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I knew I’d awakened in St. Louis when the top two stories in the local newspaper were about baseball and beer. As I was saying to my IPA swilling traveling companion, St. Louis is baseball crazy. Has been since at least the 1920s.
And we all know the arch-ladened metropolis is a beer town. Has been since August Busch decided to pummel American palates with a mediocre swill called Budwe … sorry, can’t even write its name.
But St. Louis is no longer a one-beer town as it had been for more than a hundred years. In fact, 10 years ago, when we were last among the arched throng, we found ourselves in the Schlafly taproom. This was, of course, immediately after touring the brewery of that other beer. Obviously we were in need of something good.
So the plan was to revisit the taproom this time around. But upon entering the city … we got lost. It was a learning experience, though, as we got to witness first-hand the urban plight. Are you seeing the plight kids? Roll ’em up!
The best news is that as we made our way back on course, we passed the Morgan Street Brewery, just a few blocks from the hotel. Yeah plight!
Naturally that was our first stop after unloading the Mini, which believe it or not takes longer than one would think. Who knew so much crap could fit into a Mini Cooper? Who knew we owned so much crap?
Morgan Street Brewery had half a dozen of their beers on tap, but only one each that interested us. For me, it was their seasonal Maibock. For her, the Virgin Territory IPA. After spending 20 minutes deciding where to sit, we ordered. The IPA came out immediately, but the Maibock was nowhere to be found. The doorman had told us they only had one keg left, but the waitron said they were changing to a new keg. Huh?
Turns out the door guy knew better. They were out. Since there was nothing else on the beer menu for me, we were going to leave. But suddenly the waitron showed up with a glass 82 percent full of Maibock. She’d fought another server just to bring me was left of the keg.
It was worth it. The award-winning Maibock was deliciously malty in both flavor and nose. A nice foamy head accompanied the dark golden color. No wonder it took silver in the World Beer Championships a few years ago.
The IPA wasn’t quite as noteworthy, but was still good. Checking in a 58 IBUs, there wasn’t as much hoppyness as my IPA friend prefers. But it was quite drinkable. And not bad for MSB’s first IPA ever.
Since they were out of Maibock and there was nothing else on the menu for me, we asked the waitron for a suggestion of where to try more local beers. She directed us to Hair of the Dog, just 5-6 blocks from our hotel. Once we found the dive bar, we were pleased to see almost 50 beers on tap, most of which were IPAs and Belgian Ales. No stouts or porters, though.
Fortunately, they did have a Schlafly Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout available, so that’s what I had while my partner enjoyed a Perennial Artisan Ale IPA. The stout was delicious. Lots of malt. Not too much bourbon. Just the way I like it. Dark color with a light head. But at 10.5% ABV, I didn’t need more than a pint. Too bad it came in the large format. Darn the luck.
The Perennial IPA was nicely balanced. Again, not very hopped up, so not her favorite. But a tasty beer, nonetheless.
That was enough for the night because the next evening was so important, we needed our beauty sleep.
See you in Omaha.
— Eric Van Steenburg
I believe it was Aristotle who first said “When in Kentucky, do as the Kentuckians.” Or is it Kentuckionians? Kentuckites? Oh well, who am I to argue with the inventor of the riding lawn mower.
So when we arrived in the metropolis known as Lexington, we knew we needed to fin it. That meant dining at a local establishment and sipping some of the finest Kentucky brews.
To start, we were presented with numerous opportunities. Patty’s son, who lives in Lexington, was kind enough to offer his two favorite burger places. I’d also seen a “top 5 burger joints in Lexington” post online that increased our options to seven. Then, as we drove downtown, past the legendary Rupp Arena where the University of Kentucky’s professional basketball team plays, people were hanging out of every restaurant and parking spaces were suddenly at a premium. This was clearly the place to be.
To be more precise, the intersection of Broadway and Market was loaded with restaurants. Too many options.
But then there it stood, like a shining light acting as a beacon in a sea of darkness … The Village Idiot.
I was home.
I’d read about the place online. The beer selection and burger choices sounded tempting. And, like all of the best “burger joints,” it had more options on the menu than just burgers. That’s a necessity for my IPA chugging traveling companion, who prefers a chicken sandwich of some kind over the beauty of the burger.
We went inside and saw all the draft beers listed on a giant chalkboard. But the bar, where we usually prefer to sit, was packed. Fortunately the hotron (that’s the gender-neutral way to say host/hostess) informed us there was an upstairs bar. And so to second floor we ascended.
There we found a seat at the bar, and the most attentive and informative bartender. Sam made several beer suggestions, and was happy to accommodate our wishes, including getting the Korean Chicken Sandwich without the sandwich.
