Archive for beer tasting

Beer Counselor #1

Posted in beer with tags , , , , , , on April 1, 2015 by cueball

“I don’t know what I want, just give me your favorite beer.” – Many, many customers

Hello, fellow beer travelers, this is the first installment of the Beer Counselor. Whether you are a craft beer geek, craft beer server, or craft beer newbie, I hope you can enjoy the friendly advice I plan to dispense here.

For the first question I want to take on “just give me your favorite beer.”  As a bartender I here this from customers a lot.  Honestly, that is a horrible thing to ask your beer server.  Don’t do it.  Please don’t do it.  It isn’t that is a bad question, it is an incomplete question.  If you go to any good craft beer bar, Craft Tasting Room is one such place, tell the bartender or server what beers you like or what kind of tastes you like.  They will give you recommendations and let you taste a couple of different beers and let you decide.  You can also get a flight with a few recommendations from the bartender and really explore a few beers at once.

There are two reasons “just give me your favorite beer” is a terrible thing to ask a bartender.  The first is taste is completely subjective and if your bartender is a beer geek he may have really weird likes.  What I like, another beer geek may hate (hoppy beers, sours, smoked beer, etc.).  I’m a beer geek, and we may like weird things that you will detest.  At any given time, there might be some single hopped American IPA, a lambic, or a smoked beer that I really love on tap.  If your favorite beer is Samuel Adams Lager or Stella Artois, and this is your first time tasting a sour, you probably won’t like it.

True story (anyone who works in a craft beer bar has similar ones), one Friday or Saturday night a customer tells me has never been to Craft before and is just getting into craft beer.  He asks me what my favorite beer is, I tell him and he says, “Great let’s go with that.”  I try to explain that this beer is a sour and give him an idea of what it tastes like.  Before I offer him a chance to sample it, he cuts me off and says, “Just give me the beer.”  I say, “OK” and get him his beer and he pays for it.  I go to help another customer, but out of the corner of my eye I see him flag down another bartender and gesture to his beer as if it is crap and ask for another beer.  Now, I’m sure instead of learning the lesson to ask for help from people who know a subject better than you do, he blamed me for giving him a bad beer.

That leads to the second reason it is a bad question.  Your bartenders and servers are there to help you have a good experience.  We want you to get a beer you like because if you get a beer you like and have a good time, you will give us good tips and you will come back. If you help us a little bit by giving us some parameters to advise you, we can help you a lot.  I don’t know if the guy I tried to help had a good experience or not, but I don’t remember seeing him since.

That is what this is about, you having the best experience you can when you go into a craft beer bar.  Whether you have been drinking craft beer for years and love rauchbiers or you heard about these crazy IPAs from a co-worker the other day and you really want to try one, let us help you find something you’ll like and enjoy.  So, in a nutshell tell your bartender what you like if you don’t see anything you recognize on the tap wall and ask for samples.

One last thing, be open to trying different things.  You may tell your bartender what you like and they will come back with something that doesn’t look anything like what you described.  Trust me, taste it.  If you have a good bartender who knows everything on the tap wall and knows what you are describing, he may surprise you with something you did not think you would like, but is actually perfect.  That is the joy of craft beer (and most anything actually).  Being pleasantly surprised and expanding your world just a little bit.

Until next week.

Tasting Notes: Heavy Seas Winter Storm Imperial ESB

Posted in beer tasting with tags , , , , , on November 4, 2014 by cueball

Heavy Seas Winter Storm Imperial ESB

7.5% ABV

How was it tasted:  Growler from Craft Tasting Room and Growler Shop

Extra Special Bittters are a somewhat misunderstood beer style.  I often get the question when we have one on tap, “What is an ESB?”  I usually describe it as a malty ale without a lot of hoppy flavors.

Winter Storm is dialed up as an imperial ESB and becomes a winter warmer beer.  This works great because the style is naturally un-hoppy (in the American hoppy sense) and lends itself carrying the spices and alcohol favored for winter warmer beers.

It pours a nice dark copper, tawny color and you get a lot of malt, alcohol, and the earthy herbal hops aroma.  It has a full bodied mouth feel and good carbonation.

To the important part, the taste.  At first taste the carbonation makes it light on the tongue at the front end with the hop bitterness.  On the back end you get the earthy herbal hop taste and the malty/bready taste and a nice alcohol warmth. This is a very good beer to curl up with on a cold winter night in front of the fire while reading Ernest Hemingway’s First Forty-Nine Stories.

