Friday, July 30, 2010

Bottled Michigan: Michigan Brewing Company Celis Raspberry

I've heard stories that, prior to Zima, Mike's Hard Lemonade, and the deluge of flavored malt beverages spilling from liquor store refrigerators and college girls' mouths, beer companies were faced with a problem: how do you get people who don't like beer. . .to drink beer? 

courtesy google image search.  At least it's not blue Powerade and gin.

 The answer often came in the form of painfully sweet, psuedo-fruit flavored concoctions that one might consider the forerunners to Smirnoff Twisted Ultra Passion Berry Delight IV. Sam Adam's Cherry Wheat is the perfect and best known example: a thick, sugary beverage that has more in common with Robitussin than beer. Michigan Brewing Company's Celis Raspberry is another perfect example. And it's not that all fruit beers are bad, either. Dozens of fantastic fruit beers hail from Michigan, from Atwater's cherry stout to The Vierling's blueberry wheat, Dark Horse Brewing's raspberry ale, and Founder's Cerise.

I admit, the beer pours a beautiful golden hue tinged with pink. The beer is almost transparent, which unfortunately means the yeast sediment is prominently visible and rather unappealing (I know this is my fault, I should've left that last half ounce in the bottle). The head is extremely light and vanishes almost instantly, leaving just a trace of a ring around the inside of the glass.

Aromas coming from the glass elicit feelings of grade school; I am reminded strongly of raspberry poptarts mixed with cotton candy. The sugar is in the scent itself, a thick smell similar to simple syrup or agave nectar. The taste follows where the smell left off, continuing the “too sweet to enjoy” marathon of flavor right from the nostrils to the stomach. Fake raspberry is in clear focus here. It's similar to just about every raspberry malt beverage made. Counterpoint: if you're surrounded by delicious beer and have with you a person who just can't stand all those bitter/dry/burnt flavor – you've got a winner here. Celis Raspberry represents the best attempt at breaking into the college party girl market I've ever tasted by a Michigan Brewer.

Of course, all this whining carries with it two enormous caveats.  First, Celis Raspberry is brewed by the same company whose genius brought us the High Seas IPA – a beer that remains my favorite traditional IPA of all time. Just because they make a beer that is (clearly) not to my taste in no way means I would write off this brewery; in fact I am excited to try more of their offerings. Second, this beer was responsible for the best pancakes I have ever had.  So think of this beer like grandmother's cooking sherry; throw it in the pan, not in your mouth.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Celis Raspberry Pancakes

Known by many names around the world (pancakes, hotcakes, griddlecakes, flapjacks, crepes, and drop scones to name just a few) the pancake takes many forms, uses many ingredients, and comes in many sizes. From sweet to savory, they are enjoyed in some form by pretty much every culture around the world and have been gracing our tables for centuries. I mean, who doesn't love a good pancake?

So, with all of these variations of the classic recipe, why add beer to the pancake batter? A couple reasons, actually -- first, it adds a nice, sweet maltiness to the flavor and second, the carbonation in the beer adds air to the batter, making it lighter and fluffier. Furthermore, if you use a good ‘live’ beer (aka bottle conditioned) the yeast adds even more flavor and lightness.

To make my version, here's what you're going to need:

1 egg
1 cup self-rising flour
1/2 cup Celis Raspberry beer
1/2 cup whole milk
Unsalted butter (to cook with)
Maple syrup, fresh raspberries, whatever other toppings you like

Now, before we get started, you may be asking, "Beer and milk?" Trust me, this combination works like magic (*as long as you don't use buttermilk). And no, it doesn’t end up tasting like a beer!

Okay, now let's get started..

1) In your mixer with the whisk attachment, add the egg, flour, beer and milk, and whisk until combined (you can easily do this by hand).
2) Melt the butter in a heavy based frying pan over a medium heat. When the butter has melted, add the batter, around ½ a cup at a time. Do not overcrowd the pan; do 1 or 2 at a time. When small bubbles start to appear on the top of the pancakes they are ready to be turned. Cook for a further 45 seconds or until browned on the bottom and remove. Continue this process until all the pancakes are done.

When they start to look like this...

Grab your spatula...

And flip!

If things go well, reward yourself for all of your hard work..

Drizzle with the maple syrup and berries and serve immediately.

