Thursday, 26 January 2012

Beer for Brunch

I think brunch could be my favourite meal of all time.  Especially at the end of a long week, or an eventful weekend.  Sunday is the perfect day to catch up with old friends, recount the previous night’s misadventures.  Brunch also seems to be the only situation where it’s perfectly acceptable to have dessert as a meal, and you can even have a beer before noon.  Today I’d like to recommend one of my favourite brunch spots, and to review a brew that pairs quite perfectly with bacon.  For that matter, what beer doesn’t go well with bacon?
Prairie Bistro on Urbanspoon
French toast with bacon, brie, and maple blueberry compote
I’ve worked at Prairie Bistro for the past eight months or so, and I have only recently taken a leave of absence.  It’s impossible for me to give an unbiased review of this place, so I’m not even going to try.  Located in the Enjoy Centre on the outskirts of St. Albert, the greenhouse setting is in line with the restaurant’s focus on local organic produce.  The prices are higher as a result, so if you’re looking for a $5 sandwich with mystery meat and Kraft singles, I’d suggest going somewhere else.  If you’d rather have a roasted chicken panini with smoked gouda on house baked bread, you’ll feel right at home.  The bistro offers both a cafeteria-style lunch service and an à la carte service all day.  And of course, Sunday brunch.

Each week I would work the brunch shift, eyeing my patrons enviously as they tore into Eggs Benedict with Gull Valley tomato bruschetta, brioche toast, and smoked bacon from Sandyview Farms.  The French toast special with brie held a certain appeal to me, and would be served differently each week depending on the ingredients in season.  I couldn’t have picked a better week to finally try it out.

What about the beer?  While the beer list at Prairie Bistro is small, they have taken explicit care to include only Canadian craft beers, with a lone Spanish sorghum malt selection for celiacs – nary a Molson in sight.

One beer is offered on tap as well: Yellowhead lager.  Edmonton’s newest microbrewery produces a lager that is really trying to be more like an ale.  Lagers are bottom-fermented at lower temperatures than the top-fermenting ales, and are known for having little sweetness and a crisp, sharp finish.  While Yellowhead is brewed as a lager using bottom-fermenting yeast, the light amber hue and the caramel sweetness suggest the flavour profile of an ale. To me, this is a good thing – ales tend to have more complex flavours as a result of esters formed during fermentation.  My one criticism is the lack of head retention, with little remaining two minutes after pouring.  Overall, the contrast of malty sweetness to the mild hop finish make it the perfect foil to both the sweet and savoury elements of brunch.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Yeastie Boyz

One of my favorite things to do is gather up a few friends, zip up my parka, and drive over to Sherbrooke Liquor for some time in their beer fridge.  Their walk-in cooler is like a library, with countless bottles of various shapes, sizes, and colors line the shelves.  More often than not I will bring home a few large-bottle singles (650ml).  Not only are these beers sharable, but you aren’t stuck with five extra beers you may not enjoy.  No offence Alley Kat, but I’m really glad your Cringer Cranberry Ginger Ale was a one-time thing.

One of the first beers I discovered this way was Erdinger Weissbier.  A Weissbier or “Hefeweizen” (a fun word to say) , refer to varieties of beer brewed with 50-60% malted wheat, with malted barley making up the balance.  The varieties produced by Erdinger are bottle-fermented, which means the yeast is combined with the unfermented wort just before the bottling process.  The live yeast ferments the malt sugars to ethanol and carbon dioxide, producing a mature beer after 3-4 weeks of aging.  Darker varieties like Erdinger Dunkel use crystal malt too add body and a touch of caramel sweetness.

Bottle-conditioned beers deserve to be served in proper glassware.  A German-style weissbier should be served in a tall vase-shaped glass like the one designed by Erdinger.  These vessels have the capacity to hold an entire 650ml bottle, and showcase two inches of a meringue-like head.  This beautiful head will be ruined if you try and garnish the rim with a lemon or orange wedge, so save your fruit for breakfast.   Be sure to leave a finger’s width of beer in the bottle, swirling to re-suspend the yeast before pouring the rest.  Otherwise, the flavour of the live yeast will remain in the bottle as sediment, and you will miss out on a world of flavour.

With the exception of one or two products (La Bolduc, U Blonde, U Miel, and U Rousse), all beers produced by Unibroue undergo bottle fermentation.  Fin du Monde is a personal favorite, a fruity trippel with notes of spice and coriander, while its lower-alcohol sister  Blanche de Chambly is has a similar flavour profile.  Weizens are also unique for their use of Torulaspora delbrueckii, a particular yeast variety that produces  4-vinyl-guiacol as a fermentative product.  This compound provides the characteristic clove flavour, present in detectable levels (>1ppb) only in German and Belgian-style wheat beers.
The following recipe makes a tender beef roast with a rich mushroom gravy.  The same technique could be used to cook a pork roast with a lighter Weissbier.

