Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Colorado In My Glass- Michigan In My Heart (Michigan Winter Seasonal Beers)

Let me tell you, this was a very tough job—tour the best microbreweries in Southeastern Michigan and return home with the ‘Ol Bonneville’s trunk weighed down with gratis beer, each to be tasted with careful consideration. Well, someone’s gotta do it.

I had a blast, and so did the chefs that volunteered their time developing recipes especially for this article, utilizing two of the great winter seasonal beers we reviewed. For the recipes, pick up a copy of the latest edition of Edible WOW magazine

Read about Michigan Winter Seasonal Beers.

UPDATE (1/25/10): One of my readers brought to my attention the fact that the full article is no longer available on Edible WOW's website. I checked and sure enough, they removed the full content after the first few paragraphs. So below the photos I have posted the article in its entirety. Enjoy!

Original Article (Full)

Warm Up, Drink Up with Winter Seasonal Beers
By Alex Harrison

I you aren’t drinking Michigan beer, and regularly, then I have to ask: Why not?

Perhaps you don’t know where to begin, and understandably so; there are over fifty breweries, microbreweries and brewpubs in Michigan alone. In our region of Southeastern Michigan there are two dozen, each with their own body of hopped and malty work.

Admittedly, buying a six-pack of unfamiliar beer can be somewhat of a risk; perhaps you’ve been burned before. But we guarantee you that just about any beer you rustle up locally will be miles apart from the watery shadow-of-a-true-pilsner that you’ve been schlepping home from the supermarket. The best part is that wintertime is the perfect time for Southeastern Michigan beer. Just as our family dinner menus shift from platefuls of Caprese salad to warm bowls of hearty stews, winter seasonal beers make their return with flavor profiles to match your favorite cold-weather dishes. And edibleWOW is here to demystify the best of what Southeastern Michigan has to offer to all who are thirsty this season, highlighting three of our local breweries.

Dark Horse
First on our list of venerable brewers is Dark Horse Brewing Company, located in the tiny town of Marshall, an hour due west of Ann Arbor. Owner Aaron Morse runs a crew of crazy, ink-covered badass brewers who make no apologies for their big beers. Most are 6% alcohol by volume or higher, and boast a rich mouthfeel. These are no session ales, but they are perfect when served with a meal.

Their Scotty Karate Scotch Ale is the lightest winter seasonal of the group, with an aroma that reminds you of baked apple crisp. On the palate, big caramel and smoked malt flavors appear—Dark Horse smokes their own barley—with a lightly hopped, balanced finish. This beer is delicious on its own, sipped while you labor in the kitchen to get dinner going, but it shines when served with a chicken pot pie, Scotch Broth with lamb or even roasted salmon.

The first of the two coffee-infused brews in our winter beer lineup is Perkolator Coffee Dopplebock. This lager is a great ride on the palate, but promises to be gentle when it comes to the finish. Thanks to coffee beans roasted at Ypsilanti’s Ugly Mug Café and steeped in the base brew for twenty-four hours, any sense of bitterness is wrapped in the fruity coffee aroma. The rich flavor and finish make it a great match for a roasted pork, and would be perfection with a slice of chocolate cake.

Finally, Dark Horse gives us their Holiday Stout Series, five velvety and roasty beers that make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. The Tres Blueberry Stout is the most surprising of the bunch. Adhering to the motto, “beer first, fruit second,” it walks a delicate line and keeps all flavors in balance. It pairs well with the spicy, fruity flavors of barbecued meat. In fact, Aaron Cozadd, chef at (what restaurant these days?) developed a barbecue sauce using the beer itself, to be glazed over a succulent bone-in pork chop. (See the recipe section.)

Jolly Pumpkin
Our next group of exciting winter seasonal beers come from Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales. Located in Dexter, Michigan, Jolly Pumpkin’s Belgian-style sour beers have created serious buzz within the national beer-geek community these last few years. A “sour” flavor component might not initially sound like something you’re looking for in a beer, but super-hopped bitter beers (think I.P.A.’s) have soared in popularity over the last decade. Owner and brewer Ron Jeffries nurtures his beers slowly and with the care of a craftsman. Jolly Pumpkin beers get their pucker-up sour notes from open fermentation, followed by aging in oak barrels, which allows wild yeasts and natural sour bacteria to work magic, producing amazingly complex flavors.