I have decided if I’m going to be doing more beer reviews I need a way to rate the beers. I have chosen tap handles.  Zero to one tap handle means don’t drink.  Two to three tap handles means it is drinkable, but try to find something else.  Three and a half means it is a good beer.  Four to four and a half means it’s a damn good beer.  Five (which will happen very rarely) is beer nirvana.

Heavy Seas Winter Storm Imperial ESB come in at a nice four.

Rules for Great American Beer Festival

Posted in beer with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 3, 2014 by cueball

My vacation this year has taken me to Denver, CO for my favorite event on Earth: Great American Beer Festival.  Here are a few rules I’ve developed from previous trips.

Rule #1

If you have tickets for the opening day, don’t try to get in the Convention Center right at 5:30. There will be a line.  A very long line.  It will seem endless, and it won’t be moving.  If you can, enjoy Denver, grab a bite to eat and walk around the downtown area, it is beautiful.  Then, once its 5:30 go to the line and start walking towards the entrance.  You will get in, in no time.  Trust me, I’ve learned this one the hard way.

Rule #2

Either get the GABF app for your phone or make sure you grab a program on the way in. They both will provide you with a floor map and brewery list.  It makes finding the breweries you want to try really easy.  The reason you will need a map and a brewery list is you need a plan.  There are around 600 breweries and 3000 beers at this shindig. You will not be able to visit every booth and taste every beer even if you go all three days.  Now, you don’t need to work this like the D-Day Invasion, but you do need to have some idea of where you want to start and what you want to taste.  Personally, I pick a style or two I want to try and then concentrate on then start at the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic sections.  Once I’ve spent time going through those sections I just go and find other beer to try in the styles I’m concentrating on for the night.

Rule #3

Do not wait in a long line for a taste.  Again there are 600 breweries and 3000 beers, in all likelihood if you go walk around and taste other beers the line will probably go do if it is something you really have to try.  Also, if it is a brewery that has a national distribution do not stand in line for that beer.  The only two exceptions to this rule are a special brew from a nationally distributed brewer or a brewery that has a lot of buzz and little national distribution at this point.  This year’s new brewery with ridiculous buzz is Asheville’s own Wicked Weed.  Well-deserved buzz by the way. I’m glad I’m NC local because I was not going to stand in that never ending line last night.  Long live #NCBEER.

Rule #4

Experiment.  You are in a place with almost 3000 beers. Try a style you’ve never had.  Try a style with experimental ingredients.  Try a brewery you’ve never heard of and try a couple of their beers.  If you see a booth with no one tasting a beer and one of the brewers or someone else who works at the brewery standing there looking bored, go up try a couple and talk to the pourer. You will learn so much about the beer and the brewery and you will find something new to drink.

Rule #5

Don’t taste big flavors early.  If you start the day with smoked beers, bourbon barrel aged beers, gose’s, or any other strong flavors you will spoil your taste buds for a bit.  Save those big flavors for your last tastings. You’ll enjoy them a lot more.

Finally, a bit of advice.  Use Google Maps to find food if you are not from Denver or like me have a friend who lives in Denver to go with you. My recommendation:  Sam’s No. 3 Diner.

Sierra Nevada Flipside (2014) Red IPA with Bush’s Black Bean Tortilla Chili

Posted in beer with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 1, 2014 by cueball

The recipe

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Black Bean Chili

This is a simple chili recipe from Bush’s Beans.  It takes about an hour with prep to cook and serve.  It can be a bit spicy with the 2 tablespoons of chili powder and ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper.  You can take some of the heat off just by cutting the cayenne or cutting back on the chili powder, but that’s why you serve it with sour cream.  Here is the link to the complete recipe.

The beer

I look forward to the Fall and Winter because they are my favorite seasonal beer times of the year.  All three of the seasonals I look forward to every year from Sierra Nevada, Celebration, Ruthless Rye, and Flipside, are Fall and Winter beers.  This is the Flipside time of year, so I decided to see how this would pair with the chili. First, a little about Flipside. 

As with every beer that Sierra Nevada puts out, it is very well done.  Flipside pours a nice clear dark copper color.  Piney and grassy hops aroma are evident immediately with a bit of a biscuity malt aroma in the background.  The taste starts off with the grassy and citrusy notes of the hops with very little alcohol heat and little to no evidence of the caramel or chocolate malts included in the recipe. It is pretty light on the tongue and actually provides a kind of refreshing taste.  It would be a pretty good sessionable beer if not for the 6.2% ABV. 

