St. John's Wort Beery Musings And Amusing Beers

Monthly Archives: July 2012

You are browsing the site archives by month.

Beer And Food Tuesday: Kronenbourg 1664

Periodically over here at St. John’s Wort, PR people give me suggestions for things to do. For the sake of time, I’ll leave out the obscene suggestions. That whittles the number down to about three, which are:

1)      Hey! Go to this event!

2)      Hey! Drink this thing!

3)      Hey! Go to this event and drink this thing!

A couple of weeks ago, for the first time ever, I was given the suggestion that I should actually cook something. This is an odd suggestion, because I am not a chef. I’m barely even a busboy. Fortunately, the nice people over at Kronenbourg 1664 decided to send me some beer, which had the effect of making me think that this might be a good idea after all.

Pamphlet!

Normally, I still would have sort of waved them off. Kronenbourg is not a product that I go out of my way for. As Euro lagers go, it’s probably somewhere in the upper tier. I’m really more of a Warsteiner guy if I’m drinking something in that range.

The point is, I think that if you’re going to talk about beer and food, it’s certainly possible to confine yourself to things you like. That could very quickly become the kind of pointlessly self indulgent exercise in internet bloggery that no one in their right mind would care about, let alone read.

Plus, you know, they sent recipes and I’m easing into this thing.

THE BEER:

Kronenbourg 1664 was first brewed in 1952 in Alsace. It’s brewed with water from the Vosges mountains and uses Strisselspalt hops, which are exclusive to the Alsace region according to the recipe pamphlet. You’ve got pear and apple esters on the nose, which give way to a little honeyed sweetness in the middle of the palate, which is offset a little by the maize used in brewing it. I get a sort of white peppery spiciness just after the swallow.

The pamphlet tasting notes suggest that it is redolent of Mirabelle plums. It may well be, but I’ve never tasted one so I’m going to ignore that temporarily. It also suggests Apricot, which I didn’t get bunches of initially. Other people’s tasting notes are funny, because as soon as you read them, you become highly suggestible.

THE RECIPES (which are hyperlinked by name): 

Some of the recipes in the pamphlet I was supplied were designed by Andrew Bradford, who is the Executive Chef at up and coming urban tavern The Saint on Ossington. My friend Alex ate there a couple of weeks ago and was very positive about it. Looking at their menu, I see they specialize in classic bistro fare, which is pretty hard to do well. Probably it is very good. It also means that this was a spend.

The pamphlet says these “scrumptious summer recipes” will allow you to “enjoy the art of French pleasure … right in your backyard.” I grok marketing, so I’ll just point out that this means “try this instead of charring your steak again, Sparky. You ain’t impressing no one with that stuff.”

THE RUNDOWN:

There are a couple of relatively straightforward recipes here. There’s one for an Avocado and Shrimp Verrine, which looks good. There is also one for a Potato Crusted Halibut with Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc Pea Butter Sauce. I’m sure that would be delicious, but last time I checked, Halibut is costing out at $48.50 a kilo. There is also recipe for sliders that calls for a pound of filet mignon, which is similarly priced. I think these are status ingredients. They do no harm to the dishes, but the primary reason for their inclusion is to wow your guests.

In point of fact, I’m not sure that this recipe pamphlet is geared towards my demographic. There is a suggestion on page 14 that I should hire a small jazz trio to perform. My budget stretches to putting the Getz/Gilberto album on repeat. I promise to stare wistfully at a picture of the Champs D’Elysee to provide ambience.

There’s a recipe here for a simple Grilled Brie and Apple Sandwich. It works well with Kronenbourg primarily because of the dominant pear and apple esters on the nose. The recipe suggests that you add sugar and cinnamon to taste, which I suppose might possibly work with an appetizer portion. I, being unwilling to cook a tiny sandwich, went with a larger size. I think it desperately requires seasoning. You’d practically be better off keeping the brie, but julienning the apple slices and adding some finely shredded prosciutto. If you tossed the apple and prosciutto and added some cracked black pepper before adding it to the sandwich and grilling, you’d have an additional matching component for the beer’s finish, creating a continuity of flavor. Also, some salt, which it badly needs.

