Archive for September, 2011

Guest Blog: Vincent Rendoni, “Maturity.”

Posted on September 19, 2011. Filed under: drinks, hodgepodge, patience | Tags: , , , |

Writer Vincent Rendoni explores the virtues of aging beer (and testing patience) in this guest post.

I’ve been waiting for this beer all year.

For a beer nerd, I’m quite unusual. Brewing requires precision, practical knowledge of chemistry, and patience. I severely lack all of those things. Especially patience. To my fellow beer nerds, this may explain why unlike the rest of them, I don’t even bother with brewing and lack a true cellar.

Much like wine, some beers benefit from aging. Often beers such as pale and India pale ales are best enjoyed as soon as possible to get the most from their hops as that flavor is often the first to go. Although there are exceptions, usually beers with active yeasts in them or a high alcohol content (your Belgian strong ales, your barleywines) age quite well. After covering a lot of ground in my beer drinking, purchasing proper glassware, and becoming familiar with Michael Jackson’s (the beer/whisky writer, not the singer) books and philosophy, I decided in June 2010 to tackle cellaring. Working at a bottle shop at the time, my boss was happy to oblige me and started me off with an already year old 2009 vintage of The Abyss of Deschutes Brewing.

Of all my favorite styles of beer, the Russian Imperial Stout remains my favorite. Best drunk in winter, they’re remarkably heavy with dark flavors and high alcohol content both apparent from the first sip. It’s one of the few types of beers that can’t be paired with any other food than foie gras due to its overpowering taste.

The only way these already powerful beers can become stronger and let’s face it, more absurd, is to age them in bourbon barrels. Some beers of this style such as Port Brewing’s Older Viscosity have an abundance of smoke and cookie sugar while The Lost Abbey’s Angel Share (same brewer, just different persona) has more of a gentle vanilla to contrast the dry whiskey. Unlike these other two, The Abyss has more of a hop profile, and as you can see from the label, anise and molasses flavors added, something I personally enjoy when balanced. Usually in the priciest range of beer, I save bourbon-barrel aged imperial stouts for very special occasions. Although to echo Sideways, the day you open something like this, that’s the special occasion.

After breaking The Abyss’s near-insurmountable wax seal with a corkscrew and butter knife (see: lack of patience), I prepare a snifter glass to get the maximum amount of flavor. Before I properly open it, I recall when I last had this beer, fresh, before the best-after date. The anise flavor was strong enough to induce nausea and the hops far too bitter. The beer did its job: It was cold and I needed heat, even if the roast nose stuck to my hair and gums the next few of days. But with the lack of balance, my boss and I both agreed that it seemed to be a candidate for cellaring.

But even then, I still asked myself why The Abyss when I could’ve gone with something I loved and was sure-fire like Older Viscosity. Call it brand loyalty. In the Northwest, Deschutes is hard to avoid much like New Belgium in the Rockies, Samuel Adams in the East. For my generation, either Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale or Black Butte Porter was often the first craft beer outside of Pabst we got to try, the first craft beer sold in our QFCs and Haggens. Two of my closest friends had their wedding atop the brewery in Bend, Oregon. One hot, underaged summer in Central Washington, I was served their Twilight Summer Ale, the beer that would get me into craft beer. We beer nerds always remember our first. It was only right that the first beer I ever aged, that first bourbon imperial stout I ever tried would be Deschutes.

Taking a superficial whiff of the now aged Abyss, I notice that beer too mellows with age. After holding the beer to light to see its opacity, I smell the beer and notice the nose is of roasted, earthy Sumatra coffee grounds. The aroma is strong, but not overwhelming as it was in its immaturity. Inhaling deeper, one can notice the molasses and even feel the bourbon. I spin the beer in my glass, noting the muddy head and take my first sip. The first thing I notice is the absence of the hop, something I loathe in my imperial stouts, now killed off with age. The oak barrel aging gives it a frothy feel in the mouth. The licorice essence has now evolved into allspice, the molasses to rich brown sugar—complexities attributed to aging. The bourbon is constantly humming in the background, raising the temperature of this surprisingly cold summer night. The finish is tall and smooth, all nutmeg and whiskey. I try not to think about the possibilities if I had waited longer. But let me assure you, there’s no regret.

So why did I wait to open this beer? Besides proving to myself that I can actually wait for something, I also promised myself I wouldn’t open it until after I completed my first year of graduate school. It sounds silly, I know, but sometimes I’m rather surprised I’m getting my Master’s degree. Nearly dropping out of high school, flunking English in my junior year, and being told by that teacher to give up still doesn’t feel like it happened all that long ago. Before I take a sip, I wonder if being at Chatham alone is enough to deserve this. Then I remind myself that it was also my birthday two days ago and put it out of my mind.

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Market Demo: Bean and Bacon Stew

Posted on September 12, 2011. Filed under: bacon, local, recipe, vegetable | Tags: , , , , , , |

Back from an extended vacation. I’m sure y’all had a hard time sleeping while you were waiting for the next post. Well, sleep now, friends, sleep now. The new post is here.

I spent Saturday morning cooking in the Chef’s Demo Tent at a local farmers’ market (Farmers@Firehouse, sponsored by Slow Food Pittsburgh). I decided to challenge myself by not planning anything in advance; I was going to let the market dictate what I should make. This could sound daunting to some people, but I thought it would be a good test of my creativity. And it was.

It was exciting for me to walk around the market, choose delicious-looking food, and then immediately start preparing it. What a wonderful way to cook! We’re in a bit of transition in Pittsburgh–summer fruit and veg are on their way out, but the autumn harvest is yet to be bountiful. No matter. I was able to find a great combination of ingredients: green & yellow beans, heirloom eggplant, tender kale, onions, ripe tomatoes, and locally produced bacon.

I promised quite a few people the recipe. Here it is, more or less*:

Begin by sauteing:
3/4 lb. Bacon, diced
When bacon is crisp, remove from pan.
Save delicious bacon fat.
Leave 2-3 Tbs. bacon fat in pan.

While the bacon is cooking, boil:
2 lbs. Green Beans,  cut into 1.5 inch pieces*
Boil for 10-15 minutes, or until tender.
Plunge cooked beans into ice water until ready to use.
Boil one bunch Kale (cut into strips) the same water.
Plunge kale into ice water too.
Reserve One Cup Cooking Liquid

Cook, in the bacon fat:
3 Cups Diced Eggplant
1 Medium Onion, diced

Once eggplant is cooked, it’s time to assemble.

Add, to a pot:
Eggplant & Onions
Reserved Cooking Liquid
1 Cup Chicken Stock

Simmer for 5-10 minutes, and thicken if desired.

Before serving, top with:
Cooked Bacon
1 Cup Diced Tomato*

*I was cooking on the fly, so I wasn’t measuring anything at all, so you’re going to have to challenge yourself to create balance!
* You can use any combination of fresh beans: green/yellow/purple/wax.
* The time for ripe heirloom tomatoes is fading, my friends. I think this will work with a quality canned tomato, but it won’t be quite so sweet.

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