Monday, August 30, 2010

Bellaire Brown Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Maple Smoked Bacon

I created this recipe in honor of those of you that think you don't like sweet potatoes. This dish rocks -- I mean, beer? Bacon? How could you possibly go wrong? It's sweet, salty, smoky, and tangy, making it a great complement to practically any meal.

If you haven't tasted the Bellaire Brown from Short's Brewing Company yet, it's very bready with just the perfect hint of spice that you want with your sweet potatoes. It has a nutty, sweet, caramel maltiness with hints of dark chocolate and is a very enjoyable brown ale.

So give this recipe a try, and let me know how things work out for 'ya. Here's what you're going to need:

2 large sweet potatoes
Olive oil (enough to brush on the sweet potatoes)
6 strips maple smoked bacon
1 tablespoon butter
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons light brown sugar
2/3 cup Short's Bellaire Brown
2 tablespoons maple syrup
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper for easy clean up. Wash the potatoes and pat dry. Cut in half and brush the cut side with a little bit of olive oil. Place cut side down on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until soft when squeezed between the folds of a towel. Depending on the size of your sweet potatoes, this should take about 30-40 minutes.

2. In a large skillet over medium heat, add bacon. Cook, turning frequently, until browned and crisp, about 6-8 minutes. Transfer to a paper-toweled lined plate to drain. Cool completely. Chop finely, reserving about one slice for garnish.

3. Once the potatoes are cooked, remove from oven and cool for 5-10 minutes. Scoop out the flesh and set aside.

4. In a large skillet over medium-low heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter. Add sliced onions and brown sugar; stir occasionally, until the onions caramelize and turn a deep golden brown, about 10-12 minutes (pictured below on left). Add beer and cook 2 minutes. Add maple syrup. Stir well and cook 3-4 minutes (pictured below on right).

5. Add roasted potatoes and bacon to skillet. Stir well. Season with freshly ground black pepper. Garnish with reserved bacon and enjoy!

The ultimate 'Cooking With Michigan Beer' meal -- Crooked Tree IPA Slaw, grilled chicken with Hobo's Breath Barbecue Sauce and Majestic Wheat Ale Barbecue Sauce, and the Bellaire Brown Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Maple Bacon.

Makes about 4 servings.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dark Horse Brewing Company

Thousand mile brewery, folks. We found one.

Marshall, Michigan is not a convenient city to get to. The center-west of the state suffers from a minor transportation issue; while it is a straight shot for me to get to Lansing or Kalamazoo in a short amount of time, there is no highway directly between Grand Rapids and Marshall. One needs to drive through Kalamazoo and Battle Creek to get there – inevitably passing Bell's and Arcadia brewing companies, two top notch breweries. It begs the question, is it worth driving the extra time to get to Dark Horse?

The answer is "yes."

Aaron Morse started Dark Horse brewery in an old, rough looking building behind the party store owned by his parents. The cedar shank siding and low, squat appearance give the building a definite ramshackle feel to it, but don't assume that's a negative. The feeling is one of a friendly old community where (dare I use a cliché) everybody knows your name. Blended with that feeling is a definite undercurrent of either skater punk or biker, depending on your generation and familiarity with those stereotypes. There's a tattoo shop on campus and several of the artwork is clearly aimed at creating a feeling of a biker bar.

Or a skater bar...or something..

Inside continues this feeling of biker/skater comfortability, with old wooden tables and floors worn smooth from use. The windows let in plenty of natural light, and the atmosphere was certainly one of regulars, even later in the evening when the live music was playing. That said, there's one decoration inside that must be mentioned; the mug club at Dark Horse brewery is phenomenal. Thousands of mugs adorn the ceiling, the walls...everywhere that they could fit a hook, a mug hangs. Our guide told us that there was an excess of 2400 members, and every single one of their mugs was on display. It was an eerie yet thrilling testament to the commitment to drinking the Dark Horse clientele share.

stretches for miles...

