2008 Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout and a Diamondback Robusto

Aren't they just dreamy?

When I’m not stuffing my face with rich, decadent foods alongside drinking a rich, decadent beer, you can find me enjoying a nice cigar…. and drinking a rich, decadent beer (Let’s be honest, I drink every chance I get). As is the case with food, I find beer pairs better with cigars than a nice brandy, porto, or what have you. Beers can be manipulated in ways that liquors and wines can not be. The flavor profiles and varieties of beers are innumerable, and, as much as I enjoy a good bourbon or Bordeaux, there’s only so much you can do to change the taste of liquor and wine. The same is the case with cigars, in terms of manipulation of flavor profile. There are so many types of tobaccos that have the ability to have their tastes changed with slight manipulations. The pairing of the two together is just common sense.

That being said, you can not just throw any beer and any cigar together. As is the case with pairing liquors with cigars, match like qualities with like qualities. You do not want to pair a nice robusto with pale ale. Likewise, it would be equally disastrous pairing a big English barleywine with a mild cigar. Match them flavor for flavor. An stout would not serve well when paired with a cigar whose profile is a bit more on the citrusy and light side. As I said, the pairings are common sense, but think before pairing. If you happen to be more knowledgeable about one and less about the other, as a beer connoisseur or cigar aficionado about the flavor profiles of either/or…. or you could just follow Barleydine.com and ask us (hint, hint).

Well finally, onto the pairing. I lucked out at one of my local beer stops when a buddy of mine who works there told me about a shipment of fairly rare Goose Island beers that had just come in. Naturally, after hearing they had the 2008 version of their Bourbon County Brand Stout in said shipment, I bought as many as was allowed. I knew that this would be the perfect beer to pair with a cigar…
… which cigar though? Now, due to the flavor profile and high %ABV of the BCBS, I knew I wanted a robust cigar that had a creamy, sweet yet spicy taste. Nicaraguan tobacco is known to have a flavor profile such as this, so I set out to look for the perfect smoke to match. At my local smoke shop, I came across a fairly inexpensive, yet interesting smelling cigar. The Diamondback Robusto, a cigar made with Nicaraguan tobacco, has the words “Dulce Humo” on the wrapper, which translates to sweet smoke. A whiff gave me just what I was looking for; a bit of a sweet, yet peppery and oaky smell. I knew this would pair well with the BCBS.
Back at home, a pop of the top, a light of the smoke, and I was in heaven. The beer itself was divine. A nice, velvety smooth vanilla flavor came through first. Not a sticky sweet cloying vanilla that you get sometimes from vanilla bean aged stouts, but a subtle, yet powerful vanilla that comes from oak aging. Big chocolate flavors play with a much more subdued, yet perfectly balanced, bourbon sweetness. This beer is rich, smooth, and nearly perfect. I did not want the first sip to end. A puff of the cigar put me in even more of a subliminal state. A nice peppery taste, followed by nutmeg and cinnamon, were the first on the palate. After they subdued, a nice creamy vanilla, akin to the one tasted in the beer, came through. As I pushed the smoke to the the roof of my mouth, a sweet toffee flavor began to rear it’s head. Going back and forth between the two enhanced the flavors of each, as well as bringing more subdued notes out. The Bourbon County began giving off slight coffee flavors, not bitter coffee, but a nice, creamy mocha. A bit of a paprika note was tasted in the cigar, as well.
This was a fine pairing, one I did not want to end. When the beer and smoke was done, I was forced back to earth to rejoin reality.

NYC American Craft Beer Festival

A sea of craft beer connoisseurs, enthusiasts, and beginners.

I am always skeptical when it comes to beer festivals. If they are not done right, they can be outright disastrous. A trend I have seen in the past is that when a festival is held for the first time, things go wrong. Now, not to say it’s anyone’s fault in particular; there are many unseen problems, some totally unavoidable. However, when the going gets tough, a lot of the times, it just gets worse. Whether it be the crowd, the amount of beer brought, the food, the friendliness and knowledge of the vendors, or otherwise, things tend to go wrong. Would the NYC American Craft Beer Festival fall into some pitfalls, turning an event sour?…..
….. Fortunately for us, and everyone else who attended, the answer is no. I was very impressed by the way this event was put together and handled. Here’s a list of what I thought made this an amazing event.

