Category Archives: food

Beer in the Kitchen: Doppelbock Whipped Yams

To those who regularly make an effort to pair beer with food, it is no secret that beer is the most versatile beverage on the planet in that respect. It has a wide range of texture and weight and it also has a broader flavor range than wine. Only in beer can you find true bitterness and sourness (although tannin and acidity in certain wines can come close). While I will concede that wine is certainly the victor when it comes to dishes with tomato-based sauces, beer will usually equal or best wine for most other pairings.

I love pairing my food with beer, but even more exciting than that is making my food with beer. With The Beer Wench and Sean Paxton as inspirations, I’ve been tooling around in the kitchen quite a bit lately and I’d like to share the ideas and recipes that work well for me. This week I’m bringing you Doppelbock Whipped Yams.

I am a Los Angeles native, and as long as I can remember, my family and I have been going to Greenblatt’s Deli on New Year’s Day. They have great deli food and it’s one of the only places open that day. Every time we go, I get the turkey dinner with whipped yams as a side. They spice the yams just right and the whipped texture works really well with this particular tuber.

I wanted to duplicate the dish at home but I wanted to add a little punch, so I decided to boil the yams in beer rather than plain ol’ water. But what beer to choose? Can’t go with anything too bitter since this is a sweeter dish and heat really brings out the bitterness. I wanted something that would marry naturally with the texture and flavor of the yams. Then the light bulb went on . . . Doppelbock!

I hustled over to BevMo and grabbed myself a sixer of Spaten Optimator. Malty, bready and a little chewy with some light toast character, I had a good feeling it would have what I was looking for. I’ve made and served the dish several times now (it was a hit at Christmas dinner) and it never disappoints, so without further ado:

Ingredients

  • 2-3 lbs garnet yams, peeled and cut into two inch chunks
  • 2 12oz bottles of Doppelbock (Optimator is my choice, but just make sure you pick one that hasn’t been “Americanized” with excessive hop character)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 stick of butter, room temperature
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2-3 tsp nutmeg (depending on your tastes, personally, I freaking love nutmeg)
  • 2 tsp cinnamon (you can use less, I also really like cinnamon)
  • Salt to taste

Directions

Place your peeled and cut yams into a large pot and pour in both bottles of beer (you’ve probably got four left in the six-pack so treat yourself to one as well). If the beer doesn’t quite cover the yams, top off the pot with water until the yams are completely covered.

Place the pot, covered, over high heat and bring liquid to a boil. Boil for 15-20 minutes, or until yams are very soft. Drain liquid in a strainer and place drained yams back into pot.

Throw your butter in the pot and combine it with the yams by mashing with a potato ricer until yams are mostly smooth. Next, toss in your brown sugar and vanilla extract and combine well (a large spoon should suffice).

Add nutmeg and cinnamon and whip on high with an electric eggbeater. Once whipped, have yourself a little taste so you can figure out how much salt you want to add. I find the salt really serves to bring out the sweeter flavors nicely, and I’ll usually add about half a teaspoon of table salt. Whip in the salt and serve! This dish is a wonderful change from standard mashed potatoes and can accompany roast chicken, turkey or my personal favorite, bison brisket. Enjoy!

Yours Truly on New Brew Thursday at Library Alehouse! (Video)

Check out the video, where we drink Kern River Brewing Citra DIPA and pair it with some wonderful Alehouse food. I think it’s pretty rad. Be sure to click the links on the right to New Brew Thursday and Library Alehouse.

Of Silly Laws and Little Beers

If you pay attention to matters alcohol-related, then you’ve probably read about the law in Colorado that effectively makes it illegal to sell any beer under 4% alcohol at a bar. Bars in Colorado are only allowed to sell “malt beverages,” while grocery stores may only sell “beer,” which is a malt beverage under 4% under the law. The law wasn’t seriously enforced up to now but grocery stores seem intent on protecting their right to be the exclusive retailers of high-volume, light beers. They want to capitalize on a monopoly over the beers that sell the most. The law has received further coverage from the Denver Post and Jay Brooks. No more boring details from me for now.

