Saturday, March 26, 2011

Swagger Food Pairing Dinner - This Time, with Whiskey

I know I typically talk about beer (and mead and cider) on here, but I also enjoy distilled malt beverages (especially rye) and have been keeping tabs on Swagger’s upcoming whiskey dinner. They’re partnering with Heaven Hill distilleries, which produce familiar brands like Evan Williams, Elijah Craig, and Rittenhouse Rye (mmm, manhattans...). And, which provides some of the barrels for Boulevard's barrel-aged beers.

You can read about the details on their website, but here’s a quick rundown of the dinner. It’s $50 per person, and you get:

Mid West Triple Cooked Beef Rib + Evan Williams – Single Barrel

Smoked Trout Hash + Bernheim Wheat Whiskey.

Hand Crafted Hickory Smoked Boudin Sausage + Rittenhouse Rye Bottled in Bond

Smoked Duck Breast in a Pancetta Taco Shell + Elijah Craig – 12yr.

Pecan Pie +  Cherry Manhattan (Evan Williams, Evan Williams Cherry Reserve, sweet vermouth)

The dinner will be held at Swagger (unlike their previous pairing dinner, which was held off site), and you can call them at 816-361-4388 to reserve your spot. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

National Homebrewing Competitions - AHA and Samuel Adams

Six packs of the 2010 Samuel Adams Longshot winners should be hitting KC shelves pretty soon, coinciding with a call for submissions for the 2011 contest. Last year’s competition appealed to the creativity in homebrewers, limiting entries only to BJCP category 23, “Specialty.” This category specifically targets those beers that fit into no other BJCP styles (such as American Pale Ale, Witbier, or German Pilsner).

The three winning styles were Friar Hop (Belgian IPA), Blackened Hops (Black IPA, American Black Ale, Cascadian Ale, or whatever you want to call it), and Honey B’s Lavender Wheat (Wheat ale with lavender, vanilla, and honey). You can read more about the winners and their beers on the Samuel Adams website. Or, see below if you don’t want to sign in with your birthdate information – twice.

This year’s entries are open to all 23 beer categories again, and the deadline for receipt is in early May. It’s free to enter, so why not? All the rules & regulations are posted on their website

Speaking of competitions, this coming Wednesday (March 30th) is the last day to register your beers with your National Homebrewing Competition site of choice . If you haven’t registered your beers online already, you’d better do it now; nearly 2/3 of the regional sites have been filled, you're too late. With nine sites accepting 750 entries, all of them now full, we’re looking at a giant competition this year.

Even if you’re not entering any beers,the AHA National Homebrewers Conference itself is like nothing I’ve ever seen. Homebrew from dozens of clubs all over the country (mostly from the hosting region) show off brewing creativity, techniques like decoction mashing, and – as shown by the “everything is iced” booth last year – a bit of insanity. I wrote about our fun at NHC it last year. This year is in San Diego and promises to be yet another good time. 

Evening events aside, the sessions during the day are more than worth the trip. Last year we learned about cask conditioning, finally understood keeving, and gained some invaluable tips about meadmaking. We even got to taste honey & mead side-by-side to evaluate which honeys we preferred and how the final outcomes compared to their original sources. One of the most popular sessions, probably to no one’s surprise, was a discussion hosted by the Weasel Boy Brewing's owners about Going Pro. The room was absolutely packed with serious homebrewers learning what it takes to turn a hobby into a full-blown job. 

And no, we didn't attend that session.


Richard Roper’s Friar Hop Ale combines his love of hops with his affinity for spicy Belgian ales.  To develop his recipe, Roper created a hybrid of two styles, uniting the big hoppy taste of an IPA with the spicy, fruity flavor of a Belgian. The toasty caramel sweetness from the malt and Belgian candi sugar mimics a Belgian ale, while the big citrus hop notes of an IPA balance the style. A spicy yeast fermentation and hints of orange and coriander round out the brew. Richard’s Friar Hop Ale is a refreshing beer that can be enjoyed any time of year.

