrate diversity. Among this year’s selections, we find people of many colors, religions and sexual preferences, including African Americans, an American Indian, an Asian Indian, illegal aliens (of the space variety), a conscientious objector, a gay black man, and even a few intelligent women! And let’s not forget that rarest of the rare, a classical Hollywood musical with large production song-and-dance numbers of the sort we haven’t seen since the 1930’s. Truly, there is something for everyone in the 2017 Oscars.

The 89th Academy Awards Ceremony will be aired on February 26, 2017, and you’ll want to make sure you have a lot of beer on hand to get through the evening of glitz and tedium. So without further ado, let’s open the envelope and see what beers have been selected to pair with these nine nominees, while we watch their trailers.

Arrival

Twelve alien spacecraft appear around the world. What do they want? Linguistics professor Louise Banks is enlisted to ask them. To do this, she must learn their language and how to communicate with them. Amy Adams plays Dr. Banks, the professor who is charged with this challenge. Watching the process unfold is spellbinding, as are the scenes near and inside the alien ship.
What beer do you offer an alien? Do aliens drink beer? Do aliens drink alcohol? Do they even drink at all? Initially I considered recommending a sip of Earth’s best spring water, but reconsidered. We must offer them the best beer in the world! That is, the best craft IPA in the world. And that beer would be Russian River’s Pliny the Elder, brewed by Russian River Brewing Company in California. It is a strong and delightfully hoppy double IPA, redolent with West Coast hops, with an ABV of 8%.

Fences

Fences is about a working-class African-American man and his relationship with his son, based on an award winning play by August Wilson. Masterfully directed by Denzel Washington, who plays the lead character, this family drama is set in 1950s Pittsburgh.

I’ve chosen a period beer for this one that was likely to have been enjoyed by working-class Pittsburgh, which you can still get today. That beer is Iron City. I’m not saying it’s a great beer–beer rarely was in the 50’s–but it was available, and it was brewed in Pittsburgh. It’s still around today, though it is brewed elsewhere. It’s a typical, American adjunct lager, with an ABV of 4.5%. You can find it in its signature “iron” bottles (actually aluminum), but in the 1950s, Iron City would have been in a longneck glass bottle.

Hacksaw Ridge

Desmond T. Doss was the first conscientious objector to receive the US Medal of Honor, for rescuing over 75 men in one of the most grueling battles of World War II, without ever firing a shot. The battle of Hacksaw Ridge took place in Okinawa, Japan, a semi-tropical island in the Sea of Japan.

Chances are that Desmond T. Doss didn’t drink; for that matter, American troops in the Pacific probably did not have any cold beer available. But today’s Japan is a different story. The Japanese craft beer industry is booming, with small breweries appearing in most prefectures throughout the country. But very little Japanese craft beer is exported to American, and Okinawa has only one brewery anyway. One brand you can find is Hitachino Nest beer, produced by Kiuchi Brewery, a long-standing producer of sake in the northeast of Tokyo

One of the best Hitachino brews, and probably the easiest to find in the US, is Hitachino Nest White Ale. It is a mild beer, in the style of a Belgian ale, with added sweetness and spice–coriander, nutmeg, orange peel and orange juice. With an ABV of only 5.5%, and almost no hoppy bitterness (IBU 13), even a teetotaler can enjoy a sip of this one. It’s a good, sweet counterpoint to the heart-rending battle scenes.

Hell or High Water

This is the closest thing to a comedy among the year’s nominees. Two bumbling, inept guys in Oklahoma, a newly-released ex-con and his brother, rob banks in order to pay off a mortgage, all for a good cause. It is reminiscent of a Western Blues Brothers, as the two are pursued by a determined cop, an entire police force, and the town citizens. There are car chases, crashes, gunfights, and all the action you might expect.

The action is graced by the stellar performance of Jeff Bridges playing a stereotyped version of himself, accompanied by a long-suffering Native American sidekick whom he treats like Tonto. It’s a great action movie with a twist.

Believe if or not, 21st Amendment Brewery released a “Hell or High Water(melon) beer to coincide with this film but c’mon, everyone in the film is drinking Shiner Bock. You should, too.

Shiner Bock is an amber lager brewed by the oldest craft brewery in Texas, and widely distributed throughout the West. This movie must be watched while drinking Shiner Bock, preferably a whole six-pack.

Hidden Figures


This is the true story of a team of very bright, African-American women mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the US space program. Although they had critical functions at NASA, as women they had to remain in second place to the male engineers, but the black women were hidden even further away. Here we see them finding their voice.

