Sunday, December 19, 2010

Bottled Michigan: Short's Good Humans Dry Hopped Brown Ale

Beer trends are hard to track. My most trustworthy sources are the brewers themselves; I'm not able to find published data of Michigan beer shipping broken down by style, so in no way can I be sure that IPAs are the most popular current style of craft ales, with sour beers enjoying some major momentum.  I can't be sure, but that's what I've been told by several brewers, and it makes sense anecdotally.  IPAs are huge (even in the frozen December, when my palate turns to browns and stouts to protect me from the wicked cold), and sour ales are becoming ever more available.  Belgian style beers seem to be riding a wave of popularity as well, no doubt bolstered by Jolly Pumpkin all-sour ale brewery.

The problem, as I alluded to above, is that I have no real desire to drink a hop coated masterpiece in the dead of winter. I do not want the flirtatious scent of banana and clove curled up with me around the fire as the snow pelts the windows and the flames stubbornly chase the shadows into the flickering corners. I want chocolate, and vanilla, and bourbon soaked vanilla beans. I want malt, front and center, sweet and cloying and complex and toasted. I want a beer thick enough that it obscures the fire when I hold it to the light, and a beer with enough alcohol to warm the throat as it goes down. Find me a brewer who can bring me the best of both worlds, someone who could bring the light and refreshing hops flavor and blend it with a warm and inviting brown ale, and that would be a good human indeed.

THIS is what should be trending now. Short's Good Humans ale is a dry hopped brown ale; it smells like an IPA, pours like a brown, and sips like both of them. It has enough hops to impart a refreshing piney scent, and the beer does not feel as heavy or full as a traditional brown ale might. The hops are piney, not citrus, and impart a feeling of crisp snow perched on evergreen trees rather than honeybees grazing on flowers in the backyard.

Behind the hops lie the exact type of beer I would pick for winter – the malt is sweet and caramel, rich and smooth, not toasted but balanced and unassuming. This is a beer I immediately regretted only buying 2 of when Laura and I picked them up to try them.

Short's Good Humans dry hopped brown supplies everything I like about winter with a refreshing kick to remind me that this season won't last forever. If I could pick any type of beer to be trending, it would be the “dry hopped brown ale” category.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sacred Cow Shrimp Tacos

Tacos and Beer: A Love Story

This past week has been really cold.  I mean really, REALLY (expletive) cold.  And seeing as though it's only the middle of December, sadly, it's only going to get colder.  Honestly, I’ve already shifted into hyper-hibernation mode, seeking out comfort food in preparation of the inevitable coming months of Snowmageddon imprisonment.  But for some reason last week, I got a hankering for some delicious tacos.. probably because I really just wanted to forget about how cold it was and how hard it was snowing.  To me tacos scream summer time.   Perhaps it's all of the bright flavors or the fact that they go so well with an ice cold IPA.  Either way, these shrimp tacos are definitely the perfect dinner for summer (or closing the blinds and pretending it's still summer!). They are quick, easy, and light. They also showcase some of my favorite flavors: chipotle, cilantro, and lime.

The combination of spices in this recipe may make the shrimp a little spicy, but the coolness of the cilantro-orange beer sauce balances out the flavor nicely. If you do want to tone it down a little bit, you can omit the seeds from the chipotle chiles or cut the number of chiles used in half.

So here it is, for your stomach's pleasure... 

1.5-2 pounds raw large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 bottle (12 oz) Arbor Brewing Sacred Cow IPA
6 large cloves garlic, peeled and smashed with side of knife
1/4 tsp salt
3 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, minced (and seeded if you don't want your tacos too spicy), plus 1 Tbsp adobo sauce
1/3 cup light mayonnaise
2 tablespoons chili sauce
2 tablespoons minced red onion
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 tablespoon orange juice
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Garnish: finely shredded iceberg lettuce, diced avocado, minced red onion, cilantro leaves

Place shrimp in large, deep skillet in a single layer; add beer, garlic and salt. Turn heat to medium. Slowly poach shrimp about 4-5 minutes, turning shrimp about halfway through, until just cooked through (beer will just be approaching a simmer at this point). The cooking time may need to be adjusted, depending on what size shrimp you use.  DO NOT overcook them, though, because they get rubbery and disgusting.  Remove shrimp with slotted spoon to bowl and cool. Bring beer and garlic to a boil; boil 8 minutes, or until reduced to 3 Tbsp, skimming surface once or twice. Strain liquid into a bowl to remove all the leftover shrimp gunk, and then add the garlic back in, mash the garlic and let the sauce cool.

