Archive for January, 2012

Fun With Beer: Yo-Ho Brewing Co. Tokyo Black Porter

Yo-Ho Brewing Co. Tokyo Black Porter


When we think of the beers offered from the Land of the Rising Sun, we usually think about what we have seen in Sushi restaurants or Japanese-style pubs. But like the American beer market, there are two or three big multi-national macro-breweries, and a great diverse culture of interesting craft brewers. One of these special few that can be found with some regularity here in the states is Yo-Ho Brewing Company, and the beer I found was their Tokyo Black Porter. When I saw this one on the beer list at that new place called Le Thai I was trying out downtown, I knew had to give it a try myself. Not sure how much this is going for at your local beer broker, but lets just say it wasn’t the cheapest thing on the menu, nor the most expensive. Though, accounting for the experience, a bargain.

Yo-Ho Brewing has an impressive list of past seasonal and varietal beers under their belt, and the Tokyo Black Porter itself is one of their mainstays. Now usually, Japanese beer is a very light, malty number. In fact, it is a Japanese law that it can’t be called beer unless it is at least 67% malt – everything else is a ‘happoshu’ or low malt beverage. It is served in a heavy, ridged can that you could only see coming from Japan. Perhaps deterring overzealous college kids from ceremonial forehead-crushing?

Luckily, I sampled this before having my tongue endure a very spicy Tom Kha Gai soup and effectively rendering me taste-blind. The pour was black, even for a porter; light that hit this stuff wasn’t going anywhere. It left a lively tan head, which quickly subsided. It didn’t give off too much scent, but I could definitely make out some deep roasted malt and espresso, with just a bit of bittersweet chocolate. The taste was more of the same, but with more sweet caramelized flavor. Smokiness lingers at the back, but not smoky like bacon or scotch or anything. No, this is a very ashy smokiness, left over from the bittersweet chocolate notes. There is a bit of a creaminess to it, but not enough to drastically change the experience. I would imagine that a thicker mouthfeel would have helped this, and the thinness made the beer seem a touch watered down.

While this beer went well enough with my spicy Thai soup, I think it would have been many times greater if it was paired with something a little lighter, less oily. In fact, miso soup would have done the job well. It could have benefited from a little salty side-note, and wouldn’t have to contend with too much. I’ll have to track down a store that carries this to make some more direct observations. Me, a six-pack, and a kimono, as usual. But for now, I have a good Japanese beer I can come back to.


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Fun With Beer: Rodenbach Original



Rodenbach Flanders Red Ale

One of the fun things about beer is the history that goes along with it, which includes the Bavarian Purity Laws, Trappist Monks, and even ancient cruciform tablets from Mesopotamia. There is a certain novelty to drinking something that you know was enjoyed hundreds or even thousands of years ago.

Just the other day I sampled a beer that has stood the test of time without sacrificing its character or integrity. The beer in question is the Rodenbach, a Flanders Red Ale. Perhaps my great-great-great-great-grandfather was a fan back in the 1820s in Belgium? Until I get my “Back to the Future” DeLorean, I guess we’ll never know.

Rodenbach Original is the titular beer of the Rodenbach Brewery. Flanders Red Ales like this are very unique in that they are kind of the missing link between your average ale and a lambic. It isn’t sweet enough to be taken with a lump of ice cream, as I’ve seen done with framboise lambics, but it is still erring close into their territory. They are a type of sour made with our old friend Lactobacillus, aged for over a year in oak casks, and flavored with a special red malt. As with other Flanders Reds, the bottle is a blend of aged and newer brews. The alcohol by volume is only about five percent, which is handy considering how easy this ale is to drink.   At about $10 a bottle, you can stand to get a couple.

I popped the cork on this bottle and noticed the carbonation was rather low, maybe an effect of the bottle conditioning. Not a fault though, because I really do prefer under, to over carbonation. It pours a deep, brown-black with a bit of a red tinge.

There was a strong scent coming off of it, kind of farmhouse funk and tart cherries. The smell was reminiscent, (and I don’t mean to be unappetizing), of old sour candy. It wasn’t off putting, because what can you expect from a sour? The flavor was worlds better than anything in Grandma’s candy dish.

I was correct in thinking it was halfway to a lambic. There was a lot of tart cherry and raspberry, with good levels of a kind of candied malty flavor.  However, I may have been thinking too one-dimensionally. It may be a bit between a lambic and a regular ale, but it is definitely drifting into wine territory. Rodenbach has that quality of a kind of bitter tannin, and any bitterness from the hops is almost non-existent. It also has a smooth, full bodied feel to it. Extremely enjoyable, and I can see why it has stuck around for so long.

Whether I’m getting off of work in 1820s Belgium, looking for a good drink to write about in 2012, or fighting the Space-Tyrannosaurus invasion in 2044, Rodenbach Classic is sure to be a treat.


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Pop-Up Diner to be Hosted by Jet Tila and Tony Abou-Ganim at Origin India

Chef Jet Tila and Mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim are teaming up for a five-course night of world-class food and cocktails.

