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Food and wine is like Ethyl and Lucy. Old-but classic. Beer and food is like having HBOgo on your iPad. Ever changing and never boring.
So it’s not surprise that laid back beer dinners are replacing what was once stuffy black tie affairs held in sterile dining establishments filled with people using their “library voices.” Jeans and t-shirts are replacing lapels and cufflinks, the atmosphere is light and fun, and the pairings are seemingly made in heaven.
Even at an establishment as upscale as Geoffrey Zakarian’s The National (located in Midtown East on Lexington Avenue), with a little beer flowing, everything seems relaxed.
On February 1, 2G1P was cordially invited to such an event at restaurant at the Midtown hotspot where a four course dinner was designed around four of Widmer Brother’s award winning brews.
To begin the evening, we were greeted with a pint of Widmer’s Columbia Common, a ‘steam’ beer made with Columbia hops. Not a bad way to start. The slight sweetness of the malt and the low abv (4.7%) made for a great palette teaser. Hors d’oeuvres served to us were mini reuben sandwiches which complemented the slight sweetness of the beer perfectly.
After imbibing and chatting with fellow beer kin, we were seated in the grand dining room. Our first course consisted of house-cured salmon with tangerines, lentils, and a carrot vinaigrette paired with Widmer’s flagship Hefeweizen. The clean, citrusy beer balanced the acidity of the tangerine while bringing out the tanginess of the vinaigrette.
Next up: grilled quail with pork fried rice and a apricot ginger glaze. Accompanying the dish was Widmer’s Alchemy Ale. This sweet smelling ale is made with a proprietary blend of hops which yields a brew both aromatic and slightly bitter. The caramel backbone of beer mixed beautifully with the slight spiciness of the pork fried rice, as well as downplayed the gaminess of the quail.
For our main course, we were treated to a tender, juicy pork loin with roasted brussel sprouts, speckle pear, and cheddar grits. As if things couldn’t get any better, we were privy to one of the best Russian Imperial Stouts I have ever had: Widmer’s 2013 Raspberry Russian Imperial Stout. Made with real raspberries, the result is a chocolaty, aromatic, berry smelling, plum colored stout with a creamy brown head. The saltiness of the pork was balanced perfectly by the slight sweetness of the beer. The berry notes meshed well with the brussels as well which were coated in a sweet apple glaze.
To finish the evening, as if we needed more to eat or drink, we were treated to two grand finales: Chocolate whiskey mousse and Widmer’s Gentleman’s Club Ale. The Gentleman’s Club is a collaboration ale made with Cigar City. The concept behind the beer is to mimic the classic cocktail, the Old Fashioned. In order to do this, the mad geniuses decided to age an Old Ale in rye whiskey barrels, then add cherries from Oregon and whole oranges from Florida (get it? Cigar City and Widmer Brother’s home states). The result is a beautiful burnt sienna colored beer with multiple levels of complexity. On the nose there’s the oak and sweet smell that only aging in barrels gives to beer. On the palette there’s coconut, oak, cherry, slight booze, and citrusy notes.
Our night ended at a reasonable time considering the amount of beer we’d consumed! There was no dancing on table tops, no unanimous singing of Journey songs, no raising of voices. Surely a dinner involving beer would involve more debauchery, one might think. I left the National with nary a stain on my light dress and all of my belongings securely affixed to me. As I boarded the 6 train back to Brooklyn at 9:15, I couldn’t help but worry that maybe in fact beer was the new wine.
Nah…beer is way more fun.
If you were one of the lucky few, you may have gotten an invite to participate in Bitter and Esters’s Mystery Brew event held this past Tuesday at their Brooklyn-based homebrew supply store. (Want a visual of the store? Check out our instructional video that we shot for them back in March here.)
A mystery brew event? Sounds about right for this time of year with the changing colors, the cooler temperatures, and Halloween just around the corner. Why not? I love mysteries. The game was simple: name the style and guess the mystery ingredient. Upon arriving at the shop, we were greeted with a 2 oz. pour of what appeared to be some sort of fall or autumn ale. Then we were told to guess what it was. My guess was way off: from the lingering crispness I assumed it was a lager (though not very likely considering the timeframe and the fact that it was done with first time brewers). The lack of Pacific Northwest hops led me to believe it was something like a maibock. Wrong. After a few more samples (to validate my choice, of course) it was revealed to us that the beer was in fact, an Irish Red ale. The mystery ingredient? …It was something in the water. Okay, okay, I’ll tell you. The mystery ingredient was… Perrier Mineral Water.
