Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sip of Michigan Event

The Michigan Beer Blog is, by definition, a specialized blog. We talk about Michigan Beer, a topic about which we are passionate, but one that doesn't tell the whole story of Michigan's great products. It doesn't even tell the whole story of Michigan's great alcohol selection. For that, you'll want to check out Drink Michigan. They cover the news and exploits of all of the state's greatest exports: beer, wine, and liquor.

On Saturday, March 27th, Drink Michigan, in concert with Nicky's Willows Grill and the Brass Mug Liquor, hosted a sampling of local Michigan flair. In addition to an excellent selection of Michigan beer, several distilleries and wineries came to prove why Michigan dominates the markets sure to make the Temperance Movement swoon with horror.

Of note: Jolly Pumpkin brought a selection the likes of which I have literally never seen at a festival before. Several beers I have never seen in my favorite liquor store were on display, including Biere de Mars and The Firefly, both amazing sour beers from Jolly Pumpkin. We were also introduced to a brewery that shares lineage with Jolly Pumpkin, Grizzly Peak, and North Peak brewing: Leelanau Brewing, another excellent brewery.

Justifiably proud of the Jolly Pumpkin selection

Beer was only a third of the players, though, with distilleries from around the state producing some delicious liquors, from cucumber liqueur to Peanut Butter flavored vodka ( was called Nutliquor vodka. And it was delicious). Rounding out the choices included an excellent wine selection, from as far south as St Julian's in Paw Paw to the Chateau Chantal winery up north of Traverse City. 

Between the originality and passion of Drink Michigan, the generosity of Nicky, the owner of Nicky's Willows, and the huge selection made available by Louie, owner of the Brass Mug, Drink Michigan's first Annual (cmon, Audrey and Trisha, let's make it annual!) Sip of Michigan was a fantastic success!

Image courtesy Joe Hakim,  (Not Pictured: Trisha Verma, co-founder of Drink Michigan)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Arbor Brewing's Espresso Love Bomb Cupcakes

In case you haven't already figured it out, these cupcakes are fashioned after the popular “Irish Car Bomb” cocktail that is so popular around this time of year.  The way the drink is made is that a shot glass with a mix of Baileys Irish Cream and Jameson’s Irish whiskey is dropped into a three-quarters full pint of Guinness, and then you chug the entire foaming, delicious mess -- before it curdles.  If you've somehow never tried this, it may sound utterly disgusting, but trust me, if you get it down before it curdles, it's smooth, delicious, and almost tastes like a milkshake.

How exactly this cocktail came to pass in baked good form is that I am the “official dessert bringer” to our friends' annual St. Patrick's Day party. Seeing as this was the eighth of these annual parties that our good friends Zach and Heidi have hosted, I'm slowly running out of desserts that either contain something with a bunch of green food dye, use Baileys Irish Cream or Guinness, or are in any other way considered to be “Irish" enough to pass with a Shamrock pick stuck in it. So with each passing year, I need to really expand my culinary imagination (aka get a little help from the internet).

Even though the Espresso Love Breakfast Stout isn't exactly Irish, I feel it was the perfect choice for this recipe, as it lends the perfect hint of coffee flavor to the final product.  Coffee and chocolate?  Yes, please!

For the cupcakes you will need:
1 cup Arbor Brewing Co. Espresso Love Breakfast Stout
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
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

For the ganache filling:
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 to 2 teaspoons Irish whiskey

Baileys frosting:
3 to 4 cups confections sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperatue
3 to 4 tablespoons Baileys
Special equipment: 1-inch round cookie cutter or an apple corer and a piping bag (though a plastic bag with the corner snipped off will also work).

Make the cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 24 cupcake cups with liners. Bring 1 cup stout and 1 cup butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend.

Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined.

Divide batter among cupcake liners, filling them 2/3 to 3/4 of the way.

Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, rotating them once front to back if your oven bakes unevenly, about 17 minutes. Cool cupcakes on a rack completely.

Make the filling: Chop the chocolate and transfer it to a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream until simmering and pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit for one minute and then stir until smooth. (If this has not sufficiently melted the chocolate, you can return it to a double-boiler to gently melt what remains. 20 seconds in the microwave, watching carefully, will also work.) Add the butter and whiskey (if you’re using it) and stir until combined.

Fill the cupcakes: Let the ganache cool until thick but still soft enough to be piped (the fridge will speed this along but you must stir it every 10 minutes). Meanwhile, using your 1-inch round cookie cutter or an apple corer, cut the centers out of the cooled cupcakes. You want to go most of the way down the cupcake but not cut through the bottom — aim for 2/3 of the way. A slim spoon or grapefruit knife will help you get the center out. Put the ganache into a piping bag with a wide tip and fill the holes in each cupcake to the top.