Once you make pancakes from scratch, you'll see how much better they are than the mixes you buy from the store. Plus, they're so simple and inexpensive to make from basic pantry staples AND it's another excuse to keep a few extra beers around! Enjoy!

*Some people make their pancakes with buttermilk. This does not work in this recipe as the beer curdles the buttermilk.

For those of you who do not know what buttermilk is…

Buttermilk was originally the liquid left over from churning butter from cream. In modern times it refers to a lightly fermented milk product made from adding bacterial cultures during the processing of low fat milk. Contrary to its name, buttermilk contains no butter and is low in fat, 2% in fact. Buttermilk is slightly acidic, which reacts with the raising agents in the batter and adds to the lightness of the final product. Buttermilk is easily obtained from your local supermarket.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

13th Annual Summer Beer Festival

What happens when you give almost ten thousand people tiny little cups, serve them with 54 brewing companies offering over 400 different types of beer, dump almost three inches of rain on them over the course of a weekend, and toss in a tornado warning for good measure?

One hell of a great time.

Thousands of us.  And everyone is smiling.

The13th Annual Summer Beer Festival, which took place in Ypsilanti, Michigan, is one of the great celebrations of Michigan beer. With four beer tents crammed full of breweries, supplemented by several kiosks of yet more brewers, it's more than a little overwhelming. No liver on the planet would be able to try all 400+ different beers, even with the three ounce sample cups. Laura and I spent almost 5 hours there Saturday afternoon meeting with people who share our opinion of local beer.  In the interest of not boring everyone to death, don't expect a full run down of every beer we sampled. I'm going to hit the highlights, show you all what you missed by not coming, and then erase some of that agonizing despair by giving you the rundown.

We started with what we knew, and said hi to our friends at Short's brewery. As always, they did not disappoint, serving up brand new and experimental beers. Their agave peach wheat was light and dry and perfect for the hot, humid afternoon sun beating down on us, but the real winner from them came from their aptly named Nicie Spicie Pepper ale. Spiced beer rarely goes down well for me, but the coriander front with a solid black pepper kick was perfect. I've only had one other beer that comes close to this, and it hails from Wisconsin. We also tried their strawberry shortcake beer: a bit sweet for me, and absolutely bursting with strawberry flavor.

We sampled items including the Snuggle Bunny Cinnamon Vanilla stout and Chocolate Orange stout from Right Brain brewing, The Mother Pucker Sour Wheat Porter from Old Hat (a surprising and tasty sour beer! I found one I like!), and the IPA and ESB from Big Buck Brewery. Big Buck was talked up all over the festival for their margarita shandy – and I watched the last keg of it run dry, two people before me.

At one point the Kuhnhenn brewers ambled by, wearing their shiny vinyl spacesuits out on a day that was easily in the nineties (I swiftly established celebrity status as the largest idiot by wearing dress pants and a dress shirt at a gathering where flip flops and dudes with no shirts was the norm). They were serving a strong, caramelly bourbon barrel barley wine that packed a punch. It was reminiscient of pancakes that your alcoholic grandmother served you when you were a kid and slipped some brandy in with the syrup. It wasn't the best thing on such a hot day, but I can see a place for it. I'm a sucker for bourbon aged beer lately.

And I thought *I* was hot.

It wasn't too long after Kuhnhenn that we met this guy:

That's Jake, one of the brewers for Dark Horse Brewery, a dynamite place in Marshall and currently one of my favorite breweries in Michigan. Jake offered up a perfect brown ale (The Boffo Brown) as well as Judson Juice Pale Ale, which Laura enjoyed as well. Jake is a man who makes you jealous of being a brewer. Friendly, well spoken, and laid back, he's exactly the type of person I want making my beer. Dark Horse offered a great environment, complete with outdoor seating area, and was just a lot of entertainment all around. 

We also had a chance to swing by our friends from Holland at the aptly named New Holland Brewery. While we were really excited to try their aged 2008 Dragon's Milk, they had run out, so instead we were presented with the Brother Jacob Dubbel, a big beer they were no longer making. An amazing experience, heavy on the dark fruits like raisin and fig, coupled with a spicy, malty finish. This is a beer that I really hope New Holland brings back.

Hello, friends!

