Sunday, November 29, 2009

Beerlao Lager

Yesterday, I visited a new wine & beer shop in town, East Wake Wines & Craft Brew. While their focus is wine, they also have a small, but interesting, selection of beers.

Normally, I'd have skipped past the Beerlao, but it was one brews being sampled by the shop. It's tough to make a judgment based on just one sip, especially since I like to try at least two bottles before making a decision. Figuring it warranted a full review, I purchased a couple bottles. (That's the neat thing about East Wake... they have six packs and singles, so you can buy just a few if you want to sample.)

This lager is produced by the Lao Brewery Company, a joint venture that is half-owned by the government of Laos and half by Carlsberg.  LBC claims to have 99% market share in Laos. 

5% ABV

Beerlao is crystal clear and yellow-gold in color. It has a thick, pillowy white head that leaves significant lacing. Very bubbly.

There's a faint, spicy-pungent, floral aroma. Think marigolds.

Taste & Feel
Definitely a lot of rice in this recipe. It has crisp and light body, but doesn't have a lot of flavor. I'd put it on par with any of the mass-produced American lagers.

Leaves a mildly bitter aftertaste.

If you've never had beer from Laos, it's worth trying, just to say you've had beer from Laos. Other than that, I'm not very excited about this one. Like I said, it's on par with the major American-style lagers, so if you're looking for something bold or different, this isn't it.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Big Boss Brewing Co. - Angry Angel

This Kölsch style ale is year-round favorite from the hometown heroes over at Big Boss and is readily available throughout the Triangle.

4.5% ABV

Angry Angel has a light, golden straw color and cloudy appearance. A steady stream of small bubbles rises through it, but there's an absolutely minimal head, just a thin white froth.

This beer has an airy, light, yeasty aroma. It smells like a very fresh loaf of bread. After it warmed a bit, I was also able to pick out the honeylike scent of its sweet-floral hops.

Taste & Feel
A nice balance between a light, bready malt and subtle, floral hop. White bread and honey are the strongest flavors.

Not at all aggressive, Angry Angel has a light, crisp body and drinks very cleanly. It does have a somewhat bubbly tingle across the tongue and a dry finish, but isn't bitter and leaves almost no aftertaste.

Don't let the name fool you. This beer isn't angry at all. I suspect, however, that Agreeable Angel wouldn't carry quite the marketing punch. It's a nice, clean-drinking beer that will go well with a light fare, spicy food or even fruit.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Rogue - Hazelnut Brown Nectar

I stopped at Lowes Foods on the way home from work tonight in order to pick up beer for Thanksgiving. (If you're curious, I opted for New Belgium 1554 and Big Boss Angry Angel.)  Because it was the day before Thanksgiving and every other person in town was getting in a last minute grocery run, the store was packed. The line for the express checkout reached back into the beer aisle. Convenient for me, since where I was and where I was going magically intersected.

Standing there, waiting patiently, I found myself staring face to face with the beer singles. I tried to ignore them but, I swear, they were whimpering at me like shelter puppies, just begging to come home. I picked out the 22oz. Hazelnut Brown Nectar and offered a warm place for him to spend the night.... in my belly.


Straight from the Rogue website:
A nutty twist to a traditional European Brown Ale. Dark brown in color with a hazelnut aroma, a rich nutty flavor and a smooth malty finish.

4.8% ABV

Nice looking beer... it has an attractive, reddish-brown color, bubbly body and a thick, pillowy head that leaves modest lacing. It's slightly hazy in appearance, and allows plenty of light to pass through. 

Sweet first, then malty, then nutty. Actually, not as aromatic as I was expecting. 

Taste & Feel
This beer has a medium body, and offers up an energetic, bubbly mouthfeel.

It has a mild flavor. A complex maltliness is most prominent, which is fitting because this beer packs in a variety of them. That is followed up by a noticeable hazelnut finish before ending with a slight bitter aftertaste

Rogue rarely disappoints and this brew is on par with their other offerings. Not my favorite Rogue beer, but still an enjoyable one. Enjoy it alone or with a pork or beef meal, but nothing with strong or spicy flavors that might clash with the nuttiness.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Peace Street Market

A few weeks ago, I saw this video and immediately decided that I needed to see it firsthand. Yesterday, I made my first trip.

