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As mentioned in Paradoxical Pairings, I was blessed with the opportunity to spend most of this summer outdoors. It was a pretty amazing season and kicked off with some incredible spring hiking as well… which leads us to: beer for the outdoors (or, beer au natur-ale?)
What do you look for in a trail beer? I look for portability and flavor fitting the activity…
Early this fall, after mountain biking, I returned to a Tröegs Hop Knife Harvest Ale nestled beside our car tire by a fellow rider and beer fan, crisp and refreshing with a decent hop profile to satisfy my taste buds, it was a welcome end to the ride… Earlier this year on a group ride during the hotter month of August I found a growler of Rising Tide‘s awesome Maine Island Trail Ale (MITA) shared amongst the crew to be the perfectly dry hoppy finish needed after a tough, technical ride.
Generally in the warmer months I’ve tended toward the session ales that have been growing in popularity this year, I’ve especially enjoyed Otter Creek‘s Hop Session and Founders All day IPA. I’ll also generally enjoy a good summer seasonal if it’s hot enough.
As autumn colors begin to grace the trees, fall flavors grace post-outdoor cooler… Usually a well-balanced option that’s not too malty or boozy is best for me. A good red ale, like Opa Opa’s Red Rock Amber Ale, or, if I’m lucky, a Trout River Rainbow Red Ale.
Earlier this spring on a 10-mile backpacking adventure through a feeder-canyon to the Grand Canyon I was introduced to an ultra-portable potable… stay tuned for a Bonus Pint about that next week!
For now, share your favorite trailside beers (literally and digitally):
There are many things that go so well together we often forget they aren’t natural partners… peas and carrots (sorry Forrest, aside from the freezer section of the grocery store those two veggies are far from neighborly), beer and food (the world is finally realizing these two can intertwine amazingly well), life and work…. well, that’s where I’ve been struggling—hence this disappointingly long hiatus.
Balance truly is a paradox to me (sadly both literally and figuratively). Writing can be tough to fit in the schedule once it’s not your job anymore, but beer? I was never paid for the beering, so my drinking schedules haven’t changed (whew!). There are many things beer pairs perfectly with—its forte is its flexibility—beer and food, beer and books, beer and studying, beer and a long day, beer and vacation, beer and mountain biking, beer and camping, beer and football (especially if you’re watching the Giants not live up to your expectations), beer and travel, beer and solitude, beer and friends… I could go on, but let’s cut to the chase.
Beer is awesome and fun. And the best breweries I’ve encountered have wholeheartedly embraced this concept, which is what sets them apart from the mass of micros that have appeared in all shapes, styles, and sizes.
This summer I was blessed with some truly amazing adventures (many of which you’ll read about in the forthcoming posts that I promise will continue to appear). One such adventure brought me to the heart of the Adirondack Park—a massive state park filled with a plethora of wilderness, breweries, and scenic towns. This trip in particular brought me to a rock climbing camp nestled off the side of the road and some climbing on the aptly named Beer Walls.
After a weekend of climbing, mushroom foraging, and camping with dear friends, we found ourselves reluctantly returning to civilization… albeit slowly as there is a long drive down Interstate 87 to truly exit the Adirondack Park, sometimes requiring back-road detours to break monotony. That’s where we happened on Paradox. As we drove by the rustic trailhead sign (a common sight in these parts), we both suddenly turned to each other exclaiming “did that say brewery?” and “was that a keg hanging below that sign?!”
It did and it was, so we turned around and found ourselves at Paradox Brewery. Paradox Brewery is a small, but expanding operation in Schroon Lake, New York. Open for about a year now, this low-key, rustic beer haven welcomes a constant flow of regulars (acknowledged by name by the amiable bartending “wenches”) and visitors alike, who this time of year enjoyed an outdoor tented “tasting room” complete with a wooden bar, trailer with taps, camp chairs, corn hole (or bean-bag toss, depending on your place of origin), and hand-carved bench seating surrounding a small stage area.
Indicating the taped off area of their gravel parking lot we’d stepped over as we entered, our petite, pixie-cut pourer (and wife-of-owner, Paul) Joanie noted that the brewery is in the process of expanding the current brown, log-faced former post office to add space for more fermenters and a canning line. Joanie also had plenty of insight into the beer samplers she poured for us, discussing with ease the flavor profiles, quirks, and forthcoming experimentation the 10-barrel brewery incorporates into their array of brews.
