When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Beer Son

<div class=\"postavatar\">When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Beer Son</div>

If you asked me offhand, I would say that I would not like lemon zested beer. My fear, you see, would be that it would be like drinking Lemon Pledge. Somehow though, through the magic of I-don’t-know-what, local brewers hit the, er, lemon on the head with some tasty summertime brews.

I’ve had BeerTodd/Copper Canyon’s Summerzest was the first “lemon zesty” beer that I ever had. I can’t describe it to you in detail, as it’s been a long time since I’ve had it, but I think it was a Witbier and I know it had a zangy ginger/lemon taste to it.

Next, I had Clementine Lemon Thyme from Liberty Street. That was an amazing beer also, as the thyme addition balanced out a strong lemon taste. I checked the website, and it appears that this summertime regular is up and running at the pub.

Most recently, Boyfriend Ken and I stopped by Atwater in Detroit. I’d never been to Atwater, as I always seemed to go with they were closed. Indeed, we first swung by at about 2pm on Saturday and the place was deserted. So I asked my trust phone and learned they opened at 4pm. We amused ourselves at Edsel Ford’s estate (day-um, my man had some cool shit goin’ down there) and then headed back.

At first, we were all atwitter as to whether or not we were in the right place. You see, it looked like the brewery was open, but not the bar. Then we realized that the brewery was the bar. So we sort of tiptoed in (picture that user pic of the Kool-Aid man busting in and then realizing he just “OH YEAH”‘ed his way into a church and then backing out slowly? Just picture the backing out slowly, only backing in…you know what? Never mind) and quickly found out that we were in the right place.

We sat at the bar, as I like to do, and got a sampler. To Boyfriend Ken’s dismay, the Decadent Chocolate beer was not on tap, but we were delighted to discover something awesome: Summertime Ale. Again, this is a lemony beer, and again, it manages not to taste like Lemon Pledge. I am not sure of the base beer (I forgot to ask the bartender), but it is a light, “lawnmower” ale type beer with a strong up front taste of lemons and mellow finish. Low carbonation and would be perfect after a day in the sun. It is perfect during a day of cleaning your house with the a/c on, I can tell you from personal experience.

Like summer, these beers are fleeting so take the lemons that life gives you and MAKE BEER, SON (and daughter)!

Seriously? I can get paid for this?!

<div class=\"postavatar\">Seriously? I can get paid for this?!</div>

It sometimes amazes me that I get paid to do the job that I do. I love organizing and scheduling and it has that. I love working with kids and it has that. I love teaching teachers, community members and parents new ways of working with students with disabilities and God knows, it has lots of that! It’s not the perfect job, of course—that would be the $200,000 per year job where you sit on your ass, all day long, hang out with your friends and drink beer that does not make you get fat. The next best thing (other than my day job) is the job that I did this past Saturday night—a beer tasting!

My pal Tammy runs a popular business called Tammy’s Tastings. She got hired to run a beer tasting at a birthday party and, smart woman that she is, hired me to be her wingwoman. I must confess to being a little nervous before the party: what if someone asked me something I didn’t know the answer to? What if someone heckled us? What if I spilled beer all over? What if the ghost of Samuel Adams danced in, waving firecrackers at us?! What if what if what?!?!

But it was all good.  No hecklers, no spillages, no ghosts of brewers past—just some rockin’ ales. The birthday girl preferred Belgians and the party thrower preferred pale ales, so Tammy and I tried for the best of both worlds. We did a blind taste test wherein people tasted the eight samples at their leisure, followed by a “grand reveal” by us.

We started with Sam Smith’s English Pale Ale, a beer I felt best exemplified the English pale ale style. It got a lukewarm reaction from the crowd (only three self-identified as beer geeks). I found it a bit more plain than I remembered it, and had to remind myself that it is an English pale and I shouldn’t expect the bam of a, well, of a Bam.

The American Pale Ale was represented by Great Lakes Burning River. This batch seemed hoppier than usual, and so a lot of folks guessed that it was an IPA. Nevertheless, a lot of people seemed to like it.

I have to confess that I haven’t had a lot of English IPAs in my day, so I took Beer Advocate’s recommendation and got the St. Peters IPA. Wow! Am I glad that I did! This beer was my personal “find” of the night. It had almost an earthy, smoky quality to it, rounded out by those wonderful bitter hops. Quite a few people picked this as their personal favorite.

