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Beer Mistress's Blog
This is the place on the website where I record my favorite beer outings, share travel and restaurant reviews, and offer feedback on social media as it relates to craft beer. Thanks to technology, the world is shrinking and you have the opportunity to be an informed consumer. Gone are the days of opening a menu and picking a beverage at random, not knowing if you will enjoy it or not. Your Twitter feed, Facebook pictures, fancy tracking apps for your phone, and online reviews offer a wealth of information. Each new beer, brewery, and restaurant, has its own strengths and weaknesses giving them a character as unique as you are.
Join me as I dive in and help you navigate this wealth of information. Beer class? Been there. Brew festival? Don't mind if I do. Gastropub crawl? If you insist!
Let's live this culinary adventure together.
They say to, “do what you love” but when you love craft beer- that can be a challenge! I’m finding that the women-in-craft beer community is a creative and tight-knit group that is always looking for the next great idea. Imagine then, how delighted I was to be contacted by Cindy of Cinnia Boutique to discuss her new line of ladies clothing for the craft beer lover!
I own my fair share of brewery t-shirts, but sometimes I don’t want to commit to one brand. Being able to declare my love of craft beer in a more creative way is very enticing to me, so I took a look at her store and WOW! I love the available feminine cuts, variety of colors and witticisms -not to mention the plethora of hop flower designs.
Working with Cindy, I ordered a Beer Babe form fit shirt in a feminine apricot color and it arrived in no time. Admittedly, I ripped it open and the first thing that I did was cuddle the soft fabric! There is none of that “new t-shirt crunchiness” that we’ve all experienced at one time or another. The next day I headed to Old City to visit Historic Philadelphia in the July heat and I proudly wore my Beer Babe t-shirt. Even in the heat and humidity I was extremely comfortable- the fabric was light and breathable, and I earned a few compliments walking around the crowds.
Cindy’s story about her passion for craft beer, convenient online shopping (she even offers late night deals for you night owls), and impetus for opening her boutique are an integral part of her business model. If you’re anything like me and have trouble piecing together outfits and accessories, she offers style collages on the site to help you envision final looks that will get you noticed. If the beer boutique designs continue to take off, Cindy will add additional designs and colors- so make sure that you check back often.
Want to know more about Cinnia Boutique – or just get shopping? Check them out here. And don’t forget to tell them that the Beer Mistress sent you by using BEERMISTRESS10 to save 10%!
The Craft Beer Reputation
When telling someone that you’re into craft beer, they seem to react in one of two ways. Either they are impressed with your “culture and good taste” or they roll their eyes and call you a hipster. So far this year, I have encountered a growing number of the latter, which is what inspired this article.
Let me come out swinging and say, “just because I want a flavorful, expertly crafted beer does not make me pretentious.” I prefer to think it means I care about what I drink, where it came from, and appreciate the story behind the glass. Yes- there are beer “snobs” who turn their noses up at a well-crafted, old-school style beer, and need everything they drink to be a collaboration, barrel-aged, new variety with a witty name. I think of these people as the gluten-free vegans of the beer world.
Following that metaphor, I think of the average craft beer lover as an adventurous eater who wants a quality restaurant meal instead of McDonalds. McDonald's in this case being the American mass market beer. (Did I just take that too far?)
I understand that just like the person in front of you at Starbucks who takes two minutes to order a coffee can cause discontent, those going out to a typical bar looking for an exotic beer will be looked at sideways. But craft beer is growing – by 15% last year! New craft beer bars are popping up all over the place and established bars are expanding their beer lists because populations demand it. Ladies and gentlemen, craft beer is not a fad. Good beer is here to stay!
America is finally returning to its full-flavored, pre-Prohibition glory and we will not allow ourselves to slip back into a colorless, flavorless beer world. We have tasted the manna that is craft beer and we want more!
There will be new trends that develop out of this: craft distilleries, infused beers, new styles and ingredients, the resurgence of the cocktail lounge- and I sincerely believe that the hipsters giving the rest of us a skewed reputation will only be drinking craft beer until these new fads come along. So stand proud, order loud, stick it out, and know that you deserve excellent beer. Even if the old man on the corner stool looks skeptically at you when you order an Arrogant Bastard.
