Turkey, Pumpkin Pie and Growlers?

Thanksgiving

We love to cook.  Carefully choosing the recipes, going shopping for the right ingredients, prepping, rubbing, marinating, setting the table.  It all comes together when we sit down around the table.  Of course Thanksgiving (especially for 14) requires even more than our usual amount of organization and effort.  But not to worry, we’ve got it in hand.  From the organic turkey that I just started brining to the pies my wife started putting together last night, we have it down to a science.

1298392524-beer_vs_wineBut then it comes time to plan the beverages.  I know that many people prefer wine.  It still has a stranglehold on fancy meals the way beer has a lock on the ballpark.  But I want beer and I want it to truly compliment the meal that we have worked so hard to create.  In fact, I want it to pair so well that it might seduce a few of those wine drinkers away from their Zinfandels and Rieslings.

The problem is there are not obvious pairings for the traditional array of turkey, mashed potatoes, etc.  If you’re having pork or sausage then a good German Helles or Dopplebock turkey1is the way to go.  Brown Ale or Porter with your burger.  A biting IPA or even a Imperial Russian Stout to go with that rich and spicy chili.  But turkey, green beans and sweet potato casserole?  That’s not so obvious.

The best source of advice on pairing food and beer can be had from Garrett Oliver, brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery and author of the monumental work, The Brewmaster’s Table.  He recommends Bierre De Garde (which like Saisons tend to vary wildly within the limits of the style).  Having tried it myself on several occasions I can agree with himi that it’s a good choice.

growlerPersonally, I am hoping for a growler of Burton (English Style) IPA from the new Barren Hill Brewery to pair with my turkey.  Balanced and understated in terms of hops it should go nicely with the earthy flavors of the meal while biting through the fat of all the butter and gravy.

What about you?  What beer best complimented your Thanksgiving?  Please let us know.  In the meantime, let me wish you and yours a blessed and safe Thanksgiving.

Albania… Albania… You border on the Adriatic

I am one of those geeks that tries to work beer into every trip.  The moment we decide where we will be going on vacation I go straight to the Beer Mapping Project to try to see what notable breweries and bars are in the vicinity.  With a little research and planning I get to try new and amazing beers I would otherwise have missed.

Occasionally my efforts do meet resistance from the family who want to trek to another brewery about as much as they a full body scan at the airport.  And once I share my plans my wife might say something like, “Oh yes.  Because we wouldn’t this trip to be ruined like the time we went to Norway.” (I sincerely wish someone would invent a good font for sarcasm.) For point of reference the trip to Norway was also the year I discovered Beer Mapping and found out only too late that we were not going to be anywhere near either Haand or Nogone.  Apparently I made mention of this fact once too often.

But by and large it works out well.  However, there are those times when all my best efforts to dig and research a way to work beer into a trip come to naught.  My trip to Albania in July proved to be one of those exceptions.  There are no entries at all for the country on Beer Mapping.  According to Rate Beer the best beer from Albania clocks in at a very modest 2.81out of 5.

Albania 2013 (153)This is of course not to suggest that I had no beer whilst there.  Indeed my host (who also happened to be my brother) went out of his way to find me every available brand and style of local beer he could find.

At our first meal  I enjoyed several Korca dark pils, which still boats the distinction of winning the “Gran Prix” in Thessalonica in 1938!

Albania 2013 (24.3).

Then, at the beach we indulged in Stela which should definitely not to be confused with Stella Artois.  However, in the copyright lose society that is Albania, this may not be an accidental similarity.

For proof see Exhibit A- “Albania Fried Chicken” below:

Albania 2013 (24.8)Anyway, the other distinguishing characteristic of Stela is its caps which are a combo of old can pull tabs melded with a traditional bottle caps.  They are not only easy to open, they also make cool rings.

But, and most importantly, despite the dearth of great beer, it was a truly amazing time.

The food Albania 2013 (101.1)was always fresh and, with the exception of the large glass of warm and ever so slightly spoiled milk for breakfast and the mystery gelatin cubes made from lamb bones (left) that were served for dessert, it was delicious.

The people were warm and welcoming and often treated us like rock stars.  The scenery and climate were beautiful. What’s not to like?

 

So it seems my lovely wife was again proved right.  It is                                                          possible after all to have a great vacation without the aid of                                                    the Beer Mapping Project.

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Barkeep, I’d like to buy God a beer.

Brewing beer is a lot of work.  You have to gather ingredients, boil and steep, measure and time and sterilize, sterilize, sterilize.  A batch of homebrew can take close to four hours, and that’s not including the time it takes to rack it off and then bottle or keg it.  And yet, even though there are reasonably priced craft beers of excellent quality out there that would be much quicker and sometimes even cheaper for us to just buy, we keep on brewing.

Some of us do it for the education.  After all there is no better way to learn about beer than to learn to make it yourself.  Others are just DIY kind of people.  But whatever the motivation, we all treasure that first sip and the pride that comes with enjoying the fruits of our labors.

So imagine what it would feel like to put in all that effort, to work and watch and wait patiently while the yeast worked it’s magic and the beer conditioned only to be told that we couldn’t enjoy that first sip?

My first response would be that you can have that beer that I worked so hard to make when you pry it from my cold dead hand.  It’s not that I am not happy to share.  Indeed, sharing my beer with others is one of the great satisfactions of brewing, but to demand that very first bottle, for which I have worked so hard, well that’s going too far.

