Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Black Mesa ES-ESB Beer

In the United States, there seems to be a competition over who can cram the most hops into a bottle of beer. While that’s perfect for all of my IPA loving friends, it leaves folks who enjoy more traditional brews searching for something that fits their tastes. Something I was lucky enough to have discovered for myself was Black Mesa Brewing Company. Those lads know how to brew good beer that doesn’t make your whole face pucker.

Brad Stumph the science guy and Chris Sanders the brewmaster guy started Black Mesa Brewery in Oklahoma City in 2012. As with any new business they had high hopes, a clear vision, and untapped potential. (Pun intended.) They were cranking out some great beers and sending them to local bars and package stores. Then in May of 2013, a tornado bent them over the beer barrel and demolished their facility. At the time I read the article, I hadn’t heard of the brewery, but I still shed a little tear for them. Since I am a business owner and a beer lover, I felt heartbroken for them. But after the initial shock of the event, they undauntedly started looking for a new place to brew. They looked at a few larger sized breweries in the Midwest and decided to contract brew with the really cool guys at O’Fallon Brewery that is in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri.

Most people, who have had a terrible event happen to them like a tornado, choose to rebuild. The disruption or devastation of their lives is a battle cry to overcome it. But Brad and Chris did what I would have done. They thought about it and weighed their options. Here comes my soapbox rant about my home state. Oklahoma has some of the worst bullshit laws pertaining to alcohol in the entire country. We still have 3.2% ABV beer that is sold in grocery stores and convenience stores. It can be stored and sold cold. Liquor stores can carry regular strength beer like the rest of the country, but it has to remain room temperature. That is just one out of dozens of inane laws that people in the alcohol business have to deal with. The law that Black Mesa faced was they were not allowed to have a tasting room in their brewery if they didn’t offer 3.2% ABV versions of their beers. They weren’t about to ruin beer just to appease laws that were passed in 1959 and haven’t changed since. They decided they would not rebuild in Oklahoma until that law changes. I wholeheartedly applaud them for that. Brad said in an interview, “We are one of the remaining 3.2% states. A change in this law would give us the confidence that a physical brewery could be a viable business in our home state.” Once again, Oklahoma loses out on a wonderful business because it won’t progress. But luckily for you and me, they continue to brew and sell. They’ve even started distributing in Kansas City. Hooray for them!

I’ve tried all but one of their beers, and last night I had one that was new to me. It was their ES-ESB. That stands for Extra Special-Endless Skyway Bitter. Holy moly, it was delicious. They have said in the past that they are going for more of an Old World style of brewing beer and this one hit it right on the nose. Reminiscent of old British-Style Bitters, this beer has a lower hop content that lets the malt shine bright. The guys also decided to age this beer in used Remy Martin Cognac barrels for about seven months. This added an oaky vanilla taste to the already strong toasted grain, cream, and nut flavors. I probably could have just had this hefty beer for dinner by itself, but I was glad to add it to my meal. I was having some pork chops with sautéed onions and shrooms for dinner and this beer tasted like it was meant for it. I’m honestly putting Black Mesa ES-ESB on a short list of favorites brews. Nice work, fellas.

Black Mesa ES-ESB is 9.6% ABV and I’m not sure about the IBUs

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Monday, November 9, 2015

Castillo de Monseran Old Vine Garnacha 2009

The rain in Spain makes puddles in my brain…I don’t think that’s how that old saying goes. At any rate, the rain in Spain DOES make the wonderful Garnacha vines grow to produce some of the best table wines around. One such wine that I tried recently was from Castillo de Monseran.

Monseran is part of a large organization called the Bodega San Valero. San Valero was started in 1945 with a collection of 60 grape growers and wine producers. Those 60 growers started the cooperative as a way for everyone to benefit from everyone else’s knowledge. Imagine 60 small businesses pooling their information to raise each other to a new level of success. That’s what they did. Now San Valero is home to roughly 700 grape growers all working to bring world class Spanish wines to you and me. In total, they have 4,000 hectares of vineyards to oversee, maintain, and choose from when it’s wine making time. That is nearly 10,000 acres of grapes. A great number of these vines are grown in bush vines instead of trellised vines like what you see in most viticultural areas. No long rows of continuous vines, just big fat grape bushes. I’ll include a photo at the bottom so you can see what I’m talking about. It looks so cool.

