Monday, August 25, 2014

Never Say Never: Fruit Beers Seize the Day with Flavor and Refreshment


The more adamantly I proclaim my ambivalence of fruit beers, the more of the labels find a way into my beer fridge.

My public yada-yada and private disdain for fruit-based beers goes back to the early 1990s. It was a time when my favorite beer was Killian’s Red Ale and Bud Light. I was writing about a new brewery, which went out of business nearly as fast as it came into existence. Its very young brewer was launching the venture with a line of fruit beers inspired by similar brews from Germany. The beers were not only way ahead of their time in the U.S. – but also not very good.

Fast forward two decades and my oh my, how the beer landscape has changed. The term “craft beer” flows as easily from the lips of sorority girls as it permeates the vocabulary of bearded hipsters. More breweries than ever dot America’s landscape (3,040 as of July 2014, according to the Brewers Association) and the sheer variety of stylistic expressions (How many way can we make an IPA?) is downright overwhelming. The craft beer revival has spawned growler fill stores and even package shops that specialize ONLY in craft beer, bombers, beers to cellar and one-off specialty brews. No new restaurant concept is complete without at least two dozen taps – or an on-site micro-brewery.

And along the way, fruit beers eased back into my life.

And I embrace them in every form. From the new shandy labels to beers infused with fruit; from Old World fruit ales and tart beers – beer and fruit are uniting in ways that tell me I’m going to get a refreshing, finely crafted beer with every sip.

My favorites? Well, of course! I’m happy to recommend:

Harpoon UFO Raspberry Hefeweizen -- 4.8 ABV
harpoonbrewery.com
 


Wheat beer gets a kick in the pants with the addition of tart raspberry. I've been dishing praise on Harpoon lately and its brewer's skill at balancing authentic beer style with addition of fruit-- like raspberry or pumpkin (see the pumpkin ale story here).

Cloudy dark amber color, unfiltered. Crisp and refreshing on the first sip then a kiss of berry teases the mid-palate. Finishes slightly tart.


Blue Point Blueberry Ale -- 4.6 ABV

bluepointbrewing.com

A delicious batch of golden ale is dosed with 732 pounds of fresh, plump blueberries to create this beer, a year-round best seller for the Patchogue, NY, brewery. Great blueberry aroma rises from the glass and – as should be the case with any fruit beer – there is a spot-on balance of fruit and well-made ale. This is one fruit beer that’s enjoyable enough to uncap more than one in a session. Blue Point was a pioneer in the New York craft beer industry and is a hometown favorite on Long Island. In February, it was announced that Anheuser-Busch bought Bluepoint. At that time, A-B executives did not anticipate any change of staffing or recipes.

RJ Rockers Son of a Peach Hefeweizen – 6 ABV
www.rjrockers.com

Family road trips to Florida when I was a kid were ultimately brought to a screeching halt at the first sign of a hand scrawled placard:

“Fresh Georgia Peaches”

Never mind that most Georgia peaches now come from South Carolina. That familiar sweet, sunshine-filled flavor is one that sticks deep into the gray matter. RJ Rockers has captured it in yet another great example of a well-made Hefeweizen that lays the foundation for perfectly balanced fruit flavor. Amber peachy in color with a light head that exudes aromatics. I could drink this beer year round – and am determined to work it into a marinade.

Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Peach Wheat Ale – 8 ABV
www.kentuckyale.com/kentucky-peach-barrel-wheat-ale

I grew up nearly in the shadow of Kentucky’s great bourbon distilleries and the familiar smell of mash cooking is nearly as prevalent as the aforementioned allure of fresh peaches. In this beer, Alltech marries sweet, oaky bourbon with the great peach taste to create ale that is as enjoyable and refreshing as it is well-balanced and complex. A hint of bourbon kicks in mid-palate – this is ale with authentic flavors and the trademarks of a master brewer’s touch.



