Monday, January 30, 2017

Rambling Reviews 1.30.2017: Guinness Nitro IPA and Sierra Nevada's Tropical Torpedo

Just a quick editorial announcement: Moving forward, these "Rambling Reviews" posts will not be limited to a review of three beers. I expect to be posting review in the neighborhood of 1-4 brews at a time. I won't bore you with the reason for this, other than to say that three was never really a magic number, and reviewing three beers at a turned out to bit limiting.

OK, now that's out of way, I have a couple new IPAs to ramble about.

Some of the most most fun I've have drinking an IPA in a long time comes from Guinness in their recently released Nitro IPA in a can. Long synonymous with their iconic Stout, they just couldn't resist the temptation to release an IPA that are all the rage these days. It's brewed in the traditional English style, which I found to be a breath of fresh air compared to all the big, bombing California IPA's I'm used to. It's got that nitro do-hicky thing to create the cascading tiny bubbles. The hop character is rather leafy and tea-like, and there's this wonderful interplay between the caramel malt, velvety carbonation, and subdued hops. At 5.8% abv at 40 ibus, less is definitely more. I'm a fan, and beers like this help me understand why some are aghast at what Americans did to the classic English IPA.

Those who prefer the American version of the IPA will find themselves on familiar territory with Sierra Nevada's latest gem, Tropical Torpedo. It's very tropical. Mango and pineapple dominate the flavor profile bursting of fruit.  The malt is left to be a neutral substrate supporting all those hop flavors.  Not much more to say, and really no surprises here coming from Sierra Nevada. The Chico brewery may be a craft beer dinosaur, but they still find multiple ways to be at, or at least near, the cutting edge of American brewing. Impressive.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Developing Grilling Technique Keeps Me Sane In These Times

Yogurt marinated chicken breasts and fennel
grilled in the gloom of night time.
If you're like me, you probably feel like you've been living in a dystopian novel since November 8th when Donald Trump won the Presidential Election. For me, this moment actually came a little sooner as my beloved Cubs won the World Series the week before. The win was thrilling, but also ominous. It seemed to signal something critical in the very fabric of space-time had torn and some serious shit was starting to go down. Life seems rather surreal these days. Sure, I'm one of those damn liberals, but a lot of people who either voted for Trump or really didn't like Hillary are rather apprehensive right now. The whole nation seems to be holding its breath.


Writing on things like beer, running, and grilling seems so trivial in times like these. But yet, these activities can be very critical to keeping one's sanity, and take on a new-found importance. So I've found a certain solace in slowly developing new grilling techniques on my back patio. Grill masters may brag about secret ingredients and killer recipes, but it's really technique that separates the good from the great. It's about understanding how heat circulates on the grill, how marinades interact with the meat or vegetables, and developing the timing to remove the food from the grill at the correct time to achieve the best flavor. I've been experimenting around with yogurt based marinades on shrimp and chicken, two proteins which can easily dry out from the high heat on the grill. The yogurt helps keep the moisture in, and I'm finding it's ridiculously easy to make something good on the grill using a decent yogurt marinade.  Achieving greatness with a yogurt marinade is something I'm still working on.

I'm going to share this Tandoori Marinade from the book Paul Kirk's Championship Barbecue Sauces. If we can heal our country's divisions over plates of grilled food, I'm all for it.

Tandoori Marinade

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

1 cup plain yogurt
1/4 peanut oil
1 small onion, minced
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon grated fresh gingerroot
2 tablespoons curry powder
4 garlic cloves, pressed
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Combine all of the ingredients in a nonreactive bowl, and blend until smooth. Use immediately.

Marinate pieces of chicken for kabobs for 1 to 2 hours, chicken parts for 2 to 4 hours. Fish can be marinated for about 1 hour.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Moody Tongue Brewmaster Jared Rouben talks about his beers coming to the San Francisco Bay Area

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, indoor
Moody Tongue Brewmaster Jared Rouben
(Moody Tongue photo)

Yet another brewery is rolling into the Bay Area, this time it's Chicago's Moody Tongue Brewing Company. New breweries arrive in the Bay Area all the time. Sometimes, it's the result of some corporate acquisition and expansion. Others follow the usual "home brewer turns his passion into his business" story. Moody Tongue is a little different. While Moody Tongue Brewmaster and Founder Jared Rouben is a home brewer, he approaches brewing from high-end restaurant perspective.  He graduated from the acclaimed Culinary Institute of America  before a ten year career at the Michelin-starred "Martini House" in St. Helena, CA and Thomas Keller's "Per Se" before starting Moody Tongue in 2014. So when Jared declares his brewery takes a culinary approach to brewing, it isn't just a marketing gimmick. I caught up with Jared last week on the phone to discuss his unique brewing style.

The first thing I noticed about Jared was his amiable inquisitiveness. Most brewers can't wait to talk about their beer in phone interviews. Instead, Jared started asking me a bunch of questions, like "Why did you get involved in writing about beer?" in a calm, relaxed voice. As soon I as I answered, he followed up with "How does running figure into that?". After this kept going for a few minutes, I realized Jared wasn't going to tire from asking questions, which wasn't going to give me much material. So I politely but firmly broke in with "How did you get involved with brewing?"