Out of twelve well trained palettes, not a single person guessed correctly? Why not? Because the mineral content of the water affected the taste of the beer. Perrier is carbonated water from France. Because of the makeup of the soil, the atmospheric gas CO2, and the topography of the landscape, the water has calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride, sulphate, fluoride, and nitrate in it.
These minerals, in turn, affect the chemistry of the beer. The water becomes more alkaline (or hard) which gives alpha-acid rich hops an unpleasant astringency unless dark malts (which are acidic themselves) are also used. The taste is most favorable too, when hop levels are kept down. This is how styles such as the Irish Stout and Munich’s Dunkel Lager came about in the first place.
Beer styles all around the world developed because of the water that was readily available. For example, the Czech Pilsner came about because the water in the town of Plzen is very soft. English brewers found that the calcium sulphate in their well water was perfect for brewing a crisp, dry, hoppy beer called Pale Ale. It wasn’t until around 1900 that brewers learned to alter the chemistry of the water. Classic beer styles, as a result, developed for this reason.
(reference: Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher a.k.a. part of the New Testament)
The Great Beer Hunter himself, Michael Jackson also dedicates nearly an entire book to water in “Whiskey,” specifically talking about how Scotland’s landscape and mountains effect the minerality of the water, which in turn effects the chemistry of the mash, which in turn effects the taste. And Mike Miyamoto (formerly of Hakashu in Japan Bowmore in Islay) has said that their team experimented with water and when Scottish water was used to produce Japanese whiskey, the result tasted like Scotch.
So now back to our little experiment. The Irish Red Ale that we had certainly tasted differently than an Irish Red Ale brewed here in New York. How does it compare to an Irish Red Ale brewed in Killnenny (the town it originated in)? Well I was unable to get the mineral content of the water there but I’m going out on a limb here and saying that the original style was brewed with softer water-hence the fooling of the BJCP palettes.
So now all this talk about water is making me thirsty for a beer. I think I’ll have an Irish Red-hold the minerals.
Aaah-the coveted master brewer program. When it comes to advanced degrees in brewing sciences, there’s no doubt that UC Davis and Seibel are right at the top of the list. But, if you ‘re not a fan of waiting two and a half years to get into UC Davis’s brewing program or Seibel’s WBA Master Brewer’s Program (not to mention the $16,000 tuition fee which doesn’t include room or board), fear not friends! The University of Gastronomic Sciences- (the university morphing ordinary people into gastronomes* since its inception in 2004 )has unveiled a new 15 month artisan apprenticeship program in either: bread making, cheesemaking, or…drum roll please… brewing.
Craft brewing, of course. None of that liquid adjunct crap here. After all, the University is sponsored by Slow Food. Slow Food, for those of you who don’t know, is a more intense version of ‘farm to table.’ It’s an organization of passionate foodies placing a strong emphasis on: sustainable farming practices, natural ingredients, social consciousness and awareness, and minimal processing. Needless to say, corn syrup has no place here.
This is the first year for the apprenticeship program and the curriculum encompasses five months of classes (biology, chemistry, agriculture etc.) and then a ten month apprenticeship in the chosen field of study. The best part? The price. At only a fraction of what it costs to attend Seibel or UC Davis, the $9500 you save can go towards room and board. That’s right, you’ll save $9500 on tuition because the cost of the 15 month apprenticeship program is a mere $5500 (or 4000EU). Not bad considering that you’re in Italy’s Piedmonte region and just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Teo Musso’s Baladin. If that name sounds familiar, that’s because he’s one of the founders of Eataly’s Birreria (along with Sam Calagione and Leonardo Di Vincenzo) Baladin is one of Italy’s first craft breweries opening its doors in 1996 and brewing unique beers with ‘strong personalities.’ Now it’s one of 400 craft breweries in the country (a number that’s nearly doubled since 2011 when there were 220).
Oh, yeah. Did I mention that the cafeteria (also new this year) was a Michelin starred restaurant up until last year. Currently, it is manned by four culinary students, one staff chef, and guest chefs every two weeks. Since the University is sponsored by Slow Food, the gourmet lunch also employs responsible eating practices. Local products are used and the menu is designed to be wallet friendly. 5 EU will get you a healthy soup, salad, bread, cheese, and a gourmet pasta. Students are also required to order their meal online beforehand in an effort to minimize waste.
Okay, here’s the catch. The apprenticeship program is in Italian. Wah-wah-wah. But the rest of the curriculum (the master’s degrees and undergraduate degrees) are in English.
