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One Drink Minimum: A Father’s Day and an author’s day

I was blue mouldy for the want of that pint. – unnamed narrator, “Cyclops” episode of Ulysses

June 16, 2013 was Father's Day, the first I celebrated as a father myself, thanks to the arrival of this guy:

Fathers Day

This picture now has more Likes on Facebook than that one picture of that cat doing that spastic thing.

 

His mother insisted on taking me to brunch at Banger's Sausage House & Beer Garden, one of my favorite beer spots in Austin. Although I balked at first – as much as I love being a father, I'd just as soon celebrate in my own quiet way and not have anyone make a fuss over me – I agreed, and started my day with a Stone Double Dry Hopped Ruination IPA and then a Dogfish Head Sixty-One (also known as 61 Minute IPA – a less-than-accurate moniker that implies more hops than can be detected in this blend of IPA and Syrah grape must). The beers were great, and the food was good too even though Banger's was out of the one thing on the menu I really wanted: the “Irishman's Hangover Cure” – basically an English breakfast with black and white pudding (US readers: despite the name, those are sausages). A mighty meal, I'm sure, but unavailable on account of a shortage of black pudding (how a hypertrendy brew-and-grub spot in downtown Austin runs out of blood sausage is beyond me, but okay). I settled for an elevated Eggs Benedict instead, a dish that has never disappointed me.

It really was a shame about missing out on that Irish breakfast, though, because June 16 was also Bloomsday to fans of Irish novelist James Joyce and his magnum opus Ulysses. Observed each year on the anniversary of the date the novel took place – June 16, 1904 – it's a spectacle in Joyce's native Dublin, where participants and spectators don boater hats, eat kidneys, and participate in readings, re-enactments, and other themed events at parks, pubs, museums and locations mentioned in the novel. We've celebrated Bloomsday in my house for the last four years with Irish food (no kidneys, thanks) and stout by pints, with one exception in 2011 when we actually went to Dublin for it.

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My wife Lisa and me at Davy Byrne's pub in Dublin, June 16 2011.

 

Readers who remember my St. Patrick's Day post may recall that Bloomsday is one of the three days a year that I consider myself “Irish by bullshit”, and I toast to Joyce with at least one pint of Guinness and a Jameson nightcap. Granted, although Bloomsday is big in Dublin and recognized in a handful of American cities, it doesn't have a reputation as a hardcore Irish drinking occasion like St. Paddy's or your average Irish funeral. It's seen as more of a sophisticated affair. In Dublin two years ago, I got the impression that Dubliners view it as a society event. Most of the costumed participants looked like upper-class types, the cream of Dublin's social/academic elite doing their duty for an event that is important to the city, regardless of whether any of them have any meaningful personal connection to Joyce's work. Most of them were sipping wine.

Wine. Irish men and women in pubs in the city where Guinness and Jameson were born, gathered to celebrate an Irish cultural hero, and they were drinking … wine. A nod to protagonist Leopold Bloom ordering a glass of red wine at Davy Byrne's pub for his afternoon tipple in the “Lestrygonians” episode of Ulysses? Perhaps, but although I did see a few glasses of red in Bloomsdayers' hands that day, most of them were drinking white.

Snooty? Maybe. Pretentious? Most likely. But don't be put off by that, or by the fact that your English-major roommate in college used to drag you to bars on Thursday nights and forced you to listen to him debate his friends on the topic of James Joyce's work using words like ineluctable and dropping references to secondary sources like the most boring deleted scene from Good Will Hunting. Never mind all that. Ulysses is a damned entertaining book full of laugh-out-loud hilarious moments. It's a great read to enjoy while drinking and is full of interesting details about the life of the turn-of-the-century urban Irishman drinker. It contains several references to “Guinness's porter” (a description that may confuse today's beer geeks, until we realize that stout was considered a substyle of porter until the 20th Century). There's an extended sequence of drunken hallucination in a brothel written as a play script, complete with cross-dressing, and a memorable scene of a sexy barmaid working the … ahem … “polished knob” of a tap handle with delicate hands.

Oh yeah, that's the other thing. Ulysses is full of dick and fart jokes. In my opinion, that makes it perfect for dads everywhere. Why not combine it with Father's Day? So I ended my day with a miniature Irish feast for Bloomsday.

