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Monday, February 27, 2012

It's All Greek to Me!

Not everyone has a restaurant nearby that serves gyro sandwiches. And if you love gyros, like I do, you wish they were easier to get! Well, why not make them at home?

I know, I know… it sounds like a very daunting task to make something like gyro meat at home. I mean, c’mon… how do you get them on that huge skewer, and who has one of those weird roasters sitting around their house?

Well, you don’t need one! It can be as easy as mixing it up and popping it in the oven, even easier than a meatloaf preparation. I’ve made homemade gyro meat, and tzatziki sauce, several times. It’s amazing how easy it is, and how much it tastes like what you can get in a restaurant.

And you can use the meat for more than just the typical pita sandwiches. Gyro meat makes a great addition to salads, or use it in omelets, like I did in the picture above. I made that omelet on Friday morning. I added a little dried oregano to the egg/milk mixture, then some browned gyro meat, sliced onions, diced tomatoes, chopped Kalamata olives, and feta cheese rolled into it, topped with tzatziki and more feta. Served with some Greek-seasoned potatoes, it made a very filling and tasty breakfast.

Following, you will find the recipes I use for the creation of these Greek treats. Be sure to read through the “Frank Notes” at the conclusion of each recipe to get more insight and other options for the recipes.

Let me know when you give this a try… I want to hear your feedback! Opa!

Gyro Meat

1 medium white onion, chopped or shredded
2 lb. ground lamb
1 Tblsp. garlic, finely minced
1 Tblsp. dried marjoram
1 Tblsp. dried ground rosemary
2 tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. fresh ground black pepper

  1. Process the onion in a food processor for 10-15 seconds, until well pulped. Dump the onion out into a clean cotton kitchen towel (tea towel), placed inside a colander.
  2. Gather up the corners of the towel and twist to squeeze all the juice out of the onion. Discard the onion juice. (Unless you have some great use in mind for it!)
  3. Place the onion back to the food processor and add the lamb, garlic, marjoram, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Process until it is the consistency of a well-homogenized, fine paste. Scrape down sides, as necessary.

Now, you can cook the meat mixture in the oven or on a rotisserie.

To Cook in the Oven:
  1. Preheat oven to 325°F.
  2. Press the mixture into a loaf pan, making sure to press all the way to the sides of the pan, and packing it in well.
  3. Place pan into a water bath and bake for approximately 60-75 minutes, until the mixture reaches a temperature of 165-170°F.
  4. Remove from oven and drain off any fat.
  5. Place pan on a cooling rack and place a foil-wrapped brick directly on top of the meat. Allow to sit for around 20 minutes, until an internal temperature of 175°F is achieved.
  6. Slice thin portions from the loaf, and brown them in a hot skillet. Serve on pita bread with chopped or slice tomatoes, sliced white onions, feta cheese, and tzatziki sauce.

To Cook on a Rotisserie:
4.      Form the meat mixture into a loaf shape and place atop two overlapping pieces of plastic wrap, that are at least 18inches long.
5.      Roll the mixture up in the plastic wrap, tightly, making sure to leave no air pockets.
6.      Twist ends of plastic wrap until tight. Chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours, or up to overnight, to firm the mixture up.
7.      Preheat the grill to high.
8.      Unwrap meat and place onto rotisserie skewer. Place heavy duty aluminum foil, folded into a tray, directly under the meat to catch any drips (aka: flame up hazards!)
9.      Cook on high approximately 15 minutes.
10.  Turn heat to medium and continue to slowly cook another 20-30 minutes, or until internal temperature of 165°F.
11. Shut off heat and allow to rotate another 10-15 minutes, to an internal temperature of 175°F.
12.  Shave from the skewer and serve with chopped or slice tomatoes, white onion slices, feta cheese, and tzatziki sauce on pita bread.

