Thursday, October 31, 2013

Of Imperial Stouts and Cupcakes

Victory Storm King getting cozy with *ndulge's "Chocoholic"
The weather has turned decidedly colder in this neck of the woods, and that means one thing to dedicated beer geeks – time to bring out the big beers! With their higher alcohol content, and rich complex flavors, they are the prefect companions for long winter nights in front of the fireplace, or as an accompaniment for the opulence of a holiday meal. Barley wines, winter warmers, Belgian dubbels and tripels, are examples of big beers, as well as almost anything with the word imperial stuck to the front of it, and that includes our beer du jour, Victory Storm King, an imperial stout.

Storm King’s flavor profile includes characteristics typical of an imperial stout, including a complex roasted maltiness, along with dark chocolate and coffee.  Look for a suggestion of  licorice in both aroma and taste. Unlike most other versions of the style, however, Storm King is generously hopped. If you are hops-averse, take heart; the hops in Storm King do not present themselves like the hops in those American IPAs you’re always avoiding. Rather, they appear as a subtle floral component to the aroma, and more assertively in the flavor where they add a dryer finish to this typically sweet beer. My wife will tell you that she does not like hoppy beers, but she is a big fan of Storm King.< I think of imperial stout as dessert in a glass. With its deep chocolate-colored body and luscious tan head, the style resembles a dark chocolate cupcake with milk chocolate frosting poured into a glass. What more could one ask for?

The Chocoholic. Be sure to use a spoon.
And yet, there is always room for decadence. With that in mind, a few days ago my wife Donna, and I visited Manayunk’s *ndulge cupcake boutique, where decadence abounds in lavishly frosted Matterhorn-shaped concoctions such as Snickerdoodledoo, Lemonardo Da Vinci, and Coconut Scream. We would have happily given any of them a good home, but we were on a mission that day to find the perfect cupcake to pair with Storm King, and we were definitely thinking chocolate. *ndulge provided us with quite a few options, but we finally settled on The Chocoholic, which is comprised of chocolate cake, chocolate cream cheese frosting, whipped chocolate ganache filling, and a garnish of chocolate cake crumb. We figured that one would probably have enough chocolate in it.

That night we poured ourselves a glass of Storm King, broke out a couple of spoons, and attacked The Chocoholic. This was a perfect pairing. The slight bitterness of the cake was matched nicely by the coffee bite of the stout. The assertive sweetness of the ganache and frosting were balanced pleasantly by the beer’s dry finish. In turn, the complexity of flavors in the cupcake smoothed out the texture of the beer. Finding just the right combination when attempting to pair beer with food is always a fun challenge, but rarely as rewarding as this one.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Saison de Rose

A glass of Saison de Rose.
Saison de Rose, available on draft through October.

The quick shot: Saison de Rose pours a gorgeous amber (if not quite pink), with a substantial white head; in the aroma, notes of pepper accompany the usual fruitiness expected of the style; a complex sweetness (hibiscus?) greets you up front with the first sip; a subtle peppercorn lends a pleasant dryness at the back of the swallow, and as the glass warms, grapefruit begins to appear; pair this (per Erin Wallace’s recommendation) with scallops, especially if prepared with a grapefruit vinaigrette.

One of the great pleasures of craft beer is that there is always an interesting back story. The story behind Saison de Rose, a collaborative effort between four women who are major forces in the local beer scene, and Free Will Brewing began, as so many of these stories do, with a conversation between friends at a bar after a few drinks. Erin Wallace, owner of Old Eagle Tavern, Devil’s Den, and the very-soon-to-be-opened Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery, and Free Will Brewery’s David Wood were sharing a few beers to decompress after an event at this year’s Philadelphia Beer Week, when the idea was born – let’s create a beer to support Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Erin quickly assembled her impressive posse – beer writers Tara Nurin, Marnie Old, and Carolyn Smagalski. The beer they came up with, a saison, is described in their press release, as tinted pink with natural hibiscus flowers and brewed with uncommon, flavorful ingredients: pink grapefruit, fresh ginger and pink peppercorns. You can find Saison de Rose on draft through October, in Manayunk’s Old Eagle Tavern, where it is also available by growler, in case you want to take some home.

You can also find Saison de Rose, while it lasts, at the following Philadelphia locations:
  • Bainbridge St Barrel House, Philadelphia 
  • City Tap House, Philadelphia 
  • Devils Den, Philadelphia 
  • Doc's World of Beer, Philadelphia 
  • Earth Bread & Brewery, Philadelphia 
  • Franklin's Pub & Grill, Philadelphia 
  • Johnny Brenda's, Philadelphia 
  • Kraftwork Bar, Philadelphia 
  • Old Eagle Tavern, Philadelphia 
  • Parc, Philadelphia 
  • Red Owl Tavern, Philadelphia 
  • Route 6, Philadelphia 
  • The Sidecar, Philadelphia 
  • The Ugly Moose, Philadelphia 
  • Time, Philadelphia 
Over $100 from the sale of each keg will go directly to Rena Rowan Breast Center at Penn Medicine.