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Archive for the ‘Beer Musing’ Category

I like hiking. And I like hiking analogies. Let’s pretend this blog is a trail up a mountain. That mountain is called….Mt. Content.

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Pretty.

Now, let’s say, as this blog traverses up Mt. Content, this blog’s current focus–it’s current “direction,” if you will–takes it straight up the mountain, vertically. As such, this trail is called the “Beer Trail.”

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Now that’s all well and good. That trail gets you to the summit of Mt. Content efficiently (if you’re a master climber, I guess). But let’s stop for a minute, pull out our map and compass, and make some freeze-dried beef stroganoff on our camp stoves. And let’s review some of my favorite blogs to read.

Blogs like this one. And this one. And this one. And this one. And this one. And this one and this one and this one.

(Hi people I’ve been stalking for years! I have no idea how I found most of your blogs, and you probably had no idea I read them. Is it weird that I kind of feel like Seth Rogan talking about Vince Vaughn in Knocked Up when I read your blogs? You know- “I feel like he’d like me. You know, I’m sure a lot of guys are like, ‘Oh, I’d like to hang out with that celeb’, but I really think he would want to hang out with me, is like the cool thing.” I’m pretty convinced that we’d all be best friends if we ever met in real life. There, I said it, and came out in all my blog-stalky weirdness)

So now that I’ve creeped out….8 different people into taking out virtual-restraining orders on my virtual self, let’s talk about why I keep coming back to their blogs. If you’ll notice, none of those blogs are beer blogs, even though I write a beer blog. The reason? I find most beer blogs pretty boring to read. I mean, beer is awesome. Beer, to me, is like truffles or smoked salt to a foodie. The possibilities of beer are endless, the way they taste, the way they make other things taste, the way they feel, the way they make us feel because of our individual experiences with them, and what their tastes and textures stir in us. But after awhile, I read the posts in most beer blogs–and my own posts–and go, yeah, OK. Beer is great. What else?

All those blogs I love tend to be food- or healthy-living focused. But that’s not why I love them (though I do love food. And treating my body, mind, and soul right. And living). Their content keeps me coming back because food is just the ice-breaker. Food is the pretense. A means to a conversation, a great story. It’s the thing everyone gathers around at the table, yes, to enjoy, but more significantly, to bring everyone together to enjoy + celebrate each other and enjoy + celebrate the unique people we all are.

These blogs use food to tell stories of other things I love: Cooking. Friends. The outdoors. Adventures. Archaeology. Love. Music. Meditations. Constantly becoming oneself. Facing life’s life-y twists and turns head on, with humor, strength, and grace. Ridiculous animal companions. Snark.

I realized my favorite posts that I’ve written have been similar: the ones with stories surrounding the beer. Like the time I hiked Wildcat Mountain and drank my first Christmas Ale of the season. Or the time I reflected on my love of (and former life in) archaeology through Dogfish Head’s Chateau Jiahu. Or when I compared Marzens to Sam Cooke.

So, I want my blog from here on out to do something similar, with every post. I want my blog to ascend up Mt. Content like this:

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I want beer to be the conversation-starter on my blog. I want to traverse all the other great stories (…ahem…”great.” We’ll see. They’ll be “stories,” nevertheless) I have to tell. I want it to reflect my interests and passions, like:

Food

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The Great Outdoors

(that guy apparently has paddles for arms)

Love

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Photography

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…yeah. That one was too hard. That’s an illustration of a flash going off on a camera.

And because I’m lazy now: Good friends. Karaoke. Poetry. Yoga. Laughing. Snarking. Crappy Paintbrush drawings.

And I want it all to start with the suds.

So, here were some hurricane suds I drank this past weekend:

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This is from New Belgium’s Lips of Faith Series, a beer called “Kick.” I think I must’ve been thinking of this guy when I wrote my notes on this beer, because I had written in my notebook “New Belgium Fat Lips of Faith Series ‘Kick’ “!

