|Jewish Rye in a glass|
|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
Though it has been used for hundreds of years in alcoholic beverages both brewed and distilled, lately, rye is making a comeback.
Philadelphia Distilling Company, producers of Bluecoat Gin, have recently introduced Penn 1681 Rye Vodka (fourth blurb down). The spirit is a tribute to one of Pennsylvania's top crops of the colonial era, rye. Whiskeys crafted from rye are integral to classic drinks like the Sazerac, one of the oldest-known cocktails in America.
Rye beers are cropping up, as well. One tasty local offering is Triumph Brewing Co.'s Jewish Rye ale. Patrick Jones, the brewer for Triumph's Philly location, credits the years-old recipe to Princeton Triumph brewer Tom Stevenson. Since the beer isn't the product of focus-group marketing, where does rye come in?
"The rye grain itself has a distinct and unique flavor," Jones says, "and the spirit of craft beer is to always push the flavor envelope. Rye is just another weapon in our arsenal." The beer is, obviously, modeled after traditional Jewish marble rye bread.
"Rye bread has three major flavor characteristics," says Jones. "The rye grain itself, a slight or intense sourness, depending on the producer, and caraway."
True to form, the top note of the ale is caraway, followed by a cleansing tartness, with the grain underneath lending the beer structure. "People think they're tasting rye, but really, it's caraway," Jones added.
The 5 percent ABV ale is a tawny copper color, and appears hazy and unfiltered. A moderate, bright white head leaves some lacing on the glass. Just as Jones promised, the gentle caraway flavor gives way to a flush of sourness and finishes off-dry. Though not on the brewpub's menu, this refreshing beer would be the perfect foil for a buttery, grilled reuben sandwich. On rye, of course.
Jewish Rye Ale is $5 per pint, available for a limited time at Triumph Brewing Company, 117 Chestnut St., 215-625-0855, triumphbrewing.com
At just $14.99 in Pennsylvania Wine & Spirits stores, an ordinary bottle Jim Beam is sadly not a brilliant keystone of the liquor cabinet. Sweet, pale and bracingly boozy, the sour mash bourbon is strictly rail fare at the bar, fit only to mix with diet Coke or spash with ginger for cheap imbibing.
That's why I was so taken aback by Jim Beam Black, an 8-year aged straight bourbon that retails for $20.99 'round these parts. Bourbon is American whiskey, originally named for Bourbon County, Kentucky, which has been produced in the U.S. since the 18th century. The spirit must be distilled from at least 51 percent corn and aged for at least two years in new, charred oak barrels to be called bourbon. No place-name rules apply -- it can be produced in any part of the country, but 98 percent of bourbon is distilled in Kentucky.
Mr. Beam Black is a sour mash like the usual Jim; that is, the mixture of corn, rye and barley malt (called mash) from a previous distillation is added to the new batch to ensure an even pH across batches. Jim Beam uses 25 percent "set back" mash in each new batch. Corn is what gives bourbon its characteristic sweet flavor and lighter body -- much sweeter and softer than Irish whiskey or Scotch. For those new to the brown liquors, bourbon is a good first foray.
The Black is aged twice as long as regular Beam, and it shows. The 8 years in well-charred barrels impart a dark honey color and oaky tones to the spirit. An aroma of toffee and a bit of tobacco is the first impression; while on the tongue grains and toasty nut flavors emerge. A very warm finish is the hallmark of the 86 proof (43% ABV) booze.
Drink This Immediately.
|A copper brewing kettle at Cantillon|
In 1900, the Cantillon (pronounced Can-tee-yon) family founded what would become Belgium's most valued producer of the heritage style of beer known as lambic. Today, the Van Roy-Cantillon family still brews the astringent style to worldwide acclaim; their unpasteurized, unsweetened beers have set the standard by which all other lambics are judged.
When Tom Peters, co-owner of Monk's Café, discovered the wonder of Belgian beer for the first time in 1984, he didn't know he would be the man to turn Philadelphia into the country's number one consumer of Belgian beer. He did know there wasn't anything like these beers in America, and he set about wrangling Belgian brewers hesitant to export their babies to a time-consuming and unlikely market. Lambic, being sour, and low in carbonation and alcohol, was judged to be even less palatable to the American drinker, and languished in obscurity until the late nineties when brews from Cantillon, Boon, Hanssen's and Girardin became more available -- a trend boosted and talked-up constantly by Peters, who even devoted a draft line at Monk's to the tart beer.
After years of selling Cantillon brewer Jean Van Roy's beers, Peters has had the opportunity to blend his own lambics at Cantillon. His latest offering is a single-barrel kriek lambic available exclusively on a hand-pumped cask at Monk's Café.