Rodney Kibzey’s Blackened Hops is a perfect combination of deep roasted malt character and citrusy hop bitterness. Harnessing eight years of homebrewing knowledge, Rodney found that combining debittered dark malts and citrusy hops yielded a surprising and unique flavor for this brew. Its black color hints at roasted malt and coffee flavors, but it is the big hop character really steals the show.  Packed with citrusy and piney American hops, this beer has a big flavor and clean bitterness. This is Rodney’s second LongShot American Homebrew Contest win; he won in 2007 with a Weizenbock and his beer was included in the 2008 LongShot Variety Pack.

Caitlin DeClercq has worked as a member of the Samuel Adams sales team since 2006. She created her Honey B’s Lavender Wheat with dried lavender petals, giving it a fragrant but soft aroma.  A citrus tartness and slight sweetness from the honey and vanilla balance out the finish in this California resident’s brew; perfect to sip while kicking back and relaxing.
(copied directly from the link above)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

More Love of Crispin

I was checking out the Flying Saucer calendar today and - how timely ...  On the last week of March, Wednesday night is Crispin glass night and Thursday is Four Musketeers night. Though the shape of the glass is still unknown (maybe it's this one!), they're tapping kegs of all four Four Musketeers - all at once - on Thursday the 31st. Descriptions of each are below, taken from Crispin's site.

Athos: Stately, courtly, bold, noble and elegant. Aged in a Cabernet Sauvignon barrel.
A deep plum color lends into the aroma of clover honey with a hint of anise. An elegant refined sweet start moves to a plum honey flavor, with hints of black licorice and a clean rich finish on your mouth.
ABV: 5.7%
Appearance/color- plum, deep purple.
Aroma- clover honey with hints of anise.
Mouthfeel- very full upfront with a clean soft finish.

Porthos: Fun, lively, very full bodied & robust. Aged in a Zinfandel barrel.
A rich red Rose' colored cider with an aroma of elderberry, cranberry & oak. Upon swirling it in your mouth you get a rich, full, lightly sweet feel. Opens to tart, round fruit & rolls into light tannin, with a rounded full finish.
ABV: 6.8%
Appearance/color- Rosé & rich, while still remaining translucent
Aroma- Elderberry, Cranberry, vinous oak
Mouthfeel- Rich, full, slightly sweet

Aramis: Sexy, smooth and silky, fragrant & perfumed. A slightly dangerous edge. Aged in a Merlot barrel.
Pinkish hued with a slight haze, Aramis has an aroma of rose & pomegranate. With a delicate, soft roundness in the mouth, and a light lingering bite. The flavor is subtle with a soft vinous start, while the middle is semi-sweet fruit.
ABV: 5.3%
Appearance/color- light pink, slight haze
Aroma- rose, fruit, pomegranate
Mouthfeel- delicate, soft roundness with light crisp bite.

D'Artagnan: Spicy, lively. Peppery temperament. Aged in a Pinot Noir barrel.
Soft, light, peachy appearance & hue. The aroma is of spicy ginger with faint hints of fruit. A slightly sweet flavor with light ginger notes up front & a round honey dew like finish with a slight hint of warmth.
ABV: 4.8%
Appearance/color- Soft, peachy, light
Aroma- Spicy, ginger, faint fruit
Mouthfeel- Velvety & soft with a backbone of ginger warmth.

See you at Flying Saucer on the 31st!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

For the Love of Crispin

I haven't been much of a cider drinker the past few years, despite the prevalence of cider in the area. We have plenty of options with Woodchuck, Strongbow, Ace, Scrumpy's, Hornsby, and Blackthorn. We even have several varieties of Aspall, which is a fantastic cidermaker out of England. Additionally, Magner's has made its way into the metro area's liquor stores, yet I haven't tried it anywhere but The Gaf on tap and was satisfied with it but not overwhelmed.

Enter Crispin (which also owns Fox Barrel). I tried my first Crispin cider at the National Homebrewers Conference last year in Minneapolis and thought it was quite good, despite it being served over ice. It took a little while to try some again, but on a whim a while back I picked up a bottle of The Saint - apple juice and maple syrup fermented with Trappist yeast (presumably Westmalle). It's very interesting; sweet, spicy, earthy, and fruity - not at all like your typical cider. 

