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Archive for the ‘Links to Beer Websites’ Category

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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Apologies in advance to anyone who will not easily be able to try the beer I am about to review. Apparently it is only available in Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia, DC, Maryland, and Delaware. It’s tragic, but that’s what you get for not living in the Southern/Mid-Atlantic region. Ahem. Now then:

When I was a kid, I loved angler fish.

(source)

They’re the ugliest, scariest, most mysterious, most otherworldly fish in the deep. So of course I loved them. For the same reason I had an unnatural obsession with sharks as a kid (I even had a shark placemat, and memorized all the different species and their Latin names. Nerd alert). They’re fascinating, and horrifying, and though I loved them from afar, I certainly wouldn’t want to come across one in my bathtub. Or my beer.

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Of course, on my beer is just peachy! This guy graces the label of RJ Rockers’ Fish Paralyzer Belgian-Style Pale Ale. We received this bottle in a very generous gift bag of beers and snacks from our neighbors Jason & Laura for watching their delightful dog Nigel for the weekend a couple weeks ago. Thanks, J & L!

We drank the Rogue Mocha Porter first, but I’d had that before, so no formal review of it here, except to say that it’s delectable. Fish Paralyzer was the second one we broke into. I’m fairly certain it was probably included in the collection of gift beers solely for its name, and let’s face it- it’s a pretty goddang awesome name. So points there already, RJ Rockers. But would its taste live up to its awesome label?

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(Spoiler alert: the answer is yes) But since I haven’t done one in awhile, I’ll bring back the brew-haiku and let you know exactly why in 17 syllables.

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Herbal, bitter pines
yield pie run-off: toasted, sweet
butter, thick shortbread

It was a really interesting beer. Normally, I find that if a beer has two contrasting tastes- like hoppy and sweet- one taste will be more dominating, or at least be tasted first, then give way to the other taste second. With this one, I chose the phrase “yield” and not “yield to,” because it really tasted like each taste flowed from (and into) the other naturally and meshed well. Neither was secondary to the other. You could even reverse the haiku (sort of…keeping phrases in tact and disregarding line breaks), and say “Thick shortbread, toasted, sweet butter: pie run-off yields herbal, bitter pines” and it’d still be true.

It was bitter, with a taste really similar to American pale ale hoppiness (Sierra Nevada-y), and at the same very thick and luscious, with a sweetness that reminded me of brown sugar and butter running off from a pie, taking with it the buttery, biscuity viscousness of the crust. A good beer to pair with Thanksgiving dessert, methinks?

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Matching the sweetness and floury thickeness while balancing it with hops, whose bitterness might actually also compliment some pie spices ginger and nutmeg.

Oh, and paralyzing any fish you need paralyzed.

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You may recall (if you’ve been a long-time Iambs and Ales fan- hi all two of you!- and have a really good memory) my review sometime back of Sierra Nevada’s fall seasonal, the nut brown ale Tumbler.

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It was quite tasty. But I never ended up cooking with it! Until recently, that is. I stumbled upon a really intriguing website, in which I stumbled upon a really intriguing recipe. Homebrew Chef is a fantastic resource for finding some creative ways to use beer in cooking. A lot of the recipes are pretty involved, and are meant to serve a crowd, but the recipe for Tomato Brown Ale Sauce caught my eye. It’s actually meant to be made as part of a recipe for eggplant napoleons, but the sauce part itself seemed to be a good one to cook for just Dan and I to serve over pasta: the ingredient list was short, the preparations fairly easy, and pasta leftovers are always manageable (or easily freezable).

I won’t re-post the entire recipe, because you can go over and see it on the Homebrew Chef’s website (and I’m all about giving the original creator their due page-views!) But I’ll illustrate what I did, and explain some substitutions I made. Apologies in advance for the horrible photography in this post: it was one of those nights where the lighting was horrible, and I just COULD NOT manage to work around it for some reason. I’ll do better next time.

Anyway, onions in the pan with the oil:

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Then, I was supposed to add mushrooms. However, I bought the ingredients to make this dish on a Thursday, and because of various opportunities for fun and socializing that kept popping up in the evenings, I didn’t actually end up making this until Saturday. By then, the mushrooms had turned to mush. Slimy mush. So instead, I added zucchini:

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And spinach:

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After those cooked, in went a boatload of garlic and then some beer:

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After this, tomato puree (x2 of what is measured out in this picture), salt, and oregano (I always omit the pepper because I ran out one day and wasn’t enough of a fan to miss it enough to buy more, and have thus not had pepper since):

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Then it simmered for about 40 minutes. And was served with penne and meatballs (yeah, the frozen kind, I was lazy. And had already spent money buying the sauce ingredients, so didn’t feel like buying ground beef when we already had the processed kind the freezer. We had also just gotten back from the special keg tapping at Galaxy Hut, had drank several high gravity ales, and were in no mood for wrestling with raw meat while hungry and slightly tipsy. So sue me). Like thus!

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Mmmm. With a little freshly-shaved parmesan on top. Which um…replaced the fresh basil which I bought but totally forgot to top this with.