Jared recalled his time as a student at Washington University in St. Louis when he'd go to the Schnuck's grocery store and saw all the different craft beers from places like Schlafly and Boulevard Brewing. "I'd see all the different labels and wanted to experience the different tastes." Coincidentally,  I also attended Washington University in St. Louis about a decade before Jared did, and an awful lot changed about beer over that time.  Back in the late 80's, buying beer at Schnuck's, or just about anyplace else in St. Louis came down to basically three choices: Bud, Busch, and Bud Light. Sometimes we wanted wanted to the good stuff, we'd splurge on Michelob.

In his last year at Washington University, he took a food journalism course.  "That's when I met a lot of people interested in different tastes, and a found many of them interested in beer." From there, Jared decided to research culinary schools and enrolled in the prestigious Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Beer played big role in his education there. "I founded the CIA beer club which still exists today." He learned to use beer in traditional cooking techniques like brining pork butts or braising sausages. "Then, I began asking myself why beer didn’t have stronger representation in restaurants and on menus.  Brewing and cooking are about manipulating raw ingredients with time and temperature. When you use beer, you intoxicate people which I believe is every chef’s dream."

After culinary school, Jared worked at the Martini House in Napa Valley, where he had his "a-ha!" moment with using produce in beer. "They sent me to the farmer's market every Wednesday to pick up produce for the restaurant. I also picked some up for my home brews and people started liking them a lot more." His Pluot Pale Ale was a particular hit from those days in Napa Valley. After a decade of cooking at some of the finest kitchens in the country, he turned in his apron and started Moody Tongue.

"We like to define our beers in the same way what a chef tries to achieve in the kitchen," explains Jared.  "We use the absolute best ingredients.  It's hard to make something great if you start with something that's just good. And we incorporate the ingredients at the right time in the liquid.

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(Moody Tongue photo)

For example, for Moody Tongue's Sliced Nectarine IPA, the nectarines are sourced from Klug Farms, an organic farm in Western Michigan. "Nectarines are a very delicate fruit, you don't want to subject them to high temperatures. They work best under 40 degrees so I use them post-fermentation." For those used to West Coast IPA's crammed full pine, citrus, dankness and alcohol, Sliced Nectarine IPA requires a palate re-calibration to fully appreciate. There's nectarine skin on the nose, with nectarine flash on the tongue, and a bitter finish of tangerine peel. At 6.9% abv, you can have another one with dinner if you'd like. It's a restrained, yet lively composition of flavors.

The same can be said of the other three beers on Moody Tongue's permanent line-up. The Applewood Gold is well balanced, the smoked malt adding a subtle depth to the light ale. The Steeped Emperor's Lemon Saisson is...well, very lemony. The Caramelize Chocolate Churro Baltic Porter sounds like an over the top, everything and the kitchen sink concoction, but the caramel and chocolate worked well in harmony with the underlying, slightly sweet Baltic Porter. I can see this working as a sophisticated dessert beer. For the most part, the flavors of the Moody Tongue beers work well together in balanced, contrasting with a lot of West Coast beers full of big slamming flavors. One way to compare the two is to consider California and French wines. California wines tend to full of big flavors that score well in tasting competitions, but the more restrained French wines tend to pair better with food. Or something like that. Long time readers all know that if you're looking for deep culinary analysis and commentary, you'll need to go to a different blog.

While the Moody Tongue tap room in Chicago features a number of seasonal beers, only Moody Tongue's four beer line-up can be found in the Bay Area. "We'll be focusing on perfecting the technique on our four primary beers like any good kitchen does with its recipes." According to the brewery's press release, "Moody Tongue is available at select retailers such as Berkeley Bowl West, La Riviera Market, and Alchemy Bottle Shop as well as restaurants including The Beer Hall, Imperial Beer Cafe' and the Albany Taproom".

In the Bay Areas deep and crowded beer market, Moody Tongue offer yet another approach to beer and new experiences to its enjoyment.

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Session #119: Dealing with Discomfort

For this month's Session, Alec Latham at Mostly About Beer asks us to write about "discomfort beers", beers that took us out of our comfort zone and "beers you weren't sure whether you didn't like or whether you just needed to adjust to."

As a runner, I know a few things about discomfort. Runners purposely and willingly subject ourselves to all kinds of discomfort, and often have a good time doing it. Yes, runners are a little weird. Of course, it's the mental and physical development created in adapting to discomfort which runners seek. In the same way, going outside of our beery comfort zones develops both the palate and the mind to appreciate beer's full potential.

As for us brewing enthusiasts, we're often going about, trying new beers from different breweries. That's how we learn about beer, and it describes how I started my journey to discover beer ten years ago. I just started picking up six-packs from different breweries sitting there in the grocery store cooler, taking them home, and seeing if I liked them. Most of the time I did. I started venturing online to learn more about the different beers out there, creating this positive feedback loop, where I read what others were raving about and then confidently striding into bottle shops and bars seeking them out, repeating with increasing frequency.

