B.C. Beer Blog

The who, what, where, when, why, and how of B.C. craft beer

Posts Tagged ‘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.

New Stout from Cannery

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New maple stout from Pentictons Cannery Brewery.

Penticton’s Cannery Brewing has released a new beer, a 5.5% maple stout. It is smooth and sweet with the maple in balance—not overpowering the base beer. This is Cannery’s first seasonal beer, so it will only be available for a limited time. They intend to release two seasonals per year, following this up with another in the spring.

Most beer with added maple syrup is, naturally, brewed close to the source in eastern Canada and New England. Here in B.C. there is Granville Island Kitsilano Maple Cream Ale and Phillips Draught Dodger Maple Cream Ale, which has since had the maple dropped and warranted a renaming to Slipstream Cream Ale.

Dark beers—such as bocks, brown ales, porters, and stouts—are the preferred styles to add maple syrup to, but some have tried lager and wheat beer, the success of which I cannot personally attest to.

I can see this beer going well with the heartier fare one hankers for during colder weather. A baked, maple-glazed ham just might do the trick or beef ribs with maple barbecue sauce. Stout and bay scallops also pair well which can be emphasized with a stout glaze and some maple-smoked bacon.

Sweet stouts are always a winner with dessert—tarte au sirop d’erable, maple cheesecake, maple pecan pie, maple chocolate cake, or even maple walnut ice cream. This should give you plenty of scope for sampling Cannery’s Maple Stout over the winter.

Rick Green’s Dublin Steak Sandwich

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The colder weather has arrived. So here’s a recipe for some heartier fare with which you can better enjoy your stout.

  • 225g sirloin steak
  • 2 cups local stout, e.g. R & B Dark Star, Lighthouse Keepers Stout, plus more for drinking
  • 1 loaf French bread or 2 Terra Breads demi-loaves
  • 150g wedge Springbank Irish Guinness Cheddar cheese
  • 3 cups mixed salad greens tossed in Dijon vinaigrette (below)
  • small red onion, halved and sliced
  • mayonnaise

Cut the steak across the grain into 1/4″ slices. Cover in stout and marinate for at least four hours or overnight.

Remove steak from marinade and pat dry; lightly salt. Cook onions in remaining stout until it has been reduced completely. Meanwhile, prepare two sandwiches by cutting the bread in half horizontally. Lightly toast the bottom half, then spread with mayonnaise and cover with cheese slices.

Heat a dry iron skillet on high until it begins to lightly smoke, then add the steak, searing it on both sides until it is cooked to suit. Let rest a few minutes to return juices to the centre of the meat. Meanwhile set the bottom and top halves of the sandwich under a broiler until the cheese is melted on the bottom half and the top half is toasted.

To assemble the sandwich, place the steak on top of the bottom half, followed by the onions, and the salad greens. Spread mayonnaise on the remaining half and place on top. Cut in half and serve with a glass of stout.

Serves 2

Dijon Vinaigrette

  • 2 tbsp Modena Balsamico vinegar
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • pinch salt
  • pinch freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup light extra virgin olive oil

Whisk together all ingredients, except the olive oil, until smooth. Whisk in olive oil, adding slowly in a thin stream.

The Art of Beer Blending

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Blending beer has a history going back hundreds of years. For example, popular convention has it that porter was originally a blend of three ales — a third of ale, beer and twopenny — known as “three threads,” before being named after the class of punters it was most favoured by. (Martyn Cornell, however, has a very interesting article on the origins of porter that disputes the accepted history.)

One of the most widely-known beer blends is a Black and Tan: a blend of pale ale and stout or porter. It’s also been made using lager and stout. I’ve had it at Dix made from cask IPA and stout — a very satisfying drink that was beautifully poured by Aussie bartender Daniel.

I was at Steamworks yesterday and discovered, when chatting with the bartender, that they seem to like experimenting with blending their beers too (not the first time). Their current two seasonals are a Frambozen and an Ipanema Belgian Wit — both excellent beers on their own. Blended together, they make a visually appealing, refreshing, and flavourful drink, called a Berry White. The Frambozen floats atop the straw-coloured Ipanema, with a zone in the middle where the colours blend into each other.