We sampled an impressive selection that ranged from their Schroon Summer Ale—light, crisp, and not overly wheaty—to the unique Effinger Steam and well-crafted and flavorful Paradox Tripel—which included the addition of Hatian orange peel, the same one used to make Gran Marnier. We topped that tasting off with the Beaver Bite IPA, which boasted a subtle hop aroma, but kept a well-balanced bitterness to malt flavor.
During an impromptu brewery tour, part-owner Paul Mrocka quipped about his Pilsener “it’s so simple it’s hard to make,” noting this beer’s tendency to pick up off-flavors from poorly washed tanks. Paul, a homebrewer for 30 years, co-owns Paradox with bearded partners David Bruce and Vaughn Clark. Coming out from washing kegs to talk beer with tasters, Paul adds “I don’t have a lab, I’m not going to dilute…you get what you get,” as he laments the challenges of working with varying sugar quantities in barley.
The Paradox family melds the perfect combination of beer knowledge and fun-loving, with an Adirondack twist that allows the brewery to fit effortlessly into its wooded setting. The brewery embraces the local, so much so that it not only mimics its home park’s trail signs, but is also established as a Farm Brewery—meaning it either sources ingredients from local farms or grows a portion of its own, which Paradox does, using ornate, towering hop plants as a backdrop to its tasting tent and game area.
I know I’m overdue for a post, and will have one soon, I promise… in the meantime, here’s a Pint Pic to tide you over.
I’ve already discussed the fact that I was (pleasantly) surprised to find several Belgian beers I enjoyed, so what is your favorite of the many Belgian styles? I find the trappist tradition intriguing, may have to do a monk post at some point. What do you think?
Have another round and stay tuned!
(Just a side note, right after I came up with this ’90s-tribute headline I heard that Nickelodeon is bringing back a handful of nostalgia with The ’90s Are All That, which doesn’t have Are You Afraid of the Dark? in its lineup just yet, but is on the right track)
Anyway, in present-day news, the beer club has been going strong… encountering hefty beers (and opinions to match) along the way.
For me, much like the Belgian tasting we had in January, this month’s tasting of stouts made it tough to pick a favorite. But unlike the Belgian category this was cause I knew I loved stouts and so I had to go into decimal points in my numerical ratings… and I am not a numbers girl. (For the record, I had to go into decimals at the Belgian tasting, too, which introduced me to quite a few Belgian styles that I loved, despite my previous distaste for the overall category).
My good friend, and fellow blogger Sandy and her husband hosted us for the Stout tasting. There was plenty of chocolate and cheese to go with the dark beers (and some fabulous homemade pizza and chili to boot!)
I ditched my salty tooth that day and whipped up some chocolatey treats to go with the whole Valentines Day + Stouts… thing. Also I had been holding on to this recipe from Ladies Of Craft Beer for quite some time waiting for some sort of sweet tooth to emerge in me. And it did!
I made the LadiesOCB’s Double Double Chocolate Stout Brownies substituting High & Mighty’s Two-Headed Beast for the Young’s Double Chocolate Stout. Despite not being very popular as a sample at the tasting, the Two Headed Beast did go well with the rich brownies, which somehow mellowed the beastly beer’s… “umph. ” (The brownies were great warm, topped with ice cream later, too).
We tasted several varieties of stouts including milk/cream stouts, coffee stouts, imperial stouts, and, of course, chocolate stouts… here’s how things tallied up:
Overall favorite was organic Vermont brewer Wolaver’s Oatmeal Stout, which had a nice earthy, slightly dry flavor. Mikkeller’s Beer Geek Breakfast and Dogfish Head’s Chickory Stout tied as second favorite.
Least favorite was a little more dispersed, but it turns out our crew is not a fan of Paper City’s Riley’s Mother’s Milk (though I think the milk/cream stouts were in general less popular with the crew, cause Paper City’s other contestant, the Fogbuster Coffee Stout ranked well).
Here’s the full roster (in tasting order)… what’d we miss and what’s your take?
Samuel Adams Cream Stout
Paper City Riley’s Mother’s Milk Stout
Wachusett Milk Stout
Wolaver’s Oatmeal Stout
People’s Pint Oatmeal Stout
Bear Republic Big Bear Black Stout (my first favorite—I had a tie)
Paper City Fogbuster Coffeehouse Ale
Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast (my other favorite)
Dogfish Head Chickory Stout
High & Mighty Two-Headed Beast
Young’s Double Chocolate Stout
Southern Tier Choklat
Avery Czar Imperial Stout
Hoppin’ Frog Double Imperial Stout
McNeill’s Dark Angel
Victory Storm King
North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout
Tonight we take a milder taste with Brown Ales (both English and American styles) so stay tuned for more recaps… plus a selection of my favorite quotes and reviews!