-They did not try and cram us into a tiny venue like a can of sardines.
-The breweries did not bring an overwhelming amount of beer for everyone to choose from (they also brought the right volume of each individual beer).
-The crowd itself was fantastic; no obnoxious, drunken fools making it difficult for the rest of us, everyone was cordial and civil, lines were not insane and people were not fighting to try and get any specific beers.
-The vendors were very knowledgeable in terms of the product brought, as well as extremely polite and well spoken.
-All areas of the country were represented well.
-The extra merchandise being sold was fairly relevant and just downright awesome. (my favorite was the bourbon dipped cigars.)
-Local breweries, even the lesser known ones, were represented very well. (A note on this one; Let’s face it, New York is not California in terms of craft beer. It made me proud to see some of our guys holding up against some of the bigger ones.)
-The venue was large enough to hold a large crowd. The location was great, too; Only a 15 minute walk from Grand Central.
-The fact that connoisseur package ticket holders were kept in a separate room from us, so we did not attack them for their beers.
-They allow you to bring your own pretzels/pretzel necklaces to clean your palate between beers.
-The fact that they give you glass tasting cups instead of the usual plastic ones that snap while you’re drinking.

For certain, this was a great event and was put together very well. That being said, it was not perfect, and being a skeptic, I have to find things that bother me in a situation. Here’s a list of things I did not enjoy.

-The price of the tickets for what was received. $55 from 1:30pm-4:00pm, no food included. I have been to events that cost this much where food was included, as well as an extra hour, at least. (Other options were available; $75 for the VIP package which included an extra hour of drinking or $125 for the Connoisseur’s package, which included hors d’oeuvres, special beers to taste, as well as the extra hour given to the VIP members. If I could do it over, I would have gotten VIP tickets. The Connoisseur’s package was far too pricey for what was offered. The special beers they received were good, but nothing that would compel me to spend $125 on.)
-The food brought was far too expensive, as well. $15 for a bratwurst kind of did it for me.
-The diversity of the beers. It’s hard for me to say, I mean, I can’t even believe I’m saying it, but there were too many IPAs. My palate was wrecked halfway through. It would have been nice to see more barleywines, a few sours, some belgian beers thrown in there.

That’s pretty much it, though. Considering how cynical I am, I think that’s pretty damn good. As I stated, it was a stellar event and I will be attending for many more years to come.

Enough of my ranting and praising, on to the beer!

Great Divide Espresso Oak Aged Yeti!

We sampled quite a lot of beers that day, but I am going to list for you my favorites for the day.

1. Great Divide Espresso Oak Aged Yeti
I’ve had the pleasure of having this beer bottled and tapped before, and I have to say, I can never get enough of it. Out of all of the Yeti variations, this one is my personal favorite. The malts are nice an roasty, the espresso that comes through does not taste like cheap coffee as I have seen with some beers, but a very fine, gourmet espresso, big notes of chocolate and toffee, a creamy vanilla note comes through from the oak, the hop profile is not overwhelming, just enough to keep your palate light and unsaturated. Hands down, my favorite of the show.

Founders Dirty Bastard.

2. Founders Dirty Bastard
I am not a big fan of Scotch Ales/Wee Heavies, and to be honest, I’ve never had this beer before. I’ve had it’s barrel aged older brother, Backwoods Bastard, which is a real stunner, but I was never intrigued by this beer. I can honestly say that I am glad to have tried it though. The malt character on this is like rum soaked bread. A slight alcohol burn is there, but it is welcome. Caramel sweetness and toffee notes coat your mouth throughout. The hop bitterness on the back end keeps you wanting more. Very good beer.

Captain Lawrence Liquid Gold and Captain's Reserve DIPA

3. Captain Lawrence Captain’s Reserve Double IPA
I was floored by this one. I’ve had it before, but only in bottles. The problem with the bottled version of it is that it does not hold up well, and is so plentiful in our area, that you never know if you’re getting a fresh bottle. On tap, it was like I blind taste tested Pliny the Elder. There were huge pine, citrus, grassy, earthy notes, a solid malt backbone, very nice carbonation and mouthfeel. I was stunned, to say the very least.

