Friday, July 30, 2010

Ich liebe Grünauer

A couple of months ago, I received an email from JP's wine bar stating that they were featuring Austrian wines to highlight the opening of nearby Grünauer Austrian restaurant (which replaced City Tavern). I never did make it out for JP's specials, but I did go to Grünauer's website and decided it was worth a visit. Besides, Kansas City is essentially a complete void of continental European food, despite the number of German immigrants to this area; we've been wanting some German food for a while and figured Austrian was close enough.

We drank and dined in the Wunderbar, Grünauer's lounge, and had a fantastic time. Not only was the bar service inviting and personable, the food and drink were spectacular. For my pre-dinner drink, I got "Der Schmutzige" (the dirty one), which is "Black peppercorn and mustard seed infused Monopolowa vodka, Frank's Kraut Juice, beet brine and dill pickle water shaken with vigor and served up with a dill wedge." For someone who loves savory gin drinks, this was delectable. About 80% through, though, I have to admit that my palate was getting pretty tired from all of the goings-on in the beverage. Even still, it was very good; the flavors blended together well, and I appreciated the creativity.

For dinner, we ordered the Schweinebraten and Tafelspitz and enjoyed them both. The Schweinebraten (with dumplings! yum!) was just like I remembered in Germany, and maybe even a bit better. The Tafelspitz (sliced beef with broth & noodles) was surprisingly rich with depth and flavor without being greasy or too thin. We paired our dinner with a handful of Czech, German, and Austrian beers and thoroughly enjoyed our evening there.

After such a great initial visit, we returned this past Thursday night for dinner & drinks, including a comparison of draft versions of Bitburger and Czechvar (the latter of which I am becoming an avid fan) for BJCP "studying". They have several continental lagers on tap (Spaten Bock, Bitburger, Czechvar, Hofbrau, Carlsberg, Warsteiner) as well as a Kölsch and Hefeweizen, and about 7 or so Boulevard drafts. With about a dozen more beers in bottles, there's no lack of malty goodness to be enjoyed. It's inspiring to see dedication of an entire faucet tower to Boulevard, but I'd really encourage you to try some of the European drafts. They're quite different from the bottled versions since they're not light-struck, oxidized, or stale. If you've never had any of the aforementioned brands on draft, you owe it to yourself to have one.

photo from Grünauer's Facebook page
This time, we settled for more typical entrees - Berlinerwurst and Wiener Schnitzel. Both were, again, well-executed and reinforced our affinity for the place. And the service was, of course, friendly, attentive, and timely.

A mention of Grünauer wouldn't be complete without recognition of its huge selection of gin. It's got about 15 (or more?) different gins available for your enjoyment. Really! I check out the gin selection of every bar I go to, and this has to be the largest inventory I've ever seen.

Bottom line - Grünauer has several things going for it and I hope they're here to stay. The food is authentic and delicious, the cocktails are creative and well-executed, the liquor selection is well above par, the service is attentive, and they have a thoughtful beer selection that goes way beyond the typical Euro-lager. I hope you'll pay them a visit and enjoy this place as much as we do. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Style Spotlight: Porter

I've been a major slacker in studying for the BJCP exam and I need to get my butt in gear if I'm going to pass this thing. One of the areas I really need to work on and excel at is evaluating and describing beers, as well as determining how well the beers fit into defined styles. So, to prepare for my studies, I've been going to liquor stores in search of a handful of beers within the same style category. And finding them all at one store is actually a bit harder than you might think.

I decided on evaluating porters which, in brief, can vary from light-bodied and mildly roasty to moderately-full in body and full of dark fruit, chocolate, and roasted malt character. I'm not going to explain the history and style of Porter; I'll let the ever-eloquent Michael Jackson do the work for me.

