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Food and Beer across rural Iowa, Wisconsin

31 Jul

Traveling across Iowa and Wisconsin, I tried a fair amount of local craft beer… and a lot of meat and potatoes and ice cream (along with one fancier excellent meal at Forequarter in Madison). A few memories:

The West O (West Okoboji) lager was nicely crisp and well done. I finally had the all-the-rage New Glarus Spotted Cow and a few others from New Glarus and they were solid, good beers but didn’t blow me away.


At a traveling Iowa Craft Beer tent with a rotating cast of 10-15 beers, the Lions Bridge “Workmans Comp” rye was a real standout I’d order anywhere, a little peppery and quite malty. The Backpocket Gold Coin was also a solid, fresh lager.

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Some good cheese-curds-and-gravy poutine at The Cooper’s Tavern in Madison and a heavily malty, slightly peaty Founders Dirty Bastard, another good beer.


Ale Asylum and Karben4 in Madison both had some decent beers and friendly people, and to my surprise the Fantasy Factory IPA was my favorite from either (I haven’t even been in an IPA mood for a while).

Eating a whole pork chop as a roadside snack during a bike ride (smoked over corn cobs, so it was flavorful and firm but not falling-apart fatty):


A little bit of Cornwall in the old lead mining town of Mineral Point, Wisconsin: pasty is a pastry filled with ground beef, onions, and rutabaga (an idea I’ll have to remember for my next shepherd’s pie), though this one was a bit dry:


I tried several slices of pie across Iowa, and while I liked the novelty of ground cherry, the best was a slice of apple pie a la mode (with the ice cream being churned right in front of me) by an Amish family, sold out of a roadside horse trailer. Though the creamy, silky ice cream I had all across Wisconsin blew this away.


Finally, what trip to an Iowa fairground would be complete without a “walking taco” a.k.a. “taco in a bag”. Two excited kids were chanting a sales pitch for their stand so I gave in to the pile of ground beef, cheese, and salsa poured into a foil bag of Fritos.


Bavaria Beer and Food

26 Jun

I found myself in Bavaria recently. Unfortunately, I’m not really a fan of German food and the continuous stream of meat-and-white-starch (and to my disappointment, so many of the sausages and pork chops just weren’t very good), but a handful of meals or beers were memorable.

Bamberg was a cute city and great place for beer. Schlenkerla is one of the few old breweries still making a rauchbier (smoked beer). Their Marzen tapped straight from a wooden keg was intoxicatingly campfire-smoky in smell, but not bitter or harsh in taste, with a modestly roasted malt and creamy body (and all this for about $3). Delicious and definitely worth a visit.

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Cafe Abseits (tucked away in a residential neighborhood on the opposite side of Bamberg from all the sights) was my favorite bar of the trip. They had a deep beer list and a very laid-back, uncrowded atmosphere and outdoor patio. The Duvel Triple Hop Mosaic was complex– it smelled a bit like basil and tangerines, and had a noticeably warming alcohol flavor (9% ABV) with some funk and a slightly bitter orange aftertaste. It was an A+ for me, and it kept getting more funky as it warmed up.


Wurzburg had good ies (ice cream), wine (it’s in Franconia, surrounded by vineyards), and a great little breakfast place a friend took me to, with a dumbwaiter, books, and a disco ball. Among other dishes I ordered the famous bavaria breakfast weisswurst (white sausages made with veal, bacon and herbs,  served in broth with a “lye stick” and sweet mustard).

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Augsburg’s Riegele brewery was a good place for a tour, with a chance to taste beer straight out of the fermenter in a nearly pitch-black, cold, sub-basement lit by candlelight. For obvious reasons I didn’t take any photos of that, but their Simcoe specialty ale was more interesting than your average helles:



And of course Munich. Sure, there were a lot of crisp solid German lagers here… but lagers rarely excite me. The Edelstoff fresh from a wooden keg at Augistinerkeller was good, though.


Finally, Der Pschorr biergarten (which I’d found on Chowhound) was the one really good German dinner in a sea of fatty-pork-with-white-potatoes-or-kraut meals, with a crisp helles, a great steak with herbed butter, grilled tomatoes, and horseradish, and actual green vegetables… as well as fantastic housemade hazelnut schnapps.



