Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Eggnog Hedonism, Beer Optional.

My theory is that pasteurized, relatively low-fat, store-bought eggnog has turned a whole generation against the stuff. Here's one way to make the real thing, plus a couple of useful variations for your holiday imbibery. This is for all you decadent foodies out there who prize flavor over arteries.

Separate four eggs. Beat a 1/2 cup of sugar into the yolks until smooth. Stir in 1-1/2 cups of milk. Whip 1 cup of cream until frothy then add to mixture. Beat egg whites and then fold into the rest. Add healthy shakes of nutmeg and cinnamon. Now you've got nog that tastes as naughty as it sounds.

Next: Let's make Beernog, which is the whole reason we made nog in the first place. Full credit goes to Randy Mosher's book Tasting Beer, which has some odd holiday ale concoctions near the back. With luck you already own this book or will be opening it on Friday morning. If not, you can buy it here.

Pick out a nice, strong ale. Mosher suggests Anchor Christmas. Many Belgian holiday beers would do nicely. We've used Rochefort 10 to tasty effect, but our favorite so far has been Hercule Stout — the coffeeish roasty taste adds a certain something. Other strong or imperial stouts are bound to fare well. I've also been thinking a Schneider Aventinus or other malty weizenbock/doppelbock beers would succeed. All are worth trying: with that nog base, it's nearly impossible to make something bad. I'd avoid hop bombs, but even those might turn out all right.

Pour about 1/3 glass of beer. Add a 1/2 shot of whiskey, rum, schnapps, eau de vie, or whatever hooch suits your fancy. Top off with the nog. Stirring is optional, and you can watch as the layers sort themselves out anyway. Sip. Savor. Enjoy. Best done next to a roaring fire.

An interesting effect of the beer, besides that warmth that spreads from your belly to your face: it actually lightens the thick, eggy, creamy nog. More proof that beer is good for you.

You don't drink alcohol, or are hungover perhaps? Here's another option I've been pondering: coffee. Based on the stout success I think 1/3 glass of strong, chilled coffee would be gorgeous with some nog. Maybe for a healthy breakfast on Boxing Day.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Here's to Fried Potatoes.

Today I will do something that blogs are very good at: share a small piece of genius.

So I was listening to the Brewing Network the other day — a raucous, vaguely profane and highly educational radio show/podcast that is mostly about homebrewing — and the guest was beer writer Jay Brooks. He of the Brookston Beer Bulletin.

Anyway, it came out during the discussion that Mr. Brooks has a frite fetish. And rather discretely he maintains a blog about it on the side. So I checked it out. And it's really good. Nothing but acres of fried, salted potato. Beautiful. Needs a bit more geographical breadth, maybe, but the blog is positively appetizing.

One project I have meant to do for a long time is to investigate, evaluate and document the best frites in Belgium according to me. But it would be a lifetime project — far more daunting than beer.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Updated Fest Calendar for 2010, and Lambic Sadly Missed.

In the afterglow of another terrific Kerstbierfestival, the time feels right to look ahead to next year's fests. Friend of the Blog Paul Briggs has updated his calendar for 2010. You can find it here, and I've updated the permanent link on the left.

First one on the schedule: the Richement Beer Fair on January 23 and 24 in Richemont, France, near the borders of Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg. Originally a biennial event for breweriana collectors, the fair now usually includes an entertaining mix of French, Wallonian and Luxembourgish craft brewers.

One event I failed to mention last weekend was the Day of the Lambic in Eizeringen, home of the Grote Dorst — arguably the world's best lambic café. What made this event more interesting than usual was the premiere of Allagash Spontaneous, a two-year-old beer made from traditional lambic methods in Portland, Maine. Maybe the only thing stopping you from calling it a lambic is the fact that it was not made in Pajottenland or Belgium, and there are plenty of people who would love to slap a geographical indicator on the word. However no such thing exists at the moment. You can call it lambic if you want. I don't mind.

