Saturday, November 30, 2013

Craft Beer: We don't drink definitions. We drink good beer.

I've debated writing a post about craft beer and it's need for a definition for quite some time now. It's a topic that has been discussed so often I didn't feel like there was anything left to say that hadn't already been said a thousand times over. However, more recently the guys at Brew Dog, in their effort to get Europe and the UK to agree to an all encompassing definition, seem to have garnered up new interest as to what craft beer is and isn't. And after sitting with everything for a year or so and reading various view points on the topic lately I think I finally have something I want to say.

Does Craft Beer need a definition (both here and abroad)? Yes. But you know what James and Martin and everyone behind the Brewers Association in America? I don't need any of you guys to define it for me. It's not up to you. I could not care less what the producer of beer thinks about their own product. It goes without saying that every producer of beer has an agenda. The bottom line is that they want to sell beer and therefore any definition they put together is going to be done so with the idea that you should drink the beer that falls under the category they've defined versus the beer over there that doesn't meet the requirements set out by the definition that, oh yeah, they were nice enough to define for us. They're drawing the lines for the customer and that's wrong. The customer, each individual, should draw the line for themselves free from the restraints of any self serving and arbitrary definition.

People that want to find good beer are going to find it regardless of these ham-fisted definitions. When the wort is all boiled down beer should taste good and it should be made with care. The end. Yes, it can go a bit beyond that. Personally, I'm a big fan of taking in the history of beer when I'm drinking, but at the end of the day people just want their taste buds to be happy and enjoy the dopamine kick that goes along with that. The taste of beer should be its distinguishing character and yet look at the very first part of the Brewers Association's definition.
Annual Production of 6 million barrels of beer or less. Beer production is attributed to a brewer according to the rules of alternating proprietorships. Flavored malt beverages are not considered beer for purpose of this definition. 
Oh. Okay. So, tell me the last time you reached for a new beer, took a sip, and then thought to yourself, "Geez, this beer is truly amazing. You can really tell the brewery makes less than 6 million barrels per year. It's so small batchy!" How does that definition help the consumer find good beer? It doesn't. All it does is help draw a line between us and them and allows the former to use that line as a marketing tool. Well, I don't want to be marketed to. I just want to drink good beer.

Greg Koch of Stone Brewing and a fairly staunch supporter of drinking beer that falls on the correct side of a definition, said "Craft beer is more than just awesomely delicious beer. It's also a revolution against the insult of the industrialized notion of beer that has been preying on the populace for decades." True, as I mentioned above craft beer can be about more than just good tasting beer, but it doesn't have to be. Not everyone is looking to taste the sweet nectar of revolution when they're making a decision about which 6-pack to bring home. Some of us, most of us I'd venture, are simply looking for something that tastes great. I'm not trying to change the world when I order an Arrogant Bastard. I just want some lupulin love in my life.

Koch goes on to say that "We need to allow the consumers the ability to decide for themselves who they want to support, but in order to do that, they must be able to understand clear definitions." No, we just need a curiosity and desire to taste something different. And personally, I'd appreciate it if you didn't look at us like a bunch of idiots who can't make up our own minds without your help. You say you want us to be able to decide for ourselves who we want to support, but every time I read these quotes I feel like you're more interested in setting up a verbal fishing weir and less interested in freedom of choice. I've been doing a pretty good job of figuring out which pizza tastes better without defining certain pizza as "craft pizza". I don't need your help with beer either.  Mr. Koch, you found "craft beer" without involving the people at Oxford and their love for definitions. Others did as well. And for those that haven't yet, give them their own time and leave them to their own devices. They'll find you if they really want to.

It's true that I found my way to good beer (craft beer if you must) in a very roundabout way, but in the end I found it without ever using someone else's definition as my guide. And I found good beer because I was interested and willing to do my own research. For those of you that don't know my story, please sit back and relax as I tell you the tale of the day good beer and I became Best Friends Forever.