Yet as unjust as it might seem, that is what the people of Israel were required to do.  Not by their landlords or kings, not by the armies that conquered them.  No this most unreasonable demand came from God.   In Proverbs (3:9), Nehemiah (10:35), Ezekiel (44:30), Leviticus (23:10-14), Exodus (22:29), Deuteronomy (26:2-4) and many other places clearly state that the people are obligated to offer the first fruits of their produce and live stock. firstfruits-lg

That gesture of offering the first fruits is layered with all kinds of meaning.  The idea was for the people to show their gratitude to God for the gifts of the land.  But there is more to it.  For by offering those precious first fruits the people were making a powerful statement about the place of God in their lives.  God came first.  Before anything else, before any other obligation, even before their own hunger, God was to be acknowledged and honored.

Of course it would be easy and even reasonable to look back at that tradition and dismiss it as a relic of the past.  Without a doubt economic motivations likely influenced this practice since the offerings brought by the people supported the priests who helped to write the laws.  But perhaps there is still something worthwhile to be salvaged.

Because without a doubt, people of all faiths and of none alike could benefit from a little more mindfulness, humility and gratitude.  By willingly giving up something that by all rights should be ours, we are in fact acknowledging a very profound and difficult truth: namely that it isn’t ours at all.  Everything we “have” comes, not just as a result of our effort or merit but because we have been given it as a gift.

Think about it.  Even if we grew all the ingredients ourselves they are still a gift from a fruitful earth.  The stove, pot and all the other equipment are the product of someone else’s toil and ingenuity.  Even our own traits of creativity, focus and patience  (all necessary for brewing) are bestowed upon us by our parents and teachers.

When we think about beer in that light it’s kind of humbling  There so much to be thankful for.  It would seem the least we could to acknowledge it all would be to postpone our gratification and offer that first beer to something more important than our own thirst.  And whether it is God or Mother Earth or the Spirit of Life or even the FSM is really beside the point.  What matters is that we take the time to stop and think about all that has gone into the wondrous thing we have just created.  What matters is that we take a moment to be grateful that we have the financial and physical resources as well as the freedom (political and otherwise) to indulge in our hobby.

It won’t be easy.  It is a genuine sacrifice to give the fruits of our labor to God before we enjoy them for ourselves.   It is hard to resist the temptation to offer a portion of what we create to God as opposed to keeping it all for ourselves.  And yet it is entirely worth it.

jesus-beer_rkAnd so the next time I head into the kitchen and fire up the brew kettle I try to keep that sense of gratitude in mind.  And when that next batch is finally matured and ready to be enjoyed, rather than seizing it for myself, I will gladly offer it to God.

Of course figuring out how to do that is tricky because God isn’t going to drink my offering.  Unlike the first fruits of my vegetable garden I can’t take it to the local food pantry.  I suppose I could do as they do in many other cultures and set it out as an offering for God and God alone.  If you have suggestions as to ways in which we can offer the first fruits of our brewing as a gesture of gratitude, please let me know.

But what matters most, is not so much what I do with that first bottle or glass, but just the fact that I am willing to set aside my own desire for the sake of something greater.  For in doing so I will be  taking part in an ancient and sacred tradition.  By offering God some of my first and best I take the time to remember that I would not be able to enjoy it at were it not for all the blessings that have been bestowed upon me.

Pretentious? Moi?

“So you’re a connoisseur of craft beer?  That’s very interesting.  I consider myself a connoisseur of pretentious jag offs and I find you fascinating.”    Five minutes later my wife stopped laughing.  Wiping the tears from her cheeks, patted me on the back and said, “Yeah honey.  They kinda of just nailed you.”

The source of her mirth and my shame was a clip from Triumph, The Insult Comic Dog, and his trip to the GABF.  While it takes a lot of shots at the beverage that I love, this definitely off color and NSFW video is still unbelievably funny.   To see for yourself click here.

triumph_insult_comic_dogThe real question is does Triumph have a point?  Have we taken our devotion to craft beer a little too seriously?  Consider his joke from later in the video.

“A connoisseur of craft beer walks into a bar and says to the bartender, ‘I’d like your finest pumpkin ale but make sure it’s not too hoppy.’ So the bartender takes a baseball bat and beats him senseless while everyone cheers.”

I suspect my wife, who really does like beer and is usually willing to at least try any new beer I offer her, might just be front and center in the cheering section.  For years she has rolled her eyes and usually bitten her tongue as I have held a glass up to the light and then inhaled deeply.  She has winced as when used adjectives like “grassy” or “catty” to describe beer.  It’s not that her palate can’t detect the same things.  It’s just that she feels it is unnecessary and yes, even pretentious to exclaim it for all to hear.

I think she fears I am turning into Miles from the movie Sideways who when analyzing asideways1 wine uttered, “A little citrus. Maybe some strawberry. Mmm. Passion fruit, mmm, and, oh, there’s just like the faintest soupçon of like, uh, asparagus, and, there’s a, just a flutter of, like a, like a nutty Edam cheese.”

OK.  So just for the record I have never mentioned Edam when analyzing a beer.  But the point is still valid.  But more importantly, has the true appreciation of something as blue collar as beer gotten lost in our never ending pursuit of refining our ability to enjoy a beverage that is becoming ever more the true and worthy competitor of wine?  Have we lost the ability to just drink a cold one and say “Aaaaah  That was good” without the need for further elaboration?

I certainly hope not.  Nevertheless could it be that my devotion to craft beer has made me pretentious?  Yeah, I might resemble that remark.  But if my wife can live with it, so can I.