COOKING

Blue Cheese Bechamel setting up.

Since I’m curious about The Saint and Andrew Bradford’s recipes, I decided to attempt the recipe for Clams, Bacon, Beer with Smoked Blue Cheese Toast.This is closer to my price range, since littlenecks seem to run about six bucks a pound. Also, I’ve never had clams before, so there’s that appealing novelty factor.

Clams. Lots of clams.

I have to say that this is a pairing that works. You get a certain amount of earthiness from the blue cheese and the bread is there to soak up the broth from steaming the clams. The interesting thing is that for Kronenbourg 1664 by itself, there’s not a huge hop presence. It’s basically detectable towards the finish on the palate. When you pair it with the clams, the sweetness from the clams, shallots, and also from the broth (because the liquid reducess, there’s a concentration of whatever sugars are left after fermentation) sort of subsumes the honey and pear character on the nose. The Strisselspalt hops are more pronounced as a result, which results in the beer tasting slightly more floral and certainly gives it a more earthy character. I think the smokiness from the bacon helps it along as well.

Clams are weird. They all open at different times, so cooking time can be unpredictable. Mussels are smaller and cook faster.

In short, this is a pairing that offsets the beer, making characteristics that were subtle more obvious.

Hey Presto! Dinner!

I would try it again, but probably with mussels. I have nothing against clams, but you could easily save yourself 8 bucks in food cost by switching to mussels and I think that the result would be much the same.

WHAT DID WE LEARN?

1)      Kronenbourg 1664 is being positioned as a premium import product, which is made obvious by the fact that they seem to want you to drop 15 bucks in ingredients per serving on the entrees in the pamphlet.

2)      Andrew Bradford clearly knows what he’s doing with Bistro fare, so I feel like I can recommend The Saint sight unseen.

3)      There is probably a good reason I get obscene suggestions from PR people.

The Toronto Festival of Beer 2012: Cheap Plugs Edition

An increasingly large number of people want me to plug things related to the Toronto Festival of Beer. Normally, I don’t really do cheap plugs, but the email inbox is groaning under the weight of folks looking for me to talk about the TORONTO FESTIVAL OF BEER and how it is going to be world shatteringly excellent and how there are things do drink and look at and bands to listen to and hats made out of beer cartons to wear. There’s going to be bacon and beer and bottle openers and Salt n’ Pepa. If that don’t make you want to shoop, I don’t know what will.

Did you know that an anagram for TORONTO FESTIVAL OF BEER is BE A SOFTENER OF RIOT VOLT?

Neither did I. It’s total gibberish. Onwards.

HATS!

The good people at Steam Whistle would like you to know that they are going to have hats made out of beer cartons, as they have done every year since the inception of the company. Why, just last year, a dapper young beer writer was seen wandering about in a Steam Whistle Elephant Hat, periodically asserting that he was not an animal.

I can’t tell you how many people tried to feed me peanuts.

This has become so popular that Steam Whistle now has a booth entirely dedicated to the concept. People wander around with hats of all kinds. Feel free to get in touch with your inner arts and crafts time kindergartener and make a hat. Be sure to smooth the edges, because corrugated cardboard can be quite pointy.

Did you know that an anagram for Steam Whistle Elephant Hat is Pale Than The Maltiest Hews?

Of course not. How would that possibly benefit you?

LADIES!

For the third year in a row, Mirella Amato will be hosting the Girl’s Guided Beer Tour.

According to the press release:

“The Girl’s Guided Beer Tour gives women an opportunity to experience new and diverse beers from around the world,” says Mirella Amato of Beerology, who will be leading the tour. “Participants on the tour will sample five different styles of beer in a tutored tasting and will get a peek at the history of women in the industry.”

