Orange Wheat Shandy

beert1Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Giving up some of your other favorite libations, Jonathan might agree, is the sacrifice of being a devoted cocktailian. Before we started this journey toward savvy-dom, I considered myself a “Beer Snob.” Actually, the name of a local bar—Beermiscuous—might be a more accurate descriptor. The opposite of brand-loyal, I’ve tried and tested just about every style of ale, lager, stout, porter, and barley wine. I’ve read up on methods of drying and toasting malt, encountered many varieties of hops, and studied the brewing traditions of regions and nations. I’ve even brewed beer myself—terrible, undrinkable stuff… but still.

Beer and wine make odd companions for spirits, but we’ve found a number of valuable ways to incorporate them. The trick seems to be finding what goes with what, recognizing which spirits echo, enhance, and complement beer and wine. This week’s recipe, however, aims to put beer first, pairing a hefeweizen (wheat beer) with orange juice to create a “beertail.” In this case, beer is the star.

As purists would have it, wheat beer is a bastard child. It steps outside the four essential components of beer—water, hops, barley malt, and yeast. Those four variables were plenty for the authors of the Reinheitsgebot, the German purity law of 1487. Wheat contributes to a cloudier and slightly denser brew, with esters redolent of apples or bananas. These qualities make orange a suitable accompaniment, something tart to balance the dry quality of wheat beer. Blue Moon, a Belgian Wit beer, takes advantage of this combination, balancing citrus against the gravitas of wheat.

The recipe calls this cocktail a “Shandy,” a combination of beer and juice (or soft drink) that’s appealing for its low alcohol content. In some parts of Europe, shandies are exempt from laws that apply to other alcoholic beverages, but the convention of combining beer and something sweet isn’t strictly a way of evading the law to sell to minors. The earliest versions, called “shandygaffs,” appeared in the mid-nineteenth century, long before people figured out maybe the consumption of alcohol isn’t so good for youngsters’ noggins.

For this week’s cocktail, I chose a Great Lakes Wheat Beer, Sharpshooter, described as a “Session Wheat IPA,” a little hoppier and less potent than a typical hefeweizen. The subtle addition of the orange peel added to its bitterness and, I thought, might cut some of the sweetness of the freshly squeezed orange juice. Just as with the primary spirit of any cocktail, however, this one could be very different with a different version of hefeweizen.

Here’s the recipe:

  • 6 parts wheat beer
  • 1 part freshly squeezed orange juice (from 3 to 4 oranges)
  • a dash of almond extract (optional)
  • Thinly sliced oranges

Combine beer, orange juice, and almond extract in a pitcher. Stir; serve with sliced oranges.

When we visited in San Antonio a few weeks ago, Jonathan’s wife mentioned she liked the cocktails best when they weren’t “100% alcohol.” A drink like this one aspires to a lighter, more refreshing concoction suitable for summer afternoons.

Here’s Jonathan’s review:

beertail.jbmI love beer. Hefeweizen, or any wheat beer, is not my favorite as the subtlety is lost on me, but it’s still beer. I also love orange juice. Fresh squeezed, from the waxed carton, or from concentrate, I start every morning with it (fortunately I cannot say that about beer) and would miss it as much as coffee if I tried to do differently. Put those two together and what could go wrong? Not much as it ends up.

The beer of choice was a Hefeweizen from Charlotte’s Olde Mecklenburg Brewery. It is called Hornet’s Nest after the name given to Charlotte during the Revolutionary War. The British commander, Lord Cornwallis, called Charlotte a “Hornet’s Nest” after encountering fierce resistance from the populace.

The beer is anything but fierce. It is a classic of the form – unfiltered, mellow and smooth. The orange juice was fresh squeezed as the recipe dictated but I did differ from a couple of points. First, I made each Shandy individually by mixing one bottle of the Hefeweizen with 2 ounces of orange juice instead of making a full batch and stirring like Martha Stewart told us to do. Martha also called for a small amount of almond extract and instead of figuring out how much to add to a single drink I skipped it. The Shandy was missing something though, so I added a couple of dashes of orange bitters for some contrast. It could be my imagination, but trying it before those dashes and after I think they added something.

I do need to note another small thing. My picture is a homage to our sisters. One glass is from a microbrewery/restaurant in Boerne where one sister lives, and the second is a pint glass from Virginia where the other lives. I picked it up in Charlottesville where our sister and brother-in-law spend fall afternoons rooting for the Cavalier football team. That can be a struggle, depending on how Virginia is playing, but the UVA baseball team just won the College World Series (baseball) and the glass is another way to say “congratulations.”

Jonathan’s take: It was surprising once it was all put together, but I really like this.

David’s take: I may keep experimenting with shandies—the concept of mixing different types of beer with different juices is as interesting as this individual example.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

I really hate to make David make another syrup, but I have to do it. At least this one, like the strawberry syrup from a few months ago, can be used on pancakes if there is anything left. The cocktail is from Better Homes and Gardens, of all places, and is a Blackberry-Bourbon Lemonade. Blackberries are part of our youth so it seems fitting that we incorporate them in a drink in syrup and fruit form.

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Beer Week 2015 (North Carolina)

NC BeersProposed By: Jonathan

Reviewed By: David

I love spring. My beard is shaved, the flowers are starting to bloom, all the trees are budding, and the slight chill to the air is welcome, not foreboding. This week was my turn to supply the beers and the testing panel assembled on our back patio to do our scientific research and tasting. Here’s the lineup with descriptions mostly supplied by brewery websites:

Triple C Chocolate Covered Pretzel Stout (Charlotte): This beer starts with four malts – German Pilsner, Special B, white and chocolate wheats. It is aged in bourbon barrels and then on cacao nibs. The final addition is to add salt for the full pretzel treatment. Obviously meant to be the dessert for this tasting.