This is Wiggs. 

No last name of which I'm aware.

He's the operations manager and second in command of the brewing facility, after the owner and master brewer. He was also our tour guide for the morning. Here's a quote from him to our readers: “a guy once told me that you can't trust a skinny brewer, because he's not drinking enough of his own product. That's bullshit – with the amount of heavy work we do in this building, hauling around hundreds of pounds of malts and hops and constantly checking the flow and temperature of our mash, I can drink as much as I want and stay skinny.” Yep – he's a bad ass.

This hose will eff you up.

The Dark Horse brewing facility is an extremely clean, well run organization. Their five brewers work hard to keep the consistency of the beer up to par while studiously avoiding issues that would mar the flavor of the beer. Given their popularity and the ubiquity of their beer, I was surprised to learn they only ship about 4000 barrels of their product annually. Of course, with the favorable market for Michigan craft beer and the recent purchase of an entire new brewing facility, Dark Horse expects to break shipping records every year, so expect that number to increase swiftly.

See below for the pictures of the tour:

brew kettle -- water and malt boils here

Intense carbonation system!

Typically, I avoid going into specific detail of beer I taste at a brewery. I prefer to keep it “high level” in the interest of brevity. In the case of Dark Horse's beer, however, I would be doing the reader a disservice if I did not spend a few words concerning a couple of their beers. The brewers here really represent art in fermented form, to steal a tag line form one of their competitors.

you thought I was kidding about the skater vibe.

The Crooked Tree IPA is by far their most popular beer, both in bottled and draft form. It also happened to be Wiggs's favorite beer, and it's not difficult to understand why. Their IPA is aggressively hopped without breaking your face open with flowers and grapefruit. The mouthfeel is slightly thicker than I would expect, with a layer of sweet malt finishing the flavor. There's no strong alcohol feel that you may pick up in a double IPA or even a single IPA.

The Pam's Kitchen ale is an experimental beer made from hours upon hours of hand zesting limes, squeezing their juice, and hand cutting cilantro into the mash. Yes, it's a cilantro lime beer, and it's fantastic – and that's coming from someone who avoids lime in his beer like the plague. The spice from the cilantro mixes with the tart from the lime and sweet malt in a very light way, making this beer an excellent beginner beer, a perfect pairing with spicy food, and a great choice just to sit out on a summer day and watch the clouds amble by. This beer is well worth the effort from its brewers.

The food did not disappoint, either. I had the reuben, which was a very respectable version of the classic sandwich, with a crusty ciabatta roll that complimented the soft sauerkraut well. Laura's pumpkin seed and cilantro pesto sub, served with sausage, chicken, and artichoke hearts was a taste I've never had before, and it was fantastic. The real star of the night, however, was the side: a spicy Asian coleslaw with an aggressive heat to back up the cabbage from which it was made.

The Dark Horse brewery is the whole, bonafide package. It sports some of the greatest beer in Michigan, a delicious and exciting menu, a personality that blends skateboard punk with biker flair, and a brewstaff that knows exactly what they're doing and they do it well. We had such a great time at Dark Horse that we ended up returning in the evening for some of their great live entertainment – even twelve hours after our tour, they were going strong, offering a comfortable and easygoing place to have fun for anyone around. Because Dark Horse blends the best beer with great food and entertainment, I have no reservations about calling them a thousand mile brewery; it doesn't matter where you are, Dark Horse is worth the trip.

Some Pam's Kitchen for the road

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Weekend Update

There are two great beer festivals going on in Michigan this weekend -- The Art of Beer Festival in Benton Harbor and the Suds On The Shore Micro Brew Festival and Home Brew Competition in Ludington. We will be pouring beer for Mount Pleasant Brewing Co. today at Suds On The Shore and hope to see you out there supporting your local home brewers and microbreweries!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Old Boys' Brewhouse

There is an imponderable something that appeals to me about visiting breweries -- something beyond the simple fact that they serve delicious beer. Perhaps it is the eclectic vibe that just can't be found in an average chain restaurant, and is somehow beyond the reach of any neighborhood bar. We are immensely fortunate to have several such places in Grand Rapids: HopCat, The Hideout, Founders, and Grand Rapids Brewing Company, just to name a few. When you walk into these places, there's an amicable feeling of belonging, as if by purchasing a pint you become almost family. It's comforting and keeps you coming back for more.