We also met friends, because that's what I do around strangers with beer. Pictured here are John and Heather. Heather was mystified at my choice for clothing on this trip, and no one at the festival blamed her. It was hot. Like milk, dark brown pants were a bad choice. We hope to see both John and Heather at upcoming Brewfests!

Toward the end of the day, we sampled beer from the Frankenmuth Brewery. I won't lie. . .there was another reason why we staked out their booth.

At that point, it wouldn't have mattered if their stuff had tasted like the current Kalamazoo River. Just having a dachshund as a mascot would've been enough. But the brewery really delivered a great, smooth dunkel as well as a very tasty stout. Yes, the brewer is the guy giving the camera a staredown in the picture above.

A good way to spend a Saturday? As Stephen Colbert would say, it was possibly the greatest way to spend a Saturday. Crowds of interesting people, hundreds of delicious beer selections, music, muddy slip'n'slides (at one point we watched a drunk girl try to convince security to let her bodyslide through the muddy grass), and a general “we're proud of Michigan” feeling made this festival one of the best I've ever attended, and has me regretting harshly the fact that I won't be able to make it to the September Beer Fest in Marquette.  Plus, THIS guy was there.

Image courtesy Jeremy Arnold

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bottled Michigan: Keweenaw Brewing Company Pick Axe Blonde

I think it's odd that I prefer this method of captioning.  

I took a picture of this beer because I want to emphasize the fact that this beer comes in a can. This works on multiple levels. Seriously, name another local beer that can claim to be a canned beer (they exist, but I'm not aware of any by name). Furthermore, while other beer snobs may disagree, aluminum cans remain the best way to package and ship beer, assuming it's not still fermenting. Sunlight is beer's enemy, and while brown glass bottles do very well, aluminum is still the best way to protect a beer from sunlight. Just make sure you pour the beer out before drinking. Unless you prefer your beer with a nice healthy lungful of vaporized metal.

The back of the can describes this beer better than I could: “the Keweenaw Brewing company. . . was founded with the goal of turning beer drinkers into craft beer lovers.” The Pick Axe Blonde is maybe a half step above rice lagers in terms of flavor and complexity. The color is a hazy straw color, the head is clean and white and dissipates quickly, and the smell is light and simple. There's a slight yeast smell with a touch of citrus, but other than that and the hazy hue I would have a difficult time telling this apart from a rice lager.

Not that that's altogether bad. I know many people whose palates just can't handle much flavor; they consider a Bud Light Lime to be experimental. Now, craft beer fans have a weapon against these most virgin of tastebuds; hand these guys a koozie of KBC in a can, tell them it's easy drinkin', and bam, you've got a convert to Michigan beer.

A Pick Axe Blonde for my Pick Axe Blonde. Yeah, it happened.

The taste itself is actually a little more complex than I assumed based on the smell and look. This is a pretty solid blonde ale, with flavors of light, sweet malt mixed with yeast and just a slight hops finish. There's flavors of citrus and a strong undercurrent of grains throughout. This is a beer I would have no problem taking a six pack out to a late summer event, looking up at the Michigan stars on the hood of my Detroit built Ford Mustang convertible.

If I had one, anyway.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Grand Rapids Brewing Company

Is this a rebadged Motel 6 sign?
The Grand Rapids Brewing company is a victim of its environment. When I see a small, nondescript building on the side of a busy, boring road filled with malls and chain restaurants and Best Buys and Target stores, I tend to dismiss it. Great breweries are tucked away in little- traveled districts, or they’re in quaint little shops in quaint little tourist towns. Nothing good could come from a building whose architect clearly studied at Ponderosa University. . .

it has more in common with an OCB than a brewery. . .

The preconceived notions, how they crumble. I’ve been avoiding the Grand Rapids Brewing Company for years, simply because of its location. In fact, it took the cajoling of my in laws (and my own reluctant acknowledgment that I would, eventually, have to go there anyway) to convince me to drive on one of the most boring, stereotypically suburban roads in the city and make my way to the GRBC.

The inside of the building was deceptively large, with no less than three separate dining areas; this allowed those who prefer their time at the full bar with some much needed space from families and their children – and vice versa. The atmosphere is warm and cozy without being claustrophobic, and the wooden tables and late 19th century décor was cheesy but in a friendly and inviting way. The “flair” consisted of pieces from the brewery’s history, which has been in Grand Rapids since the 1890s.