I’ve never been on the tour because I am not a lady, and that red chiffon number I was going to wear to infiltrate the tour did not come back from the cleaners on time. I have seen people on the tour, and they all seemed to be having an excellent time. They also seemed to be learning.

Incidentally, it is appropriate that such a tour should be led by Mirella because an anagram of Mirella Amato is Ale Trail Ammo.

BACON!

Maple Leaf Foods wants me to tell you that they have acquired the enviable title of EXCLUSIVE BACON PROVIDER of the TORONTO FESTIVAL OF BEER! This is because they are launching a product called Maple Leaf® Bacon Portions™. I had to copy and paste that because I have no idea how make those symbols show up.

Ted Reader, who is apparently Canada’s Kingpin of the Barbeque according to the press release, will be manning the grill all weekend, entertaining festival audiences and giving us the bacon-y treats we so richly deserve. He has concocted a dish in which there is meat on the stick and the stick is also made of meat. It is a SMOKED SAUSAGE AND CHEDDAR STUFFED JALAPENO LOLLIPOP. Also, there will be beer to drink with it. That actually sounds pretty good, if a little messy.

The meat is on the stick, but it is also the stick! GENIUS!

I like Ted Reader. The man can grill. Also, he reminds me a little of Wolfman Jack.

Incidentally, EXCLUSIVE BACON PROVIDER = BUCOLIC RIDES: A PROVEN VEX.

EXTREME BOTTLE OPENING!

Brian Becker of BB Barfly Bottle Openers will be on hand to sell some bottle openers! They are revolutionary! There are new designs and colours! It slices! It dices! It picks you up when you’re down and it just can’t be beat, and it packs up your belongings and moves them to Windsor and starts your life over in a new town! Step right up!

According to the press release:

“Last year was our first year in business; this is now our sixteenth month and second Beerfest. This year we are bringing a greater variety of handle colours and a wider selection of designs to offer our growing client base more diversity,” says Becker, creator of BBbarfly. “Last year we completely sold out and this year we hope to have the same results.”

Fair play to Brian. The things are well made and durable and I get a fair amount of use out of mine even though I never really mastered the flipping the opener around thing. Go buy one, won’t you?

Before you ask, it’s Babbles Beery Plot Front.

INSIGHTS INTO YOUR VERY SOUL!

This year, the Toronto Festival of Beer invites you to learn what your favorite beer says about you. They will look deep into your chakras and intuit your BEER PERSONALITY. In the great traditions of horoscope, palmistry, tarot reading, divination and past life regression, the Toronto Festival of Beer has the following to say:

You might think that ordering a pint at your local watering hole is a simple task, but this not the case. Not only does your beer selection reflect your taste, the style of beer you prefer tells a great deal about your personality. The minds behind Toronto’s Festival of Beer have put together a list of some of the most popular styles and the traits associated with those who drink it. Read below to find out what your favourite beer says about you!

If you prefer: Lagers

Then…The bartender knows your order off by heart. You don’t know a lot about beer but you know what you like and don’t usually veer from it. You prefer clubs over pubs and are the life of the party. You usually sport the latest style and add a splash of colour to make sure you stand out from the crowd…just a little. You can usually be found drinking Steam Whistle Pilsner or Moosehead Lager.

If you prefer: Wheats

Then…You like going again the grain. You prefer beers with a distinct flavour, and wheat beers bring what you’re looking for to the table. You prefer edgy, undiscovered bars that have yet to be overrun by the hipster crowd. You dress to suit your mood, and regularly break with convention. You typically drink Mill Street Belgian Wit or Grasshopper Wheat Ale.

If you prefer: Stouts

Then…You have your favourites and stick to them. Your local pub is a traditional, English-style pub. You have extensive knowledge of obscure facts and never cease to amaze your friends with trivia. You typically wear khakis and a dark sweater. Your brews of choice are likely Wellington Imperial Stout or St. Ambrose Oatmeal Stout.

Ooooh! Oooh! This is fun. I want to play!