Frank Notes:
  1. You can do a mix of lamb and beef. I would not recommend going over a 50/50 mix. If you have more beef than lamb, you’re going to lose that authentic flavor.
  2. Sometimes the gyro meat will come out not quite like what you’ve had before. If you actually add a bit more salt, or even some monosodium glutamate (MSG), you will achieve that more familiar gyro flavor.
  3. Lamb can be a fatty meat (in reality, just a lower melting point, so more fat is rendered out at lower temperatures), so be aware, there will be a good amount of grease to drain off after the oven cooking.
  4. Don’t be alarmed by how much the loaf will shrink when baking! (see Note #4, above)
  5. The browning of the sliced meat helps add a little more flavor to the meat. I recommend not skipping this suggestion.
  6. The cooked loaf can be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap, then foil, and placed in the freezer. You probably won’t want to wait to eat this up, though.
  7. I have yet to do the rotisserie method. But, I’m sure it is probably even tastier than the oven cooking!

Tzatziki Sauce

16 oz. yogurt, plain OR 16 oz. Greek yogurt, plain
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped or shredded
1 pinch kosher salt
4 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 Tblsp. olive oil
2 tsp. red wine vinegar
5-6 mint leaves, finely minced

If using Greek yogurt (much thicker consistency), skip step #1
  1. Place yogurt in clean, cotton kitchen towel. Gather up corners, twist, and suspend over a bowl to drain for approximately 2 hours.
  2. Place chopped or shredded cucumber is the same type of tea towel, and squeeze out liquid. Discard this liquid.
  3. Combine drained (or Greek) yogurt, cucumber, salt, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, and mint in a medium mixing bowl.
  4. Serve as a sauce for gyros, or as a dipping sauce for a number of foods.

Frank Notes:
  1. Greek yogurt is pricier than regular yogurt, but you can cut the draining step. It’s a personal decision.
  2. Often, lemon juice could be used, in place of red wine vinegar. Both add an acidic property to the sauce. I would substitute the juice of about a half lemon for the 2 tsp. of vinegar. Definitely taste the sauce for seasoning.
  3. As with any sauce mixture like this, the more time it sets in the refrigerator, the better the flavors can marry and make the sauce better.
  4. This sauce can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week, or so, in the refrigerator. This recipe will yield approximately 1 ½ cups. I would not recommend trying to freeze this sauce. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Frank About... Bell's Hopslam Ale

Every winter, Bell's Brewery out of Michigan puts out their winter seasonal called Hopslam Ale, a double India Pale Ale (IPA). Everything screams "HOPS!!" From the picture of a person getting "slammed" by hops, to the name, to the hop-green color on the label. So, naturally, as a NON-HopHead, I wouldn't want anything to do with this beer! 

With that said... I have a natural curiosity as a beer lover. This beer also comes out in limited quantities. I know that Macadoodles sold out pretty quickly. However, this year, Bell's Brewery decided to put Hopslam out in two waves. So, when I found out a truck would be arriving, yesterday at Macadoodles, I had to slip in and get my hands on this beer. Now, you won't find any in the Build Your Own section, as this limited release sells for around $20 for a six-pack. I'll comment in a bit on whether it's worth that insane price!

Here is the "bottle-speak" from the beer: 

"Starting with six different hop varietals added to the brew kettle & culminating with a massive dry-hop addition of Simcoe hops, Bell's Hopslam Ale possesses the most complex hopping schedule in the Bell's repertoire. Selected specifically because of their aromatic qualities, these Pacific Northwest varieties contribute a pungent blend of grapefruit, stone fruit, and floral notes. A generous malt bill and a solid dollop of honey provide just enough body to keep the balance in check, resulting in a remarkably drinkable rendition of the Double India Pale Ale style."
This beer weighs in a 10% alcohol by volume (ABV). The particular six-pack I picked up had a packaging date of 2/09/2012. I shared one of my bottles with a good friend, and tightly held onto the remaining five. 

