Category Archives: tastings & dinners

For the Canadians…Well, the Ontarians…Okay, GTAers

Heads up, folks, the first ever Toronto Beer Week kicks off on Monday and it’s looking like it will be a good one. I’ll be presenting a bunch of events — like my Malt & Molluscs Monday at Starfish and Wednesday’s Malt Magic beer and single malt pairing at The Monk’s Table — but also attending a lot more.

Yesterday, I posted my picks for the week at my thatsthespirit.com blog. Rather than repeat them all here, why not just follow this link and check them out?!

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Is This a Celebration?

Now this is certain to piss off Alan. Why? Follow me over here.

I like The Bruery, I really do. I like what Patrick Rue has managed to do in terms of carving out his reputation in such a short time frame and I like many of the beers he crafts. I have never visited the brewery’s tasting room, but I’m guessing I might like that, too.

However, when I received the press release touting The Bruery’s second anniversary “party,” I had to shake my head. Here’s the skinny:

“Come join us in celebrating our second year of brewing experimental and Belgian-style beers!” the release begins, making me think of clinking glasses, happy faces and maybe a party hat or two. But it then continued:

The celebration will be split into four, 3 hour sessions:

Session #1: Saturday, May 22nd, 12 PM – 3 PM
Session #2: Saturday, May 22nd, 4 PM – 7 PM
Session #3: Sunday, May 23rd, 12 PM – 3 PM
Session #4: Sunday, May 23rd, 4 PM – 7 PM

Huh? Four three-hour parties? Seems off to me, but let’s find out what’s planned:

We’ll be serving a wide variety of Bruery ales including Melange #3, Oude Tart, Humulus Rice, Seven Grain Saison as well as Coton, our second anniversary ale that has been aging in oak barrels and clocks in at 14.5% ABV. Each attendee will be given 10 tasting tickets, which will be redeemed for 2-5 oz. of beer, depending on the strength and rarity of the beer. No additional tasting tickets may be purchased. Each session will also feature food catered by Seal Beach’s Beachwood BBQ including their legendary fried pickles and slow smoked meats as well as Belgian waffles, artisan cheeses, cured olives and other snacks.

Okay, I’m cool with the enjoyment of food and beer as a means of celebration, but ten tasting tickets maximum for samples of 2 to 5 ounces each? That’s not celebration, that’s analysis! That’s evaluation! That’s what I do almost every day for work!

Scroll down, past the list of beers that will be available, to the final line:

Admission is $40 per person.

So, to “celebrate” two years of business, they’re allowing people to pay $4 per sample a maximum of ten times during one of four three-hour periods. Oh, and there will be food, too.

Sorry, Bruery, that’s not a party, that’s a second anniversary tasting event. I’m sure it will be fully sold-out and everyone will have a marvellous time, but a bunch of people standing around and sniffing and sipping and tweeting their tasting notes is no way to celebrate anything, much less two years of extraordinary and well-deserved success. Call it what it is and have a real party some time later.

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The Wench + New Belgium + New Holland + The Publican = EPIC EVENING

by Ashley Routson, The Beer Wench

Social Media continues to amaze me. During the 2010 Craft Brewer’s Conference, I was virtually impossible to contact through email. The only two ways to connect was either through phone (call or text) or through Twitter. And if you were not lucky enough to have my number, Twitter was by far the best way to find me.

As fate would have it, a seat at the New Holland & New Belgium beer dinner at the Publican opened up on the New Holland side. The morning of the dinner I received a Direct Message (‘DM’ to us Twitter addicts) from my good friend and one of the partners of New Holland, Fred Bueltmann: “a seat just opened up at our (New Holland/New Belgium) Publican Dinner tonight, if you’re interested.” (Via: @Beervangelist)

Without needing to think, I jumped on the invite.

(What Fred does not know is that I missed the event I was supposed to cover for World of Beer the night before. The Publican dinner was the perfect opportunity to redeem myself. Thanks Fred, for saving my butt!)

Having had the opportunity to dine at the Publican in the past, I knew to expect greatness. But what I did not expect was just how amazing my experience at the NH/NB dinner was going to be.

The word may be overused these days, yet I find that the only word that truly captures the my awing experience is ‘EPIC’.