Ballast Point Sculpin and Calico Amber.

4. Ballast Point Sculpin
One of my absolute favorite beers to have on tap. I would have came here just for this beer. The amount of bitter grapefruit and sweet, juicy orange and pineapple is overwhelming, the sweet malt that resides beneath plays very well with the hop bitterness, the grassy, piney notes on the back end round it out very well. I absolutely love this beer.

Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA and Walker's Reserve Robust Porter.

5. (TIE) Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA and Walker’s Reserve Robust Porter
Firestone Walker is in my top 5 favorite breweries, so anything they put out is like liquid gold to me. Union Jack, along with Sculpin, is one of my favorite beers to have on tap. IPAs hold up so much better when they’re in a fresh keg. The flavor is an explosion of citrus; grapefruit, mango, pineapple, orange peel, ripe apricot. The malt bill is equally impressive with a slight caramel flavor coming through, but an overall biscuity quality holding the forefront. The bitter finish keeps your palate intrigued, but is not enough to render it useless.
Moving on to the Robust Porter…. holy crap. Those who know me will tell you I am not the biggest fan of porters (I think they taste sort of like watered down stouts), but this one changed my mind for good. Massive amounts of coffee and chocolate come through, a walnut and pecan character play around underneath the more upfront notes, the roasted malts perfectly complement a vanilla ice cream flavor I can’t wrap my head around. I feel like buying a case of this beer now.

The day was complete, and I left feeling satisfied. I sampled many great beers, at a great venue, with great people. I will most definitely be joining them for their upcoming events.
Be sure to like their Facebook page….

https://www.facebook.com/pages/NYC-American-Craft-Beer-Festival/142042005904862

Pliny The Elder and IPA Biscuits and Gravy

Pure Joy and Happiness

Two of my favorite things coming together as one. It just doesn’t get any better than this. Well, a cigar wouldn’t hurt, but I’m not complaining. I’m all about comfort food. Everyone loves it.  If you don’t, you’re a liar. I’m also all about IPA’s. It’s my personal favorite style of beer and can come in many different colors. The bitter citrus, the sweet malt, the hop bite; what’s there not to love? As it turns out, it goes very well with a lot of foods, too. So, I decided to mash the two together and do a pairing with them with the added bonus of instructions on how to make the dish yourself because what fun is it if you can’t eat this yourself?
Now, I was born and raised in New York, so biscuits and gravy is a dish that I didn’t grow up with. I think that’s one of the reasons why I love it so much; all the wasted years not eating it. However, me being me, plain old biscuits and gravy aren’t good enough to do a pairing with. I had to kick it up a bit…..
…. And what better way to do that than to add beer to the recipe?  Better yet, why not add an IPA? Great idea, I know. When people heard about this, they thought I added the beer to the gravy when in actuality, I added it to the biscuit dough. The recipe for that dough is as follows….

4 cups white flour
1 and 1/2 sticks of butter (softened at room temperature)
1 tsp. of salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. sugar
1 12 ounce can or bottle of IPA of your choosing

Standard biscuit making procedure follows. Sift the dry ingredients together, cut the butter into the dry ingredients, pour the beer into the mixture and form into a dough. The product should look like this…..

… Attractive, I know. Now form into biscuits, whatever size you feel is appropriate, and bake in the oven at 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes, and voila.
Onto the gravy. Now, I’m a carnivore, but my girlfriend is a vegetarian (unfortunately), so I had to make a vegetarian gravy to top the biscuits with, which is okay because it makes the cooking a bit easier. The ingredients for the gravy are…

1 medium to large onion
1 clove of garlic
1 stick of butter
1/2 cup of flour
Broth or soup of your choosing
Rosemary, cumin, salt, and cayenne powder to taste

Start by finely dicing the onion and garlic and caramelizing them in a sauce pan. After they’re nice and sweet, add the butter and flour to make a roux. This is where I add my seasonings. I wanted to add just enough cayenne to get a bit of a smoky and spicy flavor on the mid palate, but not enough to make it hot. The rosemary is added just because it goes fantastically with IPAs. Finally, add your broth until it is at the consistency of your liking.

