Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Bogle Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc (2010)

While recently perusing the wine reviews that I've done for this website, I noted a few glaring omissions, both with respect to varietals and wine producing regions.  I have tasked myself with filling in the "holes," which is proving harder and harder to do because I have not had much free time to work on my blog recently.  Still, the job was made a little easier after Clare and I won a wine basket at a recent silent auction for a good cause.  The basket contained a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, which is a wine that is underrepresented in the reviews. 

I have previously reviewed a wine made with Sauvignon Blanc grapes, the Domaine de Chevilly Quincy (2009), which is produced in the Loire Valley of France.  I generally liked the wine, which was crisp and dry, full of grapefruit aromas and flavors with a little pepper or spice around the edges. 

The bottle in our basket was the Sauvignon Blanc (2010) from Bogle Vineyards, a family-owned vineyard and winemaker located in Clarksburg, California.   This bottle offered an opportunity to see the approach of a Californian wine producer to this green-skinned grape varietal. 

Bogle sourced the grapes that were picked between September 24, 2010 to October 15, 2010 from vineyards in Monterrey County and the Russian River Valley.  After the pressing, the juice is cold fermented in stainless steel tanks.  Winemakers use cold fermentation, which is simply allowing the fermentation to take place between 48 degrees and 55 degrees Fahrenheit, to heighten the flavors of the wine and protect the wine's crispness. 

These efforts are reflected in the Sauvignon Blanc.  The wine pours a light gold in color, just a few shades off of the label.  The winemaker colorfully describes the aroma as having two distinct components.  At first, the aromas include "lemon zest and freshly mowed grass." Thereafter, the aromas open up to "clean and refreshing crispness of the citrus fruit paired with just a tiny hint of spring sweet peas."  I definitely got the citrus, both the lemon zest and the citrus fruit; however, the freshly mowed grass and spring sweet peas were a little elusive. 

The winemaker describes the taste and body of the wine as follows, "[t]he mouthfeel, bracing with acidity, remains laced with touches of richer tropical pineapple fruit."  I guess I sensed pineapple, although, to me, the flavors followed the more traditional grapefruit, lime and green melon.  There were also strong flavors of pears up front and some grass or hay flavors in the finish. 

Bogle Vineyards suggests that the Sauvignon Blanc is best paired with "a wide range of appetizers and light dishes, especially fish and shellfish, spring greens, goat cheese and fruit salsas."  I paired this wine with the Pesce al Palmeritana.  The pairing worked well, even though the dish included olives and capers. 

Although Clare and I won this bottle as part of a silent auction, I have seen it available in stores.  It sells for approximately $8.00 a bottle. 


Saturday, May 26, 2012

Pesce al Palermitana

Shortly after I married my beautiful Angel, Clare, I had to travel for work to Las Vegas.  We had only been married for a few months and I was going to have to spend a couple weeks away from her.  Although the work opportunity was an important one, I also wanted to spend some time with my wife in Las Vegas.  Fortunately, she was able to fly out and join me for the second week of my trip.

I had a special dinner planned for one evening during the week Clare was in Las Vegas.  Before I arrived, I read an article in La Cucina Italiana about a restaurant in the Wynn, called Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare, which was setting itself apart with respect to Italian coastal cuisine.  The chef and owner, Paul Bartolotta, had fresh seafood shipped from Italy to Las Vegas on an almost daily basis.  Both Clare and I love seafood, and, based upon what I had read, there was no question that this would be the restaurant where we could have a special dinner.

The view from our cabana at Bartolotta
I can still remember that dinner.  After arriving, we were escorted by the host through the restaurant and outside to a small cabana.  Our table was within the covered refuge, keeping us away from the hot desert sun while providing us with a view of an amazing pool.  The pool had large, metallic globes suspended in the water as schools of koi fish swam around.   After being seated and ordering some wine, the waiter came by our table with a cart.  The cart was loaded with fresh seafood, all on ice.  The waiter explained the options, whole fish, lobsters, shrimp, and much, much more.   We ordered a whole fish, which was cooked and served perfectly.  

Ever since that night, I have wanted to go back with Clare to Bartollota.  We have not been able to do that, partly because, when we got to Las Vegas, we end up trying other restaurants.  Recently, I was reading an article in Saveur, which included a recipe from Paul Bartollota for Pesce alla Palermitana.  I decided that I would make the recipe, so that both my beautiful and I could relive some of the memories of that wonderful night.

Recipe by Paul Bartolotta and printed in
Saveur, Vol. 146, Apr. 2012
Serves 4

3/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
3 cups of cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces of fingerling potatoes, halved lengthwise
1 cup of dry white wine
1/4 cup pitted small green olives
1/4 cup capers, rinsed
3 tablespoons of oregano, roughly chopped, plus 5 sprigs
Juice of 1 lemon
2 one pound red snapper fish, gutted, cleaned and scaled
1 tablespoon of chopped parsley

1. Prepare the sauce and cook the fish.  Heat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.  Heat 6 tablespoons of oil in a 14 inch high sided skillet over medium-high heat; add tomatoes and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring until soft, about six minutes.  Add potatoes, wine, olives, capers, oregano sprigs, juice and 3/4 cup water; boil.  Season fish with salt and pepper, add to skillet; transfer to oven, and cook, basting fish with sauce every few minutes, until fish is cooked through, about twenty minutes.