Anyway, this is 75% ale brewed with pumpkin and cranberry juices, and 25% ale aged in wooden barrels (what type of wood, we’ll never know. Not if we only go by what’s on the bottle and are too lazy to research it more, at least). This is sort of what I imagine all the Hogwarts kids are drinking in the Harry Potter books when they mention PUMPKIN JUICE! (Without the 8.6% ABV, I mean) Funnily enough, it doesn’t taste a lot like pumpkin…but it does taste like fall, and like bounty, and like harvest. It’s tart and funky, rich and deep. It’s got the kick of cranberries, predominantly, with the light burnt orange color of our favorite fall gourd, and a veeeeerrrry slight woody, smokey taste at the very end of the swig.

And yeah. OK. I’ve already kind of failed at my new resolution to blog more about all aspects of my life, told through stories of beer, because I thought of this blog-changing revelation and wanted to get it down before I had a chance to…you know…live any good beer stories. Or photographs illustrating any stories. So let’s just catch up on my life lately.

As you all know (or, as you all know now!), I’m a defense analyst by day, and a poet by night! (and, well, let’s be honest…sometimes by day too). I graduated from Johns Hopkins with my M.A. in poetry this past winter, and while I beat along against the currents of the poetry publishing world (believe me….it’s a very up-river swim), my awesomely brilliant fiance and I have also founded and begun to edit an online journal of poetry and film called Magic Lantern Review. It has been an amazing experience so far, and our first issue is due out this fall. We’ve gotten an influx of poetry so far, so submissions for poetry are currently closed. But we’re still taking submissions of short digital films as well as film analysis, so if you know anyone who does either of those things, or is interested in trying their hand at either of them, tell them about us!!

I’ll love you forever.

Oh yeah, and speaking of the awesomely brilliant fiance, he will be the awesome brilliant HUSBAND in two weeks! We’re getting married on September 10. And yes, beer will be part of the ceremony. At a winery. You heard me.

Here is a picture of him:

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(crabbing in Galesville, MD)

And another:

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(with me on our fifth anniversary)

And another:

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(A crappy phone photo of him picking a karaoke song at karaoke at the Rhodeside)

That’s another thing you should know about me/us. We spend a lot of time singing karaoke at the Rhodeside in Rosslyn. A LOT of time. To the point that the DJ knows us, hangs out with us at the bar, and says hi to us around town. And knows when our wedding is. We make friends wherever we go.

Speaking of friends:

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This is me with my friend Laura. She and her husband are Dan + my downstairs neighbors, and we sing a lot of karaoke together. You may recall her as the co-host of the legendary Crappy Light Beer Blind Taste-Testing Party back in January!

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And this is me with my friend Sarah. We’re 15 (maybe 16?) in this picture, and we’re feeding ducks because we’re on an island in the middle of Lake Umbagog, New Hampshire, on one of our annual kayak-camping trips where we’d kayak out several miles to a campsite living off only what we could stuff into the holds of the kayaks. For a week. They were amazing and beautiful times.

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And here is a picture of me and several more of my friends (L to R: Annie, me, Christine, Sarah, Sabah) at 10th grade homecoming. How is it possible I looked older at 15 than I do now at 24? Something probably to do with immaculate beauty habits that I abandoned in adulthood when I realized I had better things to do with my time.

And while we’re flashing back in time, have some baby pictures. Of me. That I stole from my parents’ house recently.

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“Yeaaaahhhhh, I’m gonna play with a toy!”
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“Wait. I’m already confused.”
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I think we’re on a ferry here. I think I’m threatening mutiny. I look evil. That’s my mom next to me.
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Bound for sudsy, bloggy glory.

I hope you enjoyed this really long post! And I hope you’ll stick around for more. More content. More new content. More brief content. I promise.

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For unseasonably warm November weather. So thus, wanting to take advantage of the gorgeous, sunny, mid-60s temperatures, we went on a little daytrip last Saturday to hike Wildcat Mountain in Fauquier County, between Marshall and Warrenton.

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It was a challenging hike, with some pretty steep elevation gains. Of course, we had gorgeous sights to keep us company along the way:

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Hmmm oh yeah, and some gorgeous scenery sights too 😉

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And of course, when we finally reached the end of the hike, I felt like this

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VICTORYYYY! So of course, since this was Saturday, it meant pre-hike brunch instead of traditional breakfast and lunch. And of course, intense hike + only brunch under our belts + a pile of exhausted but triumphant bones = a winery stop, in my book! See, not only do I love beer (obviously), but in recent years, I’ve really come to appreciate wine as well. Maybe not to the extent that I really understand and appreciate beer, but I’ve been becoming more and more turned on to the depth of flavor and body profiles afforded by the canon of wines out there. And, maybe somewhat surprisingly, Virginia has a booming wine industry. There are 166 wineries in Virginia, so it was easy to find one on our way home.