Howard Brewing General Lenoir’s Old Ale (Lenoir): This one was picked for its tie to NC history. The recipe comes from a 1795 hand written note attributed to General William Lenoir. The beer is touted as a traditional ale made with ingredients traced to the late 1700’s and Lenoir’s Fort Defiance. If we are going to taste beers from NC, we might as well taste a caramel and roast ale that is living history.

Highland Brewing Weizenbock Ale (Asheville): Highland is celebrating its 20th anniversary and I got to visit there with my wife, sister, brother-in-law and nephew last fall. They have created a group of small batches to honor the anniversary and this is one of them. The website notes for this beer tout flavors of cloves and bananas and malts that include wheat, barley and chocolate rye. I do have to say that when we toured, our nephew Dan knew more about beer than our guide, so I should have sent him one of these to try.

Foothills IPA of the month for March (Winston-Salem): The label is a caricature of Boston terrier mix named Murphy who in turn was named after a band. They really emphasize the final Citra and Lemondrop hops that provide the citrus bloom to the flavors, and the traditional German malts that give it depth.

NoDa Brewing Hop Drop & Roll (Charlotte): This beer won the 2014 World Beer Cup Gold Medal for American Style IPA which is the most contested category based on the number of entries. Hopping occurs throughout the brewing process with a late addition of Citra and Amarillo hops. Multiple malts add depth and body to this brew.

Holy City Bowen’s Island Oyster Stout (Charleston, SC): There are 2 bushels of oysters per 15 barrels of beer in this stout. I bought this one in Charleston a couple of months ago (as a note to our nephew Dan, it is not skunked being two months old) and sent one of these as a bonus beer. I like odd numbers and I am calling it a bonus so that I was sending 5 beers plus one.

David can rate these in order but I have to provide my tasting notes supplemented by my illustrious panel. One of the tasters is not a fan of IPA’s so we spared him the Hop Drop & Roll. That said it was the best of these beers, even if the award may have biased our judging. The Chocolate Pretzel Stout was probably second with an amazing complexity that reflected the numerous ingredients and careful attention to the brewing process. Surprisingly the General Lenoir Ale was the next favorite. The intrepid tasters noted that is best represented the concept of beer. The Weizenbock was a German style beer with little to distinguish it, the Foothills IPA for March was good but not spectacular, and the Oyster Stout suffered for having followed the Pretzel Stout. A regular beer after dessert? That’s hardly fair.

Here’s David’s Review:

March IPADuring our first week of beer, Jonathan threw down the gauntlet. He sent selections to convince me to like IPAs, and, while I won’t concede it’s my favorite style of beer, I enjoyed both of the IPAs he sent… and the others too. Like last week, not one of these beers was a bust. All were quite good, even and especially the IPAs. Reluctantly, maybe I’ll have to rethink my perverse antipathy toward the beer everyone else seems to enjoy… along with my distaste for many movies, literature, music, and art popular and universally beloved.

Nah.

I’ve ranked these beers, and I can’t help noticing how differently I regarded them… but it’s more a matter of preference than taste. I wouldn’t turn down any:

6. Holy City Bowen Island Oyster Stout: My wife really enjoyed this dense and dark beer, and I also appreciated its evocation of smoked oysters. I liked it much better than I expected I would and think it’d make an excellent cooking beer. Oyster stout just may not be my thing.

5. Triple C Chocolate Pretzel Stout: Chocolate covered pretzels are one of my favorite foods in the world, but I confess some fear of stouts. This one possesses the characteristic intimidating gravity and dark bitterness that sometimes turn me off, but, as a dessert beer, it was surprisingly good. Can’t say I tasted chocolate or pretzels, though.

4. General Lenoir Old Ale: I expected to like this one the best because it’s a sort of red, British style ale, the style I enjoy most consistently. Plus, the history is so cool. I did enjoy it, though its flavors didn’t seem quite as well integrated as some of the others. It tasted alcoholic—though the NoDa was the quite clear champion there!—and its carbonation seemed quite sharp, undercutting its mellow flavors.

3. NoDa Hop, Drop & Roll IPA: I know this one was supposed to be the award winner, and you have to love the name. It reminded me of the posters in my college dorm reminding us what to do should we happen to catch fire. I liked the beer too. It made very positive first impression, but it was the second best IPA for my taste. It amasses layer on layer on layer of hops. In the end, I found the combination of hops overwhelming by the time I emptied the glass.

2. Foothills March IPA: My objection to IPAs has always been how unbalanced many of these beers are, but this one was nicely fruity. For me, the strong hops complemented rather than overwhelmed the character of the beer… like a hoppy plum. Then again, as this beer is from my old hometown Winston-Salem, maybe it’s just nostalgic pride.

1. Highland Brewing Wiezenbock: My understanding of the Weizenbock style is limited, but I know it’s wheat beer and, as such, delivers just what you’d expect—a lighter, cloudier character that’s more subtle than bold—but, for me, the bock part of this ale also made it rich, roasty, and a little on the sweet side. I like the sweet side.

Jonathan’s take: A beautiful spring afternoon tasting beer. That’s probably the winner.

David’s take: Some IPAs are good… but that’s all you’re getting out of me.