I was thrilled with Sam’s recommendation of the 35K milk stout from Against the Grain brewery out of Louisville. For the IPAer, he suggested the West Sixth IPA or the Heller Heaven Double IPA, both from West Sixth Brewing. After sampling each (she’s big into samples), she chose the former because of its stronger hop bite. My 35K, by the way, was a perfect blend of dry and creamy. Not much of a head, but easy to drink with very subtle hints of cocoa and coffee.
Burger time. While she ordered the previously mentioned bun-less sandwich, which was chicken topped with a spicy gochujang sauce, I got the signature burger – the Idiot.
This delicious mound of meat featured an almost pink burger topped with cheddar and a huge onion ring, in which the chef chose to put pulled pork. All of this is on a pretzel bun, which I could have done without. Still, the burger was wonderful, and one I would highly recommend.
As for my IPA slurping road buddy, while the West Sixth IPA was fine, Sam then poured her the Stone Enjoy By IPA, which right now is the 07.04.15. This one really hit her sweet spot. Bitter hops in the nose and the back end. An excellent balance of bitter at malt, which for her means more bitter and less malt. And hey, we know it’s fresh.
So maybe the Stone beer wasn’t Kentucky. But everything else was. And for one night, we were Kentuckiers. Aristotle would be proud.
Three thumbs up to The Village Idiot.
— Eric Van Steenburg
Contrary to urban legends, boxed in is neither a hotel nor a mortuary. It is, however, how things have been in the beer ‘n’ burger world the past few months. At least, that’s my excuse for not posting a new entry since March, and I’m sticking to it.
Still, I was surrounded by boxes last weekend, so perhaps that’s the reason for the boxed-in feeling. Fortunately the movers came on Monday and took away all the boxes, and the couch, and chairs, and beds, and tables … you get the picture.
Yes, I’m hooking up the team to the covered wagon and moving the Beer-and-Burgers.com headquarters from one mountain range to another. Leaving the Appalachians and moving into the Rockies. Goodbye Virginia, hello Montana.
But this time I promise my travels will not interfere with my duties as the official taster of the Beer-and-Burgers.com conglomerate. In fact, here’s a taste of what I’ll be posting in the coming months:
- Day-by-day journal entires of the stops along our route from Harrisonburg to Bozeman, and the beers and burgers found within. Tonight — Lexington, Kentucky is about to be in the spotlight. We’ll see if it lives up to its college town rep.
- Reflections of my favorite beer and burger experiences during the two years that my IPA swilling friend and I resided in Virginia. There were plenty. I promise to trim down the list to a baker’s dozen. But you can bet the IPA Challenge at Capital Ale House in Harrisonburg, the Shocker burger at Jack Brown’s, and the first time I had the Barrel Aged Vanilla Porter from what is now known as Brothers Craft Brewing will be on the list.
- In-depth analysis of the beer scene in our new home. I’ll tackle Bozeman first, where there are four craft breweries already in place and a rumored two more on the way. Then I’ll take on the entire state of Montana using the Montana Brewery Passport. Some people call it “Beer Country.” I’ll attempt to verify that claim.
- The addition of a beer primer page that could act as a starting point should a craft beer novice stumble upon the blog, or a go-to page for the craft beer drinker looking to expand their range.
- An outside expert has been hired to field thousands of questions that are submitted daily to the Beer-and-Burgers.com website. This will be accomplished by adding a new page that will answer all the questions we get about beer (approximately 28.5 percent of total questions), the burger questions (19.3 percent), and the remaining 52.2 percent that are about mostly movies, music, and sex.
- The most important post, perhaps, and certainly the most ambitious will be my take on the recent lawsuits about trademark infringement being brought against craft breweries. I’m expecting this one to go viral. So be ready.
So there’s your taste of what’s to come. Meanwhile, I’ve got to get on the road. My IPA chugging traveling companion is staring at me, and I can’t tell if she’s ready to go or wants a beer. Probably both.
— Eric Van Steenburg
This one’s off my 83rd album …
“Oh, I’ve been everywhere, man.”
“I’ve been everywhere.”
“I’ve tried a lot of beers, man.”
“I’ve tried a lot of beers.”
“Of beers I’ve had my share, man.”
“I’ve been everywhere.”
“I been to Chicago, Seattle, Scranton, San Antonio,”
“Washington, Grand Forks, Raleigh-Durham,”
“North Carolina, South Carolina, North Dakota,”
“Myrtle Beach, Montana, Minneapolis (four times)”
“Oh, I’ve been everywhere, man.”
“I’ve been everywhere.”
Thank ya. Thank ya very much.
As you can tell, I’ve been traveling quite a bit lately, which is why the number of posts on the Beer-and-Burgers blog has slowed considerably. But I really did go to all of those places – and all in the last five weeks. Can you say hectic? I thought you could.
