Blog of an aspiring foodie

Discovering a Food Allergy

Posted by beer_chris on 25-October-2010

So, it’s not very much fun to discover that you have a food allergy. It’s even less fun to figure it out while on holiday in China.

I certainly do not feel special to now be a member of this club. I’ve always felt fortunate not to be one that has to avoid one or the other ingredient. Happily I’ve not had to worry about a bite of the wrong thing ruining my night before.

Given what I suspect the cause of my problem, I’ll unlikely need to have that worry going forward.

The cause of my troubles? Seahorse. I’ve googled away, and I cannot find a single decsription of a seahorse allergy anywhere on the web. What I have learned is that  seahorse is not something I should probably be eating anyway (if I have concern for the viability of seahorses in the wild), and that in traditional Chinese medicine, seahorse is viewed as ‘warm’, good for circulation, potency, and other things that I’m sure a vivid imagination can figure out.

Why was I eating seahorse? Well, that’s a much more interesting story that fits better into the travelog.

We arrived in Beijing on a cold wet morning, and set off to our hotel in the city center. The express train from the airport is a great way to get into town, and a simple 2 RMB subway transfer later we were at our digs for the next few days. We met up and headed out to Tiananmen square and the Forbidden City for a quick early evening walk-around. The majority of the square and Mao’s tomb was closed, but the part that was open was fascinating. A wild mix of tourists of all nationalities, soldiers and busloads of Chinese from the countryside were all milling around. everyone was fascinated by the gigantic hi-definition screens playing a looped video presentation about the country and snapping photographs. A number wanted pictures with the Americans – especially with the ladies – and we had a great time ourselves marveling at the sight.

As the last generation to really experience the cold war, seeing all of the austere communist architecture around the square is a little unnerving – giant statues honoring ‘the worker’ topped with big red flags stirs just a bit of the jingoistic capitalist in me – but a quick look around to the forbidden city solved any qualms I might have had. We walked into the outer entrance to to be confronted by hawkers of all types. T-shirts, People’s Army hats, panda hats, anything and everything with Mao’s photo on it – you name it, it’s for sale in the courtyard, and being shoved into the faces of the approaching westerners.

Most surprising was seeing so many army barracks inside the courtyard. The  troops were at the ready, riot gear sitting just next to their dorms. I suppose they need to be prepared in the event of impromptu public demonstrations in the public square – but it was a little strange.

Sadly the interior of the palace closed right as we approached, but we realized relatively quickly that just around the corner was a night market that was famous for food stalls. We figured out our location and headed that way. The Donghuamen night market was created in 1987 to honor the variety of foods available across China. Today it is a huge half-mile long line of stalls – most serving the same dumplings, mixed grills and bizarre fried foods, but some serving up unique barbecued selections.

The experience was worth the trip. The food was not especially great. I had a number of steamed dumplings – most were relatively flavorless and paled in comparison to things I tasted in other places in China and even from back home. It was also quite expensive, relatively speaking. I paid 30 RMB (~$5) for four crab buns. Not a crazy price, but certainly overpriced for Chinese street food.

What I missed out on was what I regret the most. Most non-white faces were picking up fabulous looking whole lamb shanks, roasted on the bone and seasoned to order. There was also a jolly old man making great noodle soup to order. His technique with the boiling pot was something to behold – his head bobbed as his arms swooped in and out, dropping small strainers of soup into the boiling broth.

Needless to say I missed these two highlights, because I decided to try something crazy.

Down the entire line of stalls about every other vendor had a long lineup of rather adventurous options. Snake was quite common, both skinned as well as whole with head (and scales) on. Other options included silkworm pupae, sheep kidney, scorpions, various beetles and even bats. A deep voiced vendor introduced his offering to us, with a throaty, heavily accented announcement, ‘Hello! Sheeeeep Testicle!’ All of these things were on long skewers and were intended to be fried in huge vats of hot oil just behind the counter.

I was considering trying something a little crazy long before one of the vendors asked me all too genuinely, ‘Do you have penis?’ after I turned down his offer for, well, bull penis. It took me a minute to figure out he was actually questioning my manhood and not making a sales pitch.

Although I resisted the fried phallus, I couldn’t resist two ‘delicacies’ at another stall – a skewer of 5 locusts and another of small dried seahorses. I’ve had locust/grasshopper before, and it’s quite tasty. My rule is – if the  insect eats plants, I eat the insect. If the insect eats garbage (see cockroach) or other insects (see wasps and scorpions), I generally avoid it. I figure if I can eat crabs and lobsters, why not insects and arachnids? What’s the difference really?

The seahorse was really a whim. It was the craziest thing in any of the stalls I was willing to eat – I just don’t think I can put pupae or scorpions in my mouth.

Needless to say, my companions were excited to get pictures of me with bugs in my mouth, and there is  a great shot somewhere of me with a seahorse tail sticking out from my lips. The grasshoppers were fine – fried to an absolute crisp, they tasted more like oil than anything else. The seahorses were faintly metallic and briny, and went down a little rough. I walked around for a few minutes with what I thought was seahorse stuck in my throat – then I realized my throat was swelling up and I was having trouble speaking. About 2 minutes later the hives started appearing on my face, and I could feel them on my torso as well. I drank some water, and fortunately was not having any trouble breathing – but we all knew I needed medical attention fast.

