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Peter LaFrance

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A taste of… Sesonette Italian Saison

Piccolo Birrificio S.r.l,
Apricale, Italy

Preface: Over the last few months I have been approached by the folks at B. United International, a respected importer of some of the most esoteric brews in the world. I congratulate them on their efforts and know of a few restaurants that are offering the beers and ales imported by B. United a real chance to be discovered.

This bottle of Sesonette was obtained at a local Whole Foods outlet for $8.99 for an 11.2oz bottle. This particular outlet (Houston Street in Manhattan, NY) has its’ own “beer store” where bottles and six different beers/ales are on tap and sold as “growlers.”

The brand representative tells me that the Italians consider any beer/ale that is spiced/herbed to be their version of a “saison”…

Keeping that in mind following are my tasting notes…

Appearance: This is a “bottle-conditioned brew so there is significant cloudiness. It is a dark straw/golden amber color with a thin but dense head that leaves a fine “Belgian Lace.”

Aroma: Initial sensation is that of sniffing a sample of gin… and then there is a funky wild yeast aroma. The second visit reveals what could be perceived as ginger and orange. The third trip, the moment between lip and sip, reveals more of the spiced flavors.

Mouth feel: A medium mouth feel is immediately overtaken by flavors that need time to put names to…

Flavor: There is a lot happening with the flavors of this brew and it is a bit unusual. If you are not ready for this unusual trip the first impression will probably be quite negative. The second sip has you oriented and if you are ready, sets you up for a third sip. Now the flavors seem to begin to fall together into an understandable chorus. I would compare it to visiting an Italian style restaurant where all the staff and the customers speak Italian, know each other and tolerate strangers with only a hint of interest. In that case you either listen, in this case taste or learn or you leave.

Finish: There is a short “thank-you” from the unusual flavors and then they are gone.

Comments: Sesonette is an unusual brew. The adjuncts mentioned on the label include juniper, chinotto peel and coriander. A second bottle tasted a lot better, once I knew what to expect. This is a real taste-tester for beer lovers.

Alcohol content – 6% abv
The Brewery: http://www.piccolobirrificio.com/

What others say:
BeerAdvocate: http://beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/14338/41843
RateBeer: http://www.ratebeer.com/beer/piccolo-birrificio-sesonette/67274/

Monday, March 30, 2009

A taste of Cinder Cone Red 2009

Deschutes Brewery
Bend, OR

Preface: The promotional material that came with this beer describes how the first sign of spring in the Bend, Oregon area, is the first sign of the cinders as the snow melts and the skiers run the risk of scratching their skies or worse. And so the good folks at Deschutes Brewery welcome the season with this brew. (This was a sample beer.)

The following are my tasting notes:

Appearance: Here is an amber/copper colored brew with a soft carbonation and a slight “chill haze.” It is topped with a glistening, sandy brown head of medium sized and small bubbles forming a rather rocky head.

Aroma: The initial aroma sensation is of fresh green vegetation (what beer tasters know as a “hoppy” aroma). The second visit introduces the rather sweet sugar candy notes (what beer tasters call “malty”). The moment between lip and sip reveals an accent on the hops aromas.
Mouth feel: The initial cooling sensation is followed by a fairly average mouth feel that is almost instantly buttressed by the sharp/bitter hop flavors of this ale.

Flavor: As noted above, the hops are king here. The front is all steely, and then bitter accents that are not spiked with the trade-mark accents of grapefruit flavors of Cascade hops. Instead there is a tang of almost metallic character that is neither off-putting nor obnoxious. In fact, it is a real pallet cleanser.

Finish: The hop accents glide into the finish and, as noted above, really get the pallet ready for the next sip.

Comments: What we have here is a brew that treads close to India Pale Ale but has none of the unique English hop accents. I would serve this brew with a good hour or two of conversation on every top except the weather.

Alcohol content – 5.4% abv

The Brewery: http://www.deschutesbrewery.com/splash/default.aspx

What others say:

BeerAdvocate: http://beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/63/6502

RateBeer: http://www.ratebeer.com/beer/deschutes-cinder-cone-red-ale/16999/

Friday, March 27, 2009

A taste of Espresso Oak Aged Yeti 2009

Great Divide Brewing Company
2201 Arapahoe Street
Denver, Colorado, 80205
United States
(303) 296-9460