Next Week (Proposed By David):

It’s been quite some time since either of us invented a cocktail, but I often fool around with the ingredients we have left over, and I’m ready to risk introducing one of my concoctions to my tough-reviewing brother. I’m calling it a 3GT. The letters stand for gin, ginger beer, Goldschläger, and tonic. Here’s hoping Jonathan hasn’t consumed all of those former ingredients… and won’t be too hard on me.

Beer Week 2015 (Chicago)

crop2Proposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

This weekend seemed especially apt for taking a break from cocktails and trying some local beers. Saturday Chicago dyed the river green and let luridly green bands of 20-something drunks loose to rove the city (mostly its bars, but some get lost) in overcrowded trolleys. Invariably some happy leprechauns will end up caterwauling down my block singing/shouting incomprehensively. An angry leprechaun may start a fight that ends up on the front hood of the parked car in which you’ve taken refuge. Overindulgent leprechauns—which seems all of them—will leave parts of green get-ups and curious splatters on sidewalks.

It’s not my favorite day of the year, so I was happy to escape and have a much smaller celebration at home.

We’ve done this beer exchange before, and, last time, I was so scientific and systematic. This time, I went to my favorite liquor store and picked out four big bottles (bombers) from the aisle labeled “Midwest Breweries.” All the breweries were small, all but one in Chicago, and most were unusual varieties of ale. Here are the bottles I sent:

Enkel, an abbey style ale by Une Annee Brewery: The most conventional and plainly (almost generically) labeled of all the ales I sent, this beer sits solidly in the Belgian monastery style, and the brewery, which is only a couple of years old, focuses on just Belgian and French ales. A little less alcoholic than their other offerings, they tout Enkel as an ideal accompaniment to a meal.

Bam Noire, a dark farmhouse ale by Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales: Largely a French style, farmhouse ales can be tart or sour, but, uncharacteristically, this beer uses darker, burnt malts. It’s really a marriage of two types of ales. Jolly Pumpkin was the only non-Chicago brew I chose—it’s from Michigan—and it’s also the one you’re most likely to find outside Chicago.

Can’t Someone Else Do It?, a double India Pale Ale from Spiteful Brewing: As I’ve discussed with my brother, I’m perhaps the only person on the planet not crazy about the IPA craze. I like hops, I do, but this style seems to focus so exclusively on hops that many versions lack any sort of subtlety or nuance. That said, I haven’t given up and know my brother likes them, so I chose one from a “nanobrewery” in town. Plus, I like their labels, which are more than a little surreal.

Pipeworks G&T, a gin and tonic inspired ale by Pipeworks Brewery: What makes this ale “Gin and tonic inspired” is the inclusion of spices besides hops, some botanicals and citrus. I thought I should send at least one outside-the-box selection, and Pipework seems perfect for providing that. They are super-small, and a new self-made and hand-distributed beer seems to come out every week. I haven’t been able to keep up, but I’ve liked what I’ve tried… and loyal readers of this blog will know of my history with gin and tonics.

Here are Jonathan’s Reviews:

JbmbeerThe best part of beer week is that David sends me everything that I need. The doorbell rang early in the week and when I opened it, there was a box full of beer. In this case it was four bombers (a term for oversized bottles of beer I recently learned) to go with the list that I had been sent earlier. All I had to do was assemble my tasting panel and I was ready to go, Fortunately, my son Josh was around and my neighbor Rob is always ready to try the drink, or in this case beer, of the week. So without further ado, here is the list in ascending order:

  1. Pipeworks G & T Ale. As David has described, G & T really means gin and tonic. I could taste those flavors, although they are subtle, but actually wished they were more prominent. The thing that really made me like this less (I liked all the beers so this is just an order of which I liked the most) was the odd mouth feel. That may be a wine term, but this beer had an odd viscosity that distracted from the flavor. My fellow tasters did not mind, and I think it rated higher with them.
  1. Bam Noire Farmhouse Ale. This beer had a wild yeast quality that gave it a welcome sour taste. It was complex, tasty and defied categorization. The body was really nice and it had a deep color that was also pleasant. Beers rarely live up to the label and/or web site description but this one came close. If it were part of a blind test I would have sworn this was a German beer.
  1. Une Annee Abbey Ale (Enkel). I still have questions about the brewery name and the beer name – is it an abbey ale or an enkel and what the heck is an enkel? Add to that the label description that talks about a “brett” taste and I was really confused. Brett, as it ends up, is a negative for wines and a positive for beers. It describes a leathery taste that I must have completely missed. But I loved the beer, it was smooth, had a complex flavor and a really nice color. The other tasters thought it too subtle, but they still liked it.
  1. Spiteful Brewing Can’t Someone Else Do It Double IPA. They had me with the label that was an illustration of two creatures (sloths I suppose) with shirts that read “sloth life.” The description suggested that the right amount of procrastination is always useful in getting someone else to take care of chores—a fantastic life lesson unless you are the one who gives in. David and I differ about IPAs. He feels hops are overused and I think they sing a song of flavor. This beer had the perfect combination of flavor and body to accompany any meal, especially the pizzas we paired it with. I recently tried a white whale beer (the heavily pursued Bell’s Hopslam) that was excellent, but this was better. Josh and I split this one and I wished I had stolen his share.

Jonathan’s take: I hope that my selections offer as much variety. The best part was the massive differences is each of these beers.