I didn't like beer at all when I first came of age. I was a Rum & Coke guy until one day I decided I was tired of people bumping into me at the bar and making me spill my drink. So, the next time I needed a drink, I ordered a beer. What kind of beer did I order? Miller Lite? But Lite? Maybe a Michelob Light because that's what my Pap drank. The details are foggy, but I drank the cheap stuff everyone drinks at that age. And I drank those beers for the next year or two without much care or thought as to why I was choosing the beers I did. One day, though, the dumbed down taste of these beers wasn't holding my interest anymore. So, what was a young boy to do? I looked up the definition of craft beer and finally --- Just kidding. I knew from experience that all of the beers typically seen during commercials of NFL games tended to taste the same so it only made sense that I go in the complete opposite direction. I walked into a beer distributor and picked out a beer I had never heard of. That beer --- see, that beer unlike the first beer I ever had I remember because it changed my beer drinking life forever. It was Heavy Seas Great'er Pumpkin. Holy crap, the flavor. There was pumpkin pie spice, malt, BIG bourbon notes and the happiest beer drinking Doug that there has ever been. It was a truly transformative experience, and one I'm glad I came to without anyone else leading the way. I felt like it was my discovery and I wanted to let everyone know about it. I had no idea what craft beer was when I tasted that beer. Even funnier, I had no idea that the beer I was drinking was produced within 30 minutes of my house. But I didn't need to. All I needed was an interest to find something new --- something better. And I did.

That was the start of my days as a guy who only wanted to drink good beer. From then on I started drinking everything I could get my hands on and only over time did I become familiar with the phrase "craft beer". It might surprise some of you who are staunch supporters of drinking definitions, but the beers I was drinking didn't taste any better once I had a category to file them in.

Brewers, if you believe in your beer, if you believe in your company, if you believe in the way you as a company go about your business then let it be. Stop trying to file stuff into categories for us. Stop with the arbitrary definitions that can be changed when it suits you (anyone remember when 2 million barrels was the limit). Believe in good beer and trust that people out there want to drink good beer. Because people do want tasty beer. They want to purchase a product that tastes great and is created with a conscience. And when they're ready, just as I did (but hopefully in a bit more straight forward manner), they'll find your beer and they'll never leave. Put together a recipe that is going to blow people's minds and leave the definitions to Websters. We don't drink definitions. We drink good beer.

Monday, November 25, 2013

What it's like to date a food/beer blogger

Welcome to what will hopefully be a semi-recurring featured blog post by none other than my lovely fiance, Deana. I mention her often, but I thought it might be nice to let her speak for herself and let you know exactly what it's like to date a food/beer blogger. 

A few days ago Douglas asked me to write down what it was like to date a beer blogger.  My first thought was “gosh, what’s it like to date Douglas… where do I start?” But the truth is there are quite a few advantages to dating someone who’s so dedicated to writing about places we’ve been in hopes that others can enjoy all the fun things Baltimore has to offer.

Do you know that conversation - the one that goes something like this: “what do you want to do tonight?” “I don’t know what do you want to do tonight?” “I don’t know what do you want to do tonight?”  Yeah, that annoying conversation only lasts about 10 seconds in our house before Douglas suggests a new place or event for the evening. Best of all, we very rarely go more than a week without having a new and awesome date night.  Douglas loves to try new places, especially when he can try new things like shark or rabbit.  I also appreciate that he really likes to plan dates where we have to get dressed up and act a little fancy.

I love hearing from people who read his blog and are interested in his opinions before going to trying a new restaurant.  It’s always nice to know that others are actually reading what he writes.  But inevitably, our conversation always ends with something like “you guys really drink a lot of beer”. We do go out often, but it is very rare that we ever order more than a beer or 2, and it’s always a little awkward when people seem to assume you are a bit of a lush.  Variety is the spice of life!

Another drawback to dating a food blogger is that it's sometimes awkward when we’re sitting at the bar or a table in a nice restaurant and Douglas is diligently taking notes and pictures for his next blog post.  He always gets a little upset when I start eating before he has a chance to take a picture. Geez, the sacrifices I make for the loyal readers of this blog.

