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Posts Tagged ‘Russian Imperial Stout

Chocolate and Dessert Wine, the Perfect Blend?

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With Valentine’s Day coming up, the subject of wining and dining takes centre stage. Chocolate is also a big part of this Hallmark holiday and our local vinophiles are only too happy to proffer up sophisticated beverage recommendations to have with your luscious dessert. The Vancouver Sun‘s resident vine scribe, Anthony Gismondi, can be verbose when it comes to pairing suggestions for a Mia Stainsby recipe. In the case of this week’s Chocolate Crème Brulée, he offers the brief: “Chocolate and Dessert Wine: The Perfect Blend.”

I don’t doubt that you can find a wine to pair with chocolate, but it’s not a simple thing to do. In fact, a port is often suggested. So why even venture down a path that may require the skills of a stunt person (aka sommelier) to perform? Is there not an easier option?

Consider the definition of “perfect” from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

1 a: being entirely without fault or defect : flawless <a perfect diamond> b: satisfying all requirements : accurate c: corresponding to an ideal standard or abstract concept <a perfect gentleman>…

When it comes to chocolate, the definition for me of a perfect match is with stout. Not all stouts pair with all chocolates, but you don’t have to venture far to find the ideal mate. It’s such a good match that brewers will actually add chocolate to their beerPhillips Longboat Double Chocolate Porter, Rogue Chocolate Stout, Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, etc. Dogfish Head‘s Sam Calagione says, “There is probably no pairing more perfect than a roasty stout and dark chocolate.” Brooklyn Brewing brewmaster, Garrett Oliver, wrote:

With desserts, strong roasty stouts can demonstrate true brilliance, perfectly matching chocolate and providing a wonderful contrast to ice cream and fruit desserts. Wine, being incapable of true roasted flavors, can’t even come close.

Chocolate raspberry torte with a Lindeman's Framboise is a delicious combination.

Chocolate raspberry torte with a Lindemans Framboise is a delicious combination.

Yes, stout can pair with fruit desserts, just as you would use chocolate with fruit. When it comes to beer, the reverse is also true. You can pair a fruit ale with a chocolate dessert — young, sweet fruit lambics such as kriek, framboise, and pêche; an apricot wheat ale with Sachertorte to enhance the apricot/chocolate combination already in the cake; a cherry stout with Black Forest cake will do the same.

So there you have it, folks. The ideal Valentine’s beverage is beer. And what dessert better epitomizes love than a Russian Imperial Stout Cheesecake? Gentlemen, if your quarry is beer averse, this will change her mind, especially if you made it. Ladies, finding it hard to get your man to drink what he scorns as a chick beer? This will send Cupid’s arrow through his heart unless a dislike of desserts covers it in chain mail. Ah, l’amour!

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Super Bowl Super Duds

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A Province article on February 1 explained how their sports department attempted to discover “the best refreshing brew to enjoy” while watching the Super Bowl. Naturally, given the sports orientation of the exercise, this year’s “ultimate Super Sud” was to be determined by a “knockout-style bracket.” The contenders? BC’s eight top-selling beer brands and eight “lesser-known but still tasty” ones. The tasting panel was comprised of six males and one female. (Do we detect a bias?) For the results, read on and weep.

The provincial top eight sellers are:
1. Corona
2. Molson Canadian
3. Kokanee
4. Budweiser
5. Coors
6. Stella Artois
7. Miller Genuine Draft
8. Alexander Keith’s

Notice that seven of the eight are mass-market lagers. All eight are heavily advertised — ergo, the power of media in brainwashing the public. Many would call these everyday beers for the working man, but think of what really is the working man’s brew. Is it beer’s equivalent of Wonder Bread, a product mass-produced by a large corporation to appeal to the lowest common denominator in order to maximize profits? These contenders strike me as the equivalent of trying to find the tastiest meal by comparing McDonald’s with Burger King, Wendy’s, Subway, KFC, Panago, Tim Horton’s, and Denny’s. Because the food can be had fast and cheap, notwithstanding the ultimate high price paid, people are persuaded they are, somehow, good.