Another off-menu blended beer drink you can order at Steamworks is a Black Berry, which is a blend of Frambozen and Heroica Stout. While you can just ask for your preferred proportion, there are two different approaches by the staff. Some prefer more stout than frambozen, using 1/3 frambozen, 2/3 stout; others prefer the reverse. I tried it with 2/3 frambozen and found it very pleasant. It has a more forward fruit flavour than if you went for the higher proportion of stout, which I tried at FigMint’s B.C. Day On the Wood beer & cheese tasting using Crannóg’s Back Hand of God and Pooka Cherry. (Note to self: next time, try half and half.)

Another blend the Steamworks bartender told me of was their IPA with their fall seasonal Great Pumpkin Ale. I would never have thought of that combination, but now I’m definitely going to try it. However, it probably won’t be the same as last year because their IPA formulation is different now due to running out of their Kent Goldings hops which were the signature variety in the beer.

The latter, in particular, has got me thinking about further exploring beer blending with no holds barred. You may be surprised by what you can discover, so why fence yourself in?

Irish Heather Reborn

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I popped into the new Irish Heather on Friday to check out their new digs as the final touches were being rendered. I was very impressed with the clean lines of the interior which gave it a sense of modernity, while the brick and dark wood lent a warm, historic feel a la Gastown. (See Andrew Morrison’s video on urban diner.)

Most newsworthy for this column, however, is that they are the first establishment in Vancouver to offer cask ale daily. Red Devil Pale Ale, dry-hopped with Centennial, is being served from a traditional beer engine that R & B will be supplying continuously. I joined R & B’s Barry Benson, Rick Dellow, and Aly Tomlin in savouring the first pulled pints.

There’s no current plan to offer other styles of beer. However, customer demand could influence this — e.g. if enough people ask for cask-conditioned Auld Nick in winter, we may just get it. It’s also nice to see a couple of B.C. craft taps in addition to the Kronenbourg, Strongbow, and Irish imports — Howe Sound Rail Ale and Phillips Phoenix Gold.

Competition in the neighbourhood also seems to be having some effect. The Alibi Room, Six Acres, and Boneta have quality beer lists. Consequently, the Irish Heather’s bottle list has substantially improved:

Lager: Czechvar, Okanagan Spring 1516, Paddock Wood Czech Mate, Rogue Kell’s Irish Lager

Wheat: Mill Street Wit, Pyramid Apricot, Pyramid Crystal, Rogue Morimoto Soba

Ales: Fish Tale Organic Amber, Mill St. Tankhouse Ale, Newcastle Brown, Pike Kilt Lifter, Pike Naughty Nellie, Rogue Juniper, Sleeman Honey Brown, Tin Whistle Killer Bee

Bitters & IPA: Brooklyn IPA, Pyramid Thunderhead IPA, Rogue Brutal Bitter

Dark Beer & Stouts: Fish Tale Poseidon Imperial Stout, Paddock Wood Black Cat, Rogue Shakespeare Stout

Bottle Fermented: Brooklyn 1, Unibroue Ephemère

All beer can be ordered in the Irish Heather, Salt, and the Salty Tongue. As there is something for all tastes, hopefully it will encourage more people to try beer with their food. How successful they are will depend on whether or not the servers will take the time to educate the neophytes.

I’m looking forward to going back and trying the new menu. My only hesitation is in the execution of St. Patrick’s Day festivities. My experience at the last St. Paddy’s in their old location was of glacial service and substandard food. I think this will only improve if there is an adequate ratio of staff to guests — either limit the number of patrons or have more staff on.

Of Beer and Cheese

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Two events I recently attended have shown an increased interest in beer & cheese pairing — FigMint’s B.C. Day “Beer on the Wood” and the Vancouver Beer Meetup/CAMRA lambic & cheese tasting at the Alibi Room. Cheese for both events was supplied by Mount Pleasant Cheese, who are becoming noticeably more beer savvy with suggested beer pairings on the tags of some of their cheeses in their Cambie Street shop.