2.  Finish the sauce.  Transfer fish to serving platter, and transfer skillet to stove over medium high heat.  Cook sauce until reduced and thickened, about ten minutes   Stir in remaining oil, chopped oregano, parsley and salt and pepper to taste.   Pour sauce over fish to serve.


The best pairing for this dish is white wine.  The use of fish as an ingredient and the use of white wine in the recipe are the two principal signs that white wine would work best.  The use of green olives, lemon and capers, require a smoother white wine, like a Chardonnay or a Sauvignon Blanc, but lighter grape varietals, like Viognier and Falaghina, would also work well.  A couple of wines that I have reviewed that should go well with this dish include:

Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard -- Chardonnay
100% Chardonnay
Comus, Maryland, USA
Flavors of pears with some apples, only a hint of oak.

Feudi di San Gregorio -- Falanghina
100% Falaghina
Calabria, Italy
Flavors of apples, grapefruit, with a little lemon and pineapple


Friday, May 25, 2012

Estrella Damm Inedit

In the culinary world, Ferran Adria is something of an icon.  The head chef of El Bulli, a restaurant in Spain that, until its recent closure was considered one of the best restaurants in the world.  El Bulli was a pilgrimage for chefs and foodies alike. Many of those journeys were recorded and broadcasted on television channels like the Food Network and the Travel Channel.  

While Chef Adria made a name for himself in the culinary world, he has also left an impression upon the craft beer world.  Working with Estrella Damm, a Catalan brewery, Adria worked with a team that included Juli Soler and the sommeliers from el Bulli to create Inedit.  This beer is described as a "unique coupage" of barley malt and wheat, brewed with hops, coriander, orange peel, liquorice, yeast and water.  I recently found a bottle of the beer, packaged in its own box, at a local grocery store and decided to give it a try.

It is not often that a beer comes in a box that proclaims the beer as being created by Ferran Adria, "The World's Most Awarded Chef."  Estrella Damm adds to the hype, describing thebeer as having a "high intensity and aromatic complexity."  The Inedit is brewed in the style of a Belgian White Beer or Wit Beer, which I do not normally associate with "intense beers."  Indeed, these beers are probably more notable for their subtlety, with light to medium aromas and smooth, sweet flavors. 

The Inedit  pours a nice orange color, more reminiscent of a pale ale than a Belgian Wit or White Ale.  There was a thick foam gracing the surface of the beer, almost a nod to the molecular gastronomy movement of the culinary world.   Underneath that foam, there was the complex aroma of the beer.  Thanks to the coriander and orange peel, the elements were fruity and floral, with some spices in the background.   The taste of the beer follows the style of a wit beer, although I think it also may cross the line into a saison.  The texture of the beer was very suprising, as it was creamy with a light volume and, of course, that a milky foam. 

Given Adria's primary occupation, it seems obvious that there would be some recommended pairings.  According to Estrella Damm and Adria, the beer was specifically created to be paired with any dish and compliments even challenging dishes such as asparagus, artichokes, salmon, tuna, cheeses, as well as dishes that include citrus and bitter notes. 

Even though el Bulli may no longer be in business, the beer is still available.  It sells for about $16.99 a bottle. 


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Champagne Oyster Risotto

As my third wedding anniversary approached, I wanted to make a special dinner for my beautiful wife, Clare.  I knew that the main course had to incorporate oysters, because she loves to eat oysters.  I also thought that, given we were celebrating our anniversary, some Champagne would also be appropriate.  But, then I got to thinking.  What if I combined champagne and oysters?

Followers of this blog may remember (or may not) that I have previously combined champagne and oysters with champagne when I made Oysters with a Peach Champagne Mignonette.  However, I wanted to make a more substantial meal.  I thought about a meal that I had made the week before ... Seafood Risotto.  Instead of adding shrimp, squid and fish,  I thought I could make a risotto that just included oysters.  In addition, most risotto recipes call for the use of 1/2 to 1 cup of white wine.  I could substitute Champagne for the white wine.  I then googled "Champagne Oyster Risotto" just to confirm that I was not crazy.  My sanity was confirmed when I found a recipe offered by none other than the World Wildlife Fund.  The WWF offered the recipe as part of its effort to encourage "sustainable" eating.

The recipe calls for sauteing the oysters separately in a pan and then adding them once the risotto is cooked.  the problem with sauteing oysters is that they cook very quickly and can overcook very quickly.  I decided that I would simply garnish the risotto with the oysters, allowing the heat of the dish to gently cook the oysters.  Once the dish was served, the oysters could be mixed into the risotto, allowing them to cook even more.  The end result are oysters that are not overcooked.   However, an alternative is to just add the oysters to the pot containing the risotto within the last minute or two of cooking the risotto (or after taking the risotto off of the heat).  This will cook the oysters through enough but avoid overcooking them.

Recipe adapted from World Wildlife Fund
Serves 2-4

12 fresh shucked oysters, liquor reserved
1 cup arborio rice
3/4 cup of shallots diced finely
4 cups of seafood stock
1/2 red bell pepper, diced finely
1/2 yellow bell pepper, diced finely
1/2 cup of Champagne
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt, to taste
1 to2 tablespoons of Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
Black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter

1.  Saute the bell pepper.  Heat two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over high heat.  Add the bell pepper and saute lightly, about three minutes.  The bell pepper should still have a little crunch.  

2.  Saute the shallot.  Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the butter over medium heat.  Add the shallot and saute until soft, about five to seven minutes.  