Douglas is always searching for new events in the area for us to go to.  Things like a beer and bacon tasting, or a German festival, or a local brewery event. These are always fun things to do on the weekends and fun places to go with friends. Nobody likes to do the same thing all the time, but with Douglas leading the way that's never a problem. Then again, because we're always looking for something new, we don't always get to visit our favorite spots as much as I'd like.

Overall, I really enjoy the wide variety of places Douglas finds for us to go. It’s basically every girls dream to date a guy who is so enthusiastic about planning date night on a regular basis and always has a fun new idea of where to go! So, ladies out there. Find yourself a food blogger because they are as fun as they come.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

I like beer, but not that much

I like good beer. In fact, I'd say I love good beer. I read it, drink it, brew it and write it. I cook with it, think about it, talk about it, and probably even dream about it. If there is something that can be done with beer, chances are I want to do it and do it often.

But you know what brewers of the world? I don't like beer so much that I'm willing to spend $40-$70 to attend one of your events. I can't. At least not on any kind of regular basis. There are so many appealing events that happen on almost a bi-weekly basis that I  pass on simply because I can't justify spending that much money. I want to go drink the beer. I want to go eat the food you're pairing it with. I want to inject myself into the beer geek culture and talk shop with fellow lovers of the libation. But damn, I'm not doing it at the prices you're asking. And as an old school fellow who likes to pay for his date (especially dates that are 51+% for my enjoyment) I really can't afford to attend these events. And that my friends, SUCKS.

$40 for 6 drink tokens in which the pours are 2 ounces? Yeah, that's a ripoff. I want to enjoy your beer, not pretend that the beer is mouthwash. I know we don't want beer events to turn into shit shows, but give me what I paid for. If I paid to drink beer, let me drink it and be responsible enough to know when to quit. And for those of us who aren't smart enough to figure it out, step in and stop serving us. Don't use the excuse of potential excess as a way to overcharge us and give us communion sized sips.

A 5-course meal with 5 paired beers for $70? Sure, I get the price in this case, especially when you're serving quality pieces of meat and seafood, but why must every single pairing be one of these uber-fancy events with Kobe beef illegally shipped in from Japan? I'm not knocking the idea of an elevated beer pairing dinner. I'd just like to see more dinners offered that are much more affordable. If you're looking to show the consumers of beer how your product can be elevated when paired, why not do so with products that are more likely to show up in the everyday household kitchen. I want to be wowed by food and love the idea of the occasional night out where you go a little overboard, but I also want to be taught approachable ways to use beer in cooking as well as with pairing. Cook me an elevated grilled cheese and tomato soup, pair it with a beer, and then don't charge me $18,000 for it. That's all I want. Because when all is said and done, I want to have enough money to try and recreate what you taught me at home. And at the very least I'd like to be able to afford the 6-pack of an excellent new beer I just tasted.

Who are these events aimed at? Only the most well off, enthusiastic of us? You're not going to find very many people who like beer more than someone like me but every time you put these outrageous price tags on your special events I'm almost excluded by default. If I feel that way, someone who loves beer so much that they take time out of their life to write about it, then how many other people who are just waiting to discover all that good beer has to offer are being left behind? I'd love to be able to talk to a friend who doesn't know good beer just yet and say "Hey, there is an event going on next week. There's going to be craft beer and food. It should be a good time. You down?" And when they ask what the price is, I'd like to be able to look them in the eye and know they are taking me seriously when I relay the price. Nobody who is new to craft beer is going to pay $70 to taste things they aren't sure about. It's great to reward your core consumer with these kind of events, but gatherings that help bring along some new blood into beer culture would be nice as well.

