Public House Hosts Beer vs. Booze Showdown

The Public House in The Venetian has many reasons to celebrate, and allowed them to culminate in the popular form of a course pairing dinner showdown. Reason One to celebrate: The grand old time that is the Nightclub and Bar Show was in town, a thing that to liquor professionals is like a week-long bacchanalia. Reason Two: Grant Grill of San Diego Mixologist Jeff Josenhans was in town for the NCB Show, and a friendly competition with hometown-hero Cicerone Russell Gardner seemed like the natural thing to do. Reason Three: Do we really need a reason?It sounds amazing! After the little knot of other food writers said their hellos, the staff wasted no time in getting starting this off right.

The first course was their crispy duck egg roll, with a little bit of apricot jam. This was paired with a truly great beer by Jolly Pumpkin, Bam Bier. The white pepper tastes and funky tartness from their famous wild yeast cut the richness and the oil of the fried roll. Jeff’s cocktail, the Asian Cowboy Sour, did a great job contrasting by using High West White Whiskey, pressed Meyer lemon, purple basil and Cointreau. Right into the second course was a Public House favorite, and a running item in all of Anthony Meidenbauer’s menus, grilled octopus salad. The light salad and sweet charred octopus was paired with a kind of yeast-forward and slightly bitter Grimbergen Blonde Belgian ale and a cocktail called the “Venetian Arrangement.” It was made with Sarpa Di Poli Grappa Moscato, Antica Carpano Sweet Vermouth, a sweet aromatic wine from the barachetto grape, Fee Brother’s Lavender Water, pressed Genoa lemon and muddled rosemary. The cocktail was so complex and so unique, but its execution came off perfectly. It was aromatic, floral, and balanced against the dish perfectly.

The “main” course was a braised short rib, cooked and reduced in Deschutes Black Butte Porter, with a side of English pea mashed potatoes. Now, being braised in a rather smoky porter, both the mixologist and the cicerone went in the direction of smoke. Russell went for something of a wildcard with Aect Ochlenferla Urbock Rauchbier. Smoked beers are often heavy-bodied and semi-sweet, but this kept the smoke but was more clean and crisp, like an urbock lager usually is. Jeff created a cocktail called “Spirit Grocer’s Soiree” using Templeton Rye, smoked dark muscovado simple syrup, Fee Brother’s Old Fashioned Bitters, and a Guinness foam topped with just a touch of smoked paprika. The whole course was smoke-central, and both had their own distinctive qualities towards the dish.

This next course was somewhat obtuse in the description, “Beer, Cheese and Booze Trio.” What it actually was is a trio of cheeses, each one paired with one beer and one small cocktail. The first cheese/beer/booze bite was a St. Andre triple cream, a soft rind buttery cow’s milk cheese, paired with a citrusy trippel-Anchorage Brewing Co.’s The Tide and Its Takers, and a “Little Jig” of Tito’s Vodka, St. Germain, tangerine champagne and cardamom. The aged English cheddar went with a nice malty Firestone DBA and a Beefeater Gin, Graham’s Tawny Port, bruised parsley, lime and Luxardo Syrup Cocktail. Lastly was a slightly salty and in-your-face American style blue cheese, Roquefort Blue, paired with a very American-style Sculpin IPA, and a cocktail of Pusser’s 15 Rum, a sauternes wine, and fresh pressed pineapple juice. The realization that the mixologist went for the classic pairing of wine and cheese, but using wine-centric cocktails, was quite stunning. This one cheese course was like a meal in itself, but there was still dessert to go.

The final course was a dark chocolate mini-tart with a little layer of crumbled peppered bacon. Both masters of pairings went top-notch with the finale, with Russell choosing the very heavy bodied and complex Firestone 16, full of toffee, bourbon, and especially chocolate notes. Jeff went with a cocktail called “Smooth Criminal,” a mix of Breaking and Entering St.George Bourbon, white creme de cacao, Funkin Raspberry Puree, and cinnamon-infused whipped cream. Honestly, dinners like these only have one winner: the diners. Both Russell Gardner the Cicerone and Jeff Josenhans the Mixologist did an amazing job of not only creating a wonderful dinner of libations, but showing to everyone how true masters of their respective crafts operate.