Finished Gravy. Another Attractive, Yet Delicious, Sight.

Now top and enjoy with your favorite IPA.
Finally, onto the pairing.
I chose Pliny the Elder because, well, it’s Pliny the Elder. First bite of the biscuit gives off a very velvety, creamy texture with a nice crust, that is suddenly brought to a halt by a sweet maltiness and hop bitterness, but not like you would find in a beer. It’s very subtle, but enough to give the biscuits a little something they were missing, as they would’ve been kind of “one note” before. Mixing with the gravy brings a whole new level. There’s a creamy, sweetness from the onions, bit of heat and smokiness on the middle of the tongue and a nice earthy, herbal note throughout. Now, the trifecta. The Pliny cuts through the fatty, creaminess from the butter and flour nicely. It melds very well with the heat given off by the cayenne. It doesn’t subdue it’s flavor, just the heat a bit, allowing you to taste the actual flavor of the cayenne and not just the heat. It helps bring forth a nice smoky, earthy, and floral flavor that was hidden before. It plays nicely with the rosemary. The marriage of the two helps bring forth more piney flavors from both the rosemary and the Pliny. It helps add a nice clean finish to a very rich and heavy meal and helps lighten the palate. The hop bitterness, citrus flavors, and malt of the Pliny also add another dimension of flavor to the biscuits and meld very nicely with the sweet onion flavor.
This was verging on perfect. Cheap, easy to make, and an absolutely delicious pairing. I can die happy now.

Sierra Nevada Bigfoot 2012 and Waffles

Waffles topped with reconstituted dried fruit and Bigfoot 2012

I don’t know what my obsession has been with waffles, as of late. Barleywine obsessions are understandable, well, any beer obsession really. I was struck with  an idea while drinking another barleywine one night. The dark fruit and caramel notes got me thinking; why not pair it with something similar?
I began by tossing butter, brown sugar, bourbon, maple syrup, cinnamon, and a heap of dried fruits (apples, pears, dates, figs, and apricots) together and let simmer until the fruits were nice and plump again and the sauce had thickened  considerably. This combination was a bit too cloyingly sweet, so to cut through that, I added some balsamic vinegar.

Dried fruits reconstituting

While that was simmering and doing it’s delicious reconstitution, I set up to make the waffles. Just usual waffle batter, but with a bit of almond extract, salt and cinnamon added, and the final touch, crushed up chocolate almond biscotti. Nothing too special here.
Now, there are a few reasons I decided to pair this with a 2012 Bigfoot. One, it has those classic barleywine style features; deep, sweet caramel malts, toffee and sugar cane. However, if this was all it had to offer, the pairing would become, once again, far too cloying in terms of sweetness. Which brings me to my second reason; the hop profile. This is a fantastic beer simply because of how balanced they’ve made it. There is a hop bitterness to it that helps cut through the sweetness and lightens the palate, where as typical barleywines sit a bit heavy on the tongue. Thirdly, once again involving the hops, the citrus flavor given off by the hops would go very well with the underlying citrus flavors of the fruits.
Now finally, onto the tasting….

The waffles themselves had a very nice crunch from the biscotti. It gave the dish some texture that would have been lacking without. This is something else sommeliers should take into consideration with food and beer pairings; it gives the taste and the effect on the palate a different twist and makes it much more enjoyable. The fruit topping was very sticky sweet. All of the ingredients were present, but they all melded nicely together. The bourbon and maple syrups seemed to be intertwined, the balsamic vinegar, though placed to break up the sweetness, played very well and seemed to be very helpful. The fruits themselves seemed to take on the essence of the sauce, while still keeping their citrusy, fruity flavor. A sip of the Bigfoot along with the waffles brought out some unexpected, but very pleasant notes. The nutty, almondy taste that had been subdued by the topping was brought out and sat well on the middle of the tongue. The bittering hops helped clear the palate so that the next bite would be a different experience. The chocolate, which was also subdued, came out nicely, but only for a brief moment. The sweetness and caramel malt of the Bigfoot really played well with the waffles; both had the same sweet profiles. All in all, a very successful pairing. Though this was a VERY heavy meal, the pairing of the two kept me wanting to try it again and again, as it was an ever-changing, and delicious, marriage.


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