David’s take: I liked all of these beers and for different reasons, but, surprisingly, the beer I want to try again is the double IPA, which seemed especially good.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

I have already picked NC beers from some of my favorite breweries. I also found one that I had never heard of but it has an historical context. Last time I avoided IPAs, but this time I am going to try to make David like them, or at least one of them that is my favorite. Now we just need to get them shipped so he has time to taste over few days time.

Beer Cocktails

DB@Proposed by: David

Proposed by: Jonathan

Here are two reasons we both proposed drinks this week. First: I’ve been curious about beer cocktails (or “beer-tails”) for quite awhile and, since it may be some time before we revisit the style, it’s better to have two representatives instead of one.

Second: I don’t have any more Chartreuse. Jonathan’s choice—Last Call to Porter —requires Chartreuse, which I used to have, which people drank up at a cocktail party I hosted (because they never drink up the Crème de Menthe), and which is too expensive to replace.

Only the second reason is true.

But let’s pretend it’s really the first. Beer cocktails have been around forever—there are recipes for mixing beer with other ingredients from the 17th century—and a lot of people know the basic ones, like the Shandy (beer and lemonade) or a Liverpool Kiss (Guinness and Crème de Cassis), the Michelada (a sort-of beer Bloody Mary) or a Black Velvet (stout and champagne, beautifully layered to separate) or a Boilermaker (beer with a shot of whiskey, sometimes just plopped right in the pint glass). However, with the growing interest in the various styles of craft beer plus the growing interest in cocktails, bartenders are experimenting with other spirits—even gin!—and/or liqueurs.

A beer cocktail has certain advantages. Instead of extending volume with a soft drink or mixer, you complicate the flavors—in a good way—with beer. And, depending on the beer you use, the combination can be quite merrymaking. I started to say “potent,” but I’ve decided from now on that, today, “merrymaking” will be my synonym of choice.

Volume, however, can be a challenge. “When you’re working with beer, you’re dealing with longer drinks. You have to make sure that what you add accentuates the beer,” says Daniel Hyatt, bar manager at The Alembic Bar in San Francisco. The second challenge he identifies is, “Just getting people to drink it.”

He believes the key is finding cooperative flavors. Brown spirits—scotch, rye, bourbon, and all the whiskeys—pair well with ales, stouts, and porters, where gin and white ales might align for another alternative. Belgian beers, which can sometimes be herbal and merrymaking, go well with Tequila, and dark or spiced rum might work well with a lager. Some folks apparently use beer in creating syrups for mixed drinks, which is another way of introducing hops to a cocktail without making it too merry.

De Beauvoir

In deciding which beer-tail to try, I had many choices, including one popularized by the author of Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess, called Hangman’s Blood that combines Guinness and gin, rum, whiskey, brandy, and port and then tops that with champagne. I thought about that one but decided it’s much too much merry to make.

So I found a drink called De Beauvoir (which I thought might be literary too but is actually a place) that won a beer cocktail contest in 2013 and uses smoked porter with Rye, Frangelico (no one at the party drank that either), plus a little sugar and lemon juice.

Here’s the recipe:

1 oz. Rye

2/3 oz. Frangelico

1/2 oz. Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice

2 oz. Smoked Porter

1 tsp. brown sugar

1 dash Whiskey Barrel Bitters

The recipe calls for shaking these ingredients with ice and then fine straining them into a coupe glass garnished with orange peel. As I don’t like my beer shaken or diluted, I just combined them with a spoon. It worked.

Some quick notes: I tried this cocktail twice with two different porters, and I definitely preferred the smokier of the two because it balanced the sweetness best—as far as I’m concerned, the sugar is optional—it’s sweet enough without it. I couldn’t find Whiskey Barrel Bitters, which, as I communicated to my brother, was mighty disappointing, but I used Jerry Thomas bitters. They were nicely woody and smoky too. That’s what you want I think.

Last Call to Porter

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After two weeks where we discussed ideas for drinks and where we get those ideas, this week was a sourcing challenge. David suggested cocktails that incorporate beer. He provided a link that thoroughly reviewed the concept, and suggested some recipes, but he didn’t specify any cocktail in particular. That left a lot of latitude and a great deal of fun in finding a couple of contrasting ideas.

The first idea was the easiest. I get a weekly e-mail from The Splendid Table that spotlights a recipe and links a number of others. There is often a noveaux cocktail included with those links, and a couple of weeks ago it was one called the Last Call to Porter. Being considerate of my brother, and manipulative since I wanted to try it, I forwarded the e-mail with a strong suggestion that it might be appropriate for the next week. That was when I found out that David’s friends had liberated his Chartreuse one cocktail at a time. Fortunately, he suggested a category rather than a drink which left me, and my half bottle of Chartreuse, in business.

The Last Call to Porter is the invention of Katie Rose of Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The drink was inspired by an historic, and in many ways tragic, event in England. In 1814 the Meux Brewery of London suffered a catastrophic event when a large vat of porter beer ruptured and in turn caused other vats to rupture. The resulting flood, there was an estimated 323,000 gallons let loose,  caused the tragic death of as many as nine individuals but also led some Londoners to head to the streets to capture the flowing porter with buckets.

Katie Rose’s cocktail combines the historic porter with bourbon and two liqueurs. Bourbon (she specifies 1 ounce Knob Creek) is combined with a half-ounce each of two monk made liqueurs – Green Chartreuse and Benedictine. Those are shaken with ice, strained into a coupe and topped with porter. She suggested a Milwaukee porter but I used People’s Porter (seems more fitting since the townspeople were most affected by the flood) from Winston-Salem, N.C.

