Battle For The Net

•September 10, 2014 • Leave a Comment

If you woke up tomorrow, and your internet looked like this, what would you do? Imagine all your favorite websites taking forever to load, while you get annoying notifications from your ISP suggesting you switch to one of their approved “Fast Lane” sites.Think about what we would lose: all the weird, alternative, interesting, and enlightening stuff that makes the Internet so much cooler than mainstream Cable TV. What if the only news sites you could reliably connect to were the ones that had deals with companies like Comcast and Verizon?On September 10th, just a few days before the FCC’s comment deadline, public interest organizations are issuing an open, international call for websites and internet users to unite for an “Internet Slowdown” to show the world what the web would be like if Team Cable gets their way and trashes net neutrality. Net neutrality is hard to explain, so our hope is that this action will help SHOW the world what’s really at stake if we lose the open Internet.If you’ve got a website, blog or tumblr, get the code to join the #InternetSlowdown here: else, here’s a quick list of things you can do to help spread the word about the slowdown: Get creative! Don’t let us tell you what to do. See you on the net September 10th!

via Battle For The Net.

In Through The Side Door

•May 21, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Serendipity. It’s a word that Red likes a lot. Me – I usually don’t think that there is any particular order to the universe. However, on nights like tonight, I do enjoy the random synergy that happens to occur from time to time.

I travel for work. In fact, I travel quite a lot. As with all Road Warriors, I take my solace where I can. One of my guilty pleasures is pulling up Google Maps and typing, “gastropubs near by” and then sampling the local delicacies. More often than not, I am disappointed with mediocre food and barely passable beer. Tonight, my ritual paid off.

I had done my usual routine and there was a ‘brew pub’ close by, but upon closer inspection it was a national chain. I immediately nixed it from my plans. The weather was looking to turn foul and I had no desire to spend my hard earned cash at a conglomerate that would then have me walking home in monsoon type weather. Despondent, I walked back to my hotel and Google informed me that there was a gastropub about a half of a mile from my hotel. The name was The Side Door.

Interesting. It sounds like a speakeasy. “What the hell”, I thought. It’s either that or hotel food and I was not about to let a minor typhoon dissuade me from some potential deliciousness. So, off I went and I wasn’t disappointed.

The Side Door is a side restaurant to Lawry’s Steakhouse.  I was bummed. The last time I went to place like this, I could not get my Manhattan properly made. I have never been so happy to be wrong. The food was delectable. I had come in looking for a sandwich and I wasn’t disappointed. I smartly ordered the housemade pastrami – apparently a staple of this establishment since its inception – and was handsomely rewarded with the best pastrami sandwich of my life. This is nothing to say of the duck comfit poutine that accompanied my meal. It was delectable.

However, while delicious, it was not the highlight of my night. After having a couple of delightful local beers, I was settling up my tab and a couple next to me started talking about beer and I – of course – couldn’t help but interject a few tidbits of information and the bartender says/asks, “Are you a beer guy? You seem like a beer guy. You should talk to Jeff.”

I come to find out that Jeff is the restaurant manager. We are introduced and it is readily apparent to me that Jeff is hungry to make his establishment better and I am sucked into the epicurean vortex that is Jeff. I planned to leave at 7:30pm. As I write this blog at 12:42 local time, I am still surprised how much time has elapsed. I talk to Jeff on how from time to time I will brew my own beer and he is intrigued. He wants to make The Side Door a beer aficionado destination and asks me to try some beers with him.

Jeff is no slouch. He knows his stuff. We drink Ogden from Goose Island and then a Blackheart from Three Floyds Brewing Company (Bourbon notes in an IPA!) and then a cheese pairing with Opal from Firestone Walker Brewing Company. Then…oh my science, then we have what is quite possibly the best pairing of alcohol and food I have ever had in my life. Jeff brings out his toffee pudding and Very Mad Cow by Revolution Brewing Company. Words fail me. The lactose in this imperial stout blends into sublime joy as the toffee of the pudding melds with the beer. As the night progressed, we both talked about sitting for out Cicerone exam and the terrors and challenges that are involved, as would any sane person. With that said, Jeff already gets it. I have had some crazy pairings in my life from certified sommeliers that worked beautifully, but few times compare to the toffee pudding and the Very Mad Cow delightful pairingCertification or not he is a maestro. This isn’t to say we agreed on everything. I thought his cheese pairings with Firestone Walker’s Opal that were off, however he had a reasonable justification for his decision citing immature palates and given the current clientele with whom I spoke, he knows his audience.