Our American IPA had to be Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA. I got to give a spiel about the 75, 90 and 120 minute IPAs and I think I impressed a few souls, if I do say so myself.

Next up, we featured our Belgium beers: Duval, Delirium Tremens and the Franco-Belgian beer from our own Jolly Pumpkin, Oro de Calabaza. I have actually never had the first two beers, as I am not a huge Belgian fan. I was very fond of the “pink elephant” beer—nice and strong, but easy drinking. Reactions were decidedly mixed on the two “true” Belgian beers…some folks immediately recognized that they were not fans and others were just the opposite.

The biggest surprise for me was the strong, mostly negative, reaction to the Jolly Pumpkin. One of the categories on their informal score sheets was “Blech”; I was completely floored by the number of people who said that they thought the beer was even worse than that. People in the crowd were similarly floored when I announced all of the awards that Jolly Pumpkin generally and that beer specifically had won. Perhaps it is an acquired taste?

Our final beer was our “wild card” and it was met with a strong reaction of mostly positive reviews. It is one of my favorite beers and comes from a lovely brewery in Grand Rapids. Its label has an old man on it and it is 6.6% ABV. If you guessed Red’s Rye, then you are correct, my child. A lot of people said that this was their favorite beer of the night.

The whole experience was awesome for me, especially when I heard people at their tables talking about the beer. I heard words like “banana”, “earthy”, “balanced”, “bitter”, “nose”, “head” and all sorts of words that I would not expect from a non-beer geek group. It truly made my heart soar like a hawk, as my creepy 10th grade Social Studies teacher used to say.

So if you need a beer tasting at your next party–or if you just think Tammy & I would be fun to party with (we are)–you know what to do! 🙂

Upcoming WINter Beer Fest = WIN!

We are the Great Beer State. With brewpubs opening to packed houses and awesome movies like this, it should come as no surprise that we are seeing an increase in beer festivals. This winter alone, you have your choice of festivals in Grand Rapids, Jackson or Westborn Market’s 3rd Annual Beer Fest.

This Saturday, January 28, will see the Royal Oak Music Theater transformed into a big ol’ beer fest featuring over 80 beers from around the state, nation and planet. Over ten new beers will have their own malt-tastic “debutante coming out” party at the fest. What I think is extra cool about this fest is that it benefits Camp Casey, which is a horseback riding campe for kids with cancer. Seriously, could it BE any more win-win??

Speaking of win, check out some of the brewpubs that will be in attendance: Arbor Brewing, Arcadia, New Holland, Brewery Vivant and Dark Horse. !!!! In addition to the beers, there will be local vendors including Chuck & Dave’s Salsa, which will feature beer-inspired food samples. More win!

So what precipitated this event? Well, straight from the horse’s mouth (i.e. Jason Dristan – Beer Fest Co-Founder), “We recognized Metro Detroit did not have a true Beer Fest during the Winter and wanted to fill that void.  This is the third year we have scheduled it the weekend between the NFL Championships and the Super Bowl.  It is the perfect answer to cure the ‘winter blues’.”  Yes, yes it is!

The event starts at 8pm and goes until midnight. The ceremonial keg tapping will be at 9pm and feature representatives from Camp Casey, Westborn Market and the city of Royal Oak. They will tap a special Michigan Brewing Company Winter Cask Ale.
Tickets are $35 in advance or $40 at the door. You will get 25 beer samples, you will help out a great cause and you will satisfy your palate. Did someone say something about WIN…?

Here are some picture of last year’s festival. Because these pictures are awesome, you should by now know that they were most certainly not taken by me! (Thanks to Dana from On the Rocks Detroit!)

B.Nektar + Pasta = Yum (no organic goats necessary)

<div class=\"postavatar\">B.Nektar + Pasta = Yum (no organic goats necessary)</div>

Why certain retail businesses fail and while others succeed has long intrigued me. Ann Arbor, especially, intrigues me to no end. I have gone to some wonderful places only to see them close (I still mourn Pelagos), yet it seems people will pay $30 for a piece of lettuce in other places. I mean, sure, the lettuce was pooped out by a goat wearing an organic headdress made of hemp and singing harmonies, but still, it’s a piece of $#&!^ lettuce!!!   As someone who can most definitely not afford $50 for a small plate of food, I am always on the look out for good meals for less than my hourly wage. If I can pair that food with a nice beer, all the better.