If you prefer: Belgian Abbey Beers

Then… Your name is John and you have 2.5 children and live in a suburb in a three bedroom house. You are secretly depressed about the global economic recession, but you put on a brave face so as not to panic your lovely wife, Margaret. You enjoy watching hockey, but usually only begin to follow it two weeks before the playoffs. Your lucky number is 45. Your favorite takeout order is pizza, but you secretly hate that Margaret always pushes for mushrooms on it. You once tried to order the halves with different toppings, but by that point, she thought that you liked them and it blew up into a three day period of unpleasantness when she discovered that you had been humouring her since the second date.

As you may have guessed, I think this kind of thing is silly.

Anagrams, though, clearly reveal the hidden truths behind things.

Announcing Beer and Food Tuesdays at St. John’s Wort

One of the things that I’m lucky enough to be able to ponder occasionally is beer and food pairing. It’s the kind of thing that I’ve been massively appreciative of in the past, because for the most part, when I experience it, someone else is doing it for me.

I’ve had some of the best meals of my life since I started writing about beer. There’s the annual beer and food pairing dinner at Harbord House. I’ve managed to go to beer dinners at beerbistro, the Monk’s Table and WVRST. I’ve had a vegan meal paired with beer that I found somehow inexplicable. Somewhere in there was a five course beer dinner prepared by Howard Dubrovsky of the now defunct L.A.B. restaurant that was simply incredible.

It’s an interesting situation to be in. It’s very easy to criticize beer and food pairing when someone else does it. It’s also easy to become effusive with praise for something that’s done well. I still periodically wax rhapsodic about a seafood chowder that was paired with Great Lakes’ No Chance With Miranda. It’s easy to be objective about what works and whether a certain component was superfluous when someone else is back in the kitchen wiping the rim of the plate.

(The most successful dinners I’ve been to are in no small part due to the influence of Greg Clow, whose Canadian Beer Dinner series has been particularly ambitious. Go to the next one, why don’t you? It’ll be awesome! This has been a very cheap plug indeed.)

It’s amazing what talented chefs can accomplish when they’re given a specific objective for an evening.

I am not a talented chef. I can cook. A little. Sometimes. Maybe.

I sort of taught myself to cook when I was 17 because the food network was suddenly available. This was back in its heyday when you had shows like Taste with David Rosengarten (who is awesome) and Molto Mario with Mario Batali (Bon vivant and lord of the wooden clog). I shared a particular affinity with Emeril Lagasse, not because he was audience friendly and yelled BAM at things, but because I am a relatively short, chunky man who likes cornbread.

I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but I once made a lasagna that got me a marriage proposal. I was flattered, but had to turn the guy down.

I have always been heartened by the words of my Aunt Greta. “If you can read and tell time, you can cook.” The difficulty on the subject of cooking with an eye towards beer and food pairing is that there is a significant dearth of reading material.

Garrett Oliver’s Brewmaster’s Table is one of the most generous reference works you could possibly hope for, with the main body of the text filling nearly 350 pages. The framework for the book is broadly pairing styles of beer to food, and then subsequently giving examples of distinct pairings that would work. Garrett has been doing this for a long time and he’s almost invariably right, to the point where you read a pairing suggestion and it becomes so obvious in retrospect that you can practically convince yourself you’ve seen it before even if you haven’t. Dopplebock and Mexican food? Neato keen.

Plus, it helps that the man can write.

The only qualm I have is that there aren’t specific recipes. There are specific pairings, but you would have to have a fairly strong culinary background to puzzle out exactly how to reap the rewards of the pairings. It’s not really a fault of the book. It challenges you to think.

Going in search of actual recipes (because I need all the help I can get) I came across a copy of The beerbistro Cookbook. I am not sure which bits of that to capitalize. It’s well written and very attractive. Brian Morin and Stephen Beaumont clearly did a great job. There are specific recipes, some of which I have subsequently seen cadged by PR firms creating summer release pairing menus. I can’t prove that, but there’s a bell jingling at the back of my mind.