Homebrew #6: Fatherland Imperial Stout

23 Jun

My most successful homebrewing by far deserved some extra effort on the label (laser-cut paper laminated to silver foil):



It’s “homebrew #6” because I brewed it back in December and let it age for five months (it could probably go another half year, even).

And it really turned out well. Rich, dark, smooth but not sweet, almost like bittersweet baking chocolate and with none of the overt “roasted coffee” flavor I don’t like in some imperial stouts. And it’s powerful. Did I mention it’s 10% ABV?

It involved ten grains (the usual suspects plus Carafa III, roast barley, aromatic malt, 40L, 120L, black malt, and chocolate malt), substantial amounts of Eastern European hops (Styrian Goldings and Perle), a whopping 1.100 original gravity, and a compressed gas cylinder of pure oxygen that I dosed it with to help the yeast take it on.

For one special gallon out of the batch, I dropped in toasted chunks of oak I’d soaked in port for a month, as my approximation of aging in a port barrel. I’ll have to try one of those soon and see how it turned out.


Homebrew #9: Wet Hot American Saison

22 Jun





I’ve wanted to brew a saison for a while, and when the San Francisco May Heat Wave struck (88 degrees during the day– the horror!) I knew I had to jump on it (saisons are traditionally fermented at higher temperatures, and I hadn’t built a hot water bath or heating jacket).

Inspired by the Modern Times Lomaland saison (which they publish the recipe for on that site), I brewed with barley malt, wheat and flaked corn, Saaz hops, and some acidulated malt, plus the White Labs saison yeast another friend had used to great success in the past (the yeast is the defining characteristic of the saison flavor, after all).

Fermenting around 80-85F was brisk in pace, taking it from an OG of 1.048 down to a FG of 1.010 (5% ABV)  in about 4 days. I let it condition for another two weeks, and a month after bottling gave it a try.

It’s pretty good, I give it a solid B: distinctively a saison, but a bit heavy on the banana-like esters in the smell nose that are produced by yeast fermenting at high temperature (especially once it warms up). If I brew it again I think I’d up the acid malt and aroma hops slightly and keep the temperature lower the first few days of fermentation.

As usual, I also had to give it a goofy name and label.

San Diego and a Long List Of Beer

18 Apr

A long weekend in San Diego for the First Annual SD Bike & Beer tour expanded naturally into a broad beer tour of that fair city with 51 new-to-me beers (thank goodness for tasting flights and friends to share). This isn’t quite the “tasting 100 beers in belgium” adventure that was the original impetus behind this blog a few years ago…  but it’s good to see I haven’t changed much.

San Diego beer, first in photos:


A cafe with about 30 interesting beers, mostly local… and all in cans. We’d already been to three bars that night so we didn’t even squeeze in a beer here, but I had to take a photo:


Brewery in an old brick Wonder Bread factory:


Hess Brewing, in what I hear used to be an Evangelical bookstore:


Not quite beer, but kvass (fermented dark rye bread, less than 0.5% alcohol, in a Russian restaurant):


Taps and fish tacos at the nautically-themed Ballast Point brewing in an office part North of the city (“Warning: contains shellfish”, said the beer brewed with oysters).


Small $1 tastes at Societe to work our way through them quickly:


Alesmith had by far my favorite beers of the trip:


Pizza Port– Port Brewing’s outpost down by the beach, with a variety of Port and other beer and a fun mix of the surf crowd, biking crowd, and beer-exploring crowd:


Stone Brewing at Liberty Station– beer (of course) and decent lunch during the bike ride:


Modern Times, probably my second favorite brewery (venue and beer) after Alesmith. With a post-it mural:


Drinking beer is serious business and requires notes:


And for the excessively long list of beer notes / opinions, recorded for my future memory…

at The Pig Pen (a small beer garden behind the Carnitas’ Snack Shack)

  • Oceanside Strong Golden, 9% ABV: malty, strong, quite good. [B]
  • Thorn St IPA: generic Cascade-hopped IPA. [C]

Toronado (yes, there’s a second one in San Diego)

  • Allagash White: a classic, but always nice to see on draft.
  • Societe Harlot:  a pale ale with a really interesting hop flavor (mild but slightly earthy, spicy, mysterious, but almost no bitterness)– I wonder what it is. [B]

Belching Beaver (seriously?)