Make the frosting: Whip the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, for several minutes. You want to get it very light and fluffy. Slowly add the powdered sugar, a few tablespoons at a time. When you add the sugar slowly, quick buttercream frostings get less grainy, and tend to require less sugar to thicken them up.

When the frosting looks thick enough to spread, drizzle in the Baileys and whip it until combined. If this has made the frosting too thin (it shouldn’t, but just in case) beat in another spoonful or two of powdered sugar.
Ice and decorate the cupcakes and they're ready to eat!

Do ahead: You can bake the cupcakes a week or two in advance and store them, well wrapped, in the freezer. You can also fill them before you freeze them. They also keep filled — or filled and frosted — in the fridge for a day. (Longer, they will start to get stale.)

While the beer in the cake gets mostly baked out, the Baileys and whiskey are fresh and potent, so if you’re making this for people who don’t drink — ahem, nobody I know, but I hear such people exist — you’ll probably want to swap it with milk. The Baileys frosting recipe makes a pretty small amount of frosting — enough to just cover the cupcakes. Because they were so rich and this frosting so sweet, I felt it only needed a little. Double it if you want more of a towering effect.

Makes about 24 cupcakes.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sundog Amber Creole Barbecue Shrimp

About a month ago, Seth and I dined at the Blue House Bistro in Holland, just a few blocks west of New Holland Brewing Co. It's small, unassuming, and definitely off the beaten path, but this culinary pearl (in a bit of a rough outer shell) is surely a place you should check out next time you're around downtown Holland.

The outside

The West Eighth Street restaurant, which opened last Spring, exquisitely blends two culinary styles: French-inspired Creole city fare and spicy Cajun peasant food, and just so happens to be the inspiration for this recipe I created for Fat Tuesday. Yes, it's a little late now, but it's great for any other time of the year, too!

The inside: a bistro/convenience store/work in progress?

The first dish we tried at the Blue House Bistro was the Creole Barbecue Shrimp, and is described on the menu as “A New Orleans classic with a Holland based beer reduction. Shrimp, garlic, and onion in a New Holland Amber Ale reduction, served with baguettes.” "Barbecue" is a bit of a misnomer here as the shrimp are actually pan-fried, not barbecued; nevertheless, it was still incredibly delicious. And though the Blue House Bistro does make home deliveries, I'm pretty sure my house here in Grand Rapids is not within their delivery zone. So to tide me over until our next trip out to Holland, I made up my own version, which was actually pretty close to the real deal.

The Blue House Bistro's version of Creole BBQ Shrimp

For this recipe, you'll need:

1 pound Shrimp (with shells on)
1 stick butter, divided
1 tablespoon black pepper, divided
2 tablespoons Creole seasoning, divided
1 shallot, diced
2 bay leaves
7-8 cloves garlic, diced and divided
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 cup New Holland Sundog Amber Ale
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
1 tablespoon rosemary
1-2 lemons
Olive oil

Peel and devein the shrimp. Leave the tails on (and heads, if desired) and save the shells for the shrimp stock.

To make the shrimp stock, put the shrimp shells in a pot on high heat and add 2 tablespoons butter, allowing the shells to roast. 

Once the butter is melted, add ½ tablespoon pepper, 1 tablespoon Creole seasoning, the diced shallot, bay leaves, and 3-4 cloves of garlic.

Deglaze the pan with the Sundog Amber Ale and let it cook down a bit (about 3 minutes) before adding Worcestershire sauce. Add just enough water to the stock to cover the shells and cook for 15 minutes on a low simmer. After 15 minutes, strain the stock to remove all of the shells.

While the shrimp stock is simmering, caramelize some lemons to toss in during the final step of the recipe. This is very simple – cut 1 or 2 lemons in half and saute in olive oil until the outside of the lemons are brown and caramelized, similar to how you would caramelize an onion, just..bigger.

In the meantime, add 2-3 tablespoons butter and all of the shrimp to a pan. 

Add the other ½ tablespoon pepper, the parsley, rosemary, other 3-4 cloves of garlic and 1 tablespoon Creole seasoning. Lightly saute and toss the shrimp with tongs.

Add the strained shrimp stock and a little more butter (1-2 tablespoons). Add the carmalized lemons.

Plate and serve with sliced french baguette.

Though the ingredients satisfy the Lenten restrictions for Fridays, the richness and deliciousness of this New Orleans-style Barbecue Shrimp preparation is somewhat in contrast to the notion of sacrifice.  This is a great dish, and simple to make, even if there are a fair number of ingredients.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Brew Ski Festival at Boyne Highlands

“I hate winter.”