It seems that Jeff lives to educate and that is my type of barman. Over our multi-hour discussion, we talked about how to approach the proper audience and make The Side Door a place to be. Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer. Chicago is a funny place. The Midwest simultaneously loves and hates trends. What I do see is the Side Door keeping with the times. Jeff understands the evolving needs of his clientele and will strive to keep it a go-to place for visiting-late-30s-dignataries and hip 20-somethings alike. The only problem, perhaps, is The Side Door straddles both and I wonder if that will be its undoing…


Review: Yang by Evil Twin Brewing

•January 2, 2014 • 3 Comments

Evil Twin is a nomadic (or the ethnically and politically incorrect, but infinitely more popularly described gypsy) brewery that traces its origins to Denmark. Evil Twin literally brews all over the world utilizing excess capacity from other breweries to create their beers. Due to the nature of being a nomadic brewery, many of these beers are one-off production runs.

Earlier today, I came across a beer by Evil Twin that I hadn’t seen available near me previously– Yang. Yang is a self-described ‘Imperial Taiji India Pale Ale’.  Taiji ()  is commonly known in the West as Tai Chi. Taiji – loosely translated – means Supreme Ultimate. That’s one hell of a claim to make for any beer.

From the initial pour, I notice that this is not going to be a normal DIPA. As I pour this brew into a snifter, instead of the familiar bright color of an IPA, I am greeted with the rusty hue of old iced tea. The head is robust and creamy, but dissipates quickly with minimal lacing, especially for a beer at 10% ABV.

Initially the nose is wrong. I am blasted with caramelization and the malty notes of old ale and a touch of raisin. There are hints of bitterness, but the hop profile is more British than America, which for a double IPA, is odd. The DIPA originated on the American West Coast and generally has the robust citrus and resin notes that are so familiar to that style. This is nothing like this. I need to take a break and reevaluate.

As I fire up my laptop, the beer starts to gradually warm and it continues to open up. It is still nothing like the traditional styling of the Double/Imperial IPA, but it’s not wrong. It’s a more classic IPA than that, if I can be a bit contradictory. The style is reminiscent of some of the original IPAs made in the United States: New England IPAs.

Most craft beer aficionados are familiar with the difference between the hop forward West Coast IPAs and their more balanced and malty East Coast brethren. However, even before these two styles dominated the market, New England IPAs had already made their mark in the beer world. New England IPAs are malty like the well-known East Coast style, but the hops are much different. In a New England IPA, the hops are of British origin and this can make all the difference in the world. Despite there being potential confusion over the name, like UK Fuggles versus US Fuggles  – the types of hops used in the styling is much different. If you have never had a New England IPA, think of it as a supercharged ESB and you’ll start to get the idea. Yang is a better fit with the New England IPA style in mind.

As Yang opens, there is a solid balance between the malt and bitterness. There is a slight note of resin that is an interesting counterpart to the richness of the malt. There is some alcohol bite to the beer, but it is nothing like the 10% would indicate. Some biscuit notes starts to rise through the richness that play off of the pine and grapefruit that are awakening. The light carbonation plays with the floral touch that hits the palate about midway. The finish is a strong interesting balance of candied sugar and a high sharp bitterness.

In drinking Yang this evening, I was reminded that I shouldn’t go into a beer having anything but the faintest of expectations. My initial impression was to excoriate this beer and wonder how it could possibly style itself as an Imperial IPA. While BJCP guidelines are important, they should only be used as guidelines into how we approach beer. If we become dogmatic about what fits into a certain category and what does not fit, we may lose sight of something good that is sitting right in front of us, but isn’t quite what we expect.

Yang is a good beer. While it is not what most expect from an Imperial IPA nor is it anything close to the self-titled ‘taiji’, it is worth a go with an open mind.


Are Macrobreweries The Evil That Craft Beer Aficionados Fear?

•December 30, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Among almost every craft beer drinker, the mere mention of Anheuser-Busch InBev or SABMillerCoors will bring an immediate snort of derision. Take this post by and that pretty much sums up the feeling of most craft beer drinkers. Admittedly, I too had this type of visceral knee-jerk reaction when I originally read that AB-InBev was acquiring Goose Island, but my opinion is evolving.

There are plenty of reasons to dislike a lot about the macrobreweries’ business practices. One can easily go to Netflix and fire up Beer Wars and feel a sense of righteous indignation. I am no fan of the three tier distribution system and the overt influence that AB-InBev has on distribution due to the near monopoly it has on the network within the United States. However, those that follow the craft beer segment seem to either willfully ignore or are blissfully ignorant that some of the larger craft breweries exert similar influence to get their product to market.

I can hear the counter arguments now: “What about Jim Koch giving hops to craft breweries when there was a hop shortage?” and “Harpoon helped out The Alchemist during a flood”.

Sure, those things happened, but make no mistake, that era is over.

