Monday, December 19, 2011

Closing out the 2011, my top 10 favorite new beers of the year.

What a great year of beer drinking 2011 has been! Started it off in Vermont where Long Trail, Otter Creek , and Wolaver's are right around the corner. Then went to two beer tasting festivals, four beer and food pairing dinners, and found two local pubs that feature craft beer from all around the local area. one of which has over 60 brews on tap!!!  Maloney's in Matawan, NJ and Hailey's Harp & Pub in Metuchen, NJ (smaller tap run, but good irish pub food to compliment the beer).

Even though my fridge was stocked with many of the normal seasonal I look forward to ever year, my beer exposure was at its best in this year. Easily trying 50-75 new beers this year, it's been hard to keep track of how each one exactly tasted. I tried keeping up to date on my beer advocate account with reviews, and even kept notes on napkins in pubs while sipping on something new. But some fell through the cracks. But, I can recall with certain accuracy which beers made me stop and go "damn, this is amazing!" then taking another sip and saying "holy S**T!, how I have never had this before!".

So here they are. The top 10. These are the beers that stuck out. The ones I may have tried randomly on a Wednesday in February but can recall exactly how it tasted to this day. Seek these guys out. You will be amazed with their flavor!

In as close to possible chronological order;

Ottercreek Black IPA, Middlebury, Vermont.

Fittingly I had this on tap in Vermont so it was nice and fresh. At the time it was O.C.'s winter seasonal although it's now available all year round. But you're lucky if you can find it on the shelf as it sells out quickly and is carried by a limited number of stores.

Climax Nut Brown Ale, Roselle Park, New Jersey

This is as local as I can get. Climax is brewed around 15 minutes from me and although I've had other offering by them, this year was the first time enjoying Nut Brown Ale. Up until this year, Climax was only sold in 64oz. growlers, but now you can find it in 6 packs. Only negavite is the growlers are being fazed out. Grab one if you see it to use at your nearest growler fill location after you drink the beer.

Riverhorse Farmhouse Saison, Lambertville, New Jersey

Farmhouse Saison was a very limited release from this NJ brewery. Part of their Brewer's Reserve series, it only came in kegs or their variety pack. We enjoyed both, once at the brewery itself, the other in bottles. It's placing on this list reflects the tap variation. This beer was everything a Saison should be. Look for it next year if they brew it.

Allagash White, Portland, Maine

And so an obsession begins. White was the first offering I tried from Allagash, a now favorite brewery of both my wife and I. A great summer beer that's brewed all year round this beer became our stand by for the remainder of the summer after all the summer seasonal brews became sold out.

Weyerbacher Verboten, Easton, Pennsylvania

Enjoyed this tasty all year round brew at a beer dinner featuring Weyerbacher. This brewery has been a favorite of mine for some time but aside from a few of their offerings, we never ventured into Verboten land. Mistake. Verboten is an enjoyable beer that can sit in the basement for years to be aged or enjoyed fresh. This offering is bottle conditioned.

Weyerbacher Double Simcoe Ipa, Easton Pennsylvania

Another one of Weyerbacher's offerings we tried for the first time at the beer dinner we attended. I default to IPAs when there isn't much else to choose from in a bar so this was right up my alley. But The D.S. IPA also did something I never imagined possible, it turned my wife on to IPAs and got her palate more comfortable with hops! A great beer by itself, but even better when enjoyed with food. Take note of how it cleanses your palate after each sip.

Triumph Brewing Company of New Hope's Oatmeal Cookie Stout, New Hope, Pennsylvania

I love Triumph. Their beer is always good, always fresh, and always pairs well with their food. This was the first time having this stout and thankfully got to enjoy it on tap (the only other offering by triumph is growler or 750ml bombers). Rich and smooth and perfect for a fall day. Hope I see this on the tap list again one day.

Allagash Curioux, Portland Maine

"It's the best beer I've ever had". My wife has said this numerous times when we talk about Curieux to someone. This beer did so much for me. It turned me on to barrel aged beer. Before trying it I had been semi skeptical, but now it makes sense to spend $20 on a bottle of beer. At first, we thought this offering was a one time only brew, but thankfully it's year round. There's always one on hand in my house for when we have people over.

