Guest Post: Ready, Set, Cook with Booze!

I came across a guest post of Jake’s on home brewing a while back while reading one of my favorite craft beer blogs, The ALEHEADS.  I added a comment to his post and a few days later Jake reached out and asked if I’d be interested in having him do a guest post over here.  Seems he’s been doing more than just brewing beer in his kitchen, he’s been cooking with it as well (not all that uncommon for many of us).  I’m infamous around here for my Unholy Hand Grenades – matzo balls cooked in Stone Smoked Porter then wrapped in bacon and roasted.  A favorite with my twisted friends but not so much with the rabbinical set.  When he mentioned that one of his recipes was called Mikes Hard Lime Pad Thai I was too intrigued to say anything other than “write it up and I’ll put it up” (or something like that).  Anyway, without further nonsense…..

Cooking with Booze

Author Bio: Jake Metzler spends his time at Midwest Supplies and writing about it to trying to make some money. He also enjoys learning about new and old brewing techniques.

I’ve been brewing my own beer for a couple of years, and I think the only reason I stuck with it is because I love to cook. Don’t get me wrong, I love beer. But my first foray into

When in doubt, pour

When in doubt, pour

making my own, well… it wasn’t great. It wasn’t terrible, but if I had thought that all my beers would taste like that, I wouldn’t have made any more.

But I like to think of myself as a kitchen scientist, so I continued to experiment until I got something that I was proud to share with buddies. Brewing is cooking in a sense; you just end up with a drink instead of food.

Besides cooking my alcohol, I like to cook with alcohol. I know that often the alcohol burns off, but it can add some great flavor. I’ve experimented with the usual; stout stews, beer batters, red wine spaghetti sauces. But there are a couple recipes I’ve played with that I’m pretty proud of.

Irish Cream Waffles

I’ve made beer batter pancakes before, but for some reason when I was out of milk and wanted to make waffles, I didn’t think of substituting beer. Instead, I scoured the house for any milk product I had. Baking cupboard: powdered milk? Nope. Evaporated milk: all gone. I had nothing.

But the cupboard I keep my baking supplies in has another very important item in it. Liquor. I had Bailey’s Irish Cream! That would substitute for milk, right?

Well, kind of. Cream is obviously thicker than milk so I had to add some water to the batter. But I loved the flavor and will definitely be experimenting with the recipe some more. Plus, it’s a great way to work a kick into a weekend breakfast.

Mike’s Hard Lime Pad Thai

I admit, when I came up with this idea, my whole goal was to find a new recipe with alcohol in it. I was being cheap and trying to use stuff I already had and wouldn’t mind pouring into my food instead of straight into my liver.

I had some vodka, but that didn’t really inspire any ideas. I looked in the fridge and saw a couple of stout beers and… Mike’s Hard Limeade (don’t judge).

I started to think of things that have lime in them. I considered a chicken marinade, but I wasn’t sure how the carbonation would do in a marinade. Then I thought of pad thai, which often has a peanut butter sauce with lime juice and sugar in it. I figured the Mike’s could substitute for the lime and the sugar. And since I was pretty sure none of that 6% alcohol content could stand up to any heat, I decided to soak some shrimp in it and throw those on at the last minute (so I did some marinating after all).

As much as I like to cook, I don’t really follow recipes (except when brewing) so my pad thai dishes are always a jumble of rice noodles and whatever veggies I have around – snap peas, mushrooms, bell peppers. Basically a random stirfry with a peanut butter sauce. I always throw the typical Asian flavors into the sauce as well: soy sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, and red pepper flakes.

It actually turned out really well! I threw some more of the Mike’s in at the very end just to make sure the lime flavor didn’t get lost. It came through wonderfully.

If you’re anything like Jake (or me) you’ve probably poured an adult beverage into the pan as well.  Chime in with your booze cooking adventures and misadventures.

Cheers!

Friendship at the Speed of Social Media – Compassion Lost to the Scroll

Dissonant notes colliding and speeding by

Nighttime’s dissonant cacophany

The country goes by quickly through the driver’s side window at 70 MPH.   Headlights and neon a streaking dissonant cacophony of notes in nighttime’s orchestral performance.  Each straining to be seen and heard above all the others without regard for harmony.  A blur of trees, plains, mountains, roadside restaurants, cars, and the people inside.  No time to focus on anything or anyone for more than brief second, if that.  I learned that lesson almost thirty years ago when I drove from New Jersey to California for law school.  Staring out at the Pacific from the beaches in Malibu upon arrival allowed ample opportunity to look forward in anticipation of friendships to be made, experiences to come, and hopes to be fulfilled.

Life goes by even more quickly through a 4 inch smartphone screen.  Headlights replaced by opinions.  Trees replaced by photos of children in celebration, ribs on the grill, abandoned pets in distress, and shoes to be purchased.  Roadside attractions replaced by corporate offers, suggested recipes, recaps of last night’s hot date, raves about Dorito’s great new flavor, and triumphs over vacation packing and lawn care challenges.  One another’s cares, hobbies, causes, victories, and failures fly by in a blur of likes and rants that make the headlights and neon at 70 virtually stand still.

 

Online diaries can’t be read during a screen refresh or pull down update.  The vortex of social media values quantity and snappy pontification over meaningful communication as each of us turns the dial of our bullhorns up to 11 lest we be ignored over the din.  Forgotten at the bottom of the screen.  Hoping to be buoyed by a like to a post but knowing that few took the time to read it.  Have we come to a point where the more we share, the less we care?  Are we losing compassion to the scroll or has it already been lost?  Can we care and meaningfully engage at the speed of social media?

Quantity Over Quality

Quantity Over Quality

I recently had the occasion to stare out at the Atlantic from the Boardwalk in Atlantic City.  A symbolic bookend to those days gazing over the Pacific, though lacking the past’s anticipation of friendships to be made.  Lacking anticipation of friendships became liking antics and posts by friends already made.

