Archive for March, 2012

Fun With Beer: ACME IPA

North Coast Brewing Co. - ACME IPA

 

More often than not, I consider an unknown India Pale Ale with a sideways glance. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I like hoppy beer as much as the next guy. It’s just that I feel there is a line that many breweries cross when making their hop-bombs. It’s a delicate balance between a strong, characteristic hop flavor and just shoving your face into a big ol’ bucket of hop resin. However, when a beer can retain its drinkability while remaining as hoppy as the Easter Bunny, that’s when you have a good IPA. In searching for such a beer, I looked towards North Coast Brewing Co., makers of some well-knowns like Old Rasputin Stout and Brother Thelonious Abbey Ale.

I was immediately drawn in by the 40s pinup girl on the bottle and the sometimes-reputable name ACME, hoping that a beer bearing that name would be better than a pair of rocket skates or giant slingshot. The 6.9% ABV wasn’t too shabby either. I was eager to try this one out, so I decided to make a night of it and pair it with dinner. The website was a little vague on what went into the beer, other than a whole pound of fresh hops per barrel, but they did have a food pairing suggestion. Fish tacos with citrus salsa and cabbage slaw was the inspiration, but the end product was this tasty little spinach salad with blackened catfish and a mango-lime salsa. Hungry yet?

The beer is a hazy and light orange, with a nice fluffy white head. The nose was predictably hoppy, with a bit of citrus and a nice airy yeast scent. I also caught a bit of a funk, but I am unsure if the culprit is simply age. No date-stamp on the bottle, a handy thing when choosing an IPA. Wasn’t very permeating, or even unpleasant. The first taste was straight up pine. It’s not much to get past though, and I didn’t go into an IPA and expect it not to be hop-forward. Upon closer inspection, the hops are balanced with a very enjoyable floral malt and some fruity flavors. The feel is very dry and refreshing, not too bubbly, and doesn’t leave that bitter, mouth-coating tang that some IPAs impart. Additionally, the food pairing was spot on. The bold hops were a good counter to the subtle catfish and mango salad, but didn’t overpower it.

It looks like North Coast has maintained its track record with me. This may not be up to snuff with the most hardcore of hop-addicts, but it more than satisfies my requirements. It’s got a good level of complexity, character, and is very drinkable. I’ll be putting this particular beer into my (admittedly thin) Rolodex of favorite IPAs.

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Fun With Beer: Captain Bastard’s Oatmeal Stout

Captain Bastard's Oatmeal Stout

Do you prefer to drink or chew your beer? There’s just something about a good heavy drink that can really satisfy. If I’m craving a rich, malty, filling beer, I usually reach for a stout. Oatmeal Stouts are especially known for being thick, and being imparted with the natural starches and such from the oats. When I saw the Squatter’s Brewery mascot of a Corsair pig and the name Captain Bastard’s Oatmeal Stout, I decided to give it a whirl. The story on the bottle says that it is brewed with oatmeal, Chinook hops, roasted barley, pale, caramel, and chocolate malts. I’m in the mood, it sounds good, what more do you want? I picked it up in a ‘build your own six-pack’ for about $2 and some change.

Once home with my brew, I brought it down to just a little above cellar temperature, ready to drink and enjoy, without losing too many flavors. Even with a full pour into a glass, there was very little head to speak of. What little there was quickly subsided, leaving just a little tan ring. The beer itself poured pitch black and surprisingly thin for a stout. In fact, it was pretty bubbly for a stout too, with a thin stream of carbonation rising from spots on the bottom. These are not things that I generally associate with an oatmeal stout. To me, they are usually thicker, less carbonated, and commonly have a longer lasting head. This was not enough to turn me off of it though. As the old saying goes, “Fortune Favors the Bold.”

There was not much of an aroma, but I could definitely get hints of toasted malt and chocolate, also, some kind of sweetness, like a toasted marshmallow. Not like a cremated one, mind you, but like an actual toasted golden marshmallow. When tasted though, you get much more of the coffee and charcoal flavor than anything sweet, as well as ashy flavors and malt throughout. The hops, like in most stouts, were barely present, perhaps somewhat lost in the smoky, malty goodness of a stout.

One thing about this beer kind of got to me. The feel of it wasn’t thick and creamy, but very thin. How much oatmeal did they use? Somewhere between none and hardly any? This disappointing feature was somewhat distracting from a solid beer. Surely, this is the work of the Draconian alcohol laws of Squatter’s home state, UTAH. For beer to be served in a brew-pub, restaurant, or a grocery store, it must be a maximum of 4 percent alcohol by volume. A tighter window on fermentation and on amounts of yeast and sugar is required as well as a greater incentive to commit the beer-sin of watering down a batch.

I shudder to imagine the beer-free, prohibition-era gulag dissident brewers are thrown into when violating these archaic and backwards laws. Somehow, despite this, the numbered-limitation on liquor licenses, the suspicious days and times when you cannot buy alcohol, liquor stocks that must be kept a members-only secret, and no open-saloon bars in the state, Utah craft-breweries still manage to churn out some of the most interesting beers this side of the Eighteenth Amendment.

 

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Buldogis: East Coast Meets East-Asian

The other day I was using the Yelp app on my phone, and I played around with this neato little feature called “Monocle”.  Sounds fancy, I know.  Turns out that it is a kind of augmented reality that gives you a real-life x-ray super goggles for the food in your vicinity.  A good way to find something new if you are peckish and indecisive, as I often am.  But anyway, when I looked through this magical portal, I immediately came to a decision.  There was one name I recognized from my “to check out” list, Buldogis.  Named from the Korean word for grilled meats (bulgogi) and the good ol’ American-ish institution of the hot dog, they combine these two culinary areas to make some pretty danged interesting food.