I was most surprised, however, by the quality and depth of the beer. The Grand Rapids Brewing Company is not a flashy or experimental brewery, so don’t expect a mind bending list of crazy flavors to try. Their entire beer selection consists of 5 choices: wheat beer, American style pilsner, a fantastic red amber, stout, and pale ale. All very simple beers, but these simple beers are also the easiest to brew incorrectly. It’s easy enough to hide flaws in the brewing process by jamming so many hops or so much citrus flavor that you mask the foundations of the beer; that’s why so many brewing companies are jumping right to the high gravity beer selections – many times a big beer will cover up a brewer’s mistakes. I'm not claiming that all big beers are brewed by bad brewers, of course, nor am I saying I don't like an Imperial IPA or a double stout; I'm just laying out that sometimes, I prefer a well made, simple beer.

left to right: wheat beer, stout, Irish red, pale ale, pilsner

The Grand Rapids Brewing Company does just that by creating delicious, well balanced beers that stand on their own. The River City Red, for example, is a malty amber ale that finishes with just the perfect amount of dry hops. I’m not typically a red beer fan, but the color, feel, smell, and taste of this amber makes me regret strongly that this brewery doesn’t bottle its product.

The stout, however, was the highlight of my evening. I love dark, heavy stouts, but with most dark beer they’re just too filling to enjoy, especially while eating. Incidentally, this is why Guinness is so popular; despite its taste and color, it’s technically a light beer, both by calorie count and by how easily it sits in your stomach. The stout here shares that quality with Guinness (New Holland’s Poet Stout is one of the few other dark but easy to drink beers). It’s no slouch on flavor, with a strong toasted malt built under hints of coffee, with a smooth finish that anyone can appreciate.

Paired with the beer was some of the most surprisingly delicious family style restaurant food I’ve had. Don’t be surprised by the fact that everything on the menu is familiar; like the beer selection, this is a place content to serve standard items that excel in quality. We sampled their cheese and jalapeno stuffed pretzels and their waffle fry-nachos for appetizers; the nachos were hot and crispy with all the toppings one should expect, but the real highlight was the fried pretzel bursting with cheddar cheese. This, served with a jalapeno dipping sauce, should be on every menu I visit. It was hot and crispy and chewy and light and spicy, all at once. Perfect. For my entrée, I ordered the brisket reuben, served with bbq coleslaw and home made chips. The chips were standard and not altogether amazing, but they didn’t disappoint and served for a nice, salty foil to the brisket, which came out hot and tender and sweet, on perfectly toasted rye bread. The sandwich was well worth the price of admission.

Pretty close to life changing.

Brisket. Cole slaw. Oh yes.

The Grand Rapids Brewing Company offers exceptional service in a family friendly environment while keeping on tap some well balanced beer selection. They’ll never be known for their originality or their experimental choices, but they don’t really care; they do what they know how to do, and they do it perfectly. This is a gem of the Grand Rapids community, and well worth a 40 mile trip to visit.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Hobo's Breath Barbecue Sauce and Majestic Wheat Ale Barbecue Sauce

This time in Cooking with Michigan Beer, I came up with two different barbecue sauces that will blow the doors off any bottled sauce you can pick up at the local supermarket -- one for those that like their sauce a little smoky and spicy, the other for the sweet and tangy fans.

But why use beer in a barbecue sauce? First and foremost, flavor. Beer is much less acidic than wine, vinegar, or citrus juices commonly used in barbecue sauces. It will tenderize meats without breaking down texture as rapidly as more powerful acids (some sauces are so acidic they can actually begin to cook the meat if you marinate them too long). Also, the balanced flavor in beer means that the other herbs and spices will not be overwhelmed by acetic notes.

Second, beer is less expensive than wine. It's possible to use a very fine quality ale to make more than a quart of marinade, and still spend less than $5.

Third, the variety in Michigan beer styles encourages experimenting in the kitchen. From fruity ales to the roasty flavors of porters and stouts, there's a flavor that matches any meat, chicken, or seafood sauce destined for the grill.