Red, amber, green, or black… Saint Patrick’s Day offers up the perfect (and possibly most united) excuse to have a beer… or three.
Here’s to hoping you all had a fantastic celebration, Irish or not, and that you got the chance to imbibe some interesting brews. I, myself, had some hearty corned beef and cabbage at local subterranean pub, Lion’s Den in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where the sweet sounds of a local guitarist and a glass of well-poured Guinness rounded out my St. Patty’s Day. I topped it off with a little Irish whiskey for good luck, opting for Powers over Jameson (since I’d never had the former, and survey says… delicious!).
I had the pleasure of catching a bit of Irish prep in Washington, D.C., as loads of Guinness appeared throughout the city. Not that I needed help getting in the spirit, but it sure did add to the anticipation… how did you celebrate?
I am a hop head. A hop heart if you will… I love hops in all their herbal, citrusy, piney, floral, bitter beauty. I’m also frequently on a quest for solid Extra Special Bitters (or ESBs… capital “B”). Red Hook makes my standard ESB—Otter Creek used to make a fantastic ESB, but unfortunately retired it. Brown’s Brewing Company‘s ESB is a solid rendition, and I’ve recently discovered that Pretty Things Hedgerow Bitter hits the (hop) spot for me too (with a touch of grapefruit!). What’s your favorite ESB?
Needless to say, I was thrilled to see the buzz hops were getting yesterday cause of this lovely little Huffington Post article:
America’s Bitterest Brews
By Joshua M. Bernstein
The Daily Meal/Huffington Post, March 1, 2011
But in this era of craft beer, drinkers are shunning simple brews like Keystone and Coors for coffee-seasoned stouts, burly Belgian ales and, most of all, bitter beers like the India Pale Ale, a.k.a., the IPA… [read the article]
Read more articles I’ve collected (not by me) in the Press Pints tab!
But microbrewing and the people involved have some of the most fascinating details and stories. That’s the thing about craft beer, if anything, it is accessible. Craft beer makers want you to like craft beer. They’re not focused on sales, figures, numbers, or fame. They’re focused on craft beer lovers. (That’s why if you catch a craft brewer standing still for a moment, they wont hesitate to answer—at length, and with passion—any questions you might have.)
So… what if you don’t have a brewer handy (and the lifeline-that-is-the-internet is down)? Hit the books! With our monthly beer tasting club, nothing has been more popular than Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer. In this handy how-to (pulled together by the how-to experts at Storey Publishing) novices and intermediates alike can brush up on the intricacies of craft beer and the nuances of tasting it.
Peppering his eloquent dialogue with informative tidbits, historic points, and unique details Mosher writes in a way that draws in both the hop head and the dabbling drinker. Systematically breaking down the beer world Mosher touches on many crucial elements of enjoying beer, including the oft-overlooked finer points like the history (which dates back to the Middle East circa 10,000 BCE) to beer’s progression through popular culture both around the world and, more specifically, in the U.S. He stresses the importance of presentation—from the temperature, to the glass, to the pour, and even to the viewpoint and knowledge of the drinker.
Alongside his aesthetic and historic details Mosher also breaks down the nitty-gritty, paying tribute to the book’s title: an examination of beer tasting, which includes all senses used in evaluating an experience—visual, smell, taste (of course), mouthfeel, and even ingrained psychological differences that affect each person’s perception. Breaking down the basic flavors of beer, the process of its creation, factors of comparison, as well as the vocabulary surrounding it, Mosher arms readers with the resources to explain and understand more fully their appreciation of beer.
Near and dear to my heart (er—stomach?) Mosher also gets in-depth about food pairings and recipes that incorporate beer into cuisine. Tasting Beer manages to encompass all the reasons and ways to enjoy beer in an informative and entertaining format. If you weren’t thirsty before you started reading, you will be by the time you’re half-way through.
Topped off with resources like a glossary, information about craft beer advocacy organizations like homebrewing clubs, the Brewers Association, Beer Judge and Cicerone Certification Programs (for when you’re ready to take your testing to the next level), and popular online forums like BeerAdvocate and PubCrawler, Mosher does not leave his readers wanting. In his own words:
“If we remain uninformed, we can be trapped in our own limited beer world, not knowing what delights we’re missing . . . It takes a little information to open up the extraordinary universe of beer.”
Now… go pick up a copy, a mix pack, and get tasting!