One of the best growing grapes in this area is Garnacha. The French picked up some of these vines, took them home, planted them, and called them Grenache. They make Rhone wines and the famous Chateauneuf du Pape wines from this grape. It was also thought to be the first grapes that were planted in Australia when it was being colonized after the initial rush of convicts were sent there. Castillo de Monseran is made by Hugh Ryman with the help of Jesus Prieto from San Valero’s wine making crew. What they were going for with this wine was Old World meets New World and they accomplished that quite deftly.

This Garnacha is harvested, fermented, and aged in small oak barrels for a short period of time. The grape juice is bottled within a year of its squish date, or maceration date for those that prefer proper terminology. Doing this maintains a high level of freshness in the wine. That’s the New World part of the wine. The Old World part is the flavor profile that this wine exhibits. With the main flavors coming through as sloe, red currant, and a hint of herbs, the wine stays true to its origins of the Spanish countryside. It has a medium tannin level due to the addition of about 10% of Mazuela grape juice. It gives the lighter Garnacha a little deeper color and heavier taste. Even with a heavyweight in the mix, it is wonderfully easy to drink and it should be consumed sooner rather than trying to cellar it for later. This Old Vine Garnacha has enough complexity to not be a plain old table wine, but it’s simple enough to pair with nearly any dish you would want to have it with. I had mine with beef tips and au jus with chive laden mashed potatoes over sour dough toast. It was perfect.

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Bush Vines

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Boulevard's Smokestack: Sixth Glass Quadrupel Ale

Since I’m constantly snooping through the inventory of beer, wine and liquor distributors, I tend to find some things I’ve never tried. When the Boulevard Brewery began releasing their Smokestack Series of beers, I jumped at the chance to bring them into the store. Mostly because I wanted to try them, but customers could try them too, I guess. Me first!!

Boulevard Brewery is located on the Missouri side of Kansas City. In 1988, a guy named John McDonald found a cool old brick building and start installing a Bavarian brew house inside of it. Production cranked up in ’89 and the first keg rolled off the line in November of that year. John loaded up that first keg of Pale Ale in his pickup and drove it to a restaurant a couple of blocks away. Flash forward a bit to 2006 and the brewery jumped from the original plan of 6,000 Barrels per year to 600,000 Barrels per year. That’s a pretty hefty upgrade!

Down the line, Boulevard delved into the super-premium beer category with their Smokestack Series. There are six beers available year-round and a few other special releases and seasonal brews. The all year beers are The Calling, Tank 7 Farmhouse, Tell Tale Tart, Dark Truth Stout, Long Strange Tripel, and Sixth Glass Quadrupel. The last one is the topic of discussion this round.

Sixth Glass is a typical Quadrupel in that it is dark brown, very malty, low hopped, higher in alcohol, and a tinge sweet. What isn’t typical is that a beer so outstanding is made three hours from my front door. I know there are great brewers in the U.S. making great beers, but when I drink a Sixth Glass, I shudder a bit and wonder how this isn’t made by Trappist monks in a Belgian monastery. The name of the beer refers to the Hans Christian Anderson story The Watchman of the Tower. The taste of the beer refers to heaven itself. It has the taste of toasty barley blended with hints of cream, dark caramel, and that heavy artisanal bread you get from a really good old world bakery. I enjoy this beer with smoked ham and soft cheeses. I enjoy it sitting on my couch while I slouch. I would drink it on a train with a crane in the rain… Okay, I’m getting a little too Seussical. The long and short of it is, this beer is incredibly good and at 10.5% ABV, you don’t need much of it to make you feel its effects. It is available in 12 ounce 4 packs and cork-topped 750s. It rates a 10.5% ABV and an IBU of 22. Love it.