The recipe sounds like a battle of flavors, especially since the two liqueurs have so many ingredients, but it is the Chartreuse and porter that shine through. Porter is so mellow and balanced from the roasted malts and the herbs of the liqueurs balance that perfectly. I am not sure where the bourbon fits in but the drink is smooth like a porter, and complex like a classic cocktail. Same admonition I often give though, this drink should be sipped.

I wanted a second beer cocktail that would contrast the herb heavy flavor and richness of the Last Call to Porter. That led me to a variation on the shandy which is often a summer cocktail. Typically a shandy is beer mixed with lemonade, ginger beer or a soft drink. They have become so common that there are a number of varieties pre-mixed and sold in the beer case.

I chose a shandy style cocktail called the Beer’s Knees which is a riff on the gin based cocktail the Bee’s Knees. A Bee’s Knees mixes gin, honey and lemon in a coupe while the Beer’s Knees is a mix of gin (1.5 oz.), lemon juice (1 oz.), honey syrup (1 oz.) and hefeweizen (3 oz.). Mix the first three ingredients, top with beer, add ice (or not if you so choose) and garnish with lemon. Since it is not summer anymore, unfortunately, I was used a hefeweizen style winter white ale from Bell’s to use in the recipe. Compared to the first drink, this one was a beautiful color, light and brisk thanks to the lemon. The honey offers slight sweetness in perfect combination with the lemon and wheat beer. This cocktail also kept me in good graces since it is a style of drink, and beer, that my wife enjoys much more than porter and herbed liqueurs.

Jonathan’s take: This week combines the old world and new, beer and cocktails, and a challenge to sources, all with a history lesson thrown in.

David’s Take: I loved the De Beauvoir—it was rich and warming, perfect for the season—and I’d recommend making it a double. You have to finish the porter anyway…

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

Last year, I had suggested a drink that could be served to the masses for Thanksgiving. This year I messed up and made that suggestion, Pear Bourbon Cider, two weeks too early. That won’t prevent me from mixing up a variation of the PBC (who knew TJ’s Pear Cinnamon sold out so quickly and I would have to use something else) for a house full on Thursday. That leaves a drink of the week, though, so my suggestion is the B-52. It is a blast from the past that is part shot and part dessert drink. It is also small enough to fit into whatever space is left after all of the gluttony. There are a great number of variations too, all with unique names, so guests can choose their own version.

 

The Ultimate Margarita

Proposed by: JonathanMarge

Reviewed by: David

Our Mother asked me a few weeks ago how we come up with the cocktail of the week. Frankly, I think what she was really asking was “Why the heck did you drink that?” in reaction to some odd drink that we had tried. It did make me pause and consider how I arrive at a proposal. Most of the time, the genesis of the idea occurs in those obsessive wee hours of the morning when I am lying awake during a regular episode of insomnia. This week though, it was simply my turn to celebrate a national holiday, just as David had celebrated St. Patrick’s Day. And what better way to celebrate National Chip and Dip Day than the classic margarita.

Here’s a surprise – the margarita has a murky and quirky history. There’s the story of a socialite from Dallas who created the drink as an experiment while hosting friends in Mexico. The problem with that explanation, despite her first name being Margarita, is that there are references to margaritas that pre-date her party in 1948. Next up is the showgirl who was allergic to liquor except tequila, and the bartender who created a drink to sidestep that allergy. Seriously, I am no allergist and don’t play one on TV, but allergic to liquor except tequila? Sounds plausible as a reason to become a shoeless expatriate, but little else.

That leaves a couple of explanations that make a lot more sense. The first is that the margarita is a cocktail version of the traditional tequila shot served with a wedge of lime and a bit of sprinkled salt. It does not take a leap of faith or an allergy to follow the progression from that to a salt lined glass with a lime and tequila mix in it. The second is my personal favorite explanation, though, because of its tie to my sweet yellow lab Daisy. A Daisy cocktail is a sour (alcohol, citrus and sweet element) with the addition of soda or seltzer. In particular, a tequila daisy contains lemon juice, sugar, tequila, orange liqueur and soda water. Add the fact that Daisy is a diminutive nickname for Margaret, and the English translation of margarita in turn can be “daisy flower” and you have a story worth swallowing.

The margarita is a classic for a number of reasons. It is easy to make, particularly if you don’t mind pre-made mixers, and easy to drink. It also invokes a relaxed and tropical atmosphere where worries float away thanks to a popular musical artist who shall go unnamed thanks to rabid trademark enforcement. Finally, there are so many options for variation simply by changing the type of tequila, the orange liqueur and/or the citrus. Don’t forget frozen or on the rocks either.

I chose the Tyler Florence recipe because it incorporates some of those variations while retaining the classic form. The recipe makes four servings by mixing ½ cup fresh lime juice, 1 tablespoon of sugar, ¼ cup orange liqueur, ¼ cup triple sec, 1 cup tequila and the odd addition of ½ can of lager. All ingredients but the lager are combined and blended, the lager is added and mixed, and the drink strained into iced filled glasses that are salt rimmed (or not). Bold, strong and orange forward, this is an exceptional version of the classic.

margaritaHere’s David’s Review:

I occasionally order a margarita out—when the server describes something unlikely or exotic—but I don’t drink many. They’re sweet, slushy, more dessert-y than a before-dinner drink should be, and often scary, lurid hues generally not found in food (or, sometimes, in nature). Plus they delay my beer.

