Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Brewery Ommegang Presents HopChef Miami 2014

Last night I attended Brewery Ommegang's HopChef event at The Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Florida. HopChef is a national competition where local chefs in multiple cities are given the opportunity to create dishes that highlight their culinary skills while challenging them to incorporate and pair Ommegang's beers with them. Eight Miami chefs DID NOT disappoint in their endeavor, using the brewery's Witte, Rare Vos, Hop House, Hennepin, Abbey Ale and Three Philosophers Quad beers.

My wife and I arrived a little early as we had media passes. And there was New Times' famous writer Doug Fairall walking the parking lot with us. Guess what? You're going to need to read Doug's article (I'm in the video too) since we were so stuffed with food we left before a winner was crowned. So The Biltmore! What else can I say? Beautiful hotel, lovely afternoon. I took a few photos for you since no one else ever thought of doing that before!

Before the crowd arrived, I was given the opportunity to meet some of the chefs, judges, and brewery representatives as well. Ommegang's Market Manager Jessica Suarez introduced me to their Sales Director Steven Cardello, and Distributor Brown's Eric Pugh introduced me to Master Cicerone and HopChef Judge Neil Witte. Picture this... You are working for Boulevard Brewing for 16 years when Duvel buys your brewery. And Duvel happens to also own Brewery Ommegang which has a beer named after you. And now you're going to judge a competition that has that beer in it. Hmmm. Paraphrasing, Neil said that while Witte may not be his favorite Ommegang beer, it does hold a special place in his heart!

I recognized Chef Jose Mendin from his win at the Cochon 555 Miami event a few months ago. I think he was thinking "who is this guy?" when I started chatting with him. He seemed relieved that he was judging the competition rather than cooking his own meal for it. Brown Distributors was well represented including Adam Fine, and beer royalty Julian Siegel from The Riverside Market Cafe was also in the house. I hadn't seen him in a while, but he recognized me as one of the idiots that took the Stand-Up Paddleboard lesson in the marina behind Bimini Boatyard a few years back (wow I was fat). And there were other old and new friends we mingled with for the evening.

Biltmore Chef David Hackett's Seared Sea Scallop (see description below)
We tasted the dishes from all eight chefs. I'll admit that the beer pairing part got a little confusing since at some points we were still drinking the beer from the previous dish. But I did enjoy all of the beers with the food, and most of the dishes also incorporated beer in them in multiple ways. I was also uncomfortably stuffed by the end of the night, though that is my problem. I need to learn that lesson still I guess.

Chefs Jacob Anaya (OTC), Sean Brasel (Meat Market), David Hackett (The Biltmore Hotel), Alan Hughes (The Embassy of Well Being and Debauchery), Michael Meuse (Doubletree Miami Airport), Jason Pringle (DB Bistro), Michell Sanchez (Latin House Grill), and Andreu Silverman (Route 9) and their teams all put together excellent meals, though for my wife and me, three in particular stood out as the best (first time we agreed in a week, LOL). And like I already mentioned, I don't know who the judges crowned the victor. Each attendee was also given a bottle cap to vote for the People's Choice winner.

Chef Michael Meuse's "Wings over Mi-Hami" (see description below)
Let me tell you about those three favorites in order for me. I felt like a judge on Chopped nit-picking at things just so I could decide this order as they were basically a dead heat. My vote went to Michael Meuse's "Wings over Mi-Hami," a Rare Vos Braised "Pig Wing" with Goat Cheese Flan, Chicharron-Chorizo Crumble and Rare Vos-Blackberry Gastrique. The meat fell off the bone, the juiciness was fantastic, the flan to die for! I was recognized for getting thirds by the chef!

Second place for me (wife voted for this) was Michell Sanchez's Candied Jalapeno Witte Ale Tiger Shrimp Ceviche with Witte Agave Lime Sorbet. It was fantastic! So refreshing and spicy and that sorbet kicked ass with it. Third place went to The Biltmore's own David Hackett with his Seared Sea Scallop wrapped in Ibericao Ham and Brown Sugar Grain Mustard Pork Loin. It was topped with pink grapefruit pearls, pea tendrils and served with a fire cracker flat bread. Just awesome! Anyway, if I were a betting man, I'd think these three were at or near the top. (See you at the Hard Rock later!)

