Monthly Archives: July 2010

Terrapin Brewery Vegetarian Dinner

Course 1

Perhaps it’s odd for a restaurateur to “critique” his own beer dinner, but what the hell.  More than anything, I’m just looking to reflect on what I was particularly pleased with and what could have been better.  Perhaps this exercise will result in better and better beer dinners and a better understanding of what makes a great beer pairing (still something relatively new to me).  At any rate, I hope you enjoy.

The Sunray Wheat was really bright and flowery and I guess I wanted to ground it a bit, but I’m not sure I nailed it.  I actually don’t recall getting as much rose petal and honey out of the beer when I did the tasting to write the menu.  Both the dish and beer were quite tasty, and were fine enough together, but…  That said, I’m not sure if going with peaches and such would have just turned the whole thing into a big, flowery mess.  So maybe I did the right thing here.

Course 2

I think the Rye Pale Ale is among my favorite of the beers they make.  Not that it’s the most interesting or memorable, just that it’s so damned tasty and easy to drink.  The more I get into beers and, particularly, evaluating them, the more I feel the need to make room for just such a beer.  A beer that does precisely what it should do, even if that isn’t blow your mind.  This is just such a beer.

There’s some decent hop presence and I wanted to highlight that with the pungent purslane.  The arugula was a last minute addition made for no other reason than the fact that we didn’t have enough purslane from the garden.  But, it may have been an even better choice for the same job.  Both worked nicely and the ripe, delicious, local tomatoes and salty cheese smoothed out and gave pop to do the dish respectively.  All in all a pleasant (if not highly remarkable) foil to a tasty (if not mind-blowing) beer.

Course 3

This is where things started getting particularly interesting.  The beer itself, Hopsecutioner, was probably my least favorite of the night.  Mind you, it’s a fine IPA, but, to compare it to the RPA, I don’t think it does what it’s supposed to as well.  Again, it’s a good beer, just not my favorite.  It seems right in between a classic American IPA and a double.  Malt and gravity amped up but not really the hops.  At any rate, I thought both the acrid qualities of the walnuts and green pepper (Anaheim in this case) would highlight the classic piny hops qualities and the spice of the dish would be taken care of by the relatively high level of malt the beer had.  I think this was a very solid pair.

Course 4

Easily my favorite beer of the night was Capt’n Krunkles Black IPA.  I remember when I got my allocation of bottles, just as things started warming up, I was a bit annoyed because it didn’t sound like a warm weather beer.  I couldn’t be more wrong.  Well 1) about this beer in particular being a great hot weather beer and 2) actually about dark beers in general being fine hot weather beers (but more on that another time).  The smell, the color, the rich head, all tell you something super rich is coming your way.  But the flavor is bright and brilliant and the texture is very refreshing.  Now a few months old, the hops have subsided somewhat and left behind a nice chocolaty quality.  Oh, and lookie there, mole.

The nopales were intended to mine the hops that, while less intense than before, were certainly still there.  The potatoes and field peas were just there for a nice middle, and the black mole was, of course, there to compliment the rich, chocolaty qualities in the nose of the beer.  I really liked this dish and, particularly, the beer.

Course 5

This was considered by most to be both the dish and the pairing of the night.  Though based on the amount of beer left behind, some may have found the beer itself a bit much.  Which, is likely because, it’s a pretty damned intense beer.  Terrapin uses a mountain of honey in their Gamma Ray Wheat Wine with Honey.  It is certainly the booziest wheat beer I’ve had and it’s certainly a beer you don’t need much of.  Tasty and interesting as it is.  For us, it was our first non-chocolate dessert course because it was our first non-stout (or stout-like) beer worthy of a dessert.  The beer looks rich, like a sauterne and jumps out of the glass with loads of honey and tropical fruit aromas that just keep on keeping on as you taste it.  I got pineapples upon pineapples, so we made a pineapple tres leches cake and a syrup made from the barely fermented drink tepache, made from soaking pineapple rinds in water for about a week.  The result is a tangy, very light “wine” and I think was the base for a very cool dessert sauce.

So, there you have it.  Not so much a critique, just reflections on how we did.