As Friday started my spring break from school, however, a margarita sounded awfully good, and this version was awfully good. I don’t know enough about the cocktail to say how commonly bartenders add a splash of lager, but, to me it made this drink.

Like many cocktails, margaritas balance sour and sweet, but the botanical element seems most powerful and important to me. Depending upon the orange liquor and triple sec you use—I used Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao and Luxardo Triplum, respectively—there’s a sort of marmalade taste that adds to the bitter lime citrus and the distinctive herbal aloe scent and cactus flavor of tequila. But the addition of the beer, which I registered largely as hops, take that element a step further. At first, the sugar in the recipe worried me, but now it seems entirely necessary, an effective counterpoint. If I hadn’t splashed the beer in myself (and I love splashing), I might not have guessed what lurked in this concoction, but I certainly noticed it when, on the second go-round, I forgot to splash. Without hops, this margarita seemed undistinguished, pedestrian. With hops, bueno.

I know who Tyler Florence is because he hosts one of my favorite Food Network shows, The Great Food Truck Race (and Tyler’s Ultimate, which I’ve never seen) , but when I saw the name of this drink, “Ultimate Margarita,” I harrumphed. “I’ll decide about that!” I said. I’ve decided my every margarita will follow his recipe from now on.

Jonathan’s take: From the addition of lager to the double dose of orange, this is not the run of the mill happy hour special margarita.

David’s Take: Wonderful. Let spring begin… too bad it snowed this morning.

Next Week (proposed by David):

When I think of a Rusty Nail, I picture a hard-bitten detective in the chilled half-darkness of some dive, bellied up to a bar, and waxing about the gritty streets and the poetic depravity of humanity. The cop is usually a little too far from pension and nursing his or her last ounce of optimism. But I’ve never had a Rusty Nail. The recipe, it turns out, has only two ingredients, and one is pretty sweet. So maybe just the name is hard-bitten. We’ll see next week.

Chicago Beers

20140226_191524_resized-1Proposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Here’s a second week of beer, this time from Chicago, home of the polar plunge.

Chicagoans have a thing about people who claim to be from Chicago and are actually from Chicago-land (read: suburbia). It’s easier, we all know, to say you’re from Chicago the city than to admit (and explain) what BFE town you really inhabit. I notice, however, that—quite hypocritically—Chicagoans are quite willing to call those BFE’s “Chicago” when it comes to beer.

I chose beers from ChicagoLAND, featuring those breweries that most Chicagoans have decided to adopt for this—and only this—purpose. I drew the line at Indiana, but just barely. Here’s the rundown:

Ticklefight Barleywine (Solemn Oath Brewery): Solemn Oath is actually in Naperville, a god-forsaken place, but they’re a bold, and adventurous brewery, introducing beers in various styles and then moving on. The best, they promise, will return, but they mean to try as many new brews as they can. I didn’t know much about them before choosing this beer—maybe for its name—but barley wine is a style I love, potent and rich.

Heavenly Helles Lager (Church Street Brewery): Home is Itasca, Illinois, west of the city, but let’s forget that. Not loving this style, I found this beer listed at the best in a taste test of Chicago lagers. I also loved their origins, which began when a son decided his engineer dad, needed a hobby and suggested home brewing. It’s a relatively new concern—2012—but Joe Gregor, the dad, traveled widely in Germany and meant to give this beer his particular love, featuring “Unique malt complexity” and “a straw-colored clarity.” That means almost nothing to me but sounds good.

Domaine Du Paige (Two Brothers Brewing Company): The two brothers of Two Brothers, Jim and Jason Ebel, started as home brewers and their company is 100% family owned. Domaine Du Paige is a French Saison inspired by their time in France, described as “toasty” and “caramel,” but it’s only one of a very diverse family of beers. I actually hoped to send Jonathan Cane and Abel, one of my favorite Rye beers, but their whole collection is interesting.

Over Ale (Half Acre Beer Company): Now Half Acre is in Chicago, actually not too far from where I live. I’ve tried nearly all their beers, and, even when they’re outside my tastes, I enjoy their efforts. They describe Over Ale as “A styleless wonder,” but a more precise description of the beer is a brown ale with less roasted malt character. I’d call it a session beer. Though at 6% ABV and in tall cans, it offers enough to make someone quite happy.

Eugene Porter (Revolution Brewery): Revolution is a place in my (sort of) neighborhood but almost impossible to visit because of the hipster crowds that crowd oldsters like me out. Part of the problem is that their food and ambiance is quite good too—bacon fat popcorn and a long mahogany bar—so getting there is difficult. Eugene Porter is named after my personal hero, Eugene V. Debs, a man who ran for president from prison in 1920 (Vote for prisoner 9653!). It’s uses Belgian malts and is black, black, black—intense.

5 Grass Hoppy Ale (5 Rabbit Brewery): Actually Bedford Park. 5 Rabbit Brewery takes its inspiration from Atzec mythology, and 5 Grass (Macuilmalinalli) is a god of excess, that, according to the website, “reminds us that all living things form a grand community that is counting on us to do our part as thoughtful, caring stewards and good neighbors to all life.” Okay. It’s a pale ale, supposed to be smooth and drinkable, and posses “the fresh outdoorsy aroma of the desert” along with sage, rosemary, and Tasmanian pepperberry.

