Archive for December, 2011

Rolling Meadows Brewery – Lincoln’s Lager

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

Driving to Rolling Meadows Brewery you might forget that you are only seven miles from downtown Springfield, Illinois. As you leave town, the four-lane state highway becomes a two-lane and the signs of city life quickly thin out. Leaving the main road, you follow a barely-improved rural road through rolling farm land until it dead-ends at a dirt driveway. The farmstead at the end of that driveway is the home of Rolling Meadows.

The tiny building that houses the brewery looks as though it belongs in the “holler.” I halfway expected Loretta Lynn to step onto the keg and barrel-filled porch singing Coal Miner’s Daughter. Once you step inside it’s a different picture. The building was purpose-built for making beer. What seems to be a tiny, country cabin is in reality a two-story production facility with grain mill, office and tasting table overlooking the brewery in the lower level. It’s got a sleek, modern design that matches the brewery’s branding and labels. The foundation would support a 7-story building.

Rolling Meadows Brewery opened its doors in mid-2011. Founder and Brewer Chris Trudeau is one of a few in the craft-beer world seeking to return brewing to the land (up here closer to the Twin Cities think Dave’s Brewfarm and Olvalde Farm and Brewery). A hop variety that has grown wild on the farm for years is cultivated in a hop yard out back. Herbs and spices used in brewing are tended in a greenhouse. A field next to the brewery will supply wheat for the brewery’s Springfield Wheat hefeweizen.

Rolling Meadows currently has three beers distributed in the immediate Springfield area. Lincoln Lager is an amber, American-style lager. Springfield Wheat is a classic German hefeweizen. Abe’s Ale is a strong-ish, American brown ale brewed with maple syrup, brown sugar, and Belgian candi-sugar. I liked all three, but my favorite was Lincoln’s Lager.

Here’s my notes:

Lincoln’s Lager
Rolling Meadows Brewery, Springfield, Illinois
Style: American Amber Lager
Serving Style: 22 oz. Bottle

Aroma: White bread with the crust on and the lightest touch of graham-cracker. Limes and spice linger somewhere just underneath, not quite cracking the surface, but not quite going un-noticed. A pleasant and delicate balance.

Appearance: Amber and mostly clear, with just the faintest gauze of haze. White head stood up tall and persisted, falling slowly to a rocky layer of foam on the surface. Nice lacing on the glass.

Flavor: Simple and balanced. Slightly malt forward, with bread crust flavors leading the way. But the hops don’t let go easily. I wouldn’t call it boldly bitter, but it does something more than balance the malt with bitterness that lingers and grabs after the swallow. Spicy hops flavor with tart hints of lime citrus play over the top. Crisp and sharp.

Mouthfeel: Light body. Medium carbonation. Maybe a wee bit of astringency.

Overall Impression: Crisp and sharp as a lager should be. Light and drinkable as an American lager should be. Beer nerds may turn up their noses at this one, but I like it. It doesn’t demand your attention, but it does satisfy. At $10 for a 22-ounce bottle I’m not sure it’s worth the price point. It’s very good, but good American-style lagers can be had for far less.

Upcoming Beer Classes at Cooks of Crocus Hill

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

 

I have a bevy of new classes upcoming at Cooks of Crocus Hill. If you have never been to a class at Cooks, it’s high time you checked them out. You can learn about a wide range of culinary topics from scotch and steaks to how to boil water.  There are demonstration and participation classes taught by some of the area’s best chefs and beverage experts. Two locations, St. Paul and Edina, make it convenient from many areas of the metro. And in my experience (of course I’m teaching them so I may be biased) these classes are a blast.

Home Brewing 101
January 5, 2012, 6-9 pm
Cost $65
You can make good beer at home, and you can do it right the first time around. Cicerone Michael from A Perfect Pint will familiarize you with all of the ingredients, equipment, techniques and processes necessary to make extract beer at home. We’ll also taste several commercial examples of beginner-appropriate beers.
Menu: Light Appetizers and Samples of a Variety of Beers.

Bon Bons and Brews
February 9, 2012, 6-9 pm
Cost $70
With Chocolatier Randy Kingsbury
Beer and chocolate. Yeah, maybe it sounds a little weird. But believe it – nothing goes better with silky-smooth, chocolaty-rich truffles than beer. Add exotic ingredients to the chocolate and the pairing adventure really gets going. Chocolatier Randy Kingsbury and Cicerone Michael Agnew take you on an indulgent tour of the best pairings this taste team has to offer.
Menu: A Selection of Exotic Truffles Paired with Microbrewed Beers from Around the Country.

Best of the Best Beer & Wine Pairing Dinner
February 15, 2012, 6-9 pm (WAIT LIST)
Cost $75
With sommelier Leslee Miller and Chef Mike Shannon
Cooks’ favorite trio, Chef Mike Shannon, Sommelier Leslee Miller and Cicerone Michael Agnew, are back to share some of their favorite trios — of food, wine and beer, that is! They’ve picked the best and most popular taste teams from all of the classes they’ve taught together. Whether you’ve missed their classes and hope to catch up, or you’d just like to come back for more, join Mike, Leslee and Michael for an evening of their greatest hits! You’ll taste their best bites and sips while learning all about how to make some stellar combinations of your own at home.
Menu: Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette; Roasted Root Vegetables with Herbed Aioli; Pot Roast with Shallots; Truffled Baked Potato Skins; Smore Pot de Creme.

