Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Beer And Food

As a beer lover, I have always been a bit irked by the short shrift that beer-food pairings get, as compared with wine-food ones. Volumes and volumes have been written on how to cook with wine and how to match wine to food, but it's only relatively recently that beer has begun to receive the recognition (as measured in paper and ink) which is its due.

A recent example of this is An Appetite for Ale by Fiona & Will Beckett. The Becketts run a well-regarded gastropub in Britain and their book contains both excellent recipes utilizing beer as an ingredient AND guidance for pairing beers with various dishes and types of food. It's also very nicely illustrated and full of interesting tidbits. All this makes it just the sort of book to help the average person begin to realize the vast flexibility that beer displays, both in and alongside food. I recommend it as an addition to your beer and/or cookbook library.

Speaking of additions to libraries, does your local library subscribe to any beer magazines? If not, perhaps you should suggest to the local librarian that they do so. If he or she is still not interested, perhaps you should consider purchasing a gift subscription on their behalf. Such a subscription would be considered a donation to the library (and is therefore tax deductible) and is a great way to raise the profile of serious beer-drinking in your area. As an example, the library at the community college where I work now has subscriptions with two beer magazines (All About Beer and The Beer Advocate), one of which I purchased as a gift subscription. It's little things like these that help spread the gospel of good beer.

Until next time, cheers!

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Relative Comes to Visit

It's a phenomenon that every Alaskan is familiar with: folks coming to visit. Moving to The Great Land is almost guaranteed to reacquaint you with friends and relations you thought long gone. The cousins from Philly who couldn't be bothered to visit when you lived in Cleveland will suddenly find that they can be bothered to fly thousands of miles to Alaska (to stay at your place and have you take them out fishing). Summer isn't just tourist season in Alaska; it's also Visiting Relatives Season.

However, once the snow has chased the last of our visitors back south, a more welcome relation pays us his annual visit. That visitor is Midnight Sun's CoHoHo Imperial IPA. This beer is one of their rotating seasonals, replacing their Meltdown Double IPA and is a more muscular version of their Sockeye Red. Long-time readers will know that I consider Sockeye Red to be my go-to beer, so it should come as no surprise that I also love its bigger, huskier cousin, CoHoHo.

CoHoHo weighs in at a hefty 8.0 ABV and 85 IBUs, as compared to Sockeye Red's 5.7% and 70, respectively. The folks at Midnight Sun achieve the increase in strength by adding fun stuff such as brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, and juniper berries. The same hops are used (Centennial, Cascade, & Simcoe) but at a more generous rate to balance the heftier grain bill. The end result is an exceptional beer, with a wonderful mouth feel and a massive hop bitterness and aroma. This beer is a wonderful drink on a long, snowy evening by the fire. It's a relation that is welcome to stay as long as he wants!

Speaking of distant relations, during my last visit to Anchorage, I picked up a bottle of Brewery Ommegang's Ommegeddon. It's described on the label as "a funkhouse ale brewed with brettanomyces" (right below the mushroom cloud!). This is one of the clearest examples of truth in labelling I've ever seen. Ommegeddon is an 8% golden Belgian style, generously dry-hopped and with plenty of brett-generated "horse blanket" funkiness. I loved it! Working my way through the 750 ml bottle, I knew this beer reminded me of another one I'd had. It took me a few sips before it finally clicked. Ommegeddon is strongly reminiscent of one of the great Trappist ales, Abbaye Notre-Dame d'Orval's Orval. The color is slightly different, with Orval being a bit more orange and I don't think Ommegeddon has candi sugar added, but otherwise they are very similar. Not bad for a beer brewed in Cooperstown, New York. All in all, it's a weird and wonderful beer. I plan to pick up another couple of bottles when I next get back to Anchorage, assuming there's any left.

Until next time, cheers!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Under the Weather

So where have I been for the last two weeks? Well, the phrase "Under the Weather" seems to pretty much encapsulate what's been going on around here. First, the weather's been kicking up, with several snow days in the last two weeks, with all the hassles that the first snow of the year implies. Second, a nasty cold bug has been making the rounds up here on The Last Frontier. No, it hasn't laid me out (no bug has figured out how to long survive in the ABV level I try to maintain in my bloodstream...), but several of the folks who work for me have been strickened, requiring me to cover for them. I have been laid low several times in the past two weeks with sinus problems, possibly related to the changes in our local weather. Hence, under the weather.