What this law has done on a smaller level is bring the notion of session beer to the fore in the minds of the beer-drinking public, and especially in the mind of this writer. In countries like England, where brewers are taxed roughly on the strength of their beer, session beers (beers whose ABV hovers around 4% or less) are the norm. Up until recently, craft beer in America has taken the opposite approach. Determined to differentiate themselves from the large brewers of light lagers, American craft brewers started out brewing higher-ABV beers with huge hop flavor (with Arrogant Bastard as the exemplar).

Drinkers of craft beer tend to take a similar tack. When they start out, they seek out the biggest, most brash beers they can find. Exotic ingredients and huge hop bills are prized. Barrel-aging causes a rush of excitement and anything with a double-digit ABV must be tried. However, the palate gets weary after a time. The drinker grows tired of being beaten about the head with monstrous amounts of expressive flavor. A more nuanced, integrated beer is in order. Enter session beer.

Session beer is a many-splendored thing. Firstly, it is a medium in which the brewer can truly show off his/her talent. It is a lot easier to cram a lot of flavor into a high-ABV highly-hopped beer than it is to make a 4% beer equally interesting. There is something particularly pleasurable about finding a mountain of flavor in a molehill of a beer. The drinker can tell that the brewer took particular care in the production of the beer.

Further, session beer is a means to interest the “unconverted” in craft beer. While ardent craft beer drinkers gravitate to meaty, high-ABV brews, not everyone is ready for those titanic beers right away. However, a well-made session beer is the perfect opportunity for a brewer to dispel the “dark beer is heavy and thick” myth. A sub-5% Nut Brown or Dark Mild with wonderful bready, toasty flavors, a light mouthfeel and crisp, dry finish can instantly put any fear of “dark” beer to bed.

Session beer can also be more food friendly. If you’ve read Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher, then you know that matching intensity of flavor is generally the way to go when it comes to food and beer pairing. It takes a lot of robust flavor to stand up to the biting bitterness of a Double IPA or the huge chocolate and roast flavors of an Imperial Stout. Most food is not up to the task. Food, like beer, can lose a lot of nuance when it is made simply to have more flavor, rather than good flavor. Delicate food demands beer that is equally subtle. Further, if one is holding a multi-course pairing dinner, lower-ABV beer is often the way to go. Palate fatigue can be staved off and your guests won’t get as inebriated as quickly. No pairing will suffer because of its predecessor.

Also of particular interest to me, session beer is an excellent choice for those who need to drive, ride a bike, or just do something that requires use of your brain after drinking. Those who cannot get drunk should not be relegated to drinking the likes of carbonated alcohol water. Well-made session beer is a boon to those who wish to enjoy a beer with lunch, at dinner with children, before a bike ride and to those who must drive somewhere after imbibing. This particular point brings to light one of the more ridiculous unintended consequences of CO’s legislation: taking sub-4% beer out of the hands of those who must drive after leaving the bar.

If you’re not convinced yet, here’s a small list of some awesome beers to try that fall into the loosely-defined session beer category:

AleSmith Nautical Nut Brown (5.0% ABV): Probably the best brown ale I’ve ever had. Toasty bread with wonderful caramel notes and a creamy, rich mouthfeel.

Eagle Rock Solidarity Black Mild (3.8% ABV): A delightful litter number. Black in hue with garnet highlights. Light on the palate, with a crisp finish, this beer has notes of cocoa and pretzel bread.

The Bruery Hottenroth Berliner Weisse (3.1% ABV): Perfect summer beer. Brewed with wheat composing a large proportion of the grist, the beer is highly carbonated, lemony and delightfully tart. Loads of flavor for the ABV and incredibly quenching. Can also be served with raspberry or woodruff syrup

Brasserie Dupont Avril (3.5% ABV): Take the earth, light funk and crisp pale fruit flavor that you love in Saison Dupont and miniaturize it. You’ll have Avril. This is a great table beer and will pair will with nearly anything that isn’t huge.

Cheers!

Craft Beer: More Costly. Better Value.

When spending more makes sense.