And I even read almost every one.

Howard Stern Meets Craft Brewing. Enter The Era of Shock Brews

A few weeks ago I was reading about that Finnish brewery that’s recreating a beer salvaged from a 200 year old shipwreck.  Dogfish Head has been doing that kind of thing with much, much older historical brews – the Ancient Ales Series  – for years, so the Finn’s brew concept seemed downright tame.  Move on.  So I did, soon landing on the description of an upcoming brew from a nanobrewery in Iceland.  I figured this would be good.  Any country that produced Björk could probably turn out an avant guard brew.

The brewery was Egill Skallagrimsson (probably not on ABInBev’s acquisition list) and the beer, to my only slight amazement, was Björk Stork Special Lager.  Seriously? First of all, she’s a first class loon.  A modern day Yoko Ono but without the politically-laced soft porn with John Lennon side project.  Makes Lady Gaga look like Taylor Swift during the infatuation phase with a new boyfriend.  Her fans are certified wackadoos and if the country that celebrates her as a national hero wasn’t already physically detached from every other country in the world, we’d figure out how to make it so.  Anyway, here’s what Egill Skallagrimsson said about their upcoming brew:

Magnús Per Magnússon moving an entire brewery

Magnús Ver Magnússon moving an entire brewery

Brewed in honor of our beloved Björk with all of the essence and wonder of her angelic thunder.  Aged 18 weeks atop shavings of footwear worn during her 2011 Biophilia World Tour for a unique flavor experience.  The clarity of this finest lager comes from the waters of revered Vatnajökull Glacier.  A grand lager to quench the thirst of a thousand Magnús Ver Magnússons.  In the shadow of Eyjafjallajökull we bring you Iceland’s most prideful premium lagers.

Her idea of Dress Down Goose Day duds

Her idea of Dress Down Goose Day duds

I won’t be pestering my local craft beer shops to stock this stuff and won’t try to track down those 2 art students down the hall in our dorm who I was convinced were from Iceland due to the mannequins in their….never mind.  Actually, I won’t be trying to get this beer because nobody can.  Harder to get than Westy XII because it doesn’t exist.  But one day it might.  It might because there are already some outrageous brews out there.  The goose-wrapped freak up there would probably pair Icelandic Hákarl (cured shark) with one of them.  So? What would Björk drink?

In other words, what tremendously stupid craft beers are actually being brewed, bought, poured, and…*clears throat…enjoyed right now?  Two ridiculous examples immediately come to mind (excuse the horrific pun – you’ll understand in a minute unless you save yourself and stop reading right now).  Both turned out by otherwise legitimate, respected, award winning craft breweries who apparently thought it might be fun to put on the idiot caps and design the following brews:

Exibit 1:  Wynkoop Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout

Trust me, it bothered me to post it too

Trust me, it bothered me to post it too

To make matters worse, they recently started canning and packaging it in two packs.  I wish I was kidding.  Brilliant marketing or idiocy on a grand scale? You know the Bud Light Lime crowd is howling at this one.

Exhibit 2:  Rogue Beard Beer

a,k,a, Shark Jump Beer

a.k.a. Shark Jump Beer

I didn’t believe this one either until I had no choice.  Well, I have a choice not to go anywhere near it.  I don’t know what they were thinking aside from the fact that they weren’t.  Perhaps a cry for attention from Rogue Nation.  Maybe they felt as though they were being left in the dust by more adventurous craft brewers.  This is their way of saying “Hey! Look at us now! We can be morons too!” Meanwhile, fully aware of my own opinions on this beer, I bought a bottle of their new VooDoo Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Ale earlier today AND I DON’T EVEN LIKE THE COMBINATION OF PEANUT BUTTER AND BANANA! So who’s the moron?

There are others.  These are just the two that annoyed me the most.  I assume this trend of shock brews is just in its infancy.  The gauntlet’s been brewed and bottled.  What’s your take? Should I just chill out with a sedate Ruination or am I somewhat justified?  Let me know what you think.

Cheers!

The Idiot’s Guide to Holy Ales

Alaskan IPA with a hoppy halo

Sure sign of a Holy Ale

Lots of ominous signs in the news these days.  North Korea is preparing to immolate Manhattan or launch a cyber attack against the online reservations systems of Nobu and Daniel to send New York’s well-healed foodies into a tizzy (not sure why they’d need to go to any of that trouble after simply sending Dennis Rodman back).  Assad may be using chemical weapons against Syrian rebels.  A Kardashian is apparently pregnant (with a reality fetus), Lindsay Lohan is still Lindsay Lohan, and the Virgin Mary appeared on a taco shell.  I’d be truly impressed if she showed up in the gelatinous coating surrounding Spam.  To each his own when it comes to Holy signs.

Mother Mary & The Stone Gargoyle have been said to appear .  Commence the pilrgimage!

Commence the pilgimage!

That got me thinking about craft beer (you wondered – me too – if I was going make that connection somehow).  Specifically, I started thinking about my term for the rare, the mythical, the “ungettable” craft beers: Holy Ales.  I wrote about one of my Quests for a Holy Ale last week but realized that I’d never given the topic of Holy Ales all that much thought.  Why are some Holy and others just spectacularly pious (really good)? Is it all about the beer itself or is there something more? A matter of faith or a matter of taste?

