QTN™: Kerst Pater Winter Ale

Kerst Pater Special Winter Ale: Another Belgian beer today, another winter ale. Will I ever get tired of either? Not as long as I have taste buds and it’s cold out. —On the pour you know this beer is serious. It looks totally black, but when held to the light it reveals a winey red deep within. Head poured dense and tall, rising about half an inch above the top of my glass before subsiding without incident or spillover. Nose complex, yeasty, a little spicy, a little pine note giving a hint of hops to come. Tasting: big malt up front, lingering kiss of hops at the end. Spicy all right, but not overwhelmingly so. Just a deep bready flavor with hints of nutmeg on the way down.

QTN™: New Belgium Frambozen

So a while back I was talking about fruit lambics, and I said something to the effect that the beer was better when it didn’t taste overwhelmingly like the fruit it came from. Well, the Frambozen from New Belgium Brewing Company is not overpowered by the taste of raspberries. The bit that’s awkward is that it could actually use a bit more raspberry flavor, or something. Great brown ale, but I think the lambic flavor—the natural yeast—would have brought out the raspberry a bit more. Still quite pleasant and drinkable, but as New Belgium have had a history of putting out beers that approach the highest Belgian standard this one doesn’t quite hit the mark.

QTN: Hale’s Ales Rudyard’s Rare Barleywine

More Northwestern beers for George today. The style known as barleywine is generally characterized by high alcohol level and high residual sweetness (it’s difficult to make a beer both very dry and high in alcohol, as substantial amounts of sugars are needed to encourage the yeasts to produce the alcohols).

This particular barleywine is a very limited edition from Hale’s Ales—so limited that it’s branded Rudyard’s Rare rather than Hale’s. Looking more like a British specialty beer than one of Hale’s usual brews, it nevertheless is clearly a Northwest beer, with high hopping balanced against the very malty sweetness. It’s perceivably strong, but remarkably balanced considering the high alcohol level (9.2%). Not a lunchtime beer. —Excuse me, I need a nap.

QTN: Snoqualmie Falls Avalanche Winter Ale

This edition of the Quick Tasting Notes™ strays far from the Belgian beers that have dominated lately, back into the Pacific Northwest (at George’s request). Those who visit Snoqualmie Falls for the dramatic waterfalls, or head east to the pass for skiing, probably never knew that there was a brewery nearby. Okay, neither did I, until I found the Avalanche (see the bottom of the linked page). Malty, a deep copper color, no apparent spices, but quite hoppy—in fact, slightly bitter from the strong Northwest hops. Definitely a winter, rather than holiday, beer.

Quick tasting notes: Delirium Tremens Noël

It’s a little late to be tasting holiday beers, but I found the Delirium Tremens holiday beer, their Noël, in the wine department of DeLaurenti’s at Pike Place Market on Saturday and had to check it out. This holiday beer, like the Orchard Street Jingle Ale, is spiced; unlike the Jingle Ale, the Delirium Tremens has a depth of flavor and a sweet bready aftertaste from the complex yeast strains used that keeps you guessing about the flavor. Is it cinnamon? ginger? just fantastic after-flavors from the fermentation? God knows but it’s good.

Quick tasting notes: Brouwerij Verhaeghe Echte Kriek

There comes a moment in every young beer drinker’s life when he either discovers the great world of tastes beyond Miller Genuine Draft or forever languishes in longneck hell. For me, there were several such moments in Charlottesville—my first Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout at the late lamented Kafkafé, drinking Hefeweizen in the Court Square Tavern—but my first fruit lambic didn’t make too much of an impression. I don’t remember whether I was in school or already in Northern Virginia, but I remember my friend John Liepold raving about Lindeman’s Framboise and Kriek. I have to say that my first lambic didn’t make that much of an impression. Sweet like soda pop was my first and probably only thought.