I just had to pop one, yesterday evening. Immediately upon the cap coming free of the bottle, I was greeted with a floral, piney, partially citrusy aroma. It was strong and enticing. Poured into a tulip glass, building a good finger and a half of head. From beginning to end, a thin head remained constant. The beer left a nice, delicate lacing on the sides of the glass. The aroma in the glass was the duplicate of my initial aroma blast from the freshly opened bottle. 

First taste impression did not make me think crazy hops. It had a great depth of flavor. There was definite hoppiness with the piney, herbal note. Then, a citrus/fruit profile to it. Very reminiscent of maybe grapefruit and almost a peach or apricot undertone. Yet, there was a hint of sweetness on the back of the finish, perhaps from the honey it was brewed with, or from the malt involved. 

Overall, this was one phenomenal beer! I highly recommend trying to see if any is remaining in your area. I'm unsure if Macadoodles still has any of their four cases that arrived yesterday, or not. I have heard some talk, however, that Brown Derby International Wine Center in Springfield had gotten more, and may still have some. 

And for the question you are all wondering... "Yeah, but Frank... is this crazy sh*t really worth 20 bucks a six-pack??" And my simple response would be... "Hell frickin' yeah!!!"

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Saturday in Springfield and Local Beer

This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to meet up with a great group of people from an online cigar community. We converged on Springfield, Missouri in the morning. While hanging out and enjoying camaraderie, I had the opportunity to sample a few great beers. First up was a Chocolate Stout from Fort Collins Brewery. Thick, rich, and chocolately, I really enjoyed this beer. Then, there was wax-dipped Barrel Aged Shipwreck Porter from Arcadia Ales, clocking in at 12% alcohol by volume (ABV). This beer was incredible! Then, my friend pulls out a bottle of Heaven… The Czar Russian Imperial Stout by Avery Brewing Company. This potent brew is 11.69%ABV, and from a 2009 batch. Words are hard to find for this beer description. I felt a warmness as the sip trickled to my stomach; a whisky-like warmness. Sweet as a nectar, deep rich fruit flavors… I really liked this beer. I had already decided to stop by Brown Derby on my way out of town to find a bottle. We finished up with a sampling from a nearly four year old Saison, from Boulevard Brewing Company (mentioned previously in "Frank About... Saison!" ).

Around noon, we all headed over to Springfield Brewing Company for lunch, and more beer. Springfield Brewing Company produces, in-house, a line of beer named Mueller Beer, a historic brand out of Springfield. They offer a great six-glass sampling of what they have on tap. On this day, the six drafts included: Mueller Lager, Mueller Unfiltered Wheat, Bull Creek Brown, Hop Lobster, Mueller IPA, and Mueller Doppel Bock. I had not drank the Bull Creek Brown or Hop Lobster, previously. The Hop Lobster was pretty tasty. I’m not normally a “HopHead”, but this beer was not a turnoff for me. The Bull Creek Brown was really good, as well. It wasn’t overly complex, but I enjoyed it.

As far as food, I had to go with a good ol’ standbye, the Black and Bleu Burger. They also have really good fish and chips, a killer mac ‘n’ cheese, and the Brewben is great, from what I hear. My medium burger was great, and really hit the spot, with my beer sampler.

After completion of our lunch, we headed down the street to Mother’s Brewing Company for a tasting and tour of the brewery. If you have no idea what Mother’s is, or is about, I apologize. You NEED to get to know this company, and their product! After spending more than fifteen years as a Springfield entrepreneur and civic leader, Jeff Schrag decided to open a production brewery, along with friend and colleague Jeremy Wicks, director of sales and marketing. Pair these two with brewmaster Brian Allen, a Siebel Institute graduate brewer, with 16 years of brewing experience, and a Great American Beer Festival judge for 13 years, and you have a threesome made in Beer Heaven!