Mikkeller Tasting Re-cap

Thoughts on the Mikkeller Single Hop IPA tasting, Friday July 16th

A background on what this is all about;  Mikkeller is a small batch brewer in Belgium who makes some rather esoteric brews.  Among them is a series of 10 American-style IPAs each using a single variety of hops at all stages of hop addition.  Why this is unique is that most brewers have found certain varieties of hops best suited for certain stages of hop additions.  Those known for depth and bittering qualities being added early when those qualities are most likely to be brought out, those known for aromatics added late when that is what is going to be coaxed from the hops.  The cool thing about these is that there seems to very much be a sameness to the process so all of the beers seemed about as hoppy as the next.  If one seemed more subtle than the next, it wasn’t because of the amount of hops, but rather the nature of the hops.

So, first, a very major distinction needs to be made between single hop IPAs and single vineyard wines or single origin coffees.  In the case of the wine and coffee, the choice to blend away from single source is typically done to cut costs or use up the least desirable lots from a site.  In Burgundy, for instance, the best grapes from a particular vineyard are always put into a batch to make a single vineyard cuvee, the next cut down will be blended into the second tier grapes of other nearby vineyards to make a “village-level” wine and, if there’s still another tier below that (perhaps the youngest vines on the plot), they’ll be blended with other lowest tier grapes from all over Burgundy to make the least regarded wines in Burgundy.

Certainly there are a ton of examples of blending different varieties of grapes to make fine wine, but I’m just talking about the automatic assumption that the word “single” in the description tends to means something good when you’re talking wine.

I know less about coffee, but would imagine that the deal is somewhat similar there.

This would not seem to be the case with beer.  These guys are buying hops from all over the place and having them shipped to the brewery.  Whether they choose to use a blend of 3 or 4 of them or just one would appear to be a matter of choice.  If going with a single hop variety was obviously better, everyone would do it.  I mean, why not?  It’s certainly no harder to dump the contents of one bag in to a kettle than the content of two different ones.  So, I guess the first order of business is to dismiss the notion that these beers are, by definition, automatically better due to the single-hop process.  In fact, one could argue that, unless the centuries of testing and tasting that led brewers all over the world to identify certain hops as best suited to certain applications in the brewing process and thus, that using a blend of hops in the brewing process makes a better beer are misguided and wrong, that these IPAs should be somehow lacking in one way or another.

So why make them?  I think the answer there is reasonably obvious, to provide for the beer drinking public, the unique opportunity to actually taste the flavors each variety of hops brings to the table.  To give geeks like us an excuse to get together and taste them all.  Of course, one thing that sort of stands in the way is that they’re rather pricey beers, the other is that only 6 are easily available in the state and only 2 of the remaining 4 were even available at all from the supplier via special order.  The last two, it turns out, I actually found while on vacation in Vermont and schlepped back.

So, we sat down and tasted them all.  Unfortunately, I was a bit too busy actually conducting the dinner to take the level of notes taken by others, but pens were certainly scribbling away.  There were some profound flavors pointed out.  The Tomahawk, for instance, was all about blueberries.  The Chinook, at least for me, tasted of tomatillos and mango.  The Nelson Sauvin, as promised, had rather vinous tones and, to me, was the prettiest.  It was no surprise that the Simcoe was the most complete as that is the hop that most brewers who only do one single-hop IPA tend to gravitate towards.

One thing that does get lost when tasting 10 different highly hopped beers is the ability to keep up.  All those IBUs do a number on the tongue and make the job harder and harder.  Which is sort of a fundamental issue with these beers.  Given their nature, you’d think they’re made with this sort of tasting experience in mind, and yet trying to taste through all at once is bloody hard.

Then there’s the Mikkeller 10.  Which is cool enough I suppose and something that you’d think would simply have to exist as a cap on the series.  But, even if you can justify the practice of ignoring accepted wisdom of hop usage in beer to create the series of ten, it’s really hard to justify taking all ten hops and slamming them into one beer.  I mean, you’ve simply got nothing on your side there.  No study on single hop flavors and no real intention in terms of using certain hops for certain purposes.

So, what’s the take away for me?  I like these beers.  I think this guy certainly knows what he’s doing and makes a damned fine beer.  Mind you, he also makes it in a manner that costs a lot of money and that is certainly passed on to you.  So, I think the few of 10 that really spoke to me are worth splurging on from time to time and I’m certainly happy to have experienced all of these beers in one seating.  That said, you can buy a sixer of Dogfish 60 minute for what 2 of these babies will cost you and, well, I’m pretty sure I’ll be taking the sixer almost every time.