Figmint’s first “Beer on the Wood” was lightly attended. However, they have since been gaining in popularity. This time it was oversold and, thankfully, the additional people were accommodated in the lounge, rather than having only seats at the bar. Highlighting the artisan producers of B.C., the following cheeses were paired with organic farmhouse ales supplied by zero waste brewery, Crannóg:

  • Organic Extra Aged Gouda from Gort’s Gouda Cheese Farm, Salmon Arm
      – Beyond the Pale Ale
  • Castle Blue from The Farm House Natural Cheeses, Agassiz
      – Hell’s Kitchen
  • Farm House Brie from The Farm House Natural Cheeses, Agassiz
      – Back Hand of God Stout
  • Farm House Natural Chèvre from The Farm House Natural Cheeses, Agassiz
      – Pooka Cherry Ale

The first three ales are regularly brewed and available all year round, while the Pooka Cherry Ale is a seasonal beer made with 200 lbs. of  Crannóg’s own Bing cherries. (After the tasting, I blended 1/3 of a glass of the latter with 2/3 Back Hand of God to make a delicious Cherry Stout. As Crannóg are a draught only brewery, hopefully you can find the two together somewhere to make your own blend. Otherwise, order two party pigs.)

Chef Lee Humphries created an innovative pairing plate that not only included the common cheese, fruit, and some condiments with bread, but even some hors d-oeuvres to match both the cheese and the beer. For example, with the Farm House Castle Blue, he made a small skewer of pork sausage wrapped in tomato crêpe. For the Farm House Natural Chèvre & Pooka Cherry, it was a cherry soda & vanilla ice cream float and two fresh, ripe cherries. Great value for $25.00.

The lambic & cheese tasting at the Alibi Room highlighted Belgian products recently imported by Bravo Beer of Squamish. Unfortunately, James Walton of Storm Brewing has been the only B.C. brewer to make this classic style of beer available commercially, but he isn’t planning on making it again. Yaletown Brewing brewmaster, Iain Hill, is working on a related beer — an Oud Bruin — that should be released in the fall. For such a challenging style and labour of love, these brewers should be given every encouragement.

Twenty-six people enjoyed a selection of gueuze, fruit lambics, and faro paired with five cheeses selected by Nigel Springthorpe and I. The beers were a mix of commercial lambics from Brouwerij De Troch and Brouwerij Vanhonsebrouck, and traditional lambics from Brouwerij Oud Beersel. The cheeses were Chevry Plain from Carmelis Goat Cheese Artisan, Le Douanier from Fromagerie Fritz Kaiser, Le Bleu Ermite from the Benedictine monks of Fromagerie de l’Abbaye SaintBenoît, Le Riopelle de l’Ile from Société coopérative agricole de l’Île aux Grues, and an extra aged Gouda from Gort’s Gouda.

The tasting began with a comparison between Vanhonsebrouck’s St. Louis Gueuze and Oud Beersel’s Oude Gueuze Vieille. The cheeses best paired with these very sour beers were the stronger-tasting Le Bleu Ermite and Le Douanier.

We then followed with a three-way comparison between De Troch Chapeau Kriek, Oud Beersel Oude Kriek Vieille, and Vanhonsebrouck St. Louis Premium Kriek. Duck confit croquettes would have nicely paired with the aged kriek, but people were hungry and devoured them even before the first beer was paired. The commercial krieks, the Chapeau Abricot, and the St. Louis Premium Framboise that were sampled after went well with the Chevry Plain and triple-cream Le Riopelle de l’Ile.

The final beer of the evening’s tasting was the St. Louis Premium Faro. Unfortunately, the B.C. Liquor Store that the beer was ordered from did not fulfill the order for the Chapeau Faro that was planned for a comparison. Nevertheless, by that point, participants were quite satisfied and enjoyed the faro with the carmel flavour of the aged Gouda.

If you are interested in doing your own beer and cheese pairing, see Janet Fletcher’s article on the subject in the San Francisco Chronicle.