I figured the best way to understand how a beer achieves Holy Ale status would be to take a look at the ones already on my altar:

3 Floyds Dark Lord

3 Floyds Dark Lord

  • Russian River Pliny The Younger
  • Three Floyds Dark Lord
  • Deschutes The Abyss
  • Surly Darkness
  • Bell’s Hopslam
  • Founders KBS and CBS
  • Alchemist Heady Topper
  • Ballast Point Sculpin
  • Rogue Voodoo Doughnut (since defrocked)
  • Stone/Maui Coconut Macadamia Porter

That’s not the whole list but it was enough to get me started in trying to identify common traits implying Holiness (aside from the fact that darkness and evil seem to be tickets to my craft beer heaven.  Probably won’t be sharing this list with my Rabbi over a pint of He’Brew Glorious Jewbelation during Hanukkah).

First of all, there’s virtually no chance that any two craft beer fans will have identical lists of Holy Ales – just too many choices and too many varied tastes out there.  Regional availability plays a huge role as well.  In simplest terms, it’s all about basic economics but on a very personal scale: Supply vs. Personal Demand.  Milton Friedman had it figured out a long time ago and probably tweaked his theories at the Map Room Pub.

So now that I have the basics down (sort of), here are my Rules for attaining Holy Ale status.  Thine craft beer mayest be worshipped as Holy upon satisfactory passage of the following (and I’m not calling these commandments because I’m already in enough trouble and don’t want to be pummeled by frogs – I’m wearing red today and would end up looking like a Jewish Christmas Tree – like I said: enough trouble already):

  1. AVAILABILITY (or lack thereof).  Goes without saying that scarcity is a huge factor.  If you can your hands on a particular brew almost anytime you want , it just doesn’t feel “special”, though it may still be spectacularly pious.
  1. GEOGRAPHY.  Relates to availability.  What’s rare and difficult to get in one area may be a snap to obtain somewhere else. I don’t have Troegs Nugget Nectar on my list primarily because I can get plenty of it out here when its available – I love it.  It’s a special IPA.  I know many people think it belongs in the conversation with Hopslam, Pliny & Jai Alai.  If I lived in Fon Du Lac it would be Holy but I don’t, so it’s just a really fine sinner.

    Brewed every 50 years

    Brewed every 50 years

  1. REGULARLY (even if sparingly and only occasionally) BREWED.  That’s my way of saying one-offs don’t count.  I’m primarily talking about firkins.  Some of them are fantastic and highly prized but if we allowed them to attain Holiness the craft beer scene would resemble Pete Townshend’s  prescient lyrics of Exquisitely Bored in California: “pray TV looks like pay TV to me.”  In other words, there’d be too many Holy Ales preaching from the tap handles and we’d have a hard time finding our true prophets over profits.

I actually had a few other factors but then recognized that they all related to personal taste and that’s really where every craft beer geek’s list is going to go their separate ways.  I’ll never worship a Barley Wine, Belgian Tripel, or Doppelbock but others may brand me a blasphemous heretic for my beatification of IPAs or Double IPAs.

At the end of the day we all see the Holy Ale signs we want to see in the lacing.  I’m still waiting for the Stone Gargoyle to appear in mine.

What about your Holy Ales? Agree or disagree with my rules?  File an appeal with a comment…

Cheers!

Beer Review (Quest) – Ballast Point Indra Kunindra

I don’t remember where I was or what I was doing when I read about a beer brewed with coconuts, kaffir lime leaves, cayenne pepper, and madras curry but I know I was intrigued.  And pissed.  I also know that I was most likely minding my own business while possibly working up my design for Bose Fool Cancelling Headphones™ (more on that another time).  Then I read what had to be a preview of this very limited release by Ballast Point in San Diego and all bets were off.  So much for minding my own business.  Now I had to make it my business to get a hold of that beer when it was released.  That’s where the pissed comes in (I’m pretty sure nobody else typed those words in that exact order anywhere else in the world today – or yesterday – and I should probably apologize for it but I’m in a bit of a mischievous mood so I won’t).

Indra Kunindra Label - Its All In There

Indra Kunindra Label – Its All In There

Ballast Point is a pretty small operation in the first place.  They pulled distribution of their regular lineup from NJ (and I believe the rest of the Least Coast) for a couple of years around 2010/2011 because they couldn’t consistently meet demand.  Fortunately, Philadelphia is their top distribution market outside of San Diego and Southern California so if I needed a fix of Sculpin or Sea Monster it was occasionally available across the bridge (although you’re really crossing the river and since the river and the bridge are, by necessity, perpendicular, you can’t cross both at the same time.  Geometrically impossible.  Maybe the people with bridge phobias simply figured that out a long time ago).

So anyway, the words “very limited release” really meant “no f’n way you’re getting your hands on this one out in New Jersey.”  Very well.  The coconut shells and imaginary horse are next to the craft beer fridge for a reason.  The next Quest for the Holy Ale is on! Soon enough, some reviews are popping up about Indra Kunindra.  I managed to ignore the details (didn’t want to be influenced and they’d probably be wrong anyway) and focused on the location of the reviewers:  all San Diego/SoCal.  Appeared to be no distribution outside of that region.  Not one to be easily turned into a newt I started practicing my coconut shell clip-clops.

Most of the reviews were from people lucky enough to sample it at the source – the brewery at Scripps Ranch.  Thanks to my newfound fear of bridges I didn’t see myself driving out to San Diego anytime soon.  Especially not with that huge river bisecting the country – pretty sure I’d need to use a bridge to get across it.  Hope of a successful quest was beginning to fade when an opportunity presented itself to actually go to San Diego on an airplane.  No need to confront a bridge.  I hadn’t been to San Diego in over 10 years and the closest I came then to craft beer was craftily throwing back insults at Dick’s Last Resort in the Gaslamp Quarter.  The timing was perfect – or so I thought.  Indra was still pouring in the tasting room based upon the website and Twitter feed.  The day before I left they let me know that they thought I’d arrive before it kicked.  Panic.

