THE EDITOR’S DESK :: A Beer Virgin

by Harvey Gold on January 17, 2011

Let me clarify something about your esteemed “Editor.” Make no bones about it, I’m fascinated with beer–love the way it can work with food, am knocked out by the things people are doing with it, and am so very impressed by the passion and love shown by the folks who create craft beer and love it themselves. But a lot of this energized joy in writing, talking, and tasting is the joy and craziness of…a Beer Virgin.

I can talk beer pretty well, and my palate is getting educated rapidly, but only because I’m a sponge these days, thrilled to learn so much now–not 30 years ago, not 10 years ago, but starting more like 2 years ago.

I grew up simply not liking what was offered up as beer. My Mom and Pop didn’t drink it. The “Champagne of Bottled Beer” in clear long neck bottles and it’s ilk did nothing for me. As I hit my late teens, Ballantine Pale Ale and Schoenling Little Kings tasted like soap to me.

At one point, my college-aged preferences ran to Meyers Rum, Jack Daniel’s, and–until an unfortunate incident (like so many of us have had)–Wild Turkey. The telling statistics: the FIRST 14 shots happened in the FIRST 20 minutes. The rest of the evening will go unwritten. I did develop a liking for Guinness Stout, Bass Ale, and their delicious baby, Black & Tans, but that was it, and even then, imbibing not so much nor very often.

The New Me loves all sorts of things, and I’m starting to develop a sense of what I like, what I don’t like, what knocks me out, how, when and even why, sometimes. A friend of YBN–a former brewmaster at Schoenling in Cincinnati, Ohio–recently spoke to a brewing theory that there are so many flaws one can cover up if they throw enough hops on the pile…or some such wisdom. This was an amazing moment for me in the understanding of what works and doesn’t work…for me.

I write “for me” because the wonderful thing about beer is that it’s so subjective. The world of microbrewing, creating recipes for craft offerings is the Wild Wild West. Anything goes, and for my money, as long as it tastes like beer at the finish, it was likely worth the trip. Doesn’t mean I won’t have an opinion, or entertain others that are opposite mine. Still…Beer. The oldest New Frontier. How cool!

So, we hope YBN will serve as a landing and launching pad for information, ideas, opinions, new ways of looking at and tasting beer, and just be a pleasure for everyone. You can be certain that this writer will be excited to read contributions as a continuing education in beer, food, and if I have anything to say about it (and I think I do), culture in general. Smart stuff from smart people.

But getting back on point, the main reason I’m copping to being a Beer-Baby is to properly frame what I think of as two failed pairings of my making. I’ve attended a few beer dinners (and a beer breakfast) and have been astonished by many of the presentations. On my own, I’ve had a small measure of success–sometimes of my own doing (for example, it’s hard to screw up putting a decent IPA on the table with spicy food), sometimes from a YBN contributor (Breckenridge Vanilla Porter contrasting with a salty, meaty, tangy, meatloaf sandwich with potato salad and a pickle)–but this time…

The first was ordering a Patty Melt (burger on grilled rye with swiss and fried onions) and steak fries, picking a bottle of Left Hand Brewery’s Milk Stout to accompany. Taking a sip at the start, I found the it to be really nice–truly milky and creamy, on the light side, boding well as a stout to drink with a meal as opposed to many that one might drink AS a meal. Then I took a bite of the burger, chewed for a bit, took my second big sip to wash it down and was left flat. There was nothing in this stout that worked in complement or contrast to this sandwich. Now I’ve always seen stouts work for breakfast and dessert, but not with a main course. But as I’ve had good luck with some porters and dark ales, I thought perhaps we could find kismet in a stout, and I shall not stop trying–on it’s own merits, this was a lovely brew.

