Archive for January, 2014

CHEESE AND BEER: A BOOK REVIEW

Long ago, when we were poor university students, my wife and I were invited to a wine and cheese party held by some rich (that is fully employed) teachers. They had a wonderful array of cheeses, each decorated with two little flags, one for the country of origin and the other naming the cheese, and many bottles of wine, all of which came with corks.

We were impressed and would have liked to have had a wine and cheese party ourselves. But given our combined incomes, we could only have afforded a couple of bottles of Manor St. David Red Table Wine (a screw-topped dollar and a quarter Canadian wine), a bottle of cheese whiz and a head of celery.

When we graduated and had full-time jobs, we did have a wine and cheese party, with all the trimmings, including little flags.

Now that beer has become the new wine and books like Garret Oliver’s THE BREWMASTER’S TABLE have revealed how the many and complex styles of beer can be paired with a variety of foods, people are holding beer and cheese parties. (In my university days this would have meant Old Milwaukee and cheezies.) It’s a wonderful idea, and people who haven’t spent much time with craft beers are amazed when presented with various beer and cheese pairings.

If you think a cheese and beer party would be a great idea, there’s a book to help you get started: CHEESE AND BEER by Janet Fletcher (Andrews McMeel Publishing). The author of numerous books about food and beverages, she explains that she wrote this book because there were “so many beers, so many cheeses, so little time.” In the pages that follow, she guides readers to “some proven pairings.” First, however, she provides some important terms like texture, intensity, acidity, sweetness and bitterness, tips on the buying, storing, and serving cheese, and a valuable chart indicting the correct temperature specific types of beer should be at before they are served. Don’t worry, she also indicates the amount of time out of the refrigerator a style of  beer should stand before it reaches that temperature. She also has tips on styles of beer glasses and best ways to pour a beer.

There follow chapters on the main beer styles, with style notes for each, representative beers of each style, and appropriate “cheese affinities.” At the end of the book, there is a very useful chart called “What Beer with that Cheese?” and a useful index listing specific cheeses, specific beers, and beer styles. All though the book are full color photographs of beers and cheeses standing deliciously side-by-side. It’s enough to make you stop reading and rush over to the nearest places where you can get good beers and cheese. But don’t forget to make notes before you go.

Goodbye cheezies, goodbye the Beast of Milwaukee. But I don’t think I’ll forsake celery. Sometimes it makes a good palate cleanser.

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NINETY-NINE BOTTLES — # 1

NOTE: One of my 2014 beer projects is to drink 99 different kinds of beer — not different styles, but, when I’m tasting a style I’ve already had this year, it has to be by a different brewer. I’ll try, as much as possible, to buy beer that’s brewed within an hour’s drive of my house. If not, I’ll try to buy it in the state where it was brewed. Of course, if I’m to reach my quota, I’ll have to buy some beers from out of state. The first beer of the 99 was brewed only 5 miles from where I bought it and it had been bottled only three days earlier.

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“The new La Cumbre IPA is in,” aid Joslyn, when I visited Jubilation (my favorite Albuquerque place to buy beer). “But we’ve only got a few left.” I’d been looking forward to the beer ever since I’d heard about its winning a bronze medal in the American-style IPA category at last year’s Great American Beer Festival. And if there was a limited supply, I knew I had to act fast. So I bought two of the 22 ounce bottles.

When Jeff Erway, owner and first brewer of La Cumbre, first opened his Albuquerque brewing company in December 2010, he said that one of his goals was “to make an IPA that would knock your socks off.” He did. Elevated IPA, the brewery’s flag-shop beer, a 7.2 percent ABV, 100 IBU hop bomb, won a Great American Beer Festival gold medal before La Cumbre was a year old.

The new IPA I picked up several days ago is called Project Dank and is the first of what Erway says will be an ongoing series of really hoppy beers. The “dank” comes from the dank aroma of hops, a plant, he notes, that is related to marijuana. “We’d pretty much stabilized the recipe for Elevated,” he explains. “But I wanted to try something that challenged my creativity. I love playing with hops, experimenting. So I decided to start this project, where people would know that they’d experience something different with each batch we bottled.”