My beer pick is the Chimay Grand Reserve (Blue). This is A Belgian Strong Dark Ale, among one of the best Belgian the world. It is certainly one of the most complex and intelligent beers you will ever taste. And one of the stronger, at 9.0% ABV. It’s a good match with the intelligent and complex characters in this film.

La La Land


Two aspiring performers trying to hit the big time LA…One, a jazz pianist; the other, an aspiring actress…They fall in love, and much singing and dancing ensues. You will fall in love along with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, as they dance their way through some unlikely scenarios–including a freeway on-ramp. It’s great fun, with music and choreography that captures the spirit and the energy of youth. And what would these optimistic, enthusiastic, driven but penniless Millennials be drinking? Why PBR, of course! Pabst Blue Ribbon has become the hallmark beer of the hipster generation, though in reality it’s a mass-produced lager which tastes like any other Budweiser clone.

But if you’re like me, and you really can’t wrap your craft beer head around a mass market lager, select an excellent American Pale Ale from one of the many craft breweries of Southern California. We’re going to stick to pale ales rather than IPAs because the lower alcohol level won’t mess up your concentration for auditions and performances. There are so many Southern California breweries to choose from! My pick? Stone Pale Ale, from Stone Brewery in Escondido CA. Though the ABV is only 5.4% there are plenty of hops to make drinking this as enjoyable as dancing on the freeway.

Lion

This is a story about finding your way home. A 5-year-old boy is lost on the streets of Calcutta, and is eventually adopted by a family in Australia. His struggle to find his home at age 25, both emotionally and via Google Earth, is at least as compelling as his original journey away from home as a street waif in India.

The obvious choice for a beer is a true India Pale Ale, of the sort brewed in England to ship to India. Of course, this style has disappeared from England. Even the Indian brewery established in 1820 by the English to produce a local product–aptly named Lion beer–converted to lager in 1960. Although there are a few recent revivals of the style, I recommend instead going with the nearest relative, a good strong English Ale. When it comes to English beers, “strong” is a relative term, compared to the usual 3.5% bitter.

You can usually find bottles of Fuller’s London Pride, Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Pale Ale (5% ABV), or Samuel Smith’s Best Ale, 5% ABV at any good bottle store. Pour into a glass and let it warm up a bit before you drink it. You will find the taste a bit sweeter than most American beers, with the hops more subtle, less fruity and citrusy than American hops.

Manchester by the Sea


An uncle is asked to take care of his teenage nephew when the boy’s father dies. As the film progresses, the uncle’s reluctance to take on the task become apparent as the dark secrets of the past are slowly revealed.

A good, cold beer will help stop you from plunging into a deep melancholy during the film, which takes place in Manchester-by-the-Sea, a coastal town northeast of Boston. Harpoon IPA, brewed in Boston, seems to be the beer of choice in this New England town, and is one of my favorites, too. Another great option is Ipswich Ale, brewed in Ipswich, almost next-door to Manchester-by-the-Sea. Take your pick, both great representatives of the region’s terrific IPAs.

Moonlight

Moonlight
is the story of a young black man as he goes from childhood to adulthood, while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami. He struggles to find his identify as a gay man, and as a black man, and find his place in the world. The man is seamlessly portrayed across three stages of his life by three different actors, which is a testimony to the directorial skills of Barry Jenkins.

I would pair Moonlight with a Russian Imperial Stout. The beer style, like the film, is dark and bitter. An imperial stout has an ABV in the 10 – 14% range, so remember to sip it slowly, from a small glass. You will taste dark, roasted malt, with chocolate and coffee flavors, with a low hop profile (especially it if is barrel aged.) Look for Imperial Russian Stouts from Stone, Founders‘, Bells, and 3 Floyds.

Thanks for watching! I hope you get a chance to see all of these wonderful films, and taste all of the beers with which they are paired. Enjoy the show!

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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It is January 2017, and YourBeerNetwork has been live for six years. It’s time for a look back at our website, and to look ahead to what its future will be.

Our world, and the world of craft beer, has changed so much in six years! Harvey Gold, our editor, brought us together in 2011, with little in common except the pursuit of good beer, and the desire to share it when we found it. We knew it was out there, since we had tasted it in imports and homebrews–and then we discovered American craft beer and things took off.

First, we had to understand what craft beer was; then, we had to find it. There was so much to learn! We were beer neophytes, and could barely tell the difference between an ale and a lager. We brought our expertise to this quest, as homebrewers, biologists, food and wine experts, musicians, video producers.