The View From Up Here
When you go out to dinner on your own or in a couple- do you ever sit at the bar? I don’t mean grab a drink at the bar before or after your meal, though that is always a nice time. I mean spend your evening at the bar: cocktails, dinner, dessert, cordials (your dinner menu may not look like mine). I’ll admit that at some point in my life, this was an intimidating undertaking, but as luck would have it, I love talking to strangers! Should the idea of strangers give you sweaty palms, then let me also point out that the bar is a fantastic place to learn. It also comes with a built in friend – your bartender.
Don’t get me wrong, I have had my fair share of fantastic servers who really knew their beer/wine pairings or how the food was prepared. But it’s the nature of a server’s job that they have several tables to manage, so they must flit away every few minutes. At the bar, the bartender – who is more than happy to take your food order- is confined to the bar. Depending on the restaurant, you will also have a view of the kitchen so you can peer behind the curtain, or if you’re anything like me, steal ideas about how your favorite dishes are made.
Not only is the bartender very knowledgeable about the menu and what beer/wine pairs well with your chosen entrée, but career bartenders are also excellent mixologists. Tell your bartender what you like in a cocktail: sweet, fruity, strong, fizzy, and your liquor of choice, then sit back and watch as the magic happens. I have had champagne based, refreshing beverages, indulgent desserts, 50’s throwbacks, and dark brooding treats. All of them unique and delicious.
So next time you find yourself in a long line at the hostess stand, as to sit at the bar. Not only will you save yourself some time, your eyes will be opened to a different side of the restaurant. Come meet the colorful and friendly people, take a glimpse behind the curtain, and learn something about your favorite joint along the way.
Now, before I get some kick back about saying, “sit at the bar as a single or double” the reason I did not advise it for larger groups is because it can be difficult to facilitate conversation when you’re sitting in a line. And that’s what it’s all about, right? Conversation! If you have a bar with corners, 4 people is very feasible. Please don’t think I’m a hater for the double date. Slainte’
A Memorable Summer BBQ
Summer beer does not have to mean boring beer- nor does embracing the steamy weather for outdoor entertaining have to mean leaving the elegant party indoors. Though it may be difficult to find some of your favorite microbrews by the keg, worry not- your large party does not have to suffer through hundreds of glass bottles (or cans- they are making advances). Many reputable beer stores will offer quality beer in sixtels aka "torpedo kegs." Holding just over 5 gallons, it will provide 42 (16 oz) pint sized pours, which is a delightful indulgence when you take into account that a beer like Weyerbacher's Merry Monks Belgian Tripel is 9.3% ABV versus your average keg of Bud Light that weighs in at 4.2% ABV. Keep plenty of water on hand during those hot summer BBQs so guests can stay well hydrated. Friends who may not be used to these higher ABV beers will also be glad for coolers of water. Another benefit of sixtels are that you can stock up on a variety of beers for your party and allow your guests to sample new flavors - a feature best enjoyed with smaller glasses. Lastly - ICE! You probably can't get enough, and you may want to have guests bring reinforcements if your party goes into the night. Ice your kegs, ice the water, and keep any perishable food on ice to keep food safety top of mind.
Now that I've got you thinking about exceptional beer, I want you to consider how much more memorable your event will be if you also take that basic BBQ fare and kick it up a notch. Instead of macaroni salad from the grocery store, think about how much more refreshing and enjoyable your guests will find a seasonal caprese salad. (Sound intimidating? Check out this simple recipe.) Nothing says, "all-American BBQ" like burgers on the grill, but why not make those traditional burgers into smaller sliders and offer your guests a topping bar? Bowls of bacon, caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato, cheese, pickles, relish, avocado, and jalapeño give your guests a buffet of options and have something for every taste. It's very easy to grab chips and salsa for a picnic, but take those same chips and dip into guacamole to embrace summer's freshest flavors. Mix in bacon, corn, roasted chipotle, or fresh tomato to make the flavor pop.
There is still plenty of warm weather left, so pick a date, plan a BBQ and make it something extra special. When in doubt, message me and I'll help you plan! This Beer Mistress loves a good party. Just don't be surprised if I show up.
I have always heard that every human connects to the world through one primary sense: touch, taste, smell, sound, or sight. A recent long weekend reinforced one of my key tenements: I taste my memories. I had the opportunity to spend 26 hours in the greater Chicago area, and all I could think about was what I could eat and drink. Before I left home, I did some preliminary research on locations that had a selection of beer that is both native to the Illinois/mid-West area and varied enough to let me taste the best the region has to offer.