Add chiles, adobo sauce, mayonnaise, chili sauce, red onion, orange zest and juice, and chopped cilantro to beer mixture; whisk dressing until blended.

Add shrimp to dressing; toss to coat.  You can make and refrigerate everything up until this point a day or two ahead of time.  

To serve, top tortillas with shredded lettuce and shrimp mixture. Garnish with diced avocado, onion, and cilantro.

Shrimp tacos.  People either love them or hate them.  But the people that hate them have never tried them.  Go figure.  Just let me say that they aren't what you think, and you should give them a chance.  I even made a believer out of Seth with this recipe!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Schmohz Brewery -- Ladies Ale Society Beer Tasting Event

Nearly 35 women packed into the brewing facility at Schmohz Brewing Company in Grand Rapids, MI on November 6th.  Around picnic tables and folding chairs, they chatted and nibbled from appetizer and cheese plates as servers poured 15 different samples of the beers available at the pub.

Chas Thompson

"Swirl it around, smell it, and then take the first sip," Chas Thompson, the brewer and leader of the evening's tasting event instructed us.

Yet another wine tasting?  Hardly. The participants were sampling the first delicious brew of the evening: the golden and sweet Valley City Cream Ale. That's right -- beer tasting.  And it was just for us women.

(These two photos courtesy of The Great American Brew Trail)

It should not come as a surprise when I say women are a growing presence in the beer industry, in everything from brewing it to judging it to simply drinking it.  In July, a Gallup poll found that 27 percent of women prefer beer over wine or liquor, up 7 percentage points from 2007.  And while many women have always enjoyed beer, until recent years, they weren't really coming together to talk about it.  Maybe it's because there tends to be a stigma with beer that you have to be manly and drive a big truck in order to drink it, but events like this bring women together and prevent them from feeling inhibited by their boyfriends or husbands.  

Since we're on the subject of women and the beverage has gained in popularity among women, many have gotten into brewing, helping to bring even more flavors and combinations to the table. Beer is now scented with coriander or cardamom, tastes like white chocolate, or has notes of vanilla, raspberry, or pumpkin.  It helps that women's palates are supposedly more advanced; a recent Wall Street Journal article about studies done at British beer producer SABMiller found that women are more sensitive to the flavors in beer.  Their research shows that women are the superior sex when it comes to detecting such undesirable chemicals as 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol, which makes beer taste "skunky."    Because of this, the company's number of female advanced-level tasters has quadrupled in 10 years, now comprising 30 percent of their 1,000 advanced beer tasters, even though men account for 72.8 percent of the world's beer sales.  Tasters also help brewers decide how long their beers will stay fresh on store shelves, and what new products to introduce.  

While beer tasting events can be found at other breweries and brewpubs, making the meetings the exclusive domain of women does much to change the dynamic of what would otherwise be a male-dominated topic.  The most obvious difference?  There was a lot less ego.  Sorry guys, but women aren’t as comfortable asking questions with you around, and at this event, we could ask questions and get our curiosities satisfied without feeling frowned upon. The evening's topics drilled down into specific styles, ingredients, and techniques used in brewing beer.  Whether pairing three versions of a given style of beer or talking about what different varieties of hops bring to the party, the focus remained on the educational aspect: teaching women about beer, its ingredients, and the vocabulary of the pallet.  Chas even passed around some two-row barley, chocolate malted barley, and hop pellets to smell, touch, and taste.  Mmm...barley.

