Category Archives: Craft Beer

Saturday Dinner: Chocolate Stout Braised Short Ribs

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Cold weather is settling in, so we turn our hymnals to those slow-cooked, warm-you-from-the-inside-out recipes that fuel us during the fall and winter. The type of recipe that you start at 1 or 2 p.m. and let roll until 5 or 6 p.m. The type of recipe that involves braising. The first thing I toss in the braising pan each fall are short ribs, simply because they are so good and so easy to make. Sear them, cook the veg, toss in some liquid and move to the oven for the afternoon.

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The problem is that I like my short ribs with bones. The bone’s marrow adds a lot of flavor and richness to sauce and they are typically cheaper than the boneless variety. Yes, you spend more money to get the quantity of meat you want, but it’s worth it for the flavor. According to the moustached man in the Wegmans Fairmount meat department, they stopped getting short ribs with bones weeks ago. While grocers charge more for the boneless variety, Mr. Moustache told me that wholesalers can get more for the bone-in variety from restaurants, who like the bone for presentation purposes. So, instead of $7.49/lb., I was left with $9.99/lb. for meat that was once considered a throwaway cut of beef.

“I remember when we used to just grind short ribs for hamburger,” said Mr. Moustache. “Some joker went on TV, made them famous, and now we charge $10 a pound.”

He’s absolutely right.

Continue reading Saturday Dinner: Chocolate Stout Braised Short Ribs

Fall Festivals at Critz Farms

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Make a right on New York State Route 13 South from Route 20 and you will pass the sign for Rippleton, a hamlet south of the Cazenovia, N.Y. village limits. Tree-lined hills burst with red and orange hues, as the two-lane highway ebbs and flows southward to DeRuyter. About 3 1/2 miles after the turn, one arrives at Critz Farms, a 325-acre plot hugging either side of the rural highway.

Critz Farms, founded in 1985, takes its name from its owners Matthew and Juanita Critz. Its fields produce apples, pumpkins, evergreen trees for Christmas, sap for maple syrup and blueberries. But, Critz’s mark is made during fall with its Fall Harvest Festivals.

Fall Harvest Festivals at Critz kickoff each year in mid-September and stretch through the end of October. Visitors purchase a season pass — valid for return visits during the season — for $7.50 per person or $30 for the carload. Admission includes a token for the kid’s cow train and samples at the Harvest Moon Cidery (more on that later). Continue reading Fall Festivals at Critz Farms

Ranking the 2014 Fall Beers

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Let’s have a chat about fall beers. First, I fall into the category of people that eschew the pumpkin/pumpkin spice fever that accompanies autumn. I don’t like the flavor, smell, texture or sight of pumpkins. The last time I carved a pumpkin was high school and I vomited from the scent and feel of the pumpkin innards. In the past, I relegated those who liked pumpkin to category anti-American, communists.

I’ve since moderated my views. For instance, I haven’t reported any pumpkin lovers to the FBI this year as Al-Qaeda or ISIS supporters. It’s a major breakthrough for me.

That said, fall beers typically come with the label of Octoberfest/Oktoberfest and are brewed in the tradition of a German Märzen. These beers are full-bodied, darker, malty beers with a dry finish. Spaten and Samuel Adams probably make the best-known and best-selling versions of these.

Some breweries will also put out a special edition imperial red ale during this time of year. These are intensely hoppy ales taking their color from red malts or caramelization that occurs during the fermentation process.

I’ve worked hard (ha!) to consume as many fall beers as I can. This, dear reader, is my ranking of the 2014 fall beers… Continue reading Ranking the 2014 Fall Beers

Ranking the 2014 Shandy Beers

Beer trends don’t just come and go like other foods. They take time to pick up momentum before reaching critical mass. Look at the IPA movement of the 1990s and 2000s. Finding an IPA was once a tough thing to do. Now, every brewery makes one and the challenge has shifted to finding a good IPA.

Or Belgian-style white ales, for instance. A lot of breweries made witbiers, but it was not until MolsonCoors-owned Blue Moon came into the market that it became wildly popular. Blue Moon isn’t the best witbier you can buy (Brewery Ommegang’s version might be the best I’ve ever had), but it’s smooth, tastes good and is wildly popular. Popular enough that Anheuser-Busch InBev jumped in and formed Shock Top.

