Dock Street Walker – A Beer Not Reviewed (leaving that to the real Walking Dead)

About a year ago I wrote a “somewhat sarcastic” and critical post about what I saw as a troubling trend towards craft brewer’s use of more and more outrageous ingredients.  Thankfully, “Howard Stern Meets Craft Brewing. Enter The Era of Shock Brews” appeared to have made a difference.  Apparently the seventeen or so people who read it were the exact seventeen or so that would otherwise have brewed something slightly despicable.  They reconsidered after bowing to the force of my reason and observations.  I saved craft brewing with a few pictures, a string of adjectives, and a wireless keyboard.

And then this happened…..

 

A new low in shock brewing?

A new low in shock brewing?

Apparently that eighteenth reader was the one that got away.  When I first heard about a beer brewed with smoked goat brains I assumed it was a bit of interwebz malarky.  A premature April Fools joke on the craft beer community.  Not so lucky.  This beer actually exists and can seemingly be acquired without having to recite a secret phrase to the craft beer manager at the rear alley loading dock entrance of your favorite bottle shop.  Apparently bull testicles and beard yeast weren’t outlandish enough for Philadelphia’s Dock Street Brewery, and otherwise well-respected and established outfit that’s anything but extreme.  Odd.  Its not as though these City of Brotherly Love Brewers are the American equivalents of the Scottish loons at Brew Dogsinfamous brewers of Tactical Nuclear Penguin, the world’s strongest beer and only one “bottled” in a squirrel carcass (or something like that).

It seems the boys at Dock Street are devotes of AMC’s The Walking Dead and thought up this mind numbing recipe to coincide with the airing of the season finale.  It’s not as though craft beer and pop culture haven’t collaborated before.  Ommegang has already done two brews for HBO’s Game Of Thrones (the current Take The Black Stout is a well crafted, complex but accessible stout that would be worth a pour even if it was associated with H.R. Pufnstuf).  And then there was that Hanson Brothers MMMHop IPA.  Or was there? Did they ever get that off the ground or have they been too focused on training for an eventual invitation to appear on Dancing With The One Hit Wonders?

Maybe its just me but I think brewing with roasted goat brains makes about as much sense as Yul Brynner nailing a series of Taylor Swift hair flips.  And before you go there, I’d say the same thing if they were using candied goat brains. I tried to fight the windmill but, alas, the battle is lost.  Since it appears as though shock and grotesque gimmick brews are here to stay I figured I’d toss out a couple of ideas:

Extreme Brewing Fermenter

Extreme Brewing Fermenter

Staying with the anatomical theme, how about a Surgical Waste Saison fermented in used medical waste buckets?  No need to pitch any yeast.  Plenty of naturally occurring, wild yeast strains already partying in the goo.  Looking for something a little darker to pair with a hearty burger of slab of BBQ ribs?  Can’t beat this:

Those aren't hop sacks

Those aren’t hop sacks

Yes, its finally here.  Diaper Genie Baby Poo Porter.  Chocolate malt entirely optional given the robust deep dark hues imparted by the brewing process.  Variants could be fermented with Gerber Peas, Chicken Mush, Organic Carrots, you name it.  The baby food aisle’s the limit!

Unfortunately, there may be no end to this madness.  Fortunately; however, there’s always Bud Light.  I’d take one of those over brains (in my beer) any day.

Cheers!

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Event Review – Fair Food Philly’s 10th Anniversary Brewer’s Plate Event 2014

Reflections of Brewers Plate

Reflections of Brewers Plate

So I’m minding my own business two weeks ago (something I do far more often than many are willing to believe) when G-LO lets me know that he’s been invited to attend Fair Food Philly’s gala 10th Anniversary Brewer’s Plate Event at the Kimmel Center.  He and Limpd attended and raved about it the last two years, but scheduling conflicts prevented either of them from taking advantage of this year’s invitation.  That was about to become a problem for me because I was being asked to pinch hit for the Booze Dancers by attending as a VIP to review the event.  Honored and intrigued by the prospect I gladly accepted the invitation … and the challenge.  You see, the last event of this type I attended was the Atlantic City Craft Beer Festival some years ago with Chef Robert Irvine of Dinner/Restaurant Impossible fame.  Let’s just say that spending a day with him sampling our way through various brewer’s and restaurant’s offerings was hysterical but not something I felt I needed to repeat.