Fengleys Brewworks Devious Pumpkin, Allentown, Pennsylvania

I like pumpkin ales. It's a yearly habit for me to rush around buying 6 packs of all my favorite pumpkin offerings from breweries I support. I also like local products. So how Devious Pumpkin had not been enjoyed by my wife and I to this point baffles me. Rich in flavor, body, and ABV, we loved this beer. Next year we will be buying more than a single bottle though.

Honorable mention,
Carton Brewing Company Boat Beer, Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey

So happy to be seeing more breweries opening around this state. Carton is a welcome edition. Their Boat Beer is as perfect as you can get for a session beer. Rich in flavor, but low in ABV you can keep on drinking this one until the game is over and not have to worry about a hangover the next day. The only negative is keg and growler fill only.

There you have it, 11 beers that highlighted my year. Looking forward to 2012 and another full year of beer discovery. First stop, New Hampshire for a family vacation.

Happy New Year to all! Cheers!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Maloney's St. Bernardus Beer Dinner Review.

Mix great food with outstanding beer and you get a Maloney's Beer Dinner. Every time my wife and I go here we yearn to live closer to it, currently it's about a 30 minute drive for us to get there. Although that's still close, a 30 minute drive wouldn't allow you to leave your car there and walk home like I would've had to do if i was driving tonight! I've mentioned it before, but so you know, they have over 70 taps. Hence our wanting to live closer.

This dinner featured St. Bernardus. A belgian brewery that until tonight we never tried more than their Christmas Ale. Being devoted to mostly local breweries, hopping the pond isn't something we normally do. Well that needs to be rethought after trying the run of beer we had tonight. Each beer was fantastic for it's own individual reason. This brewery obviously offers a wide diversity of beer that excites your palate each sip.

Like the American Ales Dinner, this one also featured four courses paired with four brews. Each course was delicious and showed off the talent of the kitchen staff. The pairings were also well done. Standing alone, both the food and the beer were great. But when paired together, flavors not present in the food before a sip would later pop out at you and the same with the beer.

Although my memory is pretty good, I sadly didn't keep any notes during the tasting. Add to that the fact that we shared an Allagash Curieux before hand on an empty stomach, and memory clouds.

Check out this menu;

****Classic Pate de Maison- traditional pork and duck liver pate with Cumberland sauce and crostini, paired with Christmas Ale (Belgian Strong Dark Ale, 10%)
****Meghan’s Holiday Salad- autumn greens tossed with shaved fennel, toasted almonds, dried cranberries, and an orange-tarragon vinagrette, topped with a crumbled Feta cheese, paired with Witbier (Wheat beer, 5.5%)
****Rack of Lamb with a white cheddar-chive potato cake and thyme-scented fresh baby spinach in a natural lamb jous, paired with Abt 12 (Quad, 10%)
****Sticky Toffee Cake and vanilla bean ice cream, paired with Prior 8 (Dubbel, 8%)
Wow right? Right off the bat the Christmas Ale hit hard and delivered the mood for the evening. The thicker consistency and dark fruit flavors paired extremely well with the pate. Having already tasted this offering of beer I was really able to focus on the pate, which I've never had before. The pate was rich, and very filling. Just what I needed since there was already a beer and a half in me already! The two sauces on the plate complimented both the pate and the beer so well I could have just eaten that the whole night. 
Although a salad for a second course seems very light, this one hit the spot. With the pate being so filling, the salad fit perfectly in there and also gave the Witbier a chance to shine as a wonderful session beer. It's light body and low ABV smoothed out the spike of 10%ABV from the previous Christmas Ale. Witbier is comparable to many white beers. Citrusy, crisp and refreshing. It's a perfect beer for summer, but can also be enjoyed all year. The random cranberry and piece of crumbled feta in the salad bought the flavor of the beer to a whole other level exposing more depth  than a normal white ale. 
Third course is where the mistake happens. Not by the kitchen or any of the staff, but by me. The lamb looked delicious. Both my wife and I have tried lamb over and over and just can not get past the flavor. But according to my wife, who tried a bite from our friend, it was very good. We subbed in a chicken dish that was served in a type of cream mustard sauce along with the same sides as the lamb. Don't take it the wrong way, the chicken was very good, but the lamb just looked so picturesque. The Abt. 12 was a another great brew. To me Abt. 12 shared many characteristics with the Christmas Ale but with an earthier finish and slightly less dark fruit flavor. 
The dessert bought on the Prior 8. Another high ABV beer with great flavor. And the toffee cake went perfectly with it. Both complimented each other so well it amazed us. Although by now, the high alcohol and continual flavor punches had worn away the majority of my palate, I could still tell that flavors were being positively affected by both the beer and the food towards one another other. This dessert far surpassed others we've had during beer dinners here. Everything was balanced out so well and it helped to finish off the dinner wonderfully. 
Although the beer was amazing for this dinner it was certainly was not the highlight. The chef and his staff stole the show on this one. The food was a hit right across the board. No course lacked in flavor or stuck out as not pairing well. Each one had depth in flavor and was paired well with the equally flavorful beer. Cheers Maloney's and thank you for a fun night!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