3.  Cook the risotto.  Add the risotto and toast the risotto, stirring, for about one minute.  Add the Champagne, reduce the heat a little and cook until the alcohol has evaporated and the rice has almost absorbed the Champagne, about three to four minutes.  Add one cup of seafood stock to the rice and continue to cook, stirring often, until the liquid has been absorbed by the rice.  When the liquid has almost been absorbed, add another cup of stock.  Continue adding stock until the rice is cooked al dente.  

4.  Finish the dish.  Once the risotto is al dente, turn off the heat and add the bell peppers and Parmigiano Reggiano.  Stir well.  Spoon the risotto into bowls.  Add six oysters on top of the risotto, letting the heat of the risotto cook the oysters gently. 


Obviously, a good pairing for this dish is Champagne.  Other sparkling wines, such as Prosecco and Cava, will work well with this dish.  If you are looking for a wine that does not sparkle, I would suggest a light, white wine such as a Pinot Gris, an Albariño or a Vinho Verde.  A couple of suggestions include the following: 

Pazo Serantellos -- Albariño
White grape blend
Rias Biaxas, Spain
Flavors of apples, nectarines and white peaches

Lemelson Vineyards -- Tikka's Run Pinot Gris
100% Pinot Gris
Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA 
Flavors of red apples, almonds and even a little fennel


Sunday, May 20, 2012

National Geographic Live: The Power and the Glory

After having recently sampled beers from around the world and the United States at the International Beer Fest in Cleveland, I prepared myself for another tour ... a tasting of "big but beautiful" beers, which was the latest of the National Geographic Live's yearly beer tastings.

National Geographic Live has been hosting these beer tastings for more than twelve years.  For the past few years, the host has been Garrett Oliver.  Garrett is perhaps best known as the head brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery.  His knowledge and experience extends far beyond 11th Street in Brooklyn.  Garrett has hosted more than seven hundred tasting and pairing events in twelve countries over the past two decades.  He is also the editor of the Oxford Companion of Beer and the author of The Brewmaster's Table.  Both Clare and I have enjoyed Garrett's presentations at previous National Geographic Live tasting, which introduced us to Italian craft beer, barrel-aged beer, Scandinavian craft beer, and micro/nano-craft brewers.

Garrett Oliver had an abstract beer tasting in mind when he thought of The Power and the Glory.  The name comes from the final beer tasting of a recent event when Garrett Oliver paired beers to scenes from movies and television shows.  The Power and the Glory involved images of King Henry from Henry V or Darth Vader from Star Wars.  The term "big but beautiful" beers suggested to me that the beers would be high-powered ones, such as Imperial India Pale Ales, Quadrupels, Barleywines and Imperial Stouts.  My expectations seemed to be well supported by the title of the event, "The Power and the Glory," along with the note that the tasting will feature beers that "combine brawn with true elegance and an ability to age well." 

Cigar City El Murciélago: Cigar City is a relatively new brewery, having started in 2009. The name of the brewery is a nod to Tampa Bay's status of having been, at one time, the largest cigar producing city.  The first beer of the tasting was a double cream ale aged by Cigar City in tequila barrels.  The brewers called the beer, "El Murciélago" or "the bat."  According to the brewer, bats are responsible for the pollination of blue agave plants, which are used to make tequila.  The brewers did not stop with using tequila barrels.  They also added cumin and lime peel during the brewing process. The added flavors really shine through this beer, with the cumin and lime peel clearly being present.  However, it is the barrels that add the interesting note of coconut to the flavor of the beer. According to Garrett Oliver, this beer can be paired well with Thai food and Cuban food.  This beer has an 11.5% ABV.

La Rulles Grande 10:  The next beer was La Grande 10 from Brasserie Artisanale de Rulles.  The brewery was founded by Gregory Verhelst in 2000.  This beer commemorates the 10th anniversary of the brewery.  Verhelst chose the small town of La Rulles for the water from the forest L'Anlier.  The La Grande 10 is a Belgian Strong Pale Ale.  Although the brewer may use the water from the L'Anlier, the Grande 10 uses American hops such as Warrior and Simcoe.  The brewer also uses pilsner malts.  These ingredients provided the Grande 10 with an interesting mix of hoppy flavors, which provide the requisite bitterness one would expect from a pale ale, and a sweetness that typifies Belgian ales such as dubbels and tripels.  This beer has an ABV of 10%.

Russian River Pliny the Elder: The third beer in the tasting comes from Russian River Brewing, which was originally owned by Korbel Cellers (yes, the champagne/sparkling wine company).  Korbel sold the company to the brewer, Vinnie Cilurzo, who has made Russian River what it is today.  The brewery is perhaps best known for its Pliny the Elder.  This beer is brewed in the style of an India Pale Ale, although some would characterize it as a double IPA.  The brewer uses Amarillo, Centennial, CTZ, and Simcoe hops in this beer, all of which contribute to an India Pale Ale that has 75 IBUs,  The beer that we sampled had only been in the bottle for a couple of weeks, which fits with the brewer's recommendation that this beer be enjoyed while "young."  The brewer.  Garrett suggested that this copper colored India Pale Ale is perhaps best enjoyed with Thai food, spicy Mexican food and, generally, foods with cilantro. The Pliny the Elder has an ABV of 8%.