So lucky for me that I discovered Piatto Di Pasta in the southeastern part of town. Nestled in the plaza on the corner of Stone School & Ellsworth, this is an awesome Italian restaurant/take out place. A friend had recommended it and so I decided to incorporate it into my next beer pairing article. The bad news is that I had only porters in my refrigerator and, to my palate anyway, porters and Italian food don’t go that well together. Luckily, I had bought a B.Nektar Zombie Killer Cherry Cyster from Made in Michigan last week and even luckier was how well the tastes went together!

First, the food! I got two entrees, which included bread, salad (or soup) and your choice of meat, noodles and sauce. I got the penne pasta, traditional sauce and meatballs for myself and the cheese ravioli, spicy sauce and chicken for Boyfriend Ken. ZOMG—that is a clove of garlic that you see in that meatball. Yes, a clove of garlic. I ate and ate and still couldn’t finish all of the pasta (if you have ever seen my rather expansive thighs, you will know that I can eat). While waiting for Boyfriend Ken to get home, I liberated some of the ravioli from his plate. Hands down, the best I have ever eaten and in fact, I was kind of hoping he’d work late and leave all the pasta for me 🙂

See? It’s a clove of garlic! That clove is now somewhere in my stomach, awaiting further digestion.

Now the Cyser, as I said, went very well with the pasta and meat. This cider is amazing! It is basically apple cider with honey and cherries…but so much more! It’s much lighter than a mead, yet not as heavy as, say, a red wine. The honey flavor is light and adds a crispness to it, while the cherries round out the tart finish. Since Italian food is somewhat heavy, this was the perfect drink to balance it out. (A porter beer, for instance, would have just made the meal too heavy).

One of the best labels, period.

So give Piatto Di Pasta & Zombie Killer a try, individually or together. The food is locally sourced when possible and organic and the “cyser” is too…and they won’t break the bank! And no organic goats were necessary, either!

Bleu Cheese Throwdown: IPA vs. Stout

<div class=\"postavatar\">Bleu Cheese Throwdown: IPA vs. Stout</div>

I attended a very fun birthday party this past weekend. Because the host and hostess are awesome, they had two kegs of beer on tap: Dark Horse’s Crooked Tree and Saugatuck’s Neapolitan Stout. Both beers are fantastic; I have had Crooked Tree a bunch of times, but the stout was new to me. Might have drank a few of those.

At some point, my friends and I started consuming rather large quantities of bleu cheese. As my friend pointed out–“Bleu cheese takes like blue” and in fact, it do! (It rhymes; sue me). So the question became, “Which beer pairs best with this cheese?”

The IPA definitely had an edge. The sharp, bitter hoppiness complimented the “blue” tangy taste of bleu cheese. Crooked Tree is crisp and has, to me anyway, a nice dry finish. This finish seemed to go well with the moist texture of the “blue” tasting cheese.

My friends kind of dismissed the stout out of hand, but I think there is something to be said for it. As the name implies, it has chocolate, vanilla beans and strawberries like its namesake ice cream. Because it is a milk stout, it is creamier than many other stouts, and not as dry. I found this creaminess to be a nice compliment to the bleu cheese. It might have been a touch too much dairy for some, but I liked the sharp cheese and smooth beer combination.

Have you tried these beers with cheese? Am I off my rocker? What are some other good beers to pair with bleu cheese?

Porter vs. Porter

<div class=\"postavatar\">Porter vs. Porter</div>

So where was I? I know, amigos, it’s been a hot minute. I’m one of those
people who either has nothing going on, or a million things going on and
I’m afraid it’s been the latter these past few months. I’ve been
drinking my fair share of fine, malted beverages, but haven’t had the
room to report upon them.

Fortunately, things appear to be settling down.  Therefore, here I am!
The most recent beers in my mug were at an Ale Dinner party that I went
to last night. We had five lovely courses, each paired with an equally
lovely beer. My course was dessert, and so I made my tried and true
flourless chocolate cake (always a hit at the Seders). I brought with me
some Bell’s Porter. The party also featured Founders’ Porter (paired
with the roast beef–nice!), and so I decided to do a side-by-side
comparison of the two.

Founders’ Porter – this is a rich, smooth beer. It’s about as perfect of
a porter as I could ask for.  It has chocolate notes to it, a hit of
coffee, and is balanced by the bittering hops.  Having said that though,
it was not (for me anyway) perfect for the cake.  I am not a huge
chocolate fan, and it was just too much. This porter went much better
with the roast beef.