Fortunately, there was a medical clinic attached to our hotel, and after some intravenous steroids and some prescription antihistamine pills, I was on my way for a rest. Unfortunately my symptoms weren’t quite over yet. As if the hives and swollen throat weren’t enough, over the next few hours I experienced another few rounds of ‘attacks’ from the seahorses in my belly. One involved the rapid and rather disconcerting swelling of my face. My friend said it looked like I had put on a fat suit, and I couldn’t close my mouth because my lips and tongue were so swollen. After that, my feet and knees swelled up, turned beet red and started itching like crazy. After approximately 4 hours from first seahorse crunch, I finally got to sleep. I woke up the next morning none the worse, and was able to head out to the Great Wall – which was an amazing experience.

So after all these years of  feeling fortunate to have an iron gut, I finally found a weakness. Fortunately seahorse should be something relatively easy to avoid – but I have a newfound appreciation for those that have more common food allergies. The anaphylactic reaction was scary and not something I would ever want to repeat.

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Previous Post

Posted by beer_chris on 23-October-2010

OK, so I can’t edit the previous post. I meant to put it into draft and  ended up sending the danged thing out to the world.

WordPress is weird over here in China. It seems to be filtered but not blocked.

FWIW, we have done other things other than visit Wal Mart, and I am aware that it’s the Giants and the Phillies in the NLCS.

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China – The First Few Days

Posted by beer_chris on 21-October-2010

Day 1 – The Trip

The trip itself was as uneventful as could have been hoped. Trans-oceanic travel is never what someone would call pleasant or even good, but this itinerary was probably the best we could have hoped for in terms of timing. The overnight in San Francisco was a great way to breakup what would have otherwise been a 20+ hour travel day, and our stay at the airport Marriott was quite pleasant. The property was nicer than I would have expected, and was a combination hotel and conference center right on the water across from the airport. When we arrived at rather late (approx. midnight local) and the hotel bar was packed with the remnants of baseball fans – the Giants had just defeated the Phillies in game 1 of the NLCS. The bar had Speakeasy ‘Big Daddy’ IPA on tap, and I had a couple pints before we headed to bed.

I was able to squeeze in a 10K easy run along the bayside trail the next morning, as our flight was not until early afternoon.

Arrival into Hong Kong was easy, and a nice soft start to a trip in a foreign land. Everything is in English, the airport is big, easy to navigate and quite modern, and now has a ferry terminal for mainland transfers. In fact, the ferry desk will retrieve your checked bags for you and move them to the boat – there is not even a need to clear customs in Hong Kong proper. We knew this, but it was a very nice relaxing start to not have to worry about our bags. The only bit of confusion was that there were two Shenzhen ferries – one to Shekou and one to Fuyong terminal. We didn’t know which was our stop, but fortunately a man in front of us who had lived in Shenzhen previously knew of Evergreen and helped us pick the correct option – Shekou.

We had about a 90 minute wait so we sat and played Angry Birds on my iPhone and used the free wireless to update our fanatasy football rosters.

Our host for the week, Alan Yuan, was waiting for us at the terminal, and as we started our trip back to the resort we realized that Aileen and David would be arriving very shortly after us – they were transferring into Shenzhen direct from Bangkok, which was their latest stop on a 2 month asian holiday. The good news about this is we were able to meet them at the airport, and we all headed back to Evergreen together. We spoke with Chinglan during the journey, who worked her magic (even from her home in Baltimore she was coordinating our trip!) and had a late dinner of beef noodle soup waiting for us in the comfort of the villa.

We finished the night off with good conversation and a dram or two of duty-free MacAllan whisky. Needless to say both J and I collapsed into bed and slept quite well in spite of dealing with the +13 hour time difference.

Day 2 – Surprises

Day 2 started early, as all of us were awake and ready to get moving.

Breakfast at Evergreen is really a sight to behold. It’s a magnificent Chinese buffet, but with dishes that epitomize freshness and high quality ingredients. One station cooks eggs to order and has a small pot of boiling broth for blanching young vegetables – green beans, bok choy and cabbage. The broth infuses a wonderful salty, meaty goodness with just a hint of onion and garlic into the veggies, and makes a surprisingly good morning treat.

The second station has warm meats, including small bacon-wrapped chinese sausages that are very flavorful. It also has a steam table with BBQ pork buns (a specialty of the chef, who hails from Taiwan ), sweet bean curd buns and the most wonderful pork shu-mai (small pork sausage dumpling) I have ever tasted.

The last station serves a large pot of warmed soy milk – made onsite at the resort and the absolute best I have ever tasted. The flavor is so mellow – a little sweet, just a tad rich and without the ‘beany’ flavor that dominates so much of the commercial soy milk available in the states. Its a taste I have been unable to replicate at home and I was very much looking foeward to having again. I mixed this in with a sublime congee (rice bran porridge – not unlike the corn grits I favor at home, but with a faraway sweetness and just enough bite to be substantial). A little sprinkle of sugar was completely energized and ready to take on the day.

I had asked our wonderfully hospitable host about a local food market – somewhere where we could see the types of foods that local residents buy and prepare for their families. Surprisingly, he suggested Wal-Mart, and so we headed off, cameras in hand, for a tour.