J.W. Lees Harvest Ale 2011: The fourth beer of the tasting was the J.W. Lees Harvest Ale for 2011.  This beer is a barleywine brewed in the English style, as opposed to the American style.  I have previously blogged about the different styles.  The principal difference between an English Barleywine and an American Barleywine is that the former emphasizes the malts while the latter emphasizes the hops in the beer.  Given that the Harvest Ale is brewed in England, it is brewed in the English style, and, true to English barleywines, the malts are the principal aroma and taste element in this beer.  The Harvest Ale is the 25th Anniversary Ale.  It is brewed with Champagne yeast, not the regular J.W. Lees yeast, as well as Marris Island yeasts.  This barleywine has an ABV of 11.5%.

Brooklyn Black Ops 2010: Our next beer is from Brooklyn Brewery and it is probably one of Garrett's best beers. (I say "probably" because, in writing this statement, I am torn by the fact that I really, really like Brooklyn's Soriachi Ace.)  I previously blogged about the Black Ops, or, as it is also known, as the beer that does not exist.  The Black Ops is a strong stout in style brewed using Champagne yeast.  The beer is then aged in Woodford Reserve barrels for four months at 55 degrees Fahrenheit.  The beer is then refermented in the bottle.  The end result is a beer that is clearly influenced by the whisky barrels.  The barrel-aging contributes vanilla undertones to both the aroma and the flavor of the beer.  Those vanilla flavors are paired with the chocolate flavors provided by the roasted malts used in making the strong stout.  The hard liquor sense of alcohol, which is reinforced by the whiskey barrels, makes this beer seem like a liquid dessert.  The Black Ops has an ABV of 11%.

Harviestoun Old Engine Oil Engineer's Reserve: For craft beer enthusiasts such as my self,  Harviestoun is best known for its Old Dubh, a pitch black stout-style beer aged in barrels used to age either 12, 16 or 30 year old scotch whiskey.  (I have previously blogged about the Old Dubh 30 Year, which is an excellent beer.)  The sixth beer in the tasting is the Old Engine Oil Engineer's Reserve, which is the base beer used by the brewer to make the Old Dubh.  However, unlike the Old Dubh, this beer is not aged in barrels.  This allows for one to taste the chocolate flavors of the original beer, which are brought out in this dry beer from the use of roasted malts and oats.  This beer also has a surprising hop intensity for a stout. 

Evil Twin Brewing Even More Jesus: The final beer of the tasting was from Evil Twin Brewing.  The beer was interestingly named "Even More Jesus."  The beer is an imperial stout (or as some describe it, a double imperial stout).  Much like the Harviestoun and the Black Ops, the Even More Jesus pours pitch black in color.  Garrett described this beer having characteristics such as syrupy, tar, licorice, sugary with bitterness from roasted malts.  The aromas of the beer include chocolate, dark fruit and muscavedo sugar.  The principal flavor of this beer is not just coffee, but also expresso.  Garrett suggested that the Even More Jesus could be paired with panna cotta with a burnt sugar sauce or gelato affocato.

As usual, Garrett selected a wide array of amazing beers for the audience to sample.  The selection makes it difficult for me to choose which one was my favorite.  The most interesting beer was the El Murciélago, because of the aging in tequila barrels and the addition of lime peel and cumin to the beer.  However, I would have to say that, as the cliche goes, the best was saved for last.    The beer had a very good aromatic and taste profile, which stood out even after having sampled six other high powered beers. 

Perhaps the best part of the tasting was Garrett Oliver, who provided interesting anecdotes, facts and explanations with each beer, once again making this probably my favorite beer-tasting event of the year.  I am already eagerly awaiting next year's tasting.  Until then ...


Friday, May 18, 2012

Herb Roasted Pork Sandwiches

Every once in a while, I get the urge to roast or smoke a pork shoulder.  The urge manifests itself as visions of roasted pork or pulled pork, often dominating my thoughts especially when I am hungry.  I do not always act on the urge, because roasting a pork shoulder takes some time and effort.  In addition, smoking that pork shoulder takes a lot of time and effort.  This is particularly true for me, because I cannot seem to buy a pork shoulder that is less than four pounds.   

I am still a novice when it comes to roasting or smoking a pork shoulder.  As followers know, I am not a trained chef, nor am I an experienced pitmaster.  I just love to cook.

For this recipe, which I made up as I went, I used a simple Italian-inspired rub with rosemary, sage and thyme.  I added some crushed red pepper to give the rub a little spice, along with the customary sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  I also used some of my own pork stock, which I had from the liquid used to make my Pork Offal Meatballs.  If you do not have any pork stock, a good substitute is white wine. 

Overall, this recipe worked out well.  I was able to make some great sandwiches for work.  The one area that still needs some work is the skin.  I tried to crisp the skin; however, it did not work.  The skin was a little too chewy.  If that happens, you can just remove the skin as you carve or slice the shoulder.  However, I am going to continue to work on this recipe because I think that having crisp skin would really add to the sandwich.  I will continue to update this post as my work progresses....

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 6 to 8

1 picnic shoulder (about three to four pounds)
1 1/2 tablespoons of fresh rosemary, chopped finely
1 tablespoon of fresh sage, chopped finely
1 teaspoon of fresh thyme, chopped finely
3 garlic cloves, minced finely
2 teaspoons of sea salt
2 teaspoons of ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper
1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon
1 cup of pork stock (or white wine)
Water, if needed
Kaiser buns or hoagie buns

1.  Prepare the picnic shoulder.  Combine the rosemary, sage, thyme, garlic, black pepper, crushed red pepper and salt.  Mix well.  Stir in the olive oil.  Score the skin on the shoulder.  Apply the rub to all sides.  Let the should rest at room temperature for about fifteen to twenty minutes.