For those of you unlucky people to have never of met Fred, the best way to describe him is a younger and extremely more fashionable version of ‘The Dude,’ Jeff Bridge’s character in The Big Lebowski. I arrived at the Publican to find Fred dressed to the nines in an elaborately embroidered and stunning western cowboy style shirts and appropriately matched cowboy boots. I was pleasantly greeted with a New Belgium La Folie, one of my favorite beers in the New Belgium line-up.

Our particular party got divided into two. Not really sure what I did to land a seat at the rockstar table, but I know that it must have cost me many, many karma points.

Fred from New Holland sat to my left and I was extremely humbled to have had Peter Bouckaert, head brewmaster of New Belgium, to my right. There were two seats left open across from me and, at the time, I did not know exactly who would fill them.

The first course was Kusshi oysters on the half shell, garnished with a pine mignonette. Grown by Keith Ried in the British Columbia, Kusshis (Japanese for ‘precious’) are almost as deep as they as long — a shape achieved through an aggressive tumbling process. We were each allocated two, however Peter scored me an extra one.

The Kusshi was paired with the New Holland Mad Hatter IPA , a well-balanced, well-attenuated IPA with a pleasantly floral and mild pine hop aroma and bitterness. The best part about tasting beers with their brewers is that I can ask about the recipe and ingredients. One of my new favorite ‘games’ to play is ‘guess that hop.’ I was pleased with my ability to correctly identify Centennial as the dominating hop in Mad Hatter. Point for the Wench!

The pine mignonette complemented the citrus and pine notes in the IPA. The relatively low abv and high attenuation of the beer did not overpower the oysters. The IPA finished dry and crisp, which helped sooth the mild ‘bite’ from the black peppercorns on the oysters. Pairing verdict? Well done!

Second course was a generous chunk of burrata cheese, a very creamy fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream. The burrata was garnished with roasted artichokes, raw walnuts and mint chiffonade. It was paired with New Belgium Bier De Mars, a beer made from barley, oats and wheat, brewed with lemon zest and lemon verbena and inoculated with wild yeast at bottling.

I love pairing light, grassy cheeses with Brett beers. The farm and earth characters of both really compliment each other. The dryness of the beer did an excellent job of cutting down the creaminess of the cheese without overpowering its delicate flavors. The walnuts added a much needed texture to the dish and the mint served as a refreshing palate cleanser. Pairing verdict? Slam dunk!

Just as the second course was being wrapped up, the two mystery guests showed up to the restaurant. I was completely blown away by having the opportunity to not only meet Kim Jordan, cofounder and CEO of New Belgium, but also the chance to dine with her. At her side was Dick Cantwell, partner and brewer of Elysian Brewery.

Now that the party was complete, the table began buzzing with great beer industry stories. I made the mistake of trying to tweet out pictures and tasting notes on each course, but after Dick made a comment about the irony of social media making people unsocial, I put down the iPhone and fully emerged into the conversation. (Well done, Dick! – ed.)

The waitstaff and kitchen did an excellent job of trying to catch Kim and Dick up with the rest of us, without rushing them too much. I think they were caught up around the fourth course.

The third course was poached (in oil, I assume) fresh whole shrimp from New Orleans, lightly spiced with Cajun seasoning (I think, but am not certain) and garnished with a ‘salsa’ of diced plantains, garlic, pecans and cilantro. The dish was paired with New Belgium Abbey Ale — a traditional Belgian Abbey style ale decorated with four World Beer Cup medals and eight medals from the Great American Beer Festival.

The plantains brought out the banana esters in the ale, while the sweet malty nature of the beer helped to cleanse the very mild spice of the shrimp. I really enjoyed sucking out the head of the shrimp — something that, despite being a major foodie, I had never done. Pairing verdict? Delicious.

By this point, our group had the pleasure of being visited by the entertaining and hell raisin’ brewmaster of New Holland, John Haggerty, who was definitely feeling good. I ended up having the honor of sharing a cab with him and his wife later on in the evening. And needless to say, it was a hilarious cab ride. But I digress. Where were we?

The fourth course was a buckwheat crepe roulade stuffed with figs and pulled pork from an organic farm in Iowa. The dish was topped with white asparagus and radish and then paired with New Holland Envious — the first release in the New Holland cellar series. Its high-gravity malt-fermented base is blended with Michigan pear juice and chardonnay yeast for a second fermentation, before being aged with raspberries and oak.