I will not bore you with my thoughts on each of the 15 beers we sampled that evening (especially since we have yet to write up a brewery experience on Schmohz), but I will highlight the stars of the evening for me:

The Oktoberfest: a wonderful dark harvest ale brewed with chocolate malt, which poured a deep brown with a very bright maltiness coupled nicely with a rich wheatiness in the nose.  The flavor was a perfect mix of both its inherent malt body and the semi-sweet wheatiness of the style -- a crisp nuttiness that matched the deep malts perfectly.  Pairing this with food seems like a given, since it practically tastes like you could (and should!) turn it into bread and slather it with butter. Good stuff.

The Zingiberene Ale:  brewed as a gruit using only water, malted barley, ginger root, and yeast.  The color was sort of a cloudy tan-brown color (think cloudy apple cider), with a light body and lots of carbonation.  The aroma was fantastic: ginger (lots of it, as promised), toasted malt, and maybe even a little banana and sour apple.  The taste was absolutely loaded with ginger -- a little tart at first, then reminded me a lot of the pickled ginger you get with sushi, and then finished completely clean, dry, and refreshing.  Very unique and a must-try if you like the taste of ginger.  

The Pickle Tink Ale:  a strawberry wheat ale, perfect for a some light, fun drinking on a warm summer day.  A hazy, yellow body topped with a thin, fizzy white head.  The taste and aroma were light and sweet, with very slight hops and fresh strawberries.  Very sessionable, and a great beer for the beginner or "non-beer drinker".

Last, but certainly not least, the Barley Wine.  Oh, what a way to end the evening.  At 14.5% ABV, this one packs a major punch, and I was glad I had my DD standing by after ending the night with this one.  Very complex hop tones, with hints of citrus and plum flavors.  "Crafted from unbelievable amounts of barley and hops", this is one I can see myself enjoying more of (slowly, and in moderation, of course) while sitting by the fire on a cold winter day.

My lovely drinking companions, Danielle and Jessica

So, whether you're new to the beer drinking scene or you've been a regular at Schmohz since they opened in 2004, the next Ladies Ale Society beer tasting event is something you should be sure not to miss!   Thanks to Chas for keeping it fun, laid back, and informative, and for recognizing the growing interest in an event like this in our area!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


For a few years now, Grand Rapids has been home to Hopcat, a brewpub focused on bringing everything I want to the city in which I live. They are a bar focused on Michigan beer that also offers a spectacular selection of American and international beers. They have a robust and ever rotating tap selection. To my knowledge, nowhere in Grand Rapids is there a superior draft selection, and very few competitors even come close. I have yet to discuss beer with a Hopcat employee who was not intimately familiar with the art of crafting and drinking fine beer. And to top it all off, they have a friendly, knowledgeable, and very original crew manning their own brewing facility right on site.

Crack fries.

Laura and I arrived on site around two in the afternoon on a weekday. The sun, realizing that it could pretty much phone in any day it wants in the month of December, elected not to show up. A lazy drizzle instead greeted us, determined to make sure “outside” was much less pleasant than “inside.” Hopcat was not yet crowded, and we had some time to speak with Jake and Jeff, the Hopcat brewers.

The Brewing Facility

Hopcat's brewing facility is not large – in fact quite small by some standards. The mash tun and the boiler are both displayed in their shiny glory up on the main floor of Hopcat. We were fortunate enough to catch Jeff and Jake just as they were bringing their newest beer – coincidentally, a porter – up to a boil. The primitive flavors of grain and sugar emanating from the nascent beer were heady and delightful; it's not often in our travels that we catch brewers at this moment in the process, and it's really interesting to see the very beginnings of turning malt and water into yeast-food.

Crack fries. 

Downstairs, Jeff and Jake talked shop with us regarding their opinions on beer, from the market as it is to where they see it going. They showed us their Holiday Spice ale in the Brite tank, a complex and very original beer brewed with vanilla beans soaked in Maker's Mark bourbon, that sported nutmeg and eggnog flavors that inexplicably delivered hints of banana bread. I've had one other banana bread beer in my life and Hopcat's holiday ale was superior. Jeff and Jake mentioned their plan to put this beer on nitrogen, making for a smooth, creamy beer available in the coming weeks that I certainly won't be missing (and you shouldn't either).