And then there’s that cheese thing.  G-LO and virtually everyone who’s spent more than a few minutes with me is well aware of my issues with cheese (and with more than a handful of other supposedly edible foods – believe me, Rain Man and his eight fish sticks have nothing on me).  I wrote about my fatwa with all things cheese in Full Frontal Fromage so there’s no point in getting into it here other than to acknowledge that my pre-event research revealed that Brewer’s Plate would showcase many local artisinal cheeses.  Never fear.  On occasion, I’m modestly capable of exercising sound judgment in the face of a clear and present gouda and this was one of those times.  I’d enlisted the expert assistance of my lovely wife who, surprisingly, doesn’t share my fear or opinions regarding cheese.  Time to experience the Brewer’s Plate in all of its glory.

Beads of sweat began to form on my furrowed brow and I was starting to form complete thoughts in my mind that ended in prepositions.  A sure sign of an impending panic attack as I waited in line (first in line, actually) to enter the Kimmel Center.  Biej entertained the VIPs, including Epikur’s Writer of the Year, Tara Nurin, with some well executed acoustic tunes to set the mood before the doors opened.  Once inside it was wow at first sight!  The Kimmel Center is a stunning example of design and architecture.  A festival of Mexican hairless dogs and their owners (well some of them) would look great in this space.  Fortunately none of the attendees needed to negotiate any of those hideous canines because Fair Food Philly had something else to showcase. “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” is one of the the themes of the Brewer’s Plate and that theme was beautifully showcased throughout the evening.  In Fair Food Philly’s own words:

The Brewer’s Plate is the great-grand-pappy of the beer and food pairing movement in Philadelphia – one of the first to introduce the region’s blossoming throngs of foodies and beer geeks to the concept. And, like most things, we continue to get better with age.  No other annual event maintains an unwavering commitment to “buy fresh, buy local” while bringing together our region’s outstanding chefs, farmers, food artisans, brewers, distillers, and winemakers for the benefit of the most discerning critics, bloggers and guests.  Brewer’s Plate attendees enhance their knowledge of the local food scene by sampling, attending breakout sessions, and directly interacting with vendors and sponsors. Our 10th Anniversary (#BP10) Celebration will be the best yet, jam-packed with celebrity guests, exclusive beers, amazing pairings, and much more – located at one of the best venues in the city!

After three hours of sampling many of the offerings, covering every inch of all three levels, and chatting with like-minded local craft beer geeks, foodies, bloggers, and professional writers, I have to say the Fair Food Philly team nailed it.  Philadelphia has a long and enviable craft beer and fine food culture and many of the brewers, chefs, chocolatiers, and, yes, cheese maker/purveyors who contribute to that reputation were on hand.  Here’s a list of this year’s participants:

EATS

Abbaye, Alla Spina, Amada, Bar Ferdinand, Barren HIll Tavern, Birchrun Hill Farm, Bobolink Dairy & Bakehouse, Brauhaus Schmitz, Capogiro Gelato, Cedar Point Bar & Kitchen, Cherry Grove Farm, Choptank Oyster Company, City Tap House, DiBruno Brothers, Distrito, Doe Run Farm, Donna & Company Artisanal Chocolates, El Camino Real, Eclat Chocolate, Epic Pickles, Fair Food Farmstand, Fette Sau, Field House, Franklin Fountain, Garces Catering, Garces Trading Company, Iron Hill Brewery, J.G. Domestic, John & Kira’s, Khyber Pass Pub, London Grill, Miss Rachel’s Pantry, Night Kitchen Bakery, Philly Bread, Rosa Blanca, Russet, South Philly Tap Room, Southwark, The Belgian Cafe, Tinto, Tria, Varga, Victory Brew Pub, Village Whiskey, Weckerly’s Ice Cream, White Dog Cafe & Wild Flour Bakery

DRINKS

Angry Orchard, Barren Hill, Boxcar Brewing, Brooklyn Brewery, Conshohocken Brewery, Dock Street Brewing ,Dogfish Head Brewery, Earth, Bread & Brewery, Evil Genius, Fegley’s Brew Works, Forest and Main Brewing Company, Frecon’s Cidery, Free Will Brewing, Iron Hill Brewery, Lancaster Brewing Company, Mugshots Coffeehouse, Neshaminy Creek, Nodding Head, Philadelphia Brewing Company, Philadelphia Distilling, Prism Beer, River Horse, Round Guys, Roy Pitz, Sam Adams, Saucony Creek, Shawnee Craft, Sly Fox Brewing Company, Stoudts Brewing Company, Subarashii Kudamono, Susquehanna Brewing Company, Troeg’s Brewing, Vault Brewing Company, Victory Brewing, Weyerbacher Brewing & Yards Brewing