I was extremely excited to taste Envious. It was unlike any other beer I have had. Its low alcohol level made it one of the most approachable barrel-aged beers, as those tend to lean towards the higher end of the alcohol spectrum. Despite its fruity aromas and sweet palate, the beer finished dry. The sweetness of the fig and pork roulade was a perfect match for the stone fruit character of Envious. The earthy nuttiness of the buckwheat complimented the malt bill of the beer very well. Pairing verdict? Pork and Envious = orgasmic.

The beer consumption was stepped up significantly by the fifth course. We were given three different beers to be paired with medium-rare venison topped with golden beets, bacon, saba and deep-fried Byrd Mill grits. The beers were as follows: New Holland Charkoota Rye, a smoked rye dopplebock; New Belgium La Folie, a wood-aged Flemish red style ale; and a 40/60 blend of the two beers.

I am ashamed to admit that, prior to the dinner, I was unaware of Peter’s background brewing at Rodenbach –home of the fabled sour red. I had an epiphany moment when I learned this fact. La Folie reminds me of what Rodenbach used to taste like and what the Grand Cru currently tastes like. No wonder…

Tasting the venison alone (without its garnishes) with the Charkoota Rye was, in my opinion, the best pairing of the night. Smoked beers were made to pair with smoked beers. The entire dish paired best with the blend. The sweetness of the beets helped to pull out the flavors of La Folie and the smokiness of the bacon and gaminess of the venison really complimented the Charkoota Rye.

Side note: I absolutely love the name Charkoota Rye. For those of you not clever enough to figure it out, the name is a witty play on the word ‘charcuterie’. Brilliant, I say, brilliant.

The last course of the evening was, naturally, dessert. Dessert was a giant, flat Buñuelo — a fritter of Spanish origin typically consisting of a simple, wheat-based yeast. It was topped with a scoop of coffee ice cream and garnished with a rich dark chocolate sauce and cinnamon. Dessert was paired with the New Belgium Trans Atlantic Kriek, a raspberry lambic style beer (actually a blend of Boon Kriek and NBB lager – ed.), and the New Holland El Mole Ocho, a beer inspired by Mexican mole and brewed with cocoa, dried chilies and coffee.

The chocolate sauce and coffee ice cream really pulled out the cocoa and coffee notes in the beer. The Transatlantic Kriek served as an excellent palate cleanse in between bites and sips of the El Mole Ocho. The Buñuelo was perfectly fried, crisp outside with a chewy soft inside that was not too greasy. Pairing verdict? Perfect ending.

The night did not end there. Au contraire, my friends, my night ended at 5:30am.

After the formal dinner was over, I piled into a cab with John, his wife and Fred. We hit up Small Bar on Division St., where I had the rare and exciting opportunity to meet the famous restaurateur and brilliant mind behind The Publican, not to mention Blackbird, avec and Big Star, Paul Kahan. Meeting Paul essentially rounded the entire beer dinner experience — I got to meet the owners, brewers and executive chef. Like I said, it was an epic experience. In every sense of the word.

Special thanks to everyone involved, thanks to Fred for giving me the honors and to Stephen for giving me enough clout to land the invite.

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We Interrupt This Trip for the Following Observations

  • Sink the Bismark.” Oy! Will these boys never stop? Next up, almost for certain: 42%+ from Schorschbräu.
  • I like the new Ranger IPA from New Belgium. Not unconditionally, but in a surprised, “hey! this is from New Belgium?” kind of way. And I like this video, in an admittedly cheesy, lowbrow, white-guys-rapping kind of way. Jeff Alworth does not.
  • And speaking of Mr. Alworth’s observations and opinions, “a little brand-forward for my tastes”? As if craft brewers should be above marketing their beers? C’mon, Jeff, it’s a mature market out there and surviving means selling.
  • Those who are regularly asking me about craft distilling and how to learn it should check out the American Distilling Institute’s 7th Whiskey & Moonshine Distilling Conference at Huber’s Starlight Distillery in Borden, Indiana, from May 2 – 5, 2010.
  • I’m not in the habit of giving gratuitous ink to upcoming events, but this cheese and beer dinner in West Chester, Pennsylvania, looks too good and too good a value to pass up. If you’re in or planning to be in the area, and you’re not lactose intolerant, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

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More California

After Russian River and a head-clearing stroll around the SOMA district of San Francisco, I would up at the SF Beer Week opening gala beer fest for a few hours, tasking and talking. Mostly talking, actually.