The good news is I did get to sample a nice variety of craft beers in these locations. Here are the highlights:
- Surly Brewing Company (Brooklyn Center, MN) – On a trip to North Dakota, I tasted the Bender and the Coffee Bender in Minnesota (which is just across the river from where I was staying). The Bender is a brown ale made with oatmeal that created a taste similar to a stout. Although it was somewhat dry, I liked the creaminess of the beer, and noticed a little caramel flavor at the end. The Coffee Bender is the sister beer. The addition of coffee to the Bender made it even creamier, making it feel like a coffee stout but with enough caramel sweetness to balance out the bitter coffee flavor. Delicious.
- Two Beers Brewing (Seattle, WA) – Tried the excellent Sodo Brown Ale during a visit to Seattle in February. Heavy on the malt, this beer had a bit of cocoa flavor that wasn’t overpowering, but enough to make it semi-sweet and exceptionally smooth.
- 406 Brewing Company (Bozeman, MT) – The Brown Porter is outstanding. It rivals the Pecan Porter from 512 Brewing Co. in Austin, TX. Obviously naming your brewery after the area code where you live means you can make an excellent porter. Lots of caramel flavor and malty goodness to counterbalance the smokiness at the beginning of the taste.
- Tröegs Brewing Company (Hershey, PA) – The Mad Elf Ale may look like an everyday Amber in the glass, but this Winter ale is the perfect conclusion to anyone’s holiday season. I tasted a hint of chocolate and cherry, but lots of malt from start to finish. At 11% ABV, you probably only need one of these to kick off a celebration. Usually only available through February, so I was lucky to find one during a trip to Scranton, PA in March.
Of course, all the travel meant flight delays, missed connections, and plenty of time spent in airports.
So there I sat, in the Minneapolis airport for the second time, waiting for the same flight going to the same place leaving from the same gate. And both times, I had a four-hour layover. What to do, what to do?
Fortunately, there is a Rock Bottom Brewery in the airport. And even better, it’s right around the corner from the gate where the flight leaves at 8 p.m. for D.C.
Now, I’m not a fan of chain restaurants … nor chain letters or chain link fences, for that matter. (I’m OK with chainmail, if worn correctly.) But I’ve had several good meals and beers at Rock Bottom Brewery in the past. Took some friends to the one in downtown Chicago and had a great time. Used to visit the one in Dallas when it was open. And so I was OK with spending a few hours at Rock Bottom in the Minneapolis airport.
The first time, I was able to enjoy the Winter Warmer and the Chocolate Porter. Both were pretty good. The warmer tasted of molasses and nutmeg, while the porter was exactly as advertised – very chocolatey and sweet. The warmer was perfect with my Laredo burger, which featured a little spice in the cheese and toppings, and was cooked a perfect medium rare.
The second visit exactly one week later wasn’t quite as good on the beer or burger front. The Warmer was gone, and the Porter didn’t go well with that spicy burger. And I think this time the cook let it sit too long on the grill because there wasn’t any pinkness left in the meat.
Still, sitting there wasn’t exactly the worst way to kill four hours waiting for an airplane. So who cares if all I could get was an airporter. If you find yourself hitting Rock Bottom, this is the way to do it.
— Eric Van Steenburg
There was no doubt this was all about the stout. All the breweries with any clout had followed this route so they could go all-out about their stout. And anyone in a stout drought did not need to pout because it was time to shout for they were about to have a stout below their snout.
OK, I’m just about out of words that rhyme with stout, so let me tell you about the Know Good Beer Festival that took place last weekend in Charlottesville. It was called the Siberian Express since its focus was winter beers. Finally, a beer festival made for me.
See, usually when my IPA-slurping friend and I attend a beer tasting, beer festival, beer anything, I spend the first 30 minutes walking around searching for any offerings that tilt toward the malty side of the beer spectrum. Typically I’ll find a couple of stouts, a brown ale, and zero porters. This time, the malt was on the other foot (or something like that).
There were 11 different malty falcons that I was able to sample. Meanwhile, the IPA-chugger was limited to just a couple of options. Aha! … So there! … How’s that feel? … Apparently not too bad because she made numerous trips to Get Bent from Parkway Brewing Co. Hmm. Is that something I should be concerned about?
Anyway, back to the stouts … and the other deliciously malty concoctions available to me at the chilly (it was outdoors in 30-something degree temps) winter beer festival. First, kudos to all the people — attendees, brewers, volunteers, photographers (check out Ron Rammelkamp’s handiwork), and musical performers — who realized the importance that the opportunity for good beer trumps the chance of being cold.