Samuel Smith Strawberry Ale – 5.1 ABV

www.merchantduvin.com/brew-samuel-smith-org-strawberry-ale.php

This is the FIRST fruit beer I fell in love with. I often say that my “recreational” beer drinking relies on Old World labels – and this beer is one reason why. Samuel Smith has been making beer for hundreds of years and knows a thing or two about balance, market appeal and flavor. With an ABV that won’t leave you nodding off and just a hint of deliciously juicy organic strawberry, this is THE fruit beer that I recommend first to anyone wanting to head down to the berry patch. Sam Smith’s masterfully-made ale is the foundation; berries are local and organically certified. Fresh, crisp, clean finish.

Lindeman’s Framboise (2.5 ABV) and St. Louis Framboise (2.8 ABV)
www.lindemans.be/start/framboise/en
belgium.beertourism.com/belgian-beers/st-louis-premium-framboise

Yeah, that’s two different labels – ‘cause I like ‘em both equally. “Framboise” means made with raspberries – Framboise was inspired by kriek – tart/sour beers made with cherries. Both of these raspberry beers pour with slight effervescent, beautiful berry color and hit the palate with a pleasing, attention getting sour/tart burst of flavor. There’s a tart sweetness as well, but not so much that you can’t pair these with desserts – like flourless chocolate torte.

Liefmans Cuvee-Brut – 6 ABV
www.liefmans.be/en

Here come the cherries! The foundation of Cuvee-Brut is a blend of Liefmans Oud Bruin and Goudenband from different vintages, and can consist of between 15 and 20 different batches of beers. The blend is dosed with fresh cherries that are macerated for 18 months, bringing out the very best of its intense flavor. Liefmans Cuvée-Brut is a deep reddish-brown color, with a pale head and wood and almond notes. On the palate you  taste the slightly sweet and gently bitter fruit flavors.

Curious Traveler Shandy – 4.4 ABV
travelerbeer.com/beers/curious-traveler

If you recall the first shandies that came to market you were right – the best shandy was still the one you made yourself. Somebody wised up and as a result really captured my attention. Traveler Beer Co. makes a couple of shandy labels – but Curious Traveler has my vote. This wheat ale is well made – then given a squirt of citrusy and brisk lemon and lime. It’s perfect sipper on one of our stifling hot days. With the ABV of a good session beer, this Curious Traveler may just put down roots in my beer fridge.


Want to sample fruit beers -- and the growing number of ciders? The Aug. 30 Savannah Craft Brew Fest will feature a dedicated cider garden -- and several of its brewers will be pouring fruit beers. For more info, tickets and participating brewers, visit the fest website, www.savannahcraftbrewfest.com.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Don't Wait for Your 'Great Pumpkin' -- Chuck & Tim Taste Pumpkin Ales


As summer’s cauldron continues to bubble the mercury in Savannah’s thermometers, many brewers are already coming to market with the distinctive flavors found only in the fall seasonal offerings of pumpkin ales.

For nearly three centuries, brewers – especially those in America – have sought out alternative sources of fermentable ingredients. Barley is the preferred choice, but soon corn and rice found places on the grain bill. Assorted fruits were an easy choice. Pumpkin and its inherent starchiness was a natural – especially as a fall beer that more or less mirrors our fondness of pumpkin pie.

Pumpkin ales are often an acquired taste – and not necessarily a beer that you’ll drink in volume. Picking one from the stockist’s shelves can leave a bad taste in your mouth – pun intended. Some drinkers prefer the bold, sweet and spicy pumpkin pie flavors; others want a more subtle, crafted beer with hints of the orange gourd.

Sitting among ales like Linus in “Peanuts” pumpkin patch won’t help you choose. But beer drinking pals Chuck Mobley and Tim Rutherford tag-teamed this feature and took the bullet for you. Read their reviews, and then grab a pumpkin ale that fits your expectations. 