No time to pack the coconut shells or invisible horse.  Not sure how the TSA luminaries would handle them anyway.  The Quest was going old school:  Planes, Trains & Automobiles (moving walkways replacing the trains).  I arrived mid afternoon and headed straight for the prize.  Finding the brewery proved a bit challenging.  I passed it twice before realizing that it’s a stealth brewery.  Completely unassuming space in a small section of a large corporate park facility.  No glitz, glamor, or stools in the tasting room either.  No matter,  I’d been seated in a D14 next to a custom chicken coup designer for the past six hours so I didn’t need a stool – I needed an Indra Kunindra.

Ballast Point Brewery Tasting Room (Scripps Ranch)

Ballast Point Brewery Tasting Room (Scripps Ranch)

Just in time! If I’d gotten there a few hours later I’d have been out of luck (though they still had some Indra bombers in the fridge to take home as stowaways – which I took advantage of).  The pint glass at the lower right corner above is the beer I’d flown 3,000 miles for (well, not exactly but we’ll go with that for now).  More often than not I find that beers brewed with unusual ingredients are actually quite tame.  The exotic additions used so sparingly as to require focused dedication just so that you can say, with absolute confidence, that you’re pretty sure you taste them.  Not so with this brew.

Indra Kunindra is everything the name implies – whatever that is.  It’s nothing short of astounding in terms of huge, aggressive, diverse, and completely unexpected flavors – despite the fact the label tells you exactly what flavors to expect. It’s that different.  Pours a clear onyx with faint ruby highlights with a very thin disk of a medium brown head.  The aromas more than hint at what’s to come.  Lime, toasted coconut, cocoa, and anise fill the nose.  The first sip is borderline stunning.  If you didn’t pay attention to the aroma or to the label you’d probably think you were having a sensory seizure – signals crisscrossing and colliding at frightful velocity.  The tart kaffir lime smacks the front of your tongue followed by heavily roasted barley, coconut, dark chocolate, curry, and burnt toast.  Three or four sips later I’m wondering if I missed the lit matches I must have unwittingly swallowed before realizing the the letters on the label spelling out “cayenne pepper” meant that cayenne pepper was in here too – and a healthy dose at that.  The mouthfeel was silky with prickly carbonation and the finish extremely dry.

I love Thai food but hate Thai beer (the real Singha Thai beer that is).  Ballast Point’s Indra Kunindra is Thai Coconut Curry in a pint glass.  That said, I wouldn’t necessarily pair it with Thai Drunken Noodles or Evil Jungle Prince Curry – the flavors are too similar.  I loved this beer but couldn’t drink two of them.  Probably couldn’t drink two in a week.  It’s just that intense.  Certainly not for everyone.  A polarizing brew to be sure.  I was able to bring a bottle home to share with G-Lo of the Booze Dancing Crew and his impressions were similar to mine.

 Turns out that if I’d been more patient I wouldn’t have had to endure airport security lines or a TSA fondling because this past winter Ballast Point ramped up production of Indra and it’s been freaking out lesser brews on craft beer shelves all around here.  I even had a chance to share a one-off Sculpin at Philadelphia’s Good Dog Bar  with the brewer who created Indra’s recipe and earned the chance to brew it at Ballast Point (later to be hired there) during Philly Beer Week last year.

Like I said, Indra Kunindra is not for everyone, not by a long shot, but I really enjoyed it.  Then again, I really enjoyed One Crazy Summer and Fog Of War too but don’t hold that against me.

This guy really liked it too:

Elf on a Craft Beer (be thankful its not an animated GIF)

Elf on a Craft Beer (be thankful its not an animated GIF)

Let me know how much you loved, hated, fear, or need to find this brew…

Cheers!

Beer Review – 21st Amendment Lower De Boom

I’ve learned a great deal from my children – especially my daughters.  At 6 and 8 they are virtuosos at the finer art art of changing their minds.  At my age (which will be the subject of a separate post in the not too distant future) the simple inertia of decades of synaptic struggles doesn’t allow for lightning quick shifts in the direction of thought or decisions already made.  During those 4+ years when I wasn’t writing because I was being Natty Lightboarded I decided that I wasn’t going to write craft beer reviews if and when I started writing again.  My enabler and craft beer wingman G-Lo of Its Just The Booze Dancing kept urging me to post reviews – to copy some from my archives on RateBeer – but I’d made up my mind.  No beer reviews.  Not interested.  Plenty of great reviewers out there and some of them even know what wet horse blankets and freshly filed Indian Ocean cuttlebone taste like.  At least they say they do.  I don’t know.  I’ve always had a very hard time distinguishing between Indian Ocean and Bellighausen Sea cuttlebones.  That’s why I leave the serious reviews to the experts.  Then I read a review of Coronado Idiot IPA that left me wondering if it was written by the brew’s namesake.  One line in particular caught my attention: “…with serpentine and velvety layers of rich, dark fruits that ascend to vinousness.” Um, OK…. What the f*ck does that even mean!?

Suddenly the lessons of my daughters came to mind.  If they can change their minds at the drop of a Baby Alive curling iron, so can I.  So I’ll occasionally dabble in craft beer reviews (already posted a soft opening of sorts with reviews of Black Crown and New Albion Ale) but they won’t be quite as traditional as the ones you might find elsewhere.  I have to keep myself entertained after all.

No mirrors were harmed in the staging of this picture.  Honest

No mirrors were harmed in the staging of this picture. Honest

So I’m meticulously negotiating the ample grocery aisles at Wegmans sourcing ingredients for my Schlomo Kameamea’s Kamikaze Sliders when I lost my way.  Somewhere between the miniature King’s Hawaiian rolls and the Golden Frozen Latkes I found myself in the craft beer section.  Still not sure how I got there.  Never did find any bruises.  My handlers apparently don’t leave marks.  In any event, next thing I know I’m inspecting a previously unseen and unusually small cube of cans from 21st Amendment Brewery.