As a Michigander, I hear that sentence a lot. I’m guilty of saying it on more than one occasion. It’s pretty easy to understand that living in a land where winter arrives early to ruin Halloween, and stays late to ruin Easter (let alone St Patrick’s Day) would breed some contempt for the cold wind, icy roads, and long, dark nights.

Well guess what. It’s coming again next year, and you have three choices: run away, continue to complain, or come to grips with the fact that the price for living in a place without earthquakes, volcanoes, sharks, droughts, or hurricanes is a few chilly months and a tornado once in awhile. So bundle up, grab a beer, and find something fun to do.

Michigan even makes it easy for you. On Saturday, March 12th, the Boyne Highlands Resort hosted its second annual Brew Ski event, an outdoor celebration of beer and downhill skiing. In a collection of tents located at the foot of their beautiful ski trails, the Resort hosted dozens of breweries in an event to brings two communities – skiers and craft beer lovers – that may not traditionally share a lot of overlap.

I admit that I was originally skeptical about mixing a sport that typically requires at least a modicum of hand-eye coordination with craft beer. While the vast majority of festival goers drink responsibly, one would assume that getting on skis might exacerbate some of the side effects of enjoying craft beer. However, my fears were misplaced; people would ski down the mountain, warm up by one of the fires, enjoy a delicious bratwurst and sample some of the beverages available before repeating the process, and no ill effects were recorded. Laura and I even got in on the action by taking the zipline down the hill. Upside down.

The beer selections offered at the Brew Ski event differed slightly from what I’ve become accustomed to at the Michigan Brewers’ Guild sponsored festivals. The upside: beer from outside of our great borders. I admit that I occasionally enjoy beer brewed outside of the mitten, and it was new and refreshing to see some truly big names in American craft beer showing off: we sampled some beer from such names as Lagunitas (California), Goose Island (Illinois), Stone Brewing (California), Rogue Ales (Oregon), and Redhook (Washington), just to name a few. The downside: whereas I’m used to festivals being places where experimental and limited edition beers are showcased, most of the brewers were exhibiting their classics and most popular beer. This is not disappointing, as I’m certain many people (including me!) found something they had never tried before. And even if they didn’t, the old standbys from our favorite Michigan and outstate breweries are nothing to complain about.

Yes, winter sucks. Yes, it snows in Michigan. That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the weather. Nothing helps turn the gray drab of a winter day into fun more than a few craft beers and an activity you enjoy. So pull those gloves on, wrap your ears up, stop complaining, and enjoy this state. If it’s going to be winter eight months a year, we sure shouldn’t waste it.

If you waste it, I will find you.

 For more photographs, please see our Facebook Page.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Bottled Michigan: Founder's Double Trouble Imperial IPA

It's March in Michigan, and as the more fortunate venture south to throw necklaces of cheap, plastic beads toward people as part of a primitive bartering system to see exposed breasts, the rest of Michigan eats their Pączki and begin to really, really hate winter. Cozy winters around the fireplace be damned; we want our birdsongs, buttercups, and baseball to start. So even as the local weatherman calls for one or two more lazy snowfalls, and ducks spitballs shot at him from the anchors, I eschew the browns and stouts that kept me warm during the winter and treat myself to a preview of summer.

The Founder's Double Trouble comes highly recommended across the beer loving community. As an Imperial IPA brewed with double the malt and double the hops of a traditional IPA, I was looking forward to an aggressive, citrus flavored beer that did not overpower me with the bitterness.

The beer poured a hazy amber color, which swiftly clarified, leaving a liquid the color of gold. Small bubbles drifted lazily from the bottom of the glass, taking their time, making little spirals on their way up as I gently swirled the contents. The head, surprisingly bright white for a Double IPA, dissipated quickly but left a thin sheen of white covering the top of the beer, which clung to the glass in imperfect lacing as I drank.

The smell! After months of feeling cooped up inside, drinking my Cabin Fever and other appropriately named beverages, the blast of citrus and pine did almost as much to clear away the malaise of winter as spring cleaning. Crisp and fresh and unapologetic, the Double Trouble's aroma is anything but mild.

The taste follows suit, although in a pleasant manner. To be honest, had this Double IPA followed its aroma with an equally aggressive taste, I would not have enjoyed it. Throwing ten tons of hops into a glass and mixing it with pine needles does not necessarily make a good beer. Thankfully, the taste is more mild than the smell insinuates, damping the grapefruit with sweet, sugary malt and the masking smoothness of alcohol. The beer is still aggressive, and at no point do you forget that you're drinking an Imperial IPA, but it's a pleasant aggressiveness that reminds you that the lawn hasn't been mowed yet, so get up and do your summer chores.