The remaining eight were:
9. Sleeman’s  (sic) Honey Brown
10. Carlsberg
11. Grolsch
12. Innis and (sic) Gunn
13. Bowen Island Pale
14. Phoenix
15. St. Ambroise
16. Yanjing

“Phoenix” is actually Phillips Phoenix Gold Lager. St. Ambroise could be any one of eight beers produced by Montreal’s MacAuslan Brewing; in this case, it happens to be their Apricot Wheat Ale.

In the first round, the match-up was between Corona & Yanjing, Canadian & St. Ambroise, Kokanee & Phoenix Gold, Budweiser & Bowen Island, Coors versus Innis & Gunn, Stella & Grolsch, MGD & Carlsberg, and Keith’s & Sleeman. Going on to the next round were Yanjing, Canadian, Kokanee, Budweiser, Innis & Gunn, Grolsch, MGD, and Sleeman. Except for the I&G, all the remaining contenders are lagers.

In the Province article’s commentary, there were some interesting remarks. Corona was characterized as “bland” and “distinctly unimpressive.” So why is it the top-selling beer in BC? If you are what you eat/drink, what would that say about the people here? Of course, being the top-seller doesn’t necessarily mean that the majority of people here buy it. Those that like it may guzzle it a lot, but the rest of us may be justly satisfied with drinking less and drinking well.

Naturally, the St. Ambroise was deemed a girly beer (“This isn’t a Super Bowl beer…”), so the female panelist was rapidly slapped down. But Innis & Gunn proved Kevlar to the Silver Bullet, keeping her in the game as it was her clear favourite. Kokanee trumped Phoenix Gold because it’s “a good, standard, hoser beer.” That clearly deserves a replay. Budweiser dominated Bowen Island, but all of the latter’s tasters were polished off. Sound like the game was rigged? Next to Grolsch, Stella was exposed as “swill,” “rancid and awful.” Better beer does tend to do that. The Sleeman Honey Brown was mischaracterized as an ale. I guess the panel didn’t think a lager could have such flavour.

I was a Kokanee whore. Now I’m changing my ways.
– Rose Weir, The Whip Restaurant & Gallery

The second round pitted Sleeman against Yanjing, Canadian vs. MGD, Kokanee & Grolsch, and Budweiser vs. Innis & Gunn. Given the trend so far, one might expect Sleeman, Grolsch, and Innis & Gunn to get knocked out. Not so. Going on to the semi-finals were Sleeman, MGD, Kokanee, and Budweiser. Comically, Grolsch was characterized as a “Dutch ‘Budweiser.'” Nevertheless, the competition started getting serious. A former CFL player on the panel was reduced to cursing when Bud advanced.

Now at this point, even when you’re drinking swill, the beer can start going to your head. The panel’s choice of sustenance to keep moving the ball forward? Pizza and chips — two of America’s favourite food groups.

With the carbo loading out of the way, the taste of victory was in the mouths of the remaining competitors. Down to the five yard line? MGD and Sleeman! Who’s going to kick the winning field goal? The five times cold filtered contradiction (hint: draft means it isn’t in a bottle) or the beer of colour that’s actually a lager? Potential spoiler: the writer notes that Sleeman comes in clear bottles and “some have said that the taste can be affected by the exposure to light.” However, the panel didn’t seem to think so. I imagine it’s because their bottles weren’t light struck (thus, it’s conclusive this is a myth!). Ever wondered why beer bottles are mostly brown?

Despite the handicap, Sleeman Honey Brown is voted the Super Sud. Why? “…having slogged through so many lighter-tasting beers, they all began to taste the same. But not Sleeman’s.” Wow! A sports-centric group tiring of beer monoculture? We may be starting to get somewhere. But given the glacial rate of progress, I’m not quite prepared to hold my breath. Calling beer “suds” doesn’t indicate to me an appreciable degree of respect for the beverage. Would you catch a writer referring to wine as “plonk?” Only if it were meant to indicate derision.

The first problem with this competition is that the goal was to pick a single beer to imbibe for a whole eight hours. Why do you have to drink just one for the entire duration? What a bore! The other problem was the selection chosen to begin with. Twelve lagers out of 16 evaluated? That’s a distinct stylistic bias. The rabble have yet to discover bocks, porters, dubbels, tripels, quadrupels, saisons, lambics, alts, barley wine, bitters, milds, IPAs, Scotch ale, bière de garde, Rauchbier, Roggenbier, Koelsch, wood-aged ales, red ales, brown ales, Trappist ales, spiced ales, Russian Imperial stout, sahti, Berliner Weisse, Australian sparkling ale, etc. It’s kind of like the Titanic hitting an iceberg: the extent of what exists is not visible from what is merely in the surface.