Not long after Lucian's birth, I kegged an Irish-style dry stout that I brewed in late March (first discussed in the above St. Patrick's Day post) and named it Anna Livia Dry Stout in honor of a character from another Joyce novel, Finnegans Wake. The recipe for the brew can be found here in my new recipes section. I brewed the stout as a substitute for Guinness specifically for this occasion, and it didn't disappoint: deep black and roasty, dry but with a touch of sweetness in the middle and a robust mouthfeel that I found wanting the last time I drank canned Guinness Draught. Best of all, Anna Livia came in at a very sessionable 4% ABV. The only thing that was lacking was the trademark tang that Guinness achieves by adding a little bit of soured beer to each batch. The next time I make it, I'll try to recreate that effect by adding a little lactic acid to the wort. Sure, it's cheating and I don't generally like to add extraneous ingredients, but seeing as how the alternative would be to use sour beer and risk infecting my good equipment, I think I can make an exception.

To go with the stout, we had cabbage braised in the same stout with bacon, and a selection of cheeses: Irish cheddar, Gorgonzola (in honor of Leopold Bloom's Gorgonzola sandwich from Davy Byrne's), and English Red Leicester (not a Ulysses reference but great cheddarish cheese that reminds me of my time in the British Isles).

I also baked a raisin-free soda bread from this recipe from IslandVittles.com. Of course, I substituted Anna Livia for the Guinness. Though I've been baking bread for a couple of months now, this was my first soda bread. It was so good I will be making it again: crumbly and sweet, an excellent counterpart to the Gorgonzola. And the leftover slices were spectacular with butter and honey a day later.

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Not quite the culinary equivalent of a James Joyce novel, but easier to get through in one sitting.

It was a great way to spend a first Father's Day, and I got off light in that I was able to divert much of the fuss away from myself and onto one of my favorite annual geek observances. It also gave me a great excuse to brew something special for the occasion, something I'd love to do again in the future. But with Father's Day falling the day before Bloomsday next year, I think I'm going to need a new angle if I want to do a Father's Day brew.

Anyone have any Father's Day brews they'd like to share the recipe for? I need your ideas! Only 364 days left to plan.

 

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One Drink Minimum: Real Ale Beer Dinner at Easy Tiger (part 2 of 2)

Now that the hop-fueled insanity of IPA Day 2012 is over, back to my two-part review of last week's Real Ale Beer Dinner at Easy Tiger Bake Shop & Beer Garden. See here for Part 1.

We left off at …

Fourth Course: Scots Gone Wild Sour Real Heavy with venison liver mousse, black pepper cherry jam, arugula, country levain – The first three courses were all paired with beers made from the same Lost Gold IPA wort. The first new wort in the lineup was a single-barrel wild fermented Scotch ale. It was good, with floral and dark berry notes on the nose and a murky chocolatey red-brown color. It was tart and astringent, very refreshing and great for summer, and paired well with the very rich venison liver mousse. I love venison, though I'm not a fan of organ meat, and a quick glance around the room told me I wasn't the only one outside of my comfort zone. But with a little faith in the chef, I tucked in with an open mind, and I'm glad I did. A bite of the liver mousse spread on the levain bread with a chaser of the sour Scotch ale was fantastic, but the portion was big. I finished mine, but I saw a lot of unemptied plates.

Beer 4: Scots Gone Wild Sour Real Heavy

Fifth Course: Highlander Barrel-Aged Real Heavy with bone marrow, blood sausage, herb salad, fougasse – Before this next dish came out, the servers brought out an enormous pretzel-like bread (the fougasse, I believe). It was delicious, but there was no way the two of us at our table could fit more than a few bites in. The beer, also made from the Real Heavy wort above but aged in red wine barrels, was my least favorite of the night. It had little aroma and a bitter, medicinal flavor. After so much good beer and good food, it was a minor letdown. As for the food, this was my first time eating bone marrow, and it wasn't bad, but I preferred the blood sausage. The herb salad was very sparsely dressed, well-balanced to the strong, earthy flavors of the protein on the plate.