Hopcat's brewers both started by home brewing, and have less experience that one might assume, given their spectacular products and imaginative recipes; each had under two years before Mark Sellers, the current owner of Hopcat (in addition to three other very popular Grand Rapids icons), chose them to man his brewpub. They share my belief that, with breweries like Jolly Pumpkin leading the way, sour ales will gain in popularity as the craft beer market matures in the midwest. (They even let us in on the fact that they have a sour ale aging right now, which will be ready in mid 2011!) Like many of our readers, their preferred breweries (when they are not at their own, of course) include some of the Michigan staples – Arcadia Brewing, Bell's Brewing, and Founder's.`

The bottom line? Hopcat's brewers are hard working, friendly, knowledgeable, and very imaginative; the next time you're in the third best beer bar in the world, make sure you say hi to Jeff and Jake; it's their hard work you're enjoying, after all. And speaking of their hard work...

The Beer

Hopcat is listed with the state of Michigan as a brewpub. This means that they can brew and sell their own beer on site as well as sell the alcoholic products of other companies. They cannot, however, distribute their wares. That means that while Hopcat has the flexibility to offer a huge selection of beer (and spirits) not made on site, one cannot find their products at local specialty shops. That said, I want to focus on the creations of the brewers at Hopcat. If you want to hear a rundown of their other selections, there are other resources available.

Laura and I started with their Viener Lager, Hopcat's take on a Vienna lager, with extra innuendo free of charge. The smell was sweeter than I anticipated, with pronounced notes of grain. The taste, however, was dryer than the smell let on, letting the hops subdue some of the sweet caramel found in the nose. This is a superb beer and it's obvious why Hopcat has taken to keeping it available regularly.

Crack fries!

Second up was the Black Mamba, a schwarzbier that certainly doesn't mess around. This ended up being Laura's favorite beer today, with a bold, toasted, whole grain flavor. In fact I described it as tasting like whole grain toast. I wanted there to be some more sweet to balance out the roasted flavor, but Laura thought it was perfect the way it was.

My personal favorite beer of the day was, by far, the Dictator Stout. Created as an homage to Cuban coffee, the Dictator Breakfast Stout smells strong, almost abusively so. However, a cuban coffee is a smooth, sweet espresso served with a twist of lemon; there is not really anything heavy or plodding about it. It would not be fair to make its beer namesake the same tired, old, heavy stout. The Dictator, thankfully smooth and creamy on the nitro, is not a tired, heavy beer. The lighter abv (only 4.8%) keeps it easy to drink, while the citrus twist keeps the coffee and sugar falvors in check. This has become my favorite coffee stout and one of my favorite beers ever.

Finally, we ended with Hopcat's popular Hoppapotamus, a light and balanced APA. I've had earlier iterations of the Hoppapotamus before and Jeff and Jake have really matured the beer into something I very much enjoy. The hops impart citrus with grapefruit, but surprisingly there's some complexity in the smell, with malt notes lingering. The taste, playing on the smell, is malty with sweet grapefruit and a salty hop finish.

The Food

Crack fri..


Michigan is very lucky in that its brewpubs double in culinary excellence. Short's has one of the best sandwiches I've ever had. The Walldorff has arguably the best pizza in Michigan. The Vierling has a perfectly grilled whitefish pulled right out of Lake Superior. Hopcat has crack fries. If you go to any internet review site – Yelp, Urban Spoon, Foursquare, Google Reviews – you will see that about half of the people leaving comments are begging you to try the crack fries.

I'll go ahead and let you know that this is not really a tough choice to make. Crack fries are perfectly crispy, perfectly seasoned, perfectly spicy potatoes sliced, beer battered, and fried to perfection. I've been eating them for close to a year now and I have never had a bad batch. To be honest, this is where I usually insert a picture of the mouth watering food, but...I ate them too quick to take a picture. Sorry folks.

The rest of their menu is quite good; I had their burger, which, while simple, was perfectly cooked (I like my ground beef to be pink in the middle, and many restaurants tend to second guess me when I ask for that) and complimented the beer quite well. Their entire appetizer menu is worth a shot; the beerbar cheese is an excellent cold cheese spread (sorry, Founder's, way better than yours) served with staunch fried pita slices that stand up well to the firm cheese. Their mini corn dogs taste better than any fair corn dog I've had, and the choice of horseradish mustard is always a wise choice.