  • Me So Honey: generic honey ale, also with a terrible name [C]
  • Tommy Callahan: English bitter, a solid example [B]
  • Saison de Beaver: nice taste and bitterness, a little too much residual sweetness [B]
  • Beaver Milk: milk stout, coffee flavor, one-note [C]
  • Beaver Milk randalled on tamarind, oranges, and chiles: interesting… a little weird but surprisingly restrained. Wouldn’t have wanted more than a tasting glass of it [B]

Modern Times

  • Lomaland Saison– everything I want in a saison– funky, slightly spicy, earthy, farm-fragrant, and not at all sweet. [A]
  • Monster’s Park special Imperial Stout– Strong, bold, good balance between volatile alcohol and a little sweetness and hops, but  with a wide range of grain flavors. A well-made imperial stout. [A]
  • Blazing World Amber and Fortunate Islands Wheat– both solid, though I just tried a sip. [B]

Stone Liberty Station (also had a nice sit-down bar / dining room)

  • Polaris Single Hop: Very good, an interesting non-Pacific-NW hop flavor, fragrant but not pine or citrus, couldn’t place it. A palate awakener almost like an apertif. [A]
  • Oaked Bastard: sweet / strong. Fine, in-your-face. [B]
  • Stone Russian Imperial Stout: solid, good balance between alcohol, roasted malt, and sweetness though didn’t blow me away [B]
  • Matt’s Cherrywood Smoked Saison: Great! A solid dry saison with a light hand on the wood and cherry… it would have been easy to go overboard. My note says “delicious horsesweat, rolling in wood chips”. Ok… [A]

Mission Brewing

  • The blonde, saison, and pale ale were all fine but unmemorable. [C]

Hess Brewing (good space and people, though loud… and none of the beers quite took off for me)

  • Ficus: fig saison. A schtick… that was decent, not too heavy-handed on the fig (though not as funky/dry as I like). [B]
  • Cream Ale: reasonable but bland (San Diego gives me high standards). [C]
  • Kolsch: a good crisp kolsch, refreshing after a long day of beer tasting [B]

Wayfarer Public (a bar nearby, for the post-bike-ride celebration)

  • Port Brewing Dawn Patrol: a sessionable (3%) English Bitter. Excellent– plenty of flavor, distinct grain, slight bitterness, bready/biscuity, an ideal English-style ale for me. [A]
  • Modern Times White IPA: generic hop-heavy IPA. Meh. [C]

Pizza Port Brewing

  • Bob Loblaw Lager– dry grains, crisp, good start… but a weird old-hops aftertaste, not bright [B]
  • Vinsanity– a golden ale with lime peel and persimmons. Light and drinkable, malty, lime comes through on the sides of the tongue. Refreshing. [B]
  • Beer Hunter #1: a Belgian golden ale aged in wine barrels on Ranier cherries. A nice modestly-sour acetic taste…  while not the most complex sour, quite good. [B+]
  • Beer Hunter #2: a saison, but with a slightly medicinal aftertaste I didn’t like. [C]

Ballast Point

  • Calico – mild amber, lightly bitter, fragrant. [B]
  • Pescadero – a pilsner, a little bitter [B]
  • Piper Down Pequin- their Piper Down scottish ale infused with pequin peppers. The kind of experiment that could end up over the top, and the peppers produced a strong, slow burn… but it really came together nicely. The strong malty scottish ale plus the peppery (not actually that spicy) slow burn and aftertaste were fascinating. [A]
  • San Salvador (dark lager brewed with raw oysters)– smells like a lightly sour stout, taste reminds me of a grilled fish filet and toast. Interesting. [B+]
  • Navigator Doppelbock – a nice, solid, bready/sweet doppelbock. [B]
  • Indra Kunindra – “curry export stout”. About what that sounds like. Curry, coconut, cumin, hot pepper, maybe turmeric in a stout? Not subtle… I applaud them for brewing creatively, but I don’t need to try it again. [C]

Societe. It was late in a long day of beer tasting with a flight to catch so we rushed through this a bit, unfortunately.