So, here's the first sauce:

Hobo's Breath Barbecue Sauce

12 ounces Hobo's Breath Brown Ale (from Mt. Pleasant Brewing Co.)
1 cup ketchup (or enough to get sauce to desired thickness)
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup bourbon (I used Buffalo Trace)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon canned chipotles in adobo sauce
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and simmer over medium-low heat until ingredients combine and cook down to desired sauce thickness.

Now for the sweet, tangy sauce..

Majestic Wheat Ale Barbecue Sauce

6 ounces Majestic Wheat Ale (from the North Peak Brewing Co.)
2 cups ketchup
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar (or to taste)
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons salt
1/2 tablespoon garlic salt
1/2 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1/2 tablespoon chili powder
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and simmer over medium-low heat until ingredients combine and cook down to desired sauce thickness.

Bottled Michigan: Kuhnhenn Solar Eclipse

Beer can be like a woman. Some are pleasant, forgettable, and you can go through twelve of them in an evening. Others are harsh and bitter, but for some reason you keep returning to them – to the point where you're convinced you like the abuse. Still others are so smooth and consuming that while they run your wallet dry, it's worth every minute. These beers are dark, seductive, carry with them an intoxicating aroma of alcohol, make you forget where you are for a moment, and keep you company for hours.

The Solar Eclipse is this kind of beer.

Before we get into the smelling and the tasting, consider for a moment Godiva Chocolate Liquer. A fifth of this sweet dessert alcohol runs me about 22 dollars, give or take. That's 26 ounces of thick, heavy, 34 proof liquid chocolate that very few people would choose to drink straight.  Now compare that to Kuhnhenn Solar Eclipse. It's not a cheap beer, it runs about 6 dollars for a 12 ounce bottle – or around 12 bucks for 24 ounces. That's around half the cost of the Godiva. And did I mention that the Solar eclipse weighs in as a 36 proof beer?

The Solar eclipse pours like molten chocolate. There is no carbonation, there is no head. It's a heavy, slow moving liquid, sloshing lazaily from the bottle to the snifter as though gravity were a minor annoyance, something to be dealt with when it had the time. Swirling in the glass, the beer is dark. . .but not as dark as I expected. Unlike some other dark beers, the Solar Eclipse lets just a bit of light bleed through its edges when held up to a bright light.

a lot like this.

 Even as the beer poured into the glass, the smell of alcohol filled the air; a heavy, soft scent that makes it seem like everything is moving a little more slowly. The Solar Eclipse announces itself with a velvet hammer.

Hidden underneath the booze lurk elements of burnt malt, dark chocolate, molasses, and sugar. Getting my nose right into the snifter (and risking burning my lungs on the powerful smell), there's elements of tobacco, vanilla, and spiced rum. The range of flavor this beer presents is astonishing.

Taking a gulp of the beverage was much, much more pleasant than I was expecting. The alcohol smell is almost nonexistent in the taste. Sweet chocolate and molasses flavors linger in my mouth; this beer is syrupy and cloying, so if you're not a fan of that mouthfeel, this is definitely a beer to avoid. Exhaling brings out that tobacco and vanilla flavors, although I should point out that I did not find the tobacco unpleasant. If anything, I would've liked a bit more spice and bitter present, because this beer is extremely sweet. The tail end of the taste finishes with the heat from the 18% alcohol content and leaves a pleasant lingering of chocolate.

I split this beer among four people, and we savored its contents for half an hour. The Solar Eclipse is the absolute reverse of a session beer; this is not some college aged blond you found crawling outside of a meatmarket bar at 3 am; this is a dark and assertive experience that demands your attention all night long and refuses to share you with others.  

Friday, July 23, 2010

Early weekend check in

Good afternoon all; this evening will see BOTH a new recipe compliments of Laura and a beerscription of an 18% abv beer hailing from Warren, Michigan.  Look out, Delaware, Michigan's got some heavy hitters too!

In the meantime, please check out the information for Summerfest:  the beer list there is absolutely overwhelming, so any requests for specific beers to try I will attempt to honor and describe them.  With pictures of local brewers!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Bottled Michigan: Bell's Special Double Cream Stout

There's something satisfying about looking into a beer in a glass, lurking lazily below a thick, brown head. Even on a hot summer day, watching the sunlight try – and fail – to permeate the strong stout just makes me feel great. Bell's Double Cream Stout is no joke; this is a thick, heavy, smooth beer, heavy on the malt and ready to keep you warm by the fire on a cold day. Or by the air conditioning vent during a heat wave in July. Your choice.