Beer, Wine, and Cheese Throwdown
February 20, 2012, 6-9 pm
Cost $75
With sommelier Leslee Miller and France 44 cheesmonger Song Lee
Cheese please! Cheese pairs perfectly to both beer and wine, but Leslee and Michael demand that you to pick a winner. Join Cheesemonger Song Lee from France 44 with Sommelier Leslee and Cicerone Michael for this awesome libation- and fromage-a-thon. A variety of milks, textures and styles make this cheese-off one for the books when both sommelier and cicerone stand off in an epic challenge to tickle your palate.
Menu: Artisanal Cheeses Paired with a Global Selection of Beer and Wine.

The class list for the spring semester hasn’t been released yet, but here’s a sneak preview of my classes.

Spring Beer & Wine Dinner
April 4, 2012
With Leslee Miller and Mike Shannon. This will sell out quickly.

Local Brews & Breweries
May 22, 2012
Take a beer tour of the region.

Friek – Odell Brewing Co.

Monday, December 19th, 2011

Friek = Framboise and Kriek. To make this beer the Odell brewers take a wild-fermented Kriek beer, lambic with cherries, and add locally-sourced raspberries just before blending as one would to make a Framboise, lambic with raspberries. Thus, their Kreik becomes a Friek.

Here’s my notes:

Friek
Odell Brewing Co., Ft Collins, Colorado
Style: Fruit Lambic
Serving Style: 750 ml Bottle

Aroma: Cherry pie with bready crust. A bit of vinegar with leathery, earthy, and horse-blanket wild yeast character. Loads of fresh fruit; tart berries and cherries.

Appearance: Strawberry red and very clear. Low, white head that dissipated quickly, leaving fine lace on the surface. Champagne-like bubbles.

Flavor: Wheaty malt flavors burst through the fruit and the funk, providing some residual sweetness to balance the sour. The fruit comes on strong with tart berry and cherry notes. Acidity is lower than one would expect from the aroma, but it’s plenty tart. The finish is a bit muddy. It could be drier and crisper.

Mouthfeel: Mouth-filling like a wheat beer. Spritzy carbonation that tickles the tongue.

Overall Impression: This is a beautiful beer. It’s fruity, but not sweet. It’s sour, but balanced by wheaty malt. This beer will please sour beer heads and likely be tasty to those who haven’t yet come around.

Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah: the First Thirteen Years of Shmaltz Brewing Company

Monday, December 19th, 2011

Jeremy Cowan, the owner and chief shtickster at Shmaltz Brewing Company, was the first brewery owner I interviewed. We met in 2008 at City Beer in San Francisco (a great beer store/beer bar, and a must-stop if you are in the Bay Area). Over a couple of hours and more than a couple of beers we talked about Shmaltz, beer, politics, the hop crisis, and Palo Alto real-estate. The man’s brain seemed to run at abnormal speeds. “Shtick” came to him with extraordinary ease, which together with the beers made for an entertaining conversation to say the least.

Reading his recently released book Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah, I almost felt like I had been transported back to that table. It’s written as Cowan speaks. His sense of humor and lightning wit pervades every page. Self-deprecating anecdotes and tales of his personal explorations of Jewishness reveal a deeper soul hidden beneath. The story-line sometimes gets diverted onto tangents, but always manages to find its way back to the center a few paragraphs or pages further on.

Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah, written with James Sullivan, tells the story of the first thirteen years of Shmaltz Brewing Company from its genesis in the late 1980s as an in-joke among volleyball-playing friends to hard-won profitability in the early 2010s. The journey reveals the inner-workings of both the craft-beer industry and Cowan’s mind. The reader goes along with Cowan on sometimes humorously-awkward ride-alongs with distributor reps attempting to sell a case here and a case there. The long hours and financial struggles involved in building a beer brand are described in such vivid detail that it should make one think twice about starting such a project.

At the same time Cowan lets us in on the personal price paid, from crack-fueled parties and broken relationships to a complete mental and emotional breakdown culminating in an attempt to sell the business. But it is ultimately his boundless energy and stubborn determination to make the business prosper – or even turn a profit – that holds the story together.

The conversational tone of the writing was sometimes too much. I found myself at times wanting more traditional structure and narrative to help me make sense of things. Keeping track of names and relationships proved a difficult task throughout the book. While necessary for setting the stage, I found the early, pre-Shmaltz portions of the book to be less interesting and less well-written. I sometimes had difficulty following the story. Once the first batch of beer is brewed however, the book definitely picks up steam.

Craft Beer Bar Mitzah is a good read for anyone interested in a behind-the-scenes look at the beer industry and must-read for anyone starting on the path to owning a brewery, especially those who choose to go the contract brewing route. It’s an object lesson in what not to do, and sometimes what to do, to make your business succeed.