I’ve learned a few things since then about beer. For one thing, lambic is a fascinating drink with or without fruit. A true lambic is fermented in open air tuns, and naturally occurring yeast strains in the environment contribute tremendous complexity and depth of taste. Some lambics, such as the wonderful “old red” Rodenbach of Flanders, develop a piquantly sour taste that is simultaneously challenging and refreshing. And adding real fruit to a lambic (instead of the extracts rumored to be used in many of the more outlandish beers from Lindeman, including the Cassis and Banana flavors) contributes natural sweetness and color and deepens the flavor.

Knowing all this, I was thrilled to see that one of my most recent shipments from the RealBeer Club included Brouwerij Verhaeghe’s Echte Kriek. The echte means “real,” and this is indeed the real thing, intense sour lambic flavored with big handfuls of cherries. The color is a reddish brown with no suspicious hints of gold; the mouthfeel is dry, the nose is aromatic without being cloying. The taste… sour cherries but more complex, the classic lambic “sour ale” taste hitting the palate just after the first flavor of cherries. There isn’t a lot of depth of flavor beyond the combination of sweetish cherries and sour-ish beer, but my God, what else could you want? Highly recommended.

Small culinary confession

I was busting George’s chops earlier about scrapple, but I had to ignore a small voice inside my head that said, hypocrite bloggeur! —mon semblable, —mon frère!”

Yes, I too am guilty of desiring unidentifiable meat products. In particular, ring bologna, which is similar to summer sausage in taste but not form. I used to eat a half-pound of this stuff at one sitting. On Triscuits. Hey, I was young.

Anyway, I was amused to find quite a few online sites for ordering both ring bologna and scrapple, including Stoltzfus, which sells both products in holiday gift boxes (still available, though Christmas has passed by) or individually. If you’re ordering scrapple or ring bologna on line, I think you’d have to do it from Stoltzfus, since not only do they have a fine Dutch (as in Pennsylvania Dutch, or Deutsch) name, but also an address in the fine town of Intercourse, PA.

Hey, I’m not making this stuff up. Other towns in Lancaster include Paradise, Bird-in-Hand, and Blue Ball. My parents were gifted on their wedding day (at Leacock Presbyterian in Paradise) with a set of road signs measuring the distances to each of these towns, in case they got lost on the way to their honeymoon destination. After all, as it is written, “In order to get to Paradise you have to see Bird-In-Hand, enter Gap, then go through Intercourse without reaching Blue Ball.”

Haddock a la whatever

After my first workout in over three years tonight, Lisa and I went shopping and had a cook-off. She did haddock steamed in white wine over green beans and broccoli in foil. I did haddock grilled (well, fried in a grill-pan) with an improvised sauce, as follows: rice bran oil; soy sauce; chopped ginger, serrano pepper, and shallot; sea salt; and a little sugar to taste. Sauce brushed over the fish as it cooked. Served over rice with chopped cilantro and scallions. I’m not saying who won the cook-off but oh man mine was good.

My in-laws found “Roman Holiday” on AMC which was the perfect follow-up to the dinner. I’d love to watch “Sabrina” with them, but alas tomorrow is a work day…

New Years’ cuisine

Feels funny to be back at the office today. No one is around. It’s very quiet. I want to go out in the hallway and make some kind of loud sound just to see if anyone is awake.

My in-laws are still in town. Lisa will likely be taking them all over Seattle today and tomorrow in a search for a traditional Italian New Years sausage called cotechino. The usual recipe, which we cooked last year but I inexplicably failed to comment on, is cotechino with lentils. Because the cotechino sausage is so large, it looks like a coin when sliced, and the meal is supposed to bring good luck for the New Year. I don’t know the symbolic meaning of the lentils, but having them is for me a nod to my uncle’s traditional New Years Day dish, Hoppin’ John, which features black-eyed peas rather than lentils.

I hope they find the cotechino. I remember the recipe as tasting much better than Hoppin’ John. Given the dubious existence of good Italian butchers in greater Seattle, though, we may be stuck…

Vacation day 2: more arrivals, cooking…

My parents came in right on schedule this morning, and I brought them straight to the house (where they oohed and aahed appropriately). The day was mostly catching up, as my parents toured the house for the first time and we did some shopping.