I had a candid conversation with the owner of a prominent craft brewery in the DelMarVa region and he all but declared the era of collegial affiliation dead. While we all love that new breweries are popping up all over the country, that means the finite shelf space available in any liquor store is growing increasingly smaller as is the availability of open taps in pubs. Those with the power (and money) will do everything to maintain relevance.

We all know the extreme efforts that the big boys will take to ensure prominent shelf space, but the larger craft brewers are increasingly doing the same thing. Go to any airport in the country and the bar will have a couple of the macros and at least one Samuel Adams beer on tap. Boston Beer Company has taken painstaking efforts to ensure that everywhere the big players are, they are right next to them. What amazes me is that Boston Beer Company seems to get a free pass utilizing similar tactics to AB-InBev and the other big players. Hell, the designation of what a craft brewer was changed to six million barrels of beer produced annually just so Boston Beer Company could stay in the club.

Locally, this is happening on a lesser, but similar scale. On the East Coast, Dogfish Head will exert influence to do everything from ensuring prime shelf space to an entire tap-takeover at prominent craft beer bars. In essence, they are forcing out the smaller craft brewers the same way that the macro-breweries did to the craft segment a decade ago. Again, these larger craft brewers get a free pass from the community. How do we reconcile that cognitive dissonance? I’m not really sure, but I think a good hard look at the benefits of larger players in the space may a good place to start.

The impetus to this blog started the other night at a small local pub that happened upon a keg of Goose Island’s 2013 Bourbon County Stout. Unsurprisingly, I joined a buddy to enjoy a glass. As always, the Bourbon County Stout was outstanding and this started the conversation. Say what you will about adjunct lager and macrobrewery beer, it is if nothing, but consistent. When you open a Budweiser, Heineken, or a Miller you know it is going to be exactly like every one you had before and every one you will have after that. Any brewer worth their salt will tell you just how hard that is to achieve on a small scale let alone the gigantic proportion that the largest breweries create. Even the larger and more established microbreweries have quality control issues. The best example is when Dogfish Head had to dump an entire run of their 120 Minute IPA.

What if the best of both worlds collide? What if the flavor, innovation, and quality of the best microbreweries are combined with the consistency, economies of scale, and distribution of the biggest players on the planet? I don’t think this is an unreasonable thought. The biggest breweries are hemorrhaging market share. In contrast, the craft beer market grew 17% by dollars in 2012 to capture 10.2% of the market by the same metric. Don’t think this has gone unnoticed. A quick look at the Blue Moon craft beer commercials with absolutely no mention of the parent company is a perfect indicator of the depth of understanding the large players have.

They have to adapt or die. It won’t be a swift death blow, but it will be a death of a thousand cuts. The acquisition of microbreweries like Kona and Goose Island show the long term vision of players like AB-InBev. However, the margin for error is slim. Already, Kona quality is not the same as it has been prior to the acquisition. If that becomes the standard marker for acquired breweries, the patience of the craft beer drinker will be even less for the big breweries (if that is even possible) than it already is. However, if the quality is consistent and excellent products that were once unavailable in certain regions – like the aforementioned Bourbon County Stout on the East Coast –  become accessible, I don’t see how this isn’t a universal win.

I am by no means sold on the macros foray into the craft beer space, but that glass of Bourbon County Stout gave me hope that the entry of the macros into the craft beer segment will not mean the death of a movement, but instead the potential for enhancement.


Freakcake by Crux

•December 26, 2013 • Leave a Comment

It is no secret that Oregon is a Mecca for the craft beer enthusiast. According to a 2011 Oregon Brewers Guild report, there are more than 150 microbreweries in the state. It ranks third in the United States in breweries per Capita, and it is home to some of the best known craft breweries in the U.S. like Full Sail, Widmer Brothers, and of course Rogue Ales. However, for of us on the wrong side of the Mississippi, we do not often have access to the lesser known breweries that do not have the distribution power of the bigger players. This is why I was ecstatic to receive a package in the mail this afternoon that contained not one, but two bottles of beer from one of the smaller breweries in Oregon, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I was in Portland recently and while there, I was able to sample a number of the smaller local beers. One of them was an American IPA: Mosaic by the Crux Fermentation Project in Bend, Oregon. A former colleague of mine noticed that I was drinking it when I checked in on Untappd and said that they had much better beers than that. I was quite taken aback because I thought the Mosaic was an excellent and one of the better American IPAs I have had in some time. To make an already long story short, this good fellow sent me a bottle of their Freakcake and Doublecross beers from their Banished Series in an attempt to prove his point.