So, how was the Allagash sour-beer-made-in-America-according-to-traditional-lambic-methods? I have no idea. Unfortunately the excellent people at the Grote Dorst chose to have the Day of the Lambic on the same weekend as the Kerstbierfestival. Reports are most welcome.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Is This The Best Train Beer Ever?

Forgive my typical American habit for superlatives. I am who I am. But listen: a Christmas Magnum of Rochefort 8 shared among friends, in the time-honored post-fest tradition of grabbing one for the road, after a superb afternoon in Essen.

Can you top it?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

157 Reasons for the Season at the Kerstbierfestival.

Kerstbierfestival is tomorrow. Maybe the best festival on the Belgian calendar. The gents from OBER have outdone themselves this time, putting up 157 winter, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or otherwise really special beers up for tasting. Or drinking. That's a lot of merriment and cheer. Time to study the list and point out a few promising numbers.

We're only scratching the surface here, but what about the Winterkoninkske Grand Cru? It's a new one from Kerkom, makers of the classic Bink Blond. The reasonably spiced and reasonably bitter Winterkoninkske, at 8.3% abv, is already one of the better seasonals out there. For the Grand Cru, brewer Marc Limet kicked it up to 13% with a bigger malt bill and some hungry Champagne yeast. (See Steven Vermeylen's report on the beer here, in Dutch. Don't worry, the photos are in plain English.)

Before that we'll need some Courage. That's the new winter offering from Dochter van de Korenaar. According to the brewer, Courage checks in at 8% abv and is spiced with anise and elderberries, "and is nicely balanced by hops." It will be on draft and in bottle. The spicing doesn't excite me, but the "corn ear's daughter" has yet to disappoint.

The new (or old?) Rodenbach Vintage will be there, for anyone who wants a taste. So will a handful of bruising seasonals from Mikkeler, made in Belgium then sent to Denmark then imported back into Belgium. Also a bunch of offerings from new breweries like Den Tseut and Den Hopperd.

And if those don't work out, there's always the old classics. Like St. Bernardus Christmas (draft or bottle), La Rulles Cuvée Meilleurs Voeux (bottle), and De Dolle Stille Nacht (draft or bottle). Recommended lighter beer, as a starter while perusing the list: Slaghmuylder Kerstbier, an unfiltered lager on draft or in bottles.

OK, there is no Kwanzaa beer to my knowledge. But there should be. Here, however, is a clever Kwanzaa beer stein for 20 bones.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Resolution: If I Open a Pub, It Will Have a Library with a Fireplace.

It's luck of the draw: What's the nearest Podge pub near our hotel?* Well, we're just north of Hyde Park, near the Bayswater tube station. Let's see... Looks like the Victoria. Oh. I think that's a famous one.

So we go to see why. Christmas trees and lights on the exterior soften us up before a full blast of warm holiday spirit when we walk in the door. Friendly hello. Fire blazing. Fellas in suits taking long lunch breaks and talking about shopping. Hops hung like holly and strung with more lights. Real Christmas pudding with brandy written on the chalkboard. (Gotta love any dessert that makes you unfit to drive.)

The full range of Fullers beers are here on cask, including the crisp and hoppy Chiswick Bitter and rich ESB. Both help me make short work of some bangers and mash. We pass on the pudding, since a big dinner is planned for later. (I still can't say if it was the right decision.)

We have a look upstairs and realized we should have been drinking up here all along. One room has decor saved from the Gaiety Theatre, a long-demolished London institution. Or so I read. Then there is the library room. Books. Comfy chairs. A fireplace. Just the spot for a goblet of ESB and some contemplation.

Look, there's Yvan now. Pondering, pondering, pondering the lack of a beer in his hand.

The Victoria is convenient to those of you who come to do touristy things in central London. Address: 10a Strathearn Place, W2 2NH. Go on in and warm yourself.

*Podge pub being the universally accepted shorthand for any of those found in the incredibly useful Around London in 80 Beers, by Chris "Podge" Pollard and Siobhan McGinn, available from Cogan & Mater.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

There Will Be a Stille Nacht Reserva Next Year (Probably).