In the end, I'm not saying that any of these upper echelon events need to stop. They don't. They have their place and I'm glad they exist. I just hate seeing them as the standard for what every beer event should be. Mix in something a little more affordable so that newbies and the non-millionaire drinker can work in a night out celebrating good beer a little more often. It's not too much to ask.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Mission BBQ

Given that today is Veterans Day, I feel like it's most appropriate to finally review the trip I made to Mission BBQ. They are a simple outfit who produce great food for a fantastic cause. I don't think I could explain the Mission BBQ objective better than they already have themselves so I'm not even going to try. Taken directly from their website:

Who are we? Two friends passionate about superior BBQ, patriotic for our country, and who believe in running a business with meaning and purpose. 
We believe there is nothing more American than BBQ. And nobody more American than the brave men and women who have sworn to protect and serve our communities and our country. We do what we do for the love of our soldiers, firefighters, police officers, first responders—all our loved ones in service. 
We set across this great land from Texas to Kansas City, the Carolinas to St. discover the secrets of great BBQ. 
Every day we strive to serve you authentic BBQ made from the freshest, most delectable ingredients, and serve it to you in a patriotic dining room filled with tributes to those who’ve made our country great, given to us by the people who earned them. Stop by at lunchtime, and you might catch us during our daily salute to the Stars and Stripes. 
We don't do any of this because we have to. It's because we want to.

And you out there reading this don't have to eat there because you have to. But I promise that once you try them out you'll be eating at Mission BBQ because you want to. The food is every bit as good as their message.

On my first visit I decided to try out the Pulled Pork, Ribs, and Mac & Cheese. Deana went with Brisket and Cornbread and Mac. Served up simply on a tray and paper they leave you with no doubt that flavor is meant to be the star of the show.

The pulled pork was simple but tender and topped with a healthy amount of coleslaw. It wasn't BOOMING with flavor, but it had a ton of bark mixed in and the fact that they keep the pork so simple made it all the more fun to mix and match all of their housemade BBQ sauces. My favorite sauce was their Baja Bold which I believe is made with habaneros and provides a nice amount of heat. The ribs were unique in that the rub had old bay seasoning mixed in. I'm not the biggest fan of Old Bay, but they don't go overboard with it and once again you can go to town adding one of their many sauces to the rib. You can stick with your favorite, or make every bite a completely new experience. And the Mac & Cheese was as good as you'd expect. The Mac was creamy with just a touch of bread crumb added to the top.

Deana's Brisket was probably my favorite bite of the night. And if not the Brisket, the Cornbread was right there as well. The brisket was beyond tender and juicy. The juicy meat and the crunchy bits where the rub resided made for a great bite. I could have ate that stuff all night, no sauce needed. The sweet Cornbread was a perfect counter point to the peppery brisket.

Mission BBQ? Mission accomplished. These guys do a great job of putting together outstanding BBQ that is simple but done right. So this winter when you get that hankering for good BBQ and realize it's only 28 degrees outside, be sure to seek out Mission BBQ and let them serve you right. You won't be disappointed and they'll provide the rare occasion of going out for a meal and feeling good about the food and a good cause all at once. 

Price: Very affordable
Recommendation: You HAVE to visit this place
What to Order: Brisket, Cornbread, and anything else you're in the mood for. 

Mission BBQ on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Slices Pizzeria on the Avenue

One thing I'll never understand are people at the workplace who eat lunch at their desk. I get that people are busy and hard working, but for me I relish that one hour in the middle of the day when I get to stop looking at a monitor and go out by myself to just eat and think. And one of my favorite ways to spend that hour is to take a short walk over to The Avenue for lunch followed by a quick perusal of books at Barnes & Noble. So, when Slice opened up at The Avenue this summer, I was very happy to have a new place to grab a bite to eat. 

I've visited Slice a few times and I'm still not sure how I feel about the place. If I had to sum the place up in one sentence I'd say it's a tiny building with BIG slices and BIG prices. The inside of the building has very little seating. It's changed over time, but it's gone from having nowhere to sit at all to maybe 4-6 seats. There is a little standing bar area where you can put your plate and the outside has 3 tall tables that you can stand at, but I think the lack of seating is going to a very big issue as the weather becomes colder. Nobody is going to want to stand outside in December. 

