A Winter Wonderland of Porters and Stouts

Winters can be long but sufferable if you can find a comforting friend to help you pass the time. This winter, I discovered that Raleigh’s Big Boss Brewery had a direct line to my heart with their winter seasonal Aces & Ates. Brewed with locally-roasted Larry’s Beans, their coffee stout packs quite a punch (8.00% ABV) for this lightweight, making it a nice evening sipping beer during long winter nights. Aces & Ates is by far my favorite winter brew, but I’m the last person on Earth that you want giving recommendations for winter brews.

Thankfully, there are lots of other sources willing to shed their wisdom upon you. I found the Top 10 list from Food Republic mostly judgement-free, and it even features a brew from Durham’s own Fullsteam Brewery coming in at #5 (Fearrington Winter Coffee Pecan Porter). Despite what Budweiser tries to tell us, we are in the midst of a great era for beer drinkers, even in the doldrums of winter. Cheers!

A Taste of Something Old, Something New

It took me forever to commit, but with some urging from my wife I finally decided to run against the grain of my homebody life and ventured out to Beericana this past weekend. The marketing premise of Beericana was quite simple – craft beer, live music, and food trucks. The thought, planning, an execution, however, had a lot more depth. Here’s a mission statement, of sorts, from the folks behind the event, 919 Beer:

True craft beer festivals are put on for breweries to share their product and their love of their profession, as well as to provide a fun and educational experience for the consumer.

Not being a discerning or interested beer connoisseur myself, I can’t fairly judge their success with that specific mission. What I can say, however, is that for someone who just wanted to enjoy the beautiful weather, listen to good music, and sample a few craft brews at my own leisurely pace – the event was flawless and I can’t imagine a better venue. Having free water available was icing on the cake. Food truck lines were as long as I’ve come to expect – but outside of having fifty or more in the lineup, I’m not sure how you avoid that. We tried CJ’s Street Food for the first time and it’s definitely a truck that I’ll be keeping an eye on with my mobile food radar.

As for the brews, here’s what I sampled and my best recollection of what I thought of each. Remember, I’m not really a beer guy, so don’t laugh at my amateurish short sample list; but do take it with a grain of salt:

Sub Noir, Eccentrica (Ginger Tripel): Quite gingery. I could see myself having a mug of this every once in a while, but never wanting to make an evening out of it.

Highland, Oatmeal Porter: I tried to avoid “sampling” familiar brews, but there were a couple I just couldn’t resist. This has been a favorite of mine for a while and it certainly didn’t disappoint here. I’m glad the sizes are samples, because I could have easily ended my afternoon with a full glass (I’m an unabashed lightweight when it comes to beer).

Bombshell, Coconut Stout: I don’t like coconut, but I decided to give this a try. It definitely tasted like coconut, but it wasn’t too overpowering for me and I mostly enjoyed it. Nice twist.

Lagunitas, Imperial Red: This wasn’t bad, but was my least favorite of the beers that I sampled. I promise it wasn’t because the brewery is from California :).

Big Boss, Harvest Time (Pumpkin ale): It’s pumpkin time everywhere, so it might as well be Harvest Time as well. This is another brew I’ve tried before and I was quickly reminded how much I love it. Probably my favorite of the day, but I’m not really sure it’s fair to give it the top spot.

Brueprint, Bruenette (Brown Ale): On the relatively rare occasion when I have a beer on a night, it’s typically a brown ale of some sort. The Bruenette certainly isn’t going to supplant Bad Penny as my go-to, but it was good enough and might be nice for a change every once in a while if I happen upon it in a bottle shop.

Deep River, Double D’s Watermelon Lager: I love watermelon – probably in an unhealthy way, but I actually tend to hate watermelon flavored things. This was the last beer I tasted, which could have had a negative impact on my overall experience. I’m happy to say the lager was quite pleasant – just enough watermelon to know it was there, and not enough to bring back painful memories of watermelon Jolly Ranchers.

So that’s that. Definitely a short list, but the event was well worth the trip and ticket just for the experience. I hope this trip out to Holly Springs becomes an annual tradition.

See Also: Jordan Rogers breaks down Beericana for Raleigh & Co.

Essentially Men: The Cocktail

Now that you have spent some time researching that all-important big boy drink, its time to move on to the next step; a cocktail. In order to keep all of this manageable, I think its best to select a cocktail derived from your booze of choice. There are only three cocktails a man can order at a bar with any amount of pride: martini (gin or vodka), old fashioned, and the manhattan. I will, of course, allow an exception for white russians on account of The Dude.

Before, we begin discussing the selection of your cocktail, let’s first understand the cocktail. The cocktail is meant as a refreshing way to enjoy your liquor of choice. It also must have at least three ingredients, with one of those being your “spirit” of choice. I hope you have now realized that rum and coke or gin and tonic is NOT a cocktail so don’t even think about coming at me with that weak sauce.