Tim’s Pumpkin Ales

Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale – 6 ABV
buffalobillsbrewery.com 
America’s Original Pumpkin Ale was first brewed in 1985 at this Hayward, CA, brewpub and brewery. Made with real pumpkin, it has a golden amber color, and the sweet aroma of pumpkin pie.
Yes Chuck, it is, like the label warns, pumpkin pie in a bottle – if you like your pie watery and a tad sour. I didn’t find much to like about this beer – although I suspect its inherent sweetness and holiday spice will appeal to some. Cloudy roasted pumpkin-orange color; the head – oops, it’s gone – leaving me with a pint glass of something I’d rather swap for a poke in the eye.

Shipyard Brewery Pumpkinhead – 4.5 ABV

shipyard.com
There are some great beers coming out of Maine, and this pumpkin entry from Shipyard Brewing Co. in Portland is no exception.
This golden-colored wheat ale has among its malt bill a dose of malted wheat – which shines through the complexity like the North Star pointing the way toward Maine. Yeah, there’s spice and sweetness but the wheat platform seems to be the best foundation upon which to craft pumpkin ale. Pumpkinhead has aromatics that are pleasing, not sickeningly overbearing. Its tolerably low ABV makes it an easy drinker – the beer’s complexity makes it interesting without being such a spiced up seasonal nod to fall. Solid, cream-colored head sustains for a bit and then lingers in a ring around the glass.
Chuck, I know that we both think the wheat style is often overworked. However, the team at Shipyard proves that you can make an appealing beer with weizen at the root.

UFO Pumpkin – 5.9 ABV
harpoonbrewery.com
If it’s a UFO from Harpoon – then it’s a rich and flavorful unfiltered beer. The brewery’s hazy, amber-colored pumpkin beer is brewed with a mélange of Yankee pumpkins, sweet barley and the delicious variety of Northwestern hops that gives it pleasing bitterness on the finish. Kudos to Harpoon brewers for NOT spicing this beer to the point of cloying sweetness. Still I detected a nostalgic hint of clove – like the Clove Gum of my childhood – that subsided as the ale took hold of my palate. This is genuinely pleasing pumpkin ale – well played!

Cisco Pumple Drumkin – 6 ABV
ciscobrewers.com/brewery
This Nantucket-based brewery doesn’t get much shelf space in Savannah – or much attention from craft beer drinkers. And, Chuck, I know you weren’t enamored with this pumpkin ale finalist – but I found the earthy, raw pumpkin aroma unusually appealing. Not overly spiced or sweetened. The beer drinks very clean with some hops bite. If you're looking for the hint of fall with a clean finish, this may be the pumpkin ale for you! 



Chuck’s Pumpkin Ales

Southern Tier Pumking – 8.6 ABV
stbcbeer.com
Pumpkin beers go back to the earliest days of America. A circa-1643 New England folk song includes this ditty: “For we can make liquor, to sweeten our lips, of pumpkins and parsnips and walnut-tree chips.” Now, 271 years later, Pumking – an audacious seasonal from Southern Tier – is a sweet, spicy reminder that fall is approaching, even if it will take its time getting to Savannah. In addition to what you’d expect, pumpkin, of course, along with cinnamon and nutmeg, Southern Tier has added a dainty dollop of vanilla. No parsnips here, Tim, just a creamy pumpkin pie that will make you consider adding a chaser of Cool Whip.

Southern Tier Warlock – 8.6 ABV
stbcbeer.com
Warlock, which Southern Tier describes as an “Imperial Stout Brewed with Pumpkins,” reminded me of my first marriage, Tim. I kept taking sips, trying to talk myself into continuing, even when I knew the relationship was going down in flames. There’s no grace, no style here – just dark, dominating malts with faint hues of pumpkin crying out for attention. Warlock is much like a temptress, purring “hey, you loved Pumking, put down a few buck and give this a try.” There will be no second serving of it at the Mobley house.