Well, I guess it’s time to head to Eataly, grab a Almond ’22 Pink Peppercorn IPA, and get friendly with a Rosetta Stone.
for more information on the University and its programs visit: http://www.unisg.it/en/1
* the disgusting sounding term “gastronome” is not to be confused with the famous marketing icon of Expedia. Rather, it is a fancy word for food snob. But not just any food snob. Gastronomes are equipped with superbly heightened senses and trained to connect the inextricable link between food and drink.
It’s 1:30pm, and already people are lined up 100 deep outside the old Williamsburg Bank building, tickets in hand, waiting eagerly for the doors to open. There’s a palpable excitement as friends meet up in line, waiting to taste offerings from some of their favorite craft breweries from around the country at the third annual BK Pour here at Skylight Hanson in Fort Greene.
As the doors open and thirsty festival goers begin to pour in for the VIP hour, they’re greeted with a pamphlet detailing all 66 breweries in attendance, as well as the 125+ beers they’ll be offering and a map to their booth’s location. The venue itself is tremendous, with soaring ceilings and subtle reminders of what used to be one of Brooklyn’s largest banks, including old-school teller windows, wrought iron bars, and massive vault doors separating the different areas of the venue. Some pause to plan a route to their favorite brewers, while many more simply settle for those closest to the door and ready to fill their 2oz. tasting glass.
Most head upstairs to the VIP lounge area, where they can sample complimentary food from brats to pretzels, as well as some rarer offerings from their favorite breweries including Stone, Cigar City, and Harpoon (the Stone 17th Anniversary IPA being a favorite among those who sampled). The lounge is perched in the mezzanine level of the building, overlooking the floor and booths below. For the initial VIP tasting hour the space is filled with a droning buzz of patrons enjoying the relaxed pace of tasting, but as the general admission doors open at 3pm that buzz grows into a roar.
Among the breweries represented, New York breweries made a strong showing at the festival, including established players like Brooklyn Brewery, Sixpoint, Ommegang, and Heartland, as well as up-and-coming NY State brewers like City Island Beer Company in the Bronx, Grimm Artisanal Ales from Brooklyn (technically a nomadic brewery creating one-offs brewed at fellow brewer’s facilities), Three Heads Brewery from Rochester, and 508 Gastrobrewery from downtown Manhattan. Chris Cuzme, head brewer at 508, noted of the festival “It’s not necessarily the beer fest for beer geeks…this is serving a bigger and more important role”. Other brewers seemed to echo that sentiment. Geoff Dale, from Three Heads Brewing, said “This is our first festival here, we’re enjoying it, I love Brooklyn Man…I love the vibe. What I love about Brooklyn, this is an inclusive society, they accept you for who you are, and a beer fest is the same vibe”.
Another NY State brewery in attendance was Barrier Brewing, which was hard hit during Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Representative Patrick said “It was tough. We were down for about 4 months, but we’ve recovered and we’re stronger than ever right now”. Despite the challenges of the last year, they were excited to be back out in front if the beer-loving public, saying “It’s a good turnout, it’s my first time at the Brooklyn Pour so this is awesome”. Barrier was arguably serving one of the more unique beers of the afternoon, their seasonal “Saazsquash Butternut Squash Ale”. By their own description “It gives you the pumpkin essence with a little more sweetness, it’s amazing”.
Other than excitement for the festival, a common theme among the NY State brewers (and all brewers in attendance) was plans for expansion moving into 2014. City Island Beer Company, out of the Bronx, opened in February of 2013 and is excited about plans to open a facility on their namesake City Island within the next 12 months. “Right now we have a small system where we do all of our development, and we do our production offsite” said Paul Sciara, president. “We’ve got a site that we’re really interested in…we’re looking for about a 20 barrel system…we’re hoping we can pull this off within the next year”. When asked about plans for 2014, Cuzme of 508 commented “It’s a very exciting week to ask that question. I do have new tanks coming in next week, and we did just get license to sell outside 508…you will start seeing 508 out a little bit…it will probably go to the beer bars that are by beer lovers for beer lovers”. Plans are equally as exciting at Rochester’s Three Heads Brewing. “We are actually going to be doubling up to 10,000 barrels this year, and we have four new beers coming out…baby steps to take over the world” laughed brewer Geoff Dale.