The pizza itself is usually pretty tasty. It's not among the best pizza I've had, but it's as good or better than most and for a simple lunch it suits me just fine. The slices are massive --- I'd consider one slice to be the equivalent to two at most places. Their basic slice of cheese is good. The sauce is thick and robust, the cheese isn't too greasy, and the crust is really good. I've also tried their buffalo chicken pizza, and while it's not bad their buffalo sauce to blue cheese ratio is way off. I've had it two on different occasions and both times the blue cheese was heavy handed while the buffalo sauce was almost at a barely noticeable level. When I order anything "buffalo" I want the buffalo to be the star of the show.

And the price is just a bit too much. I've gone to lunch before with Deana and we split two slices and a drink with our total coming in around $15. That's just too much. I can get an entire pizza for that price or close to it. I like the idea of a huge slice of pizza, but I don't think they are worth quite what they are charging. If they modify the size of their slices and come down on the prices I think this is a great addition to The Avenue. But as it stands, it's not somewhere I find myself going regularly simply because it falls out of my lunchtime price range most of the time. 

Price: Expensive
Recommendation: If you're looking for something quick on a trip to The Avenue give them a shot. 
What to Order: I'm always a sucker for a good slice of cheese

Slice Pizzeria on the Avenue on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Glory Days Grill

Despite the fact that my aging body doesn't agree with spicy foods anymore there is something about a good buffalo wing that makes me ignore all the future hurt I'm sure to endure. Sure, I'll be waking up around 3AM in the fetal position and popping Tums like there is no tomorrow. But whatever, a heat head has to do what a heat head has to do. And when I'm in the mood for wings one of the first places that pops into my mind is Glory Days Grill. 

Their wings, specifically their hot wings, are spicy pieces of perfection. The wings themselves aren't breaded, but are simple meaty wings fried in a way that leaves the skin crunchy and the meat inside juicy and tender. I hate when I order wings and I get those little wimpy wings with no meat. Glory Days hooks you up with wings from the buffest birds around. 

The sauce on their wings is perfect. They are covered in hot sauce, but you aren't served chicken hot sauce soup. There is a nice burn to the sauce, but it's not the type of burn that has you in tears. Something unique to Glory Days is the jalapenos they serve with their hot wings. The jalapenos seemed like a waste the first time I saw them come out like that, but I learned to love how the juice leaches out on to the wings. The mix between the jalapeno flavor and the wing sauce makes for a unique taste.

And most importantly, they are served with some of the best blue cheese dressing I've ever come across. One of my favorite bites on this planet is dipping a perfectly sauced wing into the dressing only to find a huge chunk of blue cheese mixed in with the creamy dressing. The coming together of the flaming wing sauce and blue cheese is something I would like to live over and over again. 

This weekend when you're friends are wondering where to go for some good wings be sure to check out Glory Days. They never disappoint. 

Price: Average
Recommendation: A great weekend spot to watch a game, grab a beer, and snack on some wings. 
What to Order: I think you know by now. 

Glory Days Grill on Urbanspoon
Glory Days Grill on Foodio54

Monday, November 4, 2013

Recipes That Don't Suck: Beer Braised Chicken Thighs

Last week Deana and I were coming back from a run when she asked me what I wanted to do with the chicken thighs we had thawing. I knew I didn't want to stand outside over a grill for 20 or 30 minutes so I decided to cook something I've never attempted before. I pulled out the cast iron pot and made Beer Braised Chicken Thighs. 

Even though I had never previously braised anything, I had a general idea of how it should all came together. However, to make sure I was going to be able to pull everything off, I took a quick look at a recipe online and then made up my own based on the things I had in my house. The main ingredient in my braising liquid was a Dunkelweizen I brewed myself so I was extremely happy when the meal turned out well. One of my new culinary goals is to do a lot more cooking with beer. And when I can do it with a beer I made myself...well, all the better. If you're a locavore, you can't get any more local than something you made with your own hands. 

Anyway, on to the recipe. If you end up trying it out, let me know how you like it.