Bell’s Porter – This is also a fine example of a porter. I found it not
as chocolately or coffee-y (?). The dark malts balanced with the hops, a
little more on the bitter side than the malty side. In this way, it made
a much better match with the chocolate cake, as I didn’t feel an
overload. The slight bitter taste balanced the sweet deliciousness of my

So there you have it! Two great porters that pair better with different courses. Looking forward  to more, as winter slowly creeps in.

On a personal note, I want to thank my friends Kevin & Jnaz for their infinite patience with me these past few months. I’m glad to be back!

A Visit to Brewery Vivant

<div class=\"postavatar\">A Visit to Brewery Vivant</div>

Surely, if I ever walked into a church, the very foundation would crumble. Brewery Vivant certainly looked like an old church, yet the foundation…she remained standing. Come to find out, it is actually an old funeral home and the brewery is in the stable where the horses used to be kept (how cool is THAT?!). Okay, that makes more sense! The world can keep turning.

As it turns, you should consider a trip out to Grand Rapids and check out this very unique brewpub. Focusing on Belgian beers and sustainably, the brewpub features some amazing beer and food. Jeff & I were lucky enough to visit Brewery Vivant twice in about two weeks. On the second trip, we had snacks which included something absolutely amazing…deep fried avocado. Again, I ask: how cool is THAT?! We also had pomme frites which I think are just kind of like French fries but full of AWESOME! They also have deviled eggs and bacon peanut brittle (which I did not eat because I do not eat pork but again…AWESOME).

Oh, and the beer is pretty darn good too! Here are my stand outs:

Farmhand Ale: They made this beer with raw, unmalted grains like old farmhouse ales. A quick aside–back in the Day, farms used to brew their own beer to keep their farmhands happy. Also, recall, water was pretty crappy (Ha ha!) and beer was often much safer to drink. But you didn’t want Farmhand Fred getting wasted and, um, fertilizing the crops (if you know what I mean), so you kept the farmhouse ale pretty low in alcohol. This lighter beer was to style and would have kept Farmhand TeacherPatti really happy.

Solitude Belgian Amber Ale: this was a very malty beer, almost bock like, with hints of caramel and raisin. (Not lying, I could really taste those things!)

Triomphe IPA: Nice Belgian yeast gives this beer a slightly sweet flavor, but then it hits you with American (i.e. citrusy hops). I wouldn’t have thought these two tastes would go together, but they did. Kind of like Reeses Peanut Butter Cups! (Hey, you got your Belgian yeast in my American hops! You got your American hops in my Belgian yeast! And on it goes).

Big Red Coq: Why yes, you do pronounce that third word the way your dirty little mind thinks! And yes, I did belly up to the bar and order it like that, but I was kind enough to comment that I’m sure they’ve heard that about a million times and I’m sure people have said “I’m sure you’ve heard that a million times” a million times! Me, I am quite savvy. That’s how I roll. A hoppy red beer, it provides lots of citrusy tastes (I got pineapple) without losing its essential Belgianness (is that a word? It is now)

Brewery Vivant is one of the many brewpubs that is now canning. Ain’t gonna lie–canning beer still does not thrill me. I can’t drink pop out of a can because of the “can” taste, and I haven’t loved the canned beers I’ve had. I am, however, very anxious to try their stuff because it is SO good that I have to think it will overcome the “can” taste.

This is a beautiful place in a lovely area of Grand Rapids. It also uses something quite cool…something called conpoto.com. You see, this allows you to buy your friend a drink, and it will be waiting for them when they show up. Brewery Vivant, in fact, has a board that lists names of people who are receiving their free drink. I don’t mean to be bossy–as I know I can sometimes be–but I’d really love to see some local establishments partake of this and I’d REALLY love to see my name on that board at said local establishments! Come on! I took a huge pay cut at my job and teachers need to drink, too! Just sayin!

Side Trip to Odd Side Ales

In our brewpub travels, Jeff and I have long since learned to trust our brewer friends on where to go.  So, when we were about to head to the western side of the state, we solicited advice on that great magic board known as the Facebook.  Sure enough, one of our pals suggested skipping XYZ (I’ll never tell) brewpub in favor of Odd Side Ales, located in Grand Haven. It was a touch out of our way, but we made it work.

