Sunday, February 26, 2012

How to Cellar Beer - Patience today is tomorrow's reward

After drinking a vertical tasting of Driftwood’s Barleywine (2008 – 2011) I started thinking more about cellaring some of these great ales. Of course some beers you should consume within a few months, but some just yearn to be aged. We’re talking barleywines, imperial stouts, Belgian strong ales, lambrics, old ales etc.

Step 1: Patience. Damn, that’s going to be the hard one when I can hear the little beer devil on my shoulder singing “drink me!”

Step 2: Buy at least two of each beer you want to cellar. Drink one immediately (well, if you insist) and make some tasting notes so you have a comparison later down the road.

Step 3: Especially for corked bottles, there’s a debate about storing a beer upright vs. laying it down. However, from what I’ve read, the brewers suggest vertical storage is the best method except for corked bottles - lay those puppies down. Check. 

Step 4: Put a tag on the bottle, or make a note of the date of purchase so you will know when to drink it. You’re going to want to store these bad boys for at least a year.

Step 5: Storage – first off, beer should not be exposed to light or heat. Unless you like skunky beer, heed this advice. Skunky often comes from “light struck” beer. Which means, store in a cool area and keep the tanning bed far, far away. 50 – 55˚F is the optimum temperature for most beers, but they say 55 - 60˚F is best for the barleywines, tripels and dark ales. Good rule of thumb: higher alcohol = higher temperature, lower alcohol = lower temperature.

Living in Richmond, which is at sea level, a cellar isn’t an option for us. If we start digging a hole, we’re going to drown the beer. I think it’s time to go to the dollar store and get a thermometer for our garage fridge and 53 – 55˚F seems to be a good compromise for our range of ales.

Now, how to keep me from screwing up Step 1…

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Driftwood, will you be my valentine?

Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a saccharine-laced posting about lovey-dovey valentine’s day.  Those of you who know me probably aren’t surprised to hear that I’m not a fan of the Hallmark holiday and my husband and I have a pact not to celebrate the day supposedly meant for lovers and stalkers. It’s the one day a year that a stalker gets to call him/herself a secret admirer and it becomes adorable. But come February 15th, that restraining order is back in place. I digress. This isn’t a rant about valentine’s, it’s all about Driftwood Brewery and the Alibi Room!

Time to set the scene, and I don’t mean the candles that adorned every table and high spot (although that was a nice touch).

The Alibi Room started tweeting a couple of weeks ago about having their first independent Brewmaster’s dinner on February 14th and that Driftwood would be the feature brewer. We love Driftwood and the Alibi Room so suffice to say, we wanted to attend. Getting tickets wasn’t an easy feat as the information was posted on Driftwood’s Facebook page advising people to email Alibi. It was going to be first come, first served and if they called and you didn’t answer, they would go to the next person. Guess who missed the call at 10:40am… d’oh! Stupid work got in the way and I missed Nigel’s call by about 10 minutes. He said he’d try calling back after 6pm and I thought we were out of luck. But low and behold, Nigel called me back around 6:15 that night and we reserved our spots. Not sure if my begging and pleading on Twitter had anything to do with us still getting tickets, but I’ll take it! Only 44 tickets were sold to the event and the Alibi closed down the entire restaurant for the evening. As Nigel said on the phone, and repeated to all last night, he wanted the night to be our night. Relax, don’t feel rushed and enjoy the evening – it was all for us. They succeeded on all fronts.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Alibi Room, it’s located at 157 Alexander Street in Gastown. Good food and an excellent beer selection with 50 rotating taps of local and imported beer as well as a feature cask. Rightfully so, their staff are very knowledgeable about the beers they serve. Nigel Springthorpe and Raya Audet have owned the Alibi since 2006 and head chef Greg Armstrong is the creative genius behind the scenes. Every time we’ve gone to the Alibi, it’s been packed. People wait, and relatively patiently, for a table or a spot at the bar. It’s a great place for a casual meal and an endless selection of craft beers. I highly recommend that you visit (just don’t take my spot at the bar, please).

As for Driftwood beer, I fell in love at first sip. Farmhand Ale, Fat Tug IPA, Crooked Coast Amber Ale, Sartori Harvest IPA, Singularity Russian Imperial Stout… love them all. They’re a relatively new brewery from Victoria, BC that started to create their dream in July 2008 when they took over an old industrial space and transformed it into Driftwood Brewery. They’ve been so successful that they’re now expanding. Owner Jason Meyer shared with us last night that they’re taking over the space next to them and this expansion will allow them to give tours, have a retail store and a growler station. We’ll definitely visit Victoria once they’re set up. Road trip!