We both agreed on the final verdict on this recipe. I liked the incorporation of brown ale into the tomato sauce; the acidity of beer ALWAYS enhances the flavors of tomato in a positive way, and the earthy, nuttiness of the brown ale was a nice twist. However, we both think that mushrooms would have gone better than my subbed vegetables, and I can totally see why. It needed a rich, earthy vegetable to compliment and be enhanced by the brown ale flavor. Even eggplant would have worked a little better (like in the eggplant napoleons this sauce was originally intended for). I also think next time I’d simmer it a little longer; it was thick enough, but the beer tasted a little…well, beer-ish still, like the alcohol hadn’t completely cooked off like it’s supposed to, leaving only the concentrated flavors of the malts and hops.

I definitely want to try this again though, and see how good I can make it by getting it right!

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As I’ve said before, though the name of this blog is “Iambs and Ales,” I certainly don’t limit the topics of my posts to ales. As evidenced in the last post, lagers as well have a place in my heart and in this blog.  But what really describes the scope of this blog more precisely is the tagline: “Where brews, eats, and words intersect.”  This raises the question then of what counts as a brew.  Beers do, obviously, but what about ciders?  I say sure!  Though they aren’t technically “brewed” (in cider production, the whole apple is pressed then the liquid is extracted, meaning it’s vinted instead of brewed), but I choose to include this style of drink in this blog for several reasons.  I feel that ciders play much the same role as beers in our culture of drinking: a carbonated drink with a comparatively lower alcohol content served cold and drank in all of the same situations as beer- on its own or with a meal, in a single instance in succession, allowed by its moderate ABV.

Just look at those gorgeous bubbles popping up and down the glass

Like I suspect is the case with many my age (at least where I grew up), my first exposure to cider was in a dorm room, around age 18, and it was Woodchuck.  Now, I’m not trying to put Woodchuck down at all.  It has its place, and there are people who love it.  But I immediately declared my dislike for cider, claiming it was too sweet for my distinctly un-girly tastes.  From then on, I lumped cider into that general category of alco-pop drinks like Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Smirnoff Ice.

Finally, sometime post-college, I was introduced to Original Sin and Strongbow ciders, and my re-education on the beverage began.  Those two ciders taught me that cider doesn’t have to be sickeningly sweet and cloying; it can be dry, and complex.  Then I was introduced to cider that came out of a shed.  And I realized I didn’t even know how deep the dry, complex rabbit hole of ciders went.

That’s why, on reading this post on Pete Brown’s beer blog, I knew I had to try Magners Irish Cider.  My explorations thus far in cider had led me to the conclusion that Etienne Dupont was my absolute favorite.  But after reading about Magners, I had to give it a chance to challenge my beloved Etienne Dupont.  So that’s why, after a long walk in 90-degree heat yesterday, the first thing I cracked open (well, after a bottle of seltzer) was that guy above.  And below:

Ignore the fact that it's in a Chimay glass.

And the fact that it's next to our Bavarian nutcracker, Ludwig. Magner's is Irish, not German, but I thought the picture was funny.

My initial impression of Magners was that it had all the qualities of cider that I like: it was dry, with the sweetness that was present tasting like it was there because the cider a product of apples, not because cider is a byproduct of an apple extract factory.  It was definitely good, and I’d definitely drink it again (and again and again).  But still, it lacked that certain quality that Etienne Dupont has that I can only qualify as rustic.  It’s a deep, earthy taste that fools my tongue and my nostrils into thinking I’m in a farmhouse somewhere, built of old wood upon fertile dirt.

That is, until I wandered into the kitchen with my glass and ate this:

Goat cheese!  And yes, that is a tub of goat cheese crumbles.  Sometimes, you want goat cheese and don’t happen to have a classy log or wedge.  Sometimes all you have are the crumbles, and you know what you do in that situation?  The only thing there is to do: reach your hand into the tub and grab a handful of crumbles.

And if you happen to be drinking a Magners, and have tastes similar to my own, you’ll be glad you did.  This is one of those magical pairings, only stumbled upon every so often and mostly at random, where the combination of food and drink results in a taste experience greater than the sum of its parts.  Past examples of this have included Sam Adams Black Lager and Raisin Bran Crunch (no, not drank at breakfast, drank while grabbing handfuls of pantry goods similar to the handful of goat cheese in this situation) and Blind Faith IPA and lentils (though this was cooking with; I can’t say that the actual pairing altered the taste, since the beer was already in the food).  When eaten in tandem, goat cheese and Magners Irish Cider achieve that magic.  For some chemical reason I don’t understand, I’m sure, the goat cheese gives the Magners that deep, earthy, rustic complexity it otherwise lacks.  It’s not exactly the same as Etienne Dupont, and you can still separate the two flavors of cider and cheese in your mouth…but wow.  It’s really something special.  You should run out and buy the provisions to try this immediately.

After the incredible success of this pairing, I tried it with the other cheese we had in the house- hickory smoked cheddar.  This one was somewhat less stellar.  I mean, it was good; the cheese was good, and the cider was good.  But the combination didn’t really fuse into something greater.  If I really reached for a unified taste, it tasted like…well, apples in a smokehouse.  Which was okay.  But nothing like the goat cheese.

Anyhow.  Magner’s: thumbs up, but I’ll probably keep going back to Etienne Dupont.  Magners + goat cheese, though: double thumbs up that fuse into one giant thumb up!

Keep checking back in the next few days, y’all- I (with the help of Dan) came up with a slew of great tasting ideas for potential blog posts, and seeing as there’s a Total Wine right down the street from where I work, I stocked up on the supplies to carry out them out, and I hope to document a few this weekend.

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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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