On the outside, Peace Street Market looks like a dumpy little convenience store. On the inside... yeah, it still looks like a dumpy little convenience store. But the beer... oh, my god, the beer.

I was blown away by what I found. The selection is huge, and most of it is cold. Most stores have a large stock of cheap, mass-produced crap and a small selection of the good stuff. This was the complete opposite... huge selection of crafts and imports, including a lot of stuff I'd  never seen before. 

The commercial junk? ...tucked away in a far corner. Beer justice.

Bell's Cherry Stout

I made my first trip to Peace Street Market yesterday. Huge selection. After getting through the initial wide-eyed, kid in a candy store phase, I picked the Bell's Cherry Stout.

A rich stout, available as a winter seasonal in only 12 states. Fortunately, NC is one of them.

7.0% ABV

No surprises. This beer has a thick, dark brown appearance... completely opaque. The pour looks a bit like thinned out Hershey's syrup. It has a thin, dark mocha head and leaves minimal lacing. 

Again, few surprises. There's a strong essence of dark, tart cherries and chocolate. I also caught light whiffs of a heavily roasted malt and a slight sourness.

Taste & Feel
Now it gets interesting. The flavor is very complex. Initially malty and slightly bitter, but mid-sip, the sweet-tart cherry flavor comes through... boldly. The full body is dry and lively, and it finishes with a wine-like dance across the top of the tongue.

I like it, but the cherry tartness takes some getting used to. It starts off tasting like a beer, ends tasting like a red wine.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Brooklyn Brewery - Black Chocolate Stout

I'm already a fan of Brooklyn's Brown Ale, so when I saw that The Pit had the Black Chocolate Stout on tap, I wasn't about hesitate to try it. 

Brooklyn's imperial-style stout, brewed for the fall and winter seasons. I haven't seen this one in stores, yet.

10.1% ABV

Ominous. This beer is thick and dark, with an opaque black coffee coloring. The head was surprisingly short, but dense and velvety, creating the illusion that someone had floated a thick cut of suede atop my beer. With its rich, caramel-mocha coloring, the head on this stout was darker than some of the actual beers that I've tried.

There was minimal lacing, but when I swirled it around my glass, the beer clung to the sides slightly, giving it an almost oily appearance.

Sweet, sticky molasses.

Taste & Feel
Heavily malty, with a strong bittersweet chocolate flavor. It has a very full body that evenly coats your mouth,  has a dry bite and leaves a light bitter aftertaste on your lips.

Very good. The Black Chocolate Stout is probably best enjoyed on its own or alongside a sweet, rich dessert. However, I had my second pint with dinner, and it held up nicely next to a smoky, flavorful barbecue meal.

The Pit

Finally getting around to posting a BBQ review. Since launching this blog, I've been incredibly slack about getting my fill of sweet, smoky pork goodness.  Fortunately, that drought has come to an end.

Last Saturday, we ventured to The Pit, arguably one of Raleigh's best places to get your fill of awesome barbecue while washing it down with one of the great brews they have on tap. In other words, my kind of place.

Located in an otherwise unassuming brick building at 328 W. Davie Street, The Pit is just a few blocks west of downtown Raleigh's core. Even though it's nestled among several other brick, former warehouses, it's still easy to find; just look for the NC flag and the crowd of people on the corner. The Pit offers valet parking, which stubborn me should take advantage of. Parking on the surrounding streets can be hard to find, especially if you get there when it's busy. Speaking of busy, make reservations if you don't want to wait. Of course, if you don't mind waiting (I think ours was 30 minutes during Saturday dinner), the time passes quickly at the bar.

Inside, The Pit is anything but your traditional Southern BBQ joint. White tablecloths, dim lighting, plush booth seating and a wall of wine bottles will make do a double-take. Don't worry, you're not the only one who's under-dressed. The atmosphere is very welcoming, and when we were there, everyone seemed to be having a great time.

The food, on the other hand, is as traditional and Southern as it gets.  Pitmaster (emphasis on pit, emphasis on master) Ed Mitchell has become somewhat of a legend, attracting national attention. Bobby Flay even stopped by earlier this year to challenge him to a rib Throwdown. Ed handily won.

For our most recent visit, I went with the double combo, paying extra to substitute ribs to accompany pulled pork, with fried okra and mashed potatoes on the side. I washed the whole thing down with a Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, which we'll talk about later.  The Pit isn't cheap, but well worth the price.