When Seth and I visited Old Boy's Brewhouse in Spring Lake, that feeling instantly settles over me. As we enter the building, we immediately pass the gleaming stainless steal and copper brewing equipment, followed by various clever t-shirts, mugs, and other OBB paraphernalia. Within mere seconds of our arrival, this brewery has won over my easily meltable heart by playing to my (very large) animal lover side. The popular summer destination -- named for the owner's departed chocolate Lab -- stocks homemade doggy treats near the front entrance, alongside donation jars for local animal rescues and an information board for local adoptable pets.

As we approach the host's station, we are greeted by two smiling faces. We flip-flop back and forth between the choice to sit in the bar, the restaurant, or outside, and finally decide to sit out on the deck. As we are escorted through the bar area to the deck overlooking the Grand River, it's clear that this place is truly a dog lover's dream. Many walls of this hip place are covered with patrons' and workers' dogs -- both alive and remembered. And while you can't bring your pooch with you to the dinner table, you can bring a photo of your beloved pet for the restaurant-bar staff to add to the staggering collection of dog photos adorning the walls.

As we are seated, we soon discover that warm fuzzies aren't the only thing on tap at Old Boys'. The affable dog-centric theme complements the equally appealing chow and libation offerings. Our extremely attentive waitress greets us, hands us our paw-shaped menus, and takes our drink order. All of the beers sounded good, so we ordered a beer sampler to share. Included in our flight of beers were a Kölsch, an IPA, a red, a brown ale, a Bohemian pilsner, an imperial IPA, and an oatmeal stout. Seth and I immediately gravitated toward the light, refreshing Connor's Kölsch and the Old Boys' Brown Ale, with its rich, caramel nutty undertones. All of the brews are solid, but not overly intimidating. Both the Dogtail IPA and Kennel King Imperial IPA seemed to lack the expected pronounced hoppy-bitterness, but they did have a nice citrus/floral finish. The pilsner was crisp, clean, and slightly buttery and definitely the "session beer" of the lot. The oatmeal stout was pretty much exactly what you'd expect: full bodied with hints of chocolate, roasted barley, coffee flavors and a nice creamy head.

While their menu isn't cutting edge on the whole - it doesn't need to be. The chef at Old Boys' has created an extensive pub menu that goes extremely well with beer. Dinner entrees carry a brew recommendation, and appetizers are made to share. Foodwise, we were very indecisive about what type of food we were in the mood for, so when the waitress dropped off our beer sampler, we decided to start off with the "Stacked Fresh Mozzarella" (fresh mozzarella layered with tomato, basil and drizzled with balsamic reduction). While it was tasty (how can you really mess up a Caprese salad?), it was not anything special for $10.

The next appetizer we decided to split was the "Roasted Chicken Lettuce Wraps," which came with bib lettuce, roasted chicken, Napa cabbage slaw, and OBB's homemade peanut sauce on a plate, meant to be assembled at the table. These, too, were pretty good, but we could have used more of the slaw and less of the peanut sauce. Another appetizer that was good, but wasn't really worth $10. Though my food reviews aren't exactly glowing, I feel as though it was due to our choices more than the actual quality of food served here, because the food being served to everyone around us look fantastic, especially the pan-fried lake perch, burgers, and beef brisket. I will definitely give the food here another chance.