2.  Roast the shoulder.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.   Place the shoulder in an oven safe pot or roasting pan.  Roast the shoulder in the oven for about two and one-half hours to three hours.  You want to reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. 


This recipe can be paired with either beer or wine.  With respect to beer, the best choice would be a pilsner or a hefeweizen.  The light body of these types of beers helps to cut through the rich and fatty tastes and texture of the pork shoulder.  With respect to wine, a wide range of lighter wines would pair well with this dish.  For example, a light, crisp white wine -- such as a Vinho Verde or a Pinot Gris -- will cut through the fat in the pork shoulder. A lambrusco or rose wine would also work well with this dish.  If you have to have a red wine, think of a Pinot Noir.  A couple of beers and wines that I have previously reviewed, that should work well with this dish include:

Dogfish Head Ales -- My Antonia
Delaware, USA
Flavors of malts with some hops

Famille Bougrier -- Rose d'Anjou
Loire Valley (D'Anjou), France
Flavors of strawberries and raspberries


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

International Beer Fest 2012, Part 2

This is the second part of the two part series about my exploration through craft beer at the 2012 International Beer Fest in Cleveland, Ohio.  In the first part, I detailed the eleven or so craft beers from Europe.  I tried a wide range of beers, from Belgian Tripels to an Irish Oyster Stout.  

This time, I turn my attention to the craft brewers in the United States.  The craft beer movement has grown exponentially across the country.  The Beer Fest divided the American craft brewers by regions, although that categorization did not matter to me.  Just as with the European bears, I focused on some beers that I had not heard of before and/or that I cannot get near me.

The ten or so American craft beers that I sampled include the following: 

Jolly Pumpkin -- Maraicabo Especial: I have seen Jolly Pumpkin beers around, but I have to say that I have not had any of them.  That ended with a sample of the Maracaibo Especial.  This beer is brewed with cacao, cinnamon and sweet orange peel.  Although these ingredients were in the brew, the beer was not just any Special Brown Ale.  Instead, it was more like a Flanders Sour Ale.  The light brown, amber color of the beer gives rise to aromas of green, sour apples.  The taste of the taste of the beer is also full of green apples.  I did not get any of the cacao or cinnamon though.

Rockmill Brewing -- Organic Saison: This is a small-production organic brewery located in Lancaster, Ohio.  The brewery models its beers after those found in Wallonia, Belgium.  The brewer believes that the Wallonian water has the same minerality profile as the water of Lancaster.  In addition to using local water, the brewer also uses whole hops in the production of the Saison.  This beer pours light golden in color.  The aroma has elements of spice, as well as an earthy tone to it.  The taste of the beer has elements of grass, whole cardamom seed and a slight Brettanomyces flavor.  These flavors give this beer a unique flavor profile. 

Great Divide Brewing Co. -- Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti: Great Divide is known for its Yeti, an Imperial Stout.  This particular bottle is a version is produced with coca nibs and aged in oak barrels, which impart a little oak and vanilla flavor to the beer.  The brewer also adds some cayenne pepper to give the beer a kick.  The Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti pours pitch black, which aromas of chocolate, spice and pepper.  The taste of this beer is brings in all of the central ingredients -- the cocoa nibs, the oak barrels and even the cayenne barrels.  The cayenne pepper comes out in the finish of this beer.

The Brew Kettle Production Works -- Jack Hammer Barleywine: The next beer I tried is one from a brewer that I know well, the Brew Kettle.  My father suggested that I try the Jack Hammer Barleywine, which has won awards in competitions.  The Jack Hammer pours brown in color, with sweet fruit aromas.  Brewed in the British style, the Jack Hammer was tastes of candied fruit and alcohol, with more of a focus on the malts than on the hops.  This is the principal difference between the British-style barleywine and an American-style barleywine.

Cellar Rats Brewery -- Black Rat Imperial Stout: The next beer that I tried comes from Cellar Rats Brewery, a craft brewery based in Madison, Ohio.  This beer is a more straightforward example of an imperial stout, without the added flavors that were used in the Yeti.  The Black Rat Imperial Stout pours black in color.  The aromatic elements are primarily sweet chocolate and coffee.  The principal flavor of this beer is roasted coffee, but some chocolate can be sensed in the background of this beer.

Chardon Brew Works -- Ironworker India Pale Ale: I have to admit that the title of the next beer caught my attention and is the reason why I tried it.  The Ironworker IPA caught my attention, because it evoked images of iron workers and union workers.  This beer poured a cloudy, orangish/copper color.  The aromatic elements of this beer suggest oranges and orange peel, as well as grass.  The taste of the beer is what one expects from an IPA, basically a citrus driven beer.  However, the citrus is not the normal types when one describes an IPA, such as lemon or grapefruit.  Instead, there where hints of lime that shined through the tartness, particularly in the finish.

Epic Brewery (In Collaboration with D.C. Brau): Once again, I sampled another imperial porter.  This particular beer is a collaboration with D.C. Brau.  As they brewed the imperial porter, they added two hundred pounds of pumpkin and whole Madagascar vanilla beans.  The beer poured like any other imperial porter or imperial stout ... pitch black.  However, the aroma was like a pumpkin pie, with pumpkins and spices greeting the nose.  The taste of the beer also featured pumpkin spices, such as allspice and clove. 