In my latest DRAFT article, I wrote that Kris Herteleer of De Dolle makes the life-experience-in-a-bottle Stille Nacht Reserva every five years. Turns out I was wrong. And right.

From the Mad Brewer himself: "Joe, there is no rule that every five years there should be a release of Reserva Stille Nacht. But next year we plan to have one batch of that. It is brewed yet, but not yet on barrels."

So the angels have yet to take their share, but next Christmas could be a very merry one for those of us lucky enough to find a bottle. We can expect a Stille Nacht Reserva 2010 (following the legends of 2000 and 2005). It's greedy to hope for more.

Those who want to taste what the fuss is about: The Kulminator in Antwerp still had the 2005 last I checked. Bring a friend and share.

Monday, December 7, 2009

In the Future, All Desserts Will Be Chocolate Towers.

Still recovering from a fun and reasonably productive two-day trip to London. This included the British Guild of Beer Writers dinner on Thursday. The five-course feast went about one more than I could handle. My fault, not the dinner's. I had a big pub lunch that must have displaced most of dessert — a hulking dark chocolate tower with ice cream, paired with Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter.

My favorite course was easily the third: braised rabbit leg wrapped in roasted rabbit saddle with a bottle of Ringwood's Old Thumper pale ale. I found it a subtler, deeper match than the rest — so good I forgot to snap a photo that wouldn't have done it justice anyway. And since the next morning I've been mourning the chocolate tower that went to waste. Next time I'll bring a ziplock baggy for leftovers, which would be just about as classy as the blue jeans I wore to a lounge-suit event. Anyway.

Pete Brown was the big winner, as it should be. Read about all the winners here. In particular I want to point out the work of Mark Dredge, which may still be unknown to those of you who don't read beer blogs all the time. (It's an unhealthy habit and I don't recommend it. But if you must die reading beer blogs, then do so in style. Read Pencil and Spoon.)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Yule Dig This.

Getting ready to hop on a train, but I wanted to point out the latest issue of DRAFT... featuring my article on the most interesting Belgian Christmas beers. All feedback welcome.

And Norm is on the cover. How cool is that?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Thirsty Pilgrim's Book of the Year: Hops and Glory.

I used to be a real political reporter, with suits and ties and everything. Now I'm out of practice. Perpetually rumpled. So I'm having trouble packing for London and tomorrow night's British Guild of Beer Writers awards dinner. I'm neither British nor likely to win anything, but I was invited, and it sounds like a good party doesn't it? Wonder if I can get away with blue jeans. Maybe with a big belt buckle and a thick Ozarks accent. As if I ever had one.

"Lounge suit" attire. Hmm. I think that means a real matching suit. Damn.

Listen: I was going to do a long, boring post on beer books — as in, which ones from the past year should be on your Christmas wish list. Then I realized I wasn't wild about most of them. So I'm going to make it easy and narrow it down to one: Hops and Glory. A few of you know it, but not enough of you.

The synopsis: Regular dude Pete Brown gets the brilliant and stupid idea to escort a barrel of IPA via boat all the way from Burton to India. Between dramatic episodes he delivers the deepest and best-written history of India Pale Ale you are ever likely to find. It's a seriously fun read for anyone interested in beer, boats or bribes.

One way to score beery books is based on how thirsty they make you. This is the clear winner of 2009. Lots of hot weather, cool and bright beer, and fruity hop aroma. Just thinking about it makes my mouth a bit dry.

I met Pete at the Great British Beer Festival last time I was in London. He was signing Hops and Glory. I told him he was a sonofabitch, because I'd been reading Three Sheets to the Wind and couldn't get his voice out of my head. It's a bit contagious, which is nice for him but annoying when you're trying to write something yourself. He told me to go read Stephen King. I'm still not sure if he was joking. I don't think so.

Meanwhile, Pete has been busy lately, both promoting and reporting on British craft beer more visibly than anyone else. I hope he wins some silverware tomorrow night.

The real question is, what will he be wearing?