Fun With Beer: New Belgium Springboard

So there was a time, back when people were crapping into a dry bowl and sleeping with it under their bed, when instead of medicine we had a bunch of witch-doctor herbs and barks and such.  Luckily we have gotten our bathroom situations mostly sorted out (save for a rare camping trip, America’s Funniest Home Video septic tank explosion, or vacation to India) and we rarely have to consider our voiding a serious problem.  Unfortunately, our health, our position in this world escaping the shadow of death that follows us, has only done slightly better.  One’s bullet train to the grave can be slowed down now that we don’t treat a toothache with honey and lard, and all these microscopes and xray spectrometers and controlling the evolution of bacteria to actually solve more problems than they cause has given us an average of 30+ years across the board.  However, there are still people out there, mainly people with a burning desire to bring up something about themselves to smugly lord over us “normal” types, that reject the lifespan increase, reject the logic, reject the droves upon droves upon droves who’ve dedicated their lifetime to helping their fellow man, and instead say, “Naw, the herbs, man.  It’s NATURAL.”

Yes, we can all share a special, intimate shame that we are nearly genetically identical to these people.  Even your average middle-aged forwarded-email-reader (FWD: fwd; RE: THIS IS AMAZING!!!!!.txt) in love with their Acai berries and “superfoods” will still err on the side of the drug store when their river starts to flow the wrong way, but the person who asks the 20-something white-guy-dreadlock sporting, Greatful Dead tattooed, unemployable mouth-breather at Whole Foods for health advice is a whole other beast.  And that mouthbreather?  Oh he’ll give you some advice.  One of them might just be a $13 dollar bundle of “unstressed” rosemary!
 Which brings me to the beer.  It may pain me to say it, but I think New Belgium is jumping the shark with this one.  Springboard is a Belgian Pale Ale, born from a, no joke, “A Dream the Sustainability Director’s acupuncturist had about making a beer with New Belgium.”  An acupuncturist had a dream about someone paying them for something ridiculous?  A “Sustainability Director” had an acupuncturist?  WOAH, the room is spinning, let me sit down!  So the three got together in some herb shop, probably cleared away the bongs and nude mags, and hashed out a beer.  Presumably, it was a brewmaster shooting down the most disgusting tasting of the suggestions, until we have a beer with Gogi berries and Schisandra.  Ever heard of them?  No?  Good.
Now, seeing as how there is so little of these magical fruits, and their bio-availability is so scant already in their whole form, lets not even get into the health benefits of a beer made with them.  As far as the beer itself, it pours a cloudy pale yellow with a big foamy white head.  The nose is pretty indicative of a Belgian style pale ale, mainly sweet bready malts and citrus.  Oddly enough though, there is a hint of some grassy hops, a positive note.  The taste is rather sweet, with a bit of spice that didn’t let on in the scent.  It’s nicely inoffensive, but ends with a bit of a chalky dryness that could have done without.  Otherwise a good beer, but I’m expecting the funky Chinese natural medicines didn’t do it any favors, flavor or otherwise.

Fun With Beer: Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye IPA

What’s in a name?  A moniker?  A hashtag even?  So what’s in Rye?  Consider the rye, if you will, and tell me what you see.  Is it a toasty bread with fennel seeds, literally sandwiching a pile of salty pink meat?  Is it a brown liquor, kinda spicy and sweet and filling the glass of a man from the 1950s?  Or is it an IPA with a real animal spirit to it?  Yes, if the world of IPAs was football, I think Rye IPAs would be rugby.  Slightly different, a little more scary, but oddly unappreciated.  Not to mention largely ignored by the media.  Regardless, there are some real honeys of Ryes out there.  One of which are a seasonal release by the famous desert brewery, Sierra Nevada.  While it seems that they don’t get much play outside of their wheelhouse beers, this seasonal is more celebrated than any of them.  I’m particularly fond of their hefe, but that’s neither here, nor there.  You can find this IPA in grocery stores even these days, bought up by the sixer and twelve pack.  Of all the beers that occupy that kind of “no-man’s land” between bottom-shelf gas station fodder and proper bottle shop alums, Ruthless Rye IPA is certainly… one of them.