All of us felt pretty sheepish about touring a Wal-Mart. Here we were, Americans in China and our first stop was a local outpost of the largest American retail store in the world? I imagined rows and rows of American made products, and felt like we might be falling into the trap of being taken only to the ‘sanitized’ local places. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The store itself is as strikingly familiar in structure as might have been expected. The same signage, the same cacophany of beeps from the POS systems when you walk in the door – but the similarities ended there. Our first stop was an area of prepared foods sold by the kilo – station after station of freestanding buffet style display cases. The first was 100% cabbage and pickled vegetables. The next, sausages and cured meats, including the largest pile of dried pig ears I have seen, and at least 6 preparations of chicken feet. Next up – noodles. Cold, warm, thick, thin, rice and wheat based – they had seemingly imaginable. The really enjoyable part of all of this was that our hosts (the aforementioned Alan and a young lady named Suki) were helping us translate the things we were seeing. Both were excited to work on their English and were using a magical little translation box to help us find the English word for the items we were looking at. It made for a really rich experience.

The folks doing their weekday shopping seemed somewhat surprised to see these westerners marveling at the foodstuffs and taking pictures – with the same reactions and sideways curious glances you would expect to give if you saw someone taking photos of donuts in your neighborhood Wal-Mart – a little embarrassed for our ostentatiousness, a little curious as to what in the heck we were doing and who we were.

As an aside, this experience reinforced something important to me. Sometimes it really is critical to unabashedly play the part of tourist in a foreign land – do things that would otherwise make you shake your head and mumble something about the damn tourists if you saw it at home. Snap photos in the middle of sidewalks. Ogle your surroundiings. Verbally stumble over poorly pronounced salutations and questions in the local language. Live in the moment – TAKE PICTURES IN A DAMN WAL-MART!

The prepared food bar also had a cook to-order noodle station, with at least 10 types of noodles (most the same type as in the carrel) and a selection of fresh vegetables. This is the one item I would love to bring back home with me.
We moved on to seafood – where there were equally large displays of dried fish, fresh fish (including a delicious-looking eel-like finfish prominently displayed in the middle of the aisle) and frozen fish. The highlights were a display of crabs which, as we took pictures were admonished by the attendant. The crabs were a very special type – I think the Taiwanese ‘big gate’ crabs – and were priced at about $60 each. They also were tagged with serial numbers for tracking!

The department also had live softshell turtles for sale by size, and while we were waiting a woman purchased one of the medium sized creatures. The attendant proceeded to butcher the turtle at the counter. She bled the animal out, removed the head and then soaked the body in a bowl of hot water – which pulled more blood from the body cavity and allowed her to peel off a membrane of some kind from the shell and body and to remove the claws. She then made a circular cut into the shell – making a flap of sorts – and cleaned out the viscera and removed the spine and neck. When she was done, the three large muscle sections were easily visible (one in the back of the turtle connecting the rear legs and tail, and two in the front over each front leg). She cut the muscle seams to loosen these and then put the fat, liver and heart back into the cavity – and reinserted the head back into the space where the neck had been!

This ‘franken-turtle’ was put into a plastic tray and was ready for sale. None of us had ever seen a turtle broken down like this, and I am the only one I think that has actually eaten turtle (it’s delicious). I assume this was for a soup – the woman was not too keen on speaking to the strange foreigners, so we didn’t find out.

This experience as well as our walk through the meat department illustrated how disconnected we Americans (and most Westerners) are from our food. The meat bins were not filled with plastic wrapped, sanitized-looking cuts of meat. Meat were separated by type and by cut, but were out and available for selection and inspection. Whole chickens (while wrapped in plastic) were sold with the head on and clearly displayed – the better to inspect the eyes and mouth for indications of animal health. The turtle butchery out on the retail floor was shocking in it’s bloody reality, but provided undeniable evidence of the freshness of the product. Too often we are displaced from our food – we forget and even are happy to deny that the meat we eat was at one point a living breathing animal. We like the concept (and the taste) of fresh food but struggle with the reality of what that means. Asian cultures seem not to quibble with these troublesome problems.

The rest of the store offered additional interesting displays: a 15 foot refrigerated case of different tofu and bean curd products. An entire nook with rows of teas and dried herbs/flavorings. An entire aisle of sauces, and another of ramen/dried noodles.

Surprisingly, the produce section was not as large as I might have expected, although there was a huge display of durian, complete with an attendant to break the fruit of your choice and pull out the stinking pods.

Our visit to the beer aisle was productive. Among the choices – Guinness Special Export Stout from Malaysia – the stronger, sweeter version popular in the Far east and Africa, but unavailable in the US. Additionally, a ‘Great Value’ (Wal-Mart house brand) regular and light beer were available, which is certainly not available at home. I haven’t had the courage to crack one of these open.

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Just August Project – First visit notes

Posted by beer_chris on 27-August-2010

First visit – dined with K & D on 19-August.

We all agreed this was one of the most enjoyable tasting meals we had ever experienced, and the price was simply amazing given the quality of the dishes and the overall experience. I took some raw notes  down on my menu – just want to get them (and my thoughts) transcribed down somewhere so I don’t lose them!

Although I drank beer, we did bring some wine, and K, D and J all enjoyed these. I didn’t get the exact details of the wines, but I know the varietals. We opened a Sancerre, a Paso Robles Syrah and a Gruet.

I brought a 22 oz bottle of Stone Ruination (a double IPA), and a bottle each of the Spanish witbier Estrella Damm Inedit, and the Flemish red ale  Duchesse du Bourgogne. The wit and sour ale I bought based on recommendations made by the folks at Just August Project. The Ruination was my own choice – but only because I like it better than the recommendation of Stone IPA.