This happens every time I visit the Bay Area, which in the case of this visit had been a couple of years since the last time. I want to taste beer and focus on what’s been going on since my last time through, but there are so many people I know and friends I haven’t seen for a while that I wind up chatting more than drinking. (Socializing while drinking is never a problem with pints at a pub, but with smaller samples at a crowded fest, it can be a challenge.) As a result, I did far more catching up with people that night than I did sampling beer, which given that I had woken up at 4:15 am eastern time – 1:15 am west coast time! – and hadn’t had more than an airplane catnap or two since, was probably not that bad a thing.

Nevertheless, I did manage to make one remarkable discovery at the gala, that being a more than intriguing beer from Valley Brewing of Stockton, California. Called Calambic, aka Bill Brand-bic, in honour of the late beer writer, it starts with a base of 60% Freaky Kriek, which is a pomegranate and cherry ale aged and exposed to resident bacteria in a six-year-old white wine barrel, which is then blended with 40% other “assorted” ales, according to Valley brewer Steve Altimari.

Officially, Calambic wasn’t on the program for the night, but I got word that Altimari was pouring a bit “under the table,” as it were, and rushed over for a taste. Glad I was that I did, too, as this beer demonstrates the best balance a soured ale could hope for, with the fruitiness holding the tartness in check but never growing dominant, much in the fashion of Cantillon’s Lou Pepe fruit lambics. Certainly the highlight of a most enjoyable if somewhat exhausting evening.

After sharing a bit of ice cider and foie gras with Jay Brooks back at his place, I retired to my air mattress and slept like the dead until morning.

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How I Spent Halloween

There were no costumes and loot bags for this boy last Saturday night. No, instead there were cocktail shakers and cork screws and plates and pans as my wife and I hosted four friends for the first dinner party in our new abode. I was in charge of the menu, and chose an Italian theme.

We started with bowls of smoked almonds and cashews, while sipping on negronis and Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, the former a classic cocktail combination of gin, sweet vermouth and Campari and the latter a most serviceable white.

Once seated, I started everyone off with an antipasti of salami, prosciutto, roasted peppers, Parmigiano Reggiano and roasted artichoke hearts, while keeping glasses filled with  the pinot grigio and an equally serviceable Chianti, Rocca delle Macìe Vernaiolo. Most everybody switched to the Chianti for both the primi of fettuccine puttanesca and the secondi of porchetta with a side of wilted spinach and arugula cooked with walnuts and garlic, and I trotted out a selection ranging from Okanagan Spirits Poire William to Stock ’84 Brandy for the dolci of pear yogurt – it was going to be a sorbet, except that I couldn’t find any no matter how hard I looked, and I wasn’t up to making my own – drizzled with the poire William and accompanied by amaretti cookies.

That’s right, not a drop of beer was poured! (Actually, one guest who is not a big wine aficionado, and was driving, had a couple of bottles of Black Oak Pale Ale during the dinner, but that wasn’t part of the plan.) And not because I didn’t think my guests would appreciate it or that I couldn’t find a suitable style or brand for each course, but simply because it wasn’t what I wanted to serve on that particular night to accompany that particular menu.

So you see, wine and beer (and cocktails and spirits) can peacefully co-exist!

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Heads Up, Atlanta!

If you haven’t been over to my “Beer Tastings, Dinners & Events” page for a while, you might not know about my gig next week at the downtown Ritz-Carlton Hotel. And if you miss it, you might just wind up kicking yourself.

It’s a two parter, really, with a reception and beer tasting up first, followed by a gourmet beer dinner. Both sides are being sponsored by the Ritz-Carlton and Beer Connoisseur Magazine, and ticket and other details are available over at the magazine’s site.

I understand there are just a few tickets left for the dinner, and judging by the quality of Chef Bennett Hollberg’s menu, I expect those will be snapped up soonish. The big news not available at the Beer Connoisseur site, however, concerns the half-dozen brews we’ll be sampling at the tasting, all of which will be more than worth the price of admission.

I’m not going to give the game away, but consider this: we’ll have five countries represented, including one brand new beer from a highly respected, centuries old brewery, the only Canadian beer I have ever awarded my highest rating, and a venerable ale never before seen on these shores. And the other three won’t disappoint, either! And you’ll also be getting passed appetizers from Chef Hollberg’s kitchen.

Check it out, book your ticket and I’ll see you there!

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