Tonight I cracked the Freakcake. Part of this was inspired by a conversation I had with the erudite gentleman who doesn’t blog nearly enough at Fine Day for a Beer. I had been contemplating cellaring the beer, but he made an excellent point that the lemon and orange zest characteristics would get lost if left to age. I agreed. So, I cracked it open and poured myself a glass. Surprisingly, we were both wrong.

Freakcake styles itself an Oud Bruin Ale (BJCP Category 17C) and comes in at a hefty – and well above style – ABV of 10.5%. Usually, I’m okay with this. I like big bold beers and many times the higher ABV enhances the beer in my opinion.

The packaging is simple: a 375 ml bottle sealed with wax. As I pop the top, I notice that the bottle is corked.


I am not expecting this and I realize that I have probably made a huge mistake in not aging the beer. Nevertheless, I remember that regret is for suckers and I get to work.

The beer is gorgeous. It pours a beautiful ruby with a creamy white head. However, the head dissipates quickly with little lacing. Nevertheless, I am transfixed by the color of this beer as I hold it up to the light. The clarity is superb and it is positively glowing. I eagerly take in the first note of the beer. It has an excellent sour nose that is heavily laced with cherries and plum, but the brightness that I expect from the zest is non-existent.

The taste is not at all what I expected from the nose. Again, the zest is nowhere to be found. This is a decidedly brown ale, which is absolutely correct for the style and something that I love, but much different than is suggested on its label. There is a distinct chocolate taste up front and noticeable notes of caramelization. The mouthfeel is silken as it glides over the tongue. Raisin and plum poke through, but the deep complexity with the overtly sour notes from an Oud Bruin, especially one that is this big, are missing.

Reading what I have written; this may seem like harsh criticism. It isn’t. I like this beer, I really do. However, there is something distinctly missing from this ale: time. Oud Bruins age fairly well and the fact that this beer is corked suggests that the brewers intended it to be cellared for some time. Oud Bruins flavor will continue to sour as time progresses and I think that time is the only thing needed to make this good beer great. I hope I can have my friend grab me a couple of more bottles so that I can report back in a year and then three to see what complexities have arisen in this soon to be great beer.


A Quick Rant About IPA Day

•August 2, 2012 • 2 Comments

I love IPAs.   I especially love big bold Imperial/Double IPAs, but there is no damn need to have an IPA Day.  IPAs are ubiquitous.  You can’t swing an empty growler without hitting a new brewery’s IPA and for the most part, I am quite happy about that.  It’s great that the growth of the craft beer movement is showing no signs of abating.  I am also very happy that American’s palates are slowly but surely migrating from flavorless adjunct lagers to the far superior craft beer segment.  All of the positive aspects aside, IPA Day is a really mindless exercise.

Someone will gnash their teeth, rend their garments, and cry at the sky that IPA Day is a way to get people to try new beer.  Really?  No, no it’s not.  I know I like IPAs.  I have friends that proclaim that IPAs are their favorite style of beer.  Why do you think that we need to be convinced to drink an IPA?  Do you really think that your Coors/Miller/PBR drinker is suddenly going to dive into and enjoy Pliny the Younger or a Green Flash IPA?  At best, that person is going to be polite and say it isn’t to their liking and at worst, you have turned them off of craft beer.

Instead, I not so humbly suggest that we flip IPA Day on its head and have Different Beer Day instead.  Hop heads could challenge their palates on the subtle nuances of a geuze.  Belgian aficionados can explore the deep sweet depths of an imperial stout.  One could step completely off of the reservation and try some mead.  More importantly, we can introduce macrobrewery drinkers to gateway craft beers like Fat Tire (like I did with my step-father who is over 80 years old – it’s never too late to improve one’s palate) or Mama’s Little Yella Pils.

Stop reinforcing the norm. Buck the trend.  Shift the bloody paradigm.  Call it whatever you want, but for the love of all that is good with craft beer drink something different today.


Men’s Journal Needs New Beer Writers

•July 23, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Anger can be a powerful driving motivator.  Anger has brought me back to my blog after a more than year-long hiatus.

I had become increasingly livid as I drove home from the day job.  Almost a week later, I am still seething. I had come across an article that Men’s Journal had published titled, “The 25 Best Beers in the World – Expert Advice”.   I thought this was an interesting title.  Given the vast number of beers around the globe and the numerous styles of the eminently delectable beverage, what could the criteria for such an article include in order to slim the vast choices to a meager twenty-five?  Given that this could be such a subjective list I had expected some qualifiers.  Instead, I was treated to this: “So for our beer survey, we asked craft-brew luminaries a simple question: What’s the best beer in the world?  Then we tried them all.  The result? A been-there, drank-that guide to the greatest brews on the planet, in no particular order.