The Hopcat represents a new vision in entertainment for the city; it's a place designed by and for craft beer lovers, offering up locally brewed selections next to favorites from around the state, country and world. It offers an impressive collection of spirits and even a “lawnmower beer” for that “What's the lightest beer you have?” friend who just can't take a craft beer. It serves these beers in a comfortable, laid back environment complete with knowledgeable staff and delicious food. There's no surprise that I consider this a 500 mile brewery; well worth the trip from anywhere in Michigan and easily the most fun place to hang out in the city. Thank you Jeff Williams and Jake Brenner for your originality in your brewing creations and your hospitality, and thank you to Mark Sellers for bringing such a place to Grand Rapids.

To view all photos from our experience at HopCat, please visit our Facebook page.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Bottled Michigan: Short's Bloody Beer

Short's likes to keep things fresh. Everyone knows and loves their staple beers, but it is their new and experimental tastes that have made a name for the little brewery in the north. The most recent beer I tried is not for everyone: the Bloody Beer.

The beer pours a strong red-copper, with a whole lot of haziness going on. I'm convinced that the haziness, which is thick with small particles that suspend without moving in the copper fluid, are actually pieces of tomato. (this is probably not true.)  The head is thin and off white, colored slightly by the copper hue of the beer itself.

Have you ever had a bloody mary before? Not one of those fruity citrus flavored bloody marys, or one of those “came from a jar behind the bar” bloody marys, but a full blown bloody mary with fresh tomato juice, ground black pepper, and a hint of pickle? If you have, then I probably don't need to explain how the Short's Bloody beer smells. The sweet tanginess of the tomato hits the nose first, followed by a sharp pepper smell that lets you know it hasn't just gone bad.

The flavor is confusing and unique; this certainly isn't a beer for everyone. The tomato and pepper flavors are pronounced, and flow to the back of the throat smoothly. This is a very smooth textured beer, which is balanced out by the pepper flavor. It really does taste like a thick bloody mary with a solid beer kick. If you dumped your sidecar into the last half of your Sunday nooner, it might taste very similar to this beer.

(Others may point out that another beverage, Chelada, already fills this niche. I have never had Chelada, so I cannot comment. But yeah, that sounds about right.)

The beer stands out as as a real winner for me, but I can see where it may have polarizing effects. If the thought of pepper beers revolt you, or the thought of tangy tomato in your beer revolts you, maybe don't try this. However, this beer has a lot in common with Short's Nicie Spicie beer, but tangy/spicy instead of sweet/spicy. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes bloody marys.  

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Vicious Doughnut Balls

Recently, I resolved to set aside a lifelong fear of deep frying at home to try making my own doughnuts.  My favorite type are yeast-raised and glazed, and rarely do I stray from that standard when visiting a local doughnut shop.  But after deciding to make my own at home, I thought it would be best to start with a simple cake doughnut on my first go-round (or I guess I should say the second half of it).  And while the “Hot Now” sign at Krispy-Kreme may make your heart flutter, I’m telling you that nothing compares to a doughnut fried up in your own kitchen.  

Although I expected the frying to be the challenging part of this process, a thermometer made it simple as can be.  It doesn't look promising in its raw state, but as soon as you slip a little ball of the sticky dough into hot oil it sinks to the bottom, puffs up, and develops brown blisters on top.  When you flip the cake halfway through cooking, its glorious brown belly confirms that you are in fact making a perfect cake doughnut in your own kitchen.  Minutes later, it sits on your cooling rack, demurely powdered and seemingly innocent of the oily fug that has settled over the room.

Although this was my first time making them, I’m beginning to think that these light and crispy doughnuts are going to become a fall tradition around here.   They would be perfect served warm on a crisp autumn morning with a hot cup of coffee, but I brought mine to share with friends at a Halloween party.  Judging by how many were consumed, I guarantee that a platter of these freshly fried doughnuts will be welcomed with truly gratifying enthusiasm...if your friends and relations are normal human beings. 