The words in bold and italics here are transcriptions from the menu. I’ve offset my comments with an indentation.

Snacks

pickled cabbage stems / roasted yeast aioli

avocado / harissa / pith puree / crumble / candied seeds

crackling / red wine vinegar / elderflower

The Stone Ruination was a fabulous and exceptionally tasty match with the cabbage dish. Just amazing play with the slight sourness of the pickle but especially the roasted yeast. None of us had ever heard of roasted yeast, but wow what a great flacor profile. Slightly bready, just a little crunchy. The garlic and oil really enhanced the yeasty flavors, and these just exploded the hops in the Ruination. I was really looking forward to how this was going to pair with the beer, and wow did it not disappoint. What a great start to the meal!

We enjoyed the powdered red wine vinegar very much, and were licking our fingers to mop up the excess. K & D really loved the crackling.

I don’t remember what kind of seeds were on the avocado. All of us liked the interesting balance between the bitter pith, sweet crumble and smoky fire from the harissa.

Raw Course

lamb / yogurt / melon / shiso

Although the Ruination didn’t match well with this dish, this was my favorite dish of the night. We all felt very fortunate to get this, as it was the last evening for the dish on the menu. The lamb was prepared like a tartare, using the yogurt as an acid. The yogurt was smoked (slightly), and this played off of the other flavors wonderfully – shiso, black garlic and the pickled canary melon. This dish was just artful in how it took some similar rich smoky and smoke-like components and melded them together to create a delicate and subtle balance of different flavors. Great.

Bread Course

cocoa nib rye

red miso pan au lait

I didn’t drink beer with this course, as I finished the Ruination bottle after we were done with the raw course. I think an old ale are even an english style barleywine would be great with the rye – something with some good malty sweetness would really be perfect. The bread itself had a really mellow chocolate flavor, although I didn’t get too much of the spiciness of rye. Granted, I’m used to rye in my beer where it hasn’t been cooked at 400+ degrees 🙂

The red miso pan au lait (we started calling them dinner rolls) was great. The miso paste had some up front and lagging heat that was great, and the bread was so darn tender and soft. We could have eaten these for dinner by themselves. The bread course was also served with a compound lardo butter that was excellent – as lardo always is. Again, a nice malty beer – maybe even a dunkel – would have been excellent with the lardo and the bread.

Fish Course

grouper / cucumber / pumpernickel / onion

This dish included pickled radish as well. Although the play on bread with the pumpernickel puree was interesting, this dish worked the least for me. To start (and maybe to end), it was just too salty. The grouper was poached in goats whey, and although there was a hint of goat’s milk ‘tang’ in the flavor, I think maybe that was the source of the saltiness. The cucumbers were prepared three ways – one I didn’t write down, but the other two were sauteed in brown butter and in a cucumber vinaigrette. The brown butter cucumbers were very bitter to me, and I did not finish mine. I opened up the Estrella Damm Inedit for this dish (I had been saving it for the fish course), and it is really an excellent beer – brewed as a wit but with some nice light floral notes. A very unique farmhouse/witbier.

EntremetHouston Dairymaids Blue / honeycomb / pork salpicon sabayon

I *think* this is when we had this dish, which was a fun little break. I also am not entirely sure that what we were served was a salpicon – I didn’t quite understand what the chef said when he gave this to us, and I had to look up this word. I originally wrote down ‘Semillon’, which I know cannot be correct 🙂

Note, I was corrected later by none other than Justin Yu – this was a SABAYON, not a SALPICON. My bad!

Meat Course

old spot pork / sarsparilla / choucroute

This dish was amazing. All of us were looking forward to trying the Revival Meats pork belly and it did not disappoint. We three agreed – this was probably one of the best pork belly dishes (if not the best) any of us had ever had. The pork was meltingly tender, but had great pork flavor. The choucroute was a nice counterpoint, but the highlight of the dish for me were the micro leaves of oregano – these just smacked all the flavors of the dish together into a great whole. To be honest, I am not entirely sure if the sweetness came from the pork itself or the Sarsparilla. I would believe it was the meat, it was that good. That pork belly could move mountains. The Estrella Damm Inedit did OK with this dish, but quite honestly the dish was so good I could have been drinking Bud LIgh and probably wouldn’t have noticed.

If you can believe it, this didn’t even make my top three. That’s how great the next course was to me.

Pre-Dessert

horchata granita / goats milk

I love horchata – the mix of mexican cinnamon with nuts is just a classic combination. I also love hielos, so putting it over ice was great, and serving with fresh goats milk was just amazing.  This dish defined what the Just August Project was all about in my mind – globetrotting, cutting edge chef creativity, combined with a sense for what cuisine in Houston really means with a strong sense of treating fresh ingredients in a way that really makes them shine. I’m still thinking about this dish today, and how great it was. It really captured the moment in time that was our meal, and that’s why this dish nearly eclipsed the raw course as my favorite.

Dessert

chocolate namelaka / mushroom / thyme / figs

The mushroom was dried and integrated into the namelaka. The figs were split and simply roasted, and served with a sour cream ice cream.

The thyme was fried, and I could eat pounds of the stuff. I love fried basil and thyme

I cracked open the Duchesse for this course, and it was good – but I didn’t think it paired that amazingly well. We all had a little and finished the bottle over the remainder of the evening.