The spontaneously fermented lambic was brewed in January of 2007, with 35 percent unmalted wheat and 65 percent malted barley (all organically grown). Two-year-aged Hallertau hops were added for preservation and the beer was kegged in September of 2007.
When Peters visited Cantillon brewery on September 4, 2008, Belgian bar owner Jean Hummeler joined him touring the barrel-aging room. The oak casks used to age lambics are equipped with three bungs: the large top for the initial aeration and fermenting beer to bubble out of, the side bung for the emptying of the keg at the end of aging, and the small bottom bung. The bottom bung is gently removed to obtain a sample of the aging beer during its process. Peters noticed that Hummeler was checking the small drips of spilled beer that had collected under the bottom bungs of the casks. When questioned on what he was looking for, he replied, "Fruit flies."
Fruit flies are attracted to the spilt beer that contains the sweetest, most concentrated fruit. Since Peters was looking to choose a cherry-fruited kriek beer, he decided to taste from the casks that had attracted the most fruit flies. The cask he ultimately chose had the brightest fruit flavor, and had also been the favorite of the tiny (drunken) flies.
Since the oak aging casks are permeable, lambics in their unblended state have almost no carbonation left. In American terms, they're flat beer. Peters wanted Monk's guests to taste the lambic in its pure state, just as he did in the barrel-aging room at Cantillon. Minus the odd floating fruit fly, the hand-pumped beer is just that.
|Monk's Café Cantillon Kriek|
Three hundred grams per liter of Belgian-grown Kellery cherries were added, by hand, one at a damn time, through the top bung of the oak cask to infuse a tart cherry flavor and bright ruby color into the beer. The whole cherries, including pits and stems, lend a fresh, crushed cherry nose to the lambic. A very subtle marzipan note from the cherry pits underlies the dominant fruit flavor, and as lambics go, this one isn't very sour, with no perceptible acetic acid. There is a distinct, clean tartness that makes your mouth water after swallowing the beer.
Brewed by arguably the finest lambic brewer in Belgium and selected by the guy who brought lambic to America, Monk's Single-Barrel Cantillon Kriek is a beer not to be missed by the aficionado or newbie. It is available only as a hand-pumped draft in Monk's Café back bar for $8.50 a glass, plus the killjoy government's 10 percent liquor tax.
|A few examples of Belgian lambic bottlings.|
Lambic is one of the most misunderstood creatures of the American beer scene. I can't count the times I've offered some insanely beautiful, tart and wonderful lambic to a drinker who doesn't like traditional (read: yellow, fizzy) beer, and they respond with "No, I hate lambics. They're too sweet."
This conception of lambics as sweet is utterly wrong. People who think lambics are syrupy, sickly, fruity pink brews have generally only had Lindeman's Framboise, which is totally atypical for the lambic style. Lindeman's are very popular because they are more like an alcopop — low ABV, super sugary, marketed to girls who don't drink beer. A true lambic is a different animal altogether.
Lambeek is a region in Belgium where the style originated more than 500 years ago in the Senne Valley. The beers are unique in that they are brewed with at least 30 percent unmalted wheat in addition to malted barley, preserved with aged hops, aged in oak barrels, and most differently, are spontaneously fermented. In traditional lambic brewing, the beer is boiled for an extraordinarily long time — usually at least three hours — and then the warm beer is pumped into a broad, shallow vessel called a koelship. The brew is left to cool overnight, uncovered, and the microbes that live in the brewery and blow in through open louvers settle into the liquid and begin the fermentation process. The "infected" liquid is then pumped into oak barrels to ferment and age for at least one year.
This is a method that horrifies many brewers, who pitch their carefully controlled house yeast into scrupulously clean tanks. Before there were chemical and enzymatic cleaning methods, Brettanomyces, one of the native yeasts that lend lambic its characteristic sourness, was impossible to remove from an infected brewery or winery. You'd have to burn the whole operation down to get rid of it. Even today, there are winemakers in the Russian River valley who will not enter Vinnie Cilurzo's Russian River Brewing pub because they fear bringing home the Brett he uses in his beer, and totaling their own wineries as a result.
Lambic brewers, paradoxically, welcome Brettanomyces. Its nose and taste in finished lambic is described as horse blanket, barnyard, band-aid and wet leather. The nose of these beers can literally smell like the business end of a horse. It is truly a love it or hate it style; fans seek out the funkiest unpasteurized brews in existence, while haters wrinkle their noses and condemn the stuff as nothing but vinegar.