Full disclosure: I’m not a huge barleywine fan.  I often find them just a bit too intense and burdened.  Screaming for attention like the drama queens of craft beer.  Stone’s Old Guardian and Sierra Nevada Bigfoot are exceptions.  Lower De Boom intrigued me for a couple of reasons.  21st Amendment claims this to be an intensely hoppy brew – unique for a barleywine.  In fact, they’re description is decidedly anti-barleywine:

Lower De Boom is a powerfully balanced American-Style barleywine packed with citrusy Pacific Northwest hops. Chestnut brown in the glass with notes of toffee malt, fruitcake, toast, piney hops and more than a hint of alcohol. Our liquid gold is the first American craft beer in a can offered in the traditional barleywine “nip” size. Perfect to enjoy sipped at the end of a long day. More than that and you might feel like the boom has been lowered on you.

The second thing that intrigued me was the size of the cans.  Not sure what they mean by traditional “nip” size cans.  They’re far from traditional.  Look like they belong in the Wawa cooler next to Starbucks Double Shot cans – though they’d deliver a decidedly different buzz.  I know – I know – get on with the review.  Fine,  Sort of.

Here are a few things Lower De Boom didn’t remind me of:

  • Ton Loc
  • Reruns of either the first or second seasons of Miami Vice
  • Bobble head doll collections (especially dogs)
  • Barleywine

OK, so one of these things is not like the others but the list is still accurate.  Lower De Boom doesn’t taste like any barleywine I’ve had but looks like plenty of them once freed of the nifty little cylinders.  Clear walnut/chestnut brown with mild carbonation supporting a very thin dusky tan head which disappears as quickly as a Salman Rushdie impersonator rounding the corner towards a flash fatwa.  Bold citrusy, piney, grapefruit aromas along with caramel and a hint of white pepper.  Things get a little weird in he flavor – but not in a bad way.  Hops still there.  Chewy, resiny, piney hops take the first few swipes before getting steamrolled by a Mavericks-like breaker of rich, sweet  roasted barley.  Caramel, toffee, vanilla, bittersweet chocolate and some snack fruits (Turkish apricots or figs – take your pick – I couldn’t figure it out).  I thought the texture was a bit thin for a barleywine but that improved the overall drinkability.  Despite the 11.5% ABV I didn’t get a big, boozy punch of alcohol in the finish.  A hint of warming perhaps.  Otherwise the finish is smooth, satisfying, and far less sweet than expected.  No vinousness, vinousing, vinophilia, or Venus and Mars anywhere to be found (all due respect to Paul McCartney & Wings’ greatly underrated album).

Bottom line is that Lower De Boom is an interesting and well-crafted brew.  For me it’s more of an American Strong than a Barleywine but my name’s not on the svelt little can so 21st Amendment can call it whatever they like.  They’ve earned that and more.

Have you raised a Lower De Boom? If so chime in and let me know what you thought.

Cheers!

Not Kosher For Passover

Not endorsed by Jewish Cardiologists.  Unholy Hand Grenades cooked in Stone Smoked Porter

Not endorsed by Jewish Cardiologists. Unholy Hand Grenades cooked in Stone Smoked Porter

I said it wasn’t Kosher for Passover, didn’t I?

Hello, my name is The Alemonger and I’m an irreverence addict.

Group response: “welcome, The Alemonger.  You have a great name.  Actually, it’s ridiculous but we’re supposed to make newcomers feel welcomed and comfortable so we say things we don’t really mean.  And we say them in unison.”

So what’s an irreverent Jew to do on Passover? Posting a picture of my Unholy Hand Grenades seemed a bit less problematic than actually making them for tonight’s Seder.  The heathens are coming over for the second Seder tomorrow night so I’ll wait 24 hours.  The extra day won’t kill me.  Better not, because if I go before I hit the reset button next Yom Kippur I’ve got less of chance of getting to Heaven than FGCU has of getting to the Final Four.  Hmm… Then again, maybe my chances are a bit better than I suspect.  For the record, an unnamed brother specifically asked me to make Unholy Hand Grenades (matzo balls cooked in Stone Smoked Porter and wrapped in bacon) for tonight’s Seder but I declined.

What's that smell??

SHOW US YOUR FINS!!

I also declined – no, refused – to serve Gefilte Fish.  That oily conglomerate of congealed “fish” loaf is possessed of a highly toxic and fetid stench.  No wonder we aren’t making enough Jewish babies.  The contact odor alone is enough to defeat even the most amorous of intentions.  And another thing: where are its fins? Yeah, yeah, yeah (not The Beatles version), straight to Hell.  I know.

What’s a Passover Seder without a traditional brisket and recitation of the 10 Plagues? Over the past several years it occurred to me that both the brisket and the plagues needed a little spicing up – one literally.  As for the plagues, well, let’s face it, they need a serious overhaul.  It is 5773 after all and frogs just aren’t all that relevant a plague these days.  More on that later.  Back to the brisket…

I didn’t exactly grow up in a house of cooks and I’ve yet to watch a real live Bubbie prepare a traditional brisket so I walk into the valley of stainless steel Vikings already lead by temptations no self-respecting Jewish cook would entertain.  I’m not out to win this season’s Food Network Top Chef so I’ll spare you the full recipe.  Suffice it to say that it’ll get my Rabbi’s attention – and not in a good way.  Mind you, I did use a healthy amount of Israeli cumin in the dry rub but the fact alone that I used dry rub at all is strike one.  Strike two is the coffee.  Howard Schultz, Starbucks President himself, wouldn’t even carve a brisket rubbed with their own Ethiopian Sidamo (neither will I – I used Peet’s Major Dickason’s but that’s besides the point).