That's about it. Great food, terrific beers, nice people. I'd love to go again next time!

Chef Michell Sanchez's Ceviche (see description above)

Steven Cardello wants to be in Neil Witte picture too!

Chef David Hackett prepares his dish
HopChef Judging Panel

Monday, April 28, 2014

Mosaic Session IPA

After a hard day of drinking rum and posing with beautiful models, I needed to simplify my beer choices for today. I decided that Blue Point Brewing's Mosaic Session IPA was just the beer to do that. The label depicts a quaint Long Island beach scene: sailboat in the sound, jeep on the sand, and subway tiles decorating the background. Bottled on 2/27/14. 4.8% alcohol.

Lemony citrus aroma, a little doughy with a nice sweetness in the background. Grassy and flowery flavors come first followed by some tangerines and other citrus. Sharp lemon really packs a wallop on the taste buds with a little Pine Sol cleansing flavor/action. Big carbonation, low-medium body. And very dry at the finish. Crisp, refreshing, enjoyable. Very good though I prefer some other beers in this new Session Obsession category going down now.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Longshot American Stout

Easter has passed. I already bought and ate all of the sale chocolate bunnies from Publix. So where's a guy to get his chocolate fix from? From the smell of this Longshot American Stout, this beer is going to do just fine! This is the final Longshot beer I'm tasting this year, after the Pineapple IPA and Gratzer.

American Stout was created by Russ Brunner. Ed Roberts told me that he's a local homebrewer here in South Florida and that he's trying to get him to do some tastings of the beer at Total Wine. THAT would be super cool--pouring a beer that has your picture on the label (not made with your ink jet). Enjoy by September, 2014. 7.2% alcohol.

Nice roast, coffee, chocolate sweetness, great aroma. Chocolate comes first, but more bitter and dark chocolate. Prunes and other dark ripe fruit are very prominent as well. Light coffee, roasted malt. And then very interesting orange and citrus flavors come as you finish each sip. Rich, great body. Surprisingly not sweet in the slightest--good balance. A little alcohol shows at the end. Nice beer!

I enjoyed all three of this year's Longshot winners. I usually rank them but this year I'm going to (wuss out and) say they were all very different and enjoyable, that you should try them all and decide for yourself.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Longshot Pineapple IPA

Yep, with a prop!
The second of three in Sam Adams' Longshot series this year is their Pineapple IPA, an ale with pineapple juice added. You remember their Gratzer from yesterday, right? This beer was created by Samuel Adams employee Teresa Bury. 6.0% alcohol. Enjoy before August, 2014.

Sweet and malty aroma, juicy with a little citrus. Spicy and hoppy at the start. Fruity, juicy sweetness offers some balance but remains in the background and never really stands out prominently. Pine and citrus bitterness through the finish seal the deal--it's an IPA and pleasantly bitter.

I'd say by the end of the bottle, you will taste the pineapple lingering on your palate after each sip, but knowing that was the added ingredient sure helped with identifying it. More just a generic fruitiness (not that there's anything wrong with that.) Enjoyable all around.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Longshot Grätzer

I recently grabbed a sixer containing this year's three Samuel Adams Longshot competition beers. Since the Boston Marathon was this morning, I figured a Boston Beer product was appropriate! I decided to check out the Grätzer first. Yeah, I was thinking the same thing: a Grätzer is a smoked wheat beer. This particular Longshot winner was brewed by Cesar Marron. 4.4% alcohol. Enjoy before August, 2014.

Big smoky sweet aroma, savory, meaty, reminds me of camping. Smoked meat flavors come through first as well, though not nearly as big as the aroma. Rather, the smoke is balanced by a basket of other great flavors. Nicely sweet, a bit of grain and hints of apples and lemons. The finish was a little spicy.