This should have been my first clue to the atrocity I was about to witness.  I shared this list on Facebook with a few of my fellow beer geeks and we speculated on how such a disaster could have been created.  Unless you are Michael Jackson or someone of that ilk, definitively stating that you can quantify the greatest beers on the Earth by opinion alone should inevitably lead to a lesson in the dangers of hubris.  Without further ado, here is Men’s Journal’s list:

Jolly Pumpkin Oro se Calabaza
Mikkeller Simcoe Single-hop IPA
Saison Dupont
Hells Schlenkerla
Schneider Aventinus
Sinebrychoff Porter
Hitacho Nest Beer
Kostritzer Schwarzbier
Ninkasi Total Domination IPA
Samuel Adams Nobel Pils
Brasserie de la Senne
Allagash Curieux
Dieu du Ciel!
Russian River Supplication
Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA
Peak Organic Pale Ale
Amendment Back in Black IPA
Sierra Nevada Kellerweis
Hopworks Urban Brewery Organic Lager
Sly Fox Pikeland Pils
Olympia Beer
Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout
Are there good beers on this list? Absolutely.  Pliny the Elder is certainly a great beer (and overrated – it is possible to be both) and is generally considered to be an exceptional double IPA.  However, this isn’t even the best beer that Russian River makes and that is the travesty of this list.  Out there, somewhere, is some poor soul who is aspiring to rise above the swill of the macrobrewery world and has been duped into believing that this list is the definitive guide to beers of the world.  There are breweries that do not belong on this list: 21st Amendment – I love their Fireside Chat Ale, but a top brewer?  No.  Samuel Smith’s Brewery makes a fine product.  Early in my pursuit of fine beers, I came across their Oatmeal Stout and it still holds a special spot on my palate, but they also do not belong on this list.  Samuel Adams.  No.  I and every other beer lover greatly appreciate what Jim Koch has done to improve the American Beer scene, but absolutely and unequivocally no.  There isn’t a beer produced by Sam Adams that is close to one of the best beers in the world.  Moreover, when the definition of a craft brewery needs to be changed so Boston Beer Company can stay in the club, it is past time to examine their true nature in the brewing world.  However, I digress; that is for another day.

As I raged to Red that evening, I stated that I could come up with a list of 25 beers that are easily better than the beers on this list.  I immediately recognized the folly of my words: she was going to hold me to it and I am now poised to fall on the same sharp sword of hubris that should be wielded to excoriate the writers at Men’s Journal.  Nevertheless, a great injustice has been set forth upon the world.  Someone must be brave enough to right these wrongs.

In no particular order, I submit my list of 25 beers that are better than the 25 beers posited by Men’s Journal.

Goose Island: Bourbon County Stout
Dogfish Head: 120 Minute IPA
Stone: Arrogant Bastard Ale
Russian River: Pliny the Younger
Tröegs Brewing: Nugget Nectar
Brouwerij Westvleteren: Trappist Westvleteren 8
Brouwerij Girardin: Gueze Girardin
Firestone Walker Brewing Co: Firestone XV – Anniversary Ale
Founders: Backswood Bastard
Aecht Schlenkerla: Rauchbier Urbock
Southern Tier Brewing Company: Choklat
Three Floyds Brewing Co: Lord Admiral Nelson
Boulevard Brewing Co: Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale
Founders: Kentucky Breakfast Stout
Deschutes Brewery: The Abyss
Bell’s Brewing: Two Hearted Ale
Ommegang: Hennepin
Brouwerij Het Anker: Cuvée Van De Keizer Blauw
Uerige: Doppelsticke
Lagunitas: A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’
Great Divide: Old Ruffian Barley Wine
Bear Republic: Hop Head Rye
Brasserie Cantillon: Cantillon Gueuze 100% Lambic
Avery: Mephistopheles’ Stout
Hanssens Artisanaal: Oude Kriek
I can hear the clamor now.  There are a number of styles that I have not touched upon and I concede that very notable point.  However, that was not the point of this exercise; in fact, it touches upon a more important point.  Using only a handful of styles I am able to comprise a more quaffable compilation than some “craft-brew luminaries”.

Could a better list be comprised? Possibly and probably.  There are beers from other brewers, like The Bruery, that I am loathe to leave off this list.  In Portland, there are countless breweries and nanobreweries that may be (and are) making outstanding beer, but do not have the capacity or even the desire to ship to the East Coast.  This is to say nothing of the over 1,300 breweries in Germany.  One person alone can barely scratch the surface of the greatest beers no matter how you qualify a list.

I suppose in the end that is the point.  To dig deeply, you need to start with just a scratch, but some scratches are deeper than others.


Cocktails and Happy Hour at Mr. Rain’s Fun House Baltimore, MD

•March 6, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Yes, it has been far too long since I have blogged.  There are far too many interesting and wonderful things going on in the world of spirits, beer, and cocktails for me to have been away for so long.  Let us not speak of this again.