As I previously discussed at length, through a bit of soul searching and some trial and error, I am a bourbon man. As such, I have two options for my cocktail and I enjoy them both; the old fashioned and the manhattan. The Old Fashioned is considered by some to be the oldest of cocktails or the “original” cocktail. While, I can’t speak to that I can confirm it has enjoyed a revival over the last five years thanks in large part to this man. It’s a pretty simple concoction of bourbon, sugar, bitters and citrus that is a “build” cocktail, meaning it is prepared within the glass it is served. The sugar and citrus act to take the edge off that good ole bourbon kick. While, it is a mighty tasty drink, it is a bit sweet for my taste and I find it hard to drink more than one (which is probably not a bad thing).

My cocktail of choice is the manhattan. The manhattan is a pretty simple cocktail prepared in a shaker with a near 2 to 1 ratio of bourbon to vermouth (I would recommend sweet) and a dash of bitters shaken and served…I have to stop here because this is vital. If you order a manhattan at a bar, it will be served in a martini glass, and if you are like me, you get Sex and the City flashbacks and a sudden desire to stab your eye with a cocktail umbrella. I recommend requesting it over ice, but that is a personal choice…in a glass over ice with a lovely maraschino cherry garnish. I would also urge you to select a middle to high end bourbon as the base for your manhattan as this cocktail allows the character of the bourbon to show through. I personally enjoy it with Bulleit and I might even suggest trying it with the Bulleit Rye.

Regardless of your cocktail, I urge you to be a man, belly up to the bar, and order like you know what you are talking about.

Fruit Makes Anything Healthy, Right?

It all started because of an excellent cocktail. I had an old fashioned that featured bourbon cherries and was hooked. I knew one thing from that moment on – I could picture nothing finer than spending my spring and summer evenings enjoying old fashioneds with bourbon muddled cherries. To make that a reality I’d have to make my own.

Unfortunately it was the beginning of April and after making several inquiries at grocers I learned it would be a solid month before there were fresh cherries. Being the obsessive that I am, nothing would sate me until I had a taste of fruit-infusing my own liquor. I searched till the ends of the internet for everything I could learn infusing fruit and other food items into bourbon (There is only bourbon, if you want to talk to me about vodka you are a tasteless communist, locked in a self imposed liquor gulag). Quickly, and unsurprisingly, I came across bacon bourbon as well, and decided I could dip so far as tequila into the lighter spirits… solely for the concoction of Bloody Marias. Doing the research online helped, I got a lot of great ideas but that didn’t change the fact that cherries were still a month away. I did what any rational person would do and decided I would go overboard with the food items that I could get.

In a few weeks I was hosting a guys weekend, so I figured I would have plenty of folks to help me consume all this bourbon – going overboard wasn’t completely unwarranted. After purchasing enough mason jars to make even the wackiest of doomsday preppers happy, I set about purchasing more fruit than I probably have personally purchased in my life: apples, pears, and blueberries. To be joined later by what I really wanted, cherries and bacon. The next step was to purchase the liquor, there was consensus among the internet (or at least the first 5 Google results) that you needed to use decent quality bourbon. I chose some favorites; Woodford Reserve was the main as it was relatively more affordable and came in larger bottles, but I also wanted to use some of my personal favorite, Basil Hayden’s. I learned quickly that despite packing the jar to the brim with fruit, not as much liquor was displaced as I had thought so it would take a lot more liquor. One final trip to the liquor store and I was finally set. I packed my concoctions and got ready to wait. The week before my guests were to arrive, I made bacon bourbon and tequila as well. The process was slightly less elegant, but I thought it would be well worth it.

Finally the magical weekend arrived and I got to try my beauties. I was most intrigued by the blueberries as they had had the most profound effect visually on the bourbon. Somewhere along the way I had gotten the impression that the longer they were left the better they tasted. What I had failed to read despite having gone through the directions on several articles was the admonition that one should taste frequently and remove the fruit when the bourbon had taken on it’s flavor. Longer is not better, longer just gets you rotting fruit in ruined bourbon. I know this now because that’s precisely what I got. Desperately and drunkenly and with only a little misgivings from my friends I tried all the concoctions to find the same result. One friend was so kind as to pretend to like the pear for a while, but the next morning the reality of having ruined a lot of good bourbon and this, only the beginning of the summer, began to sink in.

My failure was not total only because I am pressing on, though this time with a bit more wisdom and moderation. I have patiently awaited cherry season this year, and I am preparing but a single jar for now. A key I learned after eating wooden flavored cherries bourbon most of last summer is to remove the stems before infusing the bourbon. Otherwise, they dissolve and give the bourbon a strong flavor of bark, and not even a nice maple bark, something more akin to a pine. My hope is that with careful monitoring and an eventual breakdown to add some sugar to the jar I might finally, after a two year bourbon infusing odyssey be able to enjoy the homemade muddled bourbon cherry old fashioned of my dreams.

Essentially Men: Bourbon

At some point a couple years ago, most likely during a marathon Mad Men session, I decided I needed to start drinking scotch. I was an adult…kind of, and I should start acting like one. I needed a drink when I went out for work that didn’t need a bottle or draft clarification. In order to prepare, I asked for some recommendations and headed out to the ABC store. I got a couple different kinds and went to it. While it wasn’t terrible, I very quickly realized I was not a scotch guy, especially the brands that taste like burnt leaves. Continue reading