 

Angry Dog - spicy pork bulgogi, jalapeno, asian slaw, and fiery mayo

 

We wanted to get a good sized assortment of food to share, because variety is the spice of life.  The Angry Dog was first to mind, because spice is also the spice of life.  Although I know that hardly any restaurant worth it’s salt would have one of the few menu items be a complete level-15 Thai-style spice bomb, I still wish the Angry Dog was a bit stronger on that front.  Ah well, can’t always get what you want.  But I did get what I need, which is a pretty interesting bite to eat.  There’s a reason why the Angry Dog is their most popular; it’s unique, fun, and it follows my personal maxim that meat is a good topping for meat.  It went rather well with the one of the sides I ordered, the Angry Kimchi Fries.

 

Angry Kim Chee Fries - sweet potato fries with kimchi, spicy pork bulgogi, diced jalapeno, cheese, and a fried egg.

 

In my mind, I’m somewhat spoiled when it comes to sweet potato fries.  I blame the S’mores Fries at Slidin’ Thru.  But of course, wherever you go, you expect them to be something of a dessert item.  Not at Buldogis.  Here, they pile on the kimchi, a fried egg, and more of that delicious spicy pork.  I was surprised how much I actually enjoyed this.  The sweet and starchy fries paired off well with the tangy kimchi and jalapeno.  The egg, I was neutral on.  I kind of wanted to maintain the crispiness of the fries, but the little suckers just don’t have a chance up against all the other wet ingredients, and the yolk just pushes it too far.  Flavor-wise, it worked out like gangbusters.

Our second dog was the Bahn Mi Dog.  I know, this Vietnamese sandwich is just a few thousand miles shy of the Korean peninsula, but the flavors were all there.  Sliced up pork belly, bahn mi vegetables (cucumber, daikon, cilantro), and Sriracha mayo combine well on top of this dog to make a very interesting Bahn Mi analog.

Bahn Mi Dog - pork belly, vegetables, and sriracha mayo

 

Deviating slightly from the norm -or as normal as you can find at Buldogis- is the Euro Special fries.  One of the few items on the menu that isn’t strongly influenced by Asian cuisine, but it seemed interesting.  Pork belly bacon, fresh herb, cheddar cheese, and garlic mayo go on some regular ol’ fries, but really turn out to be something interesting.  I’m not entirely sure where in “Euro” they were going for, but there seems to be elements of England, Italy, and France.  If this was on a dog, we could include Germany and re-enact World War II.  I only wish it was as focused as the war, because combining all these continental flavors is not exactly synergetic.  It doesn’t necessarily lose anything, as I really enjoyed the garlic mayo and pork belly bacon, but I think if they went full-on French or full-on English, it would have been much better.  Maybe an idea for a sister restaurant?  Hmmm…

The Euro Special Fries - Pork belly bacon, fresh herb, cheddar, and Garlic Mayo

 

There is still much to try at this unique little shop.  I certainly am glad that I live nearby, but maybe if the rest of you can make the trip, they can expand like so many other home grown Vegas restaurants.  I am glad that this seems to be a time of prosperity for those willing to take risks with their food, and Buldogis is among the best.

Buldogis Gourmet Hot Dogs on Urbanspoon
 

As always, let me in on your experiences!  Let me know if you have a hit, a miss, or a hot tip for a new place at mitchellwilburn@gmail.com

Fun With Beer: Orange Blossom Cream Ale

Buffalo Bill's Brewery - Orange Blossom Cream Ale

When walking around my local beer shop, sometimes it takes a very specific hankering to get my attention. What with the weather turning into spring, I had a taste for something summery, something fruity, something light. When I saw the name Orange Blossom Cream Ale, it just about hit all of my buttons for what I was craving. Now, I’m not particularly crazy about added flavoring – often what you end up with is a beer that is artificial, overly sweet, and uncharacteristic in general. However, something about the old-timey, anachronistic packaging convinced me to give it a shot. Was this a victory for strength in advertising? Surely. Was I an all-day sucker? Keep reading.

Buffalo Bill’s Brewery brews this beer with sweet orange peel, orange blossom extract and honey. They also use First Gold hops and pale malt in sparing quantities, making this a very easy-going beer. The alcohol per volume is only 5.2 percent, and you can get a six pack for a paltry $7. I took my time with this one, trying one or two beers at a time over the span of a week. It passed the first minor test: I wanted to keep drinking it.

The ale pours a bright, golden orange color, and is fairly clear. The head is very lively, fizzing down to a thin lacy layer. It gave off a strong aroma of orange oil and yeast, kind of reminding me less of an orange creamsicle, and more of perfume. I was surprised, but not off-put by this. The first taste was the citrus peel, with just a touch of honey, not so much the sweetness of honey, but that interesting earthy, floral quality. This was definitely pleasing, but I noticed a distinct lacking in the actual “beer” flavor. The hops were just barely there, and the malt didn’t provide a very good base for the flavors.

I hesitate to make the comparison, but it almost was like an American macrobrew. The only saving grace was the creamy texture the yeast and carbonation provided. While the interesting mix of fruit flavors and honey were pleasing, it just doesn’t leave a good impression. If I had to blame a particular culprit, I would say the lack of character comes from being too formulaic or middle-of-the-road. Instead of making an interesting beer to showcase all these great orange and honey flavors, they kind of dropped the ball and let a boring beer carry them. While there is nothing wrong with a well-flavored and reliable beer, there is nothing in this one that can bring it above ‘average’.

I’ll take this as a lesson not to go sample a new beer from an unfamiliar brewery with such “pie-in-the-sky” hopes. It has refreshing, tasty, and being somewhat economical, on its side, but I wouldn’t explore it looking for a good beer. With summer coming along, this one can have its place at an outside barbecue as a refreshing and light accompaniment to a hot day.

 

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