Crispin extends its line of Artisinal ciders brewed with ale yeasts with Landsdowne, a cider with added molasses and fermented with Irish stout yeast. I've had it twice, and honestly didn't care for it. The molasses overpowered the aroma and the flavor, and really took away from the depth of flavor. Disappointing, as it sounds more interesting than it actually is. You won't see this here in KC (yet?), and honestly aren't missing much. The Saint & Honey Crisp (cider & honey) are far better, and available at most liquor stores with craft beer as well as Brookside Market.

Those are in the Artisinal series and earn points for creativity, but their Blue Line and Import ciders are just as wonderful and more in line with what you'd expect with cider. I'm a huge fan of the Blue Line brut cider, as it's clean, crisp, and dry and very refreshing. However, I prefer the Brown's Lane traditional English cider. It comes in a 500ml can, and is fermented with both cider yeast and Brettanomyces. It has a strong apple flavor and aroma, but the finish is moderately tannic, completely dry and slightly earthy.

Now where to get it... I've seen Crispin's Artisinal & Brut ciders at Cosentino's in P&L, Brookside Market, and Royal Liquor, but Rimann in Prairie Village has the broadest selection I've seen in the area. They carry a couple of the blue line labels (brut & original), the Brown's Lane, and the Saint & Honey Crisp artisinals. As mentioned, I haven't seen Lansdowne here nor have I seen their limited "Jacket" cider (a blend of all their Artisinal ciders that is aged in bourbon barrels - fantastic cider and highly recommend it if you come across it).

Pick some up for a slightly different take on cider. It's worth it.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Happy International Women's Day!

What better way to celebrate than to crack open a beer made by a female brewer or a woman-owned brewery? This is by no means a complete list, but what I was able to compile while waiting for a flight home from North Carolina:

Eileen MartinBrewerUpland Brewing*
Barbara GroomBrewmaster & OwnerLost Coast Brewing
Leslie HdnersonBrewmaster & OwnerLazy Magnolia*
Melanie Oxley-MarreroFounder & OwnerMaui Brewing Company*
Denise JonesBrewmasterMoylans
Hildegard Van OstadenBrewmaster & OwnerUrthel Brewery
Molly BrowningBrewerNew Holland Brewing Company
Deborah ClarkeBrewerAbita Brewing
Maryanne FrenchBrewerBridgeport Brewing
Jennifer HenckleBrewerPyramid Brewery
Judi KeeneBrewerSmuttynose Brewing*
Whitney ThompsonBrewerVictory Brewing*
Kim JordanOwnerNew Belgium Brewing
Isabelle CharbonneauCo-OwnerBrasserie Dieu du Ciel
Rose Ann FinkelOwnerPike Brewing Company*
Gina MarsagliaOwnerPort Brewing/Lost Abbey*
Kim KavulakOwnerNebraska Brewing Company*
Marcy LarsonOwnerAlaskan Brewing Company*
Carol StoudtOwner & Former BrewmasterStoudt's*
Laurie JeffriesOwnerJolly Pumpkin
Tami NorgroveOwner & PartnerBear Republic
Rachel RueOwnerThe Bruery*

*Yeah, I know you can't get this beer in KC, but it's worth mentioning anyway due to the popularity/scale of the brewery.


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Part 4: Leipzig

It was a several-hour drive to Leipzig, quite possibly because there was major freeway construction going on that led us to follow detour signs which disappeared after about 20 minutes of driving down country roads. (you try reading construction signs in Czech!) We had a GPS unit, but it kept trying to take us back to the (completely closed) freeway. So, we decided to follow the car in front of us since it had been following all the detour signs … that was working so well (for about 45 minutes!), until it stopped for gas. Thankfully, we started seeing road signs for Dresden, so I knew we had to be getting close.

