Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Beer of the Month: Polygamy Porter from Wasatch Brewing

A pint of Polygamy Porter with the legally required Chocolate Sundae
Wasatch Brewing's Polygamy Porter is a rich, uncomplicated pleasure.  If only polygamy itself were that way.

On the surface, multiple wives sounds wonderful.  I love my wife, and so wouldn't a second, third, fourth or even more of a great thing be wonderful?  While it would reduce the number of times I'd have to do the dishes or clean the bathroom, this would be partially offset by more people to clean up after.  I would be constantly asked to reach up for high objects, and being completely outnumbered, would have no possible control of the TV remote.  With multiple wives, Sting would whine incessantly from the stereo speakers and cat toys would completely litter the house, the cats themselves becoming hopelessly fat and spoiled from multiple sources.

One could argue the carnal pleasures with multiple wives in the bedroom would easily overcome these mundane problems.   While sex involving a single man and multiple women has been successfully choreographed many times in porn movies with actors, a director and script, I'm not so sure in the real world it would work out so well.   I can see this group sex easily evolving into group collisions, group indecision, group impatience or even group not-this-again before completely degenerating into group mutiny.

Of course, rarely do I have the energy for such night time gymnastics.   Most nights I'm not even in the mood at all and thankfully most of those times, my wife isn't either.  Multiple wives upset this delicate balance, and sex would likely turn into a daily night time chore to keeping one of the wives happy, much like taking out the garbage.

So I'll stick with just the one wife I love and no more, even if it isn't legally required.  When it comes to marriage, I've found there's a lot to be said for simplicity.

Such as the simple pleasures of Polygamy Porter.  It's rich, it's smooth, and roasty flavors of light bitter chocolate and coffee are perfectly restrained.  End of story.

If only the State of Utah had more respect for its brewing treasure.  Hoping to enjoy a pint of Polygamy Porter recently at a Utah sports bar, the cheerfully apologetic waitress informed me I had to order something off the food menu in order to be legally served the beer.  It being late, I decided on a chocolate sundae.   Surprisingly, the cool vanilla sweetness and chocolate syrup paired well with the silky roasted porter, so perhaps there is an upside to the arcane Utah liquor laws.

Several Polygamy Porters and one great wife is heaven.  The opposite is hell.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Wandering into the Angry Orchard

OK, I've pretty much ignored cider.  Maybe at a beer festival I'll try a sample or two of cider, and often it's some experimental pink or purple fizzy stuff with raspberries or olallieberries in it.  Of course, since my tongue is already seared by some quadruple IPA hop bomb or barbecue tri-tip by the time I get to sample any cider, it's hard to appreciate their delicate flavors.

Of course, if I really wanted to try cider, all I'd have to do is walk into my local grocery store.  Since Angry Orchard Hard Cider has recently expanded into California, they'd like me to do just that.  To encourage this, they sent me their three varieties of ciders to try.    Since my wife and I enjoyed sipping cider samples from wine glasses, it only seemed fair to tell the world about it, or at least the small part of the world that reads this blog.  So without further ado, here's the low down on Angry Orchard Ciders.

Angry Orchard Traditional Dry
Tastes like crisp apples with almost no sweetness, with a slight tanic bitter finish that tasted like apple peel and a low level of carbonation.  It's like drinking an crisp, slightly tart apple which may seem obvious, but it's a rather impressive feat of fermentation preserving the delicate flavors of the apple without creating any extraneous tastes.

Angry Orchard Apple Ginger
A little sweet, with more depth from a restrained use of ginger that gave this one an interesting twist.  Despite the unique flavors, I'd have to say it was my least favorite of the three, but my wife's favorite.  You can judge it for yourself.

Angry Orchard Crisp Apple
The slightly sweet apple flavors and well balanced by a light tartness.  Barely noticeable aromatic spice quality of nutmeg or cinnamon.

Perhaps it's time to discuss the disconnect between the company name and the liquid in the bottle.  The subtle, balanced flavors of Angry Orchards certainly don't seem "angry".  I don't know where Angry Orchards got its name, but seeing how saturated we're getting with extreme, over the top products everywhere we look, wouldn't it be more distinguishing if Angry Orchards called itself, oh I don't know, maybe Harmonious Orchards or Artisan's Orchards.  OK, maybe those alternative names aren't the greatest, but the name "Angry Orchards" creates an expectation not actually found in the bottle, and comes across like a zillion other brands screaming for our attention that all just drown each other out.

Marketing discussions aside, Angry Orchards develops their balanced apple flavors by blending Italian culinary apples from the Alpine Foothills with French bittersweet apples from Normandy.   Their website goes on to describe their lengthy fermentation process that includes wood-aging.  As a comparison, I picked up a six-pack of Woodchuck Amber Hard Cider, which I also liked, but noticed it had a sweeter, less developed flavor, and was more akin to carbonated, slightly alcoholic apple juice.

Cider seems a great substitute for white wine, especially when you want to keep yourself sharp with its lower alcohol content.  So maybe it's time for me to give ciders there due, and next time I'm at a beer festival, to skip the barbecue and hop monsters and go straight to the cider.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Refuge in San Carlos is just that

What exactly is The Refuge a refuge for?  Located at the edge of an eclectic mix of ethnic restaurants and boutique stores along Laurel Avenue in comfortably worn, upper middle class San Carlos where there doesn't seem to be any reason to take refuge.  For whatever reason you set foot in the place, you'll be greeted with a great selection of Belgian beers with a smattering of California brews.  They also supposedly have a good wine list if you're in to that sort of thing.

The Refuge also has a full menu with plenty of selections, but there is really only one thing you need to order here: some seriously killer Pastrami sandwiches.  Whatever alchemy they possess to transform beef and spices into succulent morsels of dark pink meat held between to slices of crusty rye bread, it is a tightly held secret.