With so many stations to hit and such a wide variety to chose from it was impossible to try and get to all of them but the well thought out layout made it easy to sample a representative cross section.  My wife was impressed with the overall quality of the food and was particularly impressed with the pommes puree by Garces Trading Co. I have to admit, calling mashed potatoes something frenchly exotic makes a difference.  Attempting to list and comment on everything we sampled would be a fool’s errand so I’ll simply note a few favorites.  White Dog Cafe’s BBQ pulled pork sliders were tangy, sweet, and tender and Weckerly’s toasted oat cinnamon Ice Cream float with Dock Street Cinnister Stout was a worthy adults only desert treat.  Speaking of desert treats, you can’t beat Capogiro for flat out world class gelato.  They whipped up several local craft beer flavored gelatos for Brewer’s Plate.  I went with the Weyerbacher Heresy and quickly discovered that heretics can be splendid indeed.  We were; however,  slightly puzzled at the number of items that required two hands to eat.  After all, this is food and craft beer pairing event and pairing is best facilitated by having a bite ready in one hand with a sip ready to go in he other.  Not really a major problem upstairs on the VIP level where there was plenty of room and cocktail tables but managing without a third hand was a bit more challenging elsewhere.

As for the craft brews, I was most impressed with Forest & Main’s Alopex Sour Lemongrass Saison, Brooklyn Brewery’s Swedish Strong Ale, Boxcar Brewing’s 1492 American Pale, andSam Adams Rebel IPA through a Simcoe packed Randall.  Victory Brewing teamed up with Sam Adams for a subtly complex Brewers Plate Stout that was a nice contrast to many of the more intense (though delicious) barrel aged ales performing elsewhere in the Kimmel Center.  Both my wife and I gave the best surprise beer of the night award to Sam Adams for their Spiced Peach Ale.  I was also pleasantly surprised by the Asian Pear Wines being poured by Subarashii Kudamono.  

About those cheeses.  They were abundant and the air was often redolent with their scent but that didn’t seem to bother any of the throngs of people constantly awaiting their turn to graze the spread laid out by DiBruno Brothers.  Again, I don’t get it.  What’s wrong with a display of matzo balls?  That said, my cheese sampling winglady enjoyed all but the Victory Storm King Soaked Cheddar.  Pretty clearly a gross violation and waste of a fine imperial stout but that’s just me.

Unfortunately, we missed one of the feature events, “Best of the Wurst” sausage showdown but we didn’t miss much else.  With such a large and diverse venue it was difficult to estimate the total attendance.  The main lobby and Locavore Lounge on the second level were crowded but not uncomfortably so.  From a third balcony view, I could occasionally make out small mobs of meerkats (nattily dressed hipsters) bounding from brewer to chef to brewer but always in a well mannered way.  This wasn’t one of those craft beer and food festivals that makes you feel like you’ve been dropped into a real life giant pachinko game.  Every element of the Brewers Plate was well conceived from the selection of the venue to the layout of the participants.  The Hoppin John Orchestra kept everyone pouring and sampling to a great groove and the mix of craft beer and foodie fans provided its own city suave energy.

Happy 10th Anniversary to the Brewers Plate! An all around great event flawlessly executed by great people showcasing some of the best Philadelphia has to offer.

Cheers!

“These Are Not Your Uncle’s Balls”

Over the course of a day I have many opportunities to be wrong. There are plenty of people from federal and state regulators to the occasional staff colleague hoping that I’ll miss something or fail to catch an esoteric issue as they sharpen their career-advancing daggers.  I guess that’s a reasonably good description of stress. Halloween was a particularly fine example (and not because I’d be spending much of the early evening careening about the neighborhood in the company of hideous ghouls and pint-sized Taylor Swifts).  It was my final day of preparation for a deposition (as a witness – the wrong side of the questioning) in a case involving about a quarter billion dollars.  So you could say it was a bit more stressful a day than most.  That said, we were having a few friends over for drinks, pumpkin ales & apps after trick or treating with our kids later on so I took a few minutes to type up a sign to go with the meatballs I concocted for the evening.  The description started with “these are not your uncle’s balls.” It devolved from there, listing the odd culinary Fusion Confusion Collision Cuisine elements it contained from Thailand, Korea, Vietnam, and Sweden.  For no good or apparent reason I sent the description to my enabler and wingman in all things culinary, craft beer, spirits, and lunacy, G-Lo of It’s Just The Booze Dancing and he responded with the following annoying line: “that’s a blog post, just say’in.”  I didn’t have time to list all the reasons why it was certainly was NOT a blog post, went back to preparing for the deposition, and ignored him for the rest of the day (while occasionally mentally circling back to why it wasn’t a blog post).     ………..Until it was.