February 8, Origin India will be the location for a Pop-Up diner, hosted by these two giants of the food world.  Coming up with Thai street food served family style and a cocktail pairing for each course is no small feat, but if anyone is up to it, it will be these two.

Chef Jet Tila

Chef Jet Tila has a veritable laundry list of experience, drawing straight from the sources of South American, South East Asian, Chinese, American, French, and all other families of culinary disciplines.  After opening Wazuzu in 2009, competing in Iron Chef, and guiding his touring Pop-Up restaurant service “BistroNomics” in LA, he’ll be coming back to Vegas to try his surprise suppers here.

The Modern Mixologist, Tony Abou-Ganim

Tony Abou-Ganim is a major contender for King of the Mixology world.  He is the author of “The Modern Mixologist”, and is expecting to publish his next work, a book entirely on straight vodka, sometime in 2012.  Fingers crossed that I’ll get my copy signed.


Dinner starts at 7, Wednesday, February 8th at Origin India.  Dinner is $65.  Email with the subject line “Pop-Up Dinner” to reserve your seat.  Expect an article soon thereafter.

Fun With Beer: Firestone Anniversary XV Ale

FWB147_22oz_v7 (FWB147_22oz_v7, 2011 NB Citizen)
It’s not every day when I get a beer that makes me go, “WOAH, hold the freaking phone and tell me more about this.” Occasionally it will happen, and I will later find out that it is either universally lauded as an amazing example of its style, or that it is a veritable Holy Grail from the Viking God of Beer (Fun fact: it’s Byggvir, who apparently is also the Viking God of Consonants). Firestone XV Anniversary Ale is one of the latter, and it was my great pleasure to sample it at my local beer cave.
This American Strong Ale is actually a blend of eight other Firestone brews.   Some are popular, some are limited release, and some you would be very hard pressed to find outside of their brewery tasting bar.

Six of them are aged in bourbon barrels, one of the things that put Firestone’s mark on the map. Some of these ingredients, like the Good Food barley wine, can be over 14 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), while some, like Velvet Merkin are closer to 9 percent ABV. The Firestone XV Anniversary Ale came out to a healthy 12.5 percent, but you wouldn’t know it from how insanely drinkable this brew is.

The price tag on this baby is nothing to scoff at though. Twenty dollars is quite a bit for a bomber, but if I’m going to drop an “Andy J-Bomb” on a 22-ounce bottle of anything, it will be this. It comes in a box with documentation and everything, detailing what exactly went into the thought process which generated this creation. Of course, the price becomes downright trifling if you are sharing this with one or two friends. Heck, you can probably stretch it out between four people and all will end up perfectly satisfied.

When a tasting buddy brought this bottle out from the “special spot” in his fridge, we had time to learn a bit about it as the ale warmed up to its optimal 55 degrees tasting temperature. If the fancy packaging and shining words of encouragement from the buyer weren’t enough, the near-perfect scores on all the main beer rating websites certainly riled my interest.

Apparently, this beer is pretty hard to find after being snatched up in the interest of both trying this magnificent concoction and stashing some away for a year to age. I would need a will of steel to deny the opportunity for it to  journey down my gullet.

The pour was nice and smooth, an almost black shade of brown, with a bit of a tan head. The nose was strong with vanilla and bourbon and just a little hint of those citrus hops that were in the Double Jack IPA. The hops coming out this early was a bit of a surprise because Double Jack only makes up five percent of the blend.

The taste was, and I do not mean to be hyperbolic, completely mind blowing. Three of the biggest contributors were barley wines; and it really does show. There is a very complex sweetness to it, part honey and part brown sugar. The oak aging certainly comes out, but in a subtle way. It doesn’t really tinge everything with woody flavors, but rather plays along with the malts to darken the flavors down and bring out their full characteristics.

It seemed like every time I would get another sip, it would end differently. The hops for one, chocolate for another, turbinado brown sugar, roasted malts, ginger, figs, and so on until I felt like I was truly getting acquainted with the blend. This anniversary beer does what so many blends try to do and creates something greater than the sum of its parts.

There is a reason why Firestone is such a big name for beer lovers, and this year they really pulled out all the stops in proving it. This is the kind of a beer that can really stick with you, to compare all other beers against. This blend was a real celebration of not only oak aging, but of how great a beer can be. I hope they are comfortable setting the bar as high as they did, because come next November, I will be looking out for Firestone XVI.


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The Barrymore: Old Vegas charm, without the awful parts

I know I am eating on the strip too much when I noticeably cringe on my way to my table.  Usually, I am barraged with blaring music, odd decor, and a dining room absolutely packed with tables.  So, the first thing I noticed about The Barrymore was how incredibly comfortable it was.  I could hear my friends over the table, but I couldn’t hear our neighbors.  The sound levels were perfect, and I’d just like to get that out of the way because it made me so relieved, I could feel my usual stress-induced full-body tightening melt away by the time I sat down.


The Barrymore is one of the more hidden gems of our fair city, located in The Royal Resort hotel.  No, I hadn’t heard of it either, but a recommendation from a trusted friend, I decided to go.  Not to mention that I was already a fan of Anthony Meidenbauer’s two other restaurants,  Holstein’s and Public House.  So, I decided to make a night of it.