I go down swinging with strike three by using Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout in my braising base.  You knew craft beer had to make an appearance somewhere.  Oddly (though not at all for anyone who knows me), I’ll use beer in the recipe but I won’t actually drink it at the Passover table.  Life is full of gerrymandered lines, rationalizations, and uncommon sense.  Remains to be seen if the line between beer and the Passover table will extend to the couch later in the evening.  In any event, I figure that actually cooking the brisket in beer – even a world class stout from America’s Torah Belt – is enough all by itself to assure me a long wait for that ferry across the Styx.  Maybe I can bribe Charon with a fresh Sculpin or two to show up a little early.

About those plagues…

I get it.  Back in the days when Charlton Heston’s ancestor was President of the NSA and defying Pharoah to take his slingshot from his cold dead hand, boils and frogs were probably legitimate plague-worthy inflictions.  Not so much anymore.  Slaying of the first born would still qualify as a top ten plague today but seems to me a bit extreme these days so let’s bench that one for a while.  The time has come to refresh the plagues.  Make them relevant again.

Thou Shalt Revise Thine Plagues

Thou Shalt Revise Thine Plagues

I propose we dip our pinky fingers into the Manischewitz for these Ten Plagues we can really get behind:

  1. Dial-up Internet Access
  2. The Honey Boo-Boo and it’s Posse
  3. Obamacare
  4. Bad Chinese Food
  5. The Twilight Werewolf Guy’s Pecs
  6. D List Reality TV (Duck Dynasty & Dancing With the Stars)
  7. Big Beer Pharoahs (ABInbev & MillerCoors)
  8. LiLo
  9. Weak 4G Cellular Coverage
  10. Chick Fil-A Closed on Sundays

Not a perfect list of modern plagues, I know.  I expect I’ll be criticized for leaving standard definition TV off the list but that’s not as egregious as the NCAA Tourney Committee’s giving Oregon a 12 seed.

Here’s to a Happy (and possibly Hoppy) Passover! I’d love to hear your suggestions for irreverent celebrations.  Let me know what you’re doing to stir things up while hiding the Afikoman.

L’Chaim!

Full Frontal Fromage

Not sure what to make of these guys but I like them

Not sure what to make of these guys but I like them

Offended yet?  Americans in particular seem offended by full frontal nudity.  Wardrobe malfunctions during Super Bowl half time shows and a fleeting glimpse of a blurred nipple is enough to send some of us into an irreversible state of shock.  Hide the children lest they be forever scarred by nightmares of a nearly fully exposed areola!  The entire adult populations of West Virginia and Mississippi driven to therapy.  Mass moronity at its pinnacle – or its nadir.

But I’m not offended by a surprise nipple or even a free range breast.  Even my holy roller Mormon legal education couldn’t put the fear of broadcast nudity into me.  I’m offended by cheese.  Hate it.  Completely.  All forms.  It’s vile and rancid.  Nothing redeeming about it.  Fetid, horrific, and toxic.  That’s right.  Deadly.  It’s a killer.  Ask any cardiologist or 7 year old with access to a TV and the attention span to pay attention to commercials.

Too harsh?  Nah.  OK, maybe not quite accurate.  I’m not offended by cheese, I’m offended that most everyone else seems to expect – practically demand – that I like it.  Pretty simple really, when milk goes bad (which it never does in a house with 3 young children) you throw it out.  That’s especially true when its bad enough to congeal into a solid or semi-solid mass.  You don’t rename it “cheese” and put it in your mouth.  If not for cheese I could be a proper Giada DeLaurentis stalker.

Giada photo courtesy of the Food Network

Giada photo courtesy of the Food Network

I hate cheese almost as much as I hate mayonnaise (amazed myself for even spelling it without passing out).  Mayonnaise people are completely insane.  Want me to bolt from a room? Put a tuna salad sub in plain sight.  Egg salad is even worse.  I’ll probably throw up in my mouth by the time I finish this sentence.

But I digress.  Cheese is the villain here.  Its bad enough when the stuff is in plain sight but when you people start hiding it in otherwise safe havens you’ve crossed the line.  I still have PTSD-like flashbacks of an early October 1980 lunch in the Sadler Hall Dining Hall at Syracuse when I bit into a hot dog only to come face to face with a beast so hideous as to forever shatter my sense of dining calm.  A cheese dog!? Innocence lost.

I get it. Many of my craft beer friends swear by beer & cheese pairings.  One of my favorite craft beer bars in Philly, Tria, is based upon a theme of offering the best of the three fermantables: beer, wine & cheese. Tria is a great bar.  Small but world class craft beer offerings and an excellent wine list but I have to ignore that third prong.  Full disclosure: not all cheese is bad.  This one used to be pretty good:

Now THIS is foodie quality stuff

Now THIS is foodie quality stuff

Yes, I really used to eat those.  Fresh from the vending machine they were hard to beat.  If I were to go completely mad and forsake my hatred for cheese, this is where I’d go:

I might even get a frequent shoppers club card from that joint.