Beer 5: Highlander Barrel-Aged Real Heavy

Sixth Course: Vol. 15 Bourbon Barrel-Aged Russian Imperial Stout with bitter orange bread pudding, caramelized honey, figs, walnuts – Yep, you read right: Easy Tiger worked bread into the dessert as well (bravo, maestros). By this point, I was stuffed, but I finished this tasty and surprisingly light bread pudding. The beer hit all the notes one expects from a RIS, though my (perhaps desensitized) taste buds didn't taste much barrel character in the stout. And the stout may have gone better with a chocolate cake than with such a light bread pudding. After everything else, I couldn't finish the beer, and I wasn't the only one. I hate to waste, but there's only so much one can consume in an evening.

Beer 6: Vol. 15 Bourbon Barrel-Aged Russian Imperial Stout

So there you have it: a delicious dinner and a great beer flight. Easy Tiger and Real Ale truly went all out with each of their contributions and made a good team. The plating portions and the beer pours were impressive, and a great deal for $55 a head. On the other hand, smaller portions would likely have kept the appetites in the room going longer. Maybe even long enough for the less adventurous folks in the room to embrace those organ meats on the later plates.

But hey, Easy Tiger is learning as they go … and I recognize that “The portions were too big at my six-course gourmet microbrew dinner!” is totally a first-world complaint. So I'm not complaining at all. It's just an observation, and maybe will raise some awareness that could eliminate waste in the future.

As for Real Ale, I'd say they showed Austin that this now-old-standby in the local beer community still has some surprises up its sleeve. But they are bigger than the upstarts; and bigger, for a commercial brewery, means bigger risk. Smaller breweries can brew a small experimental batch and eat the cost of having to dump it if necessary, but a brewery the size of Real Ale takes a huge financial hit if they make a 60-barrel batch of something that turns out undrinkable. The trick of fermenting 3 different worts 6 different ways seems a good way for a brewery that size to experiment: if one of the beers turns out bad, there's still barrels and barrels of another beer they made from that wort they can still sell. Is that as exciting as the reckless abandon of a smaller brewery? Well, no … but it still can turn out a bunch of damn good beers, as Real Ale proved.

So thanks to Easy Tiger and Real Ale for a great night that left me happily stuffed and happily buzzed. I'm looking forward to the next one. Prosit.

One Drink Minimum: Real Ale Beer Dinner at Easy Tiger (part 1 of 2)

Last week Lisa scored tickets to a beer dinner hosted by Real Ale Brewing Company at Easy Tiger Bake Shop & Beer Garden in downtown Austin.

Easy Tiger opened earlier this year on East Sixth Street, promising fresh baked-in-house breads, ample taps, and a menu that goes beyond pizza, all just down the street from the chickenpox of dive bars and music venues that dot the sidewalks of what the kids call “Dirty Sixth”. This was Easy Tiger’s first beer dinner, and it showed – mainly through oversized portions; a good problem, really – but the dishes were tasty and the pairings on the mark.

It would’ve been hard to imagine it when I first moved to Austin, but Real Ale is now the big kid on the block in Central Texas craft brew. With every new brewery that sets up shop in the region, Real Ale becomes more and more the elder statesman, and they’ve been accused of letting themselves go stale, of not pushing the envelope. (Aside from their flagship ale Firemans #4, most of their beers fall firmly in the American-British spectrum of bitter/pale ales: an APA, a rye APA, an IPA, etc. … but they do make a fantastic barleywine and some nice German seasonals.) The lineup for this beer dinner seemed carefully choreographed to prove that the old dog still has some tricks in it, and while I’m not sure I bought the routine 100%, the beers were well-made and I had a fantastic time.

Aperitif: Firemans #4 – Before the first dish came out, we started with a 6-oz pour of Real Ale’s ubiquitous flagship blonde ale. If you haven’t tasted this beer, you haven’t been to Austin. It really is everywhere, and it’s been the gateway to craft beer for frat boys and good ol’boys in this town for years (not to mention a few people I know). Call it boring; but you can’t argue with its quality, and they brought out the freshest batch I’ve ever tasted for this event. Crisp, clean taste, a nutty continental malt aroma, and a noticeable but not intimidating noble hop flavor make this a beer you can buy a case of for that stubborn Bud drinker in your family, even for your mom. And I have.