To borrow from Sam Calagione’s business philosophy in Brewing Up a Business, it strikes me that education has to be a very large component of the expansion of the craft beer movement beyond the realm of the enthusiast. One reason that the consumer needs to be educated is because craft beer costs more, on average, than industrial commodity beer. If the consumer merely sees “Beer 1” and “Beer 2,” and Beer 2 is cheaper, then the rational decision is to buy Beer 2. Aside from price, the consumer doesn’t know the difference between the two products. Beer is just beer.

The craft beer community must continue its efforts at education in order to give the consumer a reason to buy Beer 1 where Beer 1 is the pricier craft beer and Beer 2 is the industrial commodity beer. The question then becomes what sort of education is necessary, or desirable. Now let me stop here and acknowledge the fact that there are plenty of people who will never be ardent craft beer drinkers. That’s fine. I don’t judge them negatively. If they like to drink Bud Light that’s their business. All I will do is kindly tell them that I think there is beer out there that is a better value, even if it costs more. If they choose to inquire further, then I am more than willing to explain myself.

Also, I will acknowledge that for some, beer is merely a means to a drunken end. That’s also fine. As long you don’t hurt anybody but yourself I couldn’t care less. I will however advise you that there are cheaper and more efficient means to reach your desired result (read: clear liquor).

I suppose craft beer education for me comes down to a single concept: value. Every effort at education must be geared towards letting the consumer know why craft beer is a better value even though it’s more costly, perhaps even because it’s more costly (two italicized words in one sentence, eek!).

Why do I find craft beer more valuable than industrial commodity beer? First, craft beer has personality. I don’t just mean the hop-related pun names or the label art or the fact that the beer is generally more flavorful. What I mean is that there are people behind craft beer, rather than mega-corporations whose main goal is to raise their stock price. Where craft beer is your local restaurant whose owner cares about the food coming out of the kitchen, industrial beer is McDonald’s, a faceless entity churning out low-cost, low-flavor food designed more to make money than it is to satiate. In other words, part of the value of craft beer is knowing that my dollar is going to a person who cares about what they make.

Another portion of the value quotient is enjoyment. As I said above, if your enjoyment is derived solely from getting blitzed, there are better ways to “enjoy” (and they’re cheaper too). However, if you care about the contents of your glass and want to drink something that not only slakes your thirst, but dazzles your tastebuds, craft beer, almost regardless of cost, is a higher value proposition. Here’s how I explain it. Let’s take a six-pack of Budweiser and a six-pack of Deschutes Black Butte Porter. Each sixer contains 72 ounces of beer and roughly the same amount of alcohol (making degree of possible intoxication a nullity as far as decision-making goes). Let’s say Bud is on sale for $4.99 a six-pack and Black Butte is going for $8.99. I’m buying Black Butte every time because I derive greater value from Black Butte.

I will not enjoy a single ounce of that Bud sixer. Thus, every cent of that $4.99 is flushed down the drain as far as I’m concerned. However, I am virtually guaranteed to enjoy every ounce of my $8.99 sixer of Black Butte. Thus, it is a much better value. Beer is a luxury, not a necessity. No one needs to buy beer to live. So, if you’re going to spend money on beer, shouldn’t your dollar go farther? If thirst-quenching is the motive, buy a soda. If getting drunk is your motive, buy hard liquor. However, if your goal is to truly enjoy the beverage in your glass (and maybe catch a little buzz, which I willingly admit is quite pleasant) then your money is better spent on craft beer than industrial beer.

“But Alex,” you say, “I can get twice as much Bud as I can Black Butte.” I say, you’re missing the point. When drinking a beer with full flavor, satisfaction can come in a few ounces, rather than a few bottles. Greater enjoyment of the beer itself makes the beer a better value and also argues for more moderate consumption.

Let’s say you agree with me that craft beer tastes better, but you still can’t justify the cost. I would answer that good ingredients, and more of them, cost more money. You don’t expect to pay the price of a gourmet burger at McD’s. And why not? Because the components of the burger are of a lower quality and the labor to make the burger was cheaper and McD’s has no ambience and no personality. The same is true of your beer. Industrial beer is often made with one of the cheapest commodities there is in America: corn. The government subsidizes corn production to the point where farmers have no choice but to grow it. Since the price is artificially depressed, it makes a great substitute for barley; that is, if you don’t really care what your beer tastes like and you’re merely trying to capitalize on economies of scale.