Here’s my take on what I tasted, and ranked, in reverse order, of the best of the best available beers:
11. Raspberry Stout – Hardywood Park Craft Brewery – Actually, it was delicious. I love raspberries. And I love stouts. This is almost like my personal Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup (which I don’t particularly care for, by the way). But it didn’t have the malty kick that I was looking for. A great beer, but not today, standing outside in the cold. Though at 9.3% ABV, it could easily warm you up. SCORE: On a scale of 1 to 10, I give it four stout shout-outs.
10. Anniversary Ale – Wild Wolf Brewing Co. – A brown ale in the Belgian style. I didn’t taste the chocolate that it’s supposed to have, and the malt flavor was rather mild. At 5.6% ABV, this would be a great starter beer to kick off a day of winter beer tasting. Oh hey, that’s exactly what I did. SCORE: Four stout shout-outs.
9. Virginia Black Bear – Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery – A tasty Russian imperial stout that checks in at 9.3% ABV. I could taste the Russian, but not the imperial. This brewer-farmer also has a vanilla version of this beer, which I can’t wait to try. SCORE: Four stout shout-outs.
8. Cavalier Milk Stout – C’Ville-Ian Brewing Co. – A new brewery in Charlottesville (aka C’Ville) that made a solid milk stout on it first trip around the stout yard. Dry in the mouth, but full at the same time. And it was cool the next day to walk down Main Street and discover where the brewery is located. Brewery owner Stephen Gibbs gets an “atta boy” for this one. Nice job rookie! SCORE: Five stout shout-outs.
7. Little Red RooStarr Coffee Cream Stout – Starr Hill – I remember that I tried it, but I don’t remember what it tasted like. Must have been late in the day. Good thing I could grab this milk stout at my local pub back in the ‘Burg. Just as its name indicates, it was creamy, but went down easily. And at 5.8% ABV, a couple or three of these might make for a nice evening on a cold winter day. SCORE: Six stout shout-outs.
6. Dopplbock – Three Notch’d Brewing Co. – So this dark German lager isn’t really in the stout category. But neither was the Anniversary Ale, and we let it crash the party. And because it’s from Three Notch’d, you have a pretty good chance that it’s gonna be darn good. The bocky beer had a wonderfully creamy finish that had lots of toasted caramel flavor. ABV = 7.3%. Just missed out on making the top five. SCORE: Six stout shout-outs.
5. Black Me Stout – Champion Brewing Co. – A solid, traditional stout. About as traditional as they come. In a blind taste test, one almost might think this is a Guinness. Almost. It was dry and light, exactly how lead brewer Levi Duncan said he wanted it to be. Nice job. SCORE: Seven stout shout-outs.
4. French Toast Wake-n-Bake Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout – Terrapin Beer Co. – It’s got a long name, but I can sum up how it tasted in one word – yum-diddy-yum-yum. That counts as one word because I hyphenated it. But back to the stout. The coffee and oatmeal were extremely well balanced in that neither overpowered the other. Very easy to drink, but at 9.4% ABV be careful about downing too many because the alcohol will kick the coffee’s ass every time. SCORE: Eight stout shout-outs.
3. Dark Hallow Imperial Stout – Blue Mountain Brewery – I didn’t get a chance to taste it, but that was somewhat intentional. See, I can get the Dark Hallow at my local pub just about anytime. So I decided to save this one for last. But last it did not. In other words, they kicked the keg well before the four-hour drink-a-thon ended. Oh well, I had one last night at the pub and it was as wonderful as I knew it would be. Rich, malty, powerful. This imperial stout is a smooth drinker. Watch out, though, because it will knock you out. SCORE: Nine stout shout-outs.
2. Biggie S’mores Imperial Stout – Three Notch’d Brewing Co. – Just as the name indicates, this sweet stout tasted like s’mores in a glass. And who doesn’t want that? Particularly when the s’mores come with an ABV of 8.0%. I was told this beer is made with pounds and pounds of Honey Maid Graham Crackers. Why didn’t anyone else think of this brilliant idea before? I will definitely partake in this one again … if I can ever find it again. SCORE: Nine stout shout-outs.
1. Morning Bear Coffee Imperial Stout – Devil’s Backbone Brewing Co. – Now this is one coffee that will have you saying “Good Morning!” within seconds after your first taste. Easily the best drinking beer at the festival, and that’s saying a great deal since all the beers were tasty. But this cask-conditioned stout was clearly on a slightly different level that the others. Too bad the cask was the smallest one I’d ever seen. My strategy was to not wander too far from this one. SCORE: Ten stout shout-outs.
I think that’s about all I can tout in regard to the stouts. But as your faithful beer scout, I’ll be on the look-out should a stout tasting suddenly sprout. Until then, when in doubt, drink a stout.