A week or two ago, I stopped by Rimann Liquors in Prairie Village and picked up three different bottles of porter. Along with a bottle of Edmund Fitzgerald Porter acquired in Minneapolis, Mr Wort Hog and I shared my three purchases:

1. RHC Old Slug Porter
2. Sinebrychoff Porter
3. Samuel Smith Old Taddy Porter

I purchased them along categorizations in the BJCP guidelines of Brown, Robust, and Baltic porters, but for most purposes, they're all just variations on a theme. Here's the low-down on each beer:

Old Slug Porter (brown porter #1)
Described on the brewery's site as "A delicious traditional porter with a full bodied taste of chocolate, coffee, blackcurrant and black cherry with a good aroma. A near black colour with a good white head when served through a tight sparkler" ... No sparkler in our house, though... Our impression of this was a little less enchanting. It's a bit simplistic, and would be a good beer to drink without really being interested in what I'm drinking. Not challenging or complex, but easy to drink and still a quality porter.

A brown porter should be, according to the BJCP, "[different] from a robust porter in that it usually has softer, sweeter and more caramelly flavors, lower gravities, and usually less alcohol. More substance and roast than a brown ale. Higher in gravity than a dark mild. Some versions are fermented with lager yeast. Balance tends toward malt more than hops. Usually has an “English” character."

Aroma: roasty, dark chocolate, burnt sugar. Decent but it left quickly.
Mouthfeel: medium-light, high carbonation. A bit lighter than I'm used to for a porter, even an English one.
Flavor:  roasty, some dark chocolate, burnt toffee, acidic

Samuel Smith Taddy Porter (brown porter #2)
I loved this porter and would definitely buy this one again. Great mouthfeel, nice complex flavor, but not heavy or filling in the slightest. This is a great introduction to porters and would probably be well-liked by those who don't care for (or aren't interested in) the hoppier versions.

Aroma: chocolate, figs, burnt sugar, toast crust, raisins
Flavor: loads of caramelized fruit sugar. I told Mr Wort Hog it reminded me a little of burnt raisins on the outside of homemade scones. Not overwhelmingly roasty; more of a dark toasted bread flavor with dried fruit mixed in there. Yum.
Mouthfeel: almost creamy, medium carb, medium body

Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter (robust porter)
Fitzgerald was probably my favorite of the lot, simply because of the lovely combination of dried cherry and roasted malt character. If we got this here in KC, I'd probably drink this well throughout the winter.

The BJCP guideline states that robust porter "differs from a brown porter in that a black patent or roasted grain character is usually present, and it can be stronger in alcohol. Roast intensity and malt flavors can also vary significantly. May or may not have a strong hop character, and may or may not have significant fermentation by-products..."

I'm not sure I find this description all that helpful, actually. Anyway, here are our general findings:

Aroma: loads of dried cherry, roasted malt
Flavor:  low hop bitterness, balanced by malt sweetness & roastiness
Mouthfeel:  medium-full body, moderate carbonation

Sinebrychoff Porter (Baltic porter)
The Sinebrychoff website is pretty verbose about this beer. They even give nutritional information (65 calories per 100ml, by the way). I enjoyed this one quite a bit as well and am interested in comparing it with Okocim and Baltika #6 some time.

From the BJCP guideline: "A Baltic Porter often has the malt flavors reminiscent of an English brown porter and the restrained roast of a schwarzbier, but with a higher OG and alcohol content than either. Very complex, with multi-layered flavors."

Aroma: dark dried fruits, licorice, milk chocolate, sweet mild tobacco
Flavor:  low hop bitterness, moderate malt bitterness balanced by sweetness, dark chocolate, burnt caramel syrup
Mouthfeel: medium-full body, almost creamy, low-to-moderate carbonation

By the way, you can't get Great Lakes in the KC metro area. (I'm really failing on that "focusing on beers you can get here in KC" aspect, aren't I?) But, a few great porters in the "robust" category that you CAN get here would include porter by Founders (definitely on the hoppy side), Sierra Nevada,  Anchor, Bell's, or Boulevard.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Rare Beer Nights - and Mikkeller

Flying Saucer's on a roll recently with its rare beer nights. Last week featured Mikkeller's Big Worse, which was a wonderfully decadent barleywine full of malt aroma, rich dried fruit flavor, and enough bitterness to keep it balanced. I enjoyed it so much, I didn't realize how quickly I was drinking it until my glass was nearly empty.