The 30 barrel brewery is located at Walnut and Grant Streets, in downtown Springfield. The location is in a historic building, erected around 1902, home first to the Star Bottling Works. Throughout the 20th Century, it housed a bakery, in many different names and shapes, until the final closing in 2009. Mother’s made great use of the old equipment and building components, including old signage and the gorgeous tasting bar, made from old parts and wood from the bread factory. And the brewery embraces the local theme and the ecologically friendly stance. They donate spent grains to local farmers, who sell locally. The water used for cooling the wort is recycled into the heated water tank used for creating the wort. These are just a couple of the practices that Mother's uses to stay local, and stay eco-friendly. 

Jeremy Wicks explaining the bottling line, on the brewery tour

The tasting bar was staffed by Jesse and Hannah. Jesse took great care of our group! Jeremy gave the tour on Saturday, with assistance from an employee I hadn’t met before named Jeff. It was a fantastic tour. Jeremy and Jeff made it very informative, and entertaining! It was great to see such an operation, and how it was set up!

A Bit about Mother’s Beers:
Mother's Brewing Company produces three main beers, that are available year round: Towhead, Lil' Helper, and Three Blind Mice. As Jeremy pointed out on tour, Mother's creations hardly fit into a single beer style. They enjoy thinking up, and bringing to fruition, "mashups" that play on, and are inspired by, multiple style categories. 

Towhead is an American Blonde at 5.2%ABV and 21 International Bitterness Units (IBUs). I find it to be very clean, a slight fruit note, a hint of sweetness, with a crisp hoppy finish. It plays off a combo of German golden ales and American wheat beers. Lil’ Helper is their India Pale Ale offering at 7.0%ABV and  70 IBU’s. I think it's very fragrant, citrusy, maybe some grapefruit aroma and flavor. It's a hoppy IPA, but clean; it doesn't leave your mouth piney from the hop blast. The best way to categorize Three Blind Mice is as a brown beer. It comes in at 5.5%ABV and 24 IBUs. This beer is not heavy at all, and is  inspired by English brown ales, Irish red ales, and German altbiers. A faint chocolate character, maybe some toffee or caramel notes, but a little sprinkle of hop flavor in there. Very drinkable, very enjoyable! As a bonus to TBM lovers, in March, Mother's is releasing an Imperial Three Blind Mice. 

Mother's also boasts some good seasonal offerings. Sandi, “Hopped Up Wheat”, is their summer offering. Old School is their fantastic Oktoberfest offering in the fall, a traditional amber lager with a great malty character. Winter Grind is divine! This is their Winter seasonal coffee stout. A 6.0%ABV stout brewed with an espresso blend, roasted by local roaster the Mudhouse. You would think you were drinking coffee with a kick. Major coffee flavor. Love this beer! Very rich, very aromatic, very delicious. 

They also have other special releases: Foggy Notion is Mother’s barley wine offering, at 10%ABV, aged for six months. Tons of malt, a rich, dark sweetness to it. Very enjoyable. Uber Pils is an Imperial Czech-style pilsner at 8.5%ABV, and 55 IBUs, but I don’t think it’s overly hoppy. There is an underlying sweetness, with a balance of hop flavor. Extremely tastey beer. This one was released in mid-December.

Mother's also makes limited one-off firkins, including their First Firkin Fridays. In a few words, a firkin is an old English word, meaning fourth… referring to a ¼ barrel of beer. This cask is approximately 10 gallons. Usually used for small, experimental or special occasion, batches. Many small breweries have Firkin Fridays. Mother’s has brought this tradition to Springfield. The last Firkin Friday saw the cask emptied in 23 minutes. That is saying something!

On tap, Saturday, were Uber Pils, Harvest Ale, Foggy Notion, Lil’ Helper, Three Blind Mice, Sandi Wheat,  and Towhead. The only one I hadn’t tried previously, was Harvest Ale. It was a pretty good beer. Seemed a little thin, to me. Not a favorite of mine.