— Eric Van Steenburg
I told you that I was on Santa’s “nice” list. And he apparently listened to my request for a winter beer tasting because next Saturday, Jan. 24 in Charlottesville, VA, the winter version of the Know Good Beer festival is taking place. You can’t turn down the opportunity to taste this many wintry style brews. And how can you turn down a beer festival that goes by KGB?
Therefore, as a dedicated beer blogger, it is my duty to attend. If you want to also, here’s the dirt:
- Where it at: Ix Art Park – 963 2nd Street Southeast, Charlottesville, VA 22902 – inside and outside, but in a heated tent. Whew!
- When: 12-5 p.m. That should just about do ya.
- Who’s Pourin’: Breweries offering samples include Beach Brewing, Blue Mountain, Bold Rock, Champion, C’Ville-Ian, Devil’s Backbone, Hardywood, Lickinghole Creek, Old Hill, Pale Fire, Parkway, South Street, Starr Hill, and Three Notch’d. Is that enough?
- Tickets Tickets Tickets: $30, plus a $2.64 inconvenience fee. Get ’em here.
- Whatcha get: A dozen pours of four ounces each. Attendees can also purchase additional tickets inside the festival – four for $6. That’s a good deal.
- Noshables: Blue Ridge Pizza Co. and South Fork will be providing munchies. Yum.
- Beneficiaries: Funds raised go to WNRN, one of the best indie radio sources in the world. Seriously.
See you there.
– Eric Van Steenburg
Here we sit smack dab in the middle of the holiday season. For example, Festivus was a week ago, and Groundhog Day isn’t until February. Why? What holidays were you thinking of?
The best part of the holidays for me is that we’re in the middle of the greatest season of beer tasting. That’s right, it’s winter beer time.
I love the build up to winter beer tasting season. It starts in late August when the beer carrier cartons start to change colors, from the yellows and greens of the IPAs and Pilsners, to the oranges and browns of the Oktoberfests and Bocks. It is always exhilarating to me when I walk into a grocery store around Labor Day and have my first sighting of the Sam Adams Oktoberfest beer. I know that cooler temperatures, and much cooler beers, are just around the corner … and down the hall and through the door on the left.
Of course, as most drinkers of quality beer know, the Oktoberfests typically disappear around October. At least the good ones do. And even though I was informed by a beer guru that pumpkins really don’t add anything to a fall brew, and that it’s really the spices added by the brewer that make the beer taste the way it does, I still enjoy the Pumpkin Ales that roll off the shelf … and down the street before getting smashed by a truck and then turned into pumpkin pie … as Halloween approaches.
But the most wonderful time of the year is when the nights start getting longer, and the air starts getting colder, and all the syrupy beers with their holiday spices that my IPA-chugging friend can’t stand start to make their way onto store shelves and pub pulls. Yes, baby, it’s cold outside. But these beers warm my heart.
And in case you’re in need of some winter warming, I’ll share with you a list, in alphabetical order, of fall and holiday seasonal ales that I’ve tasted thus far. Nothing naughty or nice here, just sweet, malty goodness that makes my mouth wish the winter would last forever.
- Alta Gracia Coffee Porter – Wolaver’s – An outstanding ale made with organic barley, organic chocolate malts, organic vanilla beans, and coffee from a Dominican Republican farm community in Alta Gracia. Yes, its certified organic by the USDA. One of the best coffee porters I’ve ever had … and I don’t even like coffee.
- Anastasia’s Chocolate Fantasy – South Street Brewery – The Charlottesville, VA-based brewery made this Russian imperial stout aged on cocoa nibs. What’s a nib? Who cares? This beer is like a brownie in a bottle. And I don’t even like brownies (the desert kind, not the human kind, which are OK with me).
- Blitzen – Blue Mountain Brewery – This Belgian imperial Christmas ale is a strong dark ale that is rather bold and in your face. Some hints of fruit and lots of malt.
- Choklat – Southern Tier Brewing Co. – OK, so you can get this imperial chocolate stout in the fall, but it’s not available year round. And if it were, you probably wouldn’t want it on a hot summer day. It’s chocolaty goodness, and I don’t even like chocolate. There’s a growler of it in my ‘fridge right now.
- Christmas Ale – Great Lakes Brewing Co. – I love beer made with honey, and this one has that plus some cinnamon to boot. It’s a multiple award winner, so grab some if you can.
- Einbecker Winter-Bock – Einbecker Brauhaus – Lots of malt in this tasty bock made by real Germans in Germany. Watch out for the ABV.
- Elementary Porter – Three Brothers Brewery – A lot of caramel and a little coffee make this a powerful porter. I wish it was available year round. As good as it is, I like it’s companion beer, My Dear Watson, even better. The Baltic porter is a little sweeter with tastes of toffee on the tongue. Alas, I couldn’t get a growler of it because the tap was acting up and it took 10 minutes just to pour a pint.