Mignardises

sunflower macarons

fennel truffle / saltine cracker

The sunflower macarons were good, but the fennel truffle had an interior that reminded me of a Three Musketeers bar – it had a nougat-y like consistency, but tasted of that unique anise-like flavor of fennel. The salt from the cruched cracker (the truffle was rolled in cracker crumbs) was a nice offset to the richness.

The Duchesse played really well with these flavors, as the funkiness and sour flavors were pretty well rounded out, and the fennel brought out the hint of malt sweetness that’s is in the beer.

Iced Coffee

60 % Brazil Carmo Estate, 25% Brazil Monte Alegre, 15% Costa Rica Finca San Luis

J really had it right – even if you don’t enjoy coffee, you have to enjoy David’s blends. It’s like a rule or something. This was just a magnificent brew that was (of course) designed to be served cold, and the flavors changed substantially from the beginning of a sip to after the last bit was swallowed down. Chocolate, roasted bread, cherries, stone fruits, earth  – all there, all balanced bu featured at some point during the overall taste. Awesome, awesome stuff.

The overall verdicts:

D: First – pork, Second – Raw Course, Third – Horchata

K: First – pork, Second – Raw Course, Third – Cracklin

J: First – pork, Second – Horchata, Third – Red Miso Pan au Lait

Me: First: Raw Course, Second – Pickled Cabbage, Third – Horchata

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Details of the Malt Tasting on 29-August

Posted by beer_chris on 21-August-2010

OK, awesome. Who are you guys again?

I’m Chris White, AKA @beer_chris on Twitter and to a lesser extent (at least lately) on the Houston Chowhound forum. I’m a homebrewer, Houston Chowhound and all around beer nerd.

Ted Duchesne (@barleyvine) has a beer blog (Link) that he updates regularly. Ted is knowledgeable on all things beer and has hosted a number of events like this in the past.

Ted and I have been talking about hosting a beer tasting of sorts with Danielle Clark for some time now.

What the heck is malt and why would I want to taste it?

Malt is the name given to a cereal grain that has been allowed to germinate and had that sprouting stopped via kilning . This process turns the grain into malt. Malted barley is literally (with a few exceptions) the stuff that beer is made of.  The variety of barley and how it is malted can have a major effect on the taste and the color of a beer. There’s more detail to the magic of malting – that’s what we’ll discuss at the tasting.

OK great. You didn’t really answer my second question. Why a malt tasting? Why not just a beer tasting?

There’s been a lot of focus lately in the craft beer world on big, complex beers that redefine or even flaunt traditional styles. I love these as much as any beer geek, but lost somewhere in this big beer love is a simple appreciation for the most fundamental of ingredients – malt.

I’m not a beer geek, and I don’t want to be one. Should I consider this?

We have selected ‘accessible’ brews for the tasting. That means two things:
  1. All can be purchased here in Houston, most at just about anywhere.
  2. All are relatively straightforward beers, but are good examples of a specific variety of malt – either in flavor or color.

The complexity in these beers is coming from the malts, and the malts alone, or at least that’s the idea. If you like it you can go down the street to Kroger or Specs and buy it. It’s that simple.

<SOAPBOX>
We honestly believe that this is a great way for people that don’t usually like beer or are generally tentative about trying craft beer (that means you, oenophile!) to get a good solid foundation in one of the most fundamental flavor components. You may not leave the tasting loving every beer you try, but we think you’ll find something new here that will make you think differently about beer, and that’s a goal of the event.
</SOAPBOX>


Grandiose vision aside, Ted and I just like drinking, talking, blogging and tweeting about beer. We’re passionate about it. We would love to share some of that with you.

Sounds like fun! How will it work? How much beer do I get?

AHA! I knew that question was coming!

AGENDA: I’ll provide an introduction to the malting process and there will be examples of the various types of malt we will be tasting available to try. Ted will speak about the background of each beer, the type of malt we feel that brew best exemplifies and then we’ll drink and discuss.

BEERS: Approximately 10 beers will be tasted. Enough beer will be poured to give everyone ~4 oz tasting, with some to spare for those that are your special favorites. We will give everyone a written list of the beers, the prices and the background information.

TIMING: We will start promptly at 3 PM, and have four hours for the event which should be plenty of time.

FOOD: We will provide water crackers, pretzels and are trying to figure out exactly what small bites means :-). There will not be a meal served, so plan accordingly. Eating a later lunch would probably be a good plan

SAFETY: At the most this is 40 oz of beer (just over 3 bottles) in approximately 4 hours, which should be fine for most. If you feel you need a taxi or designated driver, let us know!

COST: Please plan on $20, although we feel it will be closer to $15. We’ll be ready to make change at the event, and will let those of you that sign up know the details ahead of the date.

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Camp Beer Three – Raw Notes

Posted by beer_chris on 24-July-2010

Held 27-June-2010 at the Odd Fellows lodge in the Houston Heights

Goose Island Sofie (Saison/Farmhouse Ale)

Little sour edge. Undergoes short aging in wine casks – this was a 2010 vintage

Russian River Supplication (American Wild Ale)

Brewed with cherries. Like Duchess. Intense. Leather and saddle aromas. Very bitter.

Souther Tier Hop Sun (Wheat)

Little more bitter than Gumballhead. Very floral aroma. A lot like Gumball.

Bells Oberon (American Pale Wheat)

Used to be a homebrew shop in Kalamazoo. Plain Jane wheat.

Smuttynose Shoals (Pale Ale)

Classic English … w/Cascade and Chinook. Big Maris Otter flavor, strong hop bitterness.