I did my part as the trick or treating craft beer evangelist by dragging around a rolling cooler full of Wachusett Pumpkin and Tuckahoe Holly Beach Pumpkin Ales, handing them out to worthy and thirsty Halloween revelers (after they presented legal proof of age of course – can never be too sure when you might be handing an adult beverage to a freakishly large 14 year old in a skin tight dalmatian suit).  The meatballs went over well and the after party was success but there were no inspiring craft beers and definitely nothing to inspire a craft beer blog post.

Fast forward to that Saturday.  My oldest daughter’s birthday and youth soccer double header.  As I was getting ready to get out of the car at the second soccer field one of these parked next to me:

Your Uncle's Sedan Deville (still a big seller in Canada)

Your Uncle’s Sedan Deville (still a big seller in Canada)

A 1978 Caddy Sedan Deville.  Required wheels for uncles in the Northeast, tricked out with a split front bench seat, color-keyed hub caps and, for the lucky few, a Dolby B 8-Track cassette player for that collection of Lawrence Welk tapes.  Your uncle had one too and if you never saw it, it was because he kept it in the garage of his other family’s house on Long Island.  You never saw them either, but they were there.  Little did I know that a few hours later I’d pour a beer that would relate – in an extremely byzantine way – to the Sedan Deville proving G-Lo correct.  There was a craft beer blog post in them thar balls after all.

Fast forward even further to that much celebrated annual slaughter of homely birds in honor of our cultural slaughter and domination of the indigenous Native Americans and where do I find myself but in the company of uncles.  Lots of them.  Veritable late seventies Caddy showroom lining the street out front.  But before I digress further, there has to be something done about 60+ year old couples shopping together at supermarkets.  It must be outlawed.  When was the last time you didn’t see couples of that age arguing in the soup aisle?  The husband grumbling quietly under his breath while his wife proudly proclaims something that’s almost certainly wrong.  Meanwhile, they left the cart at an angle across the aisle apparently forgetting that they hadn’t rented out the whole place for a private shopping/sniping experience.  From now on, one at a time.  Couples with an aggregate age at or over 120 must not shop together.  Really quite simple.  Better for all of us.

Anyway, while some look forward to turkey, stuffing, and Cowboys football in the lead up to Thanksgiving, I look forward to the arrival of winter and holiday seasonal craft beers.  Always have.  Nothing says holiday season like the first sight of Anchor Christmas Ale.  That’s always been my favorite winter/holiday seasonal and this year’s version is especially good.  That night I poured my first of the season.  The next day I poured something entirely different.  Anchor California Lager.

Not hipster approved

Under-appreciated Craftbeersmanship

First of all, I generally avoid lagers.  Just not enough going on.  They always lack depth and complexity.  The Reader’s Digest of beer styles.  This one was different.  I checked the label a few times as if to expecting it to reveal itself to be something more than a pedestrian lager.  But it was more – though firmly a lager.  It was a a classic example of what true craft brewing is irrespective of style.  Anchor has always held a very special place in my craft beer heart.  Anchor Steam was the beer that started me on the path to becoming a craft beer geek in the first place.  Anchor Liberty Ale is another favorite.  A solid go to pale that’s versatile,  never gets old and never disappoints.  Perhaps the cleanest, driest finish of any beer I’ve ever had.  It even brings out the best in a sun ray or two on a cold East Coast winter day…
IMG_2977