The ingredients you will need to make about 24 doughnut balls are:

1 1/2 cups white flour
1/2 cup corn flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup Vicious American Wheat IPA from North Peak Brewing Co.
2 Tbsp. oil (plus oil for frying)
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

In a heavy pot, pour oil about 3" deep and heat on medium-high for about 5 minutes, then reduce heat to medium-low, trying to keep the oil temperature around 350-375 degrees. 

In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients, then add liquids and egg and stir to make a smooth, thick batter. Use two spoons to scoop out walnut-sized balls of batter and drop them into the hot oil. Allow each side to cook for 10 seconds to achieve a round doughnut shape, then continue cooking approximately four minutes, turning occasionally, until doughnuts are uniformly dark golden brown and cooked all the way through. 

Drain on paper towels, sprinkle with powdered sugar (if desired) and serve hot.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Short's Brewing Company

Here at Michigan Beer Blog, we talk a lot about Short’s Beer. A disproportionate number of the Bottled Michigan posts reference Short’s Beer. I regularly use them as a poster child for a Michigan brewery not afraid of experimenting and occasionally making a beer that few will enjoy. When talking of Michigan beer, Short’s is one of the “Big Names” in the industry, well known throughout the footprint (mitten print?) and beyond.

So what’s it like to go there?

A few weeks ago, my wife and I, flush from our successful outing in Traverse City (which included stops at Right Brain brewery, North peak Brewery, and Mackinaw Brewing Company), made the relatively simple trip up and over from Traverse City to Bellaire to sample wares from Short’s directly from the brewpub itself.

(Those with sharp eyes will note that the city we visited differs from the city printed on the label on your favorite bottle of Short’s beer. Their brewpub is in Bellaire, while their larger bottling facility is located in Elk Rapids, Michigan. We did not visit the bottling facility. Yet.)

Short's Brewing is exactly how I pictured it; a warm, rustic atmosphere filled with hastily thrown together tables and chairs, none of which match. The second room is devoted to live music and spillover from their always-bustling taproom. Laura and I sat down and made the same mistake most people not versed in Joe Short's (or, more accurately, his wife Leah's) concept of how a fast highly streamlined food and beer joint should run; there is no waitstaff. Luckily a friendly patron directed us to the food ordering station.


I should note, too, that by claiming Short's has no wait staff, I am painting with a brush possibly more harsh than is necessary. Short's requests that you order your food at the food ordering station, which is at the bar near the taps. A smarter person would've noted this on the menu.This style is identical to a few other restaurants I've patronized, including one specific chain restaurant that specializes in buffalo wings. The food was still brought to my table, and if anything the steamlined ordering system caused the food to be delivered more quickly than I expected, and freed up the staff to keep the fast moving floor clean of leftover dishes.

Short's Brewing may cater to the sandwich and pizza crowd, but despite making some of the best beer in the country, the food was possibly the high point of the evening. Bear in mind, I'm stealing the descriptions of the two sandwiches we ordered directly from their menu. I had the Chocolate Town: Shaved pit ham, bacon, lettuce, red onion, tomato and Swiss cheese with a creamy blue cheese spread and spicy BBQ sauce. Often in my own experiments, I make the mistake of slamming so many different tastes together that I cannot differentiate one from the other when I'm done.  Short's does not have this problem, and I appreciate them for it. Laura ate the Tender Situation: Roast beef with avocado, portabella mushrooms, roasted peppers, white cheddar and roasted shallot mayonnaise. These were two of the most delicious sandwiches either of us have eaten in a long time. That Short's Brewing has food to match its beer is truly a frustrating thing; damn the 3 hour drive to get up there!
Tender Situation
Chocolate Town

Between the two of us, Laura and I managed to sample most of the beer they had on tap. Their samplers are generous and decently priced; not as bargain friendly as North Peak, but not as expensive as Right Brain. High points included the Chocolate Wheat, the Funkin' Punkin, and the Autumn Ale, and while I've found the Autumn Ale in bottles, I've yet to luck upon a pack of the other two. Short's Funkin Punkin, specifically, is the best Pumpkin ale I've had in the state, comparable in complexity and boldness to Dogfish Head, but with a light quality reminiscent of Brooklyn Brewery's Post Road.

