Tag Archive | beer pairing

On-Tap Recap: Ommegang Game of Thrones vs. homebrew

HBO’s Game of Thrones came back with season four last night. Hordes gathered in the homes of HBO subscribers for viewing parties, cosplayers donned their finest, and social media lit up as the geekosphere celebrated the return of a beloved show to weekly television.

Beer geeks had reason to celebrate too, as the show’s return meant the release of the third installment in Brewery Ommegang’s series of Game of Thrones-themed seasonal beers. Dubbed Fire & Blood, the latest release pays homage to House Targaryen – that’s the one with the dragons – with ancho chilis (presumably the fire) in a Belgian-style red ale (the blood).

Ommegang Fire & Blood Red Ale

The color of this beer is absolutely striking. When I hear “red ale” I’m usually imagining some middle-of-the-road amber kind of beer. This one was deep, dark red. Beautiful ruby highlights – impossible to see in the picture above, unfortunately – beckoned me to smell and taste it. This was an exercise in delayed gratification, because the rocky head was so thick and persistent I had to wait several minutes before it subsided enough to drink. So I contented myself with smelling it, taking in the tart lemon freshness and barely detectable hint of chili pepper.

I hate to say it, but I found Fire & Blood drinkable and yet unremarkable. The flavors promised on the label and website – spicy chili, “assertive” hops, dark fruit – just didn’t manifest for me. The chili pepper was detectable only when I looked hard for it. The hop presence was faint and the dark fruit notes were muted by the extreme dryness of the beer.

Not that disappointment came as a surprise. I love everything I’ve ever had with the Ommegang label on it except for the three GoT beers they’ve released. The first – Iron Throne Blonde Ale, released in March 2013 – was decent enough but sort of ruined for me by excessive hype. Take the Black Stout, released last fall, was interesting with its star anise and licorice, but fell short of my expectations. I’m glad Ommegang is making these beers, because anything that promotes awareness of craft beer is good. But I keep hoping that one day they’ll brew one that delivers as intense and memorable an experience as the show itself.

So what’s a Zyme Lord to drink when watching the rest of the new season? Not to worry! I’ve got my own GoT-themed beer on tap: Wit Walker Wight Ale (recipe here).

Wit Walker Wight Ale

This beer that I made primarily to have something sessionable on hand for parties has turned out to be one of my own main pours these days. It’s an enticing cloudy straw color (again the photo above does it little justice) with a thick fizzy white head that dissipates quickly. There’s a faintly footy Belgiany aroma coupled with a hint of clove and spice. When it hits the palate, the blood orange comes out in full force – not overpowering the beer, but providing a backdrop of bitter citrus and zest that bounces effervescently on the tongue. I’ll be glad to finish a keg (or two?) of this beer as the season progresses.

It isn’t often that I face off one of my homebrews with a commercial beer. But when I do, it’s encouraging that my own beer can come out the winner. Don’t get me wrong, I love Ommegang and will continue to support their efforts to bringing beer awareness to GoT fans and vice versa. When the fourth GoT beer comes out this fall, I’ll buy a bomber or two. I’m just that big of a geek – for beer and for the show. But as a backup, it’ll be nice to have my own GoT-themed beer on tap so I can drink the beer I want, when I want. After all, that’s what homebrewing is about.

On-Tap Recap: My Beery Valentine

Friday was Valentine’s Day. While couples around the world were struggling through “romantic” evenings out at crowded restaurants with overpriced bottles of red wine or bubbly, Mr. and Mrs. Zyme Lord celebrated ours with a home-cooked meal and a pair of bombers.

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Insert your own Barry White-ish “Awww yeah.”

Dinner was a pair of 12-ounce dry aged New York strip steaks served alongside grilled lobster tails (special thanks to the Texas weather, which warmed up enough on Friday to allow me to grill both the steak and the lobster to perfection in the backyard). We rounded out the meal with oven-roasted fingerling potatoes and grilled broccolini, and a bottle of Boulevard Brewing Company Bourbon Barrel Quad. Based on their year-round Smokestack Series offering The Sixth Glass, the Bourbon Barrel Quad was a strong-but-smooth take on the barrel aged concept, and I liked the result. Unlike so many of the barrel aged stout and porter offerings that pair heavy malt notes with heavy barrel flavors, the quad was a well-balanced canvas for the palette of barrel flavors. Vanilla and toffee notes overlay a cherry tinted beer with pleasantly subdued residual sugars that was neither slick nor thick. There was bourbon booziness there, but nowhere near what I expected from a bottle proclaiming an ABV of 11.8%. And I can’t imagine a better pairing for surf-and-turf, with bourbon and dark crystal malt complementing the lightly-seasoned aged beef, and cherry and toffee accentuating the sweetness of the lobster.