- Fairgrounds Fall Ale – Three Brothers Brewery – While there might be lots of flavor going on here, the brothers know how to bring it together into a nutty, malty concoction. Nutmeg and cinnamon lead the way, with a little allspice at theback end. Perfect after a day of raking leaves.
- Hardywood Park – Gingerbread Stout – This thing is being traded around my area, which I’ll call Central Virginia, like gold on the Swiss financial exchange. And let me tell you, it’s demanding quite a bit in trade (don’t even bring those Sam Adams winter lagers in here). I managed to get clued in early, and was able to smuggle one out of state to my Dad in Texas. Shhh, don’t tell anyone. Oh, and if you wonder why it’s in demand, imagine the entire Christmas season in a bottle. That’s the GBS.
- Homebody – Three Brothers Brewery – I don’t even like sour style beers, but this tart brown ale was easy to drink despite its bitterness. Probably because brown ales tend to have more malt characteristics, and this one was also made with cherries and vanilla beans. I like vanilla.
- Long Winter’s Nap – Blue Mountain Brewery – Belgian Triple Bock (lager beer) – I don’t know if this beer will put you to sleep or provide you a slap-in-the-face wake-up call. It’s cold fermented for more than two months before release into the wild. Very bocky. Could put a novice into hibernation.
- Polar Bier – Three Brothers Brewery – I’m not usually a fan of wheaty beers, but this weizenbock is so sehr gut, I picked up a growler of it at the brewery. You can definitely taste the allspice and orange peel. But I bet it’s the candied ginger that makes this a wintery wunderbar.
- Pumking – Southern Tier Brewing Co. – The best pumpkin ale I’ve ever had. I know, I know, brewing with pumpkins doesn’t add anything to the beer. Yeah, well tell that to the folks at Southern Tier. In addition to pumpkins, they add two kinds of hops and two kinds of malts to create a copper colored beer that tastes like pumpkin pie. And I like pumpkin pie.
- Secret Spot Winter Ale – Evolution Craft Brewing Co. – One of the more hopped beers I’ve had this season. Still lots of malty goodness to go around, though. The Salisbury, MD-based brewery calls this a nod to the altbiers of Dusseldorf. Jawohl!
- Siren Noire – Heavy Seas – I’ve gotten to know Heavy Seas quite a bit over the last year, mostly because it’s about the only craft beer served at Camden Yards. So whenever I go see the Orioles play, I’m sailing the Heavy Seas. And this one’s made with Belgian coco nibs (anyone know what a nib is?). It’s also aged in bourbon barrels for that extra kick, with vanilla bean flavors as well. I felt like I could part a few seas after having one or two of these.
- Space Heater – Three Brothers Brewery – Winter warmers might be my favorite this time of year. Sam Smith first opened my account for these beers. The brothers have made a malty English ale with the usual spicy suspects – allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger. But this mix is their best. Terribly disappointed I can’t get a growler of it anywhere.
- St. Bernardus Christmas Ale – One must file this under “St. Bernardus” instead of just “Christmas Ale” because it might be the most famous Christmas ale of all. The quadrupel is known worldwide and anticipated by adults as much as Santa Claus is by kids. The good news for us older people is that this Belgian ale made by real Belgians is real. (Sorry, kids, spoiler alert.)
- Winter Solstice – Anderson Valley Brewing Co. – The other winter warmer I’ve tried this season is also delicioso. Tastes of honey and allspice, along with a malty mouthful. It’s the winter compliment to the brewery’s Summer Solstice. I’m just glad it’s my season now.
Of course, the holiday season isn’t over. After Groundhog Day we have Presidents Day, Arbor Day, Flag Day, and Talk Like a Pirate Day (celebrate the latter by drinking more Heavy Seas).
So I’m off to see the folks at Three Notch’d because there’s a Maple Vanilla Porter named “Mathia Sugar Shack” waiting for me with my name on it.
– Eric Van Steenburg
Just got finished grading 19 projects, 19 presentations, and the semester-long participation efforts of 79 students. You would think I’d be sick of grading. But no. Because now I get to grade what I really want … the world’s greatest burger joint.
OK, the Katy Trail Ice House might not be the best burger joint in the world. But it’s pretty darn good. And I was fortunate enough to be there two days before Thanksgiving, sitting outside on their huge backyard space, eating a delicious burger, drinking a delicious beer, basking in 68-degree sunshine, and watching the beautiful people of Dallas getting their mid-day exercise on the Katy Trail.
I have to admit feeling a twinge of nostalgic remorse as I sat there enjoying myself and watching the world go by. Two reasons for this: 1) I helped build the Katy Trail when I was its executive director from 2002-2009; and 2) restaurants with backyards adjacent to the Trail was an idea I’d pushed on every developer during my tenure, but none would ever support my vision.