First in the seasonal releases is Maracaibo Especial, a brown Belgian ale. With a huge, fluffy cappuccino-colored head, the aroma is yeasty and pungent, like malt vinegar and spice. Use your entire palate to taste this beer—notes of chocolate (from real cacao) and orange peel, followed by a serious astringent sourness. You can sip this beer all you like, but it really comes into its own when served alongside a nice, fatty meat like duck. The bright acidity cuts through the velvety fat on your palate, allowing its notes of spice and chocolate to linger a little longer. (See our recipe by chefs Max Sussman and Eve Aronoff of eve, Duck Breast Stuffed with Beer-Braised Cabbage.) (Chris, the recipe max gave us is for “cabbage/Brussels sprouts”…which veg. did Pam use during testing and choose here?)

Next comes Noel de Calabaza (released in December), a Belgian dark ale that combines the best of sour beer with the flavors of the holidays. Dried figs, plum, cinnamon and spice linger despite the flavors of tart sour fruit and oak. For the non-wine drinkers at your holiday table, a beer like this is a perfect match for spreads that include rich favorites like creamed spinach gratin, buttery fingerling potatoes and gravy.

Finally there is Madrugada Obscura, the Belgian stout with a dark, dark heart. Nearly black with a pungent aroma of wet wood, coffee and the barnyard, this beer is slightly foreboding. But take and drink; flavors in the middle include vanilla and even milk chocolate. Just brace yourself for that sour berry fruit finish. Served with Pernil, a Cuban-style roast pork shoulder whose marinade traditionally includes juice of the sour orange, this beer will compliment flavors in the marinade, as well as play off of the lovely fat in the pork.

Arbor Brewing Company
Arbor Brewing Company in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti does a fine job of creating a body of brews diverse enough to appeal to any beer drinker, novice or geek alike. Owner Rene Greff created an identity for Arbor Brewing that includes true-to-style beers as well as unique offerings that mix styles, creating something altogether unique. Their seasonal beers stay true to beloved classic styles.

The Espresso Love Breakfast Stout, though a year-round favorite, is perfect for chilly Michigan winter days. This oatmeal stout is velvety-smooth, and similar to Dark Horse’s Perkolator brew, uses cold-brewed coffee from the Ugly Mug Café’s roasted beans. Without a trace of bitterness, this rich stout is laden with chocolate and roasted malt flavors. The sweetest of all the beers reviewed here, it is an indulgent drink paired well with pastries or chocolate desserts.

ABC’s Phat Abbot series includes a Belgian Dubbel and Belgian Tripel. Both use Belgian candy sugar to lend traditional Trappist characteristics. While the Dubbel possesses the deep, sweet lingering flavors of dried sugar plums and raisins, the lighter Tripel smells of banana and yeasty bread dough, with flavors of tropical fruit, spice and a drier finish. The Tripel would make a fabulous accompaniment to your Christmas ham, while the Dubbel would be perfect with an after-dinner cheese course.

Michigan winters may narrow our choices of locally grown produce, but seasonal beers can fill in the gap for those of us willing to seek out the best of anything local and delicious. Whether serving as recession-friendly weeknight indulgences, sure-bet hostess gifts, or edgy alternatives to the predictable table wine, it is time for you to discover the pleasures of local winter seasonal beers.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Colorado Stouts and Porters (Plus Gnocchi)

Ah, the New Year...rhymes with New Beer. And I like the sound of that.

Since pretty much every Colorado beer is still new to me (and because I dared to proclaim to a friend that Michigan stouts and porters are amazing and would therefore be very hard to beat...apparently, them's fightin' words), a few of us decided that a Colorado stout and porter tasting was in order.

I designed a menu around five stouts and porters chosen by our dinner companions, which turned out to be a delicious, but completely over-the-top plan. After the meal, it took me nearly 24 hours to feel hungry again. But it was worth it. Here was the menu:

Course 1:
Ricotta Gnudi with Brown Butter, Pancetta, Crispy Sage and Cider Gastrique
Cutthroat Porter (Odell Brewing Co.)
Black Jack Porter (Left Hand Brewing)

Course 2:
Fennel and Parsley Salad w/Lemon Vinaigrette

Course 3:
Stout-braised Short Ribs w/White Bean Puree and Gremolata
Milk Stout (Left Hand Brewing)
Oatmeal Stout (Breckenridge Brewing)

Course 4:
Chocolate Pots de Crème (recipe here)
Cocoa Porter (Tommyknocker Brewery)


Odell’s Cutthroat Porter: This beer had a slightly spicy nose (think cinnamon), with hints of cola. It was surprisingly lighter on the palate than expected, with enough hops to provide a nice refreshing finish. It paired nicely with the gnocchi appetizer (I made a last minute substitute as the homemade ricotta gnudi was a spectacular failure; see recipe at bottom), complimenting the flavors of both the bracing gastrique and the rich pancetta and brown butter.