AleSmith Brewery -- Old Numbskull Barleywine: Next to the Epic Brewing beers, there was AleSmith, a southern Californian craft brewer.  I tried some of their beers at the last Beer Fest; however, I saw a barleywine that I did not recall seeing.  The barleywine pours brown in color.  The aromatic elements are primarily spice and malt.  The taste of the beer includes sugar and citrus.  Whereas the Brew Kettle's Jack Hammer is brewed in the British style, the Old Numbskull is brewed in more of an American style.  The hops were clearly more evident in this beer. 
Hopping Frog Brewing -- Barrel Aged B.O.R.I.S. Oatmeal Imperial Stout: Continuing with the high powered imperial stouts and porters, the next beer I tried is Hopping Frog's Barrel Aged B.O.R.I.S. Oatmeal Imperial Stout.  This beer won a gold medal at the World Beer cup. The beer is aged in whiskey barrels, which contribute to the aroma of the beer.  The flavor of this beer is reminiscent of chocolate liqueur, the combination of chocolate and alcohol.

Rust Belt Brewing Co. -- Coke Oven Stout: The final beer that I tried is a stout.  After all, I have tried several stouts this time, so why not finish with one more.  This one comes from Rust Belt Brewing Company, a craft brewer located in Youngstown, Ohio.  This is one of the brewers that I have seen, but have never been able to try its beers.  Like all of the other porters, the beer pours black in color.  The aroma had elements of chocolate and coffee, which are also part of the flavors of the beer.  

Overall, the 2012 IX Beer Fest was a great time.  The one lesson that I learned is that I cannot exhaust thirty-six, two-ounce tasting tickets.  That is seventy-two ounces of beer, or a six pack.   It may be because I am getting older, but it is probably due to the fact that, unlike just about everyone else at the Beer Fest, I was taking photos and notes with each beer I tried. 

In the end, I got to try some really interesting and great beers.  I did not get to one of my favorite brewers, Fat Head's.  The brewer at Fat Head's, Matt Cole, brews some excellent beers, like the Head Hunter IPA and the Hop JuJu.   I should note, however, I had stopped by Fat Head's for lunch the day before and got to enjoy a couple full-sized beers ... the Mexicali Smoke and the Zeus Juice.

Hopefully, when the next fest comes around, I will be able to find some more unique beers to try.  Until that time ...


Monday, May 14, 2012

International Beer Fest 2012, Part 1

Beer is in many ways a reflection of us ... molded and shaped by history, it comes in different styles that have their own unique characteristics and interesting back stories.  When I do a craft beer review, I try to research the history of the beer, the style and/or the ingredients used.  Fortunately, I have access to stores that carry a wide range of craft beer from, not only the United States, but around the world.  

Still, there are events -- such as the International Beer Fest -- that provide me with an opportunity to try beers that I have not seen or heard of before.  I went to the first annual  festival, which was held last year in Cleveland, Ohio last year.  The event was a lot of fun, although many of the beers that I wanted to try were gone by the time I got to them.  This was especially true of the Belgian beers.  It seemed everyone went first to the Belgian beers with the hope that, even though each taste was only two ounces, the high ABVs would help to get the buzz going early.  By contrast, I had mapped out a different strategy, looking to try different styles and beers brewed with different ingredients, with all of the beers being ones that I cannot find or had not heard of before.. I started at the opposite end of the convention center and, by the time I got to the Belgians, many of the ones I had really wanted to try, like the Trappist beers, were gone.

This year, I decided to keep the same strategy, with one exception.  This year I would start in the Belgian section and work may way from there. I had a map with the beers that I wanted to try already planned out.  One problem. I left it at home.  I was able to recreate the game plan as we waited for the event to start.

This is the first of a two part blog series of the beers that I tried at the International Beer Fest. Part One focuses on the beers that I tried from European brewers.

Brasserie Halve Maan -- Brugse Zot Dubbel: The tour of beers begins in Belgium with a dubbel produced by Brasserie Halve Maan.  I had not heard of this brewery before, so I decided to try its Brugse Zot Dubbel.  The beer poured brown in color, with a good amount of foam.  The aromas of this beer are typical of most Belgian beers ... yeast, with a sweetness reminiscent of sugar or candy.  The beer also has a taste that is in line with a dubbel.  Flavors of bananas and cloves are present, with a surprising tartness that comes out in the finish.  The beer has an ABV of 8.5%.

Rochefort Monestary -- Rochefort 10: Followers of this blog know of my interest in Trappist beers.  The Rochefort 10 is one of two Trappist beers that I tried this time.  This beer is brewed in the style of a Quadrupel, with an ABV of 11.3%.  The beer pours a dense brown in color, with red hues.  The aroma heavily emphasized spices, but other interesting aromas such as port wine and apricots.  The flavors of this beer included nutmeg, candy sugar and cloves.  The nutmeg flavor was the most surprising element of the taste.

Westmalle Monastery -- Westmalle Tripel: The other Trappist beer I tried was the Westmalle Tripel.  (For those following, my first three beers ended up being a dubbel, tripel and quadrupel.)  This beer was quite different from the first two beers.  It poured a clear golden color, with a thick foam.  The aromas suggest fruit and hops.  The taste was lighter and the other two beers, as well as little crisper.  The tripel exhibited flavors of sweet fruit, like a combination of bananas and sugar.  After having sampled this beer, I think I have sampled one beer from each of the seven Trappist monasteries that currently produce beer.