Preface: As you may deduce from the above illustration, this tasting was not done “in house.” The event was held at a restaurant in Brooklyn Heights called “Jack the Horse.” It was held at the suggestion of Max the bartender who truly merits the moniker “mixologist.” Chef Tim, the head chef/owner and I have had many conversations about their beer list and his menu and his interest was piqued when Alex told him about the “tasting.” A Tuesday early evening was chosen for two reasons. The first was that it enough before dinner service so that the Yeti could get proper consideration. The second was that there is a price-fixed three-course dinner menu that needed trying so my wife, Virginia would also join in the tasting. The following notes were written without the help of the usual promotional “fact sheet” that accompanies sample brews. And so we were flying blind. The label told us the first important bit of information… 9.5% abv

The following are the tasting notes:

Appearance: Here is a dark brew… my Maglite couldn’t be seen on through this almost black brew. We didn’t have a cup of espresso available for comparison. The head is a fine, dense but slightly rocky mocha tan construction. It falls gradually and leaves a fine brown Belgian Lace.
Aroma: As soon as we opened the bottle the rich malt aroma, followed by chocolate was very evident. The lip-to-sip was rich in chocolate and then bourbon.

Mouth feel: Here is a zaftig beverage. Rather than a hairy beast I was getting such a sensual impression it was almost erotic. The others were impressed with the heft of body and flavors.

Flavor: Served at cellar-temperature, the cool liquid brought an initially grainy flavor that quickly looses out to the coffee accents. It took some time to find the oak flavors. There was little overt evidence of hops. Later in the flavor experience there were flavor sensations that were between coffee and sweet. (Hops by deductive reasoning…). However, the balance of heat and heavy was nicely done.

Finish: The finish was deemed smooth and not too long lasting. Traces of prune and fig were found to linger on the pallet.

Comments: Chef Tim joined us towards the end of the tasting and immediately wondered aloud “You could almost pour this on ice-cream…” After the three of us pondered that thought for a few moments Chef returned with two small dishes of ice-cream. One was a light tan scoop of malt ice-cream. The other cup held a scoop of vanilla. Both were doused with a tablespoon or so of Yetti and the result was a true taste treat. It made all of us wish there was enough Yeti on hand to make proper beer and ice-cream “floats”.

The Brewery: http://www.greatdivide.com/

What others say:

BeerAdvocate: http://beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/158/19216/

RateBeer: http://www.ratebeer.com/beer/great-divide-espresso-oak-aged-yeti-imperial-stout/85174/

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Why Beer goes with Hanger Steak


“Hanger steak” is a cut of beef that is found attached to the last rib at the spine, near the kidneys. In French it is called onglet. Italians know it as lombatello, and the same cut of beef is called solomillo de pulmon in Spanish.

Many years ago it was known as “Butchers Steak” in the United States. According to legend it was the cut of beef the butcher would keep for themselves. These fellows knew a good thing of course… being in the business as they were. It is very tasty, when properly cooked, and a not-in-demand-cut. Customers are more interested in tender, easier to cook cuts of meat, or a piece of chuck steak for pot-roast if they are thrifty. Hanger Steak takes a deft hand and the understanding how different ways of cooking affect that particular cut of meat.

It is essential that the serving size be thick but narrow cuts of the steak cut diagonal to the grain, or striations of the muscle. It is also important to have the grill or broiler hot enough to char the meat on contact. These two things are essential because it is not desirable to give the muscle any reason to contract. Anything less than a searing heat will cause the thick muscle strands react by loosing water and contracting. However, when placed on a properly heated grill or under a properly heated broiler the charring is quick and frees the particular aromatics that make cooked beef special.

Contrary to legend, this charring does not “seal in” juices, as anyone who has allowed a roasted cut of rare beef knows. The cutting board starts out with a glimmer of roasting juices well before any slicing is done.

The third essential bit of knowledge necessary to insure the steak is tasty and not trash is timing. The interior temperature of that slice of steak should never get over 120F… this is rare, not “blue” (not barely warn- cool) but blue is best. Those who insist on well-done should be encouraged to find other sustenance.

There you have the essentials to cooking a “hanger steak.”

What about a beverage to go with that tasty bit of beef?

Might I suggest a fine dark beer?

And where might this perfectly cooked “hanger steak” and fine dark beer be found?

Le Reservoir.

Where is Le Reservoir?

The Brasserie Artisinale and Bistro Le Reservoir can be found at 9 Duluth East

Avenue Duluth is a pleasure of Montreal that shouldn’t be missed. As well as Le Reservoir, there are at least a dozen other pubs, bars and restaurants; including Chef Martin Picard’s Au Pied De Cochon (536 rue Duluth Est). His poutine with foie gras is legendary.

I digress… Le Reservoir has an unassuming brick front with doors that open out to the sidewalk and give the fifty or so seats a out-door feeling. For those who want to dine al fresco, there is additional seating on the roof. The bar is to the rear of the room, facing the kitchen. The wine and beer chart is over the service window to the kitchen, behind the bar. The brewery is off to the right as you sip one of the four or five brews on tap. The white walls, high ceilings and wood accents give the place a comfortable, casual feeling.