I started at the strongly German inspired (this coming from a girl who's been to Germany) Bavarian Lodge in Lisle, IL. I could not miss the opportunity to visit based upon the perfect Beer Advocate reviews, and for being a small suburban town, this place could not get much better. If I had one thing to complain about, it was that the joint didn't open until 4, and this Beer Mistress was thirsty! I enjoyed two beers and the almond crusted duck tenders, for $22. I was also happy to see that half of the draught menu consisted of local beers, so I truly had the opportunity to taste Illinois. I tried the Goose Island Big John Imperial Stout with my duck tenders, which packed a serious flavor punch at 11.5%ABV. I also enjoyed a Solemn Oath Snaggletooth Bandana, an American IPA weighing in at 6.5%ABV and made in nearby Naperville, IL. I thoroughly enjoyed the citrus notes and fluffy white head in this beer, and based on this one beverage alone would consider a brewery visit on my next trip to the area.
After my 4pm snack, I headed to the World of Beer, which was a wonderful warm weather destination where I was surrounded by fridges of beer bottles and rows of draughts. Though this is a chain, and not typically the kind of joint I would choose on such a short visit, I felt that the extensive local beer list made it very worthwhile. Unfortunately, this location does not serve food, so my group and I only managed to stay for about 2 hours before the dinner bug seriously hit us. During our visit, however, we had the opportunity to try some more local beer by: Pipeworks Brewing Company, Haymarket Brewery, 5 Rabbit, Hypothesis, and Lake Effect breweries.
As we left World of Beer, we stumbled across the parking lot, and what should dinner provide this adventurous eater, but Cooper's Hawk Winery and Restaurant. Making all of their own wine, Cooper's Hawk was a stellar find! The food was fresh, creative, and delicious. I appreciated that their wine list was sizable and there were approximately 20 varieties available by the glass. With short rib risotto; maple, mustard, and pretzel crusted pork medallions; asian bbq pork belly nachos, and pistachio-crusted grouper on their menu, there is something on their menu for every taste.
As the clock begins to count down toward the end of my layover in Chicago, I am proud of myself for all of the local establishments I was able to visit, the variety of foods I have had the opportunity to sample, and most of all - the spectrum of Illinois in which I was able to imbibe. I did not order any beer or wine that I can find in my local haunts in Virginia and Pennsylvania, so each sip truly was a new adventure. If I am ever fortunate enough to find these beverages again, my mind will transport me back to Illinois and I will revisit these happy travel memories.
So it's true, I taste my memories. But I cannot imagine a better way to truly experience the culture of a new city, country, or locale than through food and drink. I'm already day dreaming about my next weekend trip of tasty, and I hope to meet you along the way.
Ontario Craft Beer Week
Good beer isn’t just a beverage, it’s an experience. And as you take the time to learn about the intricacies of a well-crafted brew, you’ll also learn a thing or two about the microbrew sub-culture. Only this sub-culture is quickly becoming a very main-stream activity.
Due to a great performance contract, I found myself in Canada for three weeks during the summer of 2012. Once we got there, I started looking for things to do in our down time, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the 3rd Annual Ontario Craft Beer week kicked off on Father’s Day!
I used to live in Philadelphia, and Philly Beer week is quite an adventure, so I thought that if we were lucky enough to score tickets to some OCB events, that it would be a great way to get to know the Canadian Beer Culture.
I will admit that part of me thought that I’d have to give up beer when I got to this country. I mean, I certainly don’t want to judge an entire country on just its mass market beers (I wouldn’t want someone judging America that way) but could the land of Labatt and Molson have anything flavorful enough to satisfy my beer geek self?
Our first event was on a sleepy Father’s Day Sunday in an adorable bar called, “The Golden Kiwi” in a small town called Cambridge, Ontario. When we arrived, I thought we had our wires crossed because the place was virtually empty. I told the owner, who greeted us upon entering, that we came for the Beer & Cheese event, and he came out to hug us. For only $15CN, we each got to experience 5 samples of Mill St Brewery’s creations, and each was paired with something delicious from the Golden Kiwi’s menu. This was no “catch as catch can” kind of event. The server actually brought us each our own array of goodness. We’re talking spinach bleu cheese dip, roasted red pepper and goat cheese spread, potato skins with crab and gouda, and wild boar quesadillas!