Honestly, I was shocked how refreshing this beer was. When I saw smoke on the label, I was ready to hate on this beer all day. But I liked it a lot. Very interesting and different, and the smoky meaty flavors never got old or annoying. Check it out for sure.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Stone Saison

Last Wednesday, Stone Brewing's Dr. Bill Sysak visited my local Total Wine in Pembroke Pines, Florida. (Speaking of Dr. Bill and Total Wine, check out this Dr. Bill interview I did for the Total Wine Blog.) Unfortunately, I had to turn down an invitation to his class and tasting of some rare beers from their collection. Yeah, I know. But the life of a baseball coach dad makes me miss a few fun events. Anyway, I crossed my fingers and did the rain dance, but alas, it was a dry evening.

Total Wine was nice enough to have Dr. Bill sign a few of the bottles for me though. One of the bottles said "Rob. Drink Stone. Doctor's Orders! Cheers. Dr. Bill". So I decided to follow through on those orders with a bottle of Stone Saison, a beer that I hadn't seen on our shelves before.

2012 Old Guardian. 2008 Imperial Russian Stout. 2007 Double Bastard.
The label has the Stone gargoyle and lets you know this is an ale brewed with spices. The back of the bottle tells you a story about Stone buying a farm where they grow many of the ingredients they use at their Stone World Bistro and Gardens. And it also identifies the spices used in this beer as home-grown lemon zest, lemon thyme and lavender. 2014 Release. 6% alcohol. 45 IBUs.

Floral, lightly hoppy, apples and herbs in the aroma. Spicy herbal flavors, a little minty and cooling. Quite peppery as well. Some fruity apples add contrast. Belgian yeast is also very noticeable. Some sharp lemony flavors and grassy bitterness come at the finish, which also shows off some of the lavender. Interesting and different.

Now who wants to come over and help me put down the three signed bottles?

if you click the link above, you can read the story on their website

Monday, April 21, 2014

Yuengling Summer Wheat

As a proud Pennsylvania boy, I couldn't help but grab a bottle of Yuengling Summer Wheat to check out. The label is practically the same as their traditional lager, just in a yellow tone. Still a twist off cap too!

Spicy cloves, orange and banana aroma. Pretty much the same in the flavors. You start with some orange and bananas along with a nice wheat flavor. Spicy cloves and a nice tangy contrast take you all the way to the finish. Good body, nice carbonation, nicely sweet. Enjoyable and damn, I already finished the beer before I could even type out these two short paragraphs. Time for another!

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Illinois Imperial India Pale Ale

During Goose Island's Miami Migration Week around a month ago, I had the opportunity to check out The Illinois, an imperial IPA that was supposed to be coming to our market along with others in their "Imperial" series. I hadn't seen it, so I inquired with the guy that invited me to that event in the first place about it. I'm not sure if it was here in South Florida, was just really limited, or my local liquor store dropped the ball in ordering it. Bottom line is that they shipped me this bottle to check out for DBR.

The label lets you know that this beer is "in homage to the mile high skyscraper Frank Lloyd Wright designed for the city of Chicago that was never built." On the label is a giant hop cone, in an architectural pattern perhaps in a style that might remind you of FLW (though I never did finish that art appreciation class in college, so not sure). 95 IBU. 9% alcohol. Bottled on 14FEB14.

Terrific aroma, most sniffworthy! Orange, mango, pineapple, awesome tropicals and citruses! Oof! A little more alcoholic POW! than I remembered from those first tastings last month. Not bad, just a little shock. Sweet caramel, malty orange and pineapple, sugary.

Some citrus zest and light piney hoppiness, along with king alcohol, add some bitter (or at least anti-sweet) relief and balance. Big body and quite rich. Great fruitiness throughout including a lengthy finish. Terrific flavors though I'd certainly have preferred a little less sweetness. Check it out for sure and let me know your thoughts below.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Craft Beer for the Homebrewer: Recipes From America's Top Brewmasters

I'm not a homebrewer. Never even tried it. I always credit my disinterest in trying to brew my own beer with my zillions of hours of college organic chemistry lab followed by my employment post graduation. However, I do like to drink your homebrew!