I’ve been holding back. No, not that I have a secret stash of cinnamon hearts, but why this dinner was extra special. Nigel was down in the cellar and eyed the 2008 – 2011 Old Cellar Dweller that they had in their own cellar. They’ve been putting away a number of bottles of this every year and Nigel was dying for an excuse for a vertical tasting. Voila, February 14th dinner. This was very enticing to us as we had only had the fortune of trying the 2011 Old Cellar Dweller. To get the chance to try four years of this amazing barleywine was indeed a treat. More about that later, though.

First course
House made duck liver pâté with pickled Asian pear, house-made crackers and crostini.
Paired with the Driftwood Ale.

The pâté was very flavourful, but not too strong. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find liver pâté can be overwhelming if the liver is too pungent. Not the case here. A very nice dish and when eaten with the picked Asian pear, it gave the dish a refreshing zing. The pickled flavour was masked when eaten with the pâté but when you had it solo, the flavours rang out. A great dish indeed. The Driftwood Ale paired well with this dish. We found this amber coloured ale to have earthy aromas/flavours, nice lacing and a good balance of hops. A solid choice for this first pairing.

Second Course
Salad of ambrosia apples, walnuts, goat cheese, shaved fennel, dried cranberries, chevre, frizee & radicchio with a wild flower honey ginger vinaigrette.
Paired with Bird of Prey Flanders Red

When we saw ambrosia salad on the menu, we were taken back to our childhood when someone’s mom always brought that gross ambrosia salad to the barbeque. You know the one, the giant fruit salad with marshmallows. Grim. But that was not the salad we had at Alibi. It was as a lettuce based salad with wonderful toppings. Very good! The Bird of Prey is a sour and I wondered how it would pair with a salad. I found that the goat cheese gave this dish that extra punch and allowed the Bird of Prey to shine. Sours aren’t my favourite, but they always grow on me and especially with a good food coupling.

Third Course
Roasted breast of yarrow meadows duck with stewed cherries service with duck confit turnip & potato perogies, braised onions, sweet & sour jus
Paired with Fat Tug

This main dish was amazing. The duck was cooked to perfection (medium) and was very tender. The skin was in tack with just a bit of fat for additional flavour. A bite of the stewed cherry and duck together made my mouth sing. Ahhhh. And shall I say, yum.  The giant perogie was a wonderful compliment to the duck.  All of the portions were generous and I had to bow out half way through my dinner. Lucky for me, and him, my clean-up crew was on hand. Yep, that’s my husband Kelly. He polished off my dinner and I’m glad as I wouldn’t want that delicious course to go to waste. Then there’s the Fat Tug. This IPA is one of my absolute favourites and, in fact, I had one at lunch as well. Kelly thought that since I’d already had one that day, I should give him my serving. FAT CHANCE! If you like IPAs and really hoppy beer, this one is a gem. The citrus, grapefruit and pine exudes from this ale and it leaves wonderful lacing. I’m a walking (and drinking) commercial for this IPA. Just love it.

Fourth Course
2011 Singularity Chocolate Truffles
Paired with 2012 Singularity Russian Imperial Stout

I was so full by this time that I only ate one of my truffles. Which reminds me, the other three are wrapped in a napkin in my purse (snack time!). No way I was going to leave these babies at the table. Beautiful chocolate and stout goodness that leaves a slight bitter aftertaste. As for the pouring, this stout was a much anticipated release. Twitterland was all a buzz on Monday when Singularity was released in Vancouver. All of us beer nerds were clamoring to get a couple of bottles (and some stores limited purchases to two bottles). The stout didn’t disappoint. A very smooth concoction with great aromas of chocolate, coffee, bourbon, oak and malts. We’ll definitely have to pick up a few more bottles and perhaps store one for a later date.

Fifth Course
Benton Brothers cheese plate featuring Abondance Fermier, Idiazabal and Montgomery’s Cheddar
Paired with…. drum roll please… a vertical flight of 2008/2009/2010/2011 Old Cellar Dweller Barleywine

I’m anxious to start talking about the vertical tasting but I can’t ignore the fabulous cheese plate. The Abondance Fermier is from France (cow: raw) and started as my favourite. After a few bites of each cheese, my palate decided that the Montgomery’s Cheddar from England was the winner (cow: raw). The Idiazabal from Spain (sheep: raw) was also divine so really, it was difficult to choose. The cheese plate came with a fig, hazelnuts and grapes. The grapes tasted marinated and all were great accompaniments.