I have written, recently, mind you, that I find some of the pairing categories on the beerbistro menu to be odd, going so far as to suggest parodic variations such as “manic” and “ingratiating.” This treats with the subject unfairly, for the simple reason that they’re clearly attempting to create a broad range of experience and provoke thought. Plus, the fact that the pairing categories afford some leeway in terms of pricing and force the patron to consider choices carefully is a good thing.

It’s worth remembering that before the beerbistro, there wasn’t much in terms of intentional beer and food pairing in Toronto. If the menu leans heavily towards cuisines from beer culture, it’s partially because they do it so well. It was pioneering. There is a specific vision at work, and it has been influential on a scale wider than Toronto.

For my current purposes, it’s a good starting point. I want to understand how beer and food pairing work on a minute scale. It’s one thing to accept the conventional wisdom of established pairings from the world’s great beer cultures. Of course a Belgian Ale Beef Stew is going to be excellent. It has been excellent for hundreds of years.

It’s just that I don’t eat a lot of Carbonnade Flamande. More often than not I want a Nua Phad Prik or Bulgogi. Something in a Roti? Maybe a Doro Wat? Oaxacan Mole? Spicy lentil Dhal? A stew is an excellent thing, but if I’m left to my own devices, I’m usually not going to slow cook something. I don’t see these foods on offer with craft beer, but this is probably because these are not beer cultures with hundreds of years of trial and error on the subject. I want to figure out can be done about that.

Over the next year, I’m going to post once a week about beer and food pairing. It is going to be sloppy to start with. It is going to be amateurish. It is going to consume a significant chunk of my grocery budget, so I had better not massively screw up. Hopefully, you will learn as much as I do.

Before this is over, I’m going to experiment with creating the entirety of a pairing from scratch. From desiging a recipe to desiging a beer to go with it. That will probably be about a month from mash in to table.

What can I say? Hardcore counts for something.

Toronto Ribfest

St.John’s Wort is pleased to provide you with some auditory stimuli to enhance your reading experience.

Ribs are one of those foods that somehow manage to promote competition. I don’t know whether it’s the primeval sensation of stripping the meat from the bone with your teeth, with your fingers covered in sauce, but there’s definitely an element of one-upmanship  that goes into relaying stories about them. There’s the eternal debate about which style of BBQ is better, since different regions in the US developed different styles. There’s the question of which cut is the best to use. Do you want back ribs or side ribs or do you just want to go for the pulled pork instead.

It’s like a 19th century prairie town, but to the soundtrack of Mississippi Queen.

Most viscerally, the competition amongst rib eaters seems to come down to the question of “who has the best ribs” which quickly becomes a taunting “I have eaten better ribs than you.” It is worth noting that I think that this is a particularly male thing. I know a number of women who have an opinion on the subject, but they don’t seem to come out with it unbidden.

I can tell you about the worst ribs I ever had. I tried to cook them last weekend. They were a couple of side cut racks that were purchased because they were on sale. I tried to cook them in a slow oven at around 300 for three hours and then jack them up to 400 for basting, but they did not turn out. They were tough. They were cartilaginous. They were gosh darn near inedible. I don’t know if it was the rub or the sauce that I whipped up, or whether the glazing took too long and left the heat out of the oven, but I have learned one thing: My ribs are not very good. Probably next time I’ll pay attention to whatever Michael Ruhlman says in his books.

Them’s good eatin’

If you’re like me, and you’ve experienced this kind of shocking realization that you don’t have what it takes rib-wise, then you’re in luck. Toronto Ribfest is on today and tomorrow out at Centennial Park in Etobicoke.