Next up, a pedestrian but tasty Hellman’s-based egg salad with onion, celery and a touch of wasabi mayo, munched with buttered pita. The beverage chosen–not with any logic, but because I had just bought a six, not having tasted it yet–Bell’s Best Brown Ale. I think this is a pairing that really exposed my ignorance. It’s dark so there were certain expectations I had. Not what I got. The aroma was on the light side, so I went in a little blind. My expectations for a beer with this kind of color and weight is caramel, nutty, maybe chocolaty, and I can say drinking it, not as a pairing, but simply drinking the brew alone, I found the taste in my mouth, POST finish, to contain all those elements…maybe not the chocolate. At first, it didn’t seem to get activated in any direction by what I was eating until I tasted something I did not expect about halfway through the meal. Starting as an almost soapy taste at first (or so my not-as-sophisticated-as-I-thought palate deduced), but of course, was a distinct taste of hops–generally not something I expect to be a jump out element in a dark ale. I think perhaps the tang of the onions brought that out. In any event, this surprised me as it came with just a couple sips left.

So I just had one of these Best Brown Ales without eating and find it, much like Stone’s Levitation Ale in it’s own way, to be a really unique tasting beer, landing somewhere I’ve not been.

I’m not going to say that either of the above really good beers shouldn’t be paired with the right food, but I’m learning that it’s good to know what you’re doing and, as my YBN co-founder, Dave Daugherty said to me at lunch when I experienced the Patty Melt/Milk Stout adventure, “Sometimes it’s probably just good to drink the beer by itself.” True dat!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

jg March 1, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Hey Harv!!
Love the website. Surprised about the stout and hamburger combo falling flat for you. I love a draught Guinness (as inferior as the US version is) with a burger. For me, the greatest food/stout combo is a hand drawn UK and/or Ireland Guinness with shepards pie. Of course, that requires being in the UK or Ireland! I am also a fan of stout with a nice grilled steak. But, as you said, it’s a very personal and subjective thing. What works for one, may not work for another. Finally, you can make lots of different marinades with stouts. Really flavors beef in a unique way and comes out great when grilling over charcoal. Hope you won’t give up on the stout/beef pairing. I’m sure there’s a combo out there that works for you. Kudos for emphasizing how personal and subjective beer/food combinations can be. So many different factors go in to it – the beer itself, how it was handled AFTER it was bottled, whether it is fresh or at the end of it’s run, etc. We, the beer drinkers, also impact the experience tremendously. If you’re tired or not feeling well, it can turn you off from a beer that, under normal circumstances, you would really enjoy. Some disclosure here is necessary for next point – Harv and I have known each other for decades. Remember that Teton Ale we both loved in Jackson Hole? Man, I thought that was the greatest beer I had ever had. But, I was also hot, dirty, and exhausted from hiking around the Tetons and the Wind River Mountain Range (side note – Lander Llamas were our guides and Scott & his wife are two of the best people in the world. If a hike through some of the most beautiful mountain vistas you will ever see sounds like your idea of a great vacation, look up Scott!). Now, given my mental and physical state, it’s possible that just about any beer would have tasted great. So, is Teton Ale an absolutely amazing brew or were we just desperate for a beer? I suspect it was a little of both. I wish Teton Ale had a wider distribution so I could enjoy under “normal” circumstances. I suspect it would be really, really good with a burger. Enjoy the journey, Harv. Keep writing and trying new beers. And let me know if you’re ever in the neighborhood. Since it’s for your website and show, I’ll work for beer. Cheers!


admin March 1, 2011 at 1:33 pm

I’d love to get some feedback about Teton Ale, Jon. I’ll Tweet, and should anyone read this and wish to comment, I’ll pass it along. In the meantime, from some pretty smart folks:

And for anyone who reads this, be you an adventurer or a city slicker, without any hesitancy, I’ll also recommend Lander Llama.

Now…I like stout a lot and I LOVE food, so I’m just thinking the one pairing simply didn’t work. But the “on any given day” rule can apply, not just the mood and expectations when pairing, but even the body’s PH level on a given day could effect the enjoyment.

On the other hand, when I’ve been to real pairings done by people with far more into it than I, people who really worked it, I’ve seldom been disappointed, no matter what the other circumstances are.


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