2012 Beer Resolutions

We all make resolutions every new years. Lose weight, get a new job, meet someone, etc etc. Most of the resolutions wind-up not being kept and you're left felling guilty for not sticking to your own promises. This year however, instead of choosing tough resolutions like losing weight, or getting a new job. I choose to have goals involving beer and encourage you to do the same. So when the other resolutions come crumbling apart, you can enjoy a beer and celebrate!

In no order,
1. Brew my own beer. 
I've been meaning to do this for the past year or two but have never gotten a kit. With devotion to being a localvore, and wanting to be more environmentally friendly being at the forefront of my thought, 2012 will be the year. Even if it's a simple brew kit in a box, beer will be brewed.

2. Get a Kegerator/Build a Kegerator. 
Both my uncle and cousin have one in their basement but they are filled with Coors Lite so I've never enjoyed any beer from their basement beverage fridge. My wife originally put the idea out there while we were at a bar together. So having her on board with the idea isn't an issue. Only issue would be the funds needed to get the project up and running.

3. Visit every brewery in the state, including brew pubs. 
So far, I've been to both NJ Triumphs, J.J. Bittings, Pizzeria Uno, and River Horse. With more and more places making great beer popping up in the state, it drives me to want to meet the people who are making the beer in my local area. Visiting the breweries will give me a chance to try more of their beer than is available in the stores. It also gives me a chance to thank them for providing us with great beer! Which leads me to be to do #4.

4. Volunteer at a brewery. 
The brewers and employees bust their asses day in and out. Hauling heavy bags of material around and then carrying the also heavy finished product is a wearing job. These guys really work in order to get the product completed. All the while paying extremely close attention to the beer itself! So why not volunteer. Even it it's doing some menial like sweeping the floors. The extra help will take a little pressure off the people at work so they can focus more on the beer. I really encourage everyone to do this.

5. The long shot, Get a full time job in the beer industry. 
My current job isn't the most satisfying I've had in my life. So going along with the "do what you love and you never work a day in your life" motto, I strive to work in beer. Although it is hard work, as previously mentioned, tree work is hard work too. Would it change my perspective for beer having to work with it all day? Probably not.

So make your own list. Resolve to do something new with your beer enjoyment this coming year. You may find yourself with a new career!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

How Much Is Too Much?

My interest in craft beer started around 8 years ago upon being lucky enough to live within 20 minutes of Triumph of New Hope and River Horse in Lambertville. Back then, six packs were selling for around $7-$9. And $9 was For the high ABV beers like River Horse's Triple Horse. But with the emergence of interest in craft beer by more people, inflation, and other factors like crop shortages (which we'll be seeing more and more of in the near future) prices seem to be going up and up faster and faster.

For some of us, beer is like gasoline. It's almost necessary in order to get through a tough week comfortably. Sure, we can all go through the week without a beer or driving our car to work, but do we really want to have to ride our bike to work and then not enjoy a pint when we come home? No. That's why we're all beer heads and married to oil. But when does the cost of a bottle of beer become outrageous? I'm starting to find my limit.