Thre Floyds Gumballhead (Wheat)

Three Floyds Alpha King (Pale Ale)

Orange. Crazy hop profiles. I love this brew.

Lost Abbey Devotion (Belgian Pale Ale)

Lost Abbey owned by Port Brewing?

Stone Cali-Belgique (Belgian Style IPA)

Same base wort and tasted alongside Stone IPA

Port Brewing Hop 15 (Double Imperial IPA)

A rounder flavored Hopsicle

Southern Tier Unearthly (Imperial IPA)
Good east coast style – nice balance. Not especially orange. Typical sweet aroma.

Three Floyds Dreadnaught  (Imperial IPA – marked as one of my favorites)

Wow. Great hop profile – typical 3 floyds earthy/citrus/bitter mix. Nice malt profile – not too sweet.

Goose Island Matilda (Belgian Strong Pale Ale)

Wish we had this with Supplication

Troeg Troegenator (Double Bock – marked as one of my favorites)

From Harrisburg, PA. Great rich malty profile. Awesome. Nicely done – not too ‘hot’.

Ommegang Abbey Ale (Dubbel)

Jaime loved this one. The brewery has a relationship with Duvel. A little sour.

Goose Island Pere Jacques (Dubbel)

Very dry, malty, not a lot of esters (at least compared to Ommegang). Ton of fruit.

Stone Anniversary 13 (American Strong Ale)

They say it is coming apart. Would be good on cask.

Brooklyn Local 2 (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)

Cidery? Something off.

Bootlegger’s Brewery Black Phoenix (Coffee/Chipotle)

6.7%, 7 bbl brewhouse. Intense coffee flavor, a bit of chipotle

Saint Arnold Divine Reserve #3 (Double IPA)

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Dogfish Head Beer Dinner

Posted by beer_chris on 24-July-2010

This 5 course dinner + hors d’oeuvre dinner was held at Vic & Anthony’s in downtown Houston on Friday, 25-June 2010.

Hors d’oeuvre were served with 60 minute IPA. All service was in white wine stemware.

  • Tempura of Lobster w/Sweet Chili Dipping Sauce
  • Prime Beef Croustade w/Horseradish and crispy shallots

First course – East Coast Clams steamed in Aprihop w/Portuguese chorizo and melted leeks, served with grilled garlic crostini, served with Aprihop (Jaime’s favorite)

Second course – ‘Pulled’ duck w/white corn arepa, smoked tomato BBQ sauce, shaved radish and baby greens, served with Raison D’Etre and 2006 Raison D’Extra (Chris’ favorite – and favorite beer of the night was the 2006 Raison D’Extra for both C & J)

Third course – Coffee Crusted Prime New York Strip with roasted cippolini onions and pasilla chile mole, served with Palo Santo Marron

Fourth course – cheese plate served with 2010 Red and White and 2008 Red and White

Fifth course – Almond financier with brown butter ice cream and Texas peach compote (dish by Rebecca Masson – wqinner of ‘shroom throwdown), served with 2009 120 Minute IPA and 2007 120 Minute IPA

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Raw tasting notes – Beer Camp!

Posted by beer_chris on 16-December-2009

Just wanting to get my raw notes into the blog from Beer Camp. The Barley Vine blog did a great job of writing this up, as did Ronnie Crocker over at Beer, TX – and I am in agreement with both of them.

Note, I didn’t start categorizing my notes into the normal BJCP style until a few beers in – hence the different approach:

Ommegang Hennepin

Saison. Kevin’s favorite, given high price of import saison. Very dry, a slightly wheatey finish. Some serious astringency at the front of the palate. I can see how this would be refreshing on a hot day, but I like my saison a bit grainer.

Lost Abbey Red Barn

Another Saison at 6.7%. Nice rich, full aroma of grains. Slightly off golden (a little orange) Get coriander in the nose and some citrus in the palate. Really liked this beer, one of my favorites of the tasting.

Lost Abbey Devotion

Belgian style golden ale. Aroma is funky and slightly cheesy. Flavor has an odd bitterness. Not a fan of this beer.

Southampton Grand Cru

Aroma: Molasses & brown sugar. Didn’t notice too much spice. A little bit of hop aroma perceptible.

Appearance: Orange tinted golden color. Low apparent carbonation.

Flavor/Mouthfeel: Big and sweet. Very little hop bitterness/flavor. Deep, sweet aftertaste. Candy sugar? Adjuncts? Syrupy in the mouth.

Overall: OK beer. Very intense.

Ommegang 3 Philosophers

Been a long time since I had this beer. A blend of cherry, Belgian blonde and belgian dark.

Aroma: A lot of raisin. Some hint of acetone (nail polish remover)

Appearance: Nutty orange. Low apparent carbonation.

Flavor/Mouthfeel: Some cherry, some raisin. All kinds of caramel flavors, lots of caramel malt/crystal malt sweetness.

Overall: Reasonable. A more flavorful Maredsous.

Ithaca Excelsior Brut

American sour ale finished with champagne yeast. Has corn in the mash (!)

Aroma: Leather, anise, sour aromas.

App: Cloudy, sandy/straw colored

Fl/MF: Apple flavors. Malt late in the palate, followed by a quick transition to sour and then dry.

Overall: Yum. Quite tasty, but lacks the complexity of a true lambic. Lotsa lactic acid! Champagne yeast really drys out the finish.

