Continuing my quest to understand why I like the beers that I do and what makes one stand out over the next, I moved on from IPAs to Stouts. I didn’t try nearly as many Stouts (10) as I did IPAs (33) in January, but I did begin to understand what separated one from the other and what flavors I appreciated and which Stout characteristics I could live without.
As I learned with IPAs (read the full post HERE), that pair well with spicy foods because of their citrus and floral tones, Stouts also pair well with some of my favorite kinds of food. If you were to go to a steakhouse and order the biggest and most robust cut on the menu, it would be known as the porterhouse. That phrase comes from how well Porters (or Stouts) pair with steak. Whether a flavorful cut like a porterhouse or strip steak or you are enjoying a tender, but perhaps drier, cut like a filet mignon, there is a Stout that likely pairs better than even the best red wine.
Stouts (and Porters) have hints of chocolate, coffee, and carmel mixed into the heavy mouth feel you get when sipping them. But that heaviness on the tongue doesn’t actually come from their heaviness in consumption. Most Stouts actually are less caloric than your traditional lite beer (and taste a million times better.) The mouth feel of heaviness comes from the incredibly malty center of a sip. But, that heavy feel usually gives way to a very smooth finish, almost like the last sip of a well froth cappuccino.
As with the IPAs last month, there were some winners and some losers. While I’d heard good things about Joe Mama’s Milk Stout, it was by far my least favorite. It felt like eating milk duds and then washing them down with a Diet Coke, far too much carbonation. But, on the winner side of things were three Stouts that each, perhaps coincidentally, had very high ABV.
The first was the Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout from The Great Divide Brewing Company. I was a huge fan of this one and described it as “eating chocolate covered espresso beans with an incredibly smooth finish.”
The second was the AleSmith Speedway Stout. Definitely had some of the smoked or dark coffee flavors on the front end of the first few sips but that lead to a chocolate middle and a smooth caramel finish.
And finally, the third was the Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout from Goose Island Brewery. This one was recommended to me on a lazy Sunday afternoon at my favorite bar in New York City, The Half Pint. And thank goodness it was a lazy Sunday afternoon. At 14.3% ABV, you’re not going to do much of anything after enjoying this beer. But, enjoy it you will. The coffee flavors are balanced out with vanilla from the bourbon barrels it is aged in. The play of coffee to sweet is not quite a vanilla bean frappiccino, but it definitely sits heavier on the sweet side than the roasted coffee side.
All told, I am a much bigger fan of Stouts now than I was before I began this exploration. Pairing them with good cuts of meat or just slowly sipping them along side the Superbowl were a great way to continue to explore all of the complexities that go into each style of beer that are now available to those willing to go out and spend a little time to discover them.
Now, since it is St. Patrick’s Day, only one question left: Where’s my Gunniess?Tweet
For longer than I can remember, my hobby has been talking about the fact that I should get a hobby. As a jack of all trades and a master of some, the question that has plagued my ADD curiosity has been “what would I rather be doing than working?” Some people rush leave the office early to play golf, some to work out, some to ride their bike, and others to read fiction. And, while these things interest me from time to time, they and all other search results for the term “hobby” don’t seem to fit into my life right now.
So Annie, being the wise woman that she is, pointed out that I really like beer. And, while that is true, my interest in it really picked up last February when I realized that there were certain beers that I liked more than others and that there were quantifiable reasons why. That revelation came while eating the best burger in all of New York (and therefore the world) with my friend Keith. When the Dumont Burger arrived, so did my Hop Rod Rye from Bear Republic. Before sinking my teeth into the insanity that ensues for your taste buds when eating gloriously perfect burger, I raved about my beer. Keith pointed out that, if I like that beer and others in with the same taste, then I was probably a Hophead (one who loves IPAs.)I took that hypothesis and set out to prove it. For the next couple months, if I saw an IPA on the menu, I ordered it. I got to know the flavors and discovered that I was indeed a Hophead.
But, it wasn’t until I downloaded Untappd to my phone in December 2012 that I started to know why I loved one beer over another. As they say, “What gets measured it what gets managed.” With a way to keep track of the brews I was sampling, having a beer at the end of the week became more than just a way to kick back and relax. It became an event and intentional quest to know why I liked what I like and how to explain it. Going into this new year, I decided that I would try and focus on one type of beer each month and learn what characteristics made that beer unique. Being a Hophead, obviously January was a month full of IPAs.
All told, I tried 33 different IPAs last month. Sounds like a lot seeing as January only has 31 days, but, with three different business trips mixed into the conversation and some time to kill at airports waiting for the red eye back to NYC, it works out just about right. There were some definite winners and some incredible losers in this quest. There were beers that I sipped incredibly slowly to savor the taste and the moment and others that I sent back because they had as much character as a Bud Lite (worst beer in the world.)
Sampling that many different IPAs from around the world last month I began to truly understand what it was that attracted me to this style of beer and why I enjoyed each sip. The original IPAs (Indian Pale Ales) were crafted for British Troops stationed in Calcutta, India. The traditional English Ales wouldn’t be able to survive the journey around Cape Good Hope in Africa and back up to the Indian ocean so extra hops were needed to prolong the life of the beer. The hops added a bitterness to the beer that became distinctive and recognizable. These original IPAs might be one of the better examples of the phrase “necessity is the mother of all invention.”
But then American brewers got a hold of the idea of the Pale Ale and claimed it as their own in the 1980s. Because the microbrewery industry was at its infancy, the Pale Ale was an appealing option for a young California brewery because it was quicker to create than the traditional American Lagers and could take advantage of the West Coast hops available regionally. As the big and bold West Coast hops made their mark on the microbrewery scene in America, the American IPA rose to preeminence and became the calling card of many small scale brewery operations.