Enter: Winery at La Grange in Haymarket, VA!

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So why am I telling you this? Well, as usual, a post in Pete Brown’s Beer Blog got me thinking. That particular post showcases the winning essay on “Why Beer Matters,” and dare I say, the author, Mark Dredge, explains why in a heartfelt and moving manner. You can go read his essay, so I won’t summarize, but I will say that I completely agree. There’s something so comforting in our memories of beer, something so nestled in our coming of age, that those tastes become a part of ourselves, a part of our stories. Settling in with a hearty, bubbling brew will always remind me of those early days of my living away from home, cloistering myself in a dorm room or in Dan’s apartment before he was even my boyfriend, with a group of people who felt like a self-formed family, absorbed in a world of our own making that morphed along with us as we transformed, bit by bit, into who we ended up being now. It always reminds me of warmth, of singing, of laughing, of an excuse to say to hell with my hesitations, of the funny shock of emerging into the outside world- usually a cold, snowy, windy one in our months at school- still feeling the glow of what we created indoors, over those brews.

Similarly, wine to me will always feel appropriate in the outdoors. For some reason, a good wine (like that of Virginia’s native grape, the Norton),

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a pungent, creamy hunk of cheese, and a dense, chewy loaf of bread

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will always feel right to me on a day like last Saturday. A day when I’m weary, dirty, imbued with that splendid feeling of being simultaneously filled with the exhilaration of the natural world and your own body’s triumphs in relation to it, and hollow with the empty ache of hunger- for food, for drink, for more adventure. To me, this is a perfect time to sample the rich tastes of wine and gaze out at the sunset

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before finally journeying home again.

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Which made this weekend’s beer of choice an interesting contrast. Though we’re having unseasonably warm temps more appropriate, in my mind, to hiking and wine than cozy fires and winter warmers, winter beers are what’s on the shelves, so winter beers are what’s in our house!

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For our cozy, cloistering enjoyment upon returning home, we have Anchor Brewing’s Christmas Ale! Because of crappy lighting, here are a couple fixed up photos of the beer that each look a bit off, each in a unique way:

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(Beer from hell!!!)

(Sorry about that last one, had to!)

This is just about THE most wintry, spiced-tasting beer I’ve ever sipped on. It tastes like sipping on a Christmas-y potpourri…in a very good way. Each year Anchor Brewing releases a new Christmas Ale, with a new recipe, and a slightly different label. Of course, each year they also withhold any and all information on ingredients and brewing techniques used in the creation of that year’s beer.

Whatever it is, it tastes like warmth. It tastes like things baking and evergreens staying ever green. It tastes like cocooning yourself inside on a cold winter day. It tastes like the comfort those early days of our drinking stir in us.

Cheers, y’all 🙂

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From a distant corner of Northern China, in the time-worn village of Jiahu, comes- that’s right folks- THE OLDEST FERMENTED BEVERAGE KNOWN TO MAN!

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Wait…let’s move in closer to try and get a better look…

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Aha! A relic of the famed craft brewing emperor, Dogfish Head Brewery! But let’s see if we can’t get an even better view now…just a little deeper, down through the strata, keep digging…dust off that final layer now…

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Just what we suspected was there- Chateau Jiahu 🙂

And now, without further ado, I present to you the long-awaited post I’ve been promising for a week now on Chateau Jiahu. As you’ll recall, we tasted it last week at the Dogfish Head Alehouse but were also gifted a bottle by Dan’s dad, and I wanted to wait until I’d had more than just a few sips (and I was able to photograph it) to give my official thoughts on it. You may also recall from last week’s post that, unlike with the legend of Midas Touch, I had a bit more faith in the validity of this beer’s archaeological claims of origin. Meaning I remembered hearing from some of the archaeological staff at Montpelier, where I was doing my field school in 2007, about the discovery in China of the world’s oldest known fermented beverage.

