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Beer, Drink, Spring

Stoudts Gold

April 23, 2015

helles

Yellow predominates at this time of year. Our backyard is studded with islands of vigorous daffodils, while up and down Johnson Street the forsythia are shaking their blossoms out into the warming air. The male goldfinches are doing their darndest to compete, hanging off the feeders like clusters of fussy lemons. Time to clear the dead stalks out of the flower beds, and to lug in heavy bags of mulch and dirt. Time to pull the cover off the grill and fire up the charcoal. Every season deserves its own beer, and I have a perfect one in mind. Munich Helles is delicate and nuanced like the time of year, and with its alcohol by volume coming in at around 5 percent,  you’ll still be able to man the wheelbarrow.  Stoudts Gold out of Lancaster county is a stellar example of the style.

Stoudts Gold

If you don’t pour this beer into a glass, you’re missing out on a great part of the pleasure — its visual presentation. A body of burnished gold with a large ivory head of tiny bubbles that graciously hangs around  after pouring. Fine columns of golden bubbles traverse the middle of the glass from bottom to top. Although we don’t usually talk about aural appeal when evaluating beer, lean in close and you will hear a pleasant snap, crackle and pop of healthy carbonation. You can serve this beer in a regular old pint glass, but use a fluted pilsner if you have one. The stunning visual presentation will remind you of a beautiful spring flower.

Munich Helles is largely about subtlety and balance,  and this is certainly true when it comes to its aroma and flavor. This beer doesn’t get up in your face. But take a moment to appreciate the aroma and you will get a sure whiff of warm bread from the malt followed by a hint of floral hops. Take a sip and you will discover the bread again, with the slightest suggestion of sweet corn, typical of the style. The finish is balanced, but leaning toward dry.

Stoudts Gold pairs well with lighter foods that we associate with warmer weather such as hummus and fish, and as you might expect, German sausages. I particularly like it next to hotdogs, the natural breadiness of the malt playing nicely with the roll. (Pair your ketchup or barbecue drenched hamburger with an American Pale Ale or an IPA, whose bigger malt and hop profiles can better handle the more assertive flavor.)

About Munich Helles

The first Helles beer was brewed by the Spaten brewery in Munich in 1894, and was intended as an answer to the worldwide growing popularity of Pilsners. Helles means pale, and this distinction helped differentiate the new lager from the darker ales popular at the time. Its success was almost immediate, and it is still one of the most popular beers in Germany and Bavaria. You can think of a Helles as a more malt forward, less hop assertive version of a Pilsner. Because of that, the style makes a terrific gateway beer for your friends who want to test the waters of craft beer, but who are still wary of strong and exotic flavors. On the other hand, the balanced and nuanced profile of a proper Helles will please the sensibilities of even the most seasoned of beer geeks.

Beer, Food, Winter

Iron Hill Wee Heavy

February 17, 2015

A glass and bottle of Iron Hill Wee-Heavy.
February. At the beginning of the month that infernal rodent out in the western part of the state predicted, as he almost always does, that we’d be enduring another six weeks of winter. Since then we’ve had to suffer though more snow, a bout or two of freezing rain, and soul killing record low temperatures. The weather folk are spreading no hope for the latter part of the month. The fat rat was correct in his prognostications.

However, we need not despair entirely. Life provides its small compensations. Lately, mine have come in the form of winter beers, characterized by their big flavors and warming higher alcohol content. Demanding to be sipped slowly and savored, preferably in good company, they are the perfect antidote for all that ails us this time of year. Today I am thinking of a favorite example: Scottish Wee Heavy. Lucky for me, I don’t have to go far to find a local representation of the style. Chestnut Hill’s Iron Hill Brewery makes one that suits me just fine.

Iron Hill’s Wee Heavy

This fellow looks great in the glass! — a big creamy off white head sitting atop a body of dark copper. Although traditionally served in a thistle glass, a tulip or goblet will work just fine. The immediate impression in both aroma and flavor is malt writ large. The lush caramel sweetness announces itself long before your nose gets to the glass. Let the glass warm a bit and you will be rewarded with a hint of smoke in the background. In recent years, some craft brewers have been adding a bit of peated malt to their Wee Heavies. I personally like this trend. The style, with its reliance on malt can verge on cloying. The peat counters the big sweetness with a subtle smokey bitterness. In fact, at 35 I.B.U.s, Iron Hill’s version is at the high end of the bitterness range for the style, but it most certainly is not hoppy. If you are among the hops-adverse, this is a great beer for you to try.

Iron Hill’s Wee Heavy comes in at 8.3% alcohol by volume, so you will want to put away the heavy machinery before indulging. But that’s what Wee Heavies are for — sipping slowly on a cold winter’s night when the groundhog has given no good news.

About Wee Heavies

Most beer styles, if you follow them back far enough, were determined by the resources available in their region of origin. This is certainly true of Wee Heavy (also know as Scotch Ale). Scotland is a great place for growing barley; hops, not so much. That’s why Scottish beer styles are characterized by strong malt flavors and very little to no hop bitterness. The colder climate also means that they ferment at lower temperatures, so the fruit esters associated with English styles are restrained.

Wee Heavies are malt-forward in flavor — big sweetness usually accompanied by a strong suggestion of caramel. Though not necessary to the style, a background hint of smoke from peated malt often provides a balance to the sweetness. They are usually fairly high in alcohol, ranging up as far as 10% a.b.v. Because of their prominent sweetness, Wee Heavies pair well with desserts, particularly those with caramel or toffee components. I imagine it would also be terrific next to a dish of French vanilla ice cream.

Beer, Food, Summer

Hangin’ with Burrata

August 3, 2014

Burrata with cherry tomatoes and bread. The two fat white dudes with the teal-colored neckties are burrata, and you definitely want to party with them this summer. Burrata is a soft sack of mozzarella cheese filled with cream, commonly served with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of herbs or kosher salt and cracked pepper. Not the most assertive cheese flavor-wise, but this fella plays so well with others that you want to have him around for your summer entertaining. And if you live in northwestern Philadelphia, you can do so and still buy local. These two guys began life at Claudio’s Specialty Foods, and we purchased them at Weaversway Co-op, where they were July’s “cheese of the month.”

Think contrast with burrata — not just in flavor, but in color and texture as well. Serve burrata with a plate of cherry tomatoes and watch the reds and oranges of the tomatoes pop against the white backdrop of the cheese. Spread it on a piece of crusty french bread and you’ll appreciate its smooth creaminess. Now pop a tomato into your mouth and bite down on the cheese coated bread. The juicy sweetness of the tomatoes, the chewiness of the bread, and the creamy richness of the burrata bringing it all together — this is what summers are made for!

But wait! There must be a beverage. Being a good student of the Garrett Oliver school of beer and food pairing, I believe that beer is the best libation to match with cheese. The natural carbonation of the beer provides a great contrast to the heavy creaminess of the cheese, and also serves to cleanse the palate. Since burrata is a mild flavored cheese, the lighter beers that we typically drink during the hotter months make a terrific accompaniment. I had my burrata with a glass of homebrewed Hefeweizen, a traditional German wheat beer. The slight tanginess of the wheat harmonized perfectly with the slight tang in the mozzarella, while the fruitiness of the yeast played against the pleasant blandess of the cheese.

What other local brews would go well with burrata? The next time I have it, I am going to try something a bit hoppy, but not extravagantly so. Victory Brewing’s Prima Pils, or Philadelphia Pale Ale from Yards are good candidates. I’ll let you know.