Friday, September 30, 2016

Scenes from Tuolumne Meadows

There's been a vacation induced lull in blogging due to my family's annual Yosemite trip. This time, we went to Tuolumne Meadows rather than the Yosemite Valley, which doesn't contain all the iconic views, but has it's own spectacular scenery none-the-less. Sorry, nothing about beer, grilling or running here, just some pictures from that great weekend. Hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Session #116 Announcement : Anything Gose

As the host for the 116th Beer Blogger Session, I'm asking everyone to write about the Gose style, mostly unknown for much of the The Session's nearly ten year history. In just the past 2-3 years, the Gose has become one of the fastest growing beer styles despite its unusual blend of sour and saltiness. Heady times for the Gose style that not all that long ago was nearly extinct.

Speaking of extinction, I notice there are no volunteers listed to host future Session topics. So if you want to keep this Session thing going, consider hosting one. You can find out how to host a future Session at the bottom of this link.

Back to this month's Session, I choose the Gose style in particular since it can be approached in so many different ways. Want to talk about the history of the Gose?  How about how American breweries are taking this style and running wild with it with different spice and fruit additions?  How else has the Gose manifested itself outside its German homeland?  Is the Gose here to stay or will it go the way of the Black IPA, once the hot style but slowly becoming a largely irrelevant curiosity?  (OK, that might not be your opinion of the Black IPA, but you get the idea.) Of course, we're all on the look-out for a good Gose, so if there are any you particularly like, we'd love to hear about them.

Just post you contribution the first Friday of October, the 7th and leave a link in this post's comments section. Or you can e-mail the link to me at photon.dpeterman[at]gmail(dot)com.  A few days later, I'll post the round-up of everyone's contribution.

And make sure you pronounce "Gose" correctly.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Rambling Reviews 8.19.2016: Dry Hopped Steam from Anchor, 10 Barrel's Cucumber Crush, and JC Flyer IPA from Iron Springs

Once again it's time to ramble about three notable beers I've tried over the past couple weeks.

We'll start out with Anchor's great twist on their iconic flagship. I'm talking about Anchor Dry Hopped Steam Beer. There's a little more to Dry Hopped Steam than just the dry hopping as Anchor Brewmaster Scott Ungermann also lightened the traditional Anchor Steam recipe for the dry hopped version. “We took our most popular, classic beer and gave it a contemporary twist by introducing a lighter body and an elevated, dynamic hop profile using new and classic hop varieties," states Ungermann in a press release. The dry hopped version is lighter and brighter than traditional Anchor Steam, with the floral hop aromas you'd expect from a dry hopped brew. It's still got the classic complex roasty and slightly woody character, it's just dialed down a bit to let the floral hops through. What's interesting is drinking the dry hopped version and the traditional one side by side to contrast the deeper, richer flavors of Achor's traditional Steam with the new, more contemporary version These days, a lot of the older craft breweries like Anchor struggle a bit to remain relevant in the fast moving brewing industry. Dry Hopped Steam shows Anchor has effortlessly overcome this challenge.

Next beer up is Cucumber Crush Sour from 10 Barrel Brewing. 10 Barrel takes a lot of flack from selling to corporate beer giant AB InBev , which reminds me of the time I was at an small coffee shop across the street from a Starbucks. On the coffee shop wall, there were all sorts of signs saying things like "Corporate coffee was evil", "Starbuck Sucks", and various other derision thrown at the Starbucks across the street. There was just one small problem: Their coffee was noticeably inferior to Starbucks. Say what you want about the evil diabolical plans of AB InBev, and while I likely agree with you, 10 Barrel is demonstrably one of America's better breweries, still going strong since the acquisition. Cucumber Crush is yet another example. There's light flavors of cucumber with a fruity, strawberry-like clean tartness. That's it.  Yet, this simple, straightforward uncluttered combination is just ridiculously refreshing.