The beverage that was then recreated (or perhaps reinterpreted, with the characteristic high gravity of a DFH brew- I don’t know) by the folks at Dogfish Head, working with Dr. Patrick McGovern, an archaeologist at University of Pennsylvania and the U. Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (which Dan & I tried to visit when we were in Philly a couple years ago, but was closed the day we wandered over there). McGovern studies the fermented beverages of such cultures as the Neolithic bunch that once resided in Jiahu by analyzing the vessels that once contained them. I wish the article I’d read that interviewed him had gone into more detail on his methods, because there are nerds like me out there who get legitimately excited by the words infrared spectrometry and gas chromatography. But alas, this was not an article out of Archaeology magazine, and it did not.

Anyhow, entirely accurate, partially accurate, or wherever the fidelity of this beer falls, the facts are these: it’s delicious. It’s exotic. It’s captivating. And the legend of its provenance, above all, serves to transport us to a far off time and place while drinking it.

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Chateau Jiahu is an ale brewed with honey and hawthorn fruit, and fermented with grape concentrate (according to the bottle). But further investigation (on the DFH website) reveals a much more detailed process: the brewers mix pre-gelatinized rice flakes with the barley malt to make an initial wort, to which the Wildflower honey, Muscat grapes, and hawthorn fruit- along with Chrysanthemum flowers- are then added. After boiling and cooling, it then gets a hit of sake yeast, and ferments and ages away for a month.

The result is a beer light-amber in color and incredibly thick in taste and body. It’s very honey-forward, with a taste of white grape juice right behind it. It’s also got strong herbal overtones, which I assume come from the Chrysanthemum flowers. It almost tastes like a bubbly, yeasty tea-juice. I was not surprised at all to learn, about 3/4 of the way through my tasting, of the rice flakes and sake yeast used in the brewing. It’s definitely got those winey, vinous stings that are characteristic of sake, or even soju.

Unearthed and resurrected, the past truly comes alive with this beer. Sorry, I couldn’t refuse the cheesy marketing line. But what truly captivates me about this beer, and what has always captivated me about the practice of archaeology, is the way that so much can be derived from what seems like so little to the undisciplined eye- the angle of a clay shard in relation to the glass in the midden a foot away from it; the subtle changes in the color of the soil as you move downwards through the earth and through each bygone year, accordingly; the presence or absence of certain compounds, the ways in which time has changed, or not changed, their existence. From this we unravel not just facts about what once transpired, but stories of lives, of the way people lived and breathed and interacted with each other and with the world. The words of these tales appear as if written in invisible ink, there for us to read all along, needing only a washing with the right substance to become visible.

And what’s most incredible is that we can construct and recreate these histories, turn them into living histories. We can hold a nail or a knife that someone in the past once held, used to construct those lifeways that kept them alive. We can drink the beer that they drank. We can marvel in the brief glimpse of consciousnesses not our own, like young children beginning to grasp for the first time in their psychological development that other people have feelings and motives and perspectives as well, and are not just objects and additions to their own world.

Sorry, I know it’s a lot for a brew to pull off. But this is the kind of sentimental thing beer and archaeology stir in me.

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Ahhh, yes- fall is upon us!  We have officially paid our September rent, and that’s autumn enough in my mind.  It also means that this puppy (pun intended) is on the shelves again:

Flying Dog’s Dogtoberfest (now you get the pun).  It is a Märzen, the classic beer of Oktoberfest.  And true to historic Märzen brewing tradition, it is brewed with only German ingredients: Vienna, Munich 90, Munich 100, and Light Munich malts; German Perle and Hersbrucker hops.  I can’t attest to the water being imported from Germany, but I suspect that might be the one hidden ingredient native to the brewery’s Frederick, MD home.

Now, in my early craft-beer-loving days, I eschewed lagers.  I was so taken, so swept off my feet by the powerful, flavorful, and drastically varied New World ales that constitute, oh, 90% of American craft brewing, that to me, lagers were flavorless and dull.  I was kind of like a teenager who’s discovered 11-minute jams that feature virtuosic guitar and theremin solos with existential lyrics about the nature of man, the universe, God, and the government: so overwhelmed and impressed that it’s easy to forget the beauty and soul that can hide in a simple love song.