  • Publican — hoppy, blonde, “dank” as they say… but I appreciated the dank hopness was mostly in the aroma and the taste was dry and not too bitter. Well done. [B+]
  • Dandy — IPA. Bitter pine bomb. Just the style that’s not my style… [C]
  • Pupil — IPA, dank, bitter [C]
  • Apprentice — IPA, bitter, very bland aroma [D]
  • Debutante — Amber belgian, a little sweet [B]
  • Madam — smells like warm corn mash (in a good, unuusal way). A Belgian pale, apparently. I should try it again. [B]
  • Widow — strong dark, generic [C]
  • Butcher — very dry imperial stout? Didn’t even taste that high in alcohol. Interesting, would try again [B]
  • Bellowsman– a smoked stout. Chimney sweepings, ash, old London, dry… and decent, interesting [B+]

Alesmith — the best hour of beer tasting all trip:

  • Little Devil – Belgian Pale Ale (modest 5% alcohol compared to their other beers) with aromas of coriander, orange, esters (likely all from the belgian yeast rather than any additions), creamy and effervescent, tiny bubbles. [A]
  • Horny Devil – Belgian Strong Pale Ale (10% ABV), golden malts, moderate ester / banana and pepper nose (again, from the yeast). Not some one-note banana wit, instead an amazing smell that opened up over time to become more spicy, almost bergamot. [A+]
  • Grand Cru – dark belgian, 10%, but didn’t stand out as much to me, I didn’t write any notes [B]
  • Old Numbskull – Barleywine, citrusy hops, strong, complex… but also more bitter than I like, and I’m generally not a barleywine fan [A- though probably outstanding to someone who likes the style]
  • Decadence 2013 — A different style every year, 2013’s was a German-style Doppelbock. This was one of my favorite beers of the whole trip. A rich barley smell and many different overlapping malt flavors from sweet to lightly roasted. A particular kind of malt taste I associate with doppelbocks though I’m not sure what it is. It was suggested this would be great with fruit. [A+]
  • Old Ale 2014 (Barrel Aged) — All I wrote was “excellent, strong, dry, solvent” [A-]
  • Old Ale 2014 (Cask) — Fantastic served on cask– smooth, creamy, light carbonation, a little dried cherry and chocolate sort of sweetness, strong dark malts but balanced, not overly bitter. Bravo! [A+]
  • Wee Heavy — a scotch ale, strong, a slight coffee flavor, a great beer though a bit sweeter than I like. Fans of scotch ales would love this, though. [A-]


Condensed, ten of my favorite beers of the trip were Alesmith (Old Ale Cask, Decadence 2013 Doppelbock, Horny Devil, Little Devil), Ballast Point Piper Down Pequin, Port Brewing Dawn Patrol, Modern Times (Lomaland Saison, Monster’s Park Imperial Stout), and Stone (Polaris Single Hop Pale, Matt’s Cherrywood Smoked Saison).

Whew. I’m exhausted just remembering it all… yet it renews my appreciation for the vast variety of interesting beer being made these days.

Homebrew, Cider, Snacks

14 Apr

What was going to be “an informal bread, cheese, and homebrew hard cider tasting” expanded a bit, as it always does.





Highlights were the small carrots roasted in cider, the hummus made with plenty of garlic and a little cider vinegar in lieu of lemon juice, #3 of the hard cider experiments (made with unpasteurized cider and champagne yeast), the fennel salami mail-ordered from Seattle (which I’ve wanted to do ever since having it on a trip) and the Russian Imperial Stout (rich, coffee-like, well-hopped (not actively bitter but it kept the alcohol in check), 10% ABV, aged 4 months so far since brewing and really supposed to go 6+).

And the small, excellent group of friends-in-partaking.