Finally, we come to JC Flyer IPA from Iron Springs Brewing in Marin County's Fairfax. With family in Marin County, I drop by the Iron Springs Brewpub every so often and have enjoyed this West Coast style IPA. It's citrusy, with tangerine flavors dominating, with some piney notes and a little resiny stickiness. The malt basically stays out of the way. Just another in the long line of solid-to-great IPA's you find all over the place in California.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Smoked Pork Chops with Cherry Balsamic Sauce

The apple smoked pork chops are ready
Sometimes our family has a "Chopped" dinner. You know the show "Chopped" where the contestants have to make an appetizer, entree' or dessert from the ingredients in the mystery baskets? Well, my wife and kids pick four ingredients at the grocery store without telling me what they are in advance, bring them home and my challenge is to dinner must be made from these four ingredients. It's fun challenge and since everyone must actually eat whatever I cook, stuff  the normally befuddle the Chopped contestants like sea urchin roe or lamb brains never show up in the mystery basket.

One evening, the mystery ingredients were cherries, ham, okra, and pistachios. I figured a cherrird would taste good on the ham, so I whipped up a cherry sauce. As we ate dinner, I'm thinking, this sauce would taste even better on some smoked pork chops.

So the Cherry Balsamic Sauce recipe  below is based on that summer evening of improvising a sauce from a bag of fresh cherries on Chopped night. Use fresh cherries in season if you can get them, but frozen cherries work too. Feel free to play around a bit with the levels of sweetness, spiciness, and saltiness of the sauce and tweak it to your liking.

For smoking the pork chops, I use thicker chops and put them edge down on the grill, maximizing the surface area to capture the smoke flavors. Apple wood works for me here, but you could use also cherry, pecan or another lighter fruity wood.  In my opinion hickory or mesquite smoke would be a little too strong. Smoking the chops indirectly at 300-350 degrees on my Weber gas grill for roughly 45 minutes, I get a pretty juicy pork chop.

I'm a beer guy, but if you ask my, smoked pork chops with cherry balsamic sauce spooned on top scream out for a good glass of Pinot.  Enjoy!

Cherry Balsamic Sauce

1 cup pitted fresh cherries ( 1 1/4 cup frozen cherries)
1 cup water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper

Bring the ingredients to a simmer on a stove top reducing it to a syrup. Spoon over four 1/2 pound pork chops smoked with apple, cherry, or pecan wood at 300-500 degrees for approximately 45 minutes and serve.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Quick take on Loma Brewing

Loma Brewmaster Warren Billips
(Loma Facebook photo)
I finally got the chance to check out Loma Brewing, which opened a few weeks ago in downtown Los Gatos. It's at the site of the old Los Gatos Brewing Company (LGBC), and brothers Scott and Kevin Youkilis who purchased LGBC have totally changed the place. Gone is the traditional, dark wooden interior and in it's place is a more contemporary, industrial looking place, complete with bare wood and concrete. Scott is a culinary trained restaurateur, while Kevin recently retired from a ten-year Major LEague Baseball career, which including making three All-Star teams and playing on two World Series winning teams before turning his interests towards beer.  

The Youkillis brothers hired former Heretic Brewing's Warren Billips as their Brewmaster. There were five Loma beers on tap the night my wife and I dropped by and sampled all of them. We started with the lager, which was was fine, and the Berliner Weiss, which worked, though it lacked a little punch. It got a lot better from there. We both thought the roasty Dry Stout, the tropical Pale Ale and the flavorful IPA were all excellent. Sorry, no complex tasting notes. When I'm out with my wife, I put my notebook away. I asked our waitress what hops were used in the Pale Ale and IPA and she struggled to answer, promising she'd check with someone and get right back to us. To my astonishment, a few minutes later, none other than Brewmaster Warren Billips himself drops by our table and says, "I heard you had some questions"  So we got to chat with Warren for a few minutes about his beers.

Warren's a young guy with a long, blond beard that puts the band members of ZZ Top top to shame. His approach to brewing is rather unique in the Bay Area. With so many area brewers trying to one-up each other with big aggressive flavors, it's rather refreshing that Warren favors a lot of traditional styles, his favorite being Kolsch. How many West Coast Brewers would dare say "Kolsch" is their favorite style?    