Now the Katy Trail Ice House is so popular, the City of Dallas features it several times in its official promo video (look for it around 2:02 and 2:27). It’s location along the incredibly successful Katy Trail is part of the reason. The other is that the place has great beer and great burgers. How great? Let’s find out by putting my How to Rate a Burger Joint grading scale to work. Here we go:
- Can you get it cooked to order? – My preference is medium rare. I want quite a bit of pink in the middle of that slab of meat. Most places are either afraid to serve it that way, or have cooks who don’t know how to do anything but burn it to a crisp. The Katy Trail Ice House delivers. Perfectly. Score: 10.
- Can you get it made to order? – I will never want mustard on my burger, so we’ll always need to 86 that. And if I order the jalapeno burger, it had better not come with sour cream. What Mexican do you know who eats anything with sour cream? Again, the Ice House met my demands. Score: 10.
- Appearance – You can’t just slap down a burger on a plate and expect people to eat it. Presentation does count for something, even at a burger joint. Katy Trail Ice House puts your food on a small tray covered in aluminum foil, chips on the side. It’s probably not what they teach at Le Cordon Bleu, but it works. Score: 7.
- Bun quality – Outstanding bun-to-burger ratio here. Not much else to consider in this bun, however. It’s more or less there to keep you from looking like an animal if you were to simply hold charred beef between your fingers. Score: 7.
- Does it taste good? – Yes, my taste buds were in heaven. It always helps when the burger is cooked to order. But the combination of goodies on top made the whole thing a mouth-watering delight. Score: 10.
- Are there other items on the menu? – My lunch companion often prefers a chicken something to a burger. The Ice House has a grilled chicken Swiss sandwich, a chicken salad sandwich, and a chicken salad salad. A few other options sprinkle the menu, but this place caters to the burger lover. Score: 7.
- How’s the beer list? – In a word, excellent. There are about 50 taps with a range of craft and mass-produced beers. Most are Texas beers or others in the region. I was able to get the 512 Pecan Porter, and my IPA-chugging friend got the Lakewood Hopp Trapp. Would love to see the list expanded to great beer-making states like Colorado, Oregon, and Virginia. Score: 9.
- Is there outside seating? – Holy crap, yes. And the Ice House did it the way I’d recommended to many a developer – throw some gravel on the ground, put out some picnic tables, and serve coffee, water, and beer. In addition to glorious outdoor seating, the Ice House has garage doors that can be opened or closed based on the weather, and lead to the inside seating with a dozen or so TVs filled with every game being played that day. The place even keeps water jugs next to the Trail for the exerciser in need of refreshment. Score: 10.
- What side dishes are available? – Katy Trail Ice House has a few options for chips and dips. We started with the jalapeno bottle caps, which are simply jalapeno slices dipped in batter and deep-fried. Yes, I had jalapenos as an appetizer and the jalapeno burger. I believe it was the Greek philosopher Aristotle who first said “You can never have enough jalapenos.” Grade: 7
- Ambiance – Well, the music is mostly country, which is a demerit in my book. But at least it was classic country and not the pop-country-crap that Nashville has been pushing on us for the last 20 years. The servers are usually quite nice. And the whole thing reeks of casual chic. Excellent place to hang out for a while. Score: 10.
Now we add simply it up. And the Katy Trail Ice House burger joint score is … 87.
That’s pretty good. But hey, I’m a tough grader. Just ask 79 students.
— Eric Van Steenburg
My IPA-swilling friend used to joke that her morning java was really a mug of cream and sugar with just a touch of coffee added to it.
I can relate. When I eat my annual piece of pumpkin pie next week, it will really be a mound of whipped cream on a plate with a little pie somewhere in the middle.
But I draw the line when it comes to barrel-aged beer. I don’t want my taste buds assaulted by the bourbon or rum or wine or tequila or whatever was originally in the barrel that the beer was aged in. Unlike the coffee or the pie which are secondary to the accompaniments, when I drink a barrel-aged beer, I want to taste beer, not the barrel.
That’s the principle I stood on as I sampled six barrel-aged beers last week at one of my favorite places to enjoy great craft beer – Capital Ale House in Harrisonburg, VA. For the rest of the story, I now turn to a playback of the event, with yours truly on play-by-play, and fellow barstool compatriot Griffin on color commentary. Take it away fellas:
Potter’s Oak Barrel Reserve Cider (bourbon)
Me: I’m usually not a fan of ciders, but this one is almost drinkable.
Griffin: Well, the bourbon really helps balance the cider’s bitterness.
Me: Uh, right. (I take a second swig before pushing it to the left “discard” pile.)