The pulled pork was very good. It was juicy and tender, with just a subtle hint of smoke. I lightly doused mine with the The Pit's western NC-style sauce, giving it a rich, peppery, smoky flavor. The thing I appreciated most was the fact that it was really pulled pork. Big, meaty chunks. I'm often disappointed at how finely chopped many places tend to serve theirs.

The ribs were excellent. I thought I ordered baby back, but these seemed to be the Carolina-style. I wasn't complaining, though; I love the The Pit's ribs. They're always thick, meaty and juicy, with a smokiness that penetrates deep into the meat, making them fall-off-the-bone tender.

With so much attention put into tending to the meats slowly smoking in the pit, it would be easy to overlook the sides. However, that wasn't the case. The okra was perfect... fried just enough to crisp the breading while leaving just enough firmness to the veggie inside. The mashed potatoes were light and creamy, and served with a generous puddle of rich, brown gravy.

Despite the bar and restaurant both being packed, the big guy himself ventured out into the dining room a few times to greet guests. At one point, I made a wrong turn heading to the restroom and stumbled upon Ed serenading someone who was celebrating their birthday.

Overall, I'd suggest putting The Pit into your regular restaurant rotation. The food, drinks and atmosphere combine to provide a wonderful dining experience.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

New Belgium Brewing - Mothership Wit

I've been on quite a New Belgium kick lately. We do most of our grocery shopping at Lowes Foods, and they regularly stock NB's offering, making them an enabler of sorts. Straying from my usual choice of dark ales, I decided to give this one a try.

Mothership is NB's first attempt at brewing a beer from all organic ingredients. This Belgian white takes its name from the company's nickname for the brewery itself.

4.8% ABV

This pale white-gold brew has a hazy appearance, characteristic of most wits. Tight bubbles float upward to form a loose, foamy head that leaves modest lacing.

Coriander dominates an herby, perfumy, very floral bouquet. There's also a slightly citrus attribute to it.

Taste & Feel
Sometimes, appearances can be deceiving.  Not in this case. Mothership's flavors are as light and bright as its color, with celery and allspice being the strongest. This is a refreshing beer, with a thin, smooth body.
Not bad. A nice contrast from the stouts and porters that I enjoy so much. 

I've never been a big fan of wheat, but I'm finding that wits are far more tolerable than hefeweizens. This wit in particular has a certain appeal. At first, one might assume it's a light, summery ale, but with a flavor and aroma that compliments stuffing, I can easily see this at our Thanksgiving dinner table.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Stockyard Oatmeal Stout

A new Trader Joe's just opened in Raleigh, so we had to stop in and brave the crowd. It was packed, but we decided to tough it out. Along the way, we picked up a box of beer bread mix, which meant I also needed a six pack. (Actually, I only needed one 12 oz bottle for the bread; the other five, bonus for me!)

Their beer selection is small, and pretty much a variety of brews packaged especially for Trader Joe's.  Among them, I found Stockyard Oatmeal Stout, I figured it would be ideal for the bread... not to mention a rainy fall afternoon.

Stockyard has a very dark, black appearance. It's almost completely opaque. In fact, no light passes through except for a small sliver at the very bottom of my pint glass. Even then, only a dark mahogany halo is evident. It pours with a dense, foamy tan head and leaves light lacing.

This beer has a strong, malty aroma. The most prominent essence is that of a dark, roasted coffee. I also picked up a very slight sourness, especially after giving it a good swirl. 

Taste & Feel
Rich and surprisingly aggressive. A healthy sip reveals heavy roasted malt and Espresso flavors, then it finishes with a dark chocolate aftertaste. Stockyard has a medium-full body, but it's not as creamy, and much bubblier, than most stouts that I've sampled.  It's not very bitter, but mid-swallow it does give a quick bite across the top of tongue.

I was caught off guard by this one. I expect a stout, especially an oatmeal, to be a bit creamier and a have a smoother blend of flavors. This had a stronger bite and the flavors were distinct. With a slightly lighter body, it could pass as a porter.

That said, it's a decent autumn or winter beer. My wife baked the beer bread and has a nice batch of beef stew simmering, and I trust that this will make a nice accompaniment for tonight's meal.