Beer menu variability

My in-laws were in town over the weekend, which usually means at least one restaurant meal per day.  (This is because they are generous, because it’s more work to cook for visitors, and because we have a plethora of nice restaurants in town.)  This weekend was no exception, so I got to sample some beers that I might not buy at home, and also had an opportunity to reflect on the fact that there’s not necessarily a correlation between the cost or quality of food and the selection of beer at a restaurant.

Our first meal out was at Providence Coal-Fired Pizza (here’s their website), which has great food at a reasonable price and an interesting selection of draft beers.  I actually had a fun conversation about the beer selection with one of the valets while the other was retrieving the car.  (And can I just say that complimentary valet parking in downtown Providence on a busy Saturday night when the garages are charging from $10-20 is not to be sneezed at!)  He remarked that although most patrons love the beer selection, he has seen a few come out with their attitude at varying points on the spectrum from peeved to indignant that one of the big brand traditional lagers was nowhere to be found.  Last Saturday they had twelve different beers on tap, all of them craft brews (including one from Dogfish Head which has just returned to Rhode Island after a long absence).  I ended up settling on the Sam Adams Rebel IPA, a West Coast style IPA with lots of hops which apparently is a new release, since it is being featured on the Sam Adams web site.  Sorry there’s no picture–it was pretty dark in the restaurant and I was focusing on our visitors, the pizza, and the oven-baked wings seasoned with rosemary, sea salt, and lots of onions.

On Sunday, we did lunch at McCormick and Schmick’s.  If you’re not familiar, this is a high-end chain featuring a lot of seafood on their menu.  We managed to catch the tail end of the Restaurant Weeks prix fixe special (it was actually supposed to end Saturday) which meant a starter, an entrée, and a dessert for $15, which is a pretty good deal.  Two of our party raved about their herb-crusted haddock, and my fish and chips was also very good.  The beer selection, however, was pretty pedestrian with lots of familiar lagers (though mostly imports rather than domestic).  I decided to go for the most exotic selection which was Blue Moon.  This isn’t a beer I’d normally choose and I probably haven’t tried one for several years, but since I’m on a mission I gave it a chance.  189

Blue Moon is actually a subsidiary of Miller/Coors (it’s brewed primarily in Golden, CO which is, of course, the original headquarters of Coors) but it is clearly intended for a different market.  Though there are now a lot of different beers with the Blue Moon label, their standard offering is an unfiltered Belgian style witbier which uses wheat and oats in addition to barley.  The beer was nice and smooth with a noticeable citrus note (it’s sometimes served with an orange slice to pick up the citrus flavor) and without the overwhelming “wheat beer” taste that I often don’t enjoy, so even though I probably won’t bring some home any time soon, I’m glad I gave it a try.

On Monday (MLK holiday), we went to the local mini-chain Gregg’s (four restaurants scattered around the state).  If you’re not from around here and are of a certain age, you might understand when I say that Mrs. Dr. Dave and I compare them to the Big Boy family restaurants we grew up with, but with a full bar for the grownups.  Our kids have grown up on mac and cheese from Gregg’s, and we keep going back even though the adolescents are eating more (and more expensive) adult fare.  This particular location only has bottled beer, and I wasn’t in the mood for anything really heavy so I ended up with a Guinness Black Lager.  This has the color you would expect from Guinness and some of the same malty-ness, but with much less body and more pronounced hop flavors than the familiar stout.  Again, probably not something that I would bring home but an interesting experiment.190

Some random notes as I finish up the Ipswich Winter Mix.  It wasn’t just the undercooked onions that I was tasting with the flagship Ipswich Ale last week–even with a properly cooked dinner (I was off kitchen duty this time) there was still a prominent flavor that I didn’t find myself enjoying.  The Rye Porter is still an interesting change of pace, though I haven’t yet figured out exactly what the rye is doing (but I have another porter coming up sometime soon which may help me sort that out).  The Winter Ale was definitely the winner in this group and one to put on the list to seek out in the future with a nice balance of malt and hops.

Tally is now up to eight different beers as we approach the end of January. Cheers!

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More Celebration

The stock of Celebration ale is still holding out, as is the Ipswich Winter Mix.

001The Winter Ale from Ipswich was enjoyable–dark malt that suggested more caramel than chocolate and nicely offset the red pepper flakes in the pasta dish pictured here.

002I overwhelmed the flavor of the flagship Ipswich Ale by undercooking the onions in that night’s stir-fry, so I’ll have to pay more attention to my cooking and to the flavors in the beer with the next bottle. Lesson learned here is that there are some things that even good beer can’t improve.

In addition to dinner, there are other occasions that demand beer. This week, it was the NFL playoffs, specifically the Saturday night game where it turned out that pretzels and a Celebration were definitely in order if you live in Southern New England. (Go Patriots!)003

Beer adventures to look forward to in the next couple of weeks: perusing draft beer selections during several restaurant meals when the in-laws visit this coming weekend; a possible “field trip” with some friends to a local pub which prides itself on having dozens of beers on tap from which you can design a flight of your own choosing; and a couple of road trips where I will be able to look for local beers not available here at home.

Two new beers this week gives a total of five for 2014.  Not breaking any records here, but that wasn’t the goal, and as these get finished off I’ve decided to re-visit one old friend and also brought a new mix pack into the house.  Cheers!

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Three beers to start the New Year

So what’s in the house as we start the new year? I’m finishing up a range of mostly seasonal offerings from some of my preferred breweries.

083The least satisfying was the last couple of bottles of the Winter Ale from Brooklyn Brewery. I like several of the beers from Brooklyn Brewery, but this one is probably going onto my “don’t buy it again” list. It was better with something sweet (like chocolate after dinner), but I found it lacking something in the finish.

085A perennial favorite (for at least the last three years that I can remember) is the Celebration Ale from Sierra Nevada. This is billed as a “fresh hop ale” with a distinctly piney note that is characteristic of what I think people call the West Coast style of IPA. I’ve liked almost everything I’ve tried from Sierra Nevada, and I have actually reached the point where I look forward to Celebration arriving in stores around Christmastime and frequently bring it to parties to share with my friends. Dinner this night (as you can partially see in the photo) was pan-fried salmon, risotto, and French green beans, but I like this beer with almost any meal or just by itself.

084I’m also working on the Winter Mix Pack from Ipswich. I first tried beers from Ipswich when the beer festival came to town a few years ago and I feel like they are less widely appreciated than they deserve, as they are another brewery from which I have liked almost everything I’ve tried. The one I got to this week was the Rye Porter which I hadn’t seen before. I have tried a couple of other rye beers, and though among dark beers I usually go for stout over porter, I liked this quite a bit. It had an intense dark color and a lot of body and I would probably concur with their description of the beer having a “lush, dark chocolate aroma.” I’m not sure I know what the rye is supposed to do for the flavor, but I’ll try to pay attention as I finish these.

The mix pack has a couple of other beers that I’ll probably get to this week, and there are still a few bottles of Celebration to finish as I think about what to pick up on my next beer shopping expedition. No meals away from home this week (have to atone for all those extra holiday calories) so there may not be a lot of novelty next week.

Tally for the first week of 2014: 3 different beers. Maybe 100 is a reasonable goal for the year? Maybe that can be my beer analog of a century bike ride? Maybe a century ride or an average of 100 miles a month should be a goal for this year, too!  But that can be the topic for another post.  Cheers!

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