For reference, here's a map showing our trip to this point (Frankfurt, Bamberg, Plzen, Prague) and through to Leipzig:

We arrived in Leipzig just in time for lunch, but stopped to check in at our hotel and drop off our stuff and the car. Then – Gose time! The only other time I’d had Gose was when I picked up a small bottle of Bayerischer Bahnhof Gose at Lukas Liquor. And there we were in Leipzig, just a few miles away from the Bahnhof itself.

The brewery is one of the only Gose breweries in the world (yes, I know many US craft breweries make Gose, but that’s far from their specialty) and is housed in the old main train station that served eastern Germany and Bavaria, and on south through Italy – hence, Bayerischer Bahnhof (Bavarian train station).

Gose is an old German style that was originally brewed in Goslar but has since been adopted by Leipzig. It nearly became extinct after WWII as a result of brewery nationalization, but experienced a revival in the 50s, near-extinction in the 60s, and second revival in the 80s. Despite its roller-coaster history, the style is likely to stick around for a while now that US craft breweries have picked it up.

The style is traditionally packaged in bottles that are round at the base with a long, slim neck at the top, which we don't really see here in the states (although I did see one at a natural foods shop in Jacksonville). Since Gose's traditionally bottle-conditioned, yeast from the secondary fermentation would rise up in the neck and create a yeast plug. I suppose breweries saved on bottle capping equipment that way...

Traditional Gose bottle
Of course, we started with glasses of straight Gose (so hardcore, I know). It had a prominent citrusy lemon flavor with a tart finish from lactic acid that was only lightly puckering. The lemon paired well with the pils malt grainy flavor and the softness of the wheat. It had medium-high carbonation with medium body & fullness, but the acidity kept it light & refreshing. Absolutely delicious, and perfect after our three-and-a-half mile walk.

Gose, served in its traditional footed glass
Gose is brewed with salt and coriander, but it’s not salty and the coriander is much more subtle than that of a wit. The tartness is quite refreshing, and makes the beer all too easy to drink. That being said, it is commonly served with a shot of syrup in it, much like Berliner Weisse. After having it “pur”, I naïvely ordered a glass with a shot of woodruff. Think liquid Ricola. With a straw.

Bad idea
Because I apparently don't learn a lesson very well, I also ordered a "Regenschirm" (umbrella), which is Gose with a shot of Kümmel (caraway) liqueur - also a regional specialty. Not that it was bad, but the delicate nature of the Gose is completely overwhelmed by any additives. I suppose that’s the point if you’re not a fan of the sour nature of the beer (but then, why drink it?).

Cue more walking. Mildly buzzed and enjoying the sights, we noticed a small wine & liquor store that specialized in scotch. Figuring we’d check it out, we walked in & talked to the proprietor for a little while – and walked out with a bottle of the only Bavarian whisky he had. Note to readers:  Germans don’t make great whisky.

Just around the corner from our hotel (yes, this was intentional) was the famous Ohne Bedenken. This is the destination for Gose in Germany – and, most probably, the world. The owner has worked for decades to promote Leipzig’s distinctive sour beer, and he’s done quite well.  The place was quaint and we settled in to a table off to the side of the restaurant with a couple half-liters of Bahnhof Gose.

Gose = happy
Gorby (and a small pic of Putin on the right)
The owner came by and commented on us drinking it without syrup - "so sour", he said, but followed that with a comment that he gets a lot of Americans coming in & drinking it that way. This guy was a trip. He was highly charismatic and chatty, and very enthusiastic about the history of the pub and Gose. There were pictures of Putin and Gorbachev inside the pub, and the owner made a point to tell us about how Putin would bring his officers there to drink Gose between 1986-88 and 1991-93.

After our Bahnhofs, we ordered Döllnitzer Ritterguts Gose and were nearly knocked out of our chairs. It was darker than the Bahnhof version and much more sour & lemony with less wheat character.  The mouthfeel was a bit lighter and we both enjoyed this quite a bit more than the Bahnhof one. We ended up buying several bottles to bring back to the states with us to share with others.