The bottled Shandy is this new hotness. Leinenkugel began brewing its Summer Shandy in 2007, and it has become synonymous with its brand. Their version is a hefeweizen mixed with lemonade. I have friends who detest the stuff, comparing its lemon flavor to the smell of Mr. Clean. Up until the past couple of years, the SABMiller-owned Leinenkugel held the market on this rather niche style.

Utica-based Saranac came along in 2010 and introduced their lemonade-infused lager as their summer varietal. It became so popular that they spun it off into a standalone seasonal available each summer along with its summer varietal. Shock Top jumped in the game back in 2012 with its Lemon Shandy. And now? Everyone has a shandy.

So, what is a shandy actually?

It’s apparently Bavarian and dates to the early 1900s. The British, God love ’em, used shandies as a means of getting children to warm up to the flavor of beer. It’s great, really, as this is how I’ve warmed The Wife up to beers. Anyhow, shandy is a British word. Radler is the German word for the blend of beer and German lemonade, which is more like a soda than the still citrus drink we know. So, why radler:

Radler dates back at least as far as the “roaring 20s” when a German innkeeper named Franz Xaver Kugler is said to have stumbled onto the mixture. According to the German Beer Institute, Kugler built a bicycle path through the forest, from Munich right to his establishment, called Kugleram. The path worked – probably too well – and Kugler suddenly found himself inundated with some 13,000 bicycle riders on a warm day in June of 1922. Fearing that he was going to run out of suds and maybe have a riot on his hands, Kugler stretched his beer supply by mixing beer with a prodigious quantity of clear lemon soda he had left over from an earlier failed attempt to sell the thirst-quencher. Cutting the beer with the soda in a 50/50 ratio to create Radlermass (literally “cyclist liter of beer”), Kugler saved the day and avoided running out of beer. He even claimed credit for brainstorming the drink as a clever way to keep the riders sober for the ride home.

TL;DR?: Now that the big brewers have entered the market, it’s sure to get screwed up. Until then, it’s time to try them all out.

THE GOOD

  • Leinenkugel Summer Shandy: It’s a lemonade-flavored hefeweizen-style beer that I’ve been drinking the longest. It tips in at 4.2% ABV. It’s pleasant, smooth and enjoyable.
  • Traveler Brewing Company Curious Traveler: The Wife enjoyed this one, which surprises me because it was more like a beer with lemon juice rather than a balanced blend. The lemon tasted real and the beer was nice. Strange story. Traveler is made by Alchemy & Science, a project run by the founders of Magic Hat as an independently-operating subsidiary of The Boston Beer Company (owners of Samuel Adams). 4.4% ABV
  • Traveler Brewing Company Time Traveler: The same beer flavor as the Curious Traveler, but with sweet strawberries. It’s good, but if I’m going to drink a strawberry beer, I would rather go with the Abita Strawberry Harvest. Speaking of which, why is this a shandy and Abita a “fruit beer”? Enjoyable overall. 4.4% ABV.
  • Amstel Radler: The Heineken-owned flag released a radler-style this summer. It’s modeled after the German-style radler with a lot of carbonation and a very clean lemon taste. It’s pretty good, but really weak at 2.0% ABV.
  • Leinenkugel Orange Shandy: The orange tastes more like the oil from the rind then orange juice. I think they go back easily, but I know others who have been put off by the flavor. Eh. They can make their own list. 4.2% ABV.
  • Harpoon UFO Big Squeeze Shandy: This is one you cannot drink more than one or two of during a sitting. It has a big, sweet grapefruit flavor. The Wife, who doesn’t like grapefruit, scowled. I enjoyed it. It left me pining for this year’s Shiner Ruby Redbird release. 4.5% ABV.
  • Shock Top Lemon Shandy: The lemon tastes more authentic than any other entry in the category, but the beer is really weak. It sits on the line between good and bad.

THE NOT-SO-GOOD

  • Samuel Adams Porch Rocker: It’s a Helles lager blended with lemon. At 4.5% ABV, it tastes rather syrupy. I was immediately put off after the first taste.
  • Leinenkugel Lemon Berry Shandy: This is disappointing given the label. The brewer uses blackberry juice to flavor the lemonade, which turns the flavor more towards cough syrup than, say, Lindemann’s Cassis or Kriek. It’s also 4.2%.
  • Dundee’s Shandy: I’m immediately biased because I don’t like Dundee’s beer. It’s dressed up Genny. Yes, I got through my junior year of college with the help of Dundee’s Honey Brown, but this shandy sits squarely on the line between bad and ugly. Also 4.2% ABV.

THE WRETCHED

  • Saranac Shandy: The lager-lemonade combo is even more syrupy than Sam Adams. The lemon tastes very fake, like they poured packets of Wyler’s into a vat of Karo syrup, mixed it, and then dumped it into the brewing tank. It’s 4.2%
  • Labatt Shandy: I thought that this would be tough to choke down. It wasn’t. It was worse.
  • Coors Light Summer Beer: It had all of the faint beer flavor of a Coors Light with all the phony nondescript citrus you might expect.

THE MISSING: Narragansett Del’s Shandy, Traveler Beer Illusive Traveler

Beer From Other States (or My In-Laws Are Better Than Your In-Laws Part II)

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Last year, I got a bright idea. The In-Laws were spending a month in Myrtle Beach and I thought maybe, just maybe, I could get them to bring some beer home for me. As a result, I got my hands on some R.J. Rocker’s Son of a Peach, New South Brewing White Ale and Sweetwater Blue, in addition to a sixer of Shiner White Hare Pale Ale.

They made a fatal mistake, though. They told me that they “had fun” hunting for the beer and that it gave them something to do on one of the rainy days that kept them off the beach. Fun? This is fun? Heh heh.

Now, rewind a couple of years. Before Shiner made its debut in Upstate America, I was hooked solidly on Shiner Bock. In need of a fix, I sent The Aunt out shopping while she was visiting friends in Bethany Beach, Md. She said that it gave her something to do on a rainy day and that she thought it was fun to walk in the stores and run the staff around looking for beer. She said that an old lady looking for beer is not something that they often see.

Another one who finds this stuff fun. Seriously, who goes on extended vacations and finds shopping for beer for their relatives fun? I’m not trying to bite the hand that feeds me, but I’m confused nonetheless. Continue reading Beer From Other States (or My In-Laws Are Better Than Your In-Laws Part II)

Saturday Dinner: Corned Beef Hash

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I think corned beef and cabbage is a gigantic joke that the Irish play on Americans. I think that many years ago, a group of drunks gathered in a Boston pub and tried to come up with a way to trick millions of people. After hours of ideas and many pints later, one of them came up with an idea: make people eat garbage. Maybe not actual garbage, but something that smells like rotting trash. It had to sound ethnic and related to a dirt poor nation of people dodging famines. They chose the cheapest possible meat — a beef round that had been cured — and a vegetable that was plentiful but that no one wanted to eat. When tossed into a pot and left to cook all day, corned beef and cabbage would make homes around America smell like landfills in the name of being “authentically Irish.”

That’s what I’m going with. And while my conspiracy might be a tad off, according to Salon.com, corned beef is about as Irish as the pizza I ate for dinner on Friday night. Continue reading Saturday Dinner: Corned Beef Hash

Ranking the Winter 2013 Beers (Updated 12/28)

It has snowed at least once in Syracuse, so as far as I’m concerned we can talk about winter beers. As I did in the fall, I will drink as many of the winter and Christmas beers as possible as a service to you, the reader. As long as I can get my grubby hands on them, they will be consumed.

It’s a tough job, but someone must take it on head first.

  1. Anchor Christmas Ale: Perfect. Great body, not too fruity, not too malty, not too hoppy, not too…the only thing it is too much of is good. Worth every dollar.
  2. Southern Tier 2XMAS Ale: Right off the bat, the orange peel and fig provide a happy holiday greeting. A great beer with a nice spice and medium body. (8.0% ABV)
  3. Founders Breakfast Stout: Like liquid cement. A big heavy stout with a lot of awesome oat and coffee flavors. So good, but you can only have one before being crippled. It’s brewed October to March, so I am counting it as a winter varietal. (8.3% ABV)
  4. 21st Amendment Fireside Chat ale: An exceptional winter beer. There’s a lot of spice, but it’s subtle. Full-bodied and smooth, not unlike myself. (7.9% ABV)
  5. Boulder Beer Never Summer Ale: A big, bold red ale that balances its hops with a clean finish. I really liked this offering and may go back for more. (6.5% ABV)
  6. Shiner Holiday Cheer: Not sure what I was expecting, but the peachy finish was a nice surprise. A malty, dark beer with pecan notes and balanced flavor. Call me biased towards Shiner beers, but I like this a lot. (5.4% ABV)
  7. Great Lakes Brewing Company Blackout Stout: An exceptional imperial stout with a big coffee flavor. Toasty, high ABV and full-bodied, it’s the type of beer that warms you up without weighing you down greatly. (9.0% ABV)
  8. Great Lakes Brewing Company Christmas Ale: Warming, like a blanket. Instead of fleece, the honey and ginger is backed by a high alcohol content and a toasty malt flavor. Typically I would run children over in cold blood if they got in between me and the GLBC Christmas. Not this year. It is good, but the 2011 and 2012 editions were much better. (7.5% ABV)
  9. Leinenkugel Snowdrift Vanilla Porter: I’m probably underrating this beer. I’ve had it the past couple of years and it just gets better each time out. On draught, it has a great coffee/vanilla flavor with a lighter body than you would expect from a porter. (6.0% ABV)
  10. Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Stout: A solid effort for 2013. I didn’t think much of last year’s effort, but it rebounded. A very smooth high octane imperial stout with a chocolatey, almost toasty flavor. (10.0% ABV)
  11. Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale: So much better than 2012. Strong hop flavor but otherwise smooth and full bodied. (6.8% ABV)
  12. Harpoon Winter Warmer ale: It’s like drinking beer made with all of the spices in our baking cabinet. Nutmeg and cinnamon are prominent. A heavy beer that is enjoyable but in small doses. (5.9% ABV)
  13. Brooklyn Brewery Winter Ale: Brooklyn’s ale takes a different approach. They make a Scottish ale without a lot of spice. Very malty and toasty, they let the grains do the heavy lifting. (6.1% ABV)
  14. Samuel Adams Winter Lager: Smooth, but not a lot of flavor. It went down very easy…too easy, actually. (5.6% ABV)
  15. Ommegang Adoration: As The Sister said upon tasting it, “There’s a lot of flavors going on here.” Nothing seemed to complement one another. Mace, cardamom, coriander…everything felt like it was fighting for attention. I wished I did like this one. (10% ABV)
  16. Southern Tier Old Man Winter Ale: Hoppy, spicy, but not too much of either. It was like a heavy pale ale. (7.0% ABV)
  17. Laguintas Brown Shugga Ale: Really hoppy, but not that bad. It was interesting, because there was an understated sweetness that rang through the hops. (9.99% ABV)
  18. Rogue Yellow Snow IPA: Spicy, hoppy. I didn’t really enjoy it. Just a really big bitter IPA.
  19. Blue Moon Mountain Abbey Ale: This used to be my favorite winter beer. They tinkered sooooooo much with the recipe that it’s a disappointment. (5.6% ABV)
  20. Samuel Adams White Christmas: It was like a spicier Blue Moon. No imagination. No body. Bo-ring. (5.8% ABV)
  21. Ithaca Brewing Company Cold Front: I’m always disappointed with IBC beers. I want to like them…I really do. This tastes about as bad as the Victory offering one slot below. It’s supposed to be a strong Belgian dark, but ends up tasting like a spicy, malty mess. (7.2% ABV)
  22. Victory Brewing Company Winter Cheers: Strong spicy flavor. A lot of hops in this winter wheat ale, but not a lot of bitterness. I just didn’t enjoy it. (6.7% ABV)
  23. Troegs Mad Elf Ale: I’ve enjoyed this in the past on draught and in the bottle. For some reason, this year’s version did not agree with me. The Sister liked it but I was so disappointed. (11.0% ABV)

The next time I go shopping, I’ll pick up: Full Sail Wassail, Breckenridge Christmas Ale, Abita Christmas Ale

Fondly missing: Pete’s Wicked Winter Ale

World of Beer, Syracuse, N.Y.

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Ultimately, the question I was seeking to answer on Sunday evening’s trip to DestinyUSA was this: With its great brewpubs, microbreweries and bars like Clark’s Ale House, J. Ryan’s and The Blue Tusk, does Syracuse really need the World of Beer?

And maybe the word need is the wrong one. This area certainly doesn’t need a bar. DestinyUSA doesn’t need another bar, not with Toby Keith’s Loud Country Music and Lousy Food Experience down the hall and the TGI Jack Daniels Grill Friday’s across the way.

Continue reading World of Beer, Syracuse, N.Y.