San Francisco Beer Week 2014

17 Feb

Farewell, San Francisco Beer Week, it’s been good. I made it out all but two nights, and had to work weekdays (sometimes late), but still managed to do well. In numbers:

  • Events attended: 18
  • Venues: 14 (Gala, Dynamo Donuts, SOMA StrEat Food Park, Social Kitchen, Noc Noc, The Sycamore, Rosamunde, The Willows, CatHead’s BBQ, Triple Voodoo, Pyramid, Sierra Torpedo Room, Faction, Drake’s)
  • Most-visited: The Willows (Colorado, Maine, and San Diego nights)
  • Friends met for a drink: 11
  • Beers tasted: About 70?
  • Strangest beer: A really spicy (habanero?) beer at Rosamunde whose name I can’t find. Even bringing it near my face made my eyes water.
  • Favorite non-beer discovery: The Dynamo Donut Campari / grapefruit donut– distinctive citrus and bitter flavors, clean, nice sugar balance. I think tart donuts could be the next thing…
  • Biggest Surprise: Biking into an unexpectedly deep puddle (see photos)
  • Field Notes Drink Local notebooks filled: 0.5
  • Pliny the Youngers: 0
  • Hangovers: 0 (pacing, food, and water)

The week in photos:

Pyramid Torpedo Room

Sierra Torpedo Room:

Sierra Torpedo Room

Triple Voodoo Brewery & Taproom is now open in Dogpatch!

Triple Voodoo

Some excellent aged saisons at Social Kitchen:

Social Kitchen

Surreal moment, deep puddle:

Deeper Than Expected


Eight different Hitachino Nest beers (unusual to see on tap):


Normally-canned beer in kegs, with cans as tap handle:



BBQ and canned craft beer pairing (organized by The Can Van):



Maine Night! The lobster rolls, though obscenely priced at $18… were actually decent and more authentic than I’d expected, and between four of us we tried all nine Allagash beers:


I somehow never get photos of people, but Jenn did–


My very favorite beers of the week, mainly so I can look them up later (transcribed from scribbled notes while I remember enough to interpret them…):

  • Oskar Blues Ten Fidy Barrel Aged [A+]: Imperial stout, complex malt madness, a little raisin, roasted, a little sweet– wouldn’t work without the high alcohol to balance it. And the hint of whiskey wood made it even better. Lovely. I could sip this in a leather armchair by a roaring fire…
  • Crooked Stave Batch #60 [A+]: A sour (but not too acidic) wild ale, with a sort of barnyard + apricot + brett flavor. Like a light, funky springtime on the farm. Refreshing and ever-changing as it warmed up.
  • Avery Mephistopheles [A+]: This was amazing. An imperial stout that coats the mouth with hints of dark chocolate, cherries, a little licorice, with a fiery burn. It’s also apparently 16.7% alcohol. Wow.
  • Allagash Interlude [A]: Unusual. A dual-yeast barrel-aged saison. A little Orval-like. Light on the Brett, some bready malt, very slightly tart. Good with food.
  • Rare Barrel Gose [A]: A refreshing, light, slightly tart gose, no obvious salt, just pleasant all around.
  • Russian River Beatification [A]: really sour and lemony– pow! Yet somehow they manage to pull it off where some other sours don’t, and have just enough going on around the edges and in the aftertaste to have something still interesting and drinkable. Bravo.
  • Avery Reverend [A]: Like a slightly roasted red, balanced, hints of roasted cherry flavors in the malt. Surprisingly smooth for a 9% ABV brew…
  • Sierra Ovila Golden Ale [A]: Deliciously warming, rich, smooth, not too sweet, it made me think of a beer pudding. At 9% ABV this could be dangerous– it’s so easy-drinking.
  • Sierra Ovila Golden Ale, Barrel Aged [A]: The alcohol’s a lot more noticeable in this variant, and the wood seems to have dried it out– a really interesting beer I only tried one sip of from a friend’s glass but would try again.
  • Social Kitchen Saison du Semillon 2012 [A-]: nice light, balanced, mild saison, not too sweet.
  • Allagash Curieux [A-]: A tripel aged in wood, always done well by them.
  • Hill 88 Double IPA [A-]: I’d had this canned double IPA last year and enjoyed it — but when I had it last week I liked it even more. Not too bitter, well balanced (the malt was not overwhelmed by the hops), and good with food (not a reaction I normally have to IPAs…)
  • Hitachino Nest Anbai Ale [A-]: slightly tart (made with green plums and a little salt). Not too sweet, refreshing, umami.
  • Hitachino Nest Eisbock [A-]: Nice dry straw/grain/malt smell. A bit of a bite. Hard to explain.
  • Cuvee Des Jacobins Rouge [A-]: powerfully sour red ale with a bit of malt

Until next year…