Tasty Beer/Food Pairings at Cooks of Crocus Hill

Last Friday night I teamed up once again with sommelier Leslee Miller of Amuseewine.com and Chef Mike Shannon at Cooks of Crocus Hill for one of our quarterly beer and wine pairing dinners. The theme this time was BBQ. The four course meal included everything grilled from romaine lettuce to knife and fork Manchego burgers. While all of the beer and wine pairings were pretty darn good, malady a couple of my beer pairings really stood out to me.

Salads often have so many different things going on at once that it can be difficult to decide where to start. One of my salad-pairing rules of thumb is to pick an ingredient or flavor and just go with it. The pairing Friday night of Schell’s Pils with grilled romaine salad was a perfect example of how this works. This salad (the recipe is below) consisted of grilled romaine hearts, prescription blue cheese vinaigrette, fresh basil and oregano, and crisped prosciutto. In a case like this do you go with the toastiness that grilling will bring to the lettuce, the lightly acidic blue cheese dressing, the fresh herbs, or the prosciutto?

I opted to pair to the basil and prosciutto. The spicy hops of a pilsner often remind me of licorice are totally at ease with fresh basil. And how could I miss with pilsner and prosciutto? If the blue cheese wasn’t too funky the pilsner hops would complement it as well.

My first bite of salad was only lettuce. I really thought I had made a mistake with this pairing. The bitter beer accentuated the bitterness in the romaine creating a not altogether pleasant taste. The next bite though got to the targets of my pairing. The fresh basil and prosciutto sang with the beer and pulled the whole pairing together. The salty meat took away the unpleasant bitterness and allowed the basil and hops to come forward. The mild blue cheese dressing set the whole pairing off.

Another basic pairing rule of thumb is to keep the drink just a little bit sweeter than the desert. But while rules can be helpful, they are not iron-clad. Sometime rules should be broken. The desert course on Friday night was grilled peaches topped off with a Grand Marnier whipped cream. A light brown-sugar cinnamon glaze added a bit of additional sweetness. I paired this with Lindemans Pêche, a sweetened peach lambic. This beer is not as sweet as the desert, but sweet enough to stand up to it. It has the added bonus though of higher-than-normal levels of acidity. It matched the acidity in the peach one to one. I find that Pêche has more residual barnyard lambic funk than the other Lindemans flavors. This added an earthy base that brought some additional depth to the pairing.

Recipes by Chef Mike Shannon, Photos by Nicholas Kolnik

Grilled Romaine with Blue Cheese Vinaigrette
Serves 8

3 Tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
1 Tablespoon shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 ½ teaspoon Dijon
6 Tablespoons Olive oil
1 Tablespoon fresh basil, minced
1 Tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
3-4 oz. of crumbled blue cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

4 romaine hearts, halved
4 slices of prosciutto, crisped in oven

In a medium bowl, combine vinegar, shallots, garlic and Dijon.  Slowly whisk in the oil until combined.  Add herbs, cheese and season to taste.

Brush romaine halves with oil, season with salt and grill for 1 minute on each side. Serve with dressing and crispy prosciutto.

Grilled Peaches with Grand Marnier Cream
Makes 8 servings

8 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Freshly grated nutmeg
4 unpeeled peaches, halved, pitted

¼ cup Grand Marnier
2 cups whipping cream

Prepare grill or grill pan over medium-high heat.  Whisk first 4 ingredients in large bowl to blend. Add peach halves; toss to coat well.  Place peaches, cut side down, on grill. Grill until slightly charred, about 1 minute.  Using tongs, turn peaches over.

Using a stand mixer fitted with a whisk, whip cold cream to medium peaks.  Spoon some into each halve and serve.

Summit Silver Anniversary Ale: A Sneak Peek

Summit Brewing Company turns 25 this year. It’s quite a milestone for the craft beer pioneer. There wasn’t much happening beer-wise in the upper-Midwest in 1986 when Mark Stutrud got the harebrained idea to open a brewery that would make beers with actual flavor. This was hardcore American lager country; Bud, Miller, or here in Minnesota maybe Grain Belt, Schmidt, or Hamm’s. But start the brewery he did and 25 years later it is going strong with annual production approaching 100,000 barrels and multiple national and international awards, including GABF and World Beer Cup medals last year for their original and still flagship beer Extra Pale Ale.

Of course the brewery is releasing a beer to commemorate the milestone. Silver Anniversary Ale is inspired by the beer that started it all, that same Extra Pale Ale. It has been described to me as a kind of hopped-up EPA. In a piece on the Summit Website, brewer Damian McConn says of the beer:

Using the EPA malt bill and yeast strain as a foundation, we’ll retain the balance that Summit’s beers are famous for, while providing more distinctive flavors and aromas through the use of unique modern hop varieties and assertive dry-hopping. Grapefruit, passionfruit and kiwi aromas should lead to a pronounced but crisp bitterness with minimal contributions from the yeast. A clean, complex finish, underscored by a straightforward blend of pale and crystal malts.