I’m always puzzled by the strong association of light lager with American football, as epitomized by the Super Bowl beer commercials. If football is such a macho sport, then why do jocks think it is très cool to drink such wimpy, characterless beer? Something more fitting would be a chewy IPA or stout. When faced with the latter, however, the sport nuts are scared of the dark and want the light turned on. Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate their image.

In the meantime, stay tuned for periodic beer evaluations from the Thinking Drinkers tasting panel. They will be more even-handed evaluations with an even split between male and female participants. For inspiration, my “first-down” this evening is going to be one of the last bottles of R&B’s Hop Goblin’, which will be replaced with a new brand: same IPA, different name. We can thank the litigious limeys at Wychwood for that.

Russian Imperial Stout Cheesecake

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As the weather becomes colder, the winter warmers are starting to make their appearance. This means it will be easier to find Russian Imperial Stout for this recipe, which is not commonly made by B.C. breweries who package their beer. Suitable beers for this cheescake are Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter, Moylan’s Ryan O’Sullivan’s Imperial Stout, North Coast Old Rasputin, and Phillips The Hammer. If you can’t find any of these at a BC government liquor store, try a private one. Add a scoop of French Vanilla ice cream to any of these, and you have a delicious beer float (I kid you not!).

Russian Imperial Stout Cheesecake served with preserved Bing cherries and cherry syrup that was served with a Lindemans Kriek.

Russian Imperial Stout Cheesecake served with preserved Bing cherries and cherry syrup that was served with a Lindemans Kriek.

Russian Imperial Stout Cheesecake

1 1/2 cups chocolate graham cracker crumbs *
2 tbsp white sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
1 kg (4 x 250g pkgs Philadelphia) cream cheese at room temperature
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tbsp vanilla
454g (1 lb) dark chocolate melted in a double boiler *
473ml (1 pint) Russian Imperial Stout (room temperature, degassed) *
4 large eggs at room temperature

Preheat oven to 325°F (or 300°F if using a dark pan). Grease the sides of 9″ spring form pan and cover bottom with wax paper. Mix crumbs, 2 tbsp sugar, and melted butter in a bowl until evenly blended; press firmly onto the bottom of the pan with a fork.

Beat cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth, then add remaining ingredients (except eggs) at medium speed until well blended. On low speed, add eggs one at a time, mixing each until just blended. Pour batter over crust.

Bake 55-60 minutes or until centre is almost set. Loosen cake from side of pan by running a paring knife around the inside edge. Cool on a wire rack to room temperature before removing side of pan. Refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight. Store any leftover cheesecake in the refrigerator.

Adapted from Michel Brown’s Russian Imperial Stout Cheesecake by Fred Eckhardt in Northwest Brewing News, Feb/Mar 2008, Volume 7 Number 1, pg. 29.

* NOTE: You can use Oreo cookie crumbs for the chocolate graham crumbs. I also thought there was way too much sugar for the batter (American recipe), so I halved it, using only 1/2 cup. With the beer/chocolate combination I used, this amount of sugar was perfect. You may be able to get away with using even less, depending on the chocolate and beer you use; taste the batter before pouring it into the pan to see if you need to add more sugar. I would recommend a good quality chocolate with at least 60% cacao. I used an organic dark German chocolate found at Choices Markets; Belgian Callebaut would also be a good bet.

To degas the beer, a trick I learned from a brewer is to pour the pint of beer into a small container or pitcher, then pour it back and forth into another until the head dies down and the beer goes flat.

To serve the cheesecake, berries are an excellent complement — raspberries, strawberries, cherries, black currants. When plating the cake, you could crown the slice with a dollop of whipped cream topped with a berry and mint leaf, then surround the cheesecake with a coulis made from the same fruit. This is a classic Valentine’s dessert — sinfully rich chocolate and the fruit providing the red colour of love.

To pair a beer with the dessert, use either the beer used in the cake or a fruit lambic that is the same as the fruit you used to complete the presentation. If you want to impress dinner guests, stout should be served at cellar temperature in a cognac snifter and the lambic, like champagne, chilled in a flute.