On occasion I consort with the enemy.  I call some of them friends.  Frail and flawed as they are.  One in particular, G-LO of the It’s Just The Booze Dancing blog fancies himself a foodie and good cook (both true).  All around good guy but for his affection for cheese in all of its heinous forms.  I thought it only fair to ask him a few questions.  Know thine enemy (or something like that).  Anyway, here’s my brief interview with a friend and a friend of the fromage.  Draw your own conclusions but know that if you side with him I’m coming for you down the road……

The G-LO Interview:

1.   Explain yourself
Talk about an open ended question. For those that don’t know me, my name is G-LO, one of the writers for the “It’s just the booze dancing…” blog. Food and drink are what make me happy. The Alemonger, a man that lives in fear of the cheese, asked me to explain how I can eat the stuff. Although I live in fear of his questions (mostly because my Sicilian upbringing causes me to naturally fear anyone that has ever worked in any form of law enforcement. Fear of getting caught? You betcha.), he asked kinda nicely, so I agreed to the interview.
2.  When were you turned onto turned milk?
Again, I’m Sicilian. We go from drinking milk to eating cheese at a very young age. Ricotta, mozzarella, mascarpone, fontina, and pecorino. These are our gateways.
3.  How do you deal with the stench?
Stench? We cheese aficionados prefer to call them aromas. When the cheese is fresh and well crafted, the aromas are positively mouth watering. What he meant to say: “now that you mention it…”
4.  Favorite Cheese & craft beer pairing.
Much like my taste in Craft Beer (or pretty much anything else), I enjoy an incredibly wide variety of cheeses. While I have typically paired a bold red wine with most cheeses, I have really started to enjoy great Craft Beer alongside a well constructed cheese plate (Thank you Tria!). Since I really like big cheeses like Gorgonzola, Roquefort, or Stilton, they need to be enjoyed with a Craft Beer that can stand up to their bold flavors. A Saison Dupont is perfect for this, but I could also see something like a Rodenbach Grand Cru, or perhaps even a really good IPA like Ballast Point Sculpin or Green Flash Palate Wrecker.
5.  If you home churned, what would you make and what would you name it?
Several years ago, Mrs. G-LO and I spent an anniversary weekend in DC. We did the usual touristy stuff, i.e. walked many miles and went to many museums (this was before my Craft Beer fascination, so I was not aware of places like Church Key). One particular exhibit that completely enthralled me was Julia Child’s Kitchen which is located in the American History Museum. One of the walls in this exhibit featured Julia Child’s French Bread recipe. What I found most fascinating is what she said about the French and their bread baking habits. Essentially, most French people do NOT bake their own bread. Every town or neighborhood has a local bakery, and that’s where most French people get their bread. Making great bread is inexpensive, but it’s also very time consuming, so why do it on your own when you have access to a professional baker that turns out a consistently great product at an affordable price everyday? With all that in mind, I doubt very much that I would ever make my own cheese. Some things are best left to the professionals. Same goes for Craft Beer. Much respect for those that homebrew, but with so many great local beers, why would I ever want to go through the hassle of brewing my own?
Now if you put a gun to my head and forced me to make a decision, I would go with a fresh mozzarella or ricotta because you can pretty much make it and eat it the same day. As for the name, they already have names.
What that answer reveals:  G-LO has a fetish for Julia Child (not peeking through his bedroom window). The French are lazy and toss cows at proper Englishmen. He won’t allow a pet into his house because he won’t be able to name it.
6.  Cheese in 3 words:
Makes everything better!
7.  What is wrong with you people?
There is nothing wrong with us people. Cheese is an essential and delicious part of life. Great cheese has the ability to take something good and make it even better. A perfect;y cooked, medium rare, USDA Prime Porterhouse topped with melted Gorgonzola? Yes please! Wash that down with a glass of Russian River Consecration? Even better!
You need to get past your preconceived notions and free your mind. Take the red pill Neo!
What should I have asked? 
 
9. Let’s say I completely lost my mind and decided to finally try some cheese (never gonna happen). How would you ease me into it? (for the record, I’d have never asked that)
Would you give a person that hates beer an Imperial IPA and expect them to enjoy it? Would you pour a Laphroaig 10 for a non-whisky drinker and expect them to enjoy it? In both instances, the answer is no. You need to ease someone into it. Tantalize their palate. Pique their interest. What you need to do is find a gateway cheese. I would start very basic. A fine English Cheddar served with some sliced apple, dried fruit, perhaps a bit of honey. Maybe some young Pecorino on a slice of bread, topped with some roasted red pepper. Even better, have a hamburger with a slice of well aged swiss cheese! Ya gotta take it slowwwwwww….
Thanks G-LO
That’s it.  Now pass the cheese free pretzel dog.
Cheers!

Austin SXSW – Music, Interactive, Craft Beer (well it should be)

Wasn’t long ago that Austin was known mostly for these guys:

One of nature's most freakishly astounding shows

Congress Ave Bats

I’ve stood on that bridge at dusk under the million or so bats as they flutter, dive, and swirl about before heading off into the night sky.  Sinewy tendrils of winged death.  It’s a wonder a few dozen onlookers don’t stroke out at the sight of them every sunset.  Fortunately for a few bat fans in the know, there’s a world class craft beer bar just a few blocks from that bridge.  An easy walk for even those still jittery  from the hellishly Hitchcockian yet spectacular display.

I’m a strong believer in the separation of Church and State.  I’m also a strong believer in really illogical segues and that was a particularly fine example.  Anyway, I believe that separation should extend beyond religion and politics to include work and play.  I practice what I preach by carrying an iPhone and a BlackBerry – one for work, one for play.  I’ll leave it to you to figure out which one’s for which.  On rare occasions though, work and play intersect.  I’m fortunate to speak at an annual national conference in Austin where Higher Education, Health Care, and other industry executives come to hear me discuss topics from the BlackBerry side of the divide.  There, I gave it away.

So the first time I visited about the only things I knew about Austin were those bats and the Bell Tower on the campus of the University of Texas.  34 years after the Boomtown Rats song I still don’t like Mondays.  Unless its a Monday night in Austin at the Ginger Man.