Owner of the Ohne Bedenkend
You can get some of the Bahnhof Gose around the KC area; Royal carries it, as does Lukas in Martin City. The bottles are small & on the bottom shelf, so you have to actively look for it. I haven't seen it on the KS side, but if you have please note such in the comments. The Döllnitzer Gose isn't distributed in the states as far as I can tell.

For more information on the style of Gose and its history, check out these posts/articles:

Friday, March 4, 2011

Part 3b: Prague

We spent our second (and last) day in Prague walking several miles around the city and, of course, drinking beer. As an aside, despite all the beer we drank and the food we ate, I ended up losing over 2 pounds on this 10-day trip due to all the walking we did. I think I may have found the perfect diet. Now to find a way to afford it…

Budvar bar
Our afternoon kicked off at U Medvídků, another famous brewery/restaurant in the city, and the only one in Prague with a hotel. We grabbed two seats at their fancy copper Budvar bar (click on the picture to make it larger); I ordered a plum ale, a specialty of the house, and John got a dark lager. 

Plum Ale
It was interesting to note how prevalent dark lager was in Bohemia, as it’s not really a style we see much of here. Say “Czech lager” and most people think of Pilsner Urquell (or spicy, bitter, pale lager in general). It’s a shame, as the dark lagers are well-balanced, interesting, and not at all heavy. 

U Medvidku dark lager
Both are full of pils malt breadiness and noble hop flavor & bitterness, but the dark lager has that extra layer of complexity from the roasted malt. A little chocolate, a little roast dryness, and a touch more sweetness to balance the roast. Not much, though – these are still dry Bohemian lagers that are refreshing and bitter. As I mentioned in my last post, we can get Bernard amber lager here, and I recommend checking it out. I know that MDL on 95th Antioch carries it in the fridge case; you can probably find it in other liquor stores with a good import section.

To continue this tangent, if you haven’t had any Czech lager other than Pilsner Urquell, you owe it to yourself to try something else. I can’t recommend Czechvar enough and prefer it to Urquell (draught, not bottle). It has a wonderful spicy & floral hop aroma & flavor, and the finish has a moderate, lasting bitterness that is clean and balanced with the pils malt sweetness. You can get it on tap at Grunauer and, often, at Swagger. Alternately, you can sometimes get Rebel lager at Waldo Pizza in a brown bottle. I ordered this once on a whim and was very pleased with it. It had a slightly fuller mouthfeel than the aforementioned lagers, and a prominent spicy hop flavor with moderate bitterness.

Can you tell I’m a fan of Bohemian pilsners?

But, to continue with Prague. We had a couple more beers at U Medviku and continued our wandering about the city. Several hours and miles later, we arrived at a bar we weren’t aware of until the prior day: Pivovarsky Klub. It’s owned by the Pivovarsky Dum owners, but is strictly a beer bar; there’s no brewing here. It has the largest beer selection in the Czech Republic and has fantastic food to boot. 

Pivovarsky Klub
On tap, they offer six beers by small, local brewers (often one-man shops) and each is named after a person or animal. They also have bottles to consume on premises, or to take away. 

Pivovarsky Klub's beer fridge. Includes an $8 bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Take-away bottle selection
The place was impressive – and we didn’t even go into the basement. If you’ve seen Anthony Bourdain’s episode on Prague, the pictures should be familiar.

We stayed for quite a while, sampling a handful of beers. I ordered a Bernard dark lager, which was sweet & roasty, somewhat reminiscent of a Baltic Porter without the high carbonation. John had a Herold black lager, which was more chocolately than the Bernard but quite good. 

Bernard dark lager

Demon, a "strong lager"... at 5.2%
We wrapped up our evening with a long, meandering walk back to our hotel that included one more stop at a place that sold unpasteurized Pilsner Urquell on tap (as did many bars in Prague). But, as with most bars in Prague, the place was filled with smoke and quickly became unbearable. We called it a night, went back to our hotel, and got ready to depart for Leipzig in the morning.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Part 3: Prague

At this rate, I'll have all my Germany thoughts done around the same time we leave for another vacation… I left off with us checking out a brewing museum in Kulmbach, heading east across the German border into the Czech Republic. I was getting low on gas but figured it'd be cheaper in the former eastern bloc and held out until we were out of Germany. Much to my surprise, gas was actually significantly more expensive. Instead of being about €1.30 per liter, it was €1.75. That's per liter, not gallon.