While I love my beer, I am a sucker for well made cocktails.  I would have been dipsomaniacally at home during the turn of the 20thcentury at the very heart of the golden age of cocktails.  With that stated, the 21st century isn’t too shabby.  The rebirth of the cocktail revolution is quite fortuitous with those with discriminating palates.  Some argue that the current rebirth started in the late 1990s, but I think the pendulum really began to swing about 7 years ago.

In 2004 the Algonquin Hotel in New York City – which was the regular haunt of one of my favorite dipsomaniacal heavy weights, Dorothy Parker – began offering a martini for the measly cost of $10,000.  This Vesper Martini (Lilet is substituted for the vermouth in this drink) is served with a one and a half carat diamond at the bottom of the glass.  It isn’t the diamond in the glass that caught my attention; it was the use of Lilet.  While I find a vesper martini not only an improper martini and a waste of a fine apéritif, at least the oft ignored Lilet had reappeared.  This is my long-winded version of stating, it’s nice to see quality ingredients going back into cocktails.  This brings me to the topic at hand: The Baltimore Sun’s Dining@Large ‘Starving Artist Happy Hour” at Mr. Rain’s Fun House in Baltimore.  While this event occurred more than a month ago, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this affair.

While the food was very good, I will leave that to others to discuss because there is much to be explored with the libations.  The cocktail menu is pleasantly sizable and very inventive.  While it is certainly possible to order a classic cocktail, that isn’t the style of this establishment.  The menu and especially the cocktail menu reflect the eclectic surroundings of the building in which it resides: the American Visionary Art Museum.  Do not take the whimsy of the menu and surroundings to heart for these libations are deadly serious.

To begin, I must give a tip of my chapeau to what piqued my initial interest in this venture: The first item on the drink menu is a flight of cocktails.  It is a brilliant concept and as an individual who needs to taste as many new items as possible a boon of epic proportions.  This bravado is backed by the staff.  Our bar chef, Michelle, did an outstanding job.  She was knowledgeable and crafted a superb beverage.

Our adventure included a number of fabulous cocktails, but today I’m going to focus on one cocktail from each of Mr. Rain’s cocktail categories: the Earth and Fire from The Garden Variety selections, the English Breakfast from the Aroma Therapy selections, and the crown jewel of the evening: The Orchard from the A Cure for What Ails You (indeed!) selections.

I love that mezcal – while struggling – is battling with a pugilist’s determination to make its way into the mainstream of the spirit world.  Mezcal originates from the Mexican state of Oaxaca, although it is now produced in a few different regions in Mexico.  There are a number of differences between mezcal and its more popular cousin, tequila.  Both are made from the agave plant (although, tequila is only made with blue agave).  Mezcal is only distilled once whereas tequila is distilled twice and while it is generally accepted  that mezcal is not as smooth as tequila, mezcal has a beautifully smoky and complex flavor profile.  The complexity found in mezcal is only found in the most expensive high-end tequilas and even then, I generally gravitate towards mezcal and I am glad that mezcal was used in the aptly named Earth and Fire.

The Earth and Fire is a combination of Beet Infused Sombra Mezcal, Fennel Tincture, Cointreau Orange Liqueur, and Oregeno.

There is a distinct nose and hint of sweet earth on the palate from the beet.  This is quickly followed by the robust and powerful smoke from the mezcal.  The fennel tincture and oregano add a fabulous twist that incorporates a roundness that is reminiscent of an apothecary.  The last note from the Cointreau that completes the drink cannot help but remind me of one of my favorite cocktails, the Blood and Sand.

The English Breakfast is an amusing and refreshing libation that works well as an aperitif.  This combination of Hendrick’s Gin, Cherry Heering, Luxardo Orange Liqueur, mint, and Pimm’s No. 1 foam is an aromatic delight stylishly served in a metal martini ‘glass’.

It would be easy to muddle all of the complex flavors that are contained in this drink and end up with an overly alcoholic heavy tasting mess.  What I received was a cocktail that floated on gossamer wings to my tongue.  The mint surprisingly played well with the cucumber components in the Hendrick’s and was not only an aromatic treat, but was a refreshing change after some of the heavier cocktails.  The fruit components of the cocktail were just barely discernable, which is the absolutely correct intent.  The botanicals from the gin and the herbs from the Pimms dance friskily in your nose.  I would fully expect Puck to quaff several of these on a warm midsummer evening.

Despite my overwhelming delight with the aforementioned cocktails, The Orchard is an absolutely brilliantly crafted cocktail and has quickly arisen among my favorite cocktails.