Tonight's featured rare beer is Founders' Devil Dancer, a "triple" IPA clocking in at over 100 IBUs and dry-hopped with 10 different hop varieties. I'm sure Devil Dancer will not disappoint these hop-loving Wort Hogs.

Next week is Dieu du Ciel's Aphrodite (or, "Aphrodesiaque" if you're in Quebec), which is a stout brewed with cocoa and vanilla. I've been impressed with nearly all of Dieu du Ciel's beers, Deese Nocturne being probably the sole exception (and a recent rare beer). Aphrodite, though, is a wonderfully rich stout and one you can easily find in bottles around the KC metro (Royal & Lukas both carry it, and I'm sure other stores do as well). And if you ever find yourself in the Montreal or Quebec City area, make a point to go to their brewpub in Montreal. It has  wonderful ambiance and about 15 different beers on tap. When we were there 2 years ago, they had I think 4 or 5 smoked beers among the list; impressive.

August 5th, though, is something I am really looking forward to:  Mikkeller Chipotle Porter. Apparently only being sold in bottles in Texas, Flying Saucer appears to be getting a keg of it. Sweet! (or, spicy?). While browsing the Mikkeller site, it appears they aged some in bourbon barrels and bottled that too. Awesome.

While on the topic of Mikkeller, I thought their single-hop series was clever and interesting, but not that engaging. What I'm really looking forward to, though, is their upcoming Yeast Series beers. It is truly fascinating to me just how much a strain of yeast can completely change a beer, and I don't think that the beer blogging/reviewing community really pays enough attention to its role. Yeah, we all know that Belgian beers wouldn't be what they are without the signature yeast esters. And "bretted" beers have received a lot of attention lately. But what happens when you make several batches of a simple base beer (say, a strong pale ale) and ferment each batch with a different yeast? Mikkeller has the answer. I can't wait.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Kirschwasser Stout

It's too hot for me to come up with a clever title for this post. Good grief, it's hot outside. Heat index of 93F at 10pm. Ugh.

And here I am drinking a stout. An American stout sounded really good - roasty, hoppy, dark chocolate... but it needed.... something... So, I looked in the cupboard... gin? No.. vodka? nah... rum? hmm... Kirschwasser? YES!

I picked up a small bottle of Clear Creek Kirschwasser at Royal back in March for a pot of fondue and have quite a bit left. It's the real stuff - not candy brandy or syrupy schnapps, but real kirschwasser like you'd find in Germany. Potent stuff, but delicious and very well made. The distillery (out of my home state of Oregon) makes a handful of craft spirits, this being one of their most easily accessible.

I think the 375ml bottle ran me around $25 or $30 - a bit steep, but considering how long it lasts, it really isn't much. (Especially if you think about how long two or three $10 bottles of beer last...)

I grabbed a 25cL glass we had on hand (about 8 ounces) and poured in about 6oz of homemade American Stout along with 1/2 ounce of Kirsch. And it hit the spot. You get just enough cherry aroma and flavor to complement the roasted malt flavor of the stout, but it's not overwhelming at all. I wouldn't add any more than that, or it would dominate the beer.

It's certainly not something you'd want to toss back after spending a day working in the yard, but it was a perfect way to end a day filled with running errands, cleaning, cooking, and doing other various random things. A great complement to relaxing on the couch with Mr Wort Hog, Kitty Wort Hog, and my laptop.

You can make your own by choosing any good American Stout - Bell's Kalamazoo, Rogue Shakespeare, Sierra Nevada, and so on. And you know, I'm betting Kirschwasser would be fantastic in a coffee stout or a chocolate stout as well. Yum, yum.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Respect My Authoritah!