Shipyard Brewery Smashed Pumpkin – 9 ABV
shipyard.com
Tim, I’m going to echo the high praise you gave Shipyard Brewery. Its attention to detail is impressively evident on the back label of Smashed Pumpkin, which lists the inclusion of pale ale, wheat and light Munich malts, along with Willamette and Hallertau hops. The result is refined and refreshing. Light in color, it’s a tad sweeter and less spicy than most of its pumpkin counterparts. Its 9-percent ABV gives it pronounced, pleasing warmth and encourages you to slowly sip it. For me, Tim, this would be the perfect fall dessert beer, a grand companion to a pumpkin or pecan pie.

Monday, August 18, 2014

New Beers, New Events on Tap for 7th Savannah Craft Brew Fest on Aug. 30

Where can you sample beer from nearly 80 breweries in one afternoon?

When the 7th annual Savannah Craft Brew Fest throws opens the gates on Aug. 30, that’s exactly what beer fans can do – all for one price.


Brewery and distributor reps and volunteers will pour more than 150 different beers during the Saturday, Aug.30, festival. From popular ciders and meads through easy drinking lagers and fruit beers to hoppy IPAs and imperial style beers – there will be beer choices to please every palate.

The brew fest is historically a launching pad for labels coming to market. Some are available exclusively on fest weekend – and then come to market over the next weeks. Others have already had an intro to Savannah – and are counting on enthusiastic brew fest guests to become raving fans.

Among newcomers this year is
Athens-based Creature Comforts Brewing Co.. The brand came to market earlier this year with a veteran team of brewers – with experience ranging from Twain’s Brewpub & Billiards in Decatur to a Sweetwater Brewing Co. alum. For Savannah’s fest, Creature Comforts will roll out three beers:

Athena: A refreshing, gently tart, German-style wheat beer. This take on classic Berliner has a blend of citric and fruit notes with nods to cider and Sauvignon Blanc.

Bibo Pils: A true pilsner with ingredients from five different countries that has a pronounced continental hop flavor and aroma in an incredibly well-balanced beer.

Reclaimed Rye: A uniquely complex and flavorful amber ale. French oak and rye malt lend to a well-rounded body with delicate undertones of toasted bread, spice, and subtle vanilla.

Tropicalia: A balanced, soft, and juicy IPA. Ripe passion fruit and citrus hop aroma lead to a full, fruit-forward hop flavor that washes over the palate, ending with subtle bitterness.

Home town favorite Moon River Brewing Co. will be pouring a handful of beers, including brew master John Pinkerton’s 2014 GABF gold medal beer, The Bomb – a smooth black ale in the tradition of Irish-style dry stout.

Service Brewing Co. is open on the city’s west side – and makes its festival debut with three beers from its shiny new brew house. The brewery team is made of of West Point grads and former military – talk about a team with discipline! For brew fest, Service Brewing Co. will pour:

Compass Rose IPA: This is a beer that will find your taste buds – an American-style IPA that balances a medium-bodied malt presence with a bitterness that does not overpower.

Ground Pounder Pale: A mix of fruity, hoppy and malty aromas but with the bitterness tempered to accentuate the malt sweetness and character.

Rally Point Bohemian Pils: Classic, easy-drinking pilsner – a beer made to modern tastes with an eye on its great tradition.

Beyond the march around brewer tents with a tasting glass, the Savannah Craft Brew Fest also features:

  • Indoor and outdoor Beer Gardens
  • Import Beer Garden
  • Cider Garden
  • Mixology Garden featuring beer cocktails
  • Sam Adams Brew University featuring a variety of educational sessions
  • Cornhole Tournament
  • Sports Bar showing live football games

New for 2014 is a Mead Garden and Silent Disco.

For full details on special events like the Sam Adams University, tickets and FAQs, visit the fest online at www.savannahcraftbrewfest.com

The Details 

Savannah Craft Brew Fest

Saturday, Aug. 30, 1-5 p.m.