By this time, we were done with our beer sampler and noticed many nearby tables ordering pints and pitchers of OBB's special concoction called Golden Sour. Initially, I turned my nose up at the thought of trying (and hating) yet another sour beer, until our waitress informed me that this is not a true sour-style beer -- it's actually a blend of the Bohemian Pilsner and lime juice. She brought us a small sample, and I immediately ordered a pint of it. It was light and tart and exactly what I was in the mood for while sitting outside on this warm, sunny day.

We lingered for a little while longer to watch people walking by on the river walk and boats passing through the channel on what could be one of the final few perfect Michigan summer days of the year. On our way out, we pass the dessert tray, loaded with double-wide carrot cake (a personal favorite), gigantic layers of deep, dark chocolate cake, and some kind of monster sundae. Not today, sweets. I am too sated. But I will return for you soon, and next time I will bring a photo of my two wiener dogs.

Without a doubt, my experience at Old Boy's is memorable. In fact, once winter is in full swing it will be torture to be away when I imagine sitting out on their deck on a warm, sunny day, sipping a cold beer. We may not be back again this year, but we will definitely return again next summer, and I would drive twice as far as we had to to get there, making this a 50 mile brewery.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Odd Side Ales

Visiting Odd Side Ales, a brand new (and tiny) brewery in Grand Haven, was a very interesting experience wrapped in a quest and surrounded by confusion. Located in a nondescript plaza on the main drag of Grand Haven, it has no easily recognizable sign out front, and shares the building with a boring looking Italian place (which Laura informs me is actually delicious), a reception hall, a coffee shop, and several corporate offices. In fact, as we were wandering, lost, a wedding party was also wandering around the building. To make matters worse, Odd Side Ales is not yet listed on the corporate business list.

Once you do find it (enter, take a right, first room on the left), things change. For a place in a corporate-style plaza center, Odd Side Ales exudes personality. It doesn't try too hard to be retro hip or hipster cool or yuppie chic; it's just a laid back, simple environment. There's two old style cork dart boards available for use. A corner of the bar has a set of padded chairs, for those who prefer a more intimate setting, while the rest of the area is sparsely populated with an even mix of bistro and regular-height tables. The walls are painted a calming blue, save for the one outside wall, which remains naked white brick, adorned with photography of what I can only assume is the brewing equipment.

The bar is a conversation piece on its own; beneath the lacquered finished is a complex and abstract design made entirely of different types of malt. It's original and intricate without being distracting. While we were there, Chris (owner, bartender, and master brewer) was using some of the space to put together some of the darts his more unruly patrons had damaged. Shame on you, dart players.

Odd Side Ales serves no food; in this, they share something in common with Schmohz brewery in Grand Rapids. And like Schmohz, you can bring whatever food you want in to pair with your beverage or share with your friends. This turns out to be quite convenient, given the plethora of eateries located within walking distance of the brewery. As I enjoyed my beer at the bar, I noticed people eating pizza, Mexican food, and Italian food.

Of course, without serving its own food, Odd Side Ales must stand alone based on its beers and its personality. And stand on those merits it certainly does. Chris is a knowledgeable and passionate brewer. Every single beer I tried was above par, and many were spectacular. His Realignment raspberry ale was sharp and tart, with no hint of that sickly sweet I lambast other beers for. The bourbon aged Jackalope American Amber was a new experience; I've had bourbon-aged stouts, porters, pale ales, and IPAs, but this is the first American Amber I've had that got “the treatment,” and the result was delicious. The bourbon flavor was more mild than one would expect, with minimal carbonation and a mix of caramel and hops. They even have a “segue” beer for rice lager fans: the Lite Brite was crisp and light without sacrificing too much flavor. All of the beers were great in their own right, and Chris was extremely knowledgeable about all of his beer and even changed a tap when a specific ale did not live up to his exacting standards.