DryHop Brewing, Chicago

DryHop Brewing, Chicago

Craft beer, by definition, is produced in a brewery that is small, independent and traditional. A “small” brewery produces less than 6 million barrels of beer per year. “Independent” means no more than 25% is owned or controlled by a non-brewer. And a “traditional” brewery produces its major volume from malted barley, no adjuncts.

We learned how beer is made. We learned the tastes of hops, and the difference between noble hops and New World hops; we rejoiced when new hop varietals were introduced. We visited hop farms in Michigan and Bavaria. We learned how flavor comes from the grain as well as the hops, and what the yeast contributes. We became experts in beer styles–we could tell a lager from an IPA from a stout in a blind taste test. We learned how sours and are created, and what a barrel adds to the flavor. We discussed the effects of beer on health, on dieting, on cancer, and on the brain. We went from neophyte to de facto beer specialist in less than a year!

It’s hard to remember how difficult it was to find a good craft beer back then, given the ubiquity of craft beers today. In the early years we sought out craft beer in regions and restaurants, and sharing our finds with our readers. Paul Ciminero and I ate and drank our way through bacon and beer in Chicago gastropubs, and lived to tell the tale–just barely. Harvey Gold filmed his spiritual experiences at the Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh. David Daugherty, always on the road, discovered crafts throughout the US.

As beer tourists, we sought craft breweries on the East Coast and the West Coast, in Boston, Hershey and Kalamazoo. We took road trips to Florida, Arizona, Michigan, Florida. We even went to Europe! We attended brewfests and sampled as many different beers as long as we could while still standing. I must have tasted hundreds of beers, and I remember many of them. We made friends of brewers, and I even wrote a book about our beer quests.

Soon, new breweries began to appear in our own backyards, from Akron OH to Northeastern PA. Some of these would eventually succeed and grow into large bottling businesses; others would expand and distribute locally; others still would remain small gastropubs, specializing in excellent food paired with beer. A few, sadly, sold out to Big Beer. Surprisingly, none of those early breweries failed; all are still around, contributing jobs and income to their local economy. What the craft revolution meant is that small breweries–which had all but disappeared because of their inability to compete with large breweries selling cheap beer–now had a fighting chance to compete. And compete they did, thanks to a growing, grass-roots demand for quality beer.

craft-beer-cansIn a few short years the rest of the world caught on. By 2014 the number of craft breweries had almost doubled, and over a dozen new hop varietals were introduced. Crafts were beginning to appear in the best restaurants, which featured draft lists alongside wine lists. This was a great victory. No longer did we have to tell the waiter that we’d rather drink water, thank you. We could now eat good food paired with good beer, and tell the rest of the world about it. Along with the craft movement came an increasing consumer demand. Imports as well as American crafts began to appear in local stores and bars. No longer did we have to travel to find good beer.

glassesAs craft beer became more available, our beer tourism was supplanted by travel for other adult beverages, taking us to Bourbon country, Scotland, the cider fields of Michigan. We delved into the history of beer, so closely interwoven with the history of Europe. We studied goses, abbeys and oyster stouts. We paired beer with food, music, weddings and Oscar nominees.

beard_beer_1After a time, brewers began to get bored, or having established wonderful beers in the more “traditional” forms, began to stretch. They experimented with unusual ingredients; they made ales with ancient grains; they seasoned brews in bourbon barrels; they made fruity and sweet beers; they added everything from bacon to hot peppers to coffee; anything to appease the non-beer-drinker. We saw watermelon ales, lemonade ales, sweetened ales seasoned with pumpkin spice or lemon grass.

While we still enjoy some, we tired of journalistically sampling new flavors and new styles; we just want to drink a good beer without having to analyze it, and now we can happily say there’s plenty of it to be had! We’ve come to realize that we liked to taste beer, but we like to drink IPAs, and we favor the classical styles.

Craft beer is no longer a hobby requiring study, travel, and resources…. at least for us. There’s still much going on, but it’s also now a mainstream business. It’s hard to walk into a new craft start-up and expect to find the owner-brewer at the bar, anxious to discuss his creations. American-style crafts are appearing throughout the world.