The main event so far, appropriately enough, has been dinner. I took two chickens and, with the Lucadamos’ help, got them soaking in a brine solution (half cup each of sugar and kosher salt or sea salt, some black peppercorns, then enough water to cover the chicken) where they waited, refrigerated, all day.

At dinnertime, after I made Lisa and my mom some Blood Orange Cosmopolitans (a Mario Batali recipe), I pressed my dad into service slicing potatoes in thin slices, which I then laid down in a single layer in the bottom of two roasting pans. I then took the chickens out of the brine, cut the backbone out of each (reserving it for stock), flattened the ribcage with the heel of my hand, and laid each on top of the roasting pan. I then threw them into a 500° oven and set the timer for 15 minutes. I filled a pot with water and added a little sea salt, then turned the heat on. When the timer rang, I moved the chicken around, pulled out some of the crispier potato slices, and set the timer for another 15 minutes. At that point I threw broccoli into the pot, covered the chicken on top with foil since the skin was starting to go a little mahogany brown in some places and kept watching the temperature until it hit 155°, then pulled them out and served everything. The chicken was good, though I could have brined it longer, and the wine Lisa picked saved everything.

Hurry up and get here, Esta. We need someone else to cook and wash dishes… 🙂

After dinner reading: Garry Wills, Mr. Jefferson’s University (thanks to Greg for the recommendation).

Quick tasting notes: St. Bernardus Abt

Lots of good stuff tonight. In fact, I was going to post two tasting notes, but I can’t taste the Saison de Silly right now. I have tasted the St. Bernardus Abt and I can’t taste anything else at present.

Oh my God, what a beer. Dark, malty, slightly syrupy. Smooth. Deep flavors. Nose like freshly baked bread like so many Belgian ales. Aftertaste like a fruit—apples, maybe.

This is my first beer in my long delayed membership in the RealBeer club. (I bought it in September at the Seattle Beer Festival but they lost their Seattle distributor, and just started a new contract.) I think I’m in love.

Quick tasting: Sam Adams Winter Lager

My friend Andrew brought a taste of Boston to our housewarming last night: a six-pack of Sam Adams Winter Lager. Like most lagers, this one is a lot lighter than its winter ale brothers—the taste is mostly hops with very little malt. There’s a slight hint of ginger and a very small hint of caramel but not much of anything else. Not bad, but not great either. Disclaimer: I’m not a big lager fan, particularly in winter.

Quick tasting notes: Orchard Street Jingle Ale

The Northwest has a wealth of small independent breweries, and each seems to be in the holiday spirit with the production of holiday ales. (For those who haven’t had the pleasure, a holiday (also known as Christmas ale, winter ale, or seasonal ale) is a one-off ale, usually dark, brewed with various spices.

I had resolved to make notes on each of the holiday ales I’ve tried this season; alas, I’ve let the Pyramid Snowcap and one other whose name escapes me by without taking notes. But Orchard Street Jingle Ale is far too good not to review. Dark and sweet almost but not quite to the point of heaviness, apparently spiced with ginger and cinnamon, complex and satisfying. If you’re in the small distribution area of this beer, you’re lucky. I’m going to try to get up to the brewpub to check this stuff out from the tap (they’re in Bellingham, so it might have to wait a while; no official web page that I can find).

Day after Thanksgiving

We had a great Thanksgiving yesterday with Ed and Gina. This was the first time they had a dinner party in their new house, and we were happy to contribute. We did the first course, Risotto a la Milanese, which is a basic white risotto with pancetta and saffron. We then kicked around pitching in here and there on the turkey and other food while drinking wine, which means that the rest of the afternoon while we waited for the food to finish was just a happy warm feeling.

Almost forgot to mention: Ed is a computer monster. With something like six PC towers around, two PS2s, two PS1s, an XBox, a Dreamcast, a Saturn, and shelves full of old Intellivisions, Colecovisions, 2600s, and an Apple IIe for good measure, the place is full of gear. Plus software. Suddenly my 900 CDs don’t seem so bad.