Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving & beer with the bird

Cheers, prosit, sláinte and salut.

Thanks to everyone who availed themselves for video shoots over the past months, or those who opened their brewhouses for interviews, chats or photos. And thanks for the visits to the blog.

No doubt today’s a day for fine food. And beer. Here are some highlights off our menu:

Warmup: Brie and puff pastry, with River Horse Lager and a bottle of gose that’s been on hold for a week or so.

Salad: Organic toasted hazelnut and shredded carrot salad, with Weyerbacher Harvest Ale in the glass.

Main course: Fresh organic turkey marinated in Jim Beam, orange juice and molasses then roasted with an orange stuffing. Side of organic Gruyère au gratin potatoes. Ramstein Winter Wheat Doppelbock and Tröeg’s Mad Elf to sip.

Dessert: Homemade organic chocolate crème pie, Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock.

Best wishes to all.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Drink your milk (stout), Part 2

A quick follow-up on River Horse’s new Oatmeal Milk Stout

It’s robust, with a smooth but dry finish, nice body. For a milk stout, it’s not too sweet, but then again, it’s half oatmeal stout, so that makes sense, as far as the shared marquee and balance go.

Here’s the backstory on the beer's origin, from a chat with Jeremy Myers, RH’s assistant brewer.

Craving some stout lately, and having a free day in a holiday week, we went through half of the just-purchased sixpack, from lunch to dinner: one fridge cold, the second about 45 degrees, and third near 50-55.

Here’s our advice: Let the beer stand, warm up just enough, that’s where it really rounds out, and the sweetness gently unfolds, gets kind chocolaty and roasty. And for a beer that clocks in at 6.7% ABV, you really don’t notice it being on the bigger beer side.

We tasted one of the pilot brews of the stout back in October. Comparing then to now, the pilot seemed silkier, but this incarnation has a better overall balance, tastier.

As noted previously, this brew marks a triumvirate with RH’s brewer’s reserve beers. And it’s worth pointing out, too, that RH brought home World Beer Championship gold medals with the other two in the series, Double Belgian Wit and Imperial Cherry Amber.

Is there a hat trick in the making?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Drink your milk (stout)

This just came out, the third installment in River Horse's brewer's reserve series.

We got a sneak taste last month at the brewery's Oktoberfest, just before it was scheduled to be brewed. It's in the glass now, going pretty good with a spicy chicken dish for lunch.

More words to come.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Joy to the wort

Yes, Virginia, there is a Samichlaus.

It exists not just as a single, cheerful, grand beer, annually brewery-gifted to the masses at Yuletide, but in the hearts of everyone who welcomes the moment to throw arms around old friends and clasp hands, meeting in the pub at Yuletide.

Alas! How dreary it would be if there were no Samichlaus. It would be as dreary as if there were no alehouses at all. There would be no friendship bonds made ’round pints and banter, no laughter, no cheer to make tolerable this existence. We should have no pleasures, except in Sports Center and widescreen TV. The forever light by which camaraderie fills our world would be extinguished.

OK, enough of that, before the literary license gets revoked. And apologies to Francis Pharcellus Church, the longtime-gone New York Sun, and Don “Joe Sixpack” Russell, whose account a couple years back about touring Austria’s Castle Eggenberg Brewery, home to the actual Samichlaus (Swiss-German for Santa Claus) beer, opened with a turn of phrase upon Church’s classic editorial.

The point is, Yuletide fast approaches, and regardless whether your elves are Mad, breaking Bad, Seriously Bad (even Criminally Bad), or Santa’s showing his Butt, you’ll find no truer cheer than to celebrate the holidays and friendship over a pint of beer.

Mulled, honeyed, fruited or just brewed extra rich and alcohol-robust to bring a warming smile, ’tis the season for these beers, and Don, already a renowned beacon for all things malt and hops, is lighting the way again, as our beer fridges become nothing short of advent calendars.

Don availed himself last week for a chat about his latest book, Christmas Beer: The Cheeriest, Tastiest and Most Unusual Holiday Brews, and talked about the inaugural Yuletide beer festival at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, set for the Saturday sandwiched between Christmas and New Year’s. (FYI: Don's a co-organizer of the festival.)

Yuletide beer guide
Three years in the making, Don’s latest beer treatise is the product of world travel, sampling the products of brewing traditions that date back nearly two millennia. If Joe Sixpack’s Philly Beer Guide was Don’s spring equinox (released last March), this book is the winter solstice, and bound to be enjoyed for its capturing exotic, unusual, or one-of-a-kind beers in a single, handy volume. (The book’s available through Don’s Web site, or Amazon, but we say support the beer scribe – buy directly from him.)

Christmas and beer, perfect together?
Absolutely, Don says. Christmas beer isn’t a definable style, yet it embraces an impressively wide variety of flavors. And when it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, there’s a celebratory mood in which people try new things and want to enjoy fine foods. Beer owns a place amid that terrain.

Plus, Christmas beers are special in that many have interesting backstories, lore or cultural ties. Take for instance, Anchor Brewing’s Yuletide offering, Our Special Ale, its commemorative, dated labels and secret recipes that ensure each year’s edition is unique unto itself. For sheer pop culture, think Ridgeway Brewing (South Stoke, England) and Seriously Bad Elf, banned in two states (one being Connecticut, thankfully not New Jersey), for the red speck on the label that, upon close inspection, is Santa Claus in a reindeer-hauled sleigh.

Beer folks are good folks
Some of the most cherished friendships are struck over beer. But sometimes, because of the everyday and pressing commitments of family and work, those friendships get revisited only at Christmas. Don mentioned forging such friendships at a brewpub in tiny hamlet in Norway.

The festival
Yes, Virginia, Philadelphia is earning yet more stripes as the best beer city going. While the lineup of 50 US and international Yule brews and winter warmers is still being worked out, the Dec. 27th festival promises to say Fröliche Weinacht and Joyeux Noël, as easily as it does the Dickens-like wish of Merry Christmas.

You’ll encounter some familiar brews, notably Tröeg’s Mad Elf, an 11% ABV cherry and honey Belgian-style strong ale to which Don gives supreme props (we say, for a beer with such warmth, this is surprisingly easy-drinking brew; but it’s a sipper, of course, not a chugger). But you’ll want to keep your taste card open because the event does promise variety.

Among Jersey beers, look for the yeast-spicy Flying Fish Grand Cru Winter Reserve and possibly High Point’s Ramstein Winter Wheat Doppelbock, a rich and chocolaty beer that finishes with hint of raisin. Or River Horse’s Belgian Freeze (if Don’s online column about his favs for the Yule season can be taken as a measure of how the fest list might shape up).

Don will give a talk at a VIP session of the festival (tickets are premium priced but include complimentary copy of his book, an hour of sampling, a three-course lunch and Christmas beer rarities).

In a recessionary time, the ticket prices may seem expensive, but we’re willing to say it: Christmas comes only once a year. And, hey, c’mon, it’s beer.

The W’s

  • What: Christmas beer fest.
  • When: 1-4 p.m., Dec. 27th (VIP admission, 12:30 p.m.).
  • Where: UPenn's Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, 3260 Spruce St., Philadelphia.
  • Wallet: $75 in advance, $90 day of; VIP session, $125 in advance, $150 at door.
  • Web site: