Monday, December 29, 2008

BEER CHICK PICKS - Favorite Beerish Things of 2008

Happy New Year my fellow beer chicks and geeks! I know that I've been remiss in my blogging lately. I've been around the country drinking beer and keeping notes. And I thought that I could round it all up in a nice neat little list of my Favorite Beer Things of 2008. So without further ado, here they are!

Favorite Beer Bar
Spuyten Duyvil

359 Metropolitan Ave.
Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY

I've been to a lot of great beer bars this year. Father's Office and The Daily Pint are like my second and third homes in LA. The Hopleaf and The Maproom in Chicago get mad props from me. The Brickskeller and Birreria Paradiso in DC, and The Toronado in San Francisco are amazing. But the place that captured my heart, mind, body and soul was a tiny little hole in the wall bar in Brooklyn. With nary a sign to mark this diamond, and red bars covering the windows, the place was so nondescript that I asked "This is it?" when we arrived. From the decor (which is either all a happy accident or designed by some kind of genius in understated hipness) to the vibe, to the knowledge of the staff, to the selection of beers, to the music on the jukebox, to the fellow patrons, this bar pretty much K'd A. I couldn't tell if it was the maps and anatomical drawings on the walls, the apple on top of the Jesus' bust behind the bar, the Spiegelau glassware, the red tin ceiling, or our skull capped bartender; but the beer tasted better to me here than in any other bar this year!

Favorite Beer Shop
City Beer Store & Tasting Bar

1168 Folsom St
Suite 101
San Francisco, CA, 94103

I don't know the exact statistics on this but if I had to guess I would say that there are well over 30 trillion wine stores in this country. But what we are truly lacking are retail outlets that concentrate on beer and treat it with the respect and reverence that great beer deserves. This is the niche that Craig and Beth over at City Beer & Tasting Bar decided to fill for San Francisco beer-o-philes. Not only is this place a totally neighborhoody, easy going place. But you can drink beer tasters while you shop their massive list. You can also mix and match six packs, which would keep me coming back forever if I lived there. Perhaps they say it best on their website. "Our hope is for beer to be treated with the same respect as a fine wine or fine bourbon. Through continued education and tasting of many brews we will create a beer force to be reckoned with!" they say. If you're goin' to San Francisco, make sure to check out this gem of a beer shop. Cheers to you City Beer!

Favorite Beer Consumed in 2008
Thiriez XXtra

Dry-hopped Golden Farmhouse Ale
Esquelbecq, France
4.5% abv

I'll admit, it was getting late. And I'll admit that I had already tasted quite a few beers. I'll also admit that I was in my new favorite bar of 2008 (see above), but do not let any of the above negate the deliciousness of the best beer I drank in 2008, Thiriez XXtra. Here's exactly what I wrote in my notes when I tasted it: "You know that thing you want Saison to do finish up better, to dry up? Well, this one does it perfectly." Rich and hoppy, I learned later that this beer in France is called "Les Freres de la Biere" which means "The Friends (or brothers) of Beer," and it turns out that the beer is a collaboration between brewers in England, France and Belgium using English hops, French malts and Belgian yeast. The end result is a beer that is amazingly sessionable, but still has the earthy, spicy character of a saison. From what I've read, this beer is much more like a throw back to the "original hoppy saisons that were created by Belgian farmers in earlier times." A great experience of restraint balanced with flavor. Simply delicious.

Favorite Beer Chick
Nathalie Balandran

Pacific Gravity Ladies Homebrewing Club
4358 1/2 Sepulveda Blvd
Culver City, CA 90230
Culver City, CA

Nathalie is pretty much a bad ass. Not only does she possess a precise palate and a wealth of information on beer and brewing, but she uses words like "diacetyl" in common conversation. And that makes me happy. Nathalie hosts a homebrewing class for ladies in Culver City where she teaches women (me included) how to make brews like "Ebony & Ivory Vanilla Porter" and "Peppermint Stout" and un-named beers made with exotic ingredients like candied ginger. This year she was featured in the Los Angeles Times and on a local television newscast for her homebrewing teaching efforts. Click here to read the whole article by Jenn Garbee called "Home Beer Brewing Calls to a New Generation -- And to Women." Click here to contact Nathalie about attending one of her homebrewing seminars.

Favorite Beer Flavoring

I like to consider myself a purist. Obviously, this is not true, but like I said, I like to consider myself a purist. That being said, I had to warm up to the idea of "flavorings" being added to beer. Hell, its been done for thousands of years, but sometimes adding flavorings to make beers more palatable to women ends up "dumbing down" the beer in a way that I think is patronizing. This is not the flavoring that I'm talking about. Innovative brewers around the world are experimenting with adding spices, herbs and other ingredients like chocolate and coffee to make truly unique beers. Craftsman adds white sage to it's awesome Triple White Sage, Elysian Brewing Company adds Jasmine to its Jasmine IPA, my favorite flavor combination this year, however, has been coconut. Especially when added to dark beers such as porters and stouts, coconut adds something delightful to the mix. Of course it has to be done right and not with a heavy hand. Some of my favorites of this style are Maui Brewing Company's CoConut Porter, Klin Kokos from Nogne Brewery in Norway and Coconut Milk Stout at Rock Bottom.