Suddenly I was reminded of the deposition I attended up in Manhattan the week before.  Eight hours of testimony on asset-backed securities and swap terminations is enough to drive the purest Mormon to drink.  Fortunately I’m not Mormon (and never have been despite my Bob Dylan-esque temporary departure from the balls of my People – matzo, that is) and I’m far from pure – though generally pretty good.  So I’m on my way back to Penn Station when I “just happen” upon Rattle N Hum in Midtown.  I’ll review the bar another time but, suffice it to say, it has a very Philadelphia craft beer bar scene vibe.  That’s a good thing.  I figured I could squeeze a pint of craft beer research in  before I had to hit the train so I grabbed a stool.  Few things surprise me in a craft beer bar but I was taken aback at the tap list scrawled on the chalk board.  40 Sierra Nevada brews.  These were not your uncle’s Sierra Nevada Pales (though it was on the lines).  Everything from Torpedo to one-off barrel aged stouts.  Familiar to anything but.  Most of your uncles only know SN Pale (especially the ones who confuse volume with insightful comment) but the cool one has had most, if not all, of the brews on the tap takeover list that day.  By that standard I guess I’m kind of cool because the only one I hadn’t had was the Barrel Aged Maple Stout with Coffee (until there was one in front of me on the bar).

As watched the Soprano’s neighborhoods of North Jersey fade in the distance during the train ride home I couldn’t help but think of how underrappreciated Anchor and Sierra Nevada seem to be these days.  Don’t get me wrong, I love plenty of cutting edge, aggressive craft brews.  Ballast Point’s Indra Kunindra and New Belgium’s Lips of Faith Coconut Curry Hefeweizen being prime examples.  But with Dogfish Head, Brew Dogs, Surly, and so many others vying for shelf space and attention, the stable longboard surfers – the ones who first taught us that you could ride waves in the first place – are often left too far out of mind.  There’s something to be said for stability, authenticity, and tradition.  Kind of like a ride in the center front seat of your uncle’s ’78 Caddy.

Then I arrived home and after a quick dinner and check of the kid’s homework I went to the chilled craft beer research locker and gazed upon a shelf full of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ales.  Coincidence? Nope.

Happy Hoppy Holidays!

Beer Review: A Hurricane’s Hoppy Lining

Lasting image of Hurricane Sandy

Lasting image of Hurricane Sandy

First things first: There’s nothing good about hurricanes.  Whether Sandy, Katrina, Andrew, or ones yet to be formed and named, they kill people, tear apart families, destroy homes, businesses, futures, and hope.  That said, some of the finest examples of human kindness and compassion are often tragedy’s most lasting memories.  First Responders and nameless neighbors risking their own lives at the height of the storm to save people they’ve never met and may never know.  Physically unaffected people from every state in the country and from countries around the world donating their time, resources and money to help crippled communities get back on their feet.  It’s in that spirit that a small craft brewery which recently moved from Cherry Hill, NJ (just a couple miles from my blogging global corporate campus and research facilities) to Somerdale, NJ lent a hand by brewing a special beer with profits donated to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.

So THAT's what "FU" stood for all these years...

So THAT’s what “FU” stood for all these years…

Just about everyone in NJ and all along the Northeastern Coast has more than one memory of Hurricane Sandy.  Those of us who live in the area remember all too well where we were when it struck land and forever changed the geography of much of New Jersey’s shoreline.  I was lucky – sort of.  I missed all the excitement because while Sandy was wreaking havoc I was tethered to a hospital bed at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, 12 floors up with so many IVs in me that they must have thought I was an octopus.  Too add insult to professionally planned and executed injury (a.k.a. major open abdominal surgery), none of those IVs delivered craft beer (but one offered up something a little more potent).  Anyway, Sandy hit about 24 hours after I was told I might not survive the night and less than 24 hours after middle of the night trips through deserted corridors into the bowels of the hospital for emergency diagnostic studies.  As I said – I was lucky.  The rest of you aren’t.  I’m still here to pester you with these posts.

While recuperating at home and rebuilding my strength with a diet of matzo ball soup and Han Dynasty Dan Dan Noodles I saw a tweet from my home town craft brewers announcing that they were going to brew a very limited beer with all profits going to Sandy relief efforts.  One reason why the release was going to be very limited was simply the fact that they couldn’t bottle this beer.  It was going to be distributed in kegs only because there was no way they’d get approval for labels.  No F’n way.  Not for a beer called FU Sandy Ale.  “Forever Unloved”, yeah, right.

Flying Fish Brewery did a great thing by donating all of the profits from every keg of FU Sandy to relief efforts but they did something else which has gone largely unnoticed:  They brewed a spectacular beer.  I’ll admit it.  I’m often a critic of local brews, strongly favoring the bolder, brighter beers of the California Coast, especially San Diego’s flagship West Coast IPAs.  As I wrote a few months back in my post on the Converging Coasts of Craft Beer, I checked out many years ago but never left.  When it comes to a bias for West Coast craft beer, I’m guilty as charged.  That said, Flying Fish flat out nailed it with FU Sandy.