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Friday, October 30, 2015

Flirt Red Wine 2011

I love to flirt. Without a doubt, I’m no good at it. But, that doesn’t keep me from leaning my shoulder against a wall, winking at a lovely lady, and asking “How you doin’?” Honestly, I would fail at a women’s prison on conjugal visit day. Luckily for us, Flirt Red Wine is better at seducing than I am.

Sourced from some vineyards in Mendocino, Flirt is a blend of Syrah, Tempranillo, and Zinfandel. Some vintages in the past were made up with different grapes, but the 2011 contains a tasty blend of those grapes I listed. One of the things I enjoyed was that one varietal didn’t stand out far above the others. It was a well-crafted blend that highlights each varietal equally. Some of the tastes that came through were cherries and plums. I had to double check to make sure there wasn’t any Sangiovese in this wine because that was my initial thought. Nope. I was wrong, which only happens once a year. What are you laughing at!? The cherries and plums give it a fruitiness that could be misread as sweetness, but it isn’t. It’s just a big bowl of berries in a bottle. The tasty fruit was enveloped in a slight vanilla flavor which is a characteristic of using good oak barrels or oak planks. It was a fantastic finishing touch to this wine. And, speaking of finishing touches, the spiciness of the Syrah showed itself in the aftertaste. It was like a little kiss at the end of date. Y’know, so I’ve heard.

Another great thing about Flirt Red Blend is that it doesn’t cost that much. For under $15, you can get a crowd-pleasing red wine with a nice label. So pick up a bottle of Flirt on the way to your next soiree. You’ll be the hit of the party. I’m taking my own advice and bringing one to the next party I’m invited to. So, if you want to invite me, just say so. Anybody? Anybody? Bueller?

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Okie Smokies BBQ - Grove, Oklahoma

Sometimes when I write a restaurant review, I’m only in a town for a day or two, I find a place to eat, and if it’s delicious, I’ll write about it straight away. Since it’s fresh on my mind and I don’t want to forget the experience, I’ll make some quick notes and fire off a story when I get back to my computer. When I find a good place in my own hometown, however, I forget to write a review. My brain tells me, “You’ll remember to write about this place since it’s right down the street. Don’t take notes. You’ve eaten here dozens of times.” This has been the case for a favorite haunt of mine, Okie Smokies BBQ.
            When I say that I’ve eaten there dozens of times, that is no exaggeration. To say that I’ve tried everything on the menu might be. Their menu is so big that I get a little overwhelmed and excited each time I go in. I’m pretty sure I’m missing out on something because my memory isn’t what it used to be. It doesn’t matter because it’s all delicious.
            The other night the family and I went in for some Q. Like always, I stand and stare at the chalk board menu for what seems like an eternity. People behind me fidget and make comments under their breath. I don’t care. I want to get the exact right thing. I should know by now that I could just say any barbecue related word and the folks behind the counter would bring out something tasty. That night I had the chopped brisket and hot links. I added some mac & cheese and corn on the cob for my sides. I grabbed some pickles and a drink, sat down and waited patiently. As usual, it came out pretty quickly. The brisket was lean, the hot links were, well, hot and the sides tasted like I was at a cookout. Home run again, Okie Smokies.
            Since I’ve been there a time or two…or thirty, I can assure you that brisket and links aren’t the only good thing on their giant menu. They also have the best turkey sandwich I’ve ever eaten. Also, I love the ribs, the pulled pork, the chicken, the catfish, the fries both regular and sweet potato, the burgers and on and on. If you’re in Grove, Oklahoma for any reason, make sure to swing by and see the great folks at Okie Smokies BBQ. You’ll walk away happy and satisfied. There's also a pretty good chance that you'll see me in there stuffing my face.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Goose Island Sofie Farmhouse Ale

A long time ago in the 1980’s, a guy named John Hall made a trip across Europe. Along the way, he tried a lot of beers that he thought would be great to have in the United States. As is too often the case, the story would probably end there with the phrase, “Yeah, that’d be cool.” But with John, that was not the case. He was trying to fly home and got stuck in Dallas as all travelers have at one point or another. John picked up a magazine and started thumbing through it. He happened upon an article about boutique beers gaining popularity in the U.S. It changed him forever. John says, “I must be the only person in history who made a major career change on the basis of a Delta Sky article.” We should all thank the author of that article and be glad that John was stuck at D/FW.