My weekly trip to the liquor stores along my commute have seen bottles pop up on the shelf asking $11, then $15, then $17, $20, and just this past Friday $49! Seems like quite a jump. Bombers, the attractive 750ml bottles we're all now accustomed to seeing are where the largest price jumps have been taking place in my eyes. Is there really that much of a difference between a $6.99 bottle and a $49.99 bottle? And then how much better can it really get jumping all the way to $200 for Sam Adams Utopias? Then there is the switch from standard 6 packs to the equally priced or even more expensive 4 packs. Seems like we are all paying more and more for the same amount or even less beer! What's going on here?

My opinion, the increase is due to 25% inflation and growing conditions on farms, another 25% prices of transportation and energy required to produce the beer (oil/fossil fuels), 30% supply and demand(see Dogfish Head), 15% time spent on aging some of these more expensive beers, and 5% greed. I think brewers and brewery employees are good people but greed is a basic human instinct so we are all capable of it. Can we make it stop? Probably not. But there is a way to possibly control it. Start brewing your own beer.

So, how much is too much for you? So far for me it's $23.01.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Beer And Food, or Beer In Food?

Almost all restaurants that promote craft beer are doing more events with pairing food and beer.  Each beer is being carefully selected and then paired with a specific dish to highlight not only the beer, but the food as well. Beer can do wonderful things to the taste of food. Not only as a beverage, but as an ingredient as well.

More and more my wife and I are cooking main courses, side dishes, and even desserts with beer. Each different style of beer can be used for a different reason. Have a nice ale or lager laying around? Add some to your next marinade for BBQ pork ribs. Don't know what to do with a stout you have had for some time? Put some in the batter for your next batch of brownies. The beer will add another level of complexity, change the mouth fell, and even make a great conversation starter for when people come by for dinner. 

There are 3 recipes in particular that we have tried that have been a success so far. Cast Iron Skillet Stout Braised Short Ribs, Stout Ginger Bread, and then a simple Brown Ale BBQ sauce you can use on anything you're grilling. Try them out sometime whenever you feel adventurous in the kitchen or grill and let me know what beer used, and how it turned out.

Use my suggestions or sub in your favorite breweries beer that fits the style, 

Cast Iron Skillet Stout Braised Short Ribs with Founders Breakfast Stout;

1 lb. short ribs. I use beef but try it with pork too.
salt and pepper to season
2-3 tbsp. flour. I use whole wheat since it adds a little more body
olive oil for pan
1 tbps. butter
1 onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 12oz bottle Founders Breakfast Stout
1/2 cup beef stock

1. season ribs with salt and pepper then dredge in flour shaking any excess off then heat oil and butter in skillet.
2. using med-high heat, brown the ribs on each side then set aside. add the onion and garlic to the pan for 5-7 minutes or until clear.
3. pour in beer, bring to boil and reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes. 
4. place ribs in skillet and add beef stock
5. cover, and simmer on low heat for aobut 2 hours or until ribs reach cook internal tempature. 150 med-rare, 160 medium, 175 well. (all temps F)

2 onion diced
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. celery salt
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 cup catsup
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar (use loosely packed if you prefer sauce not as sweet)
1 12oz bottle Smuttynose Old Dog Brown Ale

1. add all ingredients but beer into a large bowl
2. slowly add small portions of beer and stir together to reach your desired thickness. 
3. if you didn't add all the beer, drink the rest of bottle and get cooking!

and lastly the big one, 
Classic Ginger Bread Cake with Guinness Stout

3/4 cup Guinness Stout
1/2 tsp. backing soda
2/3 cup mild molasses
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1+1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tbsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. baking powder 
1/2 tsp. table salt
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 large eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tbsp. fresh ginger(use a microplane zester to grate the ginger. trust me, it's worth it)

1. preheat oven to 350(F), grease and flour pan. 
2. bring stout to boil in a medium sauce pan over med-high heat stirring occasionally. 
3. remove from heat after boiled and stir in baking soda. when foaming subsides, stir in molasses, brown sugar, and granulated sugar until dissolved. set aside.
4. whisk flour, ground ginger, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and pepper together in a large bowl. set aside. 
5. transfer stout mixture to a large bowl and whisk in eggs, oil, and grated fresh ginger until combined. 
6. whisk wet mixture together with flour mixture in thirds stirring each vigorously until completely smooth after each addition. 
7. transfer batter to prepared pan and gently tap pan against counter 3 or 4 times to dislodge any air bubbles.
8. bake until top of cake is just firm to the touch and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. about 35 to 45 mins. 
9. cool cake on wire in pan about 1+1/2 hours. serve warm or at warm temperature.  