Although I could do without the creepy double sided face staring at me while I drink it, the Founder's Double Trouble provides everything I want in a summer beer – or, in this case, a welcome respite from the darker months. . . and the beers that populate them.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

6th Annual Winter Beer Fest

Science has two terms for a huge group of people who patiently and cheerfully stand in line for the chance to spend five hours outside at the end of February in Michigan, making friends and idle chit chat as huge flakes of snow fall on their often bearded faces.

The first term is “crazy people.”

The second is the “Winter Beer Fest Attendees,” and given their dedication to and love for Michigan craft beer, one could say they are still crazy people. Crazy for beer.

Behold the amazing spectacle that is the 6th annual Winter Beer Fest, sponsored by our friends at the Michigan Brewers’ Guild. Six thousand people descended upon the parking lot at the Fifth Third Ballpark, splitting their time between the 62 Michigan breweries offering a total of 300 different and original beers for people to try. Braving a consistent snowfall, the attendees made their way from tent to tent, stopping occasionally to warm up by the fires strategically placed around the event or relinquish their claim to post-filtered beer at the wall of outdoor restroom facilities. Eighty-five restroom facilities, in fact.


The snow, which came almost completely without wind, was not unpleasant; fat, lazy balls of snowflakes pattered the beards and hats of everyone, creating an environment of wonder and celebration. Gentlemen drank out of mugs made from ice. Friends were made during the shared discomfort of standing in line to use the restroom. The only victim to the weather were the ubiquitous pretzel necklaces, which after a few hours inevitably became soggy under the onslaught of melted snow and occasionally spilled beer.

With 62 breweries in attendance, there was no end to the originality available from Michigan’s brewers. Dark Horse showed up in their double barreled fashion, boasting a tunnel of stouts for people to explore, in addition to a plethora of beers with such fascinating names as Whiskey Richard. Odd Side Ales, flaunting its skill in small batch beer creation, stepped up with some especially original ales, including Fig Brewton, and a very aggressive peppercorn ale. Right Brain Brewery up in Traverse City brought a delicious chocolate mint stout. Founder’s Brewing had – for a grand total of maybe 20 minutes – their world famous and devilishly hard to find Kentucky Breakfast Stout available. Kuhnhenn brought their signature super-experimental flair that included a crème brulee stout. Our friends at the Saugatuck Brewing company outdid themselves with a Neapolitan stout that literally tasted like chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. The Big Rock Chop and Brewhouse had a fantastic raspberry ale. The list goes on and on; here is an incomplete list (the ones that we sampled) of the beers available:

Short's Carrot Cake Ale
Short's Almond Joy
Right Brain Dirty Girl Stout (chocolate mint stout)
Right Brain Pie Whole (amber ale)
Round Barn Grape Expectations
Millking It Productions AXL Pale Ale
Dark Horse Whiskey Richard Sour Ale
Dark Horse 4 Elf Winter Warmer
Dark Horse WGRD Ale
Saugatuck Neapolitan Ale
Saugatuck Vanilla Nutmeg Oatmeal Stout
Odd Side Fig Brewton
Odd Side Black Peppercorn Pale Ale
Kuhnhenn Bourbon Barrel Aged Fourth Dementia Olde Ale
Kuhnhenn Creme Brulee
Motor City Brewing Works Hard Cider
Motor City Brewing Works Strong Ale
Short's Strawberry Milk
Short's Raisin Apollo Double IPA
Short's Pineapple Ale
Blue Tractor Schakolad Weizen Chocolate Wheat
Blue Tractor Liv's Lager Imperial Pilsner
Corner Brewing Espresso Love Breakfast Stout
Corner Brewing Ryeclops Imperial “RyePA”
Big Rock Chop and Brewhouse Sour Raspberry
Big Rock Chop and Brewhouse Strong Scotch Ale
Frog Island Brewing Co. Moonsqualler Scotch Ale
Jaden James Brewery IPA
Jolly Pumpkin Bambic Special Blend
Jolly Pumpkin Chocolate, Pineapple, Chipotle, Rauch Biere
Lilys Seafood Grill and Brewery A Strange Oatmeal Stout
Lilys Yukon Cornelius Spiced Porter
Lilys O'Gradys Cherry Stout
Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout

As always, the high point of the beer fest was the community. Michigan craft beer brings people together in a way that ties in hard work, inventiveness, originality, emphasis on local business, and enthusiasm in such a way that everyone there really feels like friends with everyone else. It’s less of a sampling show and more of a family reunion.

Thanks to the Michigan Brewers Guild for organizing and putting on the event, thanks to the brewers for bringing their best and brightest on a snowy day, and thanks to the attendees for making the 6th Winter Beer Fest an immense success. Prost, Slainte, Skål, Cheers, and Salud!


For more of our photos from this event, click here.

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