I had the opportunity to give it a pre-release taste test. Here’s my notes:

Silver Anniversary Ale
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: IPA
Serving Style: 12 oz Bottle

Aroma: Caramel sweetness with touches of biscuit. Fresh pine, herbal, and grapefruit hops.

Appearance: Medium-amber and crystal clear. Modest, white head that did not persist.

Flavor: Greets you with an initial blast of cool pine-resin hops and a sharp bite of bitterness. The hops smoothly give way to a caramel-malt counterpoint without ever quite letting go. This beer is built for bitterness, but it’s not unbalanced. Sharp and crisp. As it warms the sweet, biscuity malt fills in gaps, but still doesn’t overtake the hops. Whiffs of orange float in the background. The finish is dry with long-lingering bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium-full body. Crisp. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: I think I would call this one a hybrid Amero-English IPA. It’s got the rich, caramel/biscuit malt of an English IPA or an ESB, but the hop character and bitterness of an American IPA. Still, it’s less aggressive than some American hop bombs. I found it to be beautifully balanced with delicious hop and malt flavors.

Silver Anniversary Celebrations

Silver Anniversary Ale is scheduled for release the week of July 25th. Of course there will be release week events. Here they are:

  • Monday, July 25: Mackenzie’s, 5-7 p.m. (First 25 beers served are free and then $.25 taps until 7 p.m.)
  • Monday, July 25: Liquor Lyle’s, 7:30-9 p.m. ($.25 taps of the Silver Anniversary Ale and 2 for 1 deals on all other Summit beers)
  • Tuesday, July 26: Groveland Tap, 6-8 p.m. ($.25 taps of the Silver Anniversary Ale)
  • Thursday, July 28: Specials served at Sweeney’s, 4-6 p.m.
  • Friday, July 29: Beer Dinner celebrating Summit’s 25th anniversary at Tracy’s Saloon & Eatery, 7 p.m. (Pints will be on special in the bar as well).

Summit will have an Anniversary bash at the brewery on September 10th. Tickets go on sale on July 25th at 10:00 AM. Check here for details.

SAVOR Flowers from Sam Adams and Dogfish Head

A most interesting beer crossed my path. SAVOR Flowers was a collaborative effort of Boston Beer Company and Dogfish Head. It was created for and exclusively served at SAVOR, the Brewers Association’s annual beer and food bash in Washington, DC. Flowers is a beer befitting the Kings of extreme. The press release says of it:

Jim (Koch) and Sam (Calagione) decided to tackle beer’s previously untapped ingredient – water – and, through and age-old distillation process, created a rosewater base to be used as the main liquid in the brew. The rosewater inspired them to continue to explore the idea of brewing with flowers. After experimenting with a range of varieties, they landed on dried lavender, hibiscus, jasmine and rosebuds mixed in during the brewing process to further enhance the beer’s botanical qualities. As well, on his annual hop selection trip to Bavaria last year, Jim learned about a new hop breed known only as #369, grown for its amped-up floral notes. He was able to obtain 30 pounds of this unique variety from the Yakima, Wash. growing region, adding another dimension to this complex brew.

After all that they aged it in “Barrel One – the same bourbon barrel Jim used to age the premier batch of the first ‘extreme’ beer, Samuel Adams® Triple Bock.” Wow! WTF. Here’s my notes:

SAVOR Flowers
Boston Beer Company & Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales
Style: Vegetable, Herb, Spice Beer
Serving Style: 22 oz Bottle

Aroma: Granny’s soap. Floral. Lavender, roses, and hibiscus. Like walking into a Body Works store at the mall.

Appearance: Cloudy. The color is a vaguely pink amber. Fluffy white head that was moderately persistent.

Flavor: This beer changed throughout the tasting. It started off sharp and planty; roses and lavender with light tart background notes of hibiscus. Bitterness was unexpectedly high, but then what led me to otherwise? High levels of herbal/floral hops emphasized the flowers. As it warmed a rich caramel maltiness crept in, underpinned by raisins and dark fruit. This didn’t reduce the botanical flavors in the least. It merely gave them something on which to rest. Still warmer, it took on almost Belgian cotton-candy flavors; sweet, but still finishing dry with hints of licorice and geraniums. I guessed around 8% ABV. Actually 10%.

Mouthfeel: Medium-high body. Somewhat syrupy as it warms. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: This was a most unique beer. Did I like it? “Like” is such a limiting term. I found it irresistibly intriguing. While I don’t know that I would run out to buy a bottle were it available, the beer’s complexity compelled me, almost against my better judgement, to finish this one. My initial impression was one of admiring the effort and creativity, but not so much the beer. But it grew on me. The endless layers of flavors that came in as the beer warmed grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let go. But did I like it? Hmmmm……..

#IPADay on August 4th.

This came across my email today. Could be interesting. A world-wide social media celebration of hops. Check it out.

Announcing International #IPADay: A Social Celebration of Craft Beer

San Diego, view CA – July 7th, health 2011 Attention all craft beer evangelists, brewers, bloggers, and suds-savvy citizens! On Thursday, August 4th 2011, you are cordially invited to participate in the largest international craft beer celebration and virtual conversation the world has ever seen.