Favorite Beer Accoutrement Establishment
Bedford Cheese Shop

229 Bedford Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11211
888.484.3243 / 718.599.7588

Why am I writing about a cheese shop? Because how else are you going to experience the perfect pairing of a strong English Barleywine with a Stilton Blue Cheese? How are you going to taste what Maredsous 10 and Roomano Gouda do to each other? You can't, unless you go to what I like to call a "Beer Accoutrement Establishment" like the Bedford Cheese Shop. This place is absolutely amazing. They are an "old-fashioned cheese shop dedicated to providing you the finest quality cheese from around the world." Their staff is as knowledgeable about cheese as brewmasters are about beer. You tell them the flavor profile of your beer and the cheesemongers will give you a stinky cheese that will not only enhance your beer, it will brighten your life. Make sure to ask for Amy or Allison, two cheese queens who also know a hell of a lot about great beer. Another cool thing? Click here for a cheese "subscription" and get 3 months to a year of awesome stinky cheese delivered to your door.

Favorite Seasonal Ale
Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales / Nogne O / Stone Brewing Company Special Holiday Ale

Winter Warmer
9% abv.

This Winter Seasonal Beer is the lovechild of three great craft breweries hailing from Dexter, Michigan, Norway, and Escondido, California. Three of my favorite breweries got together to make a Special Holiday Ale: Jolly Pumpkin which usually focuses on sour beers, Nogne which focuses on real ales and Stone Brewing Company which is known for its extreme beers. They got creative and made this beer with chestnuts, juniper berry, white sage and caraway seed. At 9% abv, you'd think you'd have a heat bomb, but this beer is so nuanced and balanced with fruity, smokey, spicy, toasty notes, but with a nice dry finish that is usually missing in sometimes cloying winter warmers. I was able to get my hands on ONE bottle of this as a gift from fellow beer chick Hallie Beaune! Thanks Hallie. Click here for the whole story behind the collaboration.

Favorite New Brewery
The Bruery

715 Dunn Way
Placentia, CA 92870

Spelled "bRUEry" because it was founded by family members Patrick, Rachel and Michael Rue, The Bruery is using something that I value highly: creativity! Sometimes when you do crazy things with beer, it can fail miserably, but The Bruery is experimenting with ingredients and making them work in wonderful ways. They are making a Saison with Rye, a Yam and Maple beer instead of a Pumpkin Ale, a Triple flavored with Thai Basil, a "Black" White Ale, a White Ale made with Lavender. Patrick and his Head Brewer Tyler King make innovative, original and outside the bottle kind of beers. And it doesn't hurt that they are like the nicest people alive. The entire package makes it my favorite new brewery of 2008. If you can't find any Bruery beers near you, it might be time for a weekend road trip to the OC. The Bruery has a tasting room open on Fridays between 2-8pm and Saturdays between 12-6pm.

Favorite Restaurant Beer List
(That I Didn't Write)

Gramercy Tavern

Flatiron Neighborhood
42 East 20th Street
New York, NY 10003

It ain't cheap, but I make it a point to go to Gramercy Tavern every time I'm in New York City. The environment is so warm and cuddly and the service so friendly and inviting, that it doesn't seem like one of NYC's best restaurants. There's none of the tension or stuffiness, it feels like you're at your parents friends' dinner party. But beyond the wonderful food and fantastic wine list is one of the best beer lists that I've ever seen in a restaurant. I'm talking Ayinger Celebrator, Semi-dry Organic Apple Cider from Farnum Hill in New Hampshire, Westmalle Tripel and Rochefort 6 just to name a few. But what makes Gramercy Tavern's beer list especially cool is their "Vintage Beer & Cider" list, where they offer collected beers. Didn't think you could do that? Well you definitely can. They have Anchor Christmas Ale from 1998 and 2001, Rogue Old Crustacean Barleywine from 1998, '99 and '00. Schneider Aventinus 2002, Cantillon Gueuze Kriek and Framboise from '05. They have amazing Famille Dupont ciders. Also, thanks to a conversation with the manager in the know, GT has some special beers that are not on the list. I was able to try some fabulous and serious warmers (read high alcohol content) exclusively brewed by Brooklyn Brewery's Garret Oliver for Gramercy Tavern served in crystal appertif glasses. Amazing and inspiring. I can't wait to go back.

Happy Holidays to all my fellow beer fans. May the new year bring hope, love and happiness - and lots of beer - to you and yours.

Written by The Beer Chick, December 29, 2008

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Saturday, December 6, 2008

MAIS OUI MES POUSSINS, J'AIME LA BELGIQUE of my dirty little secrets is that while I profess a love of Belgian beer that runs as deep as the Meuse, I've never been to Belgium. No, I've never been there, okay !?@? I know. But this travesty that I live with daily was abated last night, if just for 3 and a half hours, by my fabulous dinner at Bistro Brussels in Laguna Beach. I was lucky enough to be invited by new friend Noah Galuten of Man Bites World, whose goal is to "eat the food of a different country every single day, for as many days in a row as he can."