I am a huge supporter of Mother's! I love what they do, I love what they stand for. And they are LOCAL! If you haven't had a chance to visit them, yet, please do! Their tasting room is open Wed-Fri from 4pm-7pm, and on Saturday from 1pm-6pm, with tours at 2pm, 3pm, and 4pm. Their bottled offerings are available throughout Springfield, and now, in most stores in Joplin. Many restaurants and bars offer Mother's on tap in Joplin, as well. 

There are other chances to try Mother's beer in Joplin. Tomorrow night, Friday the 24th, Mother's will be at Macadoodles from 5pm-7pm for a tasting. PLEASE make a point to stop in and give them a try! Also, Mother's is doing something special on Thursday March 22nd, at Blackthorn Pizza: they are bringing a firkin filled with a brew created with cocoa nibs, vanilla bean, and coffee stout. It will go fast. It starts at 8pm, so I would be there at 7:30! 

Worst comes to worst... if you can't get to any Mother's events or tasting room, and not sure about spending four bucks on a pint, get hold of me. I will gladly buy you a Mother's to sample!!! (I'm not kidding... I'm that passionate about this wonderful local beer.)

It was a great day in Springfield! We really enjoyed our stops! And a big special thanks to Springfield Brewing Company and Mother's Brewing Company for putting up with us! Next time you're in Joplin, definitely get into the places and try them out. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Valentine's Dinner for a Queen

Tuesday evening, Valentine's Day, my favorite sous chef and I sat out to make a special dinner for the true love in our lives. I had tossed around some fancier dinner menus, but settled for what she suggested sounded great to her. She said a really yummy macaroni and cheese, Brussels sprouts, and some kind of smoked sausage sounded really yummy. So, we sat out to create a meal for our Queen!

I searched online to find a good mac'n'cheese that had some really rich flavors. I found one that was a winner of the 2008 Best Mac 'n' Cheese Ever contest on Good Morning America. It used Gruyere and extra sharp cheddar cheeses, roasted garlic, and bacon to create the wonderful depth of flavor.

As far as the Brussels sprouts, we turned to an old standby: a Giada de Laurentiis recipe that is a basic combination of Brussels sprouts and pancetta. I've made this recipe dozens of times. I have used this preparation to lure in Sprout Haters!

We found a yummy cheddar smoke sausage in the store, and did a simple pan simmer on it, and of course, my sous chef got to dip some strawberries in melted, velvety chocolate for his mommy.

Everything was going to be done as she walked through the door after a long day at work. My sous chef did a fantastic job of setting the table, complete with flute glasses for sparkling grape juice. It turned out perfect, and our Queen was properly impressed!

the sommelier at Le Bistro Daniel

Here are the recipes I used...

A Frank word on recipes…  Recipes are guidelines. They are not concrete instructions. I will always tweak recipes to my own purpose. Often, I won’t make the same dish the same way, twice. Don’t be afraid to experiment in the kitchen. Try your own twist! With that being said, the only recipes I don’t take too much liberty with are baking recipes. Baking recipes often use ratios and particular temperatures and times for the reactions to take place. I will post more about ratios, and science in cooking, at a later time. I just don’t want you to be afraid to try new things with recipes you come across.

Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta
1 lb fresh Brussels sprout trimmed
2 T. olive oil
3 oz. paper thin slices of pancetta, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt & freshly ground black pepper
¾ C. low-sodium chicken broth
  1. Partially cook the Brussels sprouts in a large pot of boiling salted water, about 4 minutes. Drain.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a heavy large skillet over medium heat.
  3. Add the pancetta and sauté until beginning to crisp, about 3 minutes.
  4. Add the garlic and sauté until pale golden, about 2 minutes. Do not overcook, as garlic will turn very bitter.
  5. Add the Brussels sprouts to the same skillet and sauté until heated through and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  6. Add the broth and simmer until the broth reduces just enough to coat the Brussels sprouts, about 3 minutes. Serve.
Frank Notes:
  1. Trimming the Brussels sprouts basically means cutting back the stem a little, and peeling the outermost couple of leaves of the sprouts head. I prefer to steam the sprouts, rather than boil them, until just getting tender. You can also cook the Brussels sprouts ahead of time. Be sure to rinse them in cold water to halt the cooking process, to prevent them from becoming mushy.
  2. Pancetta is a type of bacon, sometimes called Italian-style bacon. It’s the same cut of pork used in bacon, pork belly, but has been rolled and cured. Pancetta can be a pricey ingredient, and not necessarily available in your local store. Bacon can easily, and satisfactorily, be substituted.
  3. Homemade chicken stock would be best, but we all know this isn’t an ideal world. You will want to make sure your broth is, in fact, low sodium. The pancetta, or bacon, will add a degree of saltiness to you dish. If you think it needs more salt, you can make that addition

1 head of garlic, roasted
1 t. olive oil
1 lb. Cavatappi pasta
½ lb. sliced Applewood smoked bacon
1 ½ C. fresh white bread crumbs (w/o crusts)
½ C. grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
8 T. butter
¼ C. minced shallots
½ C. flour
1 qt. whole milk
6 oz. Gruyere cheese, grated
8 oz. extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
½ t. pepper
1 t. salt
¼ t. freshly grated nutmeg

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  2. Slice ½ inch off top of entire head of garlic
  3. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  4. Wrap garlic head tightly in aluminum foil and roast until tender – about 45 minutes.
  5. Remove garlic pulp but squeezing garlic head, and smash cloves with a fork to make a paste.
  6. Cook pasta according to package directions.
  7. Cook bacon completely. Drain on paper towels. Reserve 1 tablespoon of bacon fat. Crumble bacon when cool.
  8. Combine breadcrumbs, crumbled bacon, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, and 2 tablespoons of butter. Set aside.
  9. Raise oven temperature to 375°.
  10. Sauté shallots over low heat in reserved bacon fat for one minute.
  11. Add remaining butter and continue to sauté in butter and bacon fat until translucent.
  12. Add flour and continue to cook for 1-2 minutes.
  13. Increase heat to medium. Stirring constantly with a whisk, add milk and roasted garlic paste.
  14. Cook until sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and add salt, pepper, nutmeg, Gruyere and Cheddar cheeses. Taste and adjust salt and pepper, if necessary.
  15. Stir in the cooked pasta. Pour into baking dish.
  16. Sprinkle with topping. Cover with aluminum foil and bake 15 minutes.
  17. Remove foil and continue baking until sauce is bubbly and topping is browned.
Frank Notes:
1.  If you can’t find the Cavatappi pasta, you can use any type of pasta you desire, such as a basic
     elbow macaroni.
2.  You can use any bacon you like; it does not need to be Applewood smoked!
            3.  If you can’t find shallots, just use a finely minced white onion.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Frank About... Saison!

In my last post, I mentioned the Chocolate Ale special release from Boulevard Brewing Company. While examining the Webb City Price Cutter for any trace of this elusive bottle, I stumbled onto an odd find. There were some bottles from the Boulevard Smoke Stack Series,labeled as Saison, in a cooler. The bottles were very dusty, and I didn't immediately recognize the label. I couldn't get my phone to connect well enough to get any information about the release. When I got home, I did some research and found out that the bottling was the 4th release in the Smokestack Series from 2008. The batch code on the back of the bottle (S8060) indicated that the beer was bottled on the 60th day of 2008... which happened to be a leap year! My friend and fellow Brother of the Brew, Dan, headed to Price Cutter to pick us up a couple bottles to sample. Since the beer was bottle conditioned, it should have aged nicely. Only issue would be if it had aged too much. Some Saisons are good only up to six months, others peak around two years. (At the time, I had not realized, yet, that this one was nearly four years old.)

Look at that gorgeous head!