Mill Street has more beer available than the 4 we were able to try (the 5th was a bonus), but the selection was well paired with the foods we were given. Tyler, the brewery’s representative at the event, was personable and knowledgeable. Some in our group are die hard beer enthusiasts, and others are completely new to craft beer. This was an excellent opportunity to learn more- as the variety of beers was diverse but not overwhelming and the environment was welcoming. Mill Street Lemon Tea Beer is definitely worth noting as something unusual - it’s an orange-amber color, slightly sweet, and has a dry lemon-tea finish. The addition of Black tea leaves and lemon in the aging tank gives this beer a spicy flavor dynamic. A refreshing, summery beer that has some very obvious layers to it’s flavor pallet, and very similar to the popular summer shandy back home.
Before we had finished eating, an Irish band started a jam session in the dining room, and some amazing live music filled the pub! This experience was so different than any Philly Beer Week event that I have ever attended- the value felt terrific, and the whole environment was so laid back. It was also nice that, as tourists, the event wasn’t sold out long in advance. We considered this trip so successful, that we started perusing the OCB week website for other events that fell during our off hours. It didn’t take much surfing before we luckily stumbled into the best value in beer that I have ever known! In the picturesque town of Guelph, we found the Albion Hotel which was serving 10 beer samples for $10, and had a selection from many different breweries, so we were able to taste more of Canada in one stop. As soon as we entered this historic building, the first person we ran into was Tyler from Mill Street Brewery! He remembered us and was wonderfully welcoming. We were also thrilled to see that the two beers that Mill Street brought were their Tankhouse Ale, which was our favorite from the first event, and their Coffee Porter which we had been looking forward to trying.
This event was magnificent! There were complimentary hors d’oeuvres available all night, and the beer samples were far from small. The brewery reps were knowledgeable and engaging. We tried to exercise logic in our approach to the tasting. We started with the lighter beers- there were two pilsners to be had, one from Steam Whistle and one from Stone Hammer. As you may have noticed from my past postings, I prefer full flavored beers. Pilsner isn’t high on my list, and starting with the Steam Whistle was a complete disappointment. They had some of the most enthusiastic (and some of the only female) beer reps of the evening, but the beer was bland. There was no complexity or depth to it. But we followed it up immediately with the Stone Hammer pilsner and were thrilled to find that there was more to their beer! It has a bitter finish, but some layers of flavor, and for a light beer it wasn’t boring. Success!
We moved through the lagers and amber ales of the evening, but were working up to the Mill Street Coffee Porter. It was the first flavor explosion that we had all night long! Made with roasted, organic coffee beans, this deep, rich porter is full of flavor! I was so excited to see that our craft beer virgin had a religious experience when trying this beer. All night, she tried beer after beer, not really knowing what she was tasting or if anything was to her liking. But her eyes lit up when trying the coffee porter, and she seemed to have an epiphany when we encouraged her to try a bite of chocolate with her next sip. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a convert!
Fast forward to the corner display for Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery. Their advertised beers are the Antigravity Light Ale and the Hoptical Illusion Almost Pale Ale. But after meeting Bill, and chatting to him for some time, he can tell that I’m true a beer lover. He ducks behind his booth to pull out a bottle of Smashbomb IPA. WOW- delicious! This is the best Canadian IPA I have found, and better than most American single IPAs. It packs a serious flavor punch for only 6% ABV, which seems to be the rule across the board from what I’ve learned during this event. The average “lighter” beer is about 5%ABV, but even the potent, flavorful ones top out at 6.5%. It’s definitely easier to keep tabs on what you’re drinking, but it isn’t quite what I’m used to in terms of microbrews.
Many of the represented breweries have coupons available at their booths for free brewery tours. They are sprinkled throughout Ontario, but if you’re in Toronto, visiting craft breweries would be a great way to spend a weekend. I also appreciated the opportunity to learn which breweries I wouldn’t want to visit. Cameron’s Brewing, for example… I had been looking forward to their Cream Ale all night, but even after trying 4 different beers of theirs, I didn’t like a single one. I would definitely not consider a trip out to their brewery to be worthwhile.
I also loved learning a bit about the culture of each brewery. Flying Monkeys, for example, has what they call “cap wisdom.” It’s kind of like the Snapple cap messages or the new Taco Bell sauce humor. My favorite of the evening? “Don’t Drink and Blog” a mantra I obviously don’t subscribe to, but one that made me chuckle just the same.
So, what did we learn from Ontario Beer Week?