Weyerbacher Riserva

Raspberry sour beer

Aroma: Very fruity. Caramel aromas prevalent

Appearence: Cloudy brown. Low carbonation

Flavor/Mouthfeel: Amazingly barnyard-y. Nice complexity in malt profile. Hate the fruit.

Overall: Meh. A little thin. Makes me want a Flemish Red Ale.

Ommegang Rare VOS

Aroma: Cidery, some botanical aromas. A little sweet. Do I get cinnamon?

Appearance: Cloudy golden color.

Flavor/Mouthfeel: A little thin. Some nice earthy hop flavors.

Overall: Not bad. I might drink this again, but a little thin.

Stone 09.09.09

Belgian Strong Dark Ale

Aroma: Chocolate, berries, cloves and banana

Appearance: Mahogany

Flavor/Mouthfeel: Very dark and roasty flavors. Disparate hop bitterness – some at beginning, some at end, none in middle of flavor profile. Some chocolate. No banana or clove flavors.

Overall: Would love to have in 3 years time!

Three Floyds/DogfishHead Popskull

Aroma: Some florals, very mellow

Appearance: Deep brown. Low apparent carbonation.

Flavor/Mouthfeel: Tastes like Palo Santo Marron. Nice roasted malt flavors. Dangerous – easy drinking. Thinner than I would have thought

Overall: Yum, but wouldn’t pay a lot for it.

DogfishHead Burton Baton

Foamed at open. Blend of oak aged IPA and 90″ IPA

Aroma: Dry. Floral hop

Appearance: Rose/orange colors

Flavor: Nice and floral hop flavors. Don’t get much oakiness

Overall: One of the better beers DFH makes. I dig this – a lot.

Stone 13th Anniversary

Aroma: Hoppy, nice malt aroma

Appearance: Orange, low head

Flavor/Mouthfeel: Very hoppy. Nice balance. This would age well.

Overall: Really like it. Have had on draft before, would like to have some to hold on to.

AleSmith Old Numbskull (2004)

Aroma: Alcoholic and only slightly hoppy

Appearance: Cloudy orange. Nice head retention for such an aged beer. Major yeast in suspension!

Flavor: Hop balance weighted toward citrus and grapefruit flavors. Tastes very much like DR 1

Overall: Could age longer for sure. Yum! (Second favorite beer)

Mayflower Porter

Aroma: Roasted, sweet malt. Nice and chocolatey

Appearance: Dark, ruby, nice.

Flavor: I like Duckrabbit better. A little dry, but OK

Overall: I wouldn’t go to great lengths for this beer, but tasty. Is my favorite style after all.

Troeg’s Java Head

Aroma: No coffee aroma.

Appearance: Dark, dark, dark

Flavor: Tastes like a milk stout. Very roasty. Quite thin, getting very little coffee flavor.

Overall: Meh. Just OK.

Southern Tier Moka

Aroma: Caramel, Sugar, some…mint (!)

Appearance: Dark and a little thin. Very little head.

Flavor/Mouthfeel: Wow. Mint Chocolate chip ice cream comes to mind. Great balance … wow.

Overall: BEST BEER OF THE TASTING. CAN I GO TO THE BREWERY NOW PLEASE.

Southern Tier Iniquity

Aroma: A little nutmeg. Sweet. No hop aromas

Appearance: Deep nut brown. Decent head, carbonation normal for style

Flavor: I really dig this! Nice dark IPA. Good balance of roasted malt bitterness and simcoe (although this has debittered black malt, so I must be tasting some little bit of the black patent?)

Overall: Nice. An east coast dark IPA. Cool. @barleyvine will laugh at me for liking this beer 🙂

Smuttynose Imperial Stout

Aroma: Molasses. Malt syrup? Chocolate?

Appearance: Mahogany – deep dark color

Flavor/Mouthfeel: Nice hop bitterness, good balance of hopes in here. Moderate mouthefeel. Floral edge.

Overall: Tons of flavors. Love it.

Speedway Stout

Aroma: Roasty aromas. Some hop noticeable.

Appearance: Dark. Impenetrable.

Flavor/Mouthfeel: Amazingly bitter roast flavors. Decent hop balance. A little out of order.

Overall: OK, nothing to write home about.

Three Floyds Dark Lord (2008)

Aroma: Soy sauce, some hop aromas.

Appearance: Syrupy. Deep black, some brown on the margin of the head/beer interface

Flavor/Mouthfeel: Think, roasty and chocolaty. Lots of flavors – sweetness from caramel, sugar, malt and chocolate. Hop bitterness throughout. Nice explosion of all flavors on the back of the palate. A crazy good beer.

Overall: Very excited to taste this. Would like to try a vertical and see how this ages.

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Reconsidering the Flying Saucer

Posted by beer_chris on 16-December-2009

A few months ago I participated in a discussion attempting to name the most overrated places in Houston as a part of a rather infamous ‘Eating … Our Words’ post over at the Houston Press,

My comment included a statement about the Flying Saucer beer bar in downtown Houston – that it was easily the most overrated place to have a beer in town, and that I could think of 12 places I would rather have a pint than the Saucer. That led to this blog post.

Conincidentally, the very next  weekend I stopped by the Saucer just to try it again. It had been some years since my last visit, but I had a nice time. The staff were very knowledgeable; I witnessed them doing a good job of helping a few beer newbies pick out a tasty pint, and I had a nice pint of Steamworks Steam Engine on draft – my first since I was in southern Colorado a few summers ago.