Beer 0: Firemans #4

Then the marquee lineup started: 6 dishes paired with 6 beers, about 6 ounces worth of each (cue Iron Maiden). The trick I mentioned earlier was that these 6 beers came from only 3 different “wort streams” – this was a new term to me, but basically means simply that 3 different worts were fermented under different conditions to produce 6 different beers.

First Course: Lost Gold IPA with mussels, smoked tomato, fennel, leaks baguette – Real Ale’s aptly named year-round IPA pours a deep golden color. The aroma abounds with grapefruit and floral notes. The flavor is a modest but noticeable blast of hops that doesn’t fail to refresh. It went astoundingly well with a smokey mussel stew served family-style with a whole baguette (for two). We scraped the bowl, and it was a big bowl. And all I can say about the bread is, “OMG, bread!” You can tell it’s what Easy Tiger does best.

Beer 1: Lost Gold IPA

Second Course: Empire Barrel-Aged Lost Gold IPA with duck sausage, corn pudding, watercress – The second beer made from the Lost Gold IPA wort was aged in red wine barrels that left a blanket of sour cherry fruit notes on the whole thing. The hop aroma faded with the aging, as expected, but the bitterness remained, and the beer poured enticingly murky. A hint of pungent funk from the barrel complemented the rich, earthy duck sausage. The corn pudding was light and fluffy; it complemented the sausage just fine but was easily overpowered by the beer. The disparate elements of the dish worked better separately than as a single bite.

Beer 2: Empire Barrel-Aged Lost Gold IPA

Third Course: Imperium Wild Lost Gold IPA with apricot-braised goat, local shell pea cake, mint gremolata – The third version of Lost Gold was aged in similar barrels to Empire, but wild fermentation was induced for a funkier flavor. Floral notes took center stage on this one, and it was very dry, balancing very well with another rich protein dish. The apricot balanced both the gaminess of the goat and the funkiness of the beer. By now, I was really excited about what the night had in store. I was eating great food and enjoying the results of an experiment on how one wort could become three very different beers.

Beer 3: Imperium Wild Lost Gold IPA

Check back in a few days when I post my reviews on the last three pairings of the evening, and my overall impressions. It was a delightful and insightful night.

One Drink Minimum: The Twin Cities IPA Face-off

My day job has me in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area for the better part of two weeks. I haven’t had much time for brewing or for entertainment. So for this edition of One Drink Minimum, instead of pairing a beer with an entertainment event, I’m pairing two local IPAs in a comparative tasting and gluing them together with a robust meal of steak and pierogies at a local bar and grill.

The location of this northern face-off was the Edina Grill in Edina, Minnesota. The concierge at my hotel gave me two recommendations for local beer spots, and Edina Grill was one of them. He admitted there were bigger selections in town, but on my travel budget and the proximity to my location, this oldtown-diner-turned-hipster-hangout couldn’t be beat. And he specifically said: “Try their awesome pierogies”. The steak came nicely on the rare side of medium rare and was a little tough but not too bad. The horseradish sauce was tasty, not too rich or heavy, and made for a wonderful pairing with an IPA. The potato and cheese pierogies on the side were indeed awesome, and tasted divine in the steak drippings but were a little bland on their own. I ate around the haystack of crispy onions that topped the pierogies.

The beers I ordered were the two most ubiquitous local IPAs I can find on this trip: Surly Furious and Summit Sága. Furious, a 6.5-percenter from one of the jewels in the Twin Cities beer geek crown, has been around a while and has come highly recommended from locals for years. Sága, on the other hand, is a new brew for 2012 by Summit, a larger craft brewery with wider distribution. It weighed in at 6.4%.

Furious was first in my flight. The first mad-dog thing about this brew was the aroma. It was floral, herbal: not the usual grapefruit that one expects from American IPAs, and that’s a good thing. Don’t get me wrong – I love citrus notes in my hop aroma, but it’s becoming a little too conventional. The moment those little bubbles burst under my nose with a smell like winter in the Alps, Furious had my interest. The color was dark amber and clear, with a firm, persistent head. As I emptied the glass, the beer left behind the kind of lacing that any American homebrewer (or microbrewery) should envy.