Short's offered us a "hippie friendly," hastily thrown together ambiance that exuded understated charm and warmth with a clear focus on local entertainment and flair. Short's offered some of the best session beers (their Bellaire Brown and Sustenance Stout, specifically) as well as some of the most surprisingly delicious experimental ales, like the Pistachio Crème and Key Lime Pie ale. Short's offered some of the absolute best beer food in Michigan. Clearly, there is very little that Short's can't offer. . . except perhaps a location closer to my home. Congratulations, Joe Short; you've got one hell of a brewery.  A thousand mile brewery.
It says balls on your mug.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Screaming Pumpkin Doughnuts

I have never met a variety of deep-fried dough I didn’t like. Yet, given that most doughy fried items out there are rather mediocre — say, the ones found at our local grocery stores — I don’t find myself indulging this habit as often as I’d like.  The exception to this rule is pumpkin spice doughnuts, which I am absolutely weak in the face of.  Despite the fact that even the loveliest looking ones at our local markets tend to disappoint, I eat them anyway. Because it’s fall and crunching through ochre-tinted leaves, wrapping your fingers around a paper cup of mulled cider, and eating even lackluster pumpkin spice doughnuts is the right and proper thing to do.

You’ll be pleased to know that despite requiring chilling and cutting and deep-frying — something I’m anything but skilled in (admittedly, this was the first time in my life I have EVER deep fried something), which I blame on my upbringing; seriously, my family did not deep fry things — these were not hard to make. The dough comes together quickly and the cooking takes less than 15 minutes, beginning to end. And the eating… well, faintly spiced, lightly pumpkin scented, perfectly light from the beer and crisped at the edges, these are so very worth it.  All of it.

For this recipe, you will need:

2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon plus 2 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/2 cups Michigan Brewing Co. Screaming Pumpkin Spiced Ale
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (or equal parts cinnamon, ground ginger, and nutmeg)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk 6 cups vegetable oil (for frying)

1. Line baking sheet with parchment.  Line a large plate with paper towels.  In a paper bag, combine 1 cup sugar and 1 Tbsp. cinnamon; shake to mix well.  Set aside.

2. Bring beer to a boil over medium heat.   Cook, stirring occasionally, until beer has reduced to 1/2 cup, about 20 minutes.  Let cool to room temperature.

3. In a large bowl, whisk pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, salt, 1 cup flour and remaining sugar and cinnamon until well combined.  In a small bowl, whisk butter, eggs, yolk and cooled beer until well combined.  Add beer mixture to flour mixture; whisk until smooth.  Add remaining 2 1/2 cups flour and mix until just combined.  Dough will be slightly sticky.  Refrigerate 10 minutes.

4. Pour oil into a large pot and attach a candy thermometer to side (thermometer should not touch bottom of pot).  Heat oil over medium-high heat until it reaches 375ºF, watching and adjusting as needed to keep oil from overheating.

5. Turn dough out onto a well-floured countertop and coat fingertips with flour.  Pat dough out to 1/2-inch thickness.  Using a doughnut cutter or 2 round cookie cutters (one large and one small), cut out doughnuts and holes.  Transfer both to lined baking sheet.  Gather scraps and re-pat dough, cutting as many doughnuts as possible.

6. Working in batches, carefully slide doughnuts into hot oil.  After about 1 minute, doughnuts will rise to surface and begin to brown.  At that point, turn over and fry 1 1/2 minutes longer.  Transfer to lined plate to drain.  Bring oil back to 375ºF before frying another batch.  When doughnuts have cooled for 1 minute, add to bag with cinnamon sugar and toss to coat.  Remove to a clean plate and serve.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Mackinaw Brewing Company

If there’s a lesson that public schools fail to teach kids, it’s that not everyone is great. Not everyone is perfect at wood shop, not everyone is a great singer, and not everyone is a great chef. And that’s okay; there is a whole world of mediocrity out there, supplying thousands of jobs to people who just aren’t the best at what they do. Most people are average, despite what their schoolteachers tell them, and there’s nothing wrong with being a C student.