Me: It kinda tastes like soap.
Griffin: Well, about 25% of people experience a clove-taste in their mouths for certain flavor combinations. That’s probably what you’re experiencing.
Me: Uh … OK? (I push it to the left.)
Me: Now this one is good. The bourbon doesn’t overpower the beer. That’s the way it should be.
Griffin: You don’t have to like it just because I work for them.
Me: Really? Cool. (I push it to the right into the “keeper” collection.)
Me: This doesn’t taste like beer.
Griffin: It more like a wine cooler. But it’s part of their “Epic Brainless” Belgian-style series of wine-inspired fruit beers that they’re experimenting with. They have a peaches, and a cherries.
Me: Um … yeah. (It goes left.)
Me: Wow. Uh. Wow.
Griffin: That’s their medal winner from the Great American Beer Fest.
Me: I can understand how it won. That’s a yum rum.
Griffin: Well, it’s one of the last few barrels they have because it’s from 2013.
Me: Wait, so their serving us stale beer? (I push it to the right.)
Hardywood Bourbon Barrel DIPA (bourbon)
Me: Hey, that’s not bad.
Griffin: Hardywood has really been making some nice beers, particularly considering how young the brewery is.
Me: I had their beer for brunch one day. (It goes right.)
Thankfully my dinner arrived at that moment to keep me from sounding even less intelligent than I already was. And that’s another knock I have against barrel-aged beers – the ABV is usually so high that I can only have one glass before I become a babbling idiot. After sampling these six, I was done.
Still, it was a great experience. And thanks to Griffin for jumping into the conversation. I’ll let him bring it home.
Griffin: When I drink a beer, I want to taste beer.
Couldn’t have said it any better myself.
— Eric Van Steenburg
Somebody call me a porter.
OK, you’re a porter.
No, I mean get on the phone and order the best-tasting porter in the world. I’ll give you a tip on how to get started … dial 5 1 2.
Not only is 512 the area code for Austin, Texas, but it happens to be the name of (512) Brewing Company, crafters of the greatest porter ever made.
Of course, they have a huge advantage over other porter-makers out there. Their not-so-secret ingredient, the pecan, was falling off the tree right outside the brewery’s front door. So they added it to the mix, and voila, the (512) Pecan Porter was born.
Pecan trees are plentiful in Texas. It is the state tree, after all. But what the brewers at (512) do with it is special. And it’s not just pecan pie in a glass, though that sounds pretty darn good.
The Pecan Porter from (512) is a perfect blend of sweet pecans, dry malts, and just enough hops to balance it all out. The beer definitely ranks toward the sweeter side of the beer spectrum, but it isn’t what I would call a desert beer like the Southern Tier Crème Brule. No, it’s more for enjoying before, during, and after the meal.
In fact, everything from (512) Brewing Co. is delicious any time of day. Two weekends ago, we visited the brewery for a tour that began at 11 a.m. – the perfect time of day to start enjoying their porter, IPA, alt, and pale ale, which happened to be the four on tap during our visit.
Check that, there was also a nitro Pecan Porter on tap, which tasted almost like the regular version, but with Champaign bubbles added. And at the end of the tour, or host Hugh pounded a tap into a firkin barrel of the porter, which had a more earthy taste than the standard version, most likely because of its fermentation process.
As many of you know, I’m a fan of the porter. My standard, go-to beer is the extremely partakable Breckinridge Vanilla Porter, which can usually be found in my fridge. Others that I really enjoy include the Anchor Porter, the Sweet Baby Jesus chocolate peanut butter imperial porter from DuClaw Brewing Company, and the Shade Grown Coffee Porter by Real Ale Brewing Company. The latter was often on tap at our favorite pub in Dallas, Trinity Hall. And when the bartenders saw me walk in the door, they immediately started pouring one for me. But no one shouted “Norm!”
One of my favorite porters from the past was the Honey Porter that Sam Adams used to make about 20 years ago, and then stopped for some reason. Or at least I can’t find it anywhere. So when I visited the brewery in 2005, I filled out 14 comment cards asking what happened to the honey porter. I guess I should have filled out a few more.
Another one I can’t seem to get often enough is the Elementary porter from Three Brothers Brewing Company. That beer is so good, I filled a growler of it last year and drove it from Virginia to Texas and gave it to my Dad as a Christmas present. Upon tasting it, he promptly forced everyone in the room to have some, including my then 17-year-old nephew. Way to go, Dad.
If you ever find yourself in Austin, be sure to make a trip to (512) Brewing Company for the tasting tour. Perhaps the best part about the entire tour is the approach the employees at (512) have toward everything – drink more beer. Oh, and try the Pecan Porter … it’s the best porter in the world.
— Eric Van Steenburg