Craft beer on the other hand, makes a point of using the best ingredients. Craft brewers must take this approach in order to ensure that their beer tastes good, because they can’t compete on price. Do some of them use corn occasionally? Sure. But they do so because it helps them achieve a certain flavor, not because they want to produce their product as cheaply as possible. They also generally use a helluvalot more hops than industrial brewers. Hops are expensive, but they contribute oodles of flavor and aroma in the hands of a talented brewer. Craft beer thus justifies its cost many times over.

So you say you can’t afford craft beer all the time and you want some booze in your life. That’s fine. Grab a handle of vodka. Take a few shots. Problem solved. Way cheaper per ounce of alcohol than buying industrial beer. However, if you aim to truly enjoy the product in your glass (and catch a little buzz), then buy craft beer (or fine spirits, which I also enjoy; pick your poison). You’ll spend more money, but you’ll get a better value.

Local Intrigue

Russian River Redemption w/ Father’s Office Forest Mushroom Salad


Okay, I’ll admit it. I drink a lot of craft beer. I drink craft beer pretty much every day. I love craft beer. Oh wait, this is starting to sound like the “I am a Craft Beer Drinker” video. My apologies (shameless plug: I’m the first person in the video). One of the few things I love more than craft beer is pairing craft beer with great food. I often find such pairings in my own kitchen, but there are plenty of times when those pairings occur in local restaurants and gastropubs. I’ve decided that I’m going to share these experiences with you in a series of “when I feel like it” posts under the title “Local Intrigue.” Hopefully you live close by and can try them for yourselves. Perhaps you don’t live close by. It is my hope that these pairings will inspire you to find your own just the same. That said, let’s get to the meat of this post.

I live very close to Father’s Office (“FO”) in Santa Monica. It’s a little over a mile away. I can either bike or walk there very comfortably. It is little wonder then that I often find myself sampling their wares. Most folks go there for the burger. I will concede that it is a tasty morsel. However, it has a lot of huge flavors and can overwhelm any beverage that hangs on the subtler end of the flavor spectrum. The burger demands a big beer, something for which I am not always in the mood.

Enter the rest of the menu. It is my opinion (and that of several of my cohorts) that the rest of the food at FO outshines the burger. I found myself there on a Saturday afternoon, before heading into Library Alehouse for my shift, grabbing a beer or two. I always look for the seasonal dishes at FO, having already worked my way through the regular menu. This time, I found the Forest Mushroom Salad. It has greens, sautéed/caramelized mushrooms and onions, Niman Ranch bacon, Spanish chevre and basil vinaigrette. Once I saw “bacon” and “chevre” I knew I had to have it.

But what to pair it with? I found my muse in Russian River Redemption, a Belgian Blonde par excellence. It is dry, crackery and spicy. I thought it a perfect counterpoint.

RedemptionCropped

Boy was I right! When faced with the fairly rich likes of bacon, chevre and sautéed mushrooms and onions, I favor contrasting pairings. I like to cleanse the palate and ease the “weight” of the dish. I also thought the basil vinaigrette would be nice with the herbal/spicy character of the beer. The dry, crackery character of the beer cut through the fat of the dressing and bacon perfectly, pairing nicely with the tang from the cheese and easing the sweetness of the onion. The finish was pure harmony, the herbal character of the dressing and the greens augmenting the spicy hop character of the beer. It was twenty minutes of dining bliss. I highly recommend you get down there while both the dish and the beer are still available. If the beer isn’t, they also have locally-produced (they brew in Irvine, CA) Brouwerij West Belgian-Style Blond – 5, which is the only other Blond I’ve had that belongs in Redemption’s league. We’ve already carried Brouwerij West’s Blond at Library Alehouse. I can’t wait until we have it again. It pairs beautifully with the Ahi Burger, but more on that next time. What are some of the pairings you’ve found at your local beer haunts?