The next evening, at our respective homes, Dan and I uncorked a bottle to sample how well the beer stood up to the years. Dan immediately texted me to tell me how delicious the beer was! I was dying to get the chance, later that evening, to find out for myself. When I uncaged the bottle, and popped the cork, there really wasn't any pop. I was suddenly worried from the lack of carbonation, that this bottle may not have done well. The beer poured a nice cloudy straw/pale golden into the glass, and with it, a gorgeous, substantial head (as you can see in the above photo). The head was dense, left great lacing on the sides of the glass, and was proof the carbonation was still spot-on. Bubbles continued to dance upward in the glass the entire time I enjoyed this beer. There were great fruity notes and a nice subtle sweetness reminiscent of a Riesling or a light mead. I absolutely loved this Saison. Dan went back to Price Cutter and picked up the other three bottles they had in the cooler. I'm waiting to drink my remaining bottle until it's fourth birthday, on  February 29th. 

I don't know how these bottles came to land in the Webb City Price Cutter beer cooler... They may have been tucked away, accidentally, at the distribution warehouse; or they may have been in the back corner of the store's cooler. I am just thankful to have come across such a stash, and had the opportunity to try this beer with nearly four years of age on it. 

Now, you might be saying to yourself, "Self... what the unholy Hell is 'Saison'? Is Frank just trying to use fancy words?" As much as I do feel more sophisticated tossing around words like Saison, it's a fantastic beer style. 

Saison, in French, means "season". No, not like garlic powder, or herbs. Saison is also referred to as farmhouse ale. It originated in Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium. It was brewed in farmhouses in the autumn and winter months, to be given to farmhands assisting with the late summer harvest. At that time, clean drinking water wasn't easy to come by; most contained bacteria. So, to be safe, these farmhands were giving this low alcohol beer to aid in hydration. Traditionally, Saisons were around 3-3.5% alcohol by volume (ABV). Today, in the U.S., where Saison and farmhouse style ales are enjoying a resurgence, you will find anywhere from 5-8% ABV. 

To stand up to the long period of time between brewing and tapping, the brewers faced a challenge: too make the beer strong enough to fight off spoilage, but light enough to still be refreshing. In order to achieve this balance, the ales were heavily hopped, taking advantage of the antiseptic and preservative nature of hops. Brewing during colder months also assisted in spoilage prevention. 

Saisons have quite a complex flavor profile. Sometimes you will find Saison brewed with additions of orange zest, coriander, or ginger. Sometimes wheat is used for brewing. The type of malt used will determine the color of the beer; most typically it will be brewed from pale and/or pilsner malt. This will result in the most common color of Saison: a cloudy golden hue. Saisons can be semi-dry, fruity, and aromatic with characters of yeast and sourness. Saisons can often age very well, with most hitting their peak in approximately two years. It is a good trial to get two bottles, when possible, to drink one fresh and one cellared. As with any aged ale, the hoppiness will tone down over time. You will also lose some of the residual sugar sweetness, as the bottle conditioning (yeast added to the bottle) continues to work through the beer. 

I highly recommend going out and finding a few examples of Saison, or farmhouse style ale, and sampling for yourself. It really is enjoyable in its complexity and flavor nuances. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Frank Rant… Joplin Liquor Stores: A Tale of Two Extremes

I’m on a rant, today. It’s a rant I’ve been on before, but I’m on it, again, today.

Here’s the back-story… Boulevard Brewing Company, out of Kansas City, has a special release beer called Chocolate Ale. It was to be very limited, hard to find, and would hit stores on January 31, of this year. Boulevard put out a statement on their website that because of the glorious three-tier distribution system (I’ll rant more about in another post, so long story short, today), in which they cannot sell their beer directly to stores, they have to rely on a distributor of the “Big Three” to get their product into stores. Well, because of this, Boulevard shipped out their Chocolate Ale release to the independent distributors in early January, with suggested instructions to not stock it on shelves until January 31st, the set release date.