As I sipped and tasted these 30+ IPAs last month, I was drawn to the bitter start, the malty middle, and the smooth finish that most American IPAs share in common. Hints of grapefruit and citrus flavors were common as well as aromas of pine needles and black currents muddled in the mix. As I continued to be drawn back to the complex flavors that carried their way from start to finish in these amazing IPAs from January, I was curious why I was such a big fan. It wasn’t until I went back and consulted The Brewmaster’s Table by Garrett Oliver (head of Brooklyn Brewery) that I picked up on my natural inclination. The flavors and personalities of a good IPA compliment and pair perfectly with foods that carry heat, citrus, and strong starches in their cuisine. Specifically, Latin and Mexican food. The citrus from a carne asada plate mixed with the sharp cheeses of a spicy enchilada pair beautifully with the hints of grapefruit and the cutting bitterness of an IPA. The heat from this kind of food is cooled down by the smooth finish of the IPA. My palette growing up in Texas and on Tex-Mex four times a week was shaped to love and appreciate what an IPA has to offer.
For a full list of the IPAs that I sampled last month, check out my tab on Untappd HERE.
There were obvious winners like Pliny The Elder and surprises like Greenport Brewing Company Other Side IPA. But all in all, it was a great first month of tracking a hobby I’ve had for over a decade but just now realized was a hobby.
So here’s to the great IPAs of January and on to the strong Stouts of February. If you have any suggestions on either style of beer, or want to recommend what style I should sample in March, let me know in the comments below.
Last night I watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a documentary featuring 85 year old Jiro Ono, arguably the world’s greatest sushi chef. The movie chronicles his life, his restaurant, and the challenge that lies ahead as he and his 50 year old son work through a succession plan that will keep the legacy of his father’s work preserved.
The opening scene, Jiro explains his life work:
“Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success… and is the key to being regarded honorably.”
He was sent out into the world at the age of nine and became an apprentice at 10. He has been making sushi for over 75 years and for 75 years he has been searching for an even better version of his work. He says in the movie that every piece of sushi he serves is better than the one before. That when he does his work, he feels victorious. Every single day, repeating the same steps to create the same excellence, and pushing just a little bit harder to make it just a little bit better. Never settling.
His persistent and consistent work to create excellence and the expectation of his staff (minimum of ten year apprenticeship before they are allowed to be in the front of the restaurant) got me thinking about Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 Hour Rule.” It would certainly seem to apply here. But that rule also always gets me thinking, what have I spent 10,000 intention hours work to become the best at?
My career has been much more dynamic than Jiro’s and anyone on Gladwell’s list. The skill set that I’ve been asked to bring to the work I do can and does change with the task at hand. My aspirations of being a renaissance man seem more realistic than an master craftsman like Jiro. And there is nothing wrong with that, but, it does beg the question, of the skills that I use today and know I will use for the rest of my life, am I obsessed with making everyday’s efforts better than the day before?
The Kubler-Ross model for grieving seems to apply to being a refugee at the hands of Hurricane Sandy as well.
Denial: The following tweet might have been a little bit cavalier of me:
Is that the best you’ve got? I’ve had ceiling fans that blew harder. #TauntingHurricaneSandy
— Andy Ellwood (@andyellwood) October 29, 2012
Anger: As the storm raged outside and the power plant in our neighborhood blew up and knocked out all the entirety of lower Manhattan, the denial that we would be effected quickly switched to anger that our preparations for a day or two wouldn’t be near enough to last the early reports that it would be at least 3-4 days before we had power and water, if not a full week.
Bargaining: As the reality of our situation set in, Annie and I just had to get out and walk it off. We headed north for more than a mile before we say the first flicker of power or a working stop light. I also figured that this was the best excuse ever to satisfy my recent urge for some unlimited salad and breadsticks at the Times Square Olive Garden. That bargaining worked but when we arrived we found out that they, like apparently every other organization not run by an immigrant Mom and Pop were closed.
Depression: The most common phrase yesterday was “Wish I would have known….” and then the sincere feeling of ignorance, naivety, and actual depression about my complete lack of preparation. It was a lot of internal reassuring that there is no way I could have known having never actually lived through a hurricane or dealing with days upon days of power and water outages. While I would say that I’ve pushed through this one, it is still lingering when I look at my suitcase and realize that its contents are the only things I’ll have access to of my own for days to come.
Acceptance: The closest thing to a turning point in the depression stage was when we just decided that we had to leave our apartment and make plans towards that end. We were overwhelmed by all of the friends around the city that weren’t hit as hard as we were that offered us a place to stay. While you never want to need help, especially as New Yorkers, it was pretty amazing to see how many folks reached out.
There are a ton of thoughts swirling in my head right now about what I would do differently and how this storm has a ton of parallels to real life, but I’ll leave those for another day. But, in a effort to establish a little bit of order to this chaos that is my reality for the foreseeable future, I did the only thing I knew for a fact would help: I made breakfast tacos.
“Good things come to those that wait” goes the saying. And, while there might be some truth to that, I prefer Abraham Lincoln’s version, ”Good things do come to those who wait, but only the things left behind by those who hustle.” And, this weekend, in a bit of a culinary hustle, I found an amazing new take on my favorite morning meal: The Two Day Breakfast Taco.
Not wanting to keep my new found discovery selfishly to myself, here is the recipe:
DAY ONE: Go out for BBQ with great friends. Order 1/4lb pulled pork or beef brisket more than you need. Take home in a to-go bag.
DAY TWO: Make Breakfast Tacos with the left over BBQ from Day One.
Enjoy pulled pork and beef brisket Breakfast Tacos with sunny side up eggs, avocado, tomatoes, cheese, and a little sour cream. Highly recommend pairing with a large cup of black coffee.Tweet