Monday, October 20, 2014

Beer Mail Becomes the Basis for an Experiement

A couple weeks ago I ran across this recipe for a beer cocktail that intrigued me. Having recently switched over from drip coffee to a French press every day we have the requisite "coffee grounds left in the bottom of a French press." Next I confirmed that there was still a bottle of Jameson in our very small booze collection. At that point the only thing that was missing was a can of stout.

I meant to pick one up but hadn't gotten around to it by the time a little birdie told me that beer mail in the form of McMenamins Black Widow Porter would soon be gracing my doorstep. Sure, it would be a porter but since I often make substitutions when cooking I decided to use The Widow.

Once the box arrived and the beer was properly chilled I cracked open the bomber for an unadulterated taste. It poured opaque black with a creamy head and roasty chocolate aroma. The flavor mimicked the aroma and pleasantly lingered. Although I was tempted to enjoy the rest of the bottle I stuck to my guns and started the beer cocktail experiment.

After allowing the beer to "steep" in the leftover grounds I reserved a bit of the mixture before adding the Jameson so that I could do a side-by-side progression tasting. You probably won't be surprised to hear that the beer and coffee grounds only mixture was a tad bitter and while I enjoy the beer solo best, the addition of the Jameson to the mixture served to smooth things back out. I didn't have a cigar handy as the recipe suggested but I can see how it would have been a nice accompaniment.

The verdict? I'll stick to straight up beer for the most part but I'll definitely keep this in mind the next time I decide to have a cigar and intend to sit around for a spell sipping and smoking. If you happen to be similarly intrigued I'd love to hear what beer you used and what you thought about the resulting cocktail.

Thank you to McMenamins for (unintentionally) fueling my experimenting. Please don't hold it against me; I believe in having fun with beer.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Two Creative & Delicious Pumpkin Beers

Historically the only pumpkin beer I have actually enjoyed each year is Southern Tier Pumking. This year I haven't had any of it [yet] but I have found two others that shocked me by how good they were. They also served to remind me that just because I generally don't like a style of beer doesn't mean there won't be some brewer(s) out there that will use their creativity and talents to craft something delicious.

The first that captured my attention was Punkuccino from Elysian Brewing. While they utilized usual suspects cinnamon and nutmeg, it was the twist of also using coffee that really made this beer stand out for me. Specifically they added a Stumptown coffee toddy with pumpkin to the mash, kettle and fermenter.

The second made me take notice was The Dapper Skeleton from Burnside Brewing. Here the goodness is the result of a great balance of Cherry wood smoked malt, chilies and cocoa nibs. As with their Sweet Heat, the amount and type of chilies used are just right so that they are present in the beer but compliment instead of overwhelm the other ingredients.

In addition to what's contained in the bottles, both breweries did a great job with the label artwork. I'm hopeful that next year even more brewers will work outside of the standard pumpkin and spice box to create beers that rival these for my attention.

Have you had any particularly outstanding pumpkin beers?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Judging the Willamette Week Pro/AM

Yesterday was the second year for the Willamette Week's Pro/AM event, held this year at Zarr Studios in SE. I wasn't able to attend last year's event but heard it was great and I was stoked to be attending this year. Even better, I'd been invited to be one of five judges AND I knew a fair number of the pros and amateurs that were competing.

With 21 pairs, and therefore 21 beers to drink my way through, I aimed to be strategic in my drinking, starting with the lower alcohol, lighter styles. Thankfully, there was a gigantic DigitalPour display projected on one of the walls for easy reference. It took a lot of restraint not to dive into the higher alcohol, darker styles I generally gravitate towards. And it took more focus to take thorough notes on each beer before moving on. As the afternoon wore on I also had to remind myself to keep moving to ensure that I made it through them all by 5:00 when then the judges would begin deliberating.

The beers ran the gamut from a very flavorful India Session Ale brewed at Ecliptic by home brewing couple Jenn McPoland and Jeremie Landers to a pale ale made with Hogan's cedar tips and Brett from home brewer Dave Barnes with new kid, Baerlic, to a Baltic Porter that bordered on being a milk stout, made at Fort George by home brewer Chad Graham. While there were styles and beers I preferred over others there wasn't a bad beer to be had in the room and the scores I gave the beers fell into a relatively narrow range.