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Boulevard Bourbon Barrel Aged Quad.

For dessert, a few Swiss chocolate truffles found love with a bomber of Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence. Yeah, I know, truffles aren’t a very “beer guy” kind of dessert, but dudes – if we can’t explore our softer sides on Valentine’s Day, when can we? I didn’t really feel self-confident eating dessert from a heart-shaped pink box, but then I never pass up a chance to eat candy. As for the beer, I was cautiously optimistic when I popped the cork. I’ve always been skeptical of so-called “Belgian stouts”, and it seems like chocolate beers are everywhere I look these days … most of them pretty good, but you never know when the trend is going to jump the shark. Fortunately, although Chocolate Indulgence wasn’t the best chocolate beer I’ve had recently, it delivered with Ommegang-worthy uniqueness. Perle hops and Belgian yeast imparted a light, fresh note that lifted the chocolate stout up in a way that would have made it the wrong pairing for a triple chocolate cake, but that worked well with the whole spectrum of European chocolates.

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Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence.

A perfectly romantic evening achieved, and not a wine glass in sight. Thanks to the creativity and passion of modern craft brewers, we live in an age where we can treat ourselves to excellent beer pairings for both our dinner and dessert courses. Now if I can just come up with a homebrew that pairs with conversation hearts …

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.

 

From the Cellar: December, bomber by bomber

I have an ever-growing collection of 22 oz and 750 ml bottles of beer cellaring in the Harry Potter closet. I save them for interesting meal pairings or other special occasions (which includes “another Sunday”). So December – a time of parties, good meals, multiple Christmas celebrations and the new year – is a perfect time to catch up on the cellar back stock. By which I mean drink them, of course.

It’s also when a lot of breweries release special beers, so I’ve found a few to fill the empty spaces in my cellar as I drink them up. Here’s a quick review of some recent bombers I’ve tasted and bought, and a preview of what I’m uncapping next.

This past Saturday, I opened a Stone Enjoy By 12.21.12 IPA. The occasion? Nothing more than resting up after seeing The Hobbit twice on Friday, and a December evening warm enough to put some filet mignons on the backyard grill. Steak and IPA aren’t two things I pair often, especially not when the steak is seasoned boldly (I used some coffee-chipotle rub left over from Thanksgiving), but time was running out on this time bomb of a bomber. The spicy beef and spicy beer matched better than I expected. The beer was light in color, with less melanoidin flavor than I usually want from an IPA, but I didn’t mind the hops overtaking the light malt profile. It was fresh, grassy, floral and spicy. Like a morning stroll through an English garden in spring. With a steak.

Then on Sunday, my wife Lisa and I had an early “Christmas” dinner: leg of lamb with garlic, lemon and herbs, which I paired with a bottle of Boulevard Collaboration No. 3 – Stingo that I’ve had for several months. Not knowing anything about “stingo” – a strong English style – except what was on the label, I expected deep malt and spice with a hint of sour tartness. I thought it would be a natural pairing for lamb with a little tangy mint sauce, but I was disappointed. There was some malt roastiness and a tang on the finish, but nothing in between. Not enough malt backbone, not enough depth, and not enough sourness to be pleasant. I had a lot of trouble finishing it, and that’s the first time I can say that about a Boulevard beer. Realizing it had been in storage for a while, I checked the date on the label, and it wasn’t out of date. Just not my thing, I guess.

I also bought a few new beers for my collection: a Stone 12.12.12 Vertical Epic Ale, a Brooklyn Black Ops, and a Samuel Adams Thirteenth Hour. I predict at least 2 of those won’t live to see spring.