Ten years ago, lambic was dying. People in Belgium didn't even drink it anymore, and no one anywhere else had ever heard of the stuff. Who wanted sour beer, anyway? These days, with Belgian beer bars springing up like mushrooms after a rain, lambic is experiencing a renaissance.
Lambic is bottled and kegged in several different ways. Unblended lambic is beer aged from 1 to 3 years that is drunk straight. It is extremely tart and generally has little remaining carbonation, since the oak barrels in which it was aged are permeable and the CO2 escapes. Gueuze (pronounced Gooze, or Gher-ZE, depending on who you ask) is blended beer, usually a mixture of old (3 and 2 years old) and young (one year old) lambics. The nature of the spontaneous fermentation means that each barrel of lambic is different — blending many barrels creates a balanced and recognizable product from year to year. Gueuze is also quite tart and usually low in carbonation and alcohol. The best-recognized type of lambic has fruit added to the aging barrels, especially cherries and raspberries. Blueberries, peach, banana, cloudberries, cassis and strawberry-flavored lambics are also available. The well-know Lindeman's fruit lambics are much sweeter than a traditional, unsweetened example.
The most revered producers of heritage Belgian lambic are Cantillon, Drie Fontanen, Girardin, Boon and Hanssen's. Their lambics and gueuzes are available in several beer bars in Philadelphia, including Eulogy, Monk's Café, The Memphis Taproom, Jose Pistola's and Zot. Tomorrow Meal Ticket will review a one-off, single barrel cherry lambic specially selected at Cantillon by Monk's co-owner and lambic booster Tom Peters.
|Down south industro-lager|
|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
I'm risking my entire crediblity here, but what the hell. Modelo Especial is brewed by Grupo Modelo, Mexico's largest and top-selling brewery. The giant turns out the deplorable, lime-requiring lagers better known as Corona and Pacifico, as well as the respectable Negra Modelo, among other brands.
Modelo Especial is a fizzy pale lager that would be indistinguishable from Budweiser once poured into a glass. I tasted a 12-ounce can, freshly pulled from its six-pack ring. A very vigorous pour produced some white head, which had the characteristic industrial lager big-ass bubbles — the product of additions of carbonic acid to the beer.
The nose is so light as to be almost imperceptible. A little fresh-cut grass aroma is detected. The flavor, what there is of it, is meant for the beach-volleyball playing, keg-standing cup-flippers who have just outgrown Miller Lite. The beer is crisp and refreshing, meant to be served absolutely ice-cold. It isn't unpleasant or bad, just boring.
As a beer to drink in a bar with a selection that tops out at High Life, Modelo at least is clean and inoffensive. The can design is righteous cool looking and maybe some freshly minted 21-year old will think you look sophisticated swigging from an import .
Other than that, Modelo Especial is just like its north of the border brothers: fizzy yellow piss in a can.
Modelo Especial can be purchased at the Mexican deli on the corner of Ninth and Washington for $11 a six-pack.
Last month, while visiting family in Central New Jersey, I stumbled upon a liquor store that contained a treasure trove of Belgian and American craft beers. Gouden Carolus Cuvée of the Emperor 2004, Allagash Curieux 2004 (the first batch brewed, in numbered bottles) and 2005, Achel Extra. I freaked out, whipped out a credit card, and racked it, stuffing the trunk of the car with unusual bottles.
We hauled our booty home and forgot about it. A few nights ago we started breaking into the stash and made a sad discovery. Several of the beers tasted like movie-theater butter, which means one thing: diacetyl. Diacetyl (pronounced Die-ASS-eh-tall) is a natural byproduct of fermentation, and occurs in beer, coffee, rum, bread, butter, cheese and milk. It produces a buttery or butterscotch flavor and a slick or slippery mouthfeel in liquids. Diacetyl is also used to flavor things like cake mixes, popcorn, candy and baked goods.
I spoke with George Hummel, beer writer and owner of Home Sweet Homebrew, to explain how this compound had ruined my vintage beer. "A little diacetyl isn't a bad thing, say, in an Irish stout," he said, "but it's no good when there's a lot of it in your pilsner." A bit of diacetyl can contribute a roundness and a touch of butteriness to certain beers, but it is hard to control how much diacetyl ends up in the bottle of beer the consumer buys.
The butter-bomb flavor that took over my beer could have been the result of several things. Hummel listed the contributing factors: "It could have been caused by a high fermenting temperature; certain yeast strains that can't metabolize diacetyl [called petite mutants]; high temp storage of the beer; a slight infection [by bacterial strains like pedicoccus or lactobacillus]; or as a result of oxidation from long-term high-temp storage."
