“Happy New Beer”! – Janée’s 2016 Year in Beer Recap

It’s time to say goodbye to 2016! (Bye, Felicia!) 

But first, let’s take a look back at the beer stats, “beercations”, festivals, new brewery visits and more that make up my 2016 review of my year in beer.

Let’s start with the number of new breweries I’ve visited this year! This year… drumroll please… 

I visited 56 new breweries this year! This is 1 more than last year, which is really impressive, considering that any brewery I’ve set foot in before doesn’t count for this list. In 2016, I averaged more than 1 new brewery visit per week.

Here’s the list!:

1. Ponysaurus, Durham, NC -1/9

2. Cascade Brewing Barrel House, Portland, OR- 2/3

3. The Commons Brewery, Portland, OR- 2/3

The Commons Brewery

4. Basecamp Brewing, Portland, OR – 2/3

5. Hair of the Dog, Portland, OR – 2/3

6. Pelican Brewing, Tillamook, OR – 2/4

7. de Garde, Tillamook, OR – 2/4

8. Block 15 (Downtown Pub Brewery), Corvallis, OR – 2 /4

9. Block 15 (Production Brewery), Corvallis, OR – 2/4

10. Ninkasi, Eugene, OR – 2/4

11. Fieldwork, Berkeley, CA – 2/6

12. Barrelhouse Brewing, Paso Robles, CA – 2/6

13. Firestone Walker, Paso Robles, CA – 2/7

14.Firestone Walker Barrelworks, Buellton, CA – 2/7

Firestone Walker Barrelworks

15. Phantom Carriage, Carson, CA – 2/7

16. Smog City, Torrance, CA – 2/7

17. Karl Strauss, Costa Mesa, CA – 2/8

18. Bagby Beer Company, Oceanside, CA – 2/9

Bagby Beer Company

19. Modern Times, San Diego, CA – 2/9

20. Toolbox, Vista, CA – 2/9 

21. Council, San Diego, CA – 2/9

22. Bhramari Brewhouse, Asheville, NC – 3/27

Bhramari Brewhouse

23. Hi-Wire Brewing Big Top, Asheville, NC – 3/27

24. Free Range Brewing, Charlotte, NC – 4/14

25. Legion Brewing, Charlotte, NC – 4/21

26. Switchback Brewing, Burlington, VT – 5/19

27. Burlington Beer Co., Burlington, VT – 5/19

28. Hill Farmstead, Greensboro Bend, VT – 5/19

29. Prohibition Pig, Waterbury, VT – 5/19

Prohibition Pig

30. Liquid Riot Bottling Company, Portland, ME – 5/20

31. Allagash, Portland, ME – 5/21

32. Maine Beer Company, Freeport, ME – 5/21

33. Sunday River Brewing, Bethel, ME – 5/21

34. New Belgium Brewing,  Asheville, NC – 6/25

New Belgium Asheville

35. Zebulon Artisan Ales, Asheville, NC – 6/25

36. Joymongers, Greensboro, NC – 6/26

37. Bond Brothers, Cary, NC – 7/3

38. Neuse River Brewing, Raleigh, NC – 7/3

39. Brown Truck Brewery, High Point, NC – 7/10

40. The Veil, Richmond, VA – 7/12

41. Brew Gentlemen, Braddock, PA – 8/14

42. Horse and Dragon Brewing, Fort Collins, CO – 10/4

43. Vail Brewing, Vail, CO – 10/5

44. Casey Brewing, Glenwood Springs, CO – 10/5

45. Avery Brewing (new location), Boulder, CO – 10/5

Avery

46. Crooked Stave Barrel Cellar, Denver, CO – 10/6

47. Lowdown Brewery and Kitchen, Denver, CO – 10/6

48. Black Project, Denver, CO – 10/7

49. Weldwerks Brewing, Greeley, CO – 10/7

Weldwerks

50. Wiley Roots Brewing, Greeley, CO – 10/7

51. De Steeg Brewing, Denver, CO – 10/7

52. Westbrook Brewing, Mt. Pleasant, SC – 11/5

53. Durty Bull, Durham, NC – 11/17

54. Dovetail Brewery, Chicago, IL – 11/19

55. Goose Island Production Facility (W. Fulton), Chicago, IL – 11/20

56. Goose Island Barrel Warehouse (N. Sacramento), Chicago, IL – 11/20

This all brings my grand total of breweries visited to 217. Not bad, considering that I didn’t even start keeping track until 2014! (Anything before that, even if it’s somewhere I know I went, doesn’t count. Because rules.)

And here are some stats from this year, courtesy of Untappd! Looking at this is always fun every year. (Note that I’ve really scaled back on religious Untappd check-ins. Sometimes, it’s just more fun to drink without that worry.)

Total Beers in 2016: 1,363 (70 less than last year. Again, keep in mind that I scaled back my Untappd check-ins.)

Total Unique (new to me) Beers in 2016: 957 (61 less than last year)

New Beer Ratio: 70% of the beers I consumed were ones I had never tried before (only down 1% from last year).

Average Beers Per Day: 4 (The same as last year. Again, I go to lots of bottle shares! Lots of these are smaller pours. But thanks for your concern!)

My Top Venue: Aside from my house, it’s once again… Haw River Farmhouse Ales!

My Most Consumed Beer for 2016: I have no clue how I pulled this off, but it was Pliny the Elder. Damn! *high fives self* (It was Major Arcana from Haw River last year. Lucky me again!)

And obviously, you know we went on some beercations this year. Aside from “beercations”, we live in a really great state for beer, so it’s easy to just take a day trip or an overnight trip to badass places like Asheville, NC, where we hit up the second annual Funkatorium Invitational Festival at Wicked Weed.

Here are the beercations!:

Oregon/California:

We hit up Oregon and California in February. We go out to Cali every year to pick up beer from The Bruery’s Reserve Society and The Rare Barrel’s Ambassadors of Sour programs. This year we added Oregon to the trip and made a week of it! De Garde was more that we ever imagined, and Toolbox was the new favorite by a landslide in California.

Vermont/Maine:

In May, it was Vermont and Maine. We can thank Sam and Julie for getting married in Maine for us going on this trip! Hill Farmstead was definitely the favorite brewery stop of this trip. 

Colorado:

In October, we went to Colorado for our first experience with GABF! (No, Gram. This isn’t a drug.) The Great American Beer Festival is a must for a beer geek. 

The events surrounding GABF were even more fun. Give me a Denver Rare any day. And the people we met? You can’t really top Garrett Oliver, Ray Daniels, Lauren Salazar and Patrick Rue. That in itself made for a stellar trip. I completely geeked out. 

My hands down favorite brewery of the trip (and of all my 2016 brewery visits) was Weldwerks! And our favorite beer was without a doubt their Barrel Aged Mexican Achromatic! (I can’t confirm or deny if I may have cracked our one and only bottle to ring in the new year last night.)

Chicago:

And in November, our friends, Misti and Charles, won the Prop lottery and invited us to be their guests in Chicago for the release at Goose Island. 

I almost missed the trip after my discovery on my 3rd wedding anniversary a couple days before our flight that I have horrific acid reflux. Thankfully, I recovered just hours before I needed to leave! And I may or may not have been enjoying some amazing deep dish pizza a couple hours after we landed. (Take that, acid reflux! NOTHING comes between me and Chicago deep dish!)

And that ended a crazy 2016 for us.

It’s also worth mentioning that in April, I found out that the brewery I work for was being sold to Anheuser-Busch InBev. That was a tough pill to swallow, and I don’t think anyone who knew me expected that to be easy for me. 

Our COO had approached me after the announcement, which I greatly respected and appreciated. He lightheartedly asked me what the next blog post was going to look like. And he encouraged me to share my story.

It wasn’t the year at work that I expected it to be, but everything happens for a reason. 

So, what’s in store for 2017, you ask?

For starters, I’ve decided to hold off a bit on taking my Advanced Cicerone exam. I love being a Certified Cicerone, and one day, I know I’ll join the ranks of the Advanced Cicerones. But for the time being, I want to focus on a few other things before I tackle the at least 8-12 months of studying I feel I’ll need to pass. 

Also, I’m really excited to announce that I’ll be putting a lot more time and effort into my blog in 2017! Beer and marketing are giant passions of mine, but my love for marketing truly grew from my love of writing. I entered college many moons ago with the intended major of journalism, but changed it, not wanting to be a news writer making pennies and being influenced by the media’s agendas. 

My blog has always been an avenue to what makes me most happy in life, and it’s time to venture further down that road. Maybe we can call that the “forgotten road” of 2016. It’s time to take it. 

And speaking of taking steps to make myself happier in life, I’ve saved the best announcement for last…

(No. Get that having a baby shit out of your head. And sadly, if you were thinking “puppy!”, you’d be mistaken, too. For now.)

Ben and I have begun working on our own brewery! Ben SLAYS some homebrew. And we’re incredibly fortunate to have such a supportive network of friends/fellow beer geeks who already have had amazing things to say about Ben’s beer. We’ve wanted this for a very long time. 

Together, I truly think we can do anything. (This isn’t a mushy head in the clouds sentiment. This is a Walking Dead Rick and Daryl kicking all the asses statement.)

Ben has a great entrepreneurial spirit and is an inspired brewer, and is just a really damn smart guy. (Don’t tell him I said that.) This guy works his ass off, and when he puts his mind to something, it’s as good as done.

And I’m passionate and driven, and definitely have a fun and challenging road ahead to build our brand and sell the shit out of some beer. If I can make a multi-billion dollar corporation (love you, Sheetz!) millions of dollars improving efficiencies, making fun beverages, and engaging consumers in my old job, then I can return to badassery with my own business.

So, 2017, I’m ready for you! Happy New Year!

And if you want to see how 2015 treated me, check out my blog post from last year’s “Year in Beer” here!

A Beer Museum Is Brewing

Beer education is incredibly important to me. There’s a great big world of beer information out there, and it can be a daunting task for people to experiment with flavors or learn about styles.

But beyond flavors and styles, beer has a story. Beer isn’t just a beverage. The story and history of beer is an extremely powerful one.

Did you know that women were the first brewers?

Did you know that hops weren’t originally a part of beer? It wasn’t until around 1600 that they became a prevalent ingredient in beer. (Can you even imagine a world without IPAs?)

Did you know that the Ancient Egyptians who built the pyramids were paid in beer?

Some breweries are lucky enough to have a resident beer geek to share some of their knowledge about beer and its history, but for the most part, you’ll have to pick up a book to learn yourself.

Or do you…?

I bring you, Brew: The Museum of Beer.

brew_logo_v002

Yep. A museum about beer.

And what would a beer museum be without beer on tap? Yeah, they have that covered, too.

So where is this museum?

It actually doesn’t exist yet.

But have no fear. Pittsburgh beer geek, Joe McAllister is working to make the museum a reality in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. McAllister founded the Autism Center at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and co-founded the Advisory Board on Autism and Related Disorders. He’s no stranger to taking on big projects, and as a beer geek, saw a need for a beer museum that told the story of beer instead of just the story of one brewery.

This 50,000 square foot museum is set to be the first of its kind, and is slated to open in 2018. The museum will focus on the history of beer, include interactive exhibits, and it will have its own brewery and 300 seat gastropub.

Crowdfunding efforts began a few months ago and have earned close to $30,000 so far on Indiegogo. The first goal for this campaign is to raise $50,000. The Indiegogo campaign ends December 19, but funds will continue to be accepted after that date, and the campaign will receive all funds raised, even if it doesn’t reach its goal.

As a lover of beer and beer education, a Certified Cicerone, and a lover of Pittsburgh, this news couldn’t excite me more. I hope you’ll join me in donating a few bucks to help this vision become reality. The link to donate is here!

Cheers, friends!

 

GABF Beercation 2016 – Day 1 – Fort Collins

Well, friends, it’s FINALLY happened. After two years of purchasing tickets and not being able to attend the one and only Great American Beer Festival, the year has finally come that I’m able to go!

Ben and our friend, Steve, from the amazing Haw River Farmhouse Ales, and myself flew from NC into Denver yesterday and drove out to Fort Collins to kick off our beercation! And our day was AWESOME. 

Here’s how it went down!

I was getting a little hangry on the hour drive from Denver to Fort Collins, so we hit up my friend, Sam, who we planned to meet later and who’s lived here for a few years now, for some lunch suggestions. 

We landed on grabbing some sandwiches because he said there was a really good beer selection at this particular spot – Choice City Butcher and Deli. I thought to myself, “I’ll just have a nice little sandwich so I have plenty of room for beer after.”

Ha.

No.

These sandwiches were giant and amazing. Here’s what was left of my Italian sandwich that I quite literally destroyed. 

I guess the little side of mashed potatoes that the woman at the deli recommended didn’t help me to not feel full either, but they were totally worth the added 10 minutes extra it took for my food coma to wear off.

And the New Belgium Blackberry Love:Oscar was perfection as my first beer of the day.

With full bellies, we trekked on to Funkwerks (my second time there!) to crush some amazing beers. We sat outside on that gorgeous day. It was probably around 60-65 degrees out, which was super refreshing compared to the 80 degree weather we left in NC. 

Sam and his awesome new wife, Julie, came to meet us. (Our last beercation was to fo to their wedding in Maine in May.) Beer is ALWAYS better with friends and old stories.

It had been two and a half years since I had been to Funkwerks. Their house yeast has evolved incredibly since then with a discernable farmey funk to it. We shared a few flights and a bottle of their 2015 Oud Bruin. Paisley was probably my favorite beer there, and I’m regretting having not grabbed a bottle.

From there, we went to Horse and Dragon Brewing, which was all of a 30 second car ride away. We got a few flights there, and I was pleasantly surprised with everything. They had a great range of styles.

Sam and Julie left after that, and we headed to make what we thought would be a brief pit stop at New Belgium Brewing before we went to check in to our Airbnb. 

We had been talking earlier about how Lauren Salazar of New Belgium, without question the most badass woman in the industry, and one of the most respected people in the industry, apparently was a fan of a Haw River beer.

We sit down at the bar and order a few beers, and just a minute or two later, in walks none other than Lauren fucking Salazar. Steve grabbed some Haw River bottles from the car to give to her, and we all began chatting. 

As if that wasn’t enough to be the highlight of the trip, she asked us if we wanted to come back to the foeders and have a beer with her. 

We and a few cool guys from Austin Beerworks joined her and tasted some Whiskey Fat Back and laughed about the names she’s given to some of the numbered foeders. They’re completely out of chronological order in the first half of the room, and Lauren joked that there’s one number they can never find, so she calls it “Stepchild”. She then apologized to my red-headed husband (red headed stepchild), and we all shared a good laugh about that. 

Other fun foeder names included Old Dirty Bastard and Darth Vader.
I’m still in awe that we got to drink beer and chat with her. She was so gracious. 

After we left New Belgium, we pinched ourselves, realized this was real life, and threw our stuff in our stunning Airbnb before grabbing dinner at The Colorado Room. 

You can almost never go wrong with poutine with a fried egg on top. 

At this point, I was starting to hit the wall, but out old asses decided to move on to one more spot before calling it a night.

We went to The Mayor of Old Town as our last stop for the night. They have 100 beers on tap and were rated one of the top 15 beer bars in America by craftbeer.com. 

Pliny was on tap and that was the perfect beer to finish my night off with!
Here’s to hoping day 2 is even better than day 1!

Bullets2Bandages Bottle Openers

There’s one thing I’ve been passionate about long before beer came into my life. (Don’t worry; we’re still going to be talking beer here!)

I’ve always had a great love and respect for our nation’s military veterans. Both of my grandfathers were in the Navy, and at one point in my life, I actually entertained joining myself.

I grew up hearing my Pappy Wilson’s crazy stories of pranks he’d pull while aboard his destroyer. (He had some good ones! I think one involved lighting things on fire and dropping them in the ships’ trough-like toilets, so it would float down and light people’s butts on fire…) And I was (and still am) obsessed with anchors because I was always sorting through my pap’s extra naval uniform buttons. (I apparently was a simple child. It didn’t take much to entertain me!)

My other grandfather, my Pappy Jackson, was a man of few words. A Genesee from his fridge was the first beer I (accidentally) tasted. I always loved to write, and my pap got me into a patriotic speech/writing contest through his VFW post. I kept winning and having to present my speech over and over again, and it was great to spend time with my pap and the rest of those ass-kicking old vets!

And inevitably, I ended up marrying a Marine. With two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, I’m thankful to have him back and in the civilian world!

So what does all of this have to do with beer?

One day, while obsessively posting and checking out all things beer on Instagram, I came across a company called Bullets2Bandages when I saw an eye-catching image of a .50 caliber bullet bottle opener they had posted. They often posted images of Marine Corps inspired bottle openers, and one day, I decided to check out their website to see what this company was all about. I knew I needed one of these bottle openers for my husband! Because. Beer. And because. The Marine Corps.

I was fortunate enough to get to chat with the guys from Bullets2Bandages, and I found out that it was a company started in 2011 by two former officers in the Navy, Erik and Cole, who were looking for something to do when they