Left Hand Brewing’s Black Jack Porter: In comparison to the Cutthroat Porter, this beer was hoppy in the nose, but almost completely lacked that characteristic on the palate. This medium bodied beer had flavor notes of chocolate and dark plum, but was by no means so rich that it would deter me from going back for more; overall, a nice beer to drink alone or enjoy with a meal.

Left Hand Brewing’s Milk Stout: Oh mama…Lactose does work its magic on a good stout. The smooth, luxurious head foretells of the pleasures of the first sip—malty, creamy with notes of chocolate. Since it was light for a stout, it was my favorite pairing with the rich short ribs, which were draped in a velvety layer of sauce.

Breckenridge Brewing Oatmeal Stout: This was a perfectly good beer, a classic breakfast stout. But I’ll be honest; by this point in the evening my taste buds were growing numb from the onslaught of malt, meat and butter. I had also already knocked back three beers after slaving in the kitchen most of the day without pausing to eat. When I looked back at the notes I scrawled down about each beer, the only word I had written beside this beer was “Oatmealy.” Oh well.

Tommyknocker Cocoa Porter: I am sure there are people out there who like this beer, but those people do not include me. From the aroma, I could tell this beer was going to tank for me; an overwhelming scent of honey and chocolate. This translated into a taste reminiscent of Tootsie Rolls—which I hate anyway. There was just no balance to this beer, and so it was disappointing. And much like my own disposition by the time dessert was served, I noticed that most of our dinner companions left their Cocoa Porters…half drunk.

So to sum up, we ate well and drank even better. We also had great company, which frankly has a lot more to do with the success of any evening than either the food or the drink. As for my challenge to the Colorado beer community, I will concede that you showed me a porter or two that rival the Michigan beers that nursed me through the last few winters. Cutthroat Porter and Left Hand's Milk Stout are now on rotation in my fridge.


The menu was a lot of fun to put together—my first attempt at short ribs (a success, thanks to Tom Colicchio’s Think Like a Chef) as well as gnudi (as stated before, a total failure). Gnudi is kind of like the cheesy, lighter cousin of gnocchi. I have heard raves about the ricotta gnudi served at New York’s über-popular Spotted Pig. I also figured by the time I actually go back to New York, gnudi will be “So Yesterday,” so why not try it now at home? Wrong. I f*cked it up royally.

Using a recipe from Zen Can Cook, I gave these little semolina-covered pillows of ricotta a whirl, but unfortunately they had not “set up” long enough before it was time to cook them. They disintegrated in the boiling water. To be fair, I had been warned that this could happen; depending on the moisture content of the ricotta cheese, the gnudi could take anywhere from 24 hours to 3 days to dry out enough to be “set” and ready to boil.


Still Good...


So I went with Plan B—store-bought gnocchi—and it turned out just fine. So fine, in fact, that I’m posting the recipe.

Gnocchi with Brown Butter, Pancetta, Crispy Sage and Cider Gastrique
Serves 4 liberally as an appetizer or side

2 ¼ inch slices of pancetta
3 sprigs fresh sage
1 16-oz. package gnocchi (either shelf stable or from frozen)
5 Tablespoons unsalted butter

Apple Cider Gastrique
2 cups apple cider
¼ cup apple cider vinegar

1. Make your cider gastrique. In a medium saucepan, combine the cider and the cider vinegar. Cook over medium heat, simmering and reducing until syrupy and thicker—the mixture amounts to about ½ cup. Set aside.
2. Set a large pot of water to boil on high heat.
3. While water for gnocchi is heating, dice pancetta. Cook in a frying pan over medium heat, until crispy. Remove from pan to a plate covered in paper towel. If there is enough fat rendered from the pancetta, you can go ahead and fry your sage leaves in that. Otherwise, fry sage leaves in olive oil until crisp. Drain on a paper towel and set aside.
4. When your gnocchi water is about to reach a boil, melt butter in a clean frying pan over medium heat. Swirl the pan as the butter heats and turns a golden brown. Keep an eye on it; do not let it get too brown. As soon as it reaches the desired color, turn off the heat on the burner.
5. Meanwhile, as butter melts, drop gnocchi into the water once it’s boiling (remember to salt your water!). Cook the gnocchi according to package directions (when they float, they’re ready). Transfer the cooked gnocchi immediately into the pan with the browned butter. Toss to coat.
6. To serve, divide the gnocchi among 4 plates. Spoon a bit of brown butter over them, then garnish with pancetta and a few sage leaves. Drizzle on the gastrique. Eat immediately.