Timmerman's Lambic Brewery -- Bourgogne des Flandres: While I am still sampling beers from Belgium, this Bourgogne des Flandres represents a steep departure from the dubs, trips and quads.  It is brewed in the style of a Flanders sour red ale.  The beer pours brown, and exudes aromas of sour apples.  The taste of the beer is reminscent of Granny Smith apples, with a little spice.  The beer is crisp and has a clean finish.  Indeed, once you have finished the beer, it is as if it has cleansed the palate, leaving just a faint sense of those sour apples.  This beer is a good example of a Flanders Red or Sour Ale.

Dubuisson -- Scaldis Refermentee: I decided to try this amber ale because of the interesting process used to produce it.  The beer is bottle fermented in a hot chamber for three weeks.  The beer pours an amber or gold in color, with little to no foam.  The aroma of this beer features the malts, but there is also hints of the nuts, and yeast.  The taste of this beer is a balance between bitter and sweet, all encapsulated in a smooth body with some carbonation.  (The carbonation is a little surprising given the lack of foam when poured, but that could be just due to the fact that the bottle may have been opened for a while).  The bitterness seems to prevail in the finish of the beer.

Birra Amiata -- Contessa Italian Pale Ale: After sampling some Belgian beers, I moved to trying a couple of Italian beers.  First, I tried Birra Amiata's Contessa Italian Pale Ale.  Although described as an "Italian" Pale Ale, it is definitely in the American style, even down to the use of American yeast and hops.  Still, there was something different about this beer.  While the citrus and pine flavors were present in this beer, there was also a hint of sweetness in the beer.  A sense of caramel that goes along with the bitterness of the hops.

Birra Tenute Collesi -- Collesi Ambiata: The second Italian beer that I tried is called the Ambiata, an amber beer.  This beer is produced with dried fruit, which contributed to the taste of the beer.  The Collesi Ambiata pours a reddish orange in color, with some foam.  The aroma of the beer included some malt and caramel, perhaps from the dried fruit.  The beer had a fruity taste to it, but not as much as some of the Belgian beers that I tried.  

Porterhouse Brewery -- Oyster Stout: From Italy, the tour turns to Ireland.  I said no to Harp or Guinness.  Instead, I tried an Oyster Stout from Porterhouse Brewery. This is a sweet stout, whose sweetness comes from fresh oysters that are shucked into the conditioning tank.  The beer is produced with Pale malts, roasted barley, and flaked barley, along with Galena, Nugget and East Golding hops. The beer pours a dark brown in color.  The aromas of the beer include chocolate and coffee.  the beer is balanced between hops and malts, with the malts having a slight edge. 

Nøgne-Ø -- Two Captains: After an oyster stout, I decided to try a double India Pale Ale from Nøgne-Ø.  This brewery has made a name for itself with some good beers, including a barleywine that I have previously reviewed.  The double IPA is made with grimstad water, malted barley, hops and yeast, with an ABV of 8.5%.  The beer pours a golden color, with a nice foam.  The aromatic elements of the beer feature crisp, whole hops.  The hops provide a citrus aroma to the beer.  The taste of the Two Captains is a good representation of a double or Imperial Pale Ale.  There is definitely citrus, with a little grass as well.

Castellain -- St. Amand French Country Ale: Although France is known for its wine, it does have some good beers as well.  For that reason, I tried the Castellain St. Amand, which is brewed in the style of a French country ale.  The beer is produced with well water, barley from Champagne and hops from Alsace.  The color of the beer is gold, with some copper tones. The aroma is clearly malt driven.  The taste of the beer is likewise malt-driven, with taste elements one would associate with a beer that has a high ABV.  However, this beer has an ABV of only 5.9%. 

Christoffel -- Christoffel Nobel: This beer caught my attention because of the category description, "traditionally brewed beer."  This is a dry-hopped tripel lager produced in the Netherlands.  The beer pours a cloudy, brownish color, with no foam.  The aromatics of the beer are much like a tripel.  The taste of the beer likewise falls within the tripel category.  I could get a sense of Belgian candy sweetness, fueling a malt-centric flavor.    For the last of the European beers that I would try, it was a good way to end.  A full circle, beginning with a Belgian beer and ending with a Belgian style beer.

For the next chapter, I will summarize the American beers that I tried.  Until then ...


Friday, May 11, 2012

Barbi Orvieto Classico (2010)

The one wine that best exemplifies Umbria is Orvieto, which is produced from grapes grown around the southern Umbrian commune that shares the same name.  Winemaking in Umbria dates back to the Etruscans, long before the Roman Empire.  They dug out cellars in the ground where the wine could age in cool conditions throughout the year.  From the Middle Ages until very recently, Umbria was known for sweet wines.  However, in recent years, the popularity of wines such as the Orvieto have helped to put the Italian region on the map. Indeed, the Orvieto region has its own DOC, which is devoted exclusively to white wine. 

Historically, Orvieto was one of those sweet wines.  Today, it is produced in a couple of different styles.  Normally, Orvieto wines are dry white wines.   Some vineyards produce an Abbocato, or semi-sweet wine or a Dolce, which is the sweet version.  Orvieto wines are produced with Grechetto and Trebbiano grapes, as well as a few other varietals.  The Barbi Orvieto Classico, which is produced in the Abbocato style, is made from a blend of 45% Trebbiano Toscano, 30% Grechetto, 15% Verdello and 10% Drupeggio and Malvasia.