Try them out and let me know what you think.


Saturday, December 3, 2011

Two Tastings, Many Different Opinions. Idiot's Drool, and Bitch's Brew.

Weyerbacher's Idiot's Drool

Well tonight was the night. Broke out two beers I have been holding on to waiting for the right moment to open. A friend was celebrating their birthday and enjoyed different beers so why not. But the reservations I had in bringing these particular beers were partially for good reason.

It was about time the Idiot's Drool got opened. After stewing over when to open one, who to have it with, and whether to sell or trade a bottle or two, I decided just to open one up. But it was the wrong crowd to taste it with. The Bitches Brew on the other hand was a hit with everyone. It hit to everyone's liking(or should I say expectations), and was definitely the overall favorite.

To being, we drank the Idiot's Drool. Touted by me as such a rare beer that most people will never get a chance to try it. So it had built up quite a reputation before any of us even knew what it tasted like. Even me! Right from the get go it looked nothing like a beer at all and people became skeptic. Then the smell built more doubt. And finally the taste sealed it for most. Worst comment of the night, "this tastes like beef broth". But this was coming from people who don't drink craft beer aside from my wife and I and the person celebrating their birthday. Was it really that bad?

After sitting with the glass for a long time and smelling it over and over, then taking a sip now and then,  the beer began to build on me. Complexity. And depth, that was downright overwhelming. Aside from the flavors that kept changing sip after sip, and the occasional puckering of the lips due to the sourness, I realized there was nothing like this possibly on earth. And that's when it clicked. Idiot's Drool is by no means a beer going by the common definition of beer. It is a brewer's experiment with what can happen with beer if you play jazz with it.

Dogfish Head's Bitches Brew
Which leads up into the Bitch's Brew. Unlike the Drool, Bitch's Brew was closer to the common definition of a beer. Poured with a nice head, it didn't have a syrup like body, and more of the common taste characteristics of beer were present in it. Needless to say it was a hit with everyone. The gesho used in place of the hops definitely added a complex bitter flavor to it. And I found a very earthy overall body that was enjoyable, complex, and hard to pin point at the same time. There is a characteristic that I found very similar to chewing a coffee bean. But a coffee bean with a thin coating of dark chocolate.

Bitch's Brew was the fan favorite for the night, Idiot's Drool took a back seat. Not because one beer one better than another. But we have been raised and grown up with a very common perception of what beer is. When people who drink craft beer, or like tonight don't drink craft beer often, try these wacky ones that breweries are offering, we need to get the idea out of our heads that we are drinking beer. We are drinking what a beer can do when given the reins and let loose to do what it wants with itself! This is what the people needed to do tonight and what I need to do in the future as well.


Check out my reviews of both the Idiot's Drool and the Bitch's Brew by clicking their link;

Weyerbacher's Idiot's Drool

Dogfish Head's Bitch's Brew

Big Tastings Today, Another Beer Dinner, and What's Coming Up...

Anyone checking in with me has seen the recent luck I've been having getting some rare limited release beers. Tonight I plan on whipping some of them out. Victory Dark Intrigue, Dogfish Head Bitches Brew, Weyerbacher Idiot's Drool, and Weyerbacher Rapture will come along to a friends house for a get together. Hopefully the chance will arrive to do a review on all of them. But definietley check back as updates will be posted about the Idiot's Drool especially.

In the meantime, Maloney's Pub in Matawan, NJ is holding their Christmas Dinner on December, 16th and featuring St. Bernardus Brewery as the beer of the evening. I've never gotten a chance to try any of their offerings but picked up their Christmas Ale to check out a glimpse of what's in store for the evening. This has been touted as their best dinner of the year so my wife and I are looking forward to it.

After that, New Years, and then my beers of 2011 review. Stay tuned as 10 beers will be highlighted as the best discoveries of the year. Some have been around for some time and I just haven't had them, others just came along this year. Either way, these were the beers that blew me away. So stay tuned and start saving some cash so you can pick them up before they're gone!