This country has some pretty wacky attitudes about alcohol. The legacy of Prohibition ensues in much of our culture, as do the effects of monster lobbying efforts by our major beer, wine, and liquor producers. The combination of those two makes for some interesting legislation. Here's a run-down of a few items that have caught my attention in the past few months.
  1. Abita Brewing in Louisiana created Save our Shores (SOS) "weizen pils" from which 75 cents of every $5 bomber sale goes to oil-spill reparation. It's a slightly strong beer, clocking in at about 7% ABV. And yet - beer over 5% ABV is illegal to sell in Mississippi, and beer sold in bombers are illegal in Alabama... So it can't be sold in 2 of the 6 states with shores affected by the spill. D'oh. I'm sure this fact didn't escape Abita, and I wonder if the SOS has a double meaning. A great article on explains the whole story. 
  2. Homebrew competitions in Oregon have been canceled for the rest of the year! State law clearly dictates that "No person shall brew, ferment, distill, blend or rectify any alcoholic liquor unless licensed so to do by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. However, the Liquor Control Act does not apply to the making or keeping of naturally fermented wines and fruit juices or beer in the home, for home consumption and not for sale." Since homebrew competitions are not held in a person's home for home consumption, they clearly violate state law. Bummer. KATU out of Portland has more information on this story.
  3. Iowa recently changed state law to re-classify beer over 5% ABV. Previously, beer over 5% was classified as "liquor" and therefore subject to higher taxes. And, perhaps more importantly, it barred Iowa breweries from making and selling beer over 5% ABV because of the classification. While ABV doesn't necessarily mean the beer is better (hello Berliner Weiss), it significantly restricted Iowa breweries from exercising creativity and from brewing the majority of beer styles that exist. Thank goodness for activism and common sense.
  4. Home brewing beer in Oklahoma is illegal. But not for long! Oklahomans can brew wine and cider legally, but beer brewing is illegal - until November 1 of this year. It's because of the efforts of home brewers contacting their state representatives that made this happen, and grass roots organization is likely what will change other restrictive laws in the future. Congratulations, Oklahoma, and your law-breaking, beer-brewing delinquents.
It's worth noting that home brewing is still illegal in Alabama and Mississippi. Clearly, our states still have a bit of catching up to do. I don't mind dealing with varying laws in different states, but it's clearly ridiculous to have laws such as those above that apply restrictions based on arbitrary definitions. Thankfully, both the public and legislators in these areas have some common sense. 

However, Big Alcohol has quite the influence on state laws yet, and even more control over things like shelf space and taxation. If you're interested in the influences large brewing conglomerates have on our society, and how craft beer organizations are working toward changing both our culture and our laws, check out Beer Wars. It opened my eyes to the amount of influence large brewing organizations have on this part of our culture. I definitely enjoy a Budweiser or Coors (not the light versions), but the amount of power they have on such a wonderful part of American culture turned me off to their products.

I leave you with this on your Independence Day weekend. Celebrate American ingenuity, creativity, and old-fashioned hard work. And keep your thumbs on your state legislators. It's a shame to see outdated perspectives on craft beer and homebrew. Celebrate the removal of creative restrictions, and prost those who step over the boundaries of lobbying and outdated values. Cheers!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Mattingly Closes its Doors

Damn it. Mattingly Brewing Company's blog post today reports that they're closing up shop; according to STL Hops' note about the closure, they've chosen not to renew their liquor license. Whether they'll reopen at some point or sell the place is unknown. These guys were one of our favorite stops in St Louis, as they offered some interesting and high-quality brews.

You can get two of their beers at the Schlafly taproom - a wheat on tap and an old ale in bottles. I suspect this isn't the last we've seen of their brewer, Drew Huerter, as he's clearly a skilled brewer and should find no lack of interest in his abilities.

Goodbye, Mattingly, and cheers to new opportunities.

NOTE - Thanks to responders for clarifying that Huerter currently works at Schlafly Bottleworks full time.