Speaking of not living to see spring, this Friday night (December 21) I’ll open a bottle of Dogfish Head Theobroma in honor of the winter solstice and the end of the Mayan calendar. Since “theobroma” (a.k.a. cacao) is the food of the gods, this should be an excellent way to gain favor with Bolon Yokte K’uh, the Mayan god of war and creation who might be coming to destroy us all. If he is not amused and punishes me for my insolence – or if, more likely, he forgets to show up and the world continues to turn – at least I’ll be enjoying one of my favorite beers.

Saturday morning, assuming we’re alive and not already on the Dark Rift road to the Mayan underworld Xibalba, we drive to New Orleans to spend Christmas with our families there. I’m bringing a couple of bottles of Samuel Adams Norse Legend Sahti for Christmas Day. I haven’t tried it yet, but it should be something interesting to introduce to non-beer geeks in the family. The label might even open up some geeky discussion about Norse mythology, which I recommend highly as an excellent conversation topic, especially over grandmother’s Christmas lasagna.

Then there’s a bottle of Samichlaus Bier Helles which won’t see any action until New Year’s Eve. January 1 is Lisa’s birthday, and this year she can’t drink to celebrate thanks to our bouncing, kicking bun in the oven. So we’re having a small celebration at home starting on New Year’s Eve. Samichlaus, a rare Helles bock brewed only once each year by Brauerei Schloss Eggenberg in Austria, will be a fitting send-off to 2012: a very special beer for a very good year.

From the Cellar: Breaking free of the Turk(ey)ish prison on Thanksgiving

I’m pretty sure every homebrewer and beer geek has at least one personal story about how they surprised – and perhaps even converted – some non-craft drinker they know with the awesome power of real beer.

Maybe one night in college you handed an Imperial IPA to your malt liquor chugging buddy, and he quickly commended it before twisting open another 8 Ball. Or maybe you once convinced a co-worker to try a fruity wheat beer at a happy hour instead of a hard lemonade, and she now stocks her fridge with lambics. Or maybe you triumphed over decades of wine supremacy by pulling off a really successful beer pairing with a dinner, to the amazement of friends and/or family. My latest such story is a variation on that theme: a 3-course dinner with beer pairings, served in my own dining room.

The day was Thanksgiving (November 22 for those reading outside the U.S.) and the objects of my proselytization were my wife Lisa’s family: my mother-in-law and father-in-law in town from New Orleans, and my sister-in-law and her husband visiting from the United Kingdom. To set the stage, let me introduce them instead as: a coffee drinker, a whiskey drinker, a Bud Light drinker, and a foodie/pub manager from the south of England.

Challenge accepted!

Out of everyone in attendance, Lisa was the only person who was as convinced of the greatness of this idea as I was. She co-envisioned this event with me but couldn’t join us in the beer tasting thanks to an unfortunate medical condition called “expecting our first child” that isn’t expected to clear up for several months. This toast is for you, X.

The dinner itself was rather unorthodox. We haven’t done turkey on Thanksgiving in my house for nearly ten years, and saw no good reason to start now. We decided to build an utterly un-Thanksgiving-y menu with several commercial Central Texas beers from my cellar as inspiration, while also giving everyone in the family a chance to cook something. Here’s what we came up with.

I should disclose at this point that I don’t usually cook. Brewed beverages and the occasional steak are all I make that’s fit for human consumption, so most of the actual cooking (except for the steak) was done by Lisa and my brother-in-law. But I did choose the beer, so I’ve snatched the right to bill myself as director of the whole production.

Salad Course: Romaine with blue cheese, pecans, dried cranberries, and homemade mustard vinaigrette paired with a bomber of South Austin Brewing Company Saison D’Austin. As a longtime fan of this ubiquitous local saison, I had been dreaming about this pairing for a few days beforehand. This is a very light and refreshing saison, and everyone at the table enjoyed it (especially my sister-in-law the Bud Light drinker). But I found it lacked the backbone to stand up to the bold flavors of the blue cheese and mustard. Something with a bit more spice and/or funk would have served the dish better, so next time I’ll go with something a little more intense – a more phenolic Belgian or something with some Brett – and save the Saison D’Austin for a cheese course.