Now for the pièce de résistance… the vertical tasting. I was a good girl and waited (somewhat patiently) for all four glasses to arrive. The colours of the four years varied greatly. 2008 was cloudier, 2009 the darkest and 2011 the lightest. Each year had its own distinct aroma and taste and it was abundantly obvious that this is a great bottle to age. The maturity of the 2008 and 2009 is amazing whereas the 2011 is just a baby. My favourites were 2008 and 2010 – both distinctly different and powerful. All years exuded pine, citrus and hop flavours but as the barleywine aged, the flavours became enhanced and more aromatic. We will definitely be aging at least one or two bottles now. I was a little concerned that with all of my beer check-ins at Untapped, they’d be awarding me an Intervention Badge (along with a ride to rehab) but I’m sure they understood these were just tastings. And sadly, we couldn’t finish the flight.

I personally think the word epic is overused and thus, I don’t utter that word but I will break my rule on this one occasion. The dinner, pairings and vertical tasting was truly epic. We feel fortunate to have experienced the four barleywines and added a new level to our beer taste buds.

Each course was served at a nice pace and with Nigel being the ever so gracious host, he checked in with his guests to ensure that no one was rushed, or hungry for that matter. I doubt anyone left hungry as the portions were generous and filling.

Jason and Nigel hamming it up for a valentine's hug
We had a conversation with Jason and Nigel prior to our departure and complemented them both on the evening. I told Jason that I wasn’t blowing sunshine up his butt, but that we truly loved all of their beers. They just can’t go wrong in our books. He’s a humble guy and stated that he brews to his taste. Like it or not, he only brews what he likes. Good for him – don’t fall into the trap that some brewers do when they try to put out a craft beer that mimics a macro beer (hint to all you craft brewers that have a lime ale). The Driftwood brewers truly have the magic touch and we’re definitely looking forward to when they have their expansion completed so we can come for a visit. Thanks Nigel, Greg, Jason, Ian and the Alibi/Driftwood team that were responsible for making this evening such a memorable event. I guess valentine’s day isn’t so bad after all.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Don't call me an ale when you can call me a Surly Blonde...

This has probably been done by a hundred other beer bloggers, but after sampling a Yellow Snow IPA by Rogue, it got me thinking about all of the other cool beer names out there.

What other product can you be so wild and creative as you can with beer names?

Baby food – Heinz “Eat it, don’t’ Spit It (with gross mushy peas)” probably wouldn’t sell to many parents. Well maybe the Dad’s with some humour but they likely lack any good sense (the wife will  give you the look when you bring that home).

Toilet Paper – Purex “Super Duper Strong for your Pooper” – see comment about Dad above.

Coffee – Nabob “Roasted so you Look Toasted (with extra caffeine)”

Ok, a marketing wiz I’m not, but you get the picture, beer names get to be fun! Here are some of my favourites:

Kilt Lifter – Moylan’s and Pike (I smell a TM infringement suit)  
Midas Touch, Bitches Brew, Afternoon Delight, Fun = Yes – Dogfish
Amnesiac, Dr. Funk Dunkel, Surly Blonde – Phillips
Dead Guy Ale, Puckered Guy – Rogue
Back Hand of God Stout - Crannóg
Sword Swallower – Coney Island
Fat Tug, Old Cellar Dweller, Bird of Prey - Driftwood
Angry Boy Brown Ale – Baird
Black Death Porter, Angry Scotch Ale, Blood Alley Bitter – Russell
Le Freak, Palate Wrecker – Green Flash
Trashy Blonde, 5am Saint, Tactical Nuclear Penguin, Sink the Bismarck! – Brewdog
Ruthless Rye – Sierra Nevada
Thirsty Beaver – Tree
No Justice, Anarchist – Cannery
What the Huck, Big Caboose – Fernie
Confounded Mr. Sisyphus, Fluffy White Rabbits – Pretty Things
Four Play – Upright
Black Widow – Tenaya Creek
Little Sumpin’ Wild, Hairy Eyeball, Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale - Lagunitas

And, of course, there are a bazillion (real word) ales that put a spin on the Hops. Hoptimum, Hop Ottin, Hop Head, Hopsickle, 9 Donkeys of the Hopocalypse, Hop Stoopid, Hoperation, Hopyard, Hopopotamus and many, many more.

