Thursday, 29 March 2012

Frankly My Dear, I Don't Give Edam

Beer + Cheese + Pasta (+ Bacon)
= The Ultimate Comfort Food
The combination of beer and cheese is no novel concept. In Belgium it is common practice for bars to serve small cubes of cheese sprinkled with celery salt.  And what goes better with pizza or nachos than a humble pint of lager?  Cheese and beer share many earthy, pungent flavours that wine does not possess.  I like to look for similar characteristics between the beer in question and the cheese it is matched with.  I’ve described a few of my favorite pairings to give you an idea of what to look for.

Fruit lambics are known to have a distinct sourness that pairs extremely well with a soft goat cheese like chêvre.  Wheat beers are also an appropriate pairing for chêvre and feta, but the spicy clove notes also bring out the nutty complexities of Gruyère.  Wheat and lambic beers will also go well with sweet cheeses such as ricotta and mascarpone, which are often used in desserts.

Crisp lagers will cut through a particularly salty or high-fat cheese.  Think of how well a crisp Pilsner goes with your favorite pepperoni pizza – in all of its greasy, salty glory.  Oak aged beers such as Innis & Gunn, and many varieties of barley wine, tend to have notes of vanilla and caramel that accentuate a buttery brie or camembert.  When you’re pairing cheese with a particularly hoppy India Pale Ale, the sharpness of the cheese should match the strength of the hops.  Extra-old white cheddar, aged 2 years or more, can easily hold its own against a heavily-hopped Double IPA.

Mix and match.  Break the "rules"

The smoked malt used in Porter makes it a natural match for smoked cheeses, while Jarlsberg, Emmental, and other Swiss-style cheeses are also good selections.  A jet black stout is probably the best pairing for a pungent blue stilton or Roquefort.  A more subtle blue-mold cheese such as Gorgonzola could yet withstand the high-alcohol content Belgian dubbel or tripel.
In the words of Katharine Hepburn, “If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun.”  There will be noticeable differences between beers of any given style, which may allow for some unique pairing combinations.  Start with the lighter-bodied beers (wheat beer, pilsner) and work your way towards the more full-bodied varieties (porter, stout).

Don’t get too caught up with what “goes” together – there a pretentious beer geek can be an even worse dinner guest than a wine snob.  Try something new, and make up your own mind about what to pair with it.  Have your own beer and cheese tasting party and get your guests talking about which combination they enjoy the most.  The conversation may provoke some interesting chemistry, and not just between the food and drink.

Beer (and Bacon) Mac n’ Cheese

It’s taken me a while to perfect this classic comfort food.  Bacon takes it to the next level of awesome.  Be sure to use a beer that’s not too hoppy to contrast with the sharp cheddar.  A creamy stout or a rich red ale with a hint of malty sweetness.

2 cups dry macaroni pasta
3 tbsp butter
Sorry kids, this one's for the grown-ups.
Maybe when you're older...
3 tbsp flour
8 oz. beer, room temperature
1 cup 2% milk
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
2 cups sharp cheddar, grated
½ cup panko bread crumbs

1.      Cook pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water according to package directions.
2.      Melt butter in a smaller saucepan.
3.      Whisk flour into butter to form a roux.  Cook for 2 minutes until golden in color.
4.      Gradually pour beer into the roux and whisk to combine.
5.      Add milk, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper and whisk vigorously.
6.      Continue to cook, whisking occasionally until sauce begins to thicken, about 5-10 minutes.
7.      When sauce has thickened, add shredded cheese and whisk to combine.  Sauce will still be a little runny, but will thicken when baked.
8.      Drain pasta and return to pot.
9.      Pour cheese sauce over the pasta and stir to coat.
10.  You now have a couple options.  Choose wisely.

Awesome Level: Amateur

-         Toast panko for 5-10 minutes in oven at 300°F.
-         Continue to cook pasta in sauce over medium heat for 4-5 minutes until a creamy consistency is reached.
-         Top pasta with toasted panko crumbs.  Eat right out of the pot.

Awesome Level: Intermediate

-         Transfer to a large open casserole dish and top with panko bread crumbs.
-         Bake for 25-30 minutes until panko is a crisp golden brown.  This method takes more patience, but the crispy topping is worth it.

Awesome Level: BACON

-         Crumble 8-10 slices of cooked bacon and fold it in with the cheese sauce.
-         Transfer to a large open casserole dish and top with panko bread crumbs and more crumbled bacon.
-         Bake for 25-30 minutes until panko and bacon topping is crispy.

Serves 4-6

Photos: Boise Weekly's/; Hempler's Bacon

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Stark Industries

Is there any better celebration than Oktoberfest in Germany?  There might be, with smaller crowds and stronger beer.

Starkbierzeit is the season of strong beer, beginning two weeks after Fat Tuesday and ending the Saturday before Palm Sunday. The Paulaner “Nockherberg” brewery near central Munich is known for throwing the largest party, serving the beer in one-litre ceramic steins.  The sdjflk served is a variety of doppelbock, guaranteeing a brew with an ABV above 7.5%.  The beer’s potency is mirrored in the feats of strength and endurance achieved by the hearty patrons.

The tradition was begun by monks of the Paulaner monastery who incorporated the vitamin and mineral-rich beer into their daily rations during lent.  To ensure that the “liquid bread” was an appropriate penance, a shipment was sent to Rome for for the Pope to evaluate.  However, the long trek south caused temperature changes that were devastating to the quality of the beer.  The beer was therefore declared undrinkable, and considered appropriate for only the most devout of Catholics.