Like Jonathan, I regret omitting breweries, Goose Island, probably the most commercially successful of the microbreweries in Chicago (they call themselves “Chicago’s Craft Beer,”) and Three Floyds in Munster, Indiana, which I’d consider the premier brewery in the Chicago area, with complex and flavorful offerings that are consistently masterful. But, alas, I had to draw a line somewhere.

beerbgoneHere’s Jonathan’s Review:

A few years ago I read a book by Garrett Oliver called The Brewmaster’s Table. Oliver is the brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery and the intent of the book is to match beers with food. It is so much more, though, including a history of beer, explanation of methods and mostly a fantastic description of beer styles. It inspired me to try different beers even if they felt out of my taste zone. I had hoped that this two week experiment would do the same. That goal was accomplished.

Like David, I feel inadequate describing the microbrews and the subtlety of their flavors, but I can tell you what I like and what leaves me indifferent. I will also rank these beers from least favorite to favorite, although in one way or another I liked all of them.

6. Heavenly Helles. I guess lager is just not my thing either. It is described punnishly as a “righteously good beer” and it is good. Where it did not live up to description, was in its crispness, and being spicy and floral. The flavor was mostly monotone to me with little differentiation from first taste to last. I do have to say the color was fantastic.

5. Domaine Dupage. You would think that a beer made by Two Brothers Brewing had to be tailor-made for the brothers’ blog. It also had an instant appeal as a style of beer rarely encountered (French style country ale) in a market flooded by different versions of a small group of styles. The problem was that it promised a sweet start with a cleansing hops finish, and while the first part was there the second never appeared. It also noted that it was particularly good with food, and that in fact was so. I drank the last part with some garlic heavy white pizza and they paired very well. Just one more note: I collect caps from different beer and the cap from this brewery is one of the best I have ever found. Love their logo and that they advertise themselves on the cap (what a concept).

4.  Tickle Fight American Barley Wine. This was the most intriguing when I first unpacked the box. I have seen, read and heard of barleywine but had never tried it. It is strong at almost 11% alcohol, but that doesn’t cover up the subtlety of taste. The effervescence, slight sweetness and lingering hops taste are all extremely interesting. Would love to see what Garrett Oliver’s advice for food pairing with barleywine is because it is definitely a beer that would enhance a meal. Alas, I leant the book to someone and it never came back.

3. Over Ale. This is the first one that I tried, and I made an overt effort to enjoy it without reading how the brewery described this ale. My guess was that it was a brown ale (it is a caramel color) or American ale. It ends up they describe it as a “styleless wonder” and that is what it is. No matter its description, it had great body and a smooth taste that was consistent from one sip to another. If this is a Chicago Ale, I would love to have more.

2. Eugene Porter. The label, or design of the can in this case, is similar to People’s Porter one of my favorite NC beers so I was favorably inclined. I also love porters in general and this lived up to my expectation. Porters have great body and balance and this beer exemplified those qualities. A lot of beers of this and other styles claim caramel and chocolate notes but don’t meet those promises. This one does. A really dark porter, it had mellow and melded flavors in perfect balance. My only regret is that I did not save it for the perfect 70 degree afternoon we had today. It would have been a great complement to the weather.

1. 5 Grass. There is a home experiment where you can taste a small piece of paper and gauge a predisposition to certain preferences. David’s son, Ian, sent our family the test many years ago and it explained a lot about the preference differences between my sons. I am just guessing, but I think the same differences would be true between me and my brother. I love India pale ales and pale ales whereas he questions why they are so dominant. The notes on this beer talk of deserts, pine flavors, unusual hops, and all sorts of spices. I didn’t get that. What I did get was the crispness of the style, the added florals of the hops and the perfect mix of flavors that the best of the cocktails we have tried have exhibited. IPA’s are a fantastic beer to pair with food (spicy food in particular) and 5 Grass holds true to that. It’s also darn tasty just by itself.

eugeneJonathan’s take: David sent an incredible spectrum of beers. I hate that I had to rank them, but am happy that I got to drink them.

David’s take: It’s been a fun two weeks. Though I’ve tasted many of these beers before, this tasting made me wonder if I’ve given them my full attention, the attention they deserve.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

David described a sling in his introduction to A Sling of Sorts #2. That brought to mind a drink I have heard referenced so many times, but have never tried – the Singapore Sling. There are differing theories to the history of the drink and also different recipes. I am going to leave it up to David to choose what recipes he wants to try.

North Carolina Beers

beer1Proposed by: Jonathan

Reviewed by: David

It’s the first of two beer weeks for us. One could argue that is just a way to prove we’re not too savvy about other beverages, but it was intended to give each of us chance to pick out 6 micro-brews for each other and take a short break from cocktails.

This week was my turn to send David those beers and I decided to concentrate on NC brews. Like the regions of Scotland (okay that may be my fantastical view), I divide NC into mountains, piedmont and coast when choosing favorites. There is at least one beer from each area, although the piedmont is overrepresented since more of them are bottled and distributed. In no particular order these are the beers that I sent:

Weeping Radish Ruddy Radish. Weeping Radish is located in the community of Grandy on the coast of NC and is the oldest currently operating brewery in the state. Their beers are hard to get, but luckily folks know I enjoy them and are nice enough to get me some when they are near the Outer Banks. In this case I can’t review Ruddy Radish since the bottle I sent was the only one I had. Most of their beers are German style, but descriptions of this call it either an American Amber or Red Ale. My favorite beer from this brewery is Black Radish which is described as a Schwarzbier. I drank all of those though.