The Barbi Orvieto Classico pours light gold in color, with little bubbles that form along the bottom of the glass.  Those bubbles suggest an effervescence that is a little deceptive, given the wine does not have any carbonation.  The aromatic elements of the wine suggest floral notes and melon.  The semi-sweet nature of the wine does show through in the aroma, even hinting at a little sugar.

As for the taste, this wine is heavily emphasizes citrus, especially grapefruit.  The Abbocato nature of the wine is clearly evident, with a medium body wrapped with a little sweetness balancing the citrus of the flavor.  The sweetness gives way to a dryness in the finish. 

The semi-sweet nature of the Orvieto Classico makes the wine a good pairing with dishes that have some heat, whether by chiles or other spices, as well as for seafood dishes.  I think this wine could also work well with white meat, such as grilled chicken or grilled  pork.  This wine could also lighten up vegetable and bean dishes, such as an Umbrian style lentil dish.

I found this wine at a local grocery store.  It sells for about $11.00 per bottle.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Cowboy Steak in The Prime Style

I can still remember the meal at George Vongerichten's The Prime, even though it was several years ago.  The Prime is located at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.  I was in Sin City for a convention and, after a day of meetings, I was invited by colleagues to a dinner at the Steakhouse.  I am not one to turn down a steak, and, the meal was amazing.  I have always wanted to make it back to The Prime for another steak.  The problem is that there are a lot  of restaurants in Las Vegas and, each time that I visit the city, I end up going to other restaurants.  

Fortunately, Saveur magazine recently published its Las Vegas issue.  The issue contained a recipe for a Porterhouse with Lemon-Thyme Butter, which was inspired by a recipe from The Prime.  I really wanted to make this recipe; however, I could not lay my hands on a three pound, two-inch thick porterhouse steak.  (It was not for lack of trying.)  Still, I found a two pound cowboy steak, which worked perfectly for the dish.  

Cowboy steaks are basically ribeyes that are still on the bone.  The butcher "frenches" the bone, so that the end result is a big piece of meat on a nice, long bone.  One cannot ask for much on a steak night.

Recipe from The Prime Steakhouse, printed in
Saveur Magazine at p. 76 (April 2002)
Serves 4-6

2 pound cowboy steak
2 tablespoon of canola oil
3 tablespoons of unsalted butter
6 sprigs of thyme
1 lemon, halved cross wide

1.  Cook the steak.  Season steak heavily on all sides with salt and pepper, let sit for thirty minutes.  Heat oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.  Heat a 12 inch cast iron skillet or oven proof skillet over high until it begins to smoke.  Add oil and steak.  Cook until lightly charred on one side, about five minutes.  Flip steak and transfer skillet to oven and cook until medium rare and an instant read thermometer reads 135 degrees, about ten to twenty minutes.  Transfer steak to a platter and let rest for ten minutes.  

2.  Prepare the thyme butter.  Meanwhile, pour off the pan drippings and return skillet to stove over high heat.  Add butter and then thyme and lemon halves, cut sides down.  Cook until golden brown, about four minutes.  Remove from heat.  Slice the steak, transfer to plates and drizzle from the skillet.  Serve with lemon for drizzling. 


Red wine. This is the first pairing that comes to mind for this recipe.  Any bold red will do.  Chianti, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, or Zinfandel.  I went a completely different direction and paired this meal with a beer.  More specifically, I paired the dish with the following beer:

D.C. Brau -- The Corruption
India Pale Ale
Washington, D.C., USA
Flavors of pine, citrus and resin


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Corruption

The can reads, "[i]n 1824, Speaker of the House Henry Clay forged a coalition that secured the White House for John Quincy Adams.  In return, Adams named Clay as his Secretary of State in what has become known as 'The Corrupt Bargain.'" The bargain is what provides the name for D.C. Brau's India Pale Ale. 

D.C. Brau describes this beer as being brewed just at the line of an India Pale Ale and an Imperial IPA.  Each batch of the Corruption India Pale Ale is brewed with Pale 2-Row, C-10, Honey and Munich Malts, along with 40 pounds of Columbus Hops.  The beer has an ABV of 6.5% and 80 IBUs.  The ABV places this beer squarely on the side of an India Pale Ale, while the IBUs are what nudge it toward an Imperial IPA.  (I have tried some Imperial IPAs that have an ABV as high as 10% and as much as 100 IBUs).

The Corruption pours a hazy orange or copper color, suggesting that that the beer is unfiltered.  Although the brewer does not say whether the beer is filtered or unfiltered, my guess is that it is filtered.  In any event, the aroma of the beer presents the classic India Pale Ale scents of pine and citrus.  The pine aromas are clearly more prominent than the citrus.  The pine is also a principal flavor of the beer.  The pine is coated resin flavors, which sets this beer apart from some of the other India Pale Ales that I have tried.  

As with any India Pale Ale, the Corruption is best paired with meats such as beef, lamb, or bison. The citrus and pine flavors of the beer work well with a steak, as the astringency of those flavors cut through the fat of a cut such as a ribeye, sirloin or or a cowboy steak.   I paired this beer with the Cowboy Steak that I made using a recipe from The Prime Steakhouse at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.  

The beer is available in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.  It sells for about $10.99 or $11.99 a six pack.