In this way, I equate Märzens to the 32-second track at the end of my box set of recordings from the short, sweet love song master himself, Sam Cooke.  In this track, a radio host says that everyday he tries to describe soul in words, and asks Sam to hum 8 bars of what soul represents.  Sam hums those 8 bars and I tell you, I don’t think soul could be encapsulated any better.

Sam Cooke achieves in 8 bars what some musicians take entire careers to achieve, or sometimes not achieve, and packs behind it lifetimes upon lifetimes of collective experience, history, and- from this, inevitably- soul.  That’s what the European lager-brewing tradition, when done well, with care and craft, achieves as well.  So without further ado, I present to you my brew-haiku:

Caramel, browned butter
on shortbread. Hops like the crunch
of leaves: soft, but crisp.

Look at that lovely scenery in the background

(Just a note: in this haiku, as in the one on Palo Santo, I’m using the two-syllable pronunciation of “caramel”- pronounced like “car-mull”- in order to fit the meter)

Flying Dog recommends that you pair this with dark breads, German sausage, and roasted poultry.  I paired it last night with a bowl of black bean soup and a quesadilla, which I thought was a fine pairing (I didn’t photograph it, unfortunately, because it was 9:45 and I’d just gotten home from class having not eaten dinner, and thus was starving and more interested in eating it than photographing it).  I think the theme here though is to pair it with darker, hearty foods, foods warm and comforting.

As an aside, if you like pairing food with beer and beer with food as I do, here is a good website from Flying Dog: BeerDinners.com.  The site is a little hard to navigate, but there’s some good info in there if you figure out where to find it.  There’s info on upcoming food-and-beer-pairing dinners (featuring Flying Dog as well as other breweries) in a variety of different U.S. locales, as well as entire dinner party menus (featuring food prepared and paired with Flying Dog beers) from chef Scott Clagett of Boulder, CO.  The site also features user-submitted recipes featuring Flying Dog beers, though these can be harder to find- your best bet to locate these is to click on the “Beer Dinner Recipes” category on the right-hand side.

Anyway, happy fall and happy sipping/cooking!

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No incredible insights into the magic alchemy of pairing a particular food and beverage this time.  No witty diatribes detailing my incredible, arduous, and uproarious journey to a good meal + a good a beer.  The recipe for this dinner, had a couple nights ago, didn’t even involve beer in the cooking or preparation.  And the beer it was paired with wasn’t even chosen with any purpose or pre-planning: it was just what I happened to have open when I finished cooking.

But sometimes, food and beer just taste good.  The fact of the matter is, no matter how much thought we put into pairing and no matter how true it is that sometimes certain foods and certain drinks together will amount to something more than the sum of their parts, taste-wise, that beer (like wine) is good with food, in general.   If you like a certain food, and you like a certain beer, they will probably taste good if you consume them both at once.

So here is my meal, in pictures:

Pork chops roasting on an open fire....(or skillet)

These puppies were marinated in plain yogurt, dijon mustard, lemon juice, savory, and thyme, then skillet-grilled for about 4 minutes on each side.  Marinating anything in yogurt makes for the most flavorful, juicy meat ever.

Served with roasted Brussels sprouts, parsnips, and carrots:

As well as as long grain and wild rice (sorry for the blurry picture, I wanted to hurry up and eat):

Paired with Dogfish Head’s 60 Minute IPA.

Photographed, but not drank, on my kitchen chair.

Simple and delicious.  Simply as that.

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I say “cocktail hour” even though I had a beer and not a cocktail.  “Cocktail hour” sounds old-fashioned and classy, and I think the cocktail hour needs to come back: that time directly before dinner, spanning from oh, say, 5 o’clock to whenever it is that you eat (usually around 8-8:30 for us now that we’ve become so busy, but the time is unpredictable on weekends when we have no schedule), where everyone comes together to relax, socialize, and celebrate + prepare themselves for the transition of the day into the evening with some snacks and a drink.

Today’s cocktail hour featured the beer Midas Touch from Dogfish Head Brewery along with a mini brie wheel and blueberries (also some crackers, which I added after taking the photos though, so they’re unpictured).