The flavor was … well, let’s just say intense. It wasn’t too sweet, and definitely hop-forward, a little unbalanced. But I enjoyed it. It’s possible that the beer was mishandled somewhere along the line, but there were definitely some harsh resiny notes coming through. Not that I mind that in an IPA, especially one I’m pairing with spicy, creamy horseradish. And I dig resin, after all: I once put almost 31 AAUs of Warrior and Falconer’s Flight in an IPA with an FG of 1.009 – and that was just the early bittering additions. I should add that the mouthfeel was profoundly perfect, and really helped my enjoyment of this beer. While there wasn’t necessarily much sweet to balance out the hops, the body did.

On to Sága, which had a much more conventional citrus aroma than Furious. After the bold herbal punch in the face of the Furious, this one seemed positively mild by comparison, almost like a nicely dry hopped saison more than an IPA. The color was lighter, a bright tangerine but sparkling crystal clear.

The flavor was more easygoing as well. This is a very refreshing and approachable IPA from Summit, and I can see why many guys down the bar from me were ordering it without thinking twice. It’s a great easy drinker for the summer, although it was slightly more overpowered than the horseradish. This one was sadly a little lacking in body, though; it slipped away from my palate way too soon, leaving me refreshed but wanting more.

All in all, I preferred Furious more, which didn’t surprise me. It just had more of what I want out of a good American IPA. In the end, I find Sága a little too close to Summit’s flagship American Pale Ale to really stand out. But although it might not be my favorite, kudos to Summit for turning a decent IPA with a respectable ABV into a popular gateway beer. I’m always on board with anything that gets people hooked on good beer.

With that said, I’m definitely looking forward to getting back to Austin later this week, and hopefully getting a new brew in the fermenter this Sunday. I’m leaning towards a spiced German hefeweizen for this weekend’s brew, something to get through the pipeline quickly and into the keg to make up for some lost brewing time. And after that, back to posting a little more regularly.

Until this weekend, prosit.

 

One Drink Minimum: I see your Schwarz is as big as mine

Friday night was the inaugural screening of the Summer of ’82 film series at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Ritz location: John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian. Yeah, that’s right. That one, with Ahnold. With James Earl Jones as the snake god and Mako as the crazy wizard, and the lamentation of the women and all that. Oh, yeah.

I’ve been stoked about the Summer of ’82 series since I first saw a teaser for it, and the badge I scored is one of my prize possessions for the next few months. To kick the series off with Conan was an absolute blast. The (apparently brand new) 35mm print was astoundingly beautiful, and despite having seen it again and again, I felt like I was watching the film for the first time. Arnold Schwarzenegger owned that role (sorry, Jason Momoa, I’d ride in your khalasar, but you didn’t teach me what was best in life) and the film is much more intelligent than most people give it credit for. It’s a wonderful clash of the classic and the new: Conan is more or less your standard orphan-turned-legendary-hero, Siegfried meets Spartacus. But Milius knows his Joseph Campbell, and he tells a story that hits all the conventional heroic journey notes while still staying profoundly modern, with a screenplay so sparse in dialogue it’s almost high art, a post-Jonestown message about kids and cults that still resonates 30 years later, and a powerful female lead character who is a warrior first and a love interest second. I rooted for those characters like I’ve never rooted before, and James Earl Jones was so terrifying as Thulsa Doom on the big screen (those eyes!) that I only laughed a little bit when he told Conan he was his father.

To go with the Schwarzeneggerian splendor unfolding on the silver screen, I ordered a pint of Live Oak Brewing Company’s seasonal Schwarzbier. When asked what sets Live Oak apart in the exponentially expanding Austin beer scene, what comes to mind first is that they do a better job of replicating traditional German styles than anyone else around. Their HefeWeizen is a true hefe, full of banana and clove flavors, not the bland hazy wheat beers now rolling off the production line of every regional brewery. Their Pilz is a real-deal Bohemian pilsner, with crisp Czech malt and refreshing Saaz hops that fill every sip with flavor. These aren’t even styles I’m all that fond of, but I love that Live Oak does them well. I knew their take on the traditional German black lager known as a schwarzbier would be no exception.