Look at the macro breweries. No one claims that they sell a perfect product. No one even claims that they sell a great product, and yet more people drink Miller Light and Budweiser than any craft beer we cover every single day. Truth be told, I drink more macro beers than I let on; it’s tough to beat a three dollar pitcher of mediocre beer while munching on mediocre bar food and watching a mediocre football team play. Let’s pause for a moment and reflect on the fact that in a world of such variety, not everything can be phenomenal.

Now let’s talk about Mackinaw Brewing Company.

The Mackinaw Brewing Company, the third brewery Laura and I stopped at in Traverse City, gave us high hopes as we pulled up. Located in a quaint, village-esque part of Traverse City, the outside reminded me instantly of New Holland Brewing in Holland, Michigan. It had that conservative, hard working, small town vibe to it that I like in my Michigan coastal towns. Walking inside, I was surprised at the size of the place; the small storefront window was certainly misleading, as the Mackinaw Brewing Company progressed back into a generous bar area followed by a large and roomy dining area. The first thing I noticed, however, on my way back to my table, was how much flair the place had. It was certainly reminiscent of a national chain restaurant/grille.

We were seated by a very polite waitress who, as I learned quickly, had no real experience with craft beer other than what she had been asked to memorize prior to working there. The sampler that Mackinaw Brewing Company offers was pretty typical – a 5 ounce tasting of each of their beers, conveniently placed on a laminated sheet with a brief description of each beer. I was excited to try this place’s selections.

I had just come from two powerhouse breweries (Right Brain and North Peak), and perhaps I had set my expectations a bit too high. Of the beers I tried, only one stood out to me. The rest could have all been made from the same recipe, with some slight differences in coloration added at the end. There was no appreciable attempt to add solid hop flavor to any of the beers, making their American Pale Ale and “IPA” (I have to put it in quotes) especially disappointing. The red had a metallic, coppery taste to it, the same one that lingers in a bottle of Killian’s. Indeed, the only beer I found pleasurable was their Belgian Whitecap, a very light and flavorful beer that hit all the notes I expected from a Belgian Wheat.

As I sat there, trying to hide the disappointment in my eyes as I ordered the stuffed mushroom caps from the waitress, I began reading the menu. Here is what Mackinaw Brewing Company says about their Belgian White, the only beer I thought was good: “This amazing beer is a true example of a Belgian style wheat ale. Brewed with Coriander for a unique aroma and a delicate fruity finish...this almost white golden colored ale will satisfy the occasional craft brew drinker or beer snob. . . you gotta try it!!!” (my emphasis)

This beer clearly not in her wheelhouse.
I thought for a second and surveyed my location again. The Mackinaw Brewing Company was not in the business of making spectacular beer. The flair on the walls, the solid albeit unoriginal food selection, the timid approach to craft beer. . . people do not go to Mackinaw Brewing Company for the originality, they go for comfort and service with a local touch. This place isn’t brewing beer for beer snobs, and they make it clear on their menu. Rather, they are brewing mediocrity for the large segment of the population that craves mediocrity. And they succeed in their task.

So what if they didn’t impress one solitary traveler? The place was busy and I’m sure there’s a whole lot of people, recently coming off years of nothing but macro brewed rice lagers, that consider the baby steps into craft beer that the Mackinaw Brewing Company provides to be sweet ambrosia. Given that both Right Brain Brewery and North Peak Brewery are within walking distance, they don’t need to offer elegant, carefully crafted, single batch items to their clientele; just being a few steps above rice lagers is enough.

And I can’t really fault them for that. Their stuffed mushroom caps were great, after all. I’ll tell you this; if I lived in Traverse City, and wanted to watch my team play while eating a burger and drinking something that I don’t need to think about, I’m heading here.

(Unrelated:  that afternoon there happened to be a zombie walk lurching past the Mackinaw Brewing Company as we left.  The gentleman in the gas mask was particularly enthusiastic.  )

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