There is a lot of a country or region’s culture to be learned through it’s beer. There are also some amazing people, personalities, and experiences to be had as a result of craft beer. So, if you know that you’re a craft beer lover, or want to learn more about a place using several senses, you may want to consider their craft brews. And thanks to the Internet, you can learn so much before you even arrive in a new place.
Philly Beer Week 2012
I used to live in Philadelphia (well, its environs anyway) and there is much that is unique about that city: its connection to American history, the scrappy sports teams, their passion for cheese wiz… but there is one thing that Philly embraces with style and vigor: BEER! Not only is Philadelphia home to many quality craft breweries, but they also have a world-class beer week! Going on its fifth year, it has grown so significantly that Philly Beer Week isn’t even a week anymore, it’s 10 days! That’s my kind of event.
I kicked off 2012 Philadelphia Beer Week with a brand new experience, my first beer class. Now I am far from a beer connoisseur, but I was afraid of sitting through 2 hours of some purported “expert” droning on about the difference between pilsner and lager. This concern is why I went to a trusted source of alcohol education in Philadelphia: Tria. Tria is a magnificent wine bar with 3 locations throughout the city, and several years ago they added a separate Fermentation School where they are brave enough to educate the rough-around-the-edges Philly types in the benefits of the world’s delicious wines. Occasionally, Tria will also offer beer classes, and Philly Beer Week is an excellent reason to host some world-class brewers!
I feel that I chose carefully, and I was smart enough to choose quickly. I signed my beer-loving friend and I up for a class called The Gypsy Kings (Of Beer), which sold out almost immediately! There were 24 seats in this well-appointed classroom, and I’ll admit that as much as I respect Tria, I was a little concerned that my $65 ticket was overpriced. It took all of 4 minutes after walking in to decide that I actually underpaid.
Each seat was adorned with 7 elegant glasses, water, a guided tasting/notes menu, Philly Soft Pretzels and your own cheese board with Breads, cheese, fudge, and spicy mustard. After checking-in, we were greeted with our first glass of beer, a light offering from Stillwater called “Artisanal Premium.” The brewer from Stillwater was supposed to attend our class that evening, but June 1 also happened to be the day that his Stillwater Bar was opening in Baltimore, MD. Needless to say, he was otherwise engaged. The Artisanal Premium was nice, but not something I would seek out. It’s light in color and flavor as well as ABV (4.5%) but like all Stillwater beers, it’s made in a unique style. You see, it’s made like PBR. Yes, I just uttered that acronym in a craft beer blog. Now, incase you’re pretentious enough not to know what PBR is, and you’re still lurking around my blog, that’s Pabst Blue Ribbon. Read: that beer that’s sold at the neighborhood bar for $1 draughts and tastes like bitter water. Why on earth would Stillwater make such a thing you say? To prove that you can use those same ingredients and still craft a delicious beer. I think the effort was valiant and I’d rather have an Artisanal Premium than a PBR any day, but that doesn’t mean I need another glass of either.
Once everyone had rolled in, we were introduced to Brian Ewing of 12 Percent Imports and Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, of Evil Twin and our night took off in a whirlwind of anecdotes, tasting profiles, phenomenal beer, and both the benefits and drawbacks of being a gypsy brewer. All in all, we tried 8 beers, devoured that amazing spread that I described earlier, got to ask questions of one of the world’s most cutting edge brewers, and be regaled with tales of a Swedish furniture building contest. My only regret for the night? You mean, despite wearing a little red dress and some killer heels in a torrential downpour? The fact that I only got to try one of the two Russian Roulette beers. Not sure what I’m talking about? So glad you asked.
Evil Twin and a Swedish brewery called Omnipollo decided to partner on a beer. Instead of making a collaboration, as has become all the rage lately, they chose to each create their own take on the same beer. They made a beer called Russian Roulette. It’s a 7.1%ABV IPA, but all of the bottles are labeled the same. When you crack one open, you don’t know if you’ll be having an Evil Twin beer or an Omnipollo beer, and since one is a standard IPA but the other is a black IPA, the difference can look (and taste!) quite shocking.
Tria, Evil Twin, and Philly Beer Week really came through for me. I’m saddened that I was not able to fully experience all that Beer Week had to offer, but for only getting to squeeze in one event, I know that I picked the right one for me. I highly recommend something like this as an untraditional night out. Meet some new friends, try some fantastic new beers, and get out of the house! Just buy your tickets early, because people are catching on.