In addition to the copious amounts of beer flowing from the taps (and perhaps to soak it up), attendees could head downstairs into what was formerly the bank’s vault for some bites from Cariño Cantina, Yayo’s of Brooklyn, Los Perros Locos, and Jarlsberg Cheeses. Later in the afternoon the vault played host to a series of discussions ranging from “Urban Homebrewing” (homebrewing within the frequently cramped confines of NYC spaces) to beer photography and apps.
By the third hour of the event it had become apparent that beer, even in two ounce increments, will catch up with even the most seasoned drinkers. Many had turned their attention to collecting beer SWAG, from Sam Adams Oktoberfest hats to mysterious fake moustaches that seemed to permeate the crowd. Attendees made their way towards the doors, having had their fill of excellent craft beers and food, and already planning their return trip to BK Pour in 2014.
A guy walks into a bar and asks to try the IPA they currently have on tap. For this example let’s just say it is Harpoon’s (this may or may not be a true story). Bartender pours a taste and the customer begins to comment on the beer.
“This beer is too light in color to be an IPA, and it’s not hoppy enough. Also, it doesn’t seem to be high enough in alcohol content.” Bartender smirks.
“So what would you like?” She asks.
“A Sam Adams lager.” The bartender nods her head and pours the beer. End scene.
This may or may not be a true story, but the point I’m getting to is that these days, a lot of people consider themselves to be beer experts—now that craft beer is becomes mainstream and it’s popularity grows even greater everyday, the average beer drinker at any given bar probably knows what an IPA is. Or at least they think they know.
I’m a big fan of healthy debates and I’m definitely not a “know-it-all,” when it comes to beer. There’s always more we can learn and I don’t consider myself to be an expert yet. Michael Jackson and Garrett Oliver? Maybe. But, definitely not me. At the same time I have worked (and do everyday) to expand my beer knowledge by reading books (like Randy Mosher’s “Tasting Beer” or Charlie Papazian’s “The Homebrewer’s Companion”), becoming a Certified Server through the Cicerone program (the lowest of the 3 tiers although I’d love to become Certified Cicerone or even a Master), and of course, drinking a lot of beer (or as I like to say “expanding my palate”).
So there are two beer-related matters this week that I’ve been pondering about and would like to share MY opinion of. The first one is more of a “myth,” while the second one is a style debate.
#1) Beers light in color tend to be lighter in alcohol content while beers darker in color tend to have a higher ABV. In general.
Someone said this to me the other day. I didn’t really know how to respond. (Yes it was the same guy who “sampled” the Harpoon and ordered a Sam Adams. And I’m the bartender. Hence my idea for this post). This guy has obviously never had a Belgian Tripel before (and that’s perfectly fine—I’m totally not a snob).
As you may know, beer color in the United States is measured by the Standard Reference Method or degrees SRM, the standard determined by the American Society of Brewing Chemists (ASBC). So, your typical American Light Lager is going to be a 1.5 on this scale (pale straw) and your Imperial Stout is going to go above 40 SRM’s (more like 50-80). A “typical” IPA can fall anywhere between 5 and 12 SRM’s aka “deep gold,” to “medium amber.” A typical IPA also falls between 4.5-7.5% ABV, while some American Imperial IPA’s are much higher than this (Dogfish Head’s 120 Minute IPA, for example, is way above that designation). So I guess what I’m trying to say here is, there is no such thing as a “typical IPA.” Unless, maybe, you’re a certified Beer Judge through the BJCP, and you’re judging a homebrew competition based on the best example of that style…but let’s face it, we’re all judges sometimes. That’s why Beer Advocate exists, right? You can’t really judge a beer by it’s color and know what the ABV is going to be based on that alone. A dry Irish stout will be extremely high on the SRM scale (40+) but should be lower in alcohol (4.5-5.0% ABV). And what about Barley Wines or American Strong Ales?! Those mofos can be very misleading. Barley Wines can range anywhere from 11 SRM’s (“pale amber” to “medium amber”) to 21 SRM’s (straight up “brown”). But their ABV’s are always on the high side: 8-12%: Not your typical session beer. You can, however, blind taste a bunch of beers (both ales and lagers) and based on how they appear to you (color-wise), guess what kind of style it may be. But outright determining the ABV?! I’m not sure if that’s probable. Because when it comes to tasting beer, we really need all of our senses, and sight and taste are just two of them. Hearing and touch may not be the most important senses when it comes to beer sampling, but sight, smell and taste are definitely important. And tasting beer involves more than just swallowing it. In conclusion: Can you judge a beer by it’s color? Maybe a little bit—but it’s color won’t really tell you too much about it’s ABV… so, don’t judge a beer by its color! Give it a chance…