Archive for beer

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


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


Why Fresh Cut Grass Is Important

Posted in beer, food, life, soccer with tags , , , on August 9, 2014 by cueball

Fresh cut grass.  Not cookies, cakes, or pies baking in the oven or the smoke from a grill on a summer’s evening.  It is the smell of fresh cut grass that I love the most. 

That aroma reminds me of being young and on a soccer field.  The sun beating down on you.  You watching the ball on the far end of the field waiting for it be played.  Then you see the ball take off and hear the thump of the kick and watch for a split second to check the flight of the ball and judge the run of the man you’re marking.  In that split second your mind does thousands of mathematical and physics computations that you could not explain in a million years to know how fast and where to run.  Then you are both off like Labradors after a tennis ball.  You beat your guy to the ball by the width of your shoe and deflect it away to the right.  You knew your plan instinctively so you are able to gain a little more space as you both sprint towards the spheroid.  You collect it, take a couple of dribbles and play a long ball to the other side of the field and watch the last 15 seconds of your life play out in a mirror image 60 yards away. 

You would entertain yourself for hours chasing a round ball all over a grassy meadow with a bunch of other likeminded individuals.  You would push yourself, test yourself, and entertain yourself in the pursuit of what?  Freedom, joy, happiness.  Yes. 

That smell is probably why I love hoppy beers.  When I have a good IPA poured into my glass I always take the time to get a good whiff taking in all the fresh cut grass and piney aromas I can before I sip.  That is the power of good food and good drink.  Not just the enjoyment at that very moment, but the memories it conjures of the past. 

That breakfast plate you are so fond of at the diner across town isn’t about the greasy goodness of the eggs and bacon, it is about the Sunday mornings you had as a kid watching your father cook his one meal of the week and the joy of sharing that meal and that time with him.  That double cheeseburger at the new place down the block you love so much isn’t about your love of cheddar, it is about the burgers your uncle cooked on those long summer nights of your childhood.  You and all your cousins would eat and then go chase fireflies until it was too dark to see while the adults sat, watched, and heckled from their lawn chairs.  Everyone a big happy mostly functional extended family.  

Food and drink aren’t important just as nourishment and fuel.  They are important because they are a key that gives us access to memories we hold sacred in our hearts and in our minds.  The memories that make our life something more.  That is why cooking real food still matters and why the slow food movement has taken such a strong hold.  Yes, you can get your vitamins and minerals from a host of semi-edible substances and you can get your caffeine from semi-drinkable liquids, but you lose that connection with your past and the world that way. 

That is the difference between existing and living.  You can exist by joylessly performing all the necessary functions to keep your body alive.  However, to live is to enjoy the food and the drink that not only nourishes your body, but also your mind and your memories. 

Musings on creativity

Posted in art with tags , , , , on August 8, 2014 by cueball

All artistic and creative endeavors are attempts to push the limits of the chosen discipline. 

Right now in the world of craft beer (yes, brewing is a creative endeavor) the India Pale Ale (IPA) style has been pushed to and past its limits in hop taste and alcohol content.  The IPA, particularly the American strain, is naturally a hoppy beer.  A quick primer, if you make a beer really hoppy you have to increase the amount of malt in the beer to keep the beer’s taste balanced enough to make it drinkable.  If you increase malt you increase the available sugar for fermentation which increases alcohol content. 

Many brewers have pushed the hop bitterness and alcohol content to such a level in their quest to make the hoppiest IPAs possible they are in some sense not making IPAs. 

The creative instinct is to always push to find new ways of expressing the same ideas or take an existing idea and push it all the way and past its limits.  That is how something new and different gets created. 

Bebop for example was created as an extension of traditional jazz and took the blues forms of jazz, increased the speed of the blues making the solos dizzying virtuosic performances while at the same time trying to find the most important notes in the music and attacking them at jagged sideways angles. 

Back to beer, the stout style was an extension of the porter style in 19th century England.  It began as a slightly darker and higher alcohol porter known as a stout porter, but slowly displaced the porter style entirely and became known as just stout.  Today true porters are rare, but stouts are ubiquitous. 

That brings up the other thing about creativity.  As it seeks to push the limits and find new ways of expression it inevitably destroys something that came before.  Two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time.  While it is true that two forms of the same artistic discipline can exist simultaneously, it is also true that one of those forms has to become the dominant form over time.   

What is the drive that makes artists and creators push the limits to find and create the next wave?  Is it a natural rebellion against the status quo? Or is it an innate restlessness and curiosity that constantly seeks new input and knowledge? 

The answer is probably a little of both.  Certainly not all creators are overt rebels, but any true act of creation is an act of rebellion.  Also, all creators have a little curiosity hardwired into their brains and personalities.  Overtime the artist ages and matures and as they do, one of two things occurs:  get comfortable with what they are doing and start “mailing it in” ceasing to push the limits of their creativity or they become more confident in their rebellion and intentionally push to find new ways of expression and make their audience think and become a little uncomfortable. 

There is a reason many of the most successful musical acts best music came at the beginning and the start of the middle phase of their careers.  That is when they are still taking chances and trying to push themselves as well as the music.  As they get older, many artists become stuck doing the same songs over and over again.  Not just playing the old hits, but recreating them time and time again in the guise of new music.  That isn’t just due to losing their artistic fire, but the more successful they become the more business depends on their success.  Once you become an industry instead of an artist, it becomes a lot harder to take creative chances on a new album.  If it doesn’t sale, jobs will be lost and houses will be sold. 

Art and creation are destructive rebellions that push the limits of their discipline.  Sometimes watching those limits be pushed in real time is disconcerting, but in retrospect it is always fascinating. 

Charlotte Beer Day

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

cBefore I do my  yearly reading of the first draft of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence (because I am a geek), Eightball and I went to Charlotte for a mental health day.  We started in my beloved Alexander Michael’s for lunch, next we hit Duckworth’s on Park Road before hitting Total Wine for beer (mine) and cigars (Eightball), closed with Noda Brewing and some Coco Loco.  It was a very good day.  Food pairing will resume soon.  I’m a  huge soccer fan and I am all up in the World Cup right now. I hope to have a pairing up next Tuesday.


Noda Brewing Coco Loco


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.

What Do I Love About Craft Beer…To Begin, With Everything

Posted in beer with tags , , on June 4, 2014 by cueball

William Miller:  “So Russell…what do you love about music?”

Russell Hammond:  “To begin with, everything.”

Almost Famous

This started off as a simple exercise in me thinking about what I look for in a good beer.  As is my wont, my mind started spinning out into different directions and I actually ended up writing about New Criticism and authorial intent as it regards brewers.

As is also my wont, if I see myself over-complicating the obvious (with good reason in this case) I stepped back and simplified.  Thinking about what I look for in a beer is complicated by the ideas of why I like beer and choose craft beer in the first place.  More on this later.

To put it simply, what I look for any a beer is does it balance all of its ingredients in a way that makes the sum greater than its parts.  Beer is not a smoothie it is a salad.  In a smoothie you are blending all the ingredients into one drink that subsumes all the ingredients into one taste.  A salad is a co-mingling of elements that respects and uses all the taste and texture of all the independent elements.

Beer is the same way.  You are not hiding the taste of the hops.  You are not hiding the taste of the malt.  You are using the elements of each to complement and highlight the other ingredients.

That is the basis of why I fell in love with craft beer.  I love puzzles and drinking a good craft beer is, for me, an attempt to unravel a puzzle of how four basic ingredients were turned into this thing I am drinking, which has a wholly different taste then the thing I drank yesterday made from the same basic ingredients.

However, it is the people and the community that have popped up around this idea of better beer that makes it worthwhile.  In the craft beer community there is the idea that this is about more than just producing something to make a profit.  Don’t get it twisted; profit is important because brewers need to eat to.  However, the idea is to make something worthwhile.  To craft a product that you enjoy making that truly gives others pleasure in order to make a profit.

Craft beer is not a disposable empty product you will forget about five minutes after you drink it.  Craft beer, brewing coffee, brewing tea, the whole food movement in general are all attempts by people to step away from the disposable society we live in now.  People have started to understand how unhealthy both mentally and physically that type of society is, and find ways around it.

That is why craft beer has gone from a puzzle that fascinates me to my line in the sand (sorry I couldn’t come up with anything better) against a society that places fast and disposable ahead of good.  Fast and disposable are not inherently bad, but too often they are accompanied by cheap which is always the enemy of good.

I hope some of this makes sense.  It was rather self-indulgent (not as self-indulgent as the first draft).  It serves as a warm up to making a pizza from scratch (crust and sauce and some to be determined toppings) this afternoon and pairing a beer with it.

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.