Foothills Torch Pilsner and Cottonwood Frostbite. These beers are together because they are both made at Winston-Salem’s Foothills Brewing since Foothills purchased the Cottonwood brands (that originated in Boone) when they bought brewing equipment from an older craft beer brewer. The pilsner is a true Czech style one and was chosen since David prefers, or at least I think he prefers, less hoppy beer than I do. That said, Frostbite is a seasonal Black IPA made with a roasted malt of barley and wheat. While it has an added bitterness from the hops, that is balanced from the flavors introduced by the roasted malt. Frostbite is my favorite among those I sent.

Big Boss Blanco Diablo. This one is a Witbier with orange peel and coriander added for flavor. Once again this was intended to balance some of the other choices with a lighter flavor and the option to garnish (it would an orange slice in our house even if some folks think that is beer sacrilege) or even make a cocktail of some type with the beer.

Olde Mecklenburg Fat Boy Baltic Porter. Another seasonal beer, Fat Boy is brewed in Charlotte where I live. Olde Mecklenburg follows the German roots of large parts of this area and they adhere to the purity rules of German beer making. Baltic Porter falls under the lager group and is slightly different from the English style porter. In this case, Fat Boy had a surprising amount of different flavors but was smooth like you would expect a porter to be.

Highland Thunderstruck Coffee Porter. Another porter, but in this case the English style with the added benefit of incorporating another beverage love of David’s—coffee. Highland is located in the micro-brew capital of NC, Asheville, and as such is just one of many offerings available from that city. My favorite beers from Highland are the Kashmir IPA and the seasonal Devil’s Britches IPA but both live up to the IPA hoppiness that I was trying to avoid in my selections for David. This porter, like their Oatmeal Stout and Black Mocha Stout, is perfect proof that dark does not mean strong or bitter. Instead it has the flavor of chocolate to complement the coffee.

What is really hard to believe is that even with six selections, I did not send any from two other favorites. Natty Greene’s Brewery in Greensboro has an incredible variety of beers with consistent excellence, and I think Carolina Brewery in Chapel Hill is the best place to sit and enjoy a pint. The last part could be related to a bias towards that certain part of NC, but the bias does not diminish how good their brewing is.

photo-76Here’s David’s Review:

I’m a more savvy beer drinker than cocktailian—I know the styles, read books about their history, understand different ingredients and preparations, and try to try each type at some time or another. I’ve even brewed my own—unfortunately indifferent—beer.

That said, my ability to review beers falls well short of what I read on Beer Advocate, and I apologize. I won’t have fancy terms to apply and won’t make you taste the beer as you read my descriptions. Damn it, Jim, I’m a writer, not a virtual reality engineer.

And, like an art museum visitor—something I do in addition to drinking—I know what I like more than what’s like-able. I’ve put these beers in reverse order, knowing, as Jonathan suggests, some styles don’t resonate with me. Any pleasing beer of some types would be surprising.

Come to think about it, I’m more snob than connoisseur, so value my remarks as you will:

6. Torch Pilsner (Foothills Brewing): I drank this beer with profound prejudice, I’m sorry to admit. I drink ales instead or lagers, and, when I do drink lagers, like the Vienna or Dortmunder style over Pilsner, which seems so restricted in requirements one seldom differs from another. This brew as “drinkable,” which, to be fair, my wife liked best about it.

5. Fat Boy Baltic Porter/ Gefühl Der Freiheit (The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery): Porters are an acquired taste, and I’ve taken the trouble to acquire it. Yet some, like this one, are quite smoky, using heat to release and change the sugar in the barley. This brew seemed quite barley-y to me, burnt without the proper balance of either sweetness of hoppiness.

4. Thunderstruck Coffee Porter (Highland Brewing Company): As much as I love coffee (it’s difficult to express my affection for coffee), I avoid stouts or porters including “coffee” in their name. A lover and a mistress should never meet. Coffee beer evokes charcoal for me, but this one—while certainly intense—was sweeter, pleasantly heavy without the acid push I usually associate with coffee beers. A surprise. Pleasant.

3. Frostbite (Foothills Brewing): What is it with India Pale Ale these days? The style developed more as a way to prevent spoilage, and now beer drinkers have embraced it to such an extent it crowds out everything else. I was pleased that this beer didn’t have the hoppiness generally associated with the style and the word “black” in its name didn’t mean overcooked barley but a welcome depth. A welcome beer.

2. Bianco Diablo (Big Boss Brewing Company): I confess, two issues concerned me right away—the use of “Diablo,” which is usually an unwelcome sign of potency, and the description on the label “Ale Brewed with Spices.” I’m a purist who loves hops, period. Yet, this beer was wonderful—complex in flavor, one moment spicy and another moment dense and malty. I was surprised again. Loved it.

1. Weeping Radish Red Ale (Ruddy Radish): I’m an ESB (Extra Special Bitter) fan and love session beers (those beers light and engaging enough for a long session of drinking). This one fit my preferences squarely, not so hoppy as to seem medicinal, a little on the sour side, the welcome warmth and complexity that comes from developing malt’s smokiness without burning it. Then again, maybe it’s just the echo of my university’s fight song.

David’s Take: What a pleasure, to try so many wonderful (in their own way) beers. Makes me think of the first time I fell in love.

Jonathan’s take: In the middle of assembling this mix, I made a trip to Denver and had one of the best beers I have ever tasted – Denver Brewing’s Graham Cracker Porter. So many beers, and so little time.

Next Week (proposed by David):

My turn! Even if I can’t get Jonathan to visit me in Chicago, I can introduce him to the prominent and pleasing breweries this city offers. I wish I’d been able to match the variety of styles he offered me, but I hope there will be some illuminating choices among the beers I sent.