Roast Beef with Mushroom-Weizen Gravy

 4 tbsp oil
8-10 shallots, thinly sliced
1 pint Cremini mushrooms
1 beef roast (g), trimmed of excess fat
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup beef stock
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1 bottle (650 ml) dark wheat ale (ie. Erdinger Dunkel or Noire de Chambly)
1 tbsp flour

  1. Combine roast and ale in a pan and marinate 3-4 hours or overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to 300°F with rack in middle position.
  3. Pat roast dry and rub evenly with salt and freshly ground black pepper, reserving marinade.
  4. Heat remaining oil in same dutch oven over high heat and brown roast on all sides.
  5. Add shallots, thyme, and ale marinade and bring to a simmer.
  6. Cover pot and transfer to oven.  Bake until tender (about 2 hours), turning roast over halfway through cooking.
  7. Transfer roast to a covered platter, covered and kept warm.
  8. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a dutch oven over medium heat.  Add shallots, mushrooms and a pinch salt.  Sauté until shallots are translucent and caramelized.  Remove from heat and set aside.
  9. Add juices to pan on stovetop over medium high heat.  Whisk in flour and bring to a boil.  Season to taste with salt and ground black pepper.
  10. Cook 1 minute, stirring nonstop.  Remove from heat and keep warm.
  11. Let roast rest 10-15 minutes before slicing.  Serve over crushed potatoes with warm sauce.
Mosher, R. (2009). Tasting Beer: An Insider's Guide to the World's Greatest Drink.
Cooking for image.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Double Your Hoppiness

I love bitterness.  I take my coffee black, my chocolate dark, and my beer with as much hops as chemically possible.  Sometimes I bring extra hoppy beers to parties just so no one else will drink them.  Kidding!  But really, it’s a good strategy - beer misers take note!  But what are hops, exactly?  I’m going to take a moment to indulge my not-so-inner nerd, and impress you with some brewing chemistry.

Humulus lupulus, or “hops” (see left) has been a crucial ingredient in beer since the year 1000, but became popular in England in the 16th century. Hops is a plant that grows added to the mixture of malt, water and hops in the first step of brewing called the “wort”. The addition of hops to beer gives rise to bitter compounds called “alpha acids” (AAs) that provide a distinct flavour, and prevent spoilage.  Humulone (or lupulone) is the most abundant alpha acid, though it is converted to a more soluble form, isohumulone, in the brewing process.  Hop varieties with higher concentrations of AAs are used in the boiling of the wort for their antibacterial properties, thereby prolonging the shelf life of the beer.

India Pale Ale (IPA) is a very popular style of beer, said to have contained more hops in order to prevent spoilage during shipping by the East India Trading Company.  American pale ales tend to be stronger and hoppier than their British counterparts.  Bitterness can be measured in International Bitterness Units (IBUs), which are a function of the AA concentration.

Brewed with even more hops than an IPA and typically with a ABV above 7%, the Double IPA (DIPA) is not for the faint of heart.  Alley Kat has begun a series of DIPA each brewed with a different variety of hops. The Red Dragon DIPA was brewed only with Simcoe hops, .  This beer was fruity and slightly sweet with hints of orange zest and caramel to balance the high IBUs.  The Blue Dragon DIPA used Columbus hops, an aromatic variety commonly used in many American pale ales.  I’ve photographed this beer next to a small selection of glasses from my precious collection (I have a LOT more than shown).  I found this beer to be highly floral and pungent with a peppery bite.  A third variety, Green Dragon, will be released in February.  The brewery intends to release a new DIPA every 2 months.

The high bitterness of an IPA makes this style of beer the perfect accompaniment to spicy foods. Thai seafood curry, creole gumbo, or tandoori chicken are difficult to pair with wine, but are excellent with a hoppy IPA.  IPAs also pair extremely well with sharp cheeses, such as an extra old cheddar. 

Damodaran, S. (2008). Fennema’s Food Chemistry, Fourth Edition.
Mosher, R. (2009). Tasting Beer: An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink. for image.

Friday, 6 January 2012

The Daily Grind

School is back in on Monday for me, so I decided to talk about my other favourite beverage – coffee.  As coffee and beer are both staples of a stereotypical university student’s diet, it would only make sense to put the two together.

Péché Mortel (translation: Mortal Sin) from Dieu du Ciel in Montreal is a fine choice, but at 9.5% alcohol, this is a beer that means business. It may be wise to have someone else drive (or carry) you home after enjoying it.  The high ABV of this beer actually accentuates the bitter compounds in coffee and hops, making for an extremely full-bodied brew.