Another interesting note about crossing the border was the absolute lack of any formality in doing so. We simply drove across country lines – no checkpoints, no passport review, not even a sign stating "Welcome to the Czech Republic!" The only way to tell we were in another country was a sudden inability to pronounce the road signs.

We stopped in Plzen on our way in to get some lunch. Unfortunately, it was Sunday so most everything was closed. We tried to go to the Bernardus Inn, which features a bunch of Bernard beers. You can get a couple of those here in KC, notably the amber and dark lagers, and I recommend doing so (more on that in another post). They're not what you typically think of when someone says "Czech lager" and they're very good - balanced malt, light roast, and moderate noble hop bitterness.

Almost forgot to take
a picture!
We ate lunch at the Na Spilce restaurant on the grounds of the Pilsner Urquell brewery, starting off with the namesake, of course. I ordered head cheese & bread for lunch, and John got a flat sausage that was coated in red pepper & rolled up into sausage form. It wasn't pretty, but it sure tasted awesome. But as for the beer - it was bready, yeasty, almost slightly fruity in aroma. There was quite a bit of sulphur in the nose, indicating it wasn't lagered too awfully long before serving. The finish was balanced, with lingering hop bitterness and bready pils malt sweetness. I absolutely enjoyed it and wish we could get it that fresh here. Czechvar is a pretty good substitute, however (often on tap at Swagger, and usually available at Grunauer). We ordered a couple more beers and headed on our way to Prague.

Master 18, a sweet dark lager - essentially a Baltic Porter. Very caramelly with some dark chocolate bitterness. Heavy on the dried fruit (raisin, prune) with a sweet finish.

John's Dunkel

U Fleků
It took us another solid hour, plus a couple turns of swearing at the GPS unit, to get to our hotel in central Prague. Once we got there, we stashed our car in the parking lot for the duration of our stay and walked over to the famous U Fleků, which was founded in 1499. It's a big tourist attraction and, as a result, was very crowded; it took us a while to get a spot at a bench table. Unfortunately, it was so damn smoky in the place, we couldn't really enjoy or appreciate the beer. You could have told me it was a smoked dark lager and I would have believed you. There was enough sulphur in the aroma to get past the smoke, though, and also reminded me of a chocolate coffee candy. It actually had moderate body, something I wasn't expecting from what I figured would be a light, refreshing, but lightly roasty lager. We left after our one beer, though, narrowly escaping our demise by smoke suffocation. Interesting place, with a ton of history and opportunities for people-watching, but you can do that elsewhere in Prague without needing an oxygen tank. Yes, it really was that smoky.

U Fleků's dark lager, "Flekovsky Tmavy Lezák 13°"

Sampler tray at Pivovarsky Dum
After a bit of walking around and playing tourist, we headed over to Pivovarsky Dum, a brewery restaurant that makes a ton of different beers (not at all common), including a "beer champagne", aperitif, and even a Russian Imperial Stout! We both got samplers and took a bunch of notes. The sampler included the following beers: Light, Dark, Wheat, Saison, Banana, Sour Cherry, Nettle, and Coffee. My favorites were the dark lager & sour cherry, but the nettle was probably the most interesting. It was quite savory and reminded me of some sort of baked dish, like lasagna. The nettle added a good amount of bitterness, but made me feel like I was drinking wheatgrass. Points for novelty.

Nettle beer

And now, some non-beer pictures of Prague.

"Dancing House" based on a design by
Frank Gehry and Vlado Milunic

Charles Bridge. And a lot of tourists.

St Vitus Cathedral at the Prague Castle

View of Prague from the top of the cathedral. It was unfortunately
hazy for all of our stay in Prague.

One of the cathedral spires
I don't know, either.