In the end, after much deliberation, the judges chose their top three and by placing a marble in the pint glass of their favorite beer, so, too did The People.
Judge's Picks
1. Lucky Lab/Natalie Baldwin/Kells Boom Roaster with Ristretto Roasters (Imperial Coffee Milk Stout)
2. Pints/Kory Linsenmeyer Big Rig (Cascadian Dark Lager)
3. 10 Barrel/Lee Hedgmon Strawberry Shortcake's Velvet Hammer (Milk Stout)

People's Choice
1. Lucky Lab/Natalie Baldwin/Kell's Boom Roaster with Ristretto Roasters (Imperial Coffee Milk Stout)
2. Coalition/Matt Cortese Rock the Casbah Saison (Spiced Saison)
3. Breakside/Dan Shaw & Steven Rice Nants-Saison-Yah (Saison)

Besides Natalie having bragging rights for taking for taking both categories she also has the opportunity to have her beer re-brewed and put on tap at TILT.

Thank you to Steph and all of the Willamette Week staff that pulled off a great event. Thank you to the home and professional brewers that worked together to make so many great beers. Thank you to my fellow judges for easing the daunting task of selecting a top three.

If you weren't able to make it to the event, or are just hoping to have more of your favorites, keep your eyes peeled as I have a feeling some of these beers may be available (in very limited quantities) around town.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

First National Taphouse 5-Course Beer Dinner

First National Taphouse, now a two-location chain that started in Eugene, recently opened its doors near Portland State University in downtown. With a menu that is chock full of delicious-sounding dishes, 30 beers on tap plus a beer cooler that rivals many bottle shops in terms of size and quality, @FNTHPDX is starting off on the right foot.

Last night I had the opportunity to check them out in the form of a five course beer pairing dinner. While I was hoping to try the Irish Rarebit I'd seen on a pre-visit menu perusal, the plates that were placed in front of me more than made up for not trying it (for now).
Course 1: Prawn Boule with Wild Ride Brewing Whoopty Whoop Wheat
Appropriately sized for an appetizer, a fist-sized potato roll was hollowed out and filled with a generous portion of praws, burnoise vegetables and brandy nosh. The beer, one I probably wouldn't order on its own, was almost too much for the delicate prawns but the spirit of the pairing was obvious and I enjoyed tasting the new-to-me Wild Ride Brewing.

Course 2: Artisan Cheese Terrine with Duche De Longueville Cidre Antoinette
When first looked at the menu this was the course I was most looking forward to, both because CHEESE! and because I've been very pleased with the French ciders I've had up to this point. The pairing overall was outstanding (including the Asian pear slices) with my only complaint that I would have liked more of the Barbander Goat Gouda and Ancient Heritage Hannah. The house-made ricotta was a creamy compliment to the other two cheeses and the presentation unique.

Course 3: Honey Root Vegetable Boxty with Elysian The Great Pumpkin Imperial Ale
This was my least favorite course, both the food and the beer, but not because they weren't well-crafted, just that the flavors are not those that I enjoy. The boxty was an Irish potato pancake topped with sliced parsnip, spiced honey and julienned carrot and yellow beet. Without the parsnip I would have loved it but that's just me. As for the beer, after having recently been blown away by Elysian Punkuccino, The Great Pumpkin was just too assertively spiced for my palate.

Course 4: Whiskey Pepper Steak Frite with Oskar Blues Deviant Dale on Nitro
As far as I'm concerned you can never go wrong with an appropriately seasoned and cooked-to-order steak (rare for me). The pepper crusted hanger steak slices were delicious and while I would have eaten an entrée-sized portion happily, the portion was perfect for a multi-course dinner. As with the first course the beer almost overpowered the food but Deviant Dales on nitro is a rare thing I fully enjoyed.

Course 5: Chocolate Porter Ice Cream Foam and Hazelnut Brittle with Young's Double Chocolate Stout
The final course followed the others in size, just enough to satisfy my sweet tooth. This was my first encounter with foam and I found the texture to be just slightly more dense than actual beer foam - ingenious! Even better, the salty brittle was amazing with the beer. Plus, edible (I assumed) glitter.

Thanks to First National Taphouse for the invitation as their location is not one on my regular flight path and especially to our wonderful server, Joe. I look forward to coming back for a happy hour (aka Bankers Hour), dinner or perhaps even brunch sometime soon.