August 19, 2013

Praying Monk Summer Beer School Barely Makes the Grade

Before the Praying Monk faithful excommunicate me, it's important to note that my palate can't decipher every little nuance when it comes to food and beer pairings. Guess I should look into those BJCP classes. Class is now in session.

The fourth and final installment in their Summer Beer School sessions, this event was focused on unique and specialty ales. The evening's host, esteemed sommelier David Johnson, brings a plethora of wine knowledge to the Praying Monk. And while Mr. Johnson was a wonderful, affable host, beer is not his strong suit. But, he was wise enough to recruit beer aficionado Bobby Lindeman of Pitcher of Nectar Distributing to show up and share his knowledge of beers being poured.

First course: Freigeist Abraxxxas paired with an heirloom tomato in garlic cream with microgreens. The Lichtenhainer-style brew, which is essentially a smoked Berlinerweiss, gelled pretty well with the heirloom salad. The garlic cream was mild enough not to take away from the beer's subtle smoke and tart qualities. But I can't say the same for the vinaigrette,  as the dressing's acidity somewhat drowned out the smoke. I would have been okay with this if there were more smoky qualities in the beer.

Second course: Moa Brewing's Breakfast paired with croque madame with a poached egg, baguette and Mornay sauce. I get the concept of pairing a breakfast beer with a breakfast-related dish, but couldn't get past the disconnect between the awful medicinal, faux cherry qualities and the croque. After I washed away the medicine, er, beer, I tasted the dish by itself — the egg was perfectly poached and the Bechamel-style Mornay sauce worked; however, I wish the uber-crunchy toasted baguette was a bit less, well, crunchy.

Third course: Hitachino Nest XH paired with a grilled king oyster mushroom with edamame and radishes. What was easily the best beer of the night in my eyes, the strong Belgian-style brown ale is matured in Shochu barrels for three months, imparting very subtle dry sake notes in the finish. The beer and food flavor profiles played well with one another, but the king oyster mushroom may have been over-grilled, as the texture was more rubbery than expected. Perhaps braising or sauteing would have been better cooking methods. 

Fourth course: Fraoch Heather Ale paired with pork belly with a carrot confit, horseradish and microgreens. A unique beer indeed, heather ales are regarded as the oldest style still produced in the world. And Fraoch's version may be the best, as the herbal heather flower and mild honey notes hold up well to the richness of the pork belly and the just-right spiciness of the horseradish. 

Fifth course: Well, there wasn't one. I've never attended a beer dinner that didn't include dessert, and my sweet tooth was sorely disappointed. So much so that it brought this class' grade down a bit.

Overall, the evening was enjoyable and the company even better. The four beers and dishes chosen were certainly unique (vegetarian options were also available). Would I go back to the Praying Monk? Absolutely. But I would like to see the pairings tightened a bit, dessert added, and the duration of the dinner elongated, as the entire soiree clocked in at a surprisingly quick hour-and-twenty minutes.

Overall class grade: C

August 16, 2013

Which Way Does Your Beer Lean?

This MJ leans forward. I suspect the other MJ would lean back.
It's Friday afternoon, right about the time many of you are thinking about the weekend. For readers of this blog, it's a safe bet that beer will be on the menu. Probably the last thing you want to read is yet another semantic dissertation on beer taxonomy. I promise it won't mirror the lambic brewing process — sick before it gets truly sour. (I'm with you Jeff.)

Those in the craft beer movement* want us to distinguish between craft beer and crafty beer. Lew Bryson would have us draw a circle around beers under 4.5% and call it session beer. I have asked that we pay our respects to flagship beers. Others seem to have a cloudy concept of something called beer geek beers or white whales.

I just finished reading a piece on interactive media and caught a term that may or may not be useful in discussing beer — lean back vs lean forward experiences. A simple example should suffice for our purposes since I'm curious as to how you might apply it to beer. Television is defined as a lean back experience and a computer is a lean forward experience. Interactive media is blurring these lines, but that's less relevant to our discussion.

What beers would you consider lean back beers and why? What would a lean forward beer be? Is it a function of your engagement with the beer? Others? Can we draw conclusions such as lean back beers are sessionable? Or maybe they're complex and strong? I don't have an answer, but I will tell you that I'll probably be leaning back more this weekend than leaning forward. (One hopes not to lean too much in either direction lest you fall.)

*I've moved away from distinguishing craft beers from the rest of the beers in the universe. I think that it makes more sense to talk about the craft beer movement — a social movement by brewers in a certain era who share common goals and interests. Certainly, there is a definable movement that traces back to Anchor brewing that gained momentum in the 70s and 80s and now has us in a golden age of a ridiculous amount of choice and a high water mark in terms of the number of U.S. breweries. Note that this definition says nothing about quality.

August 12, 2013

Beer School Is in Session at the Praying Monk

Okay, so it's actually been in session since June 25, but better late than never, right?

BeerPHXation was asked to attend and write about the upcoming August 13 'Unique Ales & Specialties' session a few weeks ago, and we graciously accepted their complimentary invite.

Sadly, this is the last of the four Summer School at the Monk sessions, but it sounds like they may have saved the best for last. Award-winning chef Aaron May and esteemed beverage expert David Johnson are teaming up to delight "students'"palates with eclectic tapas and unique, complementary brews. Specific food-and-beer pairings have not been released, but expect it to be delicious.

Care to join me? Thought so. Here's what you need to know to go:

When: Tuesday, August 13 at 6:30 p.m.
Cost: $30 per person, which includes all beer samples and paired tapas.
Location: Praying Monk in Old Town Scottsdale | 7217 East First Street, Scottsdale 85251
Reservations: Required. Call 480-398-3020 or email
More info: Visit the Praying Monk's website for more details. And come back here Monday, 8/19, for a complete review.

August 2, 2013

The Session #78 | Beer's Elevator Pitch

Beer Bar Band provide this month's session topic: Your elevator pitch for beer.
You walk into an elevator and hit the button for your destination level. Already in the elevator is someone holding a beer…and it’s a beer that annoys you because, in your view, it represents all that is bad with the current state of beer.
You can’t help but say something, so you confront your lift passenger with the reason why their beer choice is bad.

Ever actually get an elevator pitch in an elevator? Here goes:

I noticed you’re a beer drinker. That bottle of beer is actually an elevator pitch for beer’s 10,000 year relationship with humanity. It started as a happy accident with wet grain. Fermentation was not understood but revered for centuries. Some say that beer is responsible for ending our nomadic past.  Agriculture provided dependable grain for beer and was much more reliable that foraging. It enabled man to create villages and towns. Animals were domesticated.  Towns grew to cities and states. When cities became crowded, beer provided hydration in days before we understood bacteria. Beer made sea voyage possible.

Beer’s yeast helped us understand genetics, mutation and evolution. Beer itself evolved. It adapted to local conditions including water, local ingredients, climate and even tax laws. This was the genesis of the hundreds of beer styles we enjoy today. Each expressing a depth of flavors of biscuit, toast, roast, chocolate, citrus, pine, fruit—thousands of flavor compounds—many we barely understand.

In America, beer became big business—an industrial process.  It survived Prohibition and massive consolidation. People forgot that it was once made at home. It became mysterious. The joy brewing left the common man. Today it is reborn as thousands of local small business ventures. It reinvigorated communities. It created community leaders, mayors and even governors.  The President appreciates homebrewing.

Like millions of other people, I find you with that bottle, or did it find you. There’s never been more choice in the world. Cheers!