In 1988, John started Goose Island Brewery and began making beer in Chicago. He made some, drank some, and shared some. Eventually, he started inviting people to watch the process of beer making. He developed a following with his beers and in 1995, expanded the brewery. A short time later, he expanded again. His beer repertoire was growing. He pioneered the idea of aging beers in Bourbon Barrels. Thanks for that, brother! He now makes a lot of different beers. Some are only available at certain times of the year, but others, like the one I’ve been drinking lately, are available all year round. For reference there is a beer calendar on their website. As usual, I listed it below.

John named the Sofie Farmhouse Ale after his granddaughter. Something I would totally do too. Farmhouse Ale was originally made by farm owners in Belgium as an easy drinking summer beer for when farm hands needed a break in the middle of a hot day. Now you don’t have to bale hay and fix fence line to enjoy a Farmhouse. All you need is a cool beer store. The beer is aged in wine barrels with some fresh orange peels added. This gives the beer a distinct citrusy taste without being a fruit beer. You taste all the toasty malt and fresh hops and the orange is an afterthought. It is crisp and clean, refreshing and smooth. What a beer!
Sofie the beer is 6.5% ABV and 25 IBUs. Cheers!

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Beran California Zinfandel 2012

Something old, something new, something borrowed…I can’t think of anything blue about this wine. Oh! I’m blue because I only bought one bottle. Cue a sad Tom Waits tune. On the bright side, my wine shop carries Beran Zinfandel so I am never far from replenishment.

Something Old: They use some grapes from old vine plantings
Something New: They use some grapes from new growth vines.
Something Borrowed: A wealth of knowledge on how to produce wonderful Zin.

This Red Zinfandel falls under the umbrella of Copper Cane Wines. That includes Elouan Pinot Noir from Oregon and the California Red and White Blends of Carne Humana. The third label is what I happily sampled the other night, Beran Zinfandel. The winemakers have sourced Zin grapes from all the major viticulture areas in California to make up this tasty wine. Using old and new growth vines automatically makes it complex since they each impart different flavors. Something else that is characteristic of Zin grapes is that climate really affects what they taste like. This, of course, affects how the wine will taste. Hot climates tend to give the wines spiciness and dark fruit characteristics. Cooler climates give the wines a soft, blackberry jam taste. This wine is a perfect blend of the all of those things.

As you may well know, I’m impatient when it comes to opening a bottle of wine. I have to drink some right away even though it’s usually a good idea to let reds air out for a few minutes. It’s kind of like coffee. Take a sip right away and it won’t taste like much and it will scald your uvula. But if you let it sit for a few minutes, you can actually taste the flavors. Same with wine. Letting it aerate for a little bit will open up the flavors and you can taste a lot of subtle things you missed by gulping that first glass. What I tasted when I jumped the gun and sipped the freshly poured juice was a strong hit of oaky vanilla and dark berries with some pretty tight tannins. While it was good, I knew that if I was patient and waited, a whole world of smells and flavors would present themselves. And they did. The oak influence settled down and the fruit brightened up. There were all kinds of esters floating around reminding me of boysenberries, a hint of cranberry, and a rich blackberry tart. At the tail end of the mouthful, the typical peppery flavor showed itself. I was eating some grilled bratwurst and hot links when I had this Zin and it was quite enjoyable. If you like red wines at all, you should try Beran Zinfandel. It’s subtly complex without being complicated. Easy to drink. Easy to love. Cheers!

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