Bingo. That liquor store was way warm, and those bottles had likely been there since they were delivered in 2005. I asked Hummel if there was anything that could be done to save a diacetyl-contaminated beer. "Nope," he replied. "There's no way to un-fuck it. You'll probably want to word that another way."
Taking a look at the credit card bill for all those fucked beers, I think that is actually the perfect way to say it.
|via The Greasy Spoon|
Back in the day, before SEPTA rehabbed the Market-Frankford El line and added the animatronic voice-lady, you had to stick your head out the window and see what was coming up to judge your stop. At least that's what my sister says — she used to take the El from 69th Street in Upper Darby to West Philly to see hardcore shows at the old Stalag 13. She also went (just a decade underage, *ahem*) to The New Angle, a bar built in the 1800s at 39th and Lancaster Avenues.
Though the New Angle's sturdy stone facade once signified a pub where the landed gentry of green West Philadelphia would gather, by the '90s the joint had become the watering hole of choice for the impoverished hardcore bands and allowance-funded kids headed to the Stalag. To wit, the New Angle kept that venerable malt beverage, Old English "800," on tap. Yes, that's right, ON TAP. This made it terribly convenient to order a Brass Monkey, the orange juice and Old E intoxicant made famous by the Beastie Boys.
At my age, I'd rather drink a shot dribbled out of the bar mat than anything based on Old E. That funky monkey did get me thinking about beer cocktails, though. A great beer is the product of hundreds of hours of effort on the part of the brewer, refining recipes, adjusting temperatures, striving to create balance, clarity and a big 'ol head. Blending beer with other ingredients — juice, hard alcohol, or other beers — is slap in the face to the hard-working brewer. Bitch-slap, boys! Here are my faves.
Black Velvet: Equal parts Guinness stout and Champagne. Though likely to enrage both Guinness and Champagne purists, this is the elemental brunch drink. If you're into the local beer thing, Sly Fox Dry Stout makes a winning substitution for Irish suds.
Scalded Peach: Three parts Scaldis (bronze, high-octane Belgian ale) topped with one part Lindeman's Peche. Scaldis is well-known for being a booze bomb at 12 percent ABV, while the Lindeman's fruit beers barely qualify as alcohol. Mixing the two up softens the Scaldis burn with a friendly dose of peach and a little extra fizz. Serve in a champagne flute and quaff, pinky out.
Dirty Hoe: One of the original Belgian beer cocktails, this is tastiest served from the tap. Three parts Hoegaarden wheat beer is topped with one part Lindeman's Framboise, and the resulting pink drink is the perfect beverage to convert non-beer drinkers. Very popular with the ladies, despite the rude name.
Skip and Go Naked: Originating in the frat houses of yore, this sounds disgusting but is shockingly palatable. The original recipe calls for beer (light lager preferred), gin, lemon juice and grenadine, mixed in quantity in a clean trash can with a ski pole. Modern variants seem to veer more toward a beer, vodka and lemonade recipe; any and all variations generally lead to nights you won't be able to tell your kids about.
Michelada: A Mexican hot-weather treat, this translates to "frozen beer" and is a lighter take on drinking. Pale-colored lager (Pacifico, Corona) is blended with sangrita, a tomato juice spiked with fresh lemon, lime and orange juices and hot chili powder, and poured over ice. Very nice on the porch during sweaty Philly summers.
Snakebite: Equal parts hard cider and beer. I don't know why anyone drinks this. It's the perfect example of why civilians should never blend beers.
|Mr. Oerbier, cup in hand, as Mr. December|
|De Dolle Brouwers|
Yesterday, we stuck our nose in a Christmas beer book by local writer and beer guy Joe Sixpack. Today, we will stick our nose in a real Christmas beer. De Dolle Stille Nacht is an unspiced ale brewed in Esen, Belgium by a pair of brothers who rescued a historic 19th-century brewery for a lark, and ended up creating a renowned line of light-hearted but complex ales.
Stille Nacht, which means "silent night," pours a tarnished gold color, with a fluffy off-cream colored head. An initial nose into the glass reveals citrus and sour aromas, as well as a hot whiff of alcohol. At 12 percent ABV, Stille Nacht is best removed from the refrigerator and allowed to warm, still capped, for 10 minutes before serving.
The body is spritzy and effervescent, with flavors of orange zest and vanilla at first taste. As the beer warms, the flavors develop and change on the palate, revealing an amazingly complex ale driven by a seriously funky house yeast. From the first citrus splash, banana and spice flavors emerge, then stone fruits — mostly peaches — and finally toffee and candi sugar. Though the beer is dark golden in color, the body is full and creamy, with suspended particles of yeast creating a haze in the glass. Holding a mouthful on the tongue reveals the truly knockout (but well-integrated) quantity of booze in this ale.