None of which you care about, since it has nothing to do with beer. I did get to spend a couple of days in Anchorage for my work, which did give me a chance to try a few more interesting brews. Sunday, October 5, my lovely wife Elaine and I dined at the Snow Goose Brewpub in downtown Anchorage. I was disappointed to find that they were out of their double IPA, but I settled for their recently reformulated Fish On! IPA to go along with my excellent Fisherman's Cioppino. I was very pleased with the "new and improved" version; the seem to have tweaked the hops a bit, amping up the aroma and smoothing out the bitterness. Extremely drinkable. Then I enjoyed a goblet of their Old Gander Barleywine with an exceptional chocolate mouse cake for dessert. A superb evening.

I had to work at the Egan Center on Monday until 8 PM. My wife and I tried to go the Glacier Brewhouse for dinner and drinks, only to be told it would be a 45 minute wait for a table. I guess it's good that they are so busy, but we were in no mood to wait another hour for something to eat. So we ducked back out into the rain and snow mix to head over to Humpy's. There we were able to walk right in, get a table, and be eating in under 15 minutes. Better luck next time, Glacier!

I drank three beers while at Humpy's, starting with a Raison D'Etre from Dogfish Head. It's one I'd had before from a bottle, but not on draft. It's a deep, mahogany ale brewed with beet sugar, green raisins, and Belgian-style yeast, coming in at 8% ABV and 36 IBUs. Just the thing to take the chill off from a raw and wet Anchorage evening.

Next, I decided to stick with the Belgian theme and have a Brouwerij St. Bernardus Grotten Brown. It's another beer that I'd had before, a Belgian dark ale, weighing in at 6.5% ABV. I tasted this one on draft several months ago at The Crossing Restaurant in Soldotna, and I wanted to compare it to my memory. I found it to be good, but not exceptional, just as I'd remembered it.

Finally, I finished up with a Snow Shoe Bitter from Kodiak Island Brewing Company. I always jump at the chance to try a new Kodiak beer. Kodiak Island is located fairly close to my home on the Kenai Peninsula, but we never get their beers. What they send off island seems to go pretty exclusively to Anchorage. Despite its name, Snow Shoe Bitter is definitely an IPA, aggressively dry-hopped with Amarillos and coming in at about 4.2% ABV. I thought it was outstanding and the best brew I had on this trip. Too bad they can't drop some of it off here when they're shipping to Anchorage...

Well, that's it for now. Next blog I'll pick up with some of the interesting bottled beers I picked up to try. Until then, cheers!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Time to Brew

Well, summer --what we had of it this year-- is over and fall is definitely here. Overnight temperatures are dipping into the low 20s and the birch trees are losing their leaves. That means it's time to start homebrewing again!

My summers are usually too busy and (sometimes) too warm for brewing, so I follow the traditional practice of brewing fall through spring and just drinking homebrew during the summer. So I always look forward to the coming of fall and the resumption of brewing.

One of the best things about being a homebrewer is your ability to produce styles of beer which are generally unavailable commercially in the United States. One of my favorites of these rare styles is the British Mild. Rare even in Britain, it's essentially unknown here.

Mild is a light-flavored, malt-accented beer that is
readily suited to drinking in quantity. Refreshing, yet flavorful, it origins are somewhat obscure, but by the end of the 19th century it had evolved into a refreshing drink for the workers in Britain's massive industrial base. Relatively low in alcohol (3.1-3.8% ABV), it is definitely a session beer, meant to be consumed in quantity over time without making the drinker overly intoxicated. In Britain, Milds are typically served as cask ales and bottled versions at the traditional low alcohol levels do not travel well, hence their lack of exposure here across the pond. My particular version is an attempt to recreate Holden's Black Country Mild, an excellent example of this style from the West Midlands region of Britain, clocking in at about 3.7% ABV. I brewed on Sunday and intend to rack to a secondary this weekend and bottle on 12 October. The brew should be ready to drink by Halloween. I'll let you know how it turns out.

The sad fact about the Mild style of ale is that it has become very rare, even in Britain. Incredibly popular early in the 20th century, it gradually lost market share to other styles, partially due to the perception that is was a blue collar (or as our Brit cousins would say, a "cloth cap") beverage. This is unfortunate, especially given the growing concerns about drinking and driving. A beer style that is full of flavor and character while being fairly low in alcohol would seem to be a great option. I've tried to convince a couple of my local breweries to take a chance on it, dropping off bottles of my attempts as examples, so far without success. I'll try again with this batch. I'd love to see this style undergo a revival here in the States, as so many others have.

Until then, I'll just keep brewing my own. Cheers!

P.S. Don't forget the release of the Winter Warlock at Kenai River Brewing today! Grab your growlers and pick some up.