Thursday, April 25, 2013

Gateway Beers from Macro to Craft

You’ve read Part One – Why Drink Craft Beer? and now you’ve convinced your friend to at least try craft beer. So now what? The beer experience isn’t just about the initial taste; it’s the look of the beer, the aroma – especially as it’s freshly poured and the aromatic bouquet opens up – and the after taste. All of these impressions send a message to your brain, as your 10,000 taste buds aren't the only things that create an opinion.

Your goal is to ease your friend into craft beer, have them enjoy your suggested beers and gradually, expose them to the more unique flavours, styles and regions.  Pick your transition beers carefully, don’t force it upon them and serve the beer in the correct, clean, unchilled glass at the right temperature. If they want to drink it out of the bottle, convince them that pouring it into a glass will open up the flavours. Now when you pour the beer straight into the centre of the glass, they may think you’re an amateur as EVERYONE knows that you should tilt the glass to reduce the head. Settle down, pal, this isn’t my first canoe trip. Pouring the beer straight into the glass allows the beer to open up and as you patiently wait for the foam to reduce, some excess gas is dissipating to create a smoother beer more similar to draught. This might take a few pours, but the dense, creamy foam you create is worth it.

If you’re starting your friend on draught, then you’re not going to have much control on the pour or freshness thus, go to one of your reliable craft beer establishments to ensure your friend is getting the best craft beer experience possible.

What to order your macro-loving friend:
The selections I’ve picked are heavily weighted on what is available in North America and by no means is this a comprehensive list of all the great beers available to us. There are many good beers worldwide thus, pick something similar that’s available in your region.

Day One: start with something that’s similar to what they’re drinking, such as a lager or pilsner. They’re not going to find a craft brew that tastes like Bud Lite Mojito (thank god), but these styles won’t send them off the deep end. Lagers and pilsners are low IBU and about 5% ABV thus, the only major change they should notice is the enhanced flavour and freshness from a beer brewed with quality ingredients and without cheap adjuncts. Some good choices include:

§  Cigar City Xenu Cream Lager 5% ABV
§  Lighthouse Lager 5.1% ABV
§  Kona Longboat Island Lager 4.6% ABV
§  Rogue Über Pilsner 5.2% ABV
§  Bell’s Lager of the Lakes 5% ABV
§  North Coast Scrimshaw Pilsner 4.4% ABV
§  Red Racer Classic Lager 5% ABV
§  Steam Whistle Pilsner 5% ABV

Day Two: yeah, ok, it’s not likely going to be day two, but you people like some sort of numbering system so work with me. Your friend is enjoying the craft beer, sees you ordering a different beer each round, and is getting more curious by the day. Let’s go a little bit hoppier and suggest a pale or amber ale. It’s still a beer they’ve likely ordered, just made better by a magical craft brewer. Suggestions:

§  Sierra Nevada Pale Ale 5.6% ABV
§  Phillips Blue Buck Pale Ale 5% ABV
§  Driftwood Ale 5% ABV
§  Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale 6.5% ABV
§  Odin’s Gift Nordic Amber Ale 5.4% ABV
§  Elysian Brewing Loser Pale Ale 7% ABV
§  Stone Pale Ale 5.4% ABV
§  Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale 5% ABV

Next Up: It’s time to give your bestie a beer that he/she has likely never heard of before, let alone tried. Let’s go with a trip to Belgium and try one of these:  Belgian Golden Strong Ale such as Duvel from Brouwerij Duvel Moortgat. Your friend will feel sophisticated and may form an accent, but play along. Slowly pour this beauty into a fluted glass, if possible, and watch the creamy head grow. Now enjoy. See, friend, there’s a reason I like to try different styles and from different breweries. I’m  crazy, crazy like a beer loving fox. Try these Belgian beers, from Belgium and abroad, with your friend as well:

§  Ommegang Rare Vos 6.5% ABV
§  La Trappe Tripel 8% ABV
§  Driftwood Ale 5% ABV
§  Unibroue La Fin du Monde 9% ABV
§  Russian River Benediction 6.75% ABV
§  North Coast Pranqster 6.7% ABV
§  Westmalle Dubbel 7% ABV
§  Trappistes Rochefort 10 11.3% ABV

Time to Kick it Up! Should we do it? Are they ready for a hop bomb? Not quite yet. Let’s introduce them to real IPAs in hoppy steps. If they’re Canadian, they’ve probably had Alexander Keith’s IPA and think that they know what an IPA tastes like. Since Keith’s tastes like a lager, because it is a lager, you should warn them that any impression they had of an IPA should be forgotten. Immediately. Go with a lower IBU IPA to get them used to the bitterness as if you go big hop, they may scare off like a turkey at Easter. Try these:

§  Goose Island IPA 5.9% ABV; 55 IBU
§  Dogfishhead 60 Minute 6% ABV; 60 IBU
§  Odin Sigrun IPA 6.1% ABV; 50 IBU
§  Howe Sound Devils Elbow 6% ABV; 68 IBU
§  Redhook Long Hammer 6.2% ABV; 44 IBU
§  10 Barrel Apocalpyse IPA 6.5% ABV; 65 IBU

Hop ON! Throughout their metamorphosis, you should listen to their feedback and adjust your selections based on their comments. If they’re riding the craft beer unicorn and enjoying everything you suggest, then keep going and have them try some hoppier IPA’s and maybe, an imperial or double IPA soon. I could give you a long list of amazing IPAs as these are just a handful:
§  Driftwood Fat Tug IPA 7% ABV; 80 IBU
§  Bell’s Two Hearted Ale 7% ABV; 55 IBU
§  Lighthouse Switchback 6.5% ABV; 80 IBU
§  Firestone Walker Union Jack 7.5% ABV; 75 IBU
§  Red Racer IPA 6.5% ABV; 80 IBU
§  Cigar City Jai Alai IPA 7.5% ABV; 70 IBU
§  Green Flash West Coast 7.3% ABV; 95 IBU
§  Stone IPA 6.9% ABV; 77 IBU

Dark and Dreamy: Have the unicorn swoop in and take them to the heavenly place known as Russian Imperial Stouts. It’s probably a good idea to tell them this this won’t taste like a Guinness as it will be rich, full of chocolate and espresso flavours – and boozy. At 9 – 15%, you don’t want your friend to order more than one of these and expect they will continue walking in a straight line for long. Suggestions:
§  Driftwood Singularity 14% ABV
§  Howe Sound Pothole Filler 9% ABV
§  North Coast Old Rasputin 9% ABV
§  Parallel 49 Russian Imperial Stout 10.9% ABV
§  Oskar Blues Ten Fidy 10.5% ABV
§  Founders Russian Imperial Stout 10.5% ABV
§  Three Floyds Dark Lord 15% ABV
§  Brooklyn Black Ops 10.5% ABV

Graduation: You did it! You took a Bud Lite loving recluse and turned them into a craft beer geek. I’m all verclempt. What a glorious thing you did for your friend and his/her taste buds. It’s unlikely you’ll see your friend order macro again if craft is available and there are always grad school beers when your friend is ready for more. Belgian quads, sours (gueze, lambic), barley wines, imperial or double IPA, saisons – and the list goes on. You are a fine person for taking this journey with your friend and I raise many a glass to you. Kudos.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Macro to Craft Beer - How to move from the dark side

Part One – Why Drink Craft Beer?

If you’re like me, you have friends who think your craft beer obsession is nuts or you’re an alcoholic – or both. Nope, I’m not an alcoholic, just a fan of craft beer and I experiment by trying new beers. AA meetings aside, I’m starting to see these same friends become curious about craft beer. They seem more willing to put aside their usual favourite macro and try something new and when they’re drinking with me, it’s craft beer. So how do you take a macro beer drinker and bring them over to the craft side where unicorns run freely and every day is full of sunshine? Baby steps. Don’t throw a hop bomb at them and expect that they will share your love of all things grapefruit and bitter. If they’re like my brother, they’ll tell you it tastes like a bouquet of flowers sautéed in a pine tree covered with baby poo. Yeah, he’s a charmer. What I should have done is eased him away from that yellow fizzy lite beer and given him a transition beer.

First off, they may want to know why they should even try something new, let alone this whacky craft beer I keep yammering on about. Fair enough. Their go-to macro is like their favourite PJ’s – disgusting (to me), full of holes, but comfortable and reliable. So why drink craft beer?

1.       Quality ingredients – There are four essential ingredients in beer: water, barley (malt), yeast and hops. Craft brewers source quality ingredients and do not include adjuncts like corn syrup in their beers (mmm corn chip beer anyone?). The mass produced macro beers are made by big corporate giants who like to make big corporate money. The best way to make big corporate money is to keep costs low by using cheap adjuncts and to sell the crap out of that product. Hence, macro beer.

2.       Flavour, flavour, flavour - unlike macro, craft brewers source unique ingredients, various yeast strains and they experiment with their recipes to enhance the flavours and create one-off beers. This means that their beers may not always taste the same batch to batch as they aim to perfect or further augment their beer. It’s not a text book recipe that any AB In-Bev brewer-clone can replicate at any of their breweries across the country. The craft beer way leads to interesting new beers, more choices for the consumer and a beer brewed to perfection. The macro drinker might not care about this today but once they start riding the craft beer unicorn, they will see the glory in trying new beers.

3.       Less bathroom breaks – because it’s magic! You drink craft beer and end up reserving beer like a camel. Ok, that’s not entirely true, but there is logic in this so hear me out. Most craft beer has higher alcohol content than the standard 3% – 5% macro. Craft can also be as low as 3%, although not many, but most sit in the 5% - 9% category. So instead of power drinking three light lagers and breaking the seal, you can sip a tasty craft beer and prevent your friends from posting inappropriate things on your twitter timeline while you’re repeatedly indisposed.