The Coffee Porter produced by Mill St. Brewing Company is slightly more drinkable than the former selection, and is lighter in body.  The beer is jet black in color with notes of chocolate malt, while the hops flavours are muted in favour of a rich coffee finish.  The Half Pints Brewing Company out of Winnipeg also offers a coffee-infused beer they call “Stir Stick Stout.”

My first instinct is to pair any of these beers with dessert to mimic the familiar contrast between a large double-double (or a venti mochaccino, depending on your budget) and a doughnut or pastry.  However, full-bodied beers are also an excellent accompaniment to rich savory dishes such as braised meats, hearty stews, or smoked ribs.  A good barbecue sauce will often have beer or coffee as an ingredient to add flavour. Making your own is a great way to switch up your Monday night football routine, or to show off at a backyard cookout.

Coffee Porter Barbecue Sauce

2 tbsp olive or canola oil
2 medium red onions, finely diced
8-10 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 Serrano peppers
1 cup ketchup
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 lemon
¾ cup coffee porter or espresso
⅓ cup fancy molasses
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp prepared mustard
2 tbsp chili powder
½ tsp finely ground black pepper
½ tsp dried oregano
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  1. In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. 
  2. Add onion to pan and season with a pinch of salt.  Sauté for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Seed and devein peppers before finely dicing.  Add the peppers and garlic to the saucepan and continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add ketchup and Worcestershire.  Purée with an immersion blender until a smooth consistency is achieved.
  5. Grate lemon zest into the saucepan.  Juice the lemon and add to saucepan with remaining ingredients.
  6. Bring sauce to a gentle simmer.
  7. Reduce heat to low and cook for 25-30 minutes, stirring frequently until desired viscosity is reached.  If sauce is too thick, add a little warm water or beer to adjust.
  8. Purée once more with a hand blender and let cool before transferring to storage container.  Sauce can be refrigerated for 2-3 weeks, or frozen indefinitely. 

 Makes about 3 ½  cups
Use as a marinade or brush on meat in last moments of cooking.

Images from Getty Images and Dieu du Ciel Microbrewery.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

A Christmas Beeracle

I awoke Christmas morning to find this in my stocking.  Santa knows me well.

What would I have gotten instead of coal?  A can of Boxer for a few misdemeanors.  Coconut Malibu, but only for a criminal offence.

Dead Frog brewery from Aldergrove, BC released "Christmas Beeracle" just in time for Christmas, donating a portion of the proceeds to the BC Children's Hospital.  The amber ale is brewed with cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger to add a hint of spice.  The spice flavors are not particularly strong, though I found similarities to Big Rock Winter Spice, a brew with more malty sweetness.  Big Rock may have  likely to make way for their Scottish Heavy Ale (also a great beer, especially if you like Innis and Gunn), as I could not find Winter Spice anywhere this year.

I drank this beer with Christmas dinner, though it would also pair well with richer red meats or foods prepared with similar spices.  It's not an overpoweringly sweet beer, so it pairs better with more savory dishes.  Think roasted lamb with nutmeg, Moroccan tagines with cinnamon, or carrot and squash soups with ginger.

Alley Kat also released a Christmas themed beer in time for the holidays.  Although both holiday themed beers sold , you may be able to find a few left on the shelf.  Sherbrooke Liquor in Edmonton is probably your best bet, though Liquid Harvest at the Enjoy Centre in St. Albert may also have a bottle or two.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012


I've always loved food, and it didn't take me long to appreciate the drinks that go along.  I'm not sure when I started focusing on beer, but it may have had something to do with a free pint glass.  I also really like science - at least the science that pertains to food.  I couldn't care less about paramecium in a petri dish, but mention Saccharomyces cerevisiae, or the Maillard reaction and I'll start talking.

Why did I decide to start a blog?  I've learned so much about food and drink over the past year from working in the restaurant industry.  I have also enrolled in a class at the University on brewing and enology.  The more I learn, the more I'll have to say.  Now when I get caught rambling about "residual sugars" and "humulones" people can say: "Vicky, I read your blog post.  Please stop talking."  Now I have a place to soliloquy about the beers I've tried, food pairings, recipes that use beer as an ingredient, restaurants with extensive beer lists, and other topics I deem relevant.

Where does this fit in with Nutrition?  I believe that an important component of a healthy life is the ability to reward yourself from time to time.  Food is a necessity, and pairing it with beer (or wine) makes it better.  Food and beer are things that bring people together, a common ground for all to share.  There may even be some health benefits of moderate drinking, either due to alcohol itself or other compounds present in the beverages.  Drink moderately, but drink well.  Treat yourself to a nice Belgian wit or a chocolate stout.  Life is too short to drink Coors Light.