The menu is simple and featured ox tongue, fried calamari and assorted cheeses as well as the onglet pictured above. It was the best onglet I have ever eaten. It came with sautéed fiddle-head greens and a tuber I have yet to find again. (It was as long as a finger and twice as thick. It seemed to have been roasted.) The char on the beef was crisp and intense. The interior temperature was just before blue but not quite warm. (Body temperature?) Fiddle-head greens are forest ferns before they unfurl. Clenched up before unfolding, they look very similar to the neck of a violin where the strings are keyed to the proper tension. At Le Reservoir the greens were crisp and enjoying a close friendship with the butter it was sautéed in. The aforementioned starch was a hint of nutty flavors with a firmness and flavor similar to potato.

All of these flavors needed to be paired with a brew that was pallet cleansing but also rich enough to not get lost in the beef intensity. The answer was the house “noire” or black beer.

The house “noire” was sturdy ale of about 7% abv and based on roasted rather than patent malts. The hops were kept to a minimum but were floral in the flavor. This richness of the roasted malt complemented the beef and the freshness of the floral hop flavor made the fiddle-heads flavors intensify as well.

Desert was a chocolate pot pudding with a dusting of fleur de sal (fluffy sea salt). It was savory on its own but with the “noire” it was enhanced to the point of symbiotic fulfillment.

And that’s why beer goes with hanger steak…


Peter LaFrance

( http://www.beerbasics.com )

Monday, March 16, 2009

Why beer goes with Poutine and Foie Gras


First of all, for those who don’t know what “poutine” is… It is a serving of deep fried potato chunks, plated and served with meat gravy and soft cheese curds. The dish is famous in the Canadian Provence of Quebec where the specific ingredients, the preparation and the place of origin are a popular topic of debate in “La Belle Province”.

The next obvious need for explanation is the reference to “Foie Gras.” The literal translation of the French words is “fat liver”… Actually it is the liver from a fatted goose. The procedure of forced feeding of geese to insure maximum pound of liver for pound of grain is traditional in parts of France. However, as served at Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal, Quebec, Chef Martin Picard ( http://www.quebeciscooking.com/martin_picard.htm ) the chef responsible for the dish pictured below, has proven that if you simply feed geese continually with good grade grain (corn) the silly thing will naturally stuff themselves without any physical encouragement. This insures a nice fat goose for cooking and a “foie gras” of outstanding quality.

And so I present, for your consideration, a dish of double fried potato chips swathed in rich meat gravy and topped with soft cheese curds melting over the hot potatoes and crowned with two thick slabs of sautéed fois gras. The beverage of choice was a McAuslan Brewing Company version of their St-Ambroise Pale Ale…

According to the brewery site - “St-Ambroise Pale Ale is the brewery's flagship beer. Introduced in February 1989, it is a hoppy, amber, full-flavoured ale. In the Simon and Schuster Pocket Guide To Beer, beer critic Michael Jackson gave it three stars and described it as: "An outstanding ale... amber-red, clean and appetizing, with a very good hop character, from its bouquet to its long finish. Hoppy, fruity, and tasty all the way through."

McAuslan also brews ale specifically for Au Pied de Cochon. It is a deep copper colored, with a sparkle of carbonation and a thin but dense sandy brown head. Ask for “Rouge” and that’s what you will get.

Why is this the ideal choice of beverage?

The answer is in the ingredients of the poutine. Served perfectly, the warmth of the potatoes and gravy will enable the cheese curds to melt and add a creamy richness to the crisp but savory fried chips of potato. These salty, savory and sharp lactic flavors find flavor friends in the malty sweet and hoppy sharp bitterness of the ale. And so the four basic food groups are joined – sweet, salt, fat and cheese.

What about the Foie Gras?

Here is a meeting of soul mates… Both brew and foie gras synthesize to become a flavor combination of almost extreme excellence. First to arrive is the warm, seared slice of almost liquid rich buttery, slightly metallic flavors of the liver. The following sip of the ale introduces these taste sensations to a cool, liquid with, at first a companion rich sweet grain flavor. These flavors shake hands and then feel the leafy green, almost tannic tang of the hops rushing in but not taking over. After the swallow there are resonances of all these flavors in the nasal sensors and the fleeting tang of the hops clears the way for the next taste of this unique poutine.

Will I ever find out if red wine is actually a better choice?

Only if you buy the wine…

Peter LaFrance

( http://www.beerbasics.com )