But Warren uses newer, unique hops with plenty of flavor without hitting you over the head with a lot of bitterness. The Pale Ale tropical notes come from new hop varietals developed in Germany that rarely show up in the United States. His IPA uses El Dorado and Mosiac, hops that aren't unfamiliar to beer geeks, but still are rather recent developments.  (Magnum hop are used for bittering in both beers.)   And in a time where brewers are routinely putting out IPA's with 100+ international bitterness units (ibu), give Warren plenty of kudos for brewing an excellent IPA that checks in at only 50 ibus.  A brewer who's isn't trying hard to impress you with his creativity, executes well, and still creates a lot of new and interesting flavors anyway is a rare thing. It turned out the Lager and Berliner Weiss at Loma were Warren's first commercial attempts at these difficult to brew styles, so it's a safe bet those Loma brews will only get better.

We had dinner there and I'm not a restaurant critic, so I won't say too much. The food was good and I'd certainly recommend it to others. Loma seemed to specialize more in shareable small plates, salads, and flat breads than traditional dinners. There were only four dinner sized "large plates" on the menu so the menu seemed a bit limited to me, but then maybe I'm just out of touch. They seem to be positioning Loma as an after work or late evening hang out place.  At least that's my non-restaurant critic take on things

As for the beer, I'm looking forward more of what Loma's Warren Billips has to offer. Loma will be mixing up their line-up, with an Oatmeal Stout and Oktobestfest coming online in the near future. Loma Brewing, the new kid on the South Bay brewing block is off to a really good start.

The brews of Loma in soft candle light

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Session #115 : A brief ode to "Red, White and Brew" by Brian Yaeger

For this month's Beer Blogging Session, Joan Birraire asks us to write about influential beer books. While, I've read a fair number of books on beer, one of the most memorable was one of the first I encountered, Red, White and Brew by Brian Yaeger.  The book's premise is simple enough. Brian Yaeger goes on a road trip roughly tracking the perimeter of the United States visiting breweries, talking with the brewers, and sharing the history and stories behind each one. While most of his stops were at small craft breweries like Dogfish Head, Anchor Brewing, and Bell's Brewery, his travels also took him Yuengling, Leinenkugel and Spoetzl Brewing, which might not be considered craft but had long histories in the United States.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about this book is that it was basically Brian's Master's thesis at the University of Southern California. That's right, while most people earn their Master's degree after long hours in the library or down in some basement lab, Brian got his Master's driving around and drinking beer. But as you read the book, you'll realize Brian is a skilled interviewer who writes with an effortless conversational style on beer that's both informative and entertaining.

I read his book in 2008 when I was beginning to discover craft beer. People talk about having their craft beer epiphany. I didn't have so much of an epiphany, but a fast moving mind expansion on beer over the course of two or three years. It started when I visited a couple breweries. Then I started sampling more and different beers, began posting reviews on RateBeer and it all sort of snowballed from there.It was about a year down that path when I read Brian's book in 2008 which helped solidify my new found brewing awareness.

I actually got to know Brian a couple years later organizing three "beer runs" during SF Beer Week from 2010-2012 where we'd regularly attract over a hundred runners who'd all go for a 3-5 mile run and then hang around for a beer or two afterwards at a San Francisco brewery. (Bryan Kolesar was also involved.) For the first beer run, Brian and I communicated totally by e-mail so I never met him until just a few minutes before the start. I was standing outside San Francisco's Magnolia Pub and Brewery in San Francisco's Upper Haight neighborhood looking around for him when I see this guy bounding down the street who looked a lot like Yaeger's photo on the jacket of his book. As he got closer, I noticed he was wearing a green T-shirt from some Japanese brewery, baggy shorts, and these enormous tube socks with "BEER" written on them. There was no doubt it was him.
Yaeger's Beer Socks
(Bryan Kolesar photo)

As for the beer runs, we made a unique partnership. Brian admitted to hating running, yet found running down the streets of San Francisco with over a hundred other beer runners exhilarating. I loved running, but was paranoid each year we were going to be arrested or sued for not having the required permits or insurance to hold such an event. It's amazing the thing lasted as long as three years.

Today Red White and Brew comes across as a product of a much earlier time. But how could it not? So much has happened with beer in America over the last eight years. The essential thing I first learned from Yaeger's book was that every brewery is tied to a place and has it's own unique story and people behind it. With roughly five times the number of breweries in the US compared to 2008, that's arguably even more true today than it was back then.  And it's this central feature of Yaeger's book that drives both my writing and appreciation of beer as I continue to seek out the places, people, and stories behind each brewery.