Not a few days later I had an email from the GM at the Saucer, a Mr. Jake Rainey. He had stumbled on my original post, looked me up on Twitter and sent me a direct message asking for feedback. The ensuing email exchange has really convinced me that Mr. Rainey is committed to making the Saucer a nice place to have a beer – even for a picky beer geek like me.

The biggest problem for me was an issue with beer staling in the lines – with so many beers on tap its a huge challenge to keep everything fresh and tasty. Jake explained the process being used to keep beer fresh, which basically puts the kegs/lines/faucets on a strict rotational cleaning schedule.

After a few months and many visits, I think they have really improved what was a showstopper problem.

In addition, the bar staff really are quite knowledgeable – much more so than in the past. Every staff member I’ve come in contact with has worked hard to make recommendations, explain styles and stay informed about what is new on tap and in the bottle.

Although there are still some problems, the Saucer is back in my rotation of bars I regularly visit in Houston and I do now firmly believe that they care about the product they are serving.

So – I take (almost) all of it back. I now would most certainly include the Saucer in my list of Houston bars where I would choose to have a pint. However, getting Saint Arnold Brown Ale on tap would really take the cake!

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Tasting Notes – Anchor Xmas 2004-2006

Posted by beer_chris on 4-December-2009

So in preparation for a beer tasting shindig this weekend, Im cracking open the old beer cellar, and trying to put together a reco for one of my aged Anchors to pair up with a tasty main dish.

Unfortunately, the brew the last few years hasn’t been nearly as tasty as it was in the early ‘oughts (IMHO), so my later years are a little thin. However, I have a vertical selection of 2004-2006, and that’s what I’m cracking open tonight.

2004 Anchor Our Old Special Ale

Aroma: Still a good balance of roasted malt, nutmeg, a hint of juniper, and that locely sweet musty aroma (barn basement? hay loft in the winter?) that makes it so old-aleish. Some nice aroma of brown sugar and molasses as well as it warms.

Appearance: Poured to a small half finger head which dissipated quickly. Dark walnut brown – no real red hues at all.

Flavor: Malt sweetness coming out nicely. Oxidation slightly evident (some cidery, winey kind of flavors, but these are mellow). Hop bite still noticeable at the back of the palate, but just slightly. A nice balance of crystal malt sweetness at the front, fading to a light chocolate flavor at the back and finishing with the nice combo of hop, roasted malt bitterness/astringency and the same ‘hay loft’ flavors (sweet mustiness) that characterized the aroma. Alcoholic warmth not especially noticeable. Flavor is dominated by malt – and there is a lot going on there.

Mouthfeel: Moderate, very much like an English style session beer in terms of drinkability and mouthfeel. Carbonation a little out of balance – perhaps from the aging.

Overall: A fantastic example of how well this beer ages. Amazingly in balance – nothing has come too far out of balance to dominate the flavor profiles, except perhaps for the malt – and this has only gone to show how complex the grain bill must be for this brew. Surprised this does not have more piney/juniper type flavors, as this is usually a dominant spice in the beer. Perhaps this one was an ‘off’ year for that flavoring, or perhaps it has mellowed out and come down somewhat. I can’t wait to pour the 2005 now 🙂

2005 Merry Christmas Happy New Year

Aroma: Definitely a more dominant musty aroma. More barn than hay loft. Not getting any alcohol, malt, hops or other spices. Color has a red hue – a slightly dark mahogany.

Appearance: About the same as the 2004 – poured to a one finger head, which dissipated a little slower. Some large Co2 bubbles evident, probably from the extended aging. Beer did foam a bit into the neck when I opened it, but it has warmed as I left it out on the counter while I drank the 2004 🙂

Flavor: A much more straightforward malt profile. Malt hits the front of the tongue, fades slowly to a slight sweetness in the back of the palate. Some astringency late in the palate. Much lower perceived hop bitterness. Some chocolate and roasted malt flavors in the middle of the profile.

Mouthfeel: Light-moderate. A thin bodied beer, flavors are over fast, but are complex enough I don’t want to gulp it down.Carbonation a little over the top, but again I think this is mainly driven by the bottle conditioning.

Overall: Not as good as the 2004. Grain/malt flavors not nearly as dominant, and the flavorings used are not as in balance. An easier drinking beer, but probably isn’t going to get much better.

2006 Anchor Merry Christmas Happy New Year

Appearance: Very similar to 2005. A dark black with ruby/red undertones. Pours to a thinner head that dissipates quickly. Not as much evidence of large CO@ bubbles as in the earlier vintages.

Aroma: Watery. Smells kind of like washed apples/slightly cidery. Some cinnamon.

Flavor: A rich, nutty flavor on the front of the tongue. Some nice chocolate malt finishes. Slightly sour/astringent at first, but balances out quickly. Hop bitterness much less noticeable than the other vintages. Some ginger ‘fullness’ (buttery flavors?), but no ginger spice flavors. No alcoholic warmth noticeable. Definite toasty flavors, but not getting any juniper/piney flavors. here’s some nutmeg hiding in there in the middle of the taste profile, but the spices are really mellowed.

Mouthfeel: Surprisingly moderate, especially given the aroma. Carbonation just right – better than the 2004 and 2005.

Overall: Not bad. The 2004 was definitely the best of the three. What’s impressive about this beer is not that it stands on its own today as a great beer, but that it has aged so well.

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