Yep.  My stout mug has my name on it.

Before I get into my impressions of smell and taste, I want to mention something that every fan of locally brewed beers should always keep in mind: Michigan beers are not rice lagers, mass produced with the singular goal of tasting identical bottle to bottle. My bottle of beer may not taste the same as yours, nor will it taste identical to beer from the tap fresh from Kalamazoo. That said....

My bottle of Double Cream Stout smells thick, toasty, sweet, and milky. Yep, we're going with “thick” as a smell, here. It smells slow and meandering. The malt seems intentionally burned to give a roasted flavor, and while that's not altogether negative, I think it overshadows some of the sweetness I was looking for. The cream imparts a noticeable milky flavor, and when I pretend I'm a huge snob and shove my nose right into the glass, the milky flavor has a definite and unpleasant lactic sourness to it. Luckily, it's faint and at a distance mixes with the malt.

The first swallow was more sour than I expected; the lactic from the cream is clearly on display, followed by the sweet, burnt malt and finished with coffee and chocolate. The taste was no real surprise after the smell, and that was certainly not a bad thing.

Again, I want to impress upon people that batches can vary greatly. I've had the Double Cream Stout before and I don't remember the lactic sour being so prevalent in the taste; I remember it being much sweeter and heavier. For those of you that have tried this in bottles recently, I'll leave it to the comments; is my palate broken, did I get a strange couple bottles, or is the 2010 batch a little “off” this year?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Jamesport Brewing Company

Being a resident of Grand Rapids, I often make the mental shorthand of dividing our state's small, touristy coastal towns into two categories: easily accessible (Holland, Grand Haven, South Haven) and summer vacation spots (Marquette, Traverse City). I never really think about Ludington, and to that end I do myself a disservice. It lacks the tulips and wooden shoes of Holland. It doesn't have the “doncha know” charm and isolation of Marquette. But nonetheless, it has an adorable downtown filled with good natured, charitable people and one notable brewery. That's one more than South Haven has, after all.

Tucked away on a side road right off the “main drag” of the touristy shops of downtown, the Jamesport Brewing company is a classy looking pub from the outside with the big, inviting glass window showing off their restaurant area (and giving me a great view to people watch). To the left of the entrance, I found the much less formal pub area (clearly designed without a smoking ban in mind) – packed with a huge, well stocked bar and your typical compliment of flat screen televisions blaring an ensemble of sports and news. It reminded me slightly of the New Holland brewery: classy without being stuffy.

[stock photo.  If this is yours, please notify me.]

Jamesport has a robust selection of Michigan's standby beer varieties. Because I must constantly balance my urge to try every beer at a given location with my urge not to die of alcohol poisoning, I enjoyed a very generous flight of Jamesport's select beers. Here, look at them (handwriting compliments of our very attentive waitress):

Handwritten note says:  Altbier, Nitro Stout, Weizenbock, Amber Steam, English Mild

The beers were good – well balanced and exactly what I expected, from the easy to drink altbier to the thick and smooth Nitro Stout. However, I want to be completely honest. Brewing a beer should be an art, and the result should be selections that are noticeably different: every beer from a given brewer should have its own personality. While I loved the experience and food and service at the Jamesport Brewing Company, I would not put the beers that I tried into competition against Michigan's finest. They are great standby beers, excellent session beers. . . but other than a slight difference in the levels of hops and malt, I was hard pressed to tell one beer from another.

Now, that aside, the food was fantastic. I'm a sucker for onion rings. I also love crab meat. Usually, nothing of much import comes from this, but Jamesport served me a volcano of onion rings. . .stuffed with crab meat. Spice that up with some ginger and blue cheese and you have one hell of a counterpart to a beer.

This should happen to everyone.  Top notch.

The food, atmosphere, and service are all excellent at this boutique pub tucked away in a beautiful summer town. And truth be told, sometimes exactly what I want is a locally brewed Michigan beer that lacks ego; that just lets me sit and consider my food without having to engage in an epic discussion of the tastebud. The Jamesport Brewing Company provides exactly that; if you're anywhere within 20 miles of this place – perhaps on your way to Wisconsin, heading “Up North,” or just stopping to see some Ludington Lighthouses and sample some fudge – do yourself a favor and check it out.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Bottled Michigan: Michigan Brewing Company High Seas IPA

I don't really drink all of my beers at my kitchen counter, really.  This is just a coincidence.  Really.