De Dolle Brouwers means "the mad brewers," and the brothers have worked hard to make fine, unique beers that retain a sense of whimsy and magic. Due to cultish devotion to this particular beer, quantities are extremely limited. Bella Vista Beer is expecting a delivery of cases of Stille Nacht by Tue., Dec. 2. The $86, 24-bottle case is the perfect size: eight beers for drinking, eight beers for giving, and eight to cellar and drink on a future silent night.
Bella Vista Beer & Soda Distributors, 755 S. 11th St., 215-627-6465, bellavistabeverage.com
Water, water everywhere, but
|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
Beer geeks play a game that casts them in their typically greedy role when it comes to their beverage of choice. It's called "desert island beers," and it requires you to name the three quaffs that would sustain you for the rest of your life on a desert island. No more Foodery, no more trekking all the way up the turnpike to Shangy's. Three are all you get.
My answers to this silly game tend to change, but always include one light (colored, bodied), one dark, and one sour. Brouwerij De Regenboog BB Bourgondier is recurring on the desert island in the "dark" category for several reasons: It's complex, high enough in alcohol (12 percent ABV) to possibly debrede wounds, and freakin' delicious.
The 11.2-ounce bottle should be poured into a roomy, chalice-shaped glass to give this big guy some space to breathe. It pours a tawny golden-brown with a dense tan-colored head that has minimal staying power. A nose into the glass reveals a caramel-y but slightly sour aroma. This is brewed with herbs in addition to hops; namely, valerian and lemon balm, which are apparent in the overall spicy flavor of the beer. Candi sugar is also added to pump up the alcohol content, in traditional Belgian style.
This beer is listed as both a barleywine and a quadruppel in various reviews, and it is big enough to qualify as either. The spice flavor is accompanied by a warm malt sweetness that is lifted up by De Regenboog's characteristically funky house yeast. This underlying, refreshing sourness is what separates BB Bourgondier from other beers of its style, which tend to be tongue-coating and ponderous.
"De Regenboog" is Dutch for rainbow, an appropriate analogy to the expansive, colorful flavors in every bottle of this unique brew.
Local distributor of De Regenboog, Bella Vista Beer Distributors, is currently sold out of this rare brew. Pick up a bottle while they last at beer bars like Monk's Cafe, The Belgian Café and the Memphis Taproom.
|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
Looking over my tasting notes for an aged keg of Boulder Brewing's Obovoid Empirical Stout, I'm not sure if I've had a beer or a boozy candy bar.
Not that this weighty stout is sweet. It's not, it's just that the flavors sweeping across my tongue could just as easily describe haute chocolat. "Creamy, chewy, choco, dense," read my notes, "like cocoa powder stirred into ice cream."
Four kegs of the limited-edition Empirical Stout appeared about one year ago at the Belgian Café, and were stored, cool and dry, to benefit from a bit of cellaring. The oatmeal stout had been aged in oak barrels prior to release, and the oak seems to have contributed a bit of tannin and a dry, almost chalky, finish after the intense cocoa flavors have dissipated.
At 7.5 percent ABV, this heavy-hitting stout makes a comforting winter warmer, playing nice with a few intense Belgian chocolates for a lavish end to a simple meal.
Boulder Brewing Obovoid Empirical Stout is available at The Belgian Café (21st and Green streets., 215-235-3500) for a limited time.
- barstool scientist
- Brew Revue
- Chef Salad
- Dirty Dishes
- Don't Front
- Eat This Immediately
- Field Trip
- Food and Art
- Food and Holidays
- Food and Movies
- Food and Music
- Food and Politics
- Food and Sports
- Food and Web
- Food Blogs
- Food Books
- Food Events
- Food News
- Food TV
- Happy Hour Hopper
- In Print
- Meal Ticket
- Menu Time
- Not So Quickfire
- Notes from the Weekend
- On Wheels
- Patio Drinking
- Philly Beer Week 2010
- Private Chef POV
- Product Placement
- Snack Time
- Stiff Drank
- Ticket Stubs
- Top Chef
- Weekly Candy
- Weird Regional Foods
- We're Here to Help
- Where'd We Eat?
- Drew Lazor's Ill-Advised Rant Factory
- Ill-Advised Ranting
- The Week Without Meat
- Philly Beer Week 2009
- Real Big
- Where'd I Eat Last Night?
- Top Chef Masters
- The Good Word
- Next Iron Chef
- Arterial Terrorism
- Food and Radio