The Orchard is comprised of Bulleit Bourbon, Lillet Blanc, apple cider, a cinnamon tincture, and maple perfume.  This beverage is where apples hope to go when they die.  As our bar-chef so astutely noted apple and bourbon are a perfect pairing and complement one another exceptionally well.  Cinnamon – also a natural pairing for apple – is a brilliant component to include in bourbon cocktails and I am ashamed to admit that I have not thought to include cinnamon more often.  Good cinnamon will act as a type of drying agent to bourbon, which often trends towards sweetness in cocktails and if one is not careful can easily fall over the precipice into the unwelcome realm of cloy.  For those that may have never used maple for anything other than breakfast victuals, it is an exceedingly tricky component to effectively utilize.  Maple is a very robust flavor and an unsteady hand can easily turn something from delicious to disastrous.  Luckily, our bar-chef has a keen eye and measured hand for the maple perfume was executed perfectly.  While the maple was clear and forward in the nose it was just barely perceptible on the palate.  The mouth feel is rich and slightly decadent without being sweet with overtures of vanilla from the bourbon and a touch of herbaceousness from the Lillet.

Mr. Rain’s Fun House is one of the hidden gems in Charm City and I am truly surprised that there is not more of a buzz around this establishment.  The food is creative, fun, and stylish while still very approachable.  The cocktails are a true joy.  I can only imagine that its location atop the museum have kept it somewhat out of sight and thus out of mind.  However, with the quality of products from this institution, I expect the feline to be released from the sack quite soon.


Infinium Bière de Champagne by Boston Beer Company & Weihenstephan

•December 30, 2010 • Leave a Comment

As I heard that Infinium was about to be released, I of course contacted Harry and sure enough he was able to secure a bottle for me.  Again, this is why it is important to have a good beer man.  Only 15,000 cases of Infinium were shipped to the United States and with all the hype, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to secure a bottle.

Because of the expectations surrounding Infinium, I broke my own rule. I read and heard reviews about this beer before I was able to try it.  However, in my defense it was almost impossible to avoid the hype that led up to Infinium’s release.  This was to be a revolution; the brewing of a brand new beer following the Reinheitsgebot.

For those that may not be up on their 16th century Bavarian decrees, Reinheitsgebot was the German purity law as it pertained to beer.  The original law stated that only three ingredients could be included in beer: water, hops, and barley.  Some will recognize the missing and quite necessary and crucial component for fermentation, yeast.  Sam Adams and Weihenstephan give more than a wink and a nod to the fourth component.  They erroneously state on both of their websites that yeast was a part of Reinheitsgebot, which is a tad bit disingenuous.  Traditionally, the yeast would either be introduced from remaining sediment from previous batches of fermented beer.  If that failed, the brewers would then leave their beers to rest and – much how Lambics are formed – they would hope for spontaneous fermentation from wild yeast.  As it turns out, Infinium is not a brand new style of beer, but a Bière de Champagne. Strictly following Reinheitsgebot and creating a Bière de Champagne would be a near impossibility.  Bière de Champagne has a usual range of 10% – 15% ABV.  At this range, very specific high gravity yeasts are needed to achieve the desired result.  So, take their claim of following Reinheitsgebot with the appropriate amount of sodium.

My tangent and picking of nits aside, Sam Adams and Weihenstephan deliver this brew in a beautiful package:

Photo Courtesy of Kitchen Treats

Infinium pours a honey amber with a thick white head that has a touch of sandy color that lingers for quite some time before leaving thick and heavy lacing.  It has the mouth feel of a thin barlewine.  I expected some of the brightness and dry crispness of champagne on the nose, but it is distinctly absent.  Instead there is surprisingly malt with a touch of white rose and honeysuckle.  Like the nose, it is sweeter on the palate than I anticipated.  There is a very fine effervescence – perhaps too fine.  I think that perhaps greater carbonation would have balanced the initial sweetness to a degree.  There are distinct notes of grape and honey.  What is really surprising is the dry bitter finish.  It is long.  Red and I both noticed the bitter finish on our palates several minutes after we had last drank.  It wasn’t unpleasant, but it was quite unusual.  A very nice quality was how well Infinium held its carbonation.  Even two hours later there was nearly the same level of carbonation as when we first drank it.  I found it interesting that as Infinium warmed some of the sharpness from the alcohol (10.4% ABV) rounded, but make no mistake this is to be consumed cold.  As Infinium warmed, the flavors muddled and became muddy.  When it is cold the flavors are bright and intense, which is also very surprising as flavors tend to be muted by the cold.