Savannah International Trade & Convention Center

General Admission: $45 per person. Early admission and VIP ticket packages available online, savannahcraftbrewfest.com.


Designated driver tickets: $15

Recommendation: Savannahfoodie.com suggests that you park on the city side of the river and take the free water taxi to the festival site. This year, there will be a separate ticket entrance for water taxi guests. For more, read the FAQ on www.savannahcraftbrewfest.com

Buy tickets online at Ticketmaster.com, both Habersham Beverage locations or by phone at 800.745.3000

The festival includes live music all day and food concessions

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Review: Scooped: Ice Cream Treats, Cheats and Frozen Eats

  The editors at Southern Living must have recipe-tested this cookbook with smiles on their faces – who can’t be made happy with ice cream?
  For the die-hard home cook, there are plenty of original concoctions: from DIY ice cream to sauces, syrups, crispy toppings and cones. “Tips for Success” offers ideas to help make your homemade experience a winner every time.
  And for you imaginative types, there’s still more! Cleverly designed recipes lead your through building your own ice cream cakes, pies and other spectacular ice cream desserts. If sundaes are your thing, you’ll find a block of ways to turn the ordinary ice cream sundae into a picture perfect and artful dessert treat.
  Many of the recipes call for store-bought ice cream – no ice cream freezer required!
  Don your soda jerk paper hat and tackle some of the selections in “Ice Cream Shake,” where you will find amazing blended recipes for towering glasses of Mississippi Mudslide and fizzy Fruity Ice Cream Floats.
  The more than 100 recipes are presented in a format that is as colorful and happy as ice cream itself. Southern Living delivers great food photography – and Scooped is no exception. Most recipes are depicted so you know how your final results should look.
  Dieting? C’mon, everything in moderation! “Ice Cream Bites” scoops up bite-sized treats like Ice Cream Bourbon Balls and Dipped Ice Cream Whoopie Pies that pop right into your mouth. Just eat one!
  Ice cream maker or ice cream eater – there are dozens of delicious ways to spoon your way through the frosty treats of “Scooped.”
  Click to buy Southern Living Scooped: Ice cream treats, cheats, and frozen eats.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Tequila Tasting Party Ingredients

  You will rarely find a drinker who hasn’t “done a shot of Tequila.” Maybe the experience included the ubiquitous salt and lime – and just maybe it was the beginning of a rip-roaring drunk fueled by too many shots.
  Tequila has made some memories – most of which landed on the calendar during your college days. Regardless, Tequila remains one of the most abused – and misunderstood – fine liquors on the back bar.
  Fine liquor?
  In the global liquor industry, Tequila is very much a hand-crafted spirit that follows the same traditions of harvest and distillation that it has for centuries. Tequila making has fostered similar culture as has Scotch or Bourbon making. Working in the Blue Agave fields dries local economies and gives Mexico an important export.
  It takes a Blue Agave plant 8-10 years to mature. When it has reached maturity, “jimadors” moves quickly from plant to plant, harvesting the 65-135 pound piña – the core ingredients in Tequila.
  The piña hearts are split open and steamed in large pressure cookers. The resulting liquids flow into large steel vats for fermentation, where the process takes from 12 hours to several days, depending on several different factors including the amount of water and sugar in the piñas, the type of yeast used and the ambient temperature.
  It takes about 17 pounds of Agave to produce 1 liter of 100 percent Agave Tequila.