  • 4 Chicken Thighs
  • 2 TBS Olive oil
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • 1 Onion
  • 1 Celery Stock
  • 2 Carrots
  • Garlic Clove
  • 2 TBS Flour
  • 1 Bottle of Beer (I recommened something light on the hops)
  • 1 Cup of Water
  • Chicken Bouillon Cube
  • Brown the Thighs in a pot. When browned, remove and set aside
  • Cut up a small dice of Onion, Celery, Carrots, Garlic, and Rosemary
  • Sweat the Veggies, Rosemary, and Thyme. Add Flour at the end of the sweat.
  • Take a bottle of beer from the wall and add it to the pot. Add water and Bouillon cube. (You can always add a cup of stock or broth if you have that on hand)
  • Add the chicken back to the liquid. Put the lid on the pot and simmer for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove the lid and simmer for 45-60 minutes.
  • Serve over rice or egg noodles. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Session #81 - Scary Beer Feminists or a Healthy Growing Demographic?!

It's the First Friday of  a new month and that means it's time for The Session. This month's session is hosted by Tasting Nitch. The topic is women in beer and we can cover pretty much anything we want as long as it ties women and beer together in some way. 

Personally, I don't know much about women in beer. Whether it be female brewers, beer bloggers, journalists, etc. I can only think of a handful women that find beer interesting. Why that is, I don't know and I'm too lazy to try and come up with a reason. I'll leave that up to the more determined of you out there. However, I do know one woman who enjoys craft beer quite a bit and I call her Beelzebub, Fiance, and Deana.

When I met Deana 3 years ago she didn't have much interest in craft beer. If she ordered a beer, she asked for Miller Lite and never thought twice about it. About the same time we met I figured out that if I followed along with the events going on at Beer Advocate I could hop around the city going from bar to bar collecting free pint glasses at all the different promotions. While I was building my massive pint glass collection, I started trying to convince Deana to order craft beer. At first I would recommend IPA's because that's what I liked and I figured she would  as well. Wrong! I remember her face the first time she tried Dale's Pale Ale and it was pretty hilarious. Luckily, she didn't give up on the idea of craft beer right then and there and allowed me to help her find beers that made her happy. Next I thought I'd try a hefe out on her and while she found it more appealing than an IPA Handel's Messiah didn't exactly start playing in the background. But she kept playing the role of craft beer guinea pig until finally she found her nitch with chocolate roasty stouts, pumpkin beers, and things like Wells Banana Bread.

And that's all I needed. I knew once she got started her palate would evolve and soon enough she was open to trying almost anything. She still hasn't grown fond of American IPA's but the fact that she genuinely likes Yards English IPA is a huge thing for me. I feel like we have common ground when we're looking at a beer menu now and she isn't focusing on only beers in her safe zone. She has the craft beer drinkers curiosity and that's awesome.

Deana's also a big help when it comes to home brewing. I've been brewing beer at home for a little over a year now and she has probably picked out 80% of the recipes. They've run the gamut from Cream Ale to Winter Warmer to Cider to Dunkelweizen.  I love that she has an opinion about what would be good and can give me feedback on the finished product. And I really couldn't brew without her help. She helps me keep an eye out for boil overs, stirs while I'm pouring, and helps me get through the god awful process that is bottling beer.

One of my favorite parts of our shared hobby is borrowing her exceptional palate. Any time I'm tasting a beer for the first time and can't put my thumb on a specific flavor I'm experiencing I hand her my beer and say "what do I taste". And usually she nails it right away. My beer reviews would consist of a lot less detail if I didn't have her around to help me nail down the specifics from time to time.

Really, if it weren't for the woman in my life my relationship with craft beer would be totally different. I wouldn't have my brew buddy on brew days, someone to help me discern flavors, a friend at beer events, or someone to listen to me ramble on about nothing at a bar when the 8.5% ABV has caught up with me. So, what do I feel about the role of women in beer? Beats me, but I know if I didn't have my woman around beer would be a lot less fun for me.