Want to join in and host your own strong beer celebration?  The closest thing to Starkbier you are likely to find is barley wine, a beer style with ABV between 8 and 12 percent.  This style handles aging well, and bottles are often kept shelved for months to even years before serving to balance the heavy malt flavours.

Double Double is named after a famous line from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, referring to the tipple’s sinister resemblance to a witches brew.  Paddock Wood makes a batch each year in honour of Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan, an annual celebration of the Bard’s theatrical legacy.

If you’re not opposed to a spiced winter ale for the last few chilly days of March, Dieu du ciel makes Solstice d'Hiver, oak-aged for four months at minimum.  If you really want to increase your rate of intoxication, seek out Sherbrooke liquor’s Glenda, a pumped up version of Alley Kat’s Old Deuteronomy.  This brew is aged in Glen Breton 10 Year Old single-malt whiskey casks, imparting a rich vanilla finish that successfully mask the shocking 18% ABV.  Lightweights beware!

Wall Street Journal Food & Drink

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Gluten for Punishment

Chibuku Shake Shake,
More like a food than a drink...
Sorghum, millet, and maize have been used for centuries in the production of fermented beverages by African indigenous populations.  The name of this product varies between region of production.  Chibuku, Pito, Bouza, tchakpalo, and “kaffir” beers are recognized as similar and are produced in a similar fashion.  There are many inherent differences between these beers and the hopped beers popular in Western countries.  Most tend to be reddish brown in colour with a heavier mouthfeel due to suspended yeast particles in solution.  There are distinct geographical differences between beers, as each region may used different malt and starch combinations.

Unlike any beer you've had before.
Maybe not in a good way.
The Sprecher brewery out of Milwaukee produces two products that are comparable to African styles, but have been met with little praise from consumers.  Mbege is brewed with bananas, consistent with the East African style.  It is similar to a Belgian-style lambic in flavor, fruity and acidic with citrus aromas.  In contrast, Shakparo “fire brewed ale” is brewed in the West African style, and more resembles a cider or full-bodied wheat ale in flavour.  Want to find these in Canada?  Good luck.

Sorghum malt beers have become popular in Western countries due to the absence of gluten proteins in the grain.  The absence of gluten increases the variety of beverage options for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.  These beers however, are produced to mimic the taste of barley malt beers, and have little in common with African styles. New Grist and La Messagere are two Canadian varieties that serve as analogs to hopped Western beers.  Bard's is another popular American brand, produced primarily for individuals who suffer from celiac disease and gluten intolerance.

Unfortunately, gluten free beers leave something to be desired for flavour, resembling big name lagers like Budweiser and Coors.  They tend to be lighter in body and have a milder hop profile than more flavourful craft beers.  There are also no dark beers available yet, due to the availability (or lack thereof) of roasted sorghum or millet malts.  With any new technology, there’s always room for improvement.  Adding a starchy adjunct may improve the body – oats do not contain gluten naturally, but are often contaminated during processing.  Who knows, maybe we are soon to see a gluten-free IPA with a heavier hit of Columbus or Cascade.  This is definitely a lucrative project for a brewmaster who wants to change the game.

Marketing Week, UK  
Haggblade, S. S., & Holzapfel, W. H. (2004). Industrialization of Africa's Indigenous Beer Brewing. Food Science And Technology -New York- Marcel Dekker.      Sprecher, A. (2010). Gluten Free Sprecher Beers – Mbege Ale & Shakparo Ale.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

A Dangerous Method

Porter is a pretty ambiguous beer classification, varying greatly between producers and home-brewers. A porter will typically be brewed from roasted malt, resulting in a smooth ale dark in color.  However, this beer style also has an interesting (and somewhat morbid) history.

Porter reached the height of popularity during the Industrial Revolution in Britain.  The style acquired its name from its proletariat following – the labourers and “porters”.  The beer brewed at the time would likely have had a distinct smoky flavour which accentuates the roasted flavours of the malt.  The potential growth of Brettanomyces yeasts during aging may also have added a distinct acidity to the flavour profile.

320,000 gallons of beer in the vat,
320,000 gallons of beer...
Once established as a lucrative commodity, brewers began to produce porter in such large quantities that massive vats were constructed to store and age the brew.  The size of the vats was no small matter of pride, and sparked a vicious competition between brewers.  The largest created in 1795 was large enough to hold up to 860,000 US gallons.  Some were so large that more than 200 people could attend a dinner and dance within to celebrate the inauguration of such a vessel.

The competition was ended by disaster in 1814 at a brewery owned by Richard Meux, one of the key players in the competition.  A vat 6.7 metres in height holding 320,000 gallons of porter ruptured and .  Eight people were killed and more injured by drowning, alcohol poisoning, and various injuries.  Some were trampled to death by people stampeding through the streets to consume the beer.

Harviestoun Engine Oil Porter is named for the British brewery’s founder Ken Brooker, an avid car enthusiast. The dominant flavours are smoke, chocolate, and a smooth molasses finish.  The hops used are Galena and Worcester Fuggles, which add a slight licorice quality to the brew.  The delicate smokiness makes this an excellent partner for rich stews and barbecue.

Daniels, Ray (2000).  Designing Great Beers: The authentic guide to brewing classic beer styles.  Brewers Publications.