Main Course: Grilled sirloin with a coffee-chipotle rub served with a relish of tomatoes, tarragon and mustard; dill-roasted tricolor potatoes and oven-roasted asparagus paired with a bomber of Jester King / Mikkeller Weasel Rodeo Imperial Oatmeal Stout. The rub and the steak were the only food items I prepared myself, carefully trying to match the flavor profile of the beer, which features chipotle and kopi luwak coffee. Coffee and pepper were more pronounced in the steaks than the beer, if I do say so myself. But the pairing was a match made in heaven, and the in-laws enjoyed it all so much that we actually drank not just one bomber of Weasel Rodeo, but also the second bomber I had chilled just in case.

Dessert: Pecan pie from the Salt Lick paired with a 12-ounce bottle of Real Ale Sisyphus Barleywine Ale from 2011. Okay, so we didn’t actually make the pie, and I had no idea how it was going to pair with the 2011 Sisyphus, which I had never tried. As it turned out, the rest of the family were stuffed and satisified by now, so the barleywine was shared by me and my brother-in-law alone; 6 ounces for each of us was more than enough. The beer was robust and nutty with toffee overtones, and I thought quite a good match for my favorite pie in the Austin area, though I found myself wishing I had some good vanilla bean ice cream to complete the ensemble. I wasn’t disappointed for long, though, because I soon found myself satiated and … well, let’s just say “sleepy”.

So. A fantastic dinner that we had fun preparing together, and a great opportunity to demonstrate for visiting family why I’m so excited about the Central Texas beer scene. Hopefully I even got them thinking about beer in new ways. Would I do it again? Hell yes. And since there’s nothing “Thanksgiving” about this meal, I may do it again before next year’s holiday season. I hope it inspires you to try something similar.

Austin Beer Week 2012: Ommegang Beer Dinner at Easy Tiger

I’ve had a few beers before from New York’s Brewery Ommegang, but not many. So it was with curiosity and an empty stomach that I entered the hallowed halls of Easy Tiger Bake Shop & Beer Garden on Tuesday night for their Austin Beer Week Ommegang Beer Dinner. It was my second beer dinner at Easy Tiger (my first was in July) so I came expecting an all-stops-out delicious meal designed by chef Andrew Curren with the beer remaining the star. The menu was promising indeed:

The menu, before I smeared it with messy but memorable victuals.

Easy Tiger’s wait staff turned the hospitality up to eleven, bringing my first beer within moments of being seated. That was Ommegang’s Octoberly-named Scythe & Sickle, an ale celebrating the harvest season with barley, oats, wheat and rye in the grain bill. It poured a cloudy orange with an initial tart, acidic aroma that gave way to spicy clove esters and floral notes upon tasting. I had fun trying to pick out all the different grains. The oats gave a creamy texture to the brew, and spicy rye was also evident; but the most distinctive flavor I got was a raisin-currant character typical of Belgian crystal malts like Special B. The beer was accompanied by Easy Tiger’s “Harvest Mix” of popcorn, potato sticks, peanuts and dill: not your father’s party mix.

Beer #0: Scythe & Sickle. Yes, that’s a full glass pour.

Then the real fun began.

First Course: Biere d’Hougoumont with Herbed grits, roasted mushrooms, quail egg, lemon hazelnut gremolata – This limited-edition bière de garde includes French ale yeast and French Strisselspalt hops in the recipe, and was aged on white oak and hard maple. It was light orange in color with a quickly dissipating head and smelled of honey and floral hops. A boozy character like that of simple sugars (honey, or candi sugar?) in the wort was strong on the palate, but no alcohol burn. It balanced well with the earthy mushroom flavor dominating the grits.

Second Course: Goudenhop with Orange-lacquered grilled pork belly, creamed Swiss chard, crispy leeks – Ostensibly a Belgian-style blonde, the beer lived up to its name (meaning “golden hop” in Flemish) with citrusy hops on the nose and palate that slowly gave way to a long-lasting bitterness. It seemed an odd pairing with the nutty creamed chard and rich slab of pork belly that actually melted in my mouth, until I recognized it as a genius combination of opposites. The Goudenhop offered a refreshing lifeline from a dish easy to drown in (albeit happily), like orange juice next to a heaping plate of morning bacon. Folks, it just doesn’t get any better than this.

Third Course: Gnomegang with Pecan-crusted red fish, sweet potato & Granny Smith apple hash, parsley brown butter – A big golden beer with a thick head and aromas of tart fruits and the unoffensive cheese notes of Belgian yeast. It was incredibly full bodied, packed a boozy punch, and would make a great mainstay for a Belgian abbey’s Lenten fast. The rich, oily fish paired very nicely with it, and I’ve never disliked anything with Granny Smith apples in it.