When I talked with Jeff this morning, he told me that all of the first batch had been completely sold out (I helped!), that all of the second batch had been distributed to retailers, and that a third batch would be coming soon.

The first batch poured a dark golden. There was a piney aroma and taste. The first sip was hop forward although there was a subtle, underlying maltiness that prevented what the label referred to “HOP INSANITY” from overwhelming. As the beer warmed slightly in the glass, the hop flavors seemed to mellow, providing a roundedness to the drink.

Jeff’s love of playing around with hops was evident in the list of hops included in the brew. There were three well-known West Coast varieties, Columbus and Chinook, and Simcoe, along with such lesser known varieties as Mosaic, Nelson Sauvin, and (from South Africa) Southern Passion. He promises other new and interesting combinations in upcoming releases.

Perhaps the best description of Project Dank #1 came from one of my fellow tasters, a person whom I’d successfully weaned from a dependence on Bud Light, Corona, and Tecate. His words were almost poetic: “It’s a hop bomb with velvet gloves.”

A New Beer Year

A couple of days ago, I hit the send button on NEW MEXICO BEER: A HISTORY OF BREWING IN THE LAND OF ENCHANTMENT, to be published in the spring by The History Press. The project occupied most of the time that I ‘ve spent this year thinking and writing about beer. It was a wonderful experience.

First, I travelled all around New Mexico, visiting many places I’d probably never have gone to otherwise. The “Land of Enchantment” doesn’t have the lakes and forests that I’ve been used to most of my life; but the high desert has its own beauty. The bosque, the treed areas bordering the Rio Grande which travels north to south the length of the state, mark a strip of green in the brown landscape. Turnouts on the winding roads I drove to reach some of the remoter breweries look out on spectacular panoramas. And, when I was in Taos, the temperature hovered near minus 10 celcius and there was snow on the ground and on the mountain slopes. I almost thought I was back in Alberta.

Many of the breweries I visited were in converted warehouses spaces. But some were in unusual dwellings. One brewpub was in what had been a 1920s Penney’s department store, another in a late nineteenth century butcher shop, and a third in an old pharmacy that was said to be haunted. Two of the smallest brew houses were found at the edge of mountainous wildernesses. Abbey Brewing Company, run by Benedictine monks, has a pilot brewhouse in a small shed on the monastery grounds a few miles from Abiquiu. Comanche Creek Brewing, a few miles from Eagle Nest in the northeastern part of the state, is housed inside a 20 by 20 foot log cabin that once served as the blacksmith shop for a farm.

The brewers I met came from a variety of backgrounds. Most had been home brewers; many had been to professional brewing schools; a few had simply showed up at local breweries, badgered the people there to be part of the team, and then learned on the job. Several had left other professions to turn their passion for brewing into a profession. Many had been in the computer industry; one had been a music teacher on the Navajo reservation; one had made furniture; and one was a Benedictine monk.

The brewers shared a common trait: they loved making beer and they wanted to make the best beer they could. And they have certainly succeeded. At the 2013 Great American Beer Festivals, New Mexico brewers won eight medals, making the state one of the most successful in the competition. Among the brewers there exists what one called “cooperative competition.” They are always ready to help each other when necessary, but they certainly want whatever they’re brewing to be the best around. And that’s a good thing, because the healthy competition has made the beers of New Mexico get better each year.

And there’s more to come. Christopher Goblet, the Executive Director of the New Mexico Brewers Guild, recently remarked: “We’ve just seen the beginning of what New Mexico has to offer. It’s going to get bigger and better.” When I hit the send button on NEW MEXICO BEER, there were 33 craft breweries and brewpubs operating in the state. By the end of 2014, the number will probably be at least 40.

Twenty-one of these microbreweries and brewpubs are located along Interstate 25, from Las Cruces to Las Vegas. Any one of them  would be worth a visit by snowbirds heading north or south. And, if you’re a visitor in the warmer weather, try the ones off the beaten track. You’ll see some great scenery, meet some very interesting brewers, and, most important, discover some great beers.

The New Mexico Brewers Guild, www.nmbeer.org, has a map and a directory of New Mexico Breweries.

Happy New Beer Year!