What, you ask, is the connection between seemingly divergent traditions of Belgian beer, French wine, and Jewish delicatessens?  Refuge Owner/Chef Matt Levine, who's worked in Michelin-starred restaurants and has extensively studies French cuisine, recognized the parallels between the French art of charcuterie (curing meats)  and the delicatessens of his Jewish heritage.  Which is perhaps why this unique combination of different traditions doesn't seem forced or contrived, at least the way The Refuge does it.

Nor does a large black and white photo from the 60's of a reverent, contemplative Muhammad Ali seem out of place amongst the modern art and classic beer signs adorning The Refuge walls.  Somehow, the place seems to embrace different cultures effortlessly.  A very Bay Area trait when you think about it.

And while the Bay Area looks like an idyllic place from afar, the traffic is ridiculous, the housing pricing even more so, and the high-octane business culture can make earning a paycheck pretty stressful.  Life can be hard anywhere.  So when you need a refuge from all that, The Refuge is definitely the place to go to seek respite.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

How do you capture autism in a bottle?

Should I brew a beer in honor my autistic son Brandon by brewing a beer with noticeable defects and strange tastes?   Most people would say of course not, but this is not as contrived a dilemma as it might seem.

Consider that we have to take Brandon's picture a bunch of times to finally get one where he isn't flapping his hands, looking away from the camera, or scrunching up his face in an earnest attempt to smile.  But aren't all those other pictures we delete or otherwise hide part of Brandon's true character?   I've learned that loving my son means loving the autism, so there's a part of me that doesn't want hide his autistic traits, but celebrate them, as weird and unnatural as they might be.
Brandon with one of his favorite Lego models he built.

 So how to capture this in a beer someone might actually want to drink?

Brandon devours his Saturday morning pancakes that incorporate cinnamon, vanilla and maple syrup in the recipe, so I decided to incorporate these flavors into a beer.  I thought these flavors would go well with the light nutty and roasted character of a good Brown Ale, so I took the Dad's Brown Ale 1-gallon recipe from the Brooklyn Brew Shop's Beer Making Book, and added cinnamon, vanilla and maple syrup and called it Brandon's Brown Ale.

The recipe:

Brandon's Brown Ale

1.6 pounds Maris Otter Malt
0.1 pounds Caramel 40 Malt
0.1 pounds Caramel 80 Malt
0.1 pounds Chocolate Malt
 0.1 ounce Challenger Hops (60 minutes into the boil)
0.15 ounces  Fuggles Hops (0.1 ounces at 40 minutes, 0.05 ounces at 55 minutes)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 40 minutes into the boil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 55 minutes into the boil
3/4 cup maple syrup at end of boil

English Ale Yeast

The grains were mashed with 2 quarts of water, were sparged with an additional 1 gallon of water, and then the resulting wort was boiled for 60 minutes

As for the taste, well it is different.  Cinnamon, vanilla and maple syrup work great together in pancakes, but some flavors just don't work well together in a beer, and this one's a little different.    The maple syrup and vanilla extract gave it a woody character while the cinnamon imparted a savory, aromatic dimension, but the beer seemed to lack the malty character one associates with a Brown Ale.  Next time, I think the maple syrup will be added to the fermenter after the boil to give the brew a more mellow maple flavor and I might use a little less of it to let the malt shine through.  Using a fresh vanilla bean and cinnamon sticks would probably improve upon the flavor as well as the spice character seemed a little muddled.

But those problems aside, the beer had a smooth, slighly creamy character and the spices gave the Brown Ale an unusual dimension that was a little surprising and unconventional, but is easily enjoyed.  I think that captures Brandon pretty well.
A more candid shot of Brandon building the Lego model.   In an unposed shot
when he doesn't realize we're taking his picture, he is more natural.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Operation Access Fund Raiser this Thursday at San Francisco's Vinyl Wine Bar

This coming Thursday from 6-9 pm will be a happy hour Fundraise at the Vinyl Wine Bar on Divisidero and Oak Streets in San Francisco near the Panhandle and Alamano Square to raise money for Operation Access, a non-profit organization that arranges surgical and specialty care for low-income, uninsured patients. 

Several runners in this year's San Francisco Marathon are raising money for Operation Access, including a former Operation Access patient, and you can read more on his remarkable story here.

You can check out more on this event on its Facebook page.

Lots of runners and happy hour?  Sounds like a beer run waiting to happen.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Deep Thought to Start the Week.....

My sister, of all people, supplies this deep thought to start your week:

"I'm pretty sure that if the entire world had unlimited access to cheese and beer, there would be world peace. Not as poetic as John Lennon perhaps, but just think about it... imagine..."

Now go off and contemplate.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Session #63: The Beer Moment - Must I pick one?

I can't believe for this month's Session, Pete Brown asks us to write about the beer moment, as if there was only one.   There've been so many.

That wonderful buzz, numbing the pain in my sore legs after a long run, from the beers I most undeniably earned.

Those times my mind goes "Wow!" with discovery when yet another talented brewer combines grain, hops, water and yeast to concoct something unique and unexpected with flavors that totally pop.

Being out with friends and family drinking some crappy industrial lager I'd never otherwise drink, because the beer is essential for the moment, but its flavor is irrelevant.

All alone in my room at 3:00 am, my head hurting while hurling the 7th crushed beer can of the night against the wall after my longtime girlfriend finally told me she "needed some space".

Burrito night with my wife at the nearby taquería  where the familiar, earthy flavors of our local brewery's amber ale provide needed stability at the end of our long day.

Could any other beverage create such a diversity of universal moments?