And due to some late night tweeting with Tenaya (@MrBikerBrew, @LasVegasBeer) and some fellow beer geeks (@BeerthirstTom, @Vancitybeerguy, @WhatsForLunchBC), we thought that their new double IPA should be Hop Ride VENOM. I won’t discuss how we got to that name as it’s a long and somewhat odd journey, but we expect a hat tip if you see that bottle on the shelf one day! p.s. we also think a painted bottle with a lady and snake wrapped around her would be appropriate. You’re welcome, Tenaya. J

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Bear Republic Long Table - Pumphouse Pub

I’m sitting here drinking a Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA and felt compelled to blog about our third long table at the Pumphouse Pub on January 20, 2012. It was a great pairing with Bad Beer Lite… kidding, of course, it was the big Bear itself. It was our first introduction to the Bear Republic line, and they have two new fans.

This brewery from Healdsburg, CA has a great line up of ales and touts on their label that they’re independent since 1995, and I suspect proud of it.

Thanks to the not-so-reliable cab service in Richmond, we ended up driving and got there just a few minutes before the event began. And since driving means one of us can’t drink, we did the only sensible thing and left the car there over night. One of us not drink? Not likely. We’re responsible, not stupid. Most of the tables were full but Rick Green AKA @BCbrews and Brian Smith graciously let us sit at their table. Rick said we got stuck with the press, but far from it. They were great table companions and we had a fun night chatting and sampling the food & beer.

Looking around the room, there were a lot of new people at the event. Always great to see more people being introduced to the craft beer scene. Although when one guy ordered a MGD and a chick passed on the beer for a glass of red wine, I’m not sure they got the memo about the dinner. Here it goes. Beer is included in the event. Repeat, beer is included. Good beer, not crap. Oh well, maybe they’ll figure it out when they hit 30.

Enough rambling, on to the food and beer! When my husband, Kelly, saw the menu his comment was. Oh yeah, MEAT! The boy was clearly in favour of the carnivorous tasting.

Course one -  Red Rocket Ale paired with Seared Pork Belly, amber BBQ sauce, bacon and potato hash. Chef Daniela Iaci described the pork as slow cooked for seven hours. Can you say tender? The pork was very flavourful and she kept a small amount of crispy fat on it for flavour.  The Red Rocket Ale was malty that I found just a bit bitter at first but then it almost turned sweet. A deep brown ale that had nice lacing.

Course two – Racer 5 IPA which was served with Marinated jungle chicken wrapped in pandanus leaves. Hang on, let me have another sip of the Racer 5 so I can make sure I describe it well. Ahhh…  great drinkability with this med-hoppy beer. This baby took home a gold at the Great American Beer Festival in 2009 – beating out 69 other strong pale ales. The chicken was a spicy, Thai inspired dish. And being the novice that I am, I ate the chicken with the pandanus leaf. Rick quickly corrected me before I ate piece number two and thus, I unwrapped the chicken. Actually, it tasted good with the leaf but since it’s only cooked in it for flavour, you’re supposed to dispose of it.

Course three – Hop Rod Rye with Salt & Grains of paradise crusted beef tenderloin skewers, horseradish cream. This was Kelly’s favourite pairing. It could be due to the gorgeous rare beef that Chef produced. The Hop Rod is a dark amber ale with spicy, citrus hops. Very pleasing to the palate, indeed. We’ve added this one to our fridge as well.

And the last course, the Black Stout with a Salted caramel pot de crème. Oh yum. I think I only managed two bites of dessert before it migrated over to Kelly’s side. He wasn’t going to let this go to waste. As always, a stout pairs nicely with a dessert. Although the salt that Chef used cut down on the dessert's sweetness. The stout was a brown/black colour and embodied the typical stout characteristics – malt, coffee, mild chocolate.

Rob and Tom (@BeerthirstTom) from Beerthirst were pouring pints (and generous top-ups) for each course. Let’s just say that no one went home thirsty. A great night with Rick, Brian, Rob, Tom, Leo (@vancitybeer) and  Scott (@WhatsForLunchBC).

All this typing has made me thirsty. Pass me my Racer 5.