When asked if I'd like to check out Craft Beer for the Homebrewer: Recipes From America's Top Brewmasters by Michael Agnew (Amazon affiliate link), I said yes as it might provide some additional appreciation. This is a book designed to give homebrewers the opportunity to brew "clones" of some of the top beers from the best breweries in the country.

The commercial beer industry owes a lot to homebrewers and regularly pays it back. They offer their expertise, time, equipment and facilities to local homebrewers. Heck, as this book shows, they even offer the recipes of some of the top beers they make so you can try your hand at brewing some Hop Stoopid or Nugget Nectar! There are no other industries I can think of that help the competition and reward each other like craft brewers do.

Michael Agnew along with a few others (including Billy Broas, who I have personally seen offer brewing expertise on Twitter for years) wrote this book for established homebrewers. I don't see someone who decided to brew for the first time having an easy time accomplishing the recipes here, but  if you've brewed before and know the terms and general procedures, this is a kick-ass book.

Craft Beer for the Homebrewer is organized by beer styles and features 38 beer recipes from 23 breweries. And we're not talking about no-name beers or brewers. From Avery Maharaja to Allagash Curieux to Cigar City El Lector to Stone Leviathan, you will certainly have a difficult time picking one to start with.

The book offers several "Extra Tips" as well for the burgeoning homebrewer. Basically, this is a GREAT reference for the homebrewer that is looking to ratchet things up a notch. If you're done brewing your buddy's lemon zest pale ale with almonds type recipes and ready to see what it takes to mimic pro brewers and pro recipes, this is the book for you. It offers extract and all-grain methods for each recipe, carefully calculating for a standard 5 gallon batch size.

Of the 38 recipes, if you were my friend and you shared your homebrew, I'd ask you to brew these weekly (since 5 gallons isn't really enough): Hop Stoopid, Maharaja, Bittersweet Lenny's RIPA, Lagunitas Little Sumpin' Sumpin', Rugbrod, El Lector, Hazelnut Ale, Leviathan, Nugget Nectar, and those are just from the list of ones I've tried!

Nice book. Nice pictures and stories. And great perspective from a community angle that really does exist in the brewing world! Grab a copy of this book, especially if you are a homebrewer that is interested in trying your hand at making some of the top beers out there!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Saranac Our Wild Hop Pils

Today I'm trying Saranac Our Wild Hop Pils brewed by the Matt Brewing Company in Utica, New York. I tried their Pale Ale and Legacy IPA previously, so this is the last from their mixed CAN-DO 12 pack. The side of the can tells you this beer is named Wild Hop Pils because it is the first to use Belma hops discovered growing wild on a farm in the Yakima Valley. 5.2% alcohol. 28 IBU.

Fruity, floral with some pale malt in the aroma. Fruity apple flavors are joined by some grain and a nice honey sweetness. There is a pleasant hoppy bitter balance that comes next, very flavorful and not harsh at all. Creamy, very clean. Probably a little different than what you'd picture in your mind as a typical "pils" but whatever. Unique. I liked it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Endless IPA

Today I'm "celebrating the aroma and taste of hops"... again! After checking out Goose Island's Ten Hills Pale Ale not too long ago, I was recently sent the second in their three-beer limited release series. Today it's Endless IPA that gets its day. This is a 5.0% alcohol "Session Ale" brewed with 100% Amarillo hops grown in Elk Mountain for Goose Island. 35 IBU. Bottled on 14MAR14 and available between 4/7/14 and July, 2014 so now's the time to check it out.

Fruity orange and pine are the most noticeable scents present--very nice. Fairly sweet orange flavors come first but are quickly balanced by some hoppy, piney flavors. Great carbonation tingle right from the start. Spicy with a citrusy lemon finish, and though well balanced, bitter easily wins in the end as expected. Very enjoyable and similar to other terrific "Session" Pales/IPAs that are on the market now.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Angry Orchard Green Apple Hard Cider

Within the past few months or so, Boston Beer Company released the Green Apple flavor in their Angry Orchard brand of ciders. When I told them my sister really likes the Angry Orchard ciders and my Sister-in-Law was gluten (among many things) intolerant (and that they are both currently pregnant), well, that sealed the deal and they sent me a few bottles so I could give them something to look forward to.