On Friday, January 20th, I was in a local liquor store, Macadoodles Fine Wine, Beer, & Spirits, purchasing some beverages for a dinner/game night that we were having on Saturday evening. Something caught my eye… It was a display of Boulevard Chocolate Ale. I had read about the elusiveness and issues with this release on KC Beer Blog. In that instant, I hadn’t thought much about ever trying to find this beer, and was focusing on my task at hand. I walked past it to continue shopping.

Fast forward to yesterday. My wife was really interested in trying this beer, and I had a friend from the Kansas City area looking for any I could find for a relative. It had sold out in stores within hours in Kansas City on Tuesday, the 31st. Now in the past, I had been in local stores, and there had been previous Boulevard special releases stocked fully, long after they had been depleted in Kansas City. For example, the Saison-Brett 2011 release. So, it wasn’t completely absurd to call around and see if I could find any Chocolate Ale still lurking on some dusty shelves, around Joplin.

I made a stop into Macadoodles for the off-chance that they might still have a few bottles. They were out. When I asked them… I got a very kind, and regretful response. Please take note… I said kind and regretful.

Last evening, when I called another liquor store in town, that prides itself on having all the latest and greatest, the gentleman (I used this term loosely) proceeded to laugh loudly at me over the phone for a matter of several seconds, and said “Nope, man… not in this town!”

How professional do you think that is? This is just another example of the long line of un-professionalism from this other store.

Rewind to May 22nd… you already know what happened, here. Well, my regular & favorite store, Macadoodles, was part of the tornado destruction. From that point on, we were forced into having to rely upon another store in town that tried to be up on the latest craft beers, and such. It was not a pleasant experience. Over the course of several visits, I had to deal with some awkward obstacles.

The craft beer section is located in the rear of the store. It’s rather difficult to get to, and to browse. Upon one trip, I had to deal with the owner/manager’s dog being chained up in that area. I really don’t need to be examined by a dog (and cats) while trying to browse the beer. On another visit, there were two kids in the back of the store. They were obviously hanging out after school, and watching a television set up in front of one of the beer shelves. I actually tripped over the boy’s feet while trying to find a particular six-pack. He was probably 12, maybe. The girl was younger… maybe 9 or 10 years old. I don’t particularly like having to navigate around kids while trying to find my beer, either.

The day Macadoodles re-opened, I was happy to show up and check out the new store. The Assistant Manager, Carla Bethel, was on hand to chat with, and I had to let her know how excited I was for the store to be back. I also relayed some stories about the alternate routes we had to take for our craft beer. She had apparently been hearing those stories all morning!

Macadoodles Fine Wine, Beer, and Spirits is a fantastic store, completely devoted to customer service. They hold the door for you, they greet you on the way in, and they will even carry your purchases out to your vehicle. I have never left that store in a poor mood. If you have too much in your hands while you’re shopping, it never fails that someone will come by to carry some of your items to the counter while you continue shopping. The selection of craft beer, as well as an incredible selection of liquors and wines, is astounding. It appears to be even more so, since the rebuild. The staff is incredibly helpful and knowledgeable. You can sample featured wines, beers, and liquors, as well. The wine staff is always willing to lend you a suggestion, or assist you in finding a particular style or brand. And there is absolutely no snobbery in the wine department!

This is a far cry from the totally absurd behavior you will experience in some other store in Joplin. This is truly a tale of two extremes… one that laughs at you on the phone, lacks any real knowledge of latest releases, and seems to be around just to make a buck. And one that goes out of its way to make your experience top-notch, and backs it up with a satisfaction guarantee.

Am I gaining anything from this commentary? Absolutely not… In fact, it may be hurting me, if more people discover Macadoodles, and are there to snatch up all my favorite beers! This is in no way, shape, or form an advertisement. It’s simply a customer discussing and being "Frank" about his experiences in this town. Joplin is very fortunate to be home to a store like Macadoodles!

/end rant.