Craft beer has arrived, and we at YourBeerNetwork are thrilled to have played a part in it. But our time is over. We don’t have much more to say about beer. We are six years older, and no longer have the stamina –or the livers –to put down a dozen beers at a beerfest. Most of our staff have moved on to other things. Our editor and co-founder, Harvey Gold’s rock band of #geezerhipsters, Half Cleveland, has become busier and busier, streaming shows watched all over the world. Our other co-founder, Dave Daugherty changed locations and, based on lifestyle changes (no, he’s not in jail), cut back to the point that he’s no longer the wandering minstrel of craft beer discovery. Our Chicago Beat guy, Paul Ciminero hosts an acclaimed weekly music podcast, Transmusic Airwaves, and no longer lives in Chi-town, and Lane Steinberg who gave us the genius and oft hillarious Thrift Store Records/Cheap Red Wine is busy making a living and creating stunning music. As for me, I gave up home brewing and am leaving the Beer Clinic for the Medical Clinic, working on a new cancer blog, Ask-An-Oncologist.com.

Looking to the future, we will no longer be posting regularly on YourBeerNetwork. The site will stay open to maintain our unique and rich archive, for your comments, and for the occasional restaurant review, Oscar night pairings, and video. And we’ll keep it alive for nostalgia’s sake, too, so we can all look back to those early years of the craft beer movement and remember the fun we had along the way.

Thanks to our guest columnists over the years (archived under The Editor’s Desk Hope you drop back in) and our IT department, the Dolli Mama.

So Stay with us, check in, browse around as long as you like and… thank you!

Cheers!

Dr. Carol Westbrook – BEER CLINIC
Harvey Gold – EDITOR

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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St. Arnold

St. Arnold

Saint Arnold, the pious prior, is the patron saint of beer and brewers. And it is right and just, because monks and ale go together like…well, like hops and barley. It is a tradition that has lasted throughout the history of our Western civilization.

Although they may not have invented beer, the monks of northern Europe take a lot of credit for developing methods and recipes for producing large quantities of beer, that is to say, breweries. We can also thank the abbots and abbesses, like St. Hildegard of Bingen, for the introduction of hops, and for developing some of the most flavorful yeast strains.

Even today, monks still brew beer. Indeed, some of the best beers in the world — the Trappist Ales — are brewed by men of the cloth. If you have never tasted a bona fide Trappist Ale, you owe it to your beer-loving self to seek one out. You will be in for a treat. Many readers and beer aficionados do not know the difference between “Abbey Ale,” “Trappist Beer, and “Belgian Beer,” and use the terms interchangeably. But they are different. Here is the low-down and a sample tasting.

First, Trappist is a specific order of monks — the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance — who brew the beer themselves. Monks observe the Rule of St. Benedict, a guide for monastic life which originated in the 6th century, which includes a mandate to “pray and work.” Monks are expected to work in order to be self-supportive and to offer assistance to the poor by the income they generate producing and selling goods to the public. These goods are produced from their agricultural products, and include honey, jams, cheese and beer. The seven traditional Trappist breweries are in Europe: Westmalle, Chimay, Koningshoeven, Rochefort, Orval, Achel and Westvleteren. There is a new one on the scene now in the United States, Spencer Brewery, and we’ll catch up with that one.

unspecifiedAbbey Ale, on the other hand, is not made by monks. The term is a marketing tool designed to sell beer. Since 1999, however, there are a few breweries that have made special license arrangements with particular orders to brew beer in their name, with a portion of the proceeds going back to the church or abbey. These are called Recognized Belgian Abbey Beers and are usually labeled as such. The Abbey styles are traditional and tend to be malty, strong with alcohol, and redulent with yeast-derived flavors, and typically include dubbel (double), tripel (triple), strong blond and strong dark beers.

Belgian Beer refers simply to beers either made in Belgium or in the style of a Belgian Beer. This includes the true Trappist Ales as well as other styles: Flemish reds, lambics, gueze, white (blancs), sour ales and saisons — and of course, just plain ales ranging from blond to dark, weak to strong.

One prominent feature of Belgian-produced beers is that they are primarily ales rather than lagers; their yeasts impart a characteristic flavor profile and aroma ranging from spicy (clove-like, herbal) to medicinal. The fruity ester flavors from these yeasts tend toward banana, bubblegum, fresh orange or citrus, often so strong that few hops are needed for flavor. Many of these strains have been in cultivation for centuries, sometimes highly guarded, proprietary strains. Belgian beer is often bottle-conditioned, so the residual yeast in the bottle produces a slight cloudiness balanced by a stronger, champagne-like effervescence. American Belgian-style beers utilize similar strains of yeasts, but are often supplemented with coriander and orange peel to add strength to the weaker American yeast flavor. The best Belgian beers have the complexity and palatability of good wine, and of these, the Trappist Ales reign supreme.