International #IPADay is a grassroots movement to unite the voices of craft beer enthusiasts, bloggers, and brewers worldwide through social media. On Thursday August 4th, craft beer drinkers across the social sphere and across the globe will raise pints in a collective toast to one of craft beer’s most iconic styles: the India Pale Ale. This celebrated style represents the pinnacle of brewing innovation with its broad spectrum of diverse brands, subcategories, and regional flavor variations – making it the perfect style to galvanize craft beer’s social voice.

#IPADay is not the brainchild of a corporate marketing machine, nor is it meant to serve any particular beer brand. #IPADay is opportunity for breweries, bloggers, businesses and consumers to connect and share their love of craft beer. Getting involved is easy; the only requirements are an appreciation for great beer and the will to spread the word. Anyone can participate by enjoying IPA with friends, making some noise online with the #IPADay hashtag, and showing the world that craft beer is more than a trend!

Tips on How to Take Part:

1.      Organize an #IPADay event at your brewery, brewpub, restaurant, bar, home, or office (Ex:  An IPA dinner/cheese pairing/comparative or educational tasting/cask night/tap takeover…). Share your events on the official #IPADay forum at http://www.ratebeer.com.

2.      On August 4th, share your photos, videos, blog posts, tasting notes, recipes, and thoughts with the world. Be sure to include the #IPADay hashtag in your posts Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, WordPress, RateBeer, Foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp, Untappd or any other social media site.

3.      See what other people are saying by searching “#IPADay” on Google, search.twitter.com, et cetera…

4.      Track down your favorite IPA’s, ones you’ve been meaning to try, and ones you’ve never heard of; share them with friends and share your thoughts with the world.

5.      Have a good time and know that by sharing your experiences online, you’re strengthening the craft beer community at large.

About International #IPADAY

Founded in 2011 by beer evangelists and social media personalities Ashley V Routson and Ryan A Ross, International #IPADay is the largest grassroots social media-based celebration of craft beer. The goal of #IPADay is to use social media to strengthen the collective voice of craft beer through the simple celebration of beer itself. The success of #IPADay hinges on the passionate voices of beer enthusiasts worldwide and their willingness to share that passion across the social sphere.

For more information on events or how you can support #IPADay, visit http://ipaday.eventbrite.com or contact (insert regional host brewery) at (http://www.breweryname.com/, facebook, twitter, *Change out with relevant brewery/blog info*

Alaskan IPA Revisited

In January 2009 I posted tasting notes for Alaskan IPA. I remember that I had a cold that day. I did a string of tastings and even noted in some of them that my taster may have been off. Looking back at those notes it seems that I liked it, but it didn’t really stand out to me as anything particularly special.

What a difference two years makes. I had a bottle and decided it would be interesting to do another set of notes. It just goes to prove something that I always say; you can’t put too much stock in reviews. So many things influence how a beer tastes on a given day. Then I was sick in Palo Alto, California. It was winter and while not cold, it got somewhat chilly at night. Today it’s 95 degrees with a heat index of 109 degrees. That kind of weather is more like IPA weather for me. I’m not stuffed-up today. And I have two more years under my belt of paying close attention to the beer that I’m drinking. I’m sure my palate has changed. The beer may have changed as well.

I found it interesting to compare my two experiences. I thought I would post the two sets of notes together. So here’s my notes from then and now:

Alaskan IPA
Alaskan Brewing Company, Juneau, Alaska
Style: American IPA
Serving Style: 22 oz bottle

Aroma 2009: Citrus and pine American hops
Aroma 2011: Bread and graham cracker. Hop aroma is light but bright and citrusy. Grapefruit and tangerines.

Appearance 2009: Light amber/deep gold. Lighter than expected, must be mostly base malts. Fluffy and persistent white head.
Appearance 2011: Dark golden with full and persistent white to off-white head. Clear.

Flavor 2009: Grainy malt with very light caramel balanced by pine and citrus hops. Medium-high bitterness and hop flavor is lower than expected and allows the malt to shine through.
Flavor 2011: Delicate, balanced, sharp and clear. The mild, grainy and slightly sweet malt just balances the hops. Very well attenuated. Bright, citrusy, grapefruit-pith hops. Background notes of tropical fruit and tangerine. Medium-high bitterness, but balanced. Get the hop flavor without the bitterness. Finishes extra-dry with grapefruit and tropical fruit lingering. So delicate and yet still bold.

Mouthfeel 2009: Medium body. Medium carbonation.
Mouthfeel 2011: Medium body and medium carbonation.

Overall Impression 2009: A solid IPA. Nice malt with lighter than expected hops. I think I have come to expect “greatness” from Alaskan Brewing and this was not “great”. It was just a good IPA. That said, I would certainly have a couple more.
Overall Impression 2011: Sometimes you taste a beer and it says to you, “I am great.” It’s a combination of things like complexity, clarity, and delicacy. This beer has it, at least for me today. For my own part I would like a bit more malt, but that’s just me. I like malt. It is not an overly complex beer. In fact it’s probably less complex than some other IPAs. But it is really well made. The folks at Alaskan really do know how to make beer.