We were also lucky enough to be sharing our dinner with famed Chef Pascal Olhats as our guide. Pascal is the chef /owner of many restaurants, not the least of which is the famed Tradition by Pascal in Newport Beach, Ca, which has been rated the #1 restaurant in Orange County for over ten years by the Zagat Guide. He studied and lived in Belgium for 4 years and took us on a nostalgic trip that only the sense memories of food and beer can provide.

Noah is a great writer and wrapped up the evening on his blog. Click here to read the narrative of the evening. My job is beer - so I'll get to talking about those and my favorite pairings.

Chimay Tripel paired with Des de Fromage de Chimay.

So Chef Pascal said that we should start out with some cheese. So start out with cheese we did. The cheese, however, was made by the same Trappist monks at the same brewery that makes Chimay. It turns out that s
ince 1876, Chimay has been making a semi-hard cheese made from milk from their farm and matured in the vaulted cellars of their abbey, the very same cellars where Chimay beer is fermented. There's something to be said of the marriage of flavors when things come from the same place. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but the beer and cheese harmonized perfectly with something that can only be described as "je ne sais quoi."

Chimay Tripel (White Label), Abbaye Notre Dame de Scourmont, Belgium - 8% abv.

Triple Karmeliet paired with Belgian Onion Soup with Petites Croquettes de Crevettes du Nord et au Fromage

I am a lover of French Onion Soup, so when we were presented with a creamy Belgian Onion Soup, I was intrigued and oh so pleasantly surprised. This soup was velvety smooth with notes of citrus rind. Sweet and rich with melted Gruyere cheese swirling around, the soup was served with two little fried croquettes - one stuffed with cheese and one stuffed with baby shrimp. (BTW, the croquette might be my new favorite food style, second only to the dumpling.) It was a total no-brainer to pair Triple Karmeliet with this pairing. Malty and lemoney, spicy and super effervescent, this beer worked well with both the soup and the two croquette styles.

Tripel Karmeliet, Buggenhout, Belgium - 8.25% abv.

Hoegaarden White Ale paired with Moules Frites

Moules Frites means mussels with fries. There aren't many better combinations out there. When I think of Belgian food, Moules Frites is what immediately comes to mind. Belgian moules are usually steamed in beer instead of white wine, in this case the mussels were steamed with an un-named Belgian white ale. And sometimes its good to just go with what is really working, so I didn't fight it. I paired the mussels with the Hoegaarden white ale and Pascal, Noah and I all did a little happy dance in our seats. Refreshing and grassy with coriander and bitter orange peel, the beer breathed fresh air into the mussels and the mussels provided depth to the beer. Amazing.

Hoegaarden Original White Ale, Brouwerij van Hoegaarden, Belgium - 4.9% abv.

Orval paired with Cote de Parc Al'Berdouille with Croquettes de Pommes de Terre

Cote de parc al'berdouille literally translated means pork chop cooked in mud, which in this case is actually a large pork chop in a mustard and cornichon sauce. The Orval is a trappist ale that is known for being very earthy, having a farmhouse, horse blanket quality. (I mean this in the best way.) This to me was the perfect pairing of the evening. Mud, mustard, farmhouse, earth, potatoes (whose name translated in French means "apples of the earth") Served with a side of a tart and refreshing slaw made with razor thin slices of delicate endive, this combination touched heaven with all of its earthly goodness.

Orval, Abbaye de Notre-Dame d'Orval, Villers-devant-Orval, Belgium - 6.9% abv.

Written by The Beer Chick, December 6, 2008

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Friday, December 5, 2008

Prohibition Ends At Last - 75 Years Ago and a Day

Always a little slow on the uptake I wanted to mention that REPEAL DAY was yesterday my chickadees. That's right. Yesterday was the the 75th anniversary of the repeal of the 18th amendment and the ratification of the 21st Amendment which made it legal again to make, sell and consume alcohol in the United States...woo hoo! Its not too late to go out and celebrate. Make this weekend repeal weekend and celebrate drinking your favorite craft beer. I pre- celebrated in Washington D.C. on Capital Hill hosting an event for the National Beer Wholesalers Association where 31 breweries from around the country showcased their flagship and specialty beers. More to come on the deets of those beers. In the meantime, check out this website that I ran across., is a website started by cutie bartender Jeff Morgenthaler (who has another great site about bartending and mixology at Jeff advocates making Repeal Day a national holiday and says that Repeal day is "conveniently located halfway between Thanksgiving and Christmas — at a time when most Americans are probably not spending time with family — Repeal Day presents a wonderful occasion to get together with friends and pay tribute to our constitutional rights."

I heartily agree Jeff. Repeal Day has made my passion and my career possible. Thank you United States for the 21st Amendment to the Constitution. Thank you hot and smart bartenders. I drink to thee. I shall have an American craft beer this evening and reflect.