Unlike most of the reviews I have read, I enjoyed Infinium.  It is far more complex than I anticipated and while I was surprised at the sweetness it is still a fine libation.  One could argue that it is a tad unbalanced and I don’t think that would necessarily be a mischaracterization.  I would have liked something to cut through the sweetness in the middle of my palate.  I think cellaring Infinium (yes, it is bottle conditioned) might help alleviate some of that problem.  Nevertheless, I feel that the long and strong bitter finish compensates for the initial sweetness.

However, with all of this stated, it isn’t worth the price.  Most offerings have Infinium priced around $25 and it isn’t worth the cost.  There are other beers in the same price range that I would choose over Infinium, such as Rogue 21.  I appreciate what Sam Adams and Weihenstephan have tried to do, but I would not go running for Infinium again at its current price point.

In short, is it worth trying? Absolutely.  Is it worth a repeat venture? No.


Hot Buttered Rum: A Holiday Tradition

•December 22, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The holiday season is fully upon us and like most Americans the 12 O’ Clock household has traditions that help fill us with the holiday spirit.  However, the spirit that fills us in this household is rum (although Red has introduced a new tradition of making her own Irish Cream, which is positively enchanting).  Rum may have a bit of a checkered history in the United States, but for this New England native, nothing says the holidays like hot buttered rum.

Hot buttered rum made its first appearance in New England in the mid 1600s.  As New England became the hub for rum distillation, some contend that this wonderful libation was the evolution of what I can only imagine was a horrid beverage, buttered ale.  However, I tend to disagree with this line of thought.  The traditional toddy, which is made with sherry, mulled wine, cider, or whiskey, is much closer in function and design to hot buttered rum than buttered ale.  Both hot buttered rum and toddies are served warm and incorporate a liberal use of spice in their composition.  Moreover, given the tremendous popularity of toddies in Europe during the American Colonial Era it stands to reason that as rum became more prevalent it would replace the other spirits in the New England toddy and that is how the hot buttered rum came into being.

There are different variations on the how to make hot buttered rum.  I have come across several traditional recipes that call for buttered batter to be included in the drink.  I don’t assemble mine in this fashion, but it can be delightful when it is implemented properly.  I use a recipe that was passed down to me from an old crotchety Puritanical New Englander who claims it comes from a family recipe that spans a couple of centuries.  I cannot confirm to the authenticity of his claim, but I can confirm that it is absolutely delicious.

Colonial New England Hot Buttered Rum

Photo Courtesy of Kitchen Treats

2 oz Dark rum
2-4 Tbsp brown sugar
1.5 teaspoons of butter
2 oz boiling hot water
1 pinch of nutmeg
2 pinches of ground clove
1 cinnamon stick

The secret, if there is one at all, is the high proportion of brown sugar and butter.  I don’t have much of a sweet tooth and rum is already sweet enough for my taste so I err on the side of less sugar, however many recipes call for the larger amount, which is why I have included it here.

However, with this stated, I need to take – once again – a quick aside.  I have never, ever had anyone say anything about the perfection that is my  hot buttered rum, until this year when Red and I were trimming the tree.  As I serve the first round of drinks, Red takes a sip; she then goes to the kitchen; retrieves some sea salt and applies it to the top of her drink.  She then proceeds to declare how much better the drink has become.  I was appalled.  This is a classic drink that certainly has stood the test of time.  Well, once again her superior pallet had won the day.  Once I had done some additional research to some of the classic hot buttered rum recipes, almost all of them called for just a touch of salt no doubt to cut through the sweetness of the rum and sugar and to penetrate the richness of the butter.  So, while the recipe above will stand on its own, this almost perfect libation will absolutely be enhanced with the inclusion of a half pinch of sea salt as a finishing touch on the beverage.  It appears that I should have lived by the old adage that a good (bar) chef always leaves out one ingredient from their recipe when it is shared.

One last point that I feel is important to note is the dark rum that is used.  I know that there are many people who use light or spiced rum in their designs.  To me this is a grave error.  Light rum does not have the complexity and depth of dark rum and doesn’t belong in this drink.  Light rum serves no function other than an alcolic bite to the drink and the subtilities of the young rum will be completely lost in this potion.  While I can understand the desire to use spiced rum, this is also an fatal error.  Spiced rum is also not aged nearly as long as dark rum and the spice that has been incorporated will be diluted when they are introduced to the other ingredients.  It is imperative that you only use dark rum for this libation.  Dark rum is aged longer than gold rum and is almost always aged in charred barrels.  This imparts a beautiful complexity, depth of character, and spiciness that makes it the absolutely clear choice to use for hot buttered rum (and for consumption in general).

So, for many of us, in a couple of days we will throw another log on the fire, grab some wrapped gifts from under the tree, and enjoy in some revelry.  I can think of no better drink to have at my side than my trusty New England stalwart and I am looking forward to many more years of extending a tradition with a cocktail that has spanned centuries.


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