Some beers took longer than others to get used to. I remember my first sips of Bear Republic's Racer 5 IPA, finding it to be completely unbearably bitter. It was like chewing on an old bicycle tire. Over time after sampling other hop driven beers, I cautiously came back to Racer 5. To my surprise, I liked it on the second go around, apparently developing a taste for IPAs.  Or perhaps I developed a taste for old bicycle tires.

One beer style I found discomforting early on were American Barleywines. The massive amount of sweet malt, supposedly balanced with lots of hops in the American style, tasted like a syrupy, chalky mess. As I've learned more about beer and expanded my palate, I've come back to try a few American Barleywines. They still taste like a syrupy chalky mess. I'm fine with Barleywines brewed in the English style. Somehow, American's have taken a perfectly good style and made of mess of it with too many hops.

There are other styles I often find discomforting.  Like our Session host, I wasn't a fan of my first Black IPA. Black IPA's require a careful and delicate balance of aggressive flavors, and not every brewer can pull off. Some Black IPA's are wonderful. A fair share of Black IPA's can be diplomatically described as out of control monstrosities. Session IPA's are sort of my anti-discomfort beer. I really liked the first few I tried, but now I've grown to sour a bit to the style. It's really tricky to balance the high hop content with a whisper of malt, and I'm afraid a few Session IPA's come across as little more than fizzy hop water.

Now if I were a beer industry professional, it would be my job to choke down these discomfort beers to do my best to appreciate the full scope of brewing. But beer is just my hobby. I see little point in forcing myself to appreciate beers I don't particularly like and probably never will. That doesn't mean it doesn't pay to explore areas that might not seem to be the most fruitful for discovery.

Like the past summer, when I made a point of seeking out Lagers and Pilsners from various breweries. I've never been a big fan of these much maligned styles associated with big multi-national corporations. Now sitting around, drinking Lagers isn't exactly my idea of discomfort.  But it was rather eye-opening discovering Lagers from small California brewers of subtle, satisfying depth in a thirst-quenching beverage. I also gained a new appreciation for Pilsners after sampling many examples of the style. To my surprise, some of my favorite California brewers whiffed on the Pilsner style, despite having a number of successful flavorful ales in their line-up. And wouldn't you know, some Pilsners from mega corporations aren't half bad. This summertime experiment went to show how just how challenging the Pilsner style is to brew.

I suppose if I were really hard-core about beer, I'd spend a summer drinking American Barleywines. Whether running, drinking beer, or anything else, how much discomfort you're willing to embrace says a lot.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Rambling Reviews 1.4.2017: Brews from Santa Clara Valley Brewing, Hermitage, and Discretion Brewing

Tasting flight of SCVB's Loma Prieta Oatmeal
Rye Imperial Stout at the SCVB taproom
Let's start off 2017 by rambling on about beers from some local breweries in and around San Jose.

We'll start with Loma Prieta Oatmeal Rye Imperial Stout from Santa Clara Valley Brewing (SCVB). The tallest mountain in the Santa Cruz mountain range, Loma Prieta is most associated with the legendary 1989 Northern California earthquake. Loma Prieta means "dark hill" in Spanish. As for the beer, it's a subdued, smokey, smooth, and slightly peppery stout, with the complex roastiness forming a nice substrate for the Bourbon and Rye barrel-aged infusions the folks at SCVB introduced into a couple version of the brew. My early beer blogging inspiration and SCVB Marketing Manager Peter Estaniel invited me over to the brewery for a four-sample tasting flight of Loma Prieta on nitroro, all by itself, and aged for ten months in Rye and Bourbon barrels. I would love to give you detailed tasting notes on all the different nuances and subtleties of Loma Prieta, but after a few sips of Loma Prieta, Peter and I started chatting away on sports and beery subjects that taking tasting notes seemed pointless. Loma Prieta facilitating all that engaging discussion is perhaps the best endorsement I could give.

Next up, Topaz Single Hop IPA from San Jose's Hermitage Brewing. Hermitage's single hop IPA series has long been a great way to experience new hops to understand the unique characteristics they impart into beers. That sounds like something only a hard core homebrewer could love, but strangely enough, hops like Topaz prove many hops work quite well all on their own without the usual blending brewers obsess over.  The high alpha acid content of Topaz makes this a rather straightforwardly bitter IPA, but its light tropical fruit and apricot notes save the day. Nice IPA.

Finally, we end with Uncle Dave's Rye IPA from Discretion Brewing, just over the hill from San Jose in Soquel. I enjoyed one of these last week on a family drive up the Pacific Coast when we stopped at the small seaside town of Davenport for lunch. Having many an IPA chock full of as much dankness, piney-ness, and grapefruity bitterness as the brewer could cram into the beer, it was rather refreshing to enjoy an IPA with some flavor and balance to it. It's light rye peppery flavors work well with the stone fruit flavors in this well composed IPA. There's probably a reason this brew has won a bunch of awards for Discretion including a Bronze medal in Rye Beer Category in the 2016 World Beer Cup. Instead of my usual blurry, out of focus beer picture, I'll leave you with a nice shot from Bonny Doon Beach just south of Davenport.