The label depicts an interesting Granny Smith Apple Tree, old, wise, with a face. You know, typical. 5% alcohol. Nutritional info on the back.

Vinegar and tart Granny Smith Apple aroma. Sweet apple and honeydew flavors come first. At first there is little tartness, though that does build as you drink a few sips. Even though there is some tart relief to the sweet start, this cider is a little too sweet and really follows the Jolly Rancher candy flavor profile exactly. Flavors are good, but I wanted a little more sharpness, tartness, crispness and bite. And dude, 210 calories?

Sunday, April 13, 2014


So I was recently asked how I'd be celebrating the Thai New Year, Songkran! Yeah, I know... Duh, with water squirters and Chang Beer! The labels and caps of my 330mL bottles show two elephants squirting water over each other. The back label lets you know this beer won a World Beer Award as Asia's Best Premium Lager. Best Before 100814.

People celebrating Songkran or Water Festival perform a Buddhist bathing ritual (not going to show you that part) followed by spraying their loved ones and friends with water, believed to wash away bad luck. They also drink plenty of Chang Beer. I decided to cover myself from both angles to protect myself from evil! The video was made my 11 year old amateur film-maker--not bad for only one "dry" run!

If any of you geniuses know how I can kill the black areas on both sides of the video, please let me know. I've wasted enough time in YouTube today!

I also tasted the beer...

Grainy, typical lager aroma. Sweet honey, grainy, with a bit of some persistent buttery flavor. Lightly grassy with some spice and bitterness at the finish. Pretty simple. Carbonation OK. Beer so-so. Too sweet; weird butter flavor. I did finish it, though I'm not so sure what's to happen with her 5 sisters. Perhaps I'll finish them off for today for the holiday this afternoon!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Visit to Florida Beer Company's New Cape Canaveral Brewery

Yesterday I visited a former Chrysler missile plant in Central Florida. No, I wasn't doing research for a story on NASA (try NASA.gov, LOL). Rather, I was fortunate enough to be invited to tag along with a few managers from Gold Coast Distributors and Ed Roberts up to see Florida Beer Company's new brewery in Cape Canaveral yesterday! I think they asked because adding a fifth body required rental of a nice SUV and made the HOV lanes a no-brainer in the crappy Friday rush hour traffics (yep, plural, both ways).

We were greeted by brewery owner Jim at the entrance, and all of us were immediately impressed by the tasting room space as well as what we could see through the multiple giant windows displaying the brewery. Excellent space, really fun artwork, impressive custom bar with lots of taps, and tons of little details everywhere. After a few quick greetings and pictures, Jim took us on an in-depth tour of the brewery. We started in the lab, which for a former scientist was pretty cool.

I lifted this photo from Florida Beer's Facebook page after Corey (back) posted it!
We saw enormous tanks used for a variety of steps in the brewing process, the biggest being a 500 barrel monster that was equipped to be outdoors (too tall for the building). We were introduced to a piece of equipment that most smaller brewers don't have at their facilities due to its expense. Florida Beer's centrifuge is used to cut time and waste out of the brewing process. Jim said they get 10-12% more beer from a tank and at their volume, this piece of equipment pays for itself over time.

After seeing some of the tanks and brewing areas, we were led to see the different stages in the bottling line. Next time I'm invited back (if there is one) I'm going to take a rubber glove to re-enact that Laverne and Shirley intro song video from their Shotz Beer Days! Seriously though, we got to see every stage of the bottling process, from bottle disinfecting, filling, capping, rinsing, labeling, packaging, boxing... and of course drinking! I promise to try to upload a few of the short videos I took here soon!

Jim shows off the new packaging for Sunshine State Pils!
We met the brewer Luke, who previously worked at the Gordon Biersch in Brickell (which is now a CVS, he thought). The rest of the visitors semi-dissed one beer in particular, though all of the rest were awesome, and that's around 20 or more taps including some of their really great ciders. My favorites for the day were their new Sunshine State Pils and Florida Sweet Stout, so watch out for those soon! After the tour and a handful of samples, we decided to forgo going out to lunch in exchange for pizza ordered in to the tasting room and another handful of samples. Yeah, right? Our server was really attentive and nice as well, so expect great service when you visit!