“Now they will know why they are afraid of the dark…”

The color was the deepest black, opaque. It seemed darker than most schwarzbiers and black lagers I’ve had, but that could have been the dim light of the movie theater. There wasn’t much aroma, but what I could pick up from it was dark chocolate and caramel, with the slightest hint of banana esters. Same with the flavor, which was subtle and refreshing, though chocolatey and with a little noble hop bite tapering off into a faint mocha java aftertaste. I found the mouthfeel a little thin for my taste, but I find that with black lagers a lot; I tend to be more of an ale guy, really, and perhaps my palate is still too calibrated for stout to really appreciate the thinner, more refreshing and crisp nature of a schwarzbier. But for all that, I enjoyed it. Once again Live Oak proved that they know German beer, and play with convention as well as any brewery in Central Texas.

The next screening in the Summer of ’82 series is Mad Max 2 (a.k.a. The Road Warrior). Since that show is not at an Alamo Drafthouse location, I’ve no idea yet whether there will be a beer available there that will pair as nicely and thematically with that film as this one did. If anyone can get their hands on some banged-up, greasy, post-apocalyptic cans of VB from the land of Oz, I won’t say no.

One Drink Minimum: Blues at Red’s and some Pink

Things have been pretty busy for the last week between the day job and writing, but on Thursday evening I was able to take a little break from it all. The occasion was a performance by former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, performing the group’s legendary album The Wall in its entirety. Before the show, I stopped at Red’s Porch in south Austin to enjoy “half pint night”, where the featured beer was Oskar Blues Deviant Dale’s IPA.

This was a spectacular beer. The color is a bright, vibrant orange that I suspect comes from the addition of Victory or dark Munich malt to the grain bill – my money’s on Munich, but as of writing this I haven’t had a chance to confirm it online. The aroma exudes grapefruit and pine, and is the freshest hop presence I can remember smelling in a beer. Late hop additions? Definitely, though I haven’t looked into which ones (and I’ll admit I’m not quite able to tell them all apart by smell and taste just yet). But when the glass was put down, it smelled like someone was holding a bag of fresh hops under my nose. I wanted to dive in.

Once it hit my palate, what surprised me most was its incredible smoothness. They call it an Imperial IPA, but at 8% ABV it’s right at the bottom of what I’d consider the appropriate alcohol range for the style. To be honest, it doesn’t even taste that strong. But as I kept drinking, it also became apparent that the beer is nearly perfectly balanced: its 85 IBUs are perfectly countered by a lotof malt sweetness, but without being cloying. For a hop bomb, there’s no resiny or medicinal quality that I can taste. The mouthfeel was just right, refreshing but not too dry. This is a brewery that knows how to make an IPA, and I’d drink it all day long. Luckily, between Lisa and I, we drank four of the half-pint glasses, and have a nice set to remind us of the experience.

Lest anyone be concerned that the concert was an afterthought after such a sublime dinner-and-drink experience, rest assured that it was not. I’m a raving, drooling Pink Floyd fan, and every time I’ve seen Roger Waters live (four times now, twice with this production of The Wall) he puts on a great show. He has an uncanny ability to connect intimately with a crowd of thousands – even in a university basketball stadium, and even when performing half of his show from behind a wall of cardboard bricks – no small feat for a rocker who was once notorious for his feelings of alienation from his bandmates and animosity for his fans (which inspired the album in 1979). But to paraphrase his song “One Of My Turns”, he has grown older, much less colder, and seems to be having a lot of fun. Or at least as much as is tasteful, given the very socially conscious themes and images of the show. He jumps around. He dresses in costumes. He pantomimes the lyrics. And he thanks his audience over and over again for letting him do it at his age. Reading between the lines of his comments to the audience, it’s obvious that Waters sees his touring now as a kind of therapy: no longer feeling isolated as he did when he wrote the album, he’s reinterpreted the story to shine a spotlight on those who feel isolated all over the world due to political and social injustices. To call it a concert is to do it a disservice: it’s a work of performance art and a heartfelt call to action to make the world a better place. It’s bombastic but honest, grandiose but personal.

A perfect balance of sweet and bitter in an unexpectedly subdued Imperial IPA, and a balancing act from a performer letting go of his darkest memories by reliving them. I’m wondering if that’s not a coincidence; if in fact that kind of balance is present in everything great. In any case, it was a fantastic intermission in an otherwise exhausting week.

I hope to be back on track with more posts later this week. Until then, prosit.