In terms of personality, this place was that rare experience that made me want to own a pub exactly like it. The wait staff was friendly and very excited just to talk about beer, and the location means – in addition to a plethora of selections from which to eat – Odd Side does a brisk business of wedding parties, eager to explore the rest of the building that houses their reception hall. And nothing makes for more entertainment than a wedding party. The live music, too, was not just “enjoyable” – it was very, very good. Typically, I actively avoid places with live music because it's either hopelessly boring, terrifically loud, annoyingly distracting, or some combination of the three. The twin bass players at Odd Side Ales were none of those things, being both entertaining while still letting me carry on a conversation with the bartender. They fit the décor of the place quite well.

Between the professionalism and excellent service given to us by the owner, the pleasant and laid back atmosphere, and the delicious, original, and well balanced beer, I'll forgive Odd Side Ales for being hard to find. It's a hell of a gem in Grand Haven, easily a 100 mile trip out of your way to check out. I know I'll be back, and back often.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Livery

Within the wheelhouse of every high schooler straining to perfect the questionable skill of writing a 5 point essay, there lies a desire to begin every one of those essays with a definition of a word, and then cleverly tie it to the point of the paper. Much to my dismay, I meekly acknowledge that my first impulse was to begin this piece with a definition of a livery. “After all,” my high school brain implored, “people should have a starting place from which to understand why this delightful brewery got its name.”

My post high school brain, tempered with experience with wielding a peerless command of the language, replied: “dude. It's still lame.” Plus, it turns out that “livery” has several, barely related definitions. . .and also, you can google it yourself.

The Livery is located in an old, old building that a century ago actually did function as a stable. Re patriated as a brewpub, the downstairs area provides a pleasant and inviting atmosphere that nonetheless maintains a minimalistic approach to décor. The bar greets you as you descend the stairs, stocked with several taps, an inviting bartender, and some of the local wine. The open kitchen is across the room of wooden tables and chairs, with an animated and friendly chef working the grill. The feeling is that of a local watering hole with enough special attractiveness to let you know they serve more than rice lagers.

The highlight of the trip was the tour provided to us by the General Manager, Wally. Wally gave us a special peek into the inner working of the Livery's setup; it's a smaller brewery than I had originally thought, with no bottle service (but loyal draft accounts all over Michigan). They measure their annual beer sales in the hundreds of barrels, but given the quality of their wares this is sure to increase sharply. I realize dealing with large groups of strangers is strenuous at best, and Wally I want to thank you personally for making the effort to show us around the Livery's inner working parts.

several of their beers aging. . .

Speaking of their beer, we sampled just about everything they had on tap. Their master brewer (and owner), Steve Berthel, has a definite signature flavor for his beers – it's not a problem like for the Jamesport Brewery, where the beers had a hard time distinguishing themselves one from another, though. Instead, it's more of an intentional and slight aroma that existed in every one of his creations, from the red to the stout and even the IPA. Laura's and my personal favorite was the Jak Imperial Pale Ale. This assertive, bold concoction made of a generous helping of Belgian malts and Amarillo hops stifled any sense of sour the amber or ESB contained, and replaced them with sweet caramel and an alcohol finish.

The food was another high point of the place, and one that I found genuinely fantastic and well priced. Their pub nachos are generous and delicious, and a particular point of pride for the chef. They also offer the soup pictured below, which (despite its unholy appearance) is a thick and spicy guacamole soup that served to both refresh us on a hot afternoon and challenge our tastebuds with a powerfully spicy punch. My main course, the Italian sub, was one of the best Italian sandwiches I've had in years. Admittedly, it's tough to ruin an Italian, but it's also tough to make one stand out. From the spicy ham and pepperoni to the perfect balance of seasonings and fresh, locally grown lettuce, it was so excellent that, despite my intent to save the other half for the following day, I finished it while driving home. And I'm not ashamed of that.

.The Livery is a charming piece of local, home grown culture peering out from beneath the questionable reputation of the city in which is resides. With its dark, yet inviting atmosphere and its collection of diverse and friendly regulars, this should be on everyone's list to visit. I rate the Livery Brewery as a 30 mile establishment; well worth a 30 mile trip out of your way to visit.

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