(I had also already begun eating this when I took the picture, so forgive the sliced-into brie and the half-eaten blueberries.

It was a spot-on pairing, so I thought I’d share it on the blog.  First up, on the food front, we have incredibly buttery and creamy brie.  These mini wheels I bought seemed even softer and creamier in texture than normal brie I slice from a big wheel, and maybe it has something to do with the cheese drying out a bit when you slice into a big wheel then eat it over time, as opposed to eating an entire tiny wheel at once, consuming it before it can be altered by oxygen.  It almost seemed closer to a Camembert than a brie.  And of course, on the side, juicy ripe blueberries.

On the beer front, we have Midas Touch.  Dogfish Head claims that this is the oldest recipe for a fermented beverage in the world, from Turkey (though my archaeology training makes me suspicious of this…I remember learning when I did my archaeology field school in 2007 that they had recently discovered particles of what they believed to be the oldest rudimentary beer in China, which archaeologists then recreated by brewing it according to the make-up their sample had revealed to them…and apparently it tasted pretty horrible).

Anyhow, whether it is the oldest or not, it supposedly uses the original ingredients from vessels discovered in the tomb of King Midas (a fictional character?  Though there are some that say he bears resemblance to an actual 8th century BC Greek king…but the fact that this actual king was Greek and this beer is supposedly Turkish makes me suspicious all the more.  OK, enough archaeology nerding-out now), which are honey, barley, muscat grapes, and saffron.

It was awesome.  The beer is very rich-tasting, almost (as Dogfish Head rightly claims) a mix between a beer and a mead (a beverage made from yeast-fermented honey and water), taste-wise.  It is rich, and stands up to the richness of brie’s taste, but its thick mouth-feel is the yin to the yang of brie’s soft, light creaminess.  Midas Touch is both sweet and savory, which works well with the savory yet creamy nature of brie (and I feel there is always something intangibly a little sweet about creaminess).  It also works well with the sweetness of the blueberries, which compliment the muscat grape notes, but provide enough variance to keep from being redundant.  I think it would also work well with tart apples, to cut through the richness and thickness a bit, or a citrus like lemon slices (maybe Meyer lemons, so people who aren’t freaks like me would actually want to eat a lemon slice) or oranges.  There’s a reason lemon pairs so well with rich things like butter or olive oil- the “cutting through” factor.

So, at your next cocktail hour, which I highly recommend you organize post-haste with loved ones and friends, serve up some brie, fruit, and a Midas Touch- and dig in, preferably with abandon!

(As an aside, sorry for the brief absence this past week- I was in Orlando all week for business and didn’t have much time to do a ton of craft beer tasting and blogging.  Normal schedule will resume starting now though!  With hopefully more consistent posting)

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Interesting article in the Washington Post’s Food Section today:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/03/AR2010080304931.html

Not only is the production of Black IPAs/CDAs concentrated in the would-be country of “Cascadia,” American IPAs are notorious for using Cascade hops.  Think Sierra Nevada.

Anyone had one of these?  What’s your opinion on them?  I tried the DogZilla Black IPA from Laughing Dog Brewery sometime ago, and though I can’t give a very accurate review since my one taste of it was months back, I can say that I recall it not quite tasting like an IPA and not quite tasking like any other dark/black ale I’d had…I really want to seek out another bottle now try to pin that taste down!

I wonder if it would be going too overboard to make a smoked CDA?  I think smoked ales have been some of my favorite dark ales (though I feel like there are far fewer dark ales than lagers, so smoked ales may also make up the majority of dark ales I’ve had), but would the smoke and hops overwhelm each other?  I know DogZilla’s IBU was a little lower than most IPAs, so it could work.

Also, with Belgian dark ales already a niche in the market, and the emerging style of “Belgian IPA” becoming more ubiquitous (Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch, of course, and I’ve seen others popping up here and there- I recently tasted one from Sam Adams as a taster at my local Total Wine that is one of two styles they are thinking of releasing next year, that people can vote on), I wonder if someone will think to fuse all THREE elements (dark ales, IPAs, and Belgian yeasts) and come up with a Belgian Dark IPA.

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