The pairing

I have learned through strenuous testing that I prefer brown and amber ales with spicy food, especially Mexican and Mexican inspired food.  I had hoped with the use of the darker malts, Flipside would go well with a chili.  It went OK.  My goal was for the caramel and chocolate malts would bring out the caramelized taste of the browned onions (I browned the onions longer than recipe instructs.  Going for depths of flavor.).  With little to no taste of the malts I was targeting, this did not work out as well as I had hoped.  However, if your pallet does not lean towards the darker malts and caramelization tastes as mine does it, you will probably enjoy it a bit more.

An idea to make this recipe a little more beer friendly is simply to add beer to the recipe. I would probably use a more floral/citrusy hoppy pale ale to bring out more of the cumin flavors.   If you look at the recipe the only liquid included in the ingredients comes from the liquid the canned corn comes with.  You could drain the corn and instead use about a half to a full cup of room temperature beer in its stead.  That would probably improve the flavor as well as eliminate some of the salt from the recipe. 

The conclusion

In the end this is a good simple and quick recipe and a good high quality beer that just did not work together (Sounds like most of my dating relationships).  This is a recipe that I would recommend pairing with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Lonerider Peacemaker Pale Ale, or Foothills Brewing Pilot Mountain Pale Ale

Homemade Pizza Paired With Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’

Posted in beer with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 5, 2014 by cueball

Beer and Pizza

One of the few truths of beer and food pairing is this:  Unless you have a skunked beer or use crappy ingredients for the sauce or crust or use moldy mozzarella, then there is little if no way to screw up a beer and pizza pairing.  Pick a good pale ale and quality ingredients and you have a successful pairing.

So, to up the difficulty of this pairing I made the crust and the sauce for the pizza.  One of the truisms of home brewing is the best beer you will ever taste is a beer that you brewed (no matter how bad that home brew may be, trust me).  The same can be said for pizza.  When I decided to do everything from scratch it was not the sauce that worried me.  It is a good simple recipe that still packs a good sweet (carrots and my own idea: brown sugar) and garlicky taste.  I like pizza sauce a little sweeter than pasta sauce.

The crust worried me.  The last time I made a crust for a veggie pot pie and that did not work as well I had hoped.  This actually came out light and airy.  It is a little doughy, which as long as I keep making it will get better.

Pizza Sauce

Sauce and Homemade CrustAbout to go into the ovenFinished Product

Since this is my summer of wheat, the beer I chose was one of my favorites, Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale.  It is a pale wheat ale, but since it is a Lagunitas brew it is a hoppy pale wheat, much hoppier then the Southern Tier 422.  The 422 might go a little better because without the hops it would provide more of a complement to the sauce.  The Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ works just fine as a contrast to the sauce.Little Sumpin' Sumpin'

Question, what if I had not added the brown sugar to the recipe?  Would Sumpin’ Sumpin’ taste better with the sauce?  Once you get past the basics of pairings and start to really think about the tastes of individual beers and ingredients you put in your recipes these are things that make pairing and cooking really fun.  To an extent you can manipulate the taste of the meal and beer just by shifting choices slightly.  Instead of 422 choose Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’.  Add brown sugar, take away green bell peppers.  Add a few dashes of lemon-pepper seasoning.  Each of these choices affects the other ingredients and/or how the beer pairs with the food either as a complement or as a contrast.

This is one of those cases where the pairing guides you read will tell you a pale ale works with pizza.  What those guides do not tell you is that picking different beers from the recommended style changes the nature of the pairing.  Again, the best way to figure out what beers will pair with what foods is to taste a lot of beers and learn more about the actual beer styles.  The three books that have helped me the most in pairing are Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher He Said Beer, She Said Wine by Sam Calagione and Marnie Old, The Brewmaster’s Table by Garrett Oliver, and Beer, Food, and Flavor by Schuyler Schultz.  Any of these is a great place to start.

Eggplant Parmigiana and Southern Tier Pale Wheat Ale

Posted in beer with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 31, 2014 by cueball

Eggplant Parmigiana and 422 Pale Wheat AleWhat do you match the beer with?  That is the central question you always have to answer.  In this case, the dish was Eggplant Parmigiana.  Now, eggplant is not a vegetable with a large taste.

Eggplant ParmigianaSo, how do you match a beer to a dish whose central ingredient does not contribute substantially to the overall taste?  In this case, I matched the sauce and Italian bread crumbs used on the eggplant to give it more texture.