Michigan Brewing High Seas IPA

When I hear the name India Pale Ale, I've come to expect certain things. A floral bouquet in the aroma. Hops, front and center, from the second the beer hits my lips until a few breaths after I swallow. Flowers and citrus fruit running in an undercurrent under the hops. Malt flavor hidden, if detectable at all. The words dry, bitter, flowery come to mind. I love them. . . but IPAs are not beers I recommend to a beginner's palate.

Michigan Brewing Company's High Seas IPA dials all that aggressiveness down a notch and comes up with one very respectable, very drinkable India Pale Ale. It still has all the hallmarks of your typical IPA: a generous bronze color with a thick, white head that dissipates slowly: an aroma strongly scented of hops and flowers: a first taste of dry hops. . .but that's where my expectations went off track. The High Seas IPA is much smoother than I anticipated; the taste of dry hops is backed by a strong hint of sweet caramel malt, and letting it sit in your mouth evokes none of the dry-mouth you'd expect from an IPA. Exhaling strengthens the caramel flavor, blending with and diminishing the dry hops with notes of citrus.

Michigan Brewing Company's High Seas IPA is an India Pale Ale you can serve to your grandmother and be confident she'll like it; it's got the depth and personality of a great Michigan beer, yet the gentle bedside manner of a hospice worker. Be aware, though; at 7.2% a.b.v., this is not a beer for the consumption drinker.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Jolly Pumpkin Bam Biere Mussels

For the next installment of Cooking with Michigan Beer, I returned again to I noticed Chuck's recipe for mussels while reading his chocolate cake recipe, and could not resist trying them for myself. I love mussels and anything from Jolly Pumpkin (especially the Bam Biere), so this sounded like a perfect combination. The broth made with this dry farmhouse ale is a perfect contrast to the mussels, and if you decide to try this recipe for yourself, I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Making this meal at home is really easy. Here's what you'll need:

2 pounds of fresh mussels
3 shallots
1/2 rib of celery
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of thyme
1 cup Jolly Pumpkin Bam Biere
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese
Sea salt and ground pepper
Italian flat leaf parsley

1. Scrub down the mussels and remove any of those freaky beards that they sometimes sport. If any shells are broken or opened, toss them. Soak in cool water for about 15 minutes.

2.) Rough chop the shallots and celery and saute in 1 tablespoon butter for about 2 minutes. Add the bay leaf and thyme and saute on medium-low until veggies are starting to get soft but not brown, about another 3 - 4 minutes.

3.) Add 1/4 cup water and bring to a boil. Drop in the mussels and cover the pot. At the first sign that the shells are beginning to open, dump in the Bam Bier a pinch of salt and a few turns from the pepper mill. Cover and steam until shells are fully open. Total cooking time should be somewhere around 8 minutes.

I would recommend passing your eight minutes the way I did...loving some wiener dogs.

4.) Remove from heat, throw in the other tablespoon of butter, add the blue cheese and give the pot a stir. Transfer mussels to a bowl, ladle broth over the top and garnish with chopped parsley.

Serve with crusty bread and the rest of the bottle of Bam Bier.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Bottled Microbrew: Short's Smoked Apple Ale

Weekend update:  peppering the spaces between full blown recipes and rundowns of breweries, there will appear quick descriptions of Michigan bottled beers.  These aren't really reviews, since beer tasting is so subjective, but most of you are smart enough to figure out what sounds delicious, and motivated enough to go try something I've talked about.

Short's Smoked Apple Ale

I consider Short's to be one of my favorite breweries in Michigan. . . and even our favorites can dish up some real clunkers.

Short's Smoked Apple Ale pours a golden apple cider color (see what I did there?) with a thick, offwhite head. This beer is carbonated, so much so that the head stubbornly refused to diminish to let me taste it.

The aroma was pleasant. . .if you're the type who enjoys sour apple mixed with ash and dust. There's no "sweet" to balance out the smoky flavor, so all I get is a strong scent of burnt apples.