Jim let us know that he still has a few private functions scheduled for the next few weeks. However, around April 28th (call first, or actually try their Facebook page or Twitter for the most up-to-date info), the tasting room will be opened daily. If you are drinking, they will stay open (I think I heard those are their approximate hours, though they are subject to change). But watch out for weekly specials for Monday Night Football and other similar regular sporting events are on TV. Florida Beer's Taproom will have a bunch of menus to order food in and plans on having a regular food truck lineup as well.

So after six plus hours of fabulous driving by Corey, we arrived home safely. Was a great day! This morning, however, my wife was pissed that I didn't take more pictures with me in them. She was even "tagged" (or whatever you call it) on the group photo above when SFLonTap did one of those Facebook-thingy-thing posts. But I reminded her of the zit on my nose and we both had a good chuckle.

Thanks for the hospitality, Jim. Thanks for the invite, Ed, Corey, Brett and Darren!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Funky Buddha Beer Dinner at Boca Raton Resort

Last night I was invited to a beer dinner. Not just any beer dinner either. The Funky Buddha Beer Dinner at Boca Raton Resort's 501 East Kitchen and Bar Restaurant. One of my favorite local breweries at a luxury hotel and golf club? Um, yes, and it took Ed Roberts around 30 seconds to say he'd join me as my guest. 501 East recently put together a new craft beer menu for their bar, around 10-20 Florida beers, and they are (correctly, no doubt about it) hoping that this will further interest in the bar.

501 East Beer Dinners are normally open to hotel guests and members of the club. I sat next to a member and former professional golfer and his dad. I think just sitting there at the same table probably knocked half a dozen strokes off my game. Brown Distributing's very own Eric Pugh introduced each of the Funky Buddha beers while Chef Ray Dolan told us about each of the six courses he prepared for us to eat. The staff taking care of us was awesome, and PR Manager Cristina Nelson was there to greet all of the guests.

Unsurprisingly, Ed knew more than a few people there. In fact I have like 100 pictures of his friend Heather as she sat across from me behind all of my food and beer photos! So six beers, six food courses, a few hundred photos (don't worry, I'll only show you the edible ones). Of course the hotel was beautiful. The golf course views from the restaurant were nice. And the 501 East restaurant was very inviting. Comfortable, nice decor, great wine display, excellent service, friendly staff everywhere, and great food and beer!

I'm going to show you the beer and dinner menu in a photo as typing the whole thing over again will not do the presentation justice. I liked all the dinner courses, though I think the first two were my favorites: compressed watermelon, local baby looms, micro salad, watermelon radish, barrel aged feta, key lime mustard drizzle with Floridian Hefeweizen then citrus marinated local rock shrimp and crab, raspberry salsa, pickled fresno chile, crispy plantains with Fire in the Hole Raspberry Habanero Red Ale. The spicy ceviche in the plantain bowl with the spicy beer really worked well together.

Of the six beers, I had tried four of them previously: Floridian, Hop Gun IPA, No Crusts, and Nib Smuggler. New to me were the Fire in the Hole and Crusher Single Hop Session IPA. I loved all of them! All! I even drank Heather's Fire in the Hole since she didn't like it, though the servers were refilling glasses anyway (don't want to waste beer). Favorites/Favorite Pairings were the Floridian Hefeweizen, No Crusts and Nib Smuggler (LOL, half on the favorite list). Though I did hear one guy say he "wouldn't pay a nickel for one of those" and another "tastes like a bad beer smells". Probably a Bud guy! And they were wrong!

Anyway, friends, that's it. If you like to Golf, live near enough to this resort or are visiting South Florida, love beer and great atmosphere and service, sign up today! If you practice enough, pretty soon you'll be better than Jason Dufner (+8 today at The Masters killed my fantasy team). If you're interested in these beer dinners or want to know anything about the resort, leave a comment, and I'm happy to give you Cristina's email and phone number.

Thank you for the invitation.