April 16, 2011

Special delivery beer pairing: Matzah & Matzah

Full disclosure: Many bloggers receive free beer in the mail, then review it, but fail to mention they're reviewing complimentary samples. Not me. Sometimes I request samples for my stories; sometimes they're just sent. Lately, in addition to receiving emailed press releases about beers, I'm getting releases from various food publicists. The appeal of some of these foodstuffs showing up on my doorstep is fun, but I'm a beer writer not a food writer and it seems wrong to solicit them, then the publicist has nothing to show for it. I've never blogged reviews. Til now. Here begins my series of food sample + beer pairings*. (*IF the suggested beers are comped samples, I'll disclose that.)

Just in time for Passover, I received a box of matzah. Yes, matzah, that unleavened "bread" which is more like a supersized cracker that is enjoyed, or at least consumed, for the entire week that celebrates the Israelites' freedom from slavery in Egypt where, upon a hasty escape, they did not have time to let the bread rise. For this reason, Jews eschew leavened products. Already, pairing matzah with beer (fermented with yeast) sounds unkosher.

Osem Israeli Orange-flavored Chocolate-coated Matzah grabbed me because chocolate-orange is one of my favorite flavor combos. One of the last things I ate before moving from San Francisco was a pint of Swensen's Swiss Orange Chip ice cream. This is definitely a dessert or snack item and probably not something you'd find at a traditional Seder table. This appeals to both my sweet-tooth and my crunch-tooth. For you see, I crave crunchy foods. Each square of matzah is fully enrobed in dark chocolate that is detectably orangy, but they could've gone a lot further if they'd used natural orange flavor or, better yet, real orange zest! Having said that, I doubt those "Whack & Unwraps," y'know, those round balls of chocolate with various fruit flavors that are popular around Christmastime, have any real essence of fruit in them and those are pretty tasty, too.

For a beer pairing, a good choice may be Ramapo Valley's Passover Honey Beer, the only kosher for Passover beer in the world. This is achieved by brewing a "beer" out of honey making it actually more like mead, a honey wine. But between being impossible to find and being disgusting by all accounts, let's scratch that idea.

One obvious choice is Shmaltz's Jewbelation Vertical under the He'Brew brand. A blend of every Jewbelation from the past 7 years (Jewbelation 8-14), this whiskey barrel aged beer (sample provided) pours thick, almost goopey, and is rich to boot. While not a chocolate-beer, it is chocolatey, almost mocha-y, but also has fruit flavors like fig and date that compliment the chocolate-orange encrusted cracker.

Tied would be Ambacht's Matzobra├╝ from Hillsboro, Ore., brewed with honey and actual matzah, but as it states on the label, it is not kosher for Passover. In fact, it's made right after Passover, using owner/brewer Tom Kramer's leftover "bread of affliction" which he adds right to the mash. You can only find this in about half a dozen bottle shops around Portland, unfortunately. More of a slightly fruity Belgian-style ale and less like liquid matzo brie (especially if you add onions to yours instead of cinnamon and syrup), while not in the least bit citrusy, the honey and banana flavors meld nicely with the hint of orange, and the like-minded bread flavors make this suitable for a mid-meal nosh.

Until the next package shows up, chag sameach Pesach

April 10, 2011

I love beer people

OK, the Craft Brewers Conference of 2011 in San Francisco is in the record books and I’m beyond late night screeds fueled by the plethora of beers available at the closing round. In fact, I just found a window open on my laptop (I have roughly 45 browsers, Word docs, spreadsheets, etc. open at a time) that had the following intended blog post that I shall post because it’s late, it’s long-winded, and it still rings true:

So glad I got to try Brooklyn’s Sorachi Ace and enjoy more Alltech’s Lexington’s Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale as well as the gamut of New Belgium’s fruited-whiskey-aged iterations of Love on draft on the Toronado. I loved the shit out of the CBC. And it had very little to do with the beers I got to enjoy (including new great stuff from Weyerbacher, New Belgium, Russian River, Cantillon…). It had everything to do with the refrain about what the CBC (and other similar gatherings of the beer community are and yes I believe I’ll forever more refer to the “craft beer industry” as the more familial “beer community”). Family reunions.

The seminars and panels were great and the (selective) swag I picked up from the exhibitors at the trade show aspect are fun (I’m so buying hop oil soap in bulk), but what I loved most was catching up with people. I only left SF four months ago but I do miss it and certainly miss my friends. I get to travel around the country more than most but not as often as I’d like and getting to talk to friends from the road is a huge treat. Plus, there’s always new people to meet as well as faces and handshakes to put to the people/voices I interview as part of my gig. Sorry if I’m getting hippy-dippy/touchy-feely but I love the beer people.

I’m semi bad at keeping up with all the Tweets, Facebook status updates, blog posts, and the like. When I encountered Patrick Rue at the California Academy of Sciences during the opening reception, just outside the biosphere I often used to appreciate, I found out his awesome wife Rachel got rid of the baby bump I last saw her with because they are now the proud parents of 2-month-old Charlotte (coincidentally named after Rachel’s grandmother). Yes, he grossed me out with tales of wiping poopy bits out of her baby hoo-ha, but c’est la vie and I’m damn happy for them.

After all this time of half-assedly keeping their romantical tryst on the DL, I found out at the Fillmore party that Arne Johnson and Betsey Hensley are officially shacking up. How many times do you know a couple that you only like half of them? Not that I had doubts these two wouldn’t last, but I’m always up for people increasing the happy and almost wish I had moved into Half Pint’s old apartment (all 450 square feet of it) since it was in Arne’s (now Betzy’s) hood and we could go for a beer and a bite with them at The Belltower just up the block.

Immediately after, I bumped into Richard Brewery-Hay and his wife Allie. They like to say they each married a brewer (he was born Master Hay, she Ms. Brewer). But seriously, not sure if he’s luckier for finding a gal like Allie or finding someone named Brewer. They were on cloud nine since earlier in the day, Arizona shocked Duke in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, and ‘Zona happens to be where they met. Couple this with celebrating her 40th b-day and having Mom back home watching their adorable daughters (I told Half Pint if she has kids they have to be boys but if they’re girls they have to as adorable as the Brewer-Hay’s.) As for beer-related discussions, Richard says progress marches on regarding turning his basement-based brewery into a genuine brewpub.

Of course, this sort of thing went on and on, which is why the week went by so quickly. But it was also great meeting new people since isn't that the whole point of the camaraderie about which this community thrives? While I've read this guy--and precious few homebrewers haven't--I found myself talking to John Palmer and while I suppose I could've spent that opportunity to talk homebrew (which we did, a li'l), instead we geeked out on Rush and I'm dying to see 'em again when they play here (OK, somewhere north of Vancouver, WA) in June. Totes! This was fitting because I'd started the week hanging out with recent SF-transplants William and Jessi who have co-written/designed a tome about homebrew...one gallon at a time. I guess it makes more sense if you live(d) in Brooklyn. But they're a great beer couple and I almost felt that it was cosmic how they landed in SF right about the time Half Pint & I departed.

Actually, that's all I'd written. I probably started dozing asleep or something because the next sentence I'd typed was leading into a story I remember about some philandering Midwest brewers and I vaguely remember thinking how rare shit-talking actually is (and no, I was or will not name them or link to their respective beers they're responsible for). At the same time, it shows that beer people are just like anybody else...we drink, sometimes too much, sometimes talk about things we shouldn't, but in the end, we're family and we stick together, because we have no choice, and like it that way.