Styles of Tequila

  The resulting Tequilas hit your barkeep’s inventory in three styles:
Blanco or Silver also known as Plata, is the traditional Tequila that started it all. Clear and transparent, fresh from the still Tequila is called Blanco (white or silver) and must be bottled immediately after the distillation process. It has the true bouquet and flavor of the Blue Agave.
Reposado or Rested is Blanco Tequila that has been kept (or rested) in wooden casks or vats called "pipones" from two months to as long as one year. The oak barrels give Reposado a mellowed taste, pleasing bouquet, and its pale color. Reposado keeps the Blue Agave taste and is gentler to the palate.
Añejo or Aged is Blanco Tequila aged in white oak casks for more than one year. The maximum capacity of the casks is 350 liters (92.5 gallons). The amber color and woody flavor are derived from the oak. The oxidation that takes place through the porous wood helps to develop the unique bouquet and taste.
Mezcal is also made from Blue Agave, but unlike the strict guidelines for the three Tequila styles above, Mezcal does not have to be produced from Blue Agave – it can be comprised of other Agave varieties. Additionally, true Mezcal is produced by roasting the Agave, shown at right. This gives Mezcal a smoky flavor with tremendous complexity and variety.

Tasting Tequila

  Tequila marries with other ingredients to make a great cocktail – and we all know what happens when the limes and salt come out. But have you ever tasted Tequila critically – or sipped it with genuine Mexican food?
  I suggest tasting just like I taste Scotch or Bourbon to ascertain character.
  Pour a bit into a white wine glass, swirl, take in a deep noseful of the aroma. Gently inhale a mist of Tequila across your tongue. Hey, this is actually kinda sweet! Let the Tequila slide across your tongue and determine the variety of flavor.
  Now, add just a bit of water – this helps “blow off” some of the alcohol aroma and opens the Tequila for better tasting. Now, take in a bit more and hold it in your mouth before swallowing.
  Yeah, well-made Tequila can be just as enjoyable a sipper as Bourbon or Scotch!

Tequila Tasting Party

  Want to explore Tequila with friends at a tasting? Here are my suggestions for a selection of Tequila and Mezcal to sample:

Get the food recipes here.

Cabo Wabo Tequila Blanco
  Handcrafted from 100-percent Weber’s Blue Agave, Blanco boasts unadulterated agave flavors and a slightly spicy character.
Cabo Wabo Tequila Reposado
  An assertive nose of sweet lime, orange and fresh herbs. Maturation in American oak casks for 4 to 6 months infuses Reposado with a bold peppery flavor and hints of fruit that linger on the palate briefly, followed by a long, spicy finish.
Cabo Wabo Tequila Anejo
  Matured in American oak barrels for 14 months, Añejo presents a full vanilla and caramel nose that quickly gives way to woody notes on the palate complemented by hints of honey and chocolate. A long, delicate finish.
Backstory: Cabo Wabo Tequila was founded by Van Halen rocker Sammy Hagar, who reportedly did his own field research to find just the right producer for his label. The brand exploded, and in 2006 the European liquor giant Campari bought an 80 percent stake in Cabo Wabo for $80 million. In
2010, Hagar and his associates sold Campari the remaining 20 percent stake for $11 million. Hagar retains ownership of the popular Cabo Wabo Cantina restaurants. 
Maestro Dobel Diamond Tequila

  Aged Tequila that looks like extremely clear silver Tequila. It is a rare blend of Reposado (aged 15 months), Anejo (aged 24 months) and Extra-Anejo (aged 36 months).
Alipus Mezcal Joven - San Andrés
  Fermented in cypress vats. Complex, rich, intensely floral. Agaves are wood-roasted in conical below-ground ovens, with juice extraction by slow stone-milling. Fermentation takes place with native yeasts in open wooden vats, and is completed by double-distillation in small wood-fired
copper pot stills. The word “joven” means that this is a young Mezcal – un-aged or ages less than two months. There are also Reposado and Anejo Mezcals. Everyone has heard about the
“worm” in tequila. Actually, it is a larva and was included in Mezcal specifically from the state of Oaxaca.
  Keep the samples small, the buffet stocked and don't forget to have fun. Hagar said it best himself: I've been drinking tequila for a long time now, and it's never been about drinking to get drunk. I don't do that. I never drink tequila during the day, and I don't drive at night.”