Fourth Course: Art of Darkness with Chuck roast, potatoes, carrots and Art of Darkness bread – This smooth, velvety black ale (I wouldn’t call it a stout; there was no roasted barley character at all) had the hallmark flavors of oats and (I’m guessing) debittered black malt. The beer was good, but I must confess I was more entranced by the wedge of artisan bread on my plate, made with that same beer. I had waited all night to get my hands on some of Easy Tiger’s legendary bread, and its appearance made me a happy man. My apologies to the roast; it was succulent and savory, but I had already given my heart to another.

Fifth Course: Chocolate Indulgence with Pumpkin pie, milk chocolate, candied orange, hazelnuts – The last ale on the menu was as dark as the previous one, and had the roast character its predecessor lacked. More coffee-like than it was chocolatey, it was very good on its own but a little heavy next to a light and flaky specimen of one of my favorite fall desserts. The pie itself was delicious, and thankfully not cloyingly sweet. I loved each on their own but wasn’t crazy about the two together.

Beer #5: Chocolate Indulgence. And another sweet glass for my collection.

But the night wasn’t over yet! Easy Tiger and Ommegang surprised us with a final course: a plate of soft cheese, fennel relish, and another fresh baked bread (EDIT: Nancy’s Camembert from Hudson Valley, fennel marmalade and Pan au Levain roll – a sort of French “sourdough” – thanks Chef Andrew Curren for confirming) accompanied by a flute of Aphrodite lambic. The lambic was sweet and fruity with the color and flavor of raspberry (and just a little pear) all but masking a thread of Brett funk, and was an admirable way to end the night. It went fine with the cheese, but I kept thinking how well it would have paired with the pumpkin pie … though I would hate to have missed out on this latter offering of house bread.

Beer #6: The mighty Aphrodite.

Much like schnitzengrubens, them strong Belgian-style beers can wipe you out, especially when taken with good food. By the end of the night I had one foot in brewhound Valhalla, tethered to the mortal plane by robust conversation with several fellow beer geeks in attendance that I had the pleasure to meet that night – including John Rubio of The Beerists podcast and Austin Chronicle beer culture writer Ivy Le and her husband. But bedtime loomed, and before long I emerged from the rathskeller to find my way home, happily smacked down by another spectacular Easy Tiger beer dinner.

You win another round, Easy Tiger. Well done. Name the time, and I’ll be there for the rematch.

Fantastic Fest: The most wonderful time of the year

Fantastic Fest 2012 starts today in Austin! Billed as “a film festival with all the boring parts cut out”, it’s eight days of weird and unique films from all around the world. Horror, action, science fiction, fantasy and offbeat comedy will show in abundance.

When I’m not blogging, brewing or working at my day job, I write for the very small screen and work in independent film production with Blue Goggles Films (see the latest episode of our series De-Pixelated here, co-written by me). So great film on a budget is a passion of mine, and Fantastic Fest is my Christmas. I look forward to it every year the way some people look forward to the World Series, E3, or a major political convention. In fact, it is like a major political convention: full of deeply opinionated people exchanging passionate debate after nights of minimal – or no – sleep … but instead of arguing about the economy or health care, they’re discussing Dogme 95 or the most effective use of the Wilhelm scream in a Spanish-language film since 1996.

It’s not technically a beer event, but it does take place at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, so there’s beer and food available for purchase at every screening, and lots of parties with free drinks at night. So beer is a big part of the festival for me, because I love pairing beer with a good film as much as with a good meal. I’m hoping the Alamo has a lot of interesting stuff on tap to keep the libations as exciting as the entertainment.

I usually see about 30 films during the 8-day festival. My original idea was to do “Fantastic Fest in 30 Beers”: a different beer for every film I see. But I realized 30 pints in 8 days is going to be hard on my wallet, and I really want to enjoy some high-gravity brews if possible without falling asleep during my midnight screenings.

So I won’t try to force a beer for every showing. But I will be drinking some interesting stuff throughout the week, and seeing some fantastic films. I’ll write about both as often as I can. I’ll also be tweeting about the films and the festival as it happens – check out my Twitter feed @shawnbou21 to see my updates.

Chaos reigns!

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.