The first swallow brings flavors of sour apple and Band-Aid. I'm not sure why, but for this smoked beer and Bell's Smoked lager, my palate apparently translates “smoked” to “band-aid.” Needless to say, a sub par flavor. This will be the last “smoked” beer I try. Some flavors just don't belong in a beer, and “smoked” and “cat feces” are two of them.  This beer avoids the cat feces. . .but it's not enough.  Sorry, Short's, but when you experiment as much as you do, it's inevitable you'll make a beer as cringeworthy as some of your other creations are heavenly.

So. . . I have ten ounces of Rotten Apple Band Aid I'd be willing to share with you all.   Drink up.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Cooking with Michigan Beer:

Arcadia's Cocoa Loco Chocolate Cake

I started a "Cooking with Michigan Beer" section because not enough people (myself included) cook with beer on a regular basis. You see beer battered fish on many restaurant menus or Guinness stew on St. Patrick's Day, but other than that, it seems like most people don't think of beer as an ingredient, or are just too afraid to use it in their recipes. . .but people use wine in their cooking all the time. When you stop and think about it, it just makes sense to cook with beer. Beer has more in common with a lot of the food we eat than wine does; it contains grain (barley), herbs (hops), water, and yeast, where wine is mainly just some fermented grapes. Adding beer to a recipe can really enhance particular flavors of the ingredients, help blend the flavors of the dish, or just add that little zing that a meal might be lacking.

For my first culinary experiment, I cheated a little and looked to a fellow beer-blogger's site at for some inspiration and started with a good old fashioned chocolate cake with a slight twist. Since I already had the basic recipe in front of me, the more challenging part, of course, was picking out the perfect beer. I too, have added Guinness to brownies before, and although I think it's a decent beer, I agree that it's too thin-bodied and mild to add enough flavor to make it worthwhile in most recipes. With this in mind, I knew I'd need to pick out a beer that was bold enough to stand out in my cake without overpowering it. I narrowed it down to two contenders: Arcadia's Cocoa Loco vs. Bell's Double Cream Stout. I couldn't make a decision at the store, so I had to buy both and do a taste test. Poor me, but somebody had to do it!

The Double Cream Stout has quite a bit of tang to it, and since the recipe already calls for sour cream (also tangy), I feared my end product might end up tasting like it had spoiled: not exactly the flavor I was going for. The moment I smelled and tasted Arcadia's Cocoa Loco, I knew it would be perfect for this recipe. It's huge on the cocoa in the scent, but also has a really warm roasted malt scent, quite a bit of molasses, and a bit of alcohol to it. It's more of a medium bodied beer with a very nice creamy quality that compliments the very rich cocoa flavor; a flavor which has both bitter and dark characteristics that reminded me a lot of baking cocoa. It's a flavor that makes it exactly the kind of beer that you want to dump into your cake batter.

Now that we have a beer, let's get baking. Here's what you'll need:

1 cup of Arcadia's Cocoa Loco
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sour cream
6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (don't skimp on quality here, the
ganache will thank you)
6 tablespoons heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon instant coffee granules

Cake prep:
1) Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter or spray a bundt pan well; make sure you get in all of the nooks and crannies.
2) Bring 1 cup Cocoa Loco and 1 cup butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.
3) Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in large bowl to blend.
4) Using an electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend.
5) Add Cocoa Loco-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add it slowly at first in case it the liquid mixture is still hot. You don't want it to scramble the eggs
6) Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using a rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined.
7) Pour batter into prepared pan.

A little photographic evidence that I actually made a cake.

8) Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 35 minutes.

Pass the time however you see fit. I did a beautiful song and dance for Seth to help him think while he was working on a blog entry.

9) Transfer cake to rack; cool completely in the pan, then turn cake out onto rack for drizzling ganache.


For the ganache, melt the chocolate, heavy cream, and coffee in the top of a double boiler over simmering water until smooth and warm, stirring occasionally. Drizzle over the top of cooled cake.

I served it with some whipped heavy cream on top to add a little fresh contrast. This cake is no joke. It's moist, chocolaty, and best when still slightly warm from the oven. The Cocoa Loco adds such an incredible deep richness, that even Seth, who doesn't really like cake (he's a pie man to the core) loved it and wants me to make it again!


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