I missed this beer when it was initially released, chasing Twitter feed sightings from bar to bar in the Cherry Hill area the day it was tapped.  No luck.  Not until this past Sunday night’s Fathers Day outing to South Jersey’s finest craft beer bar, the Pourhouse.  My buddy and last H.O.P.P.E.R. standing and I were long overdue for what used to be a semi-regular Sunday night research session (work week readjustment therapy session is more like it).  After some well-deserved abuse for having become near strangers for our recent lack of patronage, Marci, their rock startender, said “we have the last keg of FU Sandy on.”  That was all I needed to hear.  No need to read the tap list.  My Fathers Day started with a breakfast in bed treat with the whole family (including the newest editions, Guinea Pygmalians I & II – my manes, not the kids’, they’ve changed names so many times that I honestly don’t know what they are) and it would end with an unexpected craft beer treat.  A Happy & Hoppy Fathers Day!

Flying Fish describes FU Sandy as a hybrid Pale Wheat Ale brewed with an experimental hop variety dubbed ADHA 483. The experiment worked.  Gloriously so.  Big, bright tropical aromas exploded from the glass.  Plenty of fresh mango, guava, and grapefruit.  Those flavors carried through to the flavor, balanced beautifully by the lightly toasted, biscuity notes from the wheat side of this blended style family.  Even though this isn’t an IPA it has all of the hallmarks of an exceptional one – a West Coast profile at that.  Silky mouthfeel and a crisp, moderately dry finish.  A legitimate contender for the best craft beer I’ve had so far this year along with Stone Enjoy By 12.21.12, Three Floyds Zombie Dust, and (512) Pecan Porter.  By far the best beer that’s ever come out of Flying Fish and one worthy of mention along with the best brewed anywhere.  A Heady Topper topper hands down!  Don’t get me wrong, these guys turn out a few other really nice brews including Exit 1, Exit 6, and Exit 16, but this one is in a class all it’s own – a world class.

So while Jersey may best be known for Springsteen, Bon Jovi, The Sopranos, and those horrific tomatoes, I nominate Flying Fish FU Sandy for a spot on the list of Jersey’s icons.  It’s that good and it did some good.

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!

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!

The Crafting of a Craft Beer Geek

Oak Creek Brewpub in Sedona, AZ

Oak Creek Brewpub in Sedona, AZ

Ask me almost anything about beer and there’s a pretty good chance I’ll know the answer.  “What’s the difference between dry hopping and continuous hopping?”  I know that. “Does chocolate malt really contain chocolate?”  I know that too, and – no, it doesn’t.  “What’s Fritz Maytag’s claim to brewing fame?”  Yeah, I know that and it doesn’t have anything to do with inventing a combination Maytag dishwasher/brew kettle.   “Who brews Pliny the Elder Ale and what styles of beer pair well with Thai food or Texas BBQ?  Yes, I can tackle those as well.  The list goes on and has gone on at beer tastings and other events for a while now.  I’ve been a proud bearer of the beer geek tag for a good 8 years.  I’ve hosted countless beer tastings, reviewed hundreds of beers, sampled hundreds more, brewed my own beer, given purchasing advice to a handful of owners, buyers and beer managers at local liquor stores and designed flights for some local craft beer bars but one question has evaded even a poor answer despite many attempts:  “when did you become a beer geek (or beer nut as the question is usually posed)?”  For far too long, the best and most honest answer I could come up with has been, “I don’t really know.”  Absurd, how could I not even know enough to take a weak stab at such a basic and obvious question?  Well, never one to be comfortable with not knowing the answer (especially to something so seemingly simple), I sat down with a contemplative pint or two of Great Divide Yeti Oak Aged Imperial Stout and determined to come up with something better than “I don’t really know.”

When it came to beer in the first place I was late to the tap handle, not having my first one until midway through my second semester of sophomore year at Syracuse University.  A self-imposed goodie two shoes I can honestly say that I never had a drink at a high school party and I didn’t even thought about sneaking a little something from my parents bar.  Throughout Freshman Year I never uncapped one of the Haffenreffer’s my future roommate, John Chawner, and his future wife, Cathy, were so quizzically partial to.  When I did start to accompany my college buddies to the bars adjacent to campus I tended to stay away from beer completely – just hated the taste of it and couldn’t understand why anyone would drink it.  Embarrassingly, I would usually be caught with a vodka Collins in those days but that’s another story.

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