Ok, I have to admit, to myself and the world, that I just don’t really swallow the hype on this one.  I’m not saying it’s bad or anything, I’m just saying that to judge it as a Rye IPA, it doesn’t really cut the mustard (screw thousand-island, I’ll make my Reuben how I want).  I’m thinking that sometimes these kinds of beers are given a bit of a leeway with how they are judged, considering their middle-market competition.  It’s like the fact that you generally see something next to the shrink wrapped bud lite tall-boy three pack, anything above a “Blah” gets a gold star and a pat on the back and free tickets to a magician.  If Sierra Nevada wasn’t already so big, and the standards for big places so low, Ruthless Rye wouldn’t shake so many money-makers.  Or hell, at least it wouldn’t be a freakin’ ninety-something on review sites.  Alas, let us observe it objectively.
So Ruthless Rye pours a solid dark amber, pretty clear, and has a pretty large, fluffy, and retaining head.  I did mine in a tulip glass, but the aromas coming off of it were strong enough without it.  Very floral, and a good enough hit of a grapefruit citrus note, but all were cranked up to eleven.  It made it a little hard to appreciate the namesake, the rye.  Maybe in the taste then?  Well, the first thing you get is just a ton of resinous hops and a very sweet, almost cloying bready malt.  The overt sweetness I can contribute to the rye, and there was a kind of aftertaste of a spice, but for a Rye IPA to be a fairly one-dimensional IPA with hardly any Rye, I don’t think this is deserving of the praise.  The resin lingers in a kind of chalky dryness, dissuading me from trying more.  I think that is the real Achilles’s Heel here, it just brings down the drinkability so much.  I am sad to say that of the several I drank in this past week, I barely finished the first one, and let the other attempts at trying it out go to waste.

Fun With Beer: Sweetwater IPA

The beer today hails from the most “Northern” Southern city, Atlanta, Georgia.  The ol’ ATL is the city that gave us the rapper Ludachris, the previously game-changing but currently terrible Adult Swim programming block, and my favorite comedian David Cross.  Plenty of good entertainment has come from or otherwise passed through the 404 area code, but what of beer, perhaps the ultimate entertainment?  There are a few craft brewers in and around the city, but not one so eye-capturing and further distributed than Sweetwater Brewing Co.  Usually emblazoned with a big Rainbow Trout in mid catch, there are definitely some solid beers coming from their fermentation vats.  There are a good share of bombers and special-release things in their catalog, but their two main year-round beers are their Exodus Porter and their simply named IPA.  The IPA has a very surprising “excellent” rating on rateBeer at 97/100 at the time of this writing, putting it right up there with some of the big name best IPAs in the world.

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Fun With Beer: Tommyknocker Maple Nut Brown Ale -or- The Problems With Complexity

There’s a trend in all things consumable these days, and very likely in entertainment as well, for the insatiable need for more and more stimulation in the form of complexity.  A look at your average recipe-swap on the internet, and you’ll find that the ones that garner the most attention are the ones that shove as many flavors as possible.  Cranberry pomegranate green tea buttercream ganache cupcakes with coconut lemon basil frosting.  Cherry chocolate Dr. Pepper marinated pulled pork with aged, roasted, and pureed serrano, chipotle, jokola, habanero, jalapeno, shoshito, hatch, and bell peppers.  Snickerdoodle cookie dough and birthday cake batter ice cream, peanut butter and jelly ice cream, and cayenne dark chocolate truffle and Earl Grey tea ice cream neopolitan sandwich on oatmeal bacon salted caramel cookies.

Why am I proving my own point wrong by describing such seemingly delicious food?  Imagine a musical super team-up of Freddie Mercury, Jimi Hendrix, Elton John, Nirvana, and Yo Yo Ma.  Could be amazing, right?  Unless Freddy and Elton were playing the guitar, Jimi the drums, Nirvana was a flugelhorn section, and Yo Yo Ma was the leading vocalist.  Ok, this may be a bit of an extreme example, but the fact is that so many of these recipes are coming from people who MIGHT not be the best judge of these things.  There’s an ‘event horizon’ of complexity in all things, and putting every pepper you can name in or just loading on as many combinations is a sure fire way to make it all taste like a mush.  We learned the basics of this in kindergarten; mixing all the paints together doesn’t make rainbow paint, it makes deuce-brown.  Combined with the battle call of “More bacon!”, there’s much to dodge out there for this reason.
Thankfully, this is a trend that has hit beer minimally.  There have been certain transgressors (I’m looking at you, Maple Bacon Voodoo Doughnut!), but the serious connoisseurs have universally reviled them.  Some, however, skirt this universality and can be very polarizing.  Tommyknocker Maple Nut Brown Ale is one of these beers, and taking a look at the big-two review sites highlights this.  Beer Advocate gives it basically a C+, Rate Beer an abysmal 33.  Now, in matters of this, I try to forget that Beer Advocate owner (Todd Alstrom) is one of the biggest douches on planet earth (something about Hurricane Sandy and Storm Nemo and terrible schadenfreude).  Generally I consult both, but my own experience puts me in the Rate Beer camp (also, I have to admit I really like their App), this beer is downright disappointing.  As a brown ale it’s far too light-bodied, as a nut brown ale it’s hardly nutty, but as a maple nut brown ale…  Well, you can taste SOMETHING like maple.  It’s just cloyingly sweet, like imitation maple breakfast syrup in a just passable brown ale.  I’m not dissuaded from trying Tommyknocker’s other stuff (I hear the imperial maple nut brown ale is better, maybe), but this is one I won’t trifle with again.

Gordon Ramsay Pub and Grill: The Big Guy Lets His Hair Down

In an absolute flurry of restaurants opening on the strip, one after another, Gordon Ramsay seems to be digging his roots deep here in Las Vegas. Of the three (so far) we know about, there is a steakhouse in the Paris, an upscale burger restaurant in Planet Hollywood, and, perhaps the most unlike the other two, a pub and grill in Caesar’s Palace. A far cry from the pristine white tablecloth and haute cuisine of L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon where Chef Ramsay trained. After being the popular face of fine dining for so long, has the perfectionist Chef switched gears for this Pub?

Duo of rillettes

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Fun With Beer: Anchor Brewing Christmas Ale


Ladies and Gentlemen, I assure you, there is no time of the year I whole-heartedly enjoy more than Christmas Time.  More parties than Halloween, more thanks-giving than actual Thanksgiving, more togetherness than all the birthdays, anniversaries, and Satanic Black-Masses of the whole year combined.  Even the mighty onyx-like black heart of your humble author is warmed in this very cold time of year.  Even I will watch,listen,read,otherwise absorb religiously (or as religious as a man in my style can treat something) to the Charles Dickens classic, “A Christmas Carol”.  Perhaps it’s not only the reinforcement of my holiday feelings, or my empathy towards a embittered miser’s conversion, but also the respect towards how the short story has changed the holiday as we know it.  While the only Santa Claus analog was an empty scabbard and Horn of Plenty wielding Spirit of Christmas Present, it has influenced many of the modern traditions of Christmas.  Most notably we can attribute the hearty and joyous greeting of “Merry Christmas!” that can be found on the smiling lips of strangers and loved-ones together.  Puritans at the time, between trying to ban alcohol, women not wearing bonnets, spicy food, comfortable shoes, means of convenience, personal style, bright colors, and pretty much any other form of pleasure or enjoyment, also tried to make Christmas as joyless and somber as possible.  Puritans man, seriously.

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Fun With Beer: New Belgium/Brewery Viviant – Biere de Garde

Ah, Bonjour!  Or as they say in the correct, American way, “Howdy, Chumps and Chumpettes”.  Today I’ve got something interesting to show you all: a brewery collaboration!  It’s a wonderful thing when two breweries who love each other very much decide to do a special hug to make a baby happen.  Generally, this is a very synergistic process, where the combined effort is greater than the sum of either’s separate effort.  I’ve noticed that these collaborations come in three flavors.  I have named them Larry, Curly, and Moe, for reasons that will become obvious.
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