Liquid Gold & Hammered Copper

Every Handle Offers a Worthy Brew

I’d heard of this bar only in passing and knew there were a few of them in Texas.  I’d targeted it for a visit the Saturday I arrived for the conference in 2009.  The first session wan’t until the following morning so I had the afternoon for some Texas craft beer research.  After a nearly mile long walk in 102 degree heat in search of a Radio Shack for a new laptop charger to replace the one comfortably resting in NJ (being an industry expert doesn’t mean I’m not also a knucklehead – the two aren’t mutually exclusive), I finally hit the Ginger Man.  I might have happily accepted a Bud Light Lime after the hike (not really) but once I saw the hammered copper wall with 50-something taps I knew I wouldn’t have to settle for anything.  Just about every handle was devoted to craft beer.  Quite a few local offerings as well.  I settled in with a Live Oak Hefewiezen and my love affair with Texas craft beer began.  I’ve been back to the Ginger Man a few times since then and can honestly say it’s one of my top 5 favorite craft beer bars anywhere.  My beers are constantly getting hit on there.  Seems that almost everyone that walks in is tied to craft beer in some way.  It’s a hangout for local brewers and craft beer fans from far and near.  The bartenders are all knowledgable, friendly, and attentive.

So I developed a real respect for Texas craft beer during my first visit to the Ginger Man in ’09 but it wasn’t until the next year that I recognized just how vibrant the Austin craft beer culture was.  Understandable to a degree because so few Austin breweries distribute outside of the local region (none of them make it out to Jersey – yet another knock).  These guys are turning out some legitimate world class brews:

  • (512) Brewing – their Pecan Porter is outstanding
  • Live Oak – nobody brews a better Hefewiezen (seriously)
  • Jester King
  • Austin Beerworks
  • South Austin Brewing
  • Independence Brewing
  • Circle Brewing

The Ginger Man was very close to our conference hotel up until 2011 when it moved to the new conference center on the UT campus.  Nice place.  Just down the street from the Bell Tower but not from my top 5 research spot.  Thanks to the play phone and the magic of Google Maps, I located a potential target just 4 or 5 blocks away.  Mind you, those 4-5 blocks would be uphill and its still 102 degrees and humid so it better be worth the trip.  Duck & Dog Pub.  First thought: stupid name.  Probably not worth the trip.  Nothing else nearby and I don’t have car so I’m pretty much stuck with it.  About a block away I spotted the sign and approached what appeared to be a not-too-well maintained large dark shack behind it.  Second thought: this place is a dump.  Not going in.  After all, I’m Jewish and I’m in Texas.  Not a good combination to begin with.  Then I went in.

Surprised to see this one pop up here

Alaskan IPA at Duck & Dog Pub (complete with Aurora Borealis)

Next thought: what is a British pub doing in the middle of Texas and why are there Alaskan Brewing tap handles over there?  That last question was pretty easy – they were attached to kegs of Alaskan IPA and Alaskan Summer Ale.  The only other place I’d ever seen Alaskan brews on tap was at a bar in SeaTac Airport.  That made sense.  Alaskans in Austin? Not so much.  But the beers were excellent.  The atmosphere ridiculously casual and the fried pickles spectacularly addictive (though not nearly as good as the Wicked Pickles at Oak Creek Brewery in Sedona, AZ).  You’d never confuse this place with the Ginger Man.  Not nearly as many taps but still plenty of good local and not so local offerings.  Final thought: I was wrong.

Austin may still be known for its bats, SXSW, Austin City Limits, 6th Street (and that W Daughter’s exploits), but it’s solidly on the craft beer radar and the ping is growing louder and hoppier.  Oh, and its still got this:

All things considered its really not all that wierd

The Shirt Says it All

Cheers!

What did I miss?  Who did I offend?  Let me know in the comments……

The Evolving of a Craft Beer Geek (or “How I’ve Learned to be More Tolerant”)

Craft Beer with a View

Craft Beer with a View

About four and a half years ago I wrote and posted a not so short essay describing my journey to craft beer geekdom.  Soon after that I stopped blogging (despite the fact that one of my craft beer idols, Greg Koch of Stone Brewing, actually took the time to read it and posted a complimentary comment).  Plenty of good reasons got in the way of my writing (some less than good ones snuck in there as well) but my “research” and enjoyment of craft beer, the industry and, more importantly, the people involved with it continued.

Now that I’ve started blogging again I thought it would be a good idea (and maybe fun) to go back and re-read the Crafting of a Craft Beer Geek post to see if anything has changed since I wrote it.  Do I still agree with it?  Are the points or observations still valid?  What did I miss?  What’s Next?

One thing occurred to me right away.  I did miss something.  I had to have missed a lot of somethings to have written that whole thing all by myself (which I’m pretty sure I did).  I know I attended and participated in the birth of all three of our children so at least I didn’t miss any of that.  Lesson learned: only write posts that don’t require 2 bombers or other large format bottles to get through.  With that in mind, here are a few look-back observations and updates to that infamous post:

  • I must have thought I was going to win a prize for the longest sentence and longest average sentence.  James Joyce would have been proud.  My high school English teachers would have fainted.  My college creative composition professor is still at the front of the class doing an adaptation of Ben Stein’s “Beuller….Beuller…?”
  • I’m up to about 1,500 craft beers tasted and about 750 reviewed (still slacking there)
  • Anchor Steam still has a place in my craft beer fridge.  Fat tire not so much.
  • I finally made the pilrgimage  to Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens.
  • That grown up version of the “safe tree” is still in Scottsdale/Sedona though the forest of safe trees now includes Papago Brewing, Four Peaks, Old Town Tavern, The Yard House & Stone Rose at the Princess.
  • I finally began home brewing with Honey Badger IPA as chronicled in New Jersey Monthly Magazine.

Most importantly, I’ve found that I was right about my parting observation back then.  It’s still not about the beer.  It’s about the craft beer people like the group at Just The Booze Dancing and the people that make up the vibrant craft beer culture (fans, writers, brewers, bar owners) in places like Philly, Austin, San Diego, Asheville & the next great craft beer scene, wherever that might be.

Oh, and if you do plan to click over and read the original post, have a Stone Double Bastard in hand.

Cheers!