I hadn’t actually been to Ribfest before, or Centennial Park for that matter. I was more than a little surprised by the size of the thing. It has been just dry enough this summer that the wind was blowing sweeping clouds of dust across the parking lots on the way in. The stands that they serve the ribs out of all have marquees displaying the various accolades the BBQ teams have won in past years. Oddly enough, this has the effect of making the line of BBQ stands look like clapboard storefronts in the Dakotas ca. Al Swearengen, which, with the wind blowing as it was put one in mind of tumbleweeds.

Crabby’s. Pretty goldurn tasty.

Unsurprisingly, Ribfest is well attended by a cross section of Toronto’s inhabitants, from well dressed twenty somethings to middle aged folks wearing two tones of plaid and black sandals with black socks. What I didn’t realize going into it was how large it was going to be. You hear Ribfest and you think, “I’m gonna get me some ribs.” There were 16 different stands of ribs on offer.

Theoretically, I was there to look at the selection of ribs and other delicious pork based treats and offer some kind of coverage pertaining to pairing the beer and food available to you. This is not beyond my capability. The difficulty is that the kind of thought that goes into beer and food pairing is hard to maintain in an environment with a stiff wind, 95 degree sunshine, constant wood and charcoal smoke blowing in your eyes and a huge stereo system that blasts ZZ Top’s La Grange (a- haw haw haw haw).

If Midas and Kirke had formed an alliance, they wouldn’t have this many golden pigs. I guess I forgot to turn the Dennis Miller setting on the blog off.

The thing that I’ll mention is this. All of these BBQ stands are competitive and they’ve all won so many trophies over the years at the various ribfests in North America that you can’t really go wrong. What I will point out to you is that you may enjoy different stands based on some of the variables that go with cooking any kind of ribs.

I haven’t seen this many pig trophies since the second annual misogyny awards. It’s an honour just to be nominated.

If you’re looking for tender, I think your best bet is Crabby’s, who seem to be based out of Scarborough. They’re using a side cut rib, which means that there’s a slightly higher percentage of fat and that the bones only get through about half of the slab. They’re fall off the bone tender, which means you’re going to want a fork. Their sauce is not a particularly sweet one and you can sort of pick up the garlic and onion powder and black pepper. It’s got a hint of what I think might be tamarind sweetness in there with a little vinegar acidity.

If you’re looking for something with a little more texture, that isn’t going to just melt away, you probably want Texas Rangers. They’re using a back rib, so you have a little more purchase and you can actually pick the thing up without making yourself into some kind of deranged sauce golem. The serving I had had the silverskin still attached to the reverse side. Theoretically, that’s a no-no. If you look at a recipe online, they will tell you to remove that. These guys know what they’re doing, though, and it provides a nice little crunch. Their sauce has a sort of honeyed sweetness to it, which covers some depth of flavour. Also, their coleslaw was good. Creamy slaw.

Them’s good eatin’

Incidentally, you should know that there aren’t a huge number of beers to choose from. There are some MolsonCoors offerings and there are some Mill Street offerings. Specifically, the Organic Lager and the Stock Ale. If you’re going to go with Ribs, I think you want the Stock Ale. It has some complexity that isn’t available in the other beers on offer; some fruity ester and a little tiny bit of spice. Not enough to intrude, but enough to refresh between bites. I think that for the purpose of sitting in the sunshine and eating BBQ, this is an underrated choice.

Also good eatin’

Special mention goes out to Gator BBQ for providing an excellent pulled pork sandwich. If you’re looking for pulled pork, that’s where you want to go. The sauce has some citrus sweetness to it, and they’ve got a really good hot sauce to go with it. You remember I was saying about situations where Coors Light works? On a day where you’ve got 95 degree weather with sunshine and a pork sandwich loaded up with hot sauce is one of those.

People love the heck out of these things.

It’s a fried treat! It’s a cockney expression of disbelief! It’s both!

It looks to me like this is an excellent Canada Day activity and it runs until Monday. Get out there and get some vitamin oink, won’t you? Also, it should be mentioned that if you take the TTC home from Ribfest with your face covered with BBQ sauce, no one on the TTC will bother to tell you. We are polite, we Canadians.