Belgian-style ales have a following in the American craft beer scene, though nothing can yet compare with the real thing. Fortunately, you don’t have to visit Belgium, since many are available in bottles in good beer stores, and occasionally on draft. Some bars specialize in imported Belgian beers, such as Hopleaf in Chicago and Monks in Philadelphia. Draft Belgian beers tend to be high in both alcohol and in price.

unspecifiedI was pleased to find a pack of assorted St. Bernardus Ales at my local beer store. Among the Trappist breweries, St. Bernardus is one of the best. It began in the monastery of St. Sixtus in Westvleteren, whose brewing and yeast strains go back to medieval times. They began selling beer in outsiders in 1838 to raise money for the monastery. A century later, the monastery no longer wanted the bother and distraction of commercial sales, so in 1934 they licensed the production of their excellent beer, Westvleteren 12, to the nearby commercial brewery of St. Bernardus in Watou (also a former Trappist business that was allowed to keep the monastery name). The Westvleteren license to St. Bernardus expired in 1992 and the beer reverted back to the Monastery of Saint Sixtus, who are still producing the excellent Wesvleteren 12 in small amounts, and a few are imported to the US. The St. Bernardus brewery, however, continues to produce a very similar beer using the same outstanding yeast strain, and it is called Abt 12 — the name refers to the head monk, called the Abt or Abbot.

Because of their higher alcohol and heady fragrance, Trappist ales are best enjoyed sipped slowly from a chalice-shaped glass, like the one shown for Chimay (a beer that is also of Trappist origin). I began my tasting with the flagship brew, St. Bernardus Abt 12. It was as delightful as I remembered it when I first sipped it in Monk’s about twenty years ago.

The St. Bernardus calls the Abt 12 “the pride of our stable.” It is a classic dark Belgian “quadrupel,” and as such has a rather high alcohol content. It has a delicious malt mix that is well balanced with the complexity of the yeast and hops. It starts out with a beautiful nose, and ends with an extremely sweet finish. This is one of the tastiest beers you will ever drink, and you will hardly notice the 10% ABV — drink a second one with caution.

Next came Prior 8. It was one of the original recipes licensed by the monks of Wesvleteren to the Watou-based factory, and it is named for a beloved Prior. It is a dark beer, ruby to almost purple, and at 8% ABV it is a classic dubbel. Its taste is described as “a malt-fruit complexity reminiscent of coconut.” It pours a thick head, just barely off-white, that is clean and sweet. I found it both too harsh and too sweet for my (modern) tastes.

The Tripel, on the other hand, is one of my favorites now. Also at 8% alcohol, it is quite different from the Prior. Lacey, white head, lovely pale yellow color, slightly cloudy. It has a nice malt balance, and a quiet finish, not at all sweet, with a nose that is traditionally Belgian. There is minimal discernible spice, but it is very hoppy, more bitter than fruity. You will find a very delightful flavor due primarily to the yeast, which is mellow, complex, with much banana and little spice.

unspecifiedSpencer Trappist Ale is the first and only certified Trappist beer made in the United States. It is produced by the Monks of St. Joseph Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts and is distributed in NH, MA and OH, and overseas in Belgium, France and Spain. It is a classic Trappist with the lower alcohol level more typical of American beers (6.5% ABV). It pours golden, slightly cloudy, with an off-white dense head and a beautiful floral or fruity nose. It is eminently drinkable. It has a strong rich yeast flavor, surprisingly sharp hop bitterness, and a dry finish; it goes great with food.

Leffe is a true Abbey beer, though not a Trappist. Leffe was originally brewed by the Premonstratensian monks of St. Norbert in 1240 at the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Leffe. It was purchased by InBev, the European arm of Anheuser-Busch, and but is faithful to the original formula. It is a pleasant, very malt-forward ale, low in hops, but still has some clove spiciness and vanilla overtones produced by the yeast. It pairs beautifully with food and is a pleasant alternative to mass-market lagers. Another plus is that it is more widely available and less expensive than other abbey ales.

abbeyFinally, I tasted a representative American Belgian style craft beer, Abita’s Abbey Ale. This ale in the style of a dubbel (8% ABV) is dark in color, clearly has tastes of Belgian yeast, with hints of caramel, fruits, cloves, spicy. It pours a beautiful tan head; it is smooth with a sweet finish. Abita sends a 25-cent donation to St. Joseph Abbey with every bottle of this heavenly brew.

If you want to further experience these outstanding beers, you might want to consider a trip to Belgium.
Give me a call —
I’d love to go, too.

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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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