The sauce I used was very simple:  tomatoes, onions, and a ton of spices including oregano, lemon-pepper, basil, and bay leaves.  Those seasonings and the seasoning in the Italian bread crumbs and the sweetness from the tomatoes and onions needed a beer with a touch of sweetness and the lightness of the eggplant suggested a lighter beer.  That’s why I choose the Southern Tier 422 Pale Wheat Ale.

First off, the dish was good.  Eggplant is not my favorite vegetable.  However, eggplant parmesan is a good dish.  Not great and I
think that goes back to the sauce.  It was not filled with as much flavor as I had hoped.  I think there will need to be some changes to the recipe to make the dish a little better.  If you like onions it is a great recipe, but I would have preferred more tomato sauce.  Even with the breadcrumbs the eggplant did not contribute much the taste of the dish.

This was my first attempt at eggplant parmesan as well as the first time I had the 422 Pale Wheat Ale.  It almost tastes like a Hefeweizen or other German style wheats, but it doesn’t have the banana/clove taste from yeast and fermentation.  That was probably a plus.  It still has the wheat sweetness and bread notes that matched the sweetness of the sauce and the bread crumbs.  It has a nice refreshing taste and mouthfeel.

Southern Tier 422 Pale Wheat AleThe thing that I am finding is that lighter beers, pale ales, wheat beers, blond ales, work better for Italian dishes then darker beers.  Maybe a brown ale or barley wine would work.  India Pale Ales should also work, but double IPAs maybe too much for a dish like this.  A bigger beer might work for lasagna.

Will I try this combination again?  Probably.  It was successful as the beer worked well with the dish, but the dish was not as good as it will be once I work on a new sauce recipe.

Quorn Chik’n Cutlets cooked in a balsamic vinegar reduction with herbed steamed potatoes and steamed broccoli with a Duck-Rabbit Brown Ale

Posted in beer with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2014 by cueball

Duck-Rabbit Brown AleThe goal of any pairing is to highlight flavors in both the beer and the food that may not be immediately noticeable when each is taken on its own.   You are trying to find something that you haven’t noticed before in each that will in turn highlight something in the other. You want the food and the beer to play off each other like a good basketball or soccer team.  This is true whether you are going for a complementary pairing or a contrasting pairing.  You are attempting to orchestrate something that is greater and different from the individual parts you are using.  This is much like what chefs do when creating new dishes and brewers do when creating new beers.

In the case of the Quorn cutlets in the balsamic vinegar reduction, I was going for a complementary pairing.  It seemed like a simple match.  A sweet balsamic vinegar reduction paired with a not so sweet brown ale (also one of my favorites), Duck-Rabbit Brown Ale.  In my mind I hoped the caramel notes in the balsamic would play off of the caramel notes in the Brown Ale without having to worry about the sweetness of the beer’s malt getting in the way and hoping the hops would play a more prominent role.

To be clear it did not fail as a pairing, but it did not work as I had hoped.  It almost worked.

The reduction was pretty basic.  It was a half cup of balsamic vinegar with two teaspoons of lemon juice, a teaspoon of honey (maybe I should have eliminated this), and pepper and chili powder to add a bit of spiciness.  It was a sweet reduction bordering on syrupy.  However, the lemon juice cut into the sweetness and brightened it a bit.

The problem was that the reduction and the Brown Ale didn’t really work together as much as cancel each other out.  Now, if I had eliminated the honey and then increased the lemon juice, would that have changed it?  I don’t know, but I will change the recipe and find out later.

I believe with how the recipe was constructed it would have benefited more from a hoppier beer or a beer with more citrusy flavors to contrast with the reduction.  Something like a west coast style pale ale (not an IPA) or a hefewiezen/wheat beer.

Usually when I’m thinking about a pairing I gravitate towards complimentary pairing.  It seems easier to put like tastes next to each other and hope they bring out something additional in each other. However, this pairing is a good illustration that the contrasting pairing works just as well as the complimentary pairing and in this case sometimes better.

What happened was the two like flavor profiles canceled each other out.  Nothing could be highlighted because the comparison was too close and the flavor profiles of each were much too strong.  They each needed something to go against to really shine.  A food that has a really strong flavor needs a beer that has some form of strong contrast to bring out the best in both.  In this case a hoppy West Coast style pale ale (not an IPA) would have done wonders with the taste of the reduction.  Alternately, I have been trying to think of a good dessert to pair with a brown ale and I am beginning to think it is not some kind of chocolate dish, but maybe a fruit based desert that may work better.