It took us a minute, even with my Smart Phone—you should SEE what MY phone can do!!!!—to find the place.  For future reference, it is in a cute little shopping center (think: Kerrytownish) in the downtown area of Grand Haven.  The brewpub is charming, with lots of dark wood with cool grains under glass accents.  (Seriously, there are grain patterns under glass…really neat).  There were board games to play, but sadly no Roll a Role (my all time favorite bar game, and one that Jeff refused to play. I would have to take people to the Corner and then coerce them into playing.  And then one day, the game disappeared.  And it was sad) and plenty of good beer to drink.  Here are my favorites:

Derelict:  This was a pineapple IPA which is one of those things that, in my opinion, could have gone horribly, horribly wrong.  I like those little cans of pineapple juice that my mom used to put in my lunch, but I’m not a huge fan. Happily, this beer came out nice…good balance between citrusy hops and the pineapple.

Hoppy Peppercorn pale ale:  The nose was all pepper and heavenly.  Nicely balanced between hops and peppercorn.  This might be a good beer to try if you are interested in pepper beers but haven’t had many (or any) previously.  Your gateway pepper, if you will.

Cherry Baby:  This Belgian wheat was brewed with Michigan cherries.  Definitely more cherries than wheat and would make a lovely dessert beer.

Peanut Butter Cup Stout:  This was far and away my favorite beer of the day (next to the peppercorn pale ale).  Again, this is a beer that could have been done very poorly but came out very well.  There was more peanut butter than chocolate which was great for me because I like peanut butter more than chocolate.  Not too heavy, even for a hot August day, with a nice peanut finish.

The brewpub is about 16 months old and seems to be willing to experiment, which I find very admirable.  A quick peek at the website shows that some of the beers currently on tap differ from the ones we had less than a month ago.  This willingness to experiment and try different flavors has served many a brewpub well and I trust it will do the same for Odd Side.  So next time you’re traveling, take a clue from your brewer friends and consider making a “side” trip that might seem “odd” but will end up being awesome. (See what I did there? Masterful.)


Who Drinks Short’s Short’s?

Why yes, that IS a reference to the lovely Nair commercial of the 70s.  (Yeah I know that’s not spot on…’tis the best I can do).

Most craft beer enthusiasts are very familiar with Short’s Brewing Company, up in Bellaire.  When Jeff & I went up there a few years ago, several locals told us that the brewpub was responsible for increasing tourism.  For example, people will drive from several states away for a Short’s beer release. This of course translates into money for hotel rooms, money for other restaurants and so on.  That is one way to revive this economy and I wish it would happen in every city.

For those of us who can’t get up north, we thankfully have a pub like Ashley’s that frequently features beer releases.  This past Thursday found a special release of Short’s beers.  Some of the beers were old favorites of ours, like Bellaire Brown, Key Lime Pie & Huma-Lupa-Licious (available in six packs) and Joyous Almondo (which I had the Winter Beer Fest).  The new beers that we sampled were:

Kolsch 45: Like any good Kolsch, this beer was light bodied and the color of straw.  The nose was bready & yeasty.  The beer itself was crisp and refreshing…perfect for a warm summer day.

Prolonged Enjoyment:  I had no idea what to expect of this beer when I read the name of it. I am happy to say that it was excellent and indeed, I did enjoy it for a prolonged period of time! (See what I did there? Masterful).  The pale ale is made with American hops, so there is an immediate hit of citrus in both the nose and taste.  The finish is dry with a nice hit of pine (not air freshener pine, which is certainly a taste I have detected in lesser beers). Delicious!

Crunchy Grooves:  Again, I had no idea what to expect just from the name of this beer.  Again, I was not disappointed.  The “crunchy” name comes from (I presume) the fact that it is made with all organic ingredients.  Organic or not, this pilsner is all liquid bread and outstanding.  The nose is yeasty and bready with a satisfying finish.

Rye Not:  I am a huge fan of RyePAs (IPAs that include rye in them) and this was definitely up there with my all time favorite, Founders’ Red’s Rye.  Crisp, bitter, hoppy and delicious!
Richard in the Dirt Belgian Trippel:  This was my surprise of the evening. Normally, trippels are a bit too much for a sensitive girl like me; however, this one was smooth and not too sweet.  Lots of orange in the nose and taste, zesty, like liquid beer candy!

Other beers that were available and might still be on tap were Adia’s Ale (ale with strawberries and kiwi…I don’t like kiwi so I didn’t try it), Agave Peach Wheat and Bananarama (banana rum inspired beer).  Run to Ashley’s like your pants on fire and you might be able to catch some of these delicious beers before the taps are SHORT! Get it??? (licks finger, touches self, waits for sizzle).