4.       Saves money at the bar – since you’re no longer pounding the water beer at the bar/restaurant, you’re also not paying for as many pints. More bars are charging the same, or close to it, for local craft as they do for macro pints. Imported may cost another dollar or so per pint, but you can do the math. Six – eight macro vs. three craft. Ka-ching! You can send me quarterly payments for the savings.

If your friends still aren’t convinced they should try craft beer, buy them a craft pint and take it out of my quarterly payments.

Coming soon, Part Two – Gateway beers to go from crap to craft beer. The continuation of this post will give you some options on what types of beers you should start with and build up to for the soon-to-be-converted macro drinker. Cheers all!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Cocktail Anyone? Craft Beer Cocktails That Is

What the hell is a beer cocktail you say? You may have noticed them recently on some bar/restaurant menus but haven’t tried them. I was in the same boat until Friday night. Pumphouse Pub had their monthly craft beer longtable dinner with Beerthirst beers and I was intrigued to try the cocktails. Chef Daniela Iaci never fails to impress with her food pairings so spending $40 for a five course meal paired with cocktails created by Mike Summers was a no-brainer.

This was the first time beer cocktails have been served at the Pumphouse. Since the craft beer line-up changes every two or three days as another keg is drained, it’s pretty hard to keep a regular beer cocktail list consistent. It will be interesting to see if they add a couple to their menu.

Cocktail: Patio Sipper – Alameda Peppercorn Saison, muddled cucumber, gin
The pepper from the saison came through in this refreshing drink. The cucumber gave it a mojito-ish feel. Patio Sipper is an appropriate name as these scream for summer. The glassware didn’t treat the ice well as it became a bit watered down, but they figured this later and ditched the ice.

Food Pairing: Crab cake with arugula tossed with a botanical dressing
I love crab cakes and I knew they were awesome when I saw my I-don’t-eat-seafood-husband polish his off in a nanosecond. The crab cakes were tender, full of fresh, flavourful crab and peppercorn. Delish.


Cocktail: Dusty Rose – Alameda Rose City Red Ale, rose syrup, bitters, ginger ale
The red ale and ginger ale combo is another great summer cocktail. The bitters were prominent but not over powering. This was an exceptionally good pairing as the cocktail cut through the spiciness of the salad.

Food Pairing: Middle European-style carrot ginger salad
Carrots, raisins, curry, ginger – nailed it. The right amount of spicy, tangy and refreshing. Slow golf clap.


Cocktail: Pumpkin Spice Beer Tea – Elysian/Lost Abbey Avant Gourde, chai tea, milk, spiced rum
Not sure I’d call this drink pumpkin but if anyone would like to whip up one of these for me every morning, I’ll leave a few beers for you in my will. Good ones. This is my kind of tasty tea.

Food Pairing: Lamb tangine with almonds, olives and preserved lemons
The succulent, tender lamb stew was served on rice and our table was unnaturally silent as all was consumed. Me thinks everyone enjoyed this pairing.


Cocktail: Bear Trap – Bear Republic Big Bear Stout, crème de cacao, Jack Daniels
This was the first cocktail that tasted like beer, not surprising since it’s a stout. The smokiness of the stout paired perfectly with the tenderloin.

Food Pairing: Coffee encrusted pork tenderloin with a beer reduction
Lots of flavour in this puppy. The coffee/pepper crust complimented the tender pork and you bet your ass I swept each piece in the reduction. Gorgeous.

Cocktail: The Calabrese – Elysian Immortal IPA, Campari, orange juice
You don’t often see an IPA paired with a dessert but the citrus in the IPA found the grapefruit curd in the cupcake and did a slow dance. Cheek to cheek. Great cocktail and an even better pairing.

Food Pairing: Citrus cupcake filled with grapefruit curd and cream cheese frosting
This dense cupcake was a hit. When two of the servers say how amazing it is before it’s served, you know there was some pre-dinner sampling that I WASN’T INVITED TO. Whoops. Didn’t mean to yell. ;) That said, the cupcake was perfect.

Not sure I’d choose craft beer cocktails often, over a pint, but they are certainly a great option. Especially for those who may not like beer, the first three cocktails hid the beer and shone as a refreshing cocktail. Patio season anyone?

it occurred to me recently that some may think that I review a beer dinner because my meal was comp’d but this isn’t the case. I write blog posts on what interests me. Full stop. My opinions are just that – mine – and they are my honest impression of the dinner.  I have never been disappointed with a beer dinner, or any meal for that matter, at the Pumphouse so if you have yet to try a dinner I suggest you come to one and see for yourself. Now go try a beer cocktail and see a different side of craft beer.