The Barrymore's take on an Old Fashion: Buffalo Trace Whiskey, Demerara sugar, whiskey bitters, orange, brandied cherries.

Their cocktail list is quite interesting, in that they have both tried and true classics as well as their own modern mixtures, but they don’t make a big deal about it.    Too many places these days try and make a big deal that they can do hundred year old cocktails, then someone puts on a Rat Pack playlist, a guy wears a fedora, everybody loses.  The Barrymore, however, plays it cool by not even separating new from old.  What they do separate is their selection of five different bloody marys.  Vodkas infused with jalapeno, mushroom-truffle, even beef brisket.  I’ll have to make sure to bring someone to carry me out if I come for brunch.


Diver Scallops over ox-tail stew, potato galette & mushroom emulsion

But what about the food, you ask?  Forget about it.  The food is phenomenal.  I feel like The Barrymore is the place for Anthony Meidenbauer to break out of the corporate-approved mass-appeal fine dining shell and stretch his culinary wings.  There is something to suit every taste, from Vadouvan squash curry  to a cowboy rib-eye.  An interesting midpoint I enjoyed were these pan seared diver scallops, over this amazingly rich ox-tail stew with potato galette and mushroom emulsion.  Absolutely amazing.


Perhaps the most remarkable thing about The Barrymore is their steadfast dedication to keep the overall “Old Vegas” feel, without the kitch, squalor, or chronic alcoholics that usually go along with places that tout that style.  Can it truly be called Old Vegas without the seedy underbelly?  Can’t say for sure, but I know I prefer it this way.  It is hip without being overt, comfortable without being sleep-inducing, and classy without being ostentatious.  If I could eat here every night, truthfully, I probably would.  Or at least I would longer than almost any other place in town.  Oh, you’ll see me back at The Barrymore soon, I promise you that.

Cochon 555 in 2012


Official Cochon 555 tour dates have been announced, and if you find yourself in one of these lucky cities on these particular days, I highly recommend you attend.  It will change the way you look at pork, I guarantee.

The All-Star Cochon event I attended last year cemented in my mind not only how truly great pork can be, but also the great heights one can reach by understanding and utilizing heritage breed animals and farm-to-table practices.

Now, there isn’t a date for this year’s All-Star event, but when it is released, I have a pretty good feeling that Las Vegas will be it’s host once more.  There will be more news on this as it develops.

Click here to view press release

Fun With Beer: Noel De Calabaza

Fun with Beer

This Week: Noel De Calabaza

Ah, wintertime. I do enjoy the brisk chill of the season as a welcome reprise from the long sweaty months before. Seasonal beers, however, are a double-edged sword.

Some brewers, both macro and micro, think they can toss in some nutmeg and slap a snowflake on the label and call it a winter beer. I hate to even make the connection, but the practice seems all too similar to the way certain light beers will add an artificial lime flavoring to coincide with the summer barbecue months. However, for the savvy enthusiast, there is certainly a beer of every breed that can compliment bundling up against the cold, including this lovely sour special ale from Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales, Noel De Calabaza.

This is a bottle that has been put through its share of trials and tribulations on the way to your tulip glass. It goes through a second fermentation with wild yeast, in oak casks. The wild yeast has a bit of Lactobacillus, adding that lovely tart tang to it. For those inexperienced in sour beers, take note that the beverage has not gone bad, and is supposed to smell like that. I would recommend splitting this with someone, for more reasons than just the $15 damage. While a fine alcohol content at 9 percent will not interfere with how drinkable it is, an appreciation for sour will.

The shining reviews I’ve seen for it were met by my first impressions. It pours a nice murky dark, with just a bit of off-white head. The scent gave just a hint of that musty funk so characteristic of sours, distinctly yeasty with just a hint of vinegar. Don’t let that put you off though, it isn’t nearly so forward as to overshadow the more delicate flavors. Behind it all was a lingering fruity note, which with the sour component, reminded me of a Granny Smith apple. The interesting scent gave way to a very rewarding taste.

This beer isn’t shy about its sour moniker. The most immediate impression I get is a tartness almost identical to a Greek yogurt. A champagne like carbonation doesn’t really outstay its welcome, but gives a lively quality to its feel. The malt plays a good baseline to this, keeping the earthy hops in check with its smoky, chocolaty goodness. The funk is much less present than was indicated by the scent, replaced by a nice richness of dark bread and a host of holiday spices. The most prominent of these being clove, nutmeg and cinnamon.

Now, some of the more retentive of readers may think, “But Mitchell, did you not decry spicy seasonal beers just earlier in this very review?” Well, I appreciate the attentiveness, but the comprehension could use some work. The crafting of this beer was far from thoughtless or lazy, and the end product is a testament to that. Expertly balanced, artfully surprising and skillfully crafted, Noel de Calabaza is far from your typical winter ale, mainly because it so properly embodies the maxim for such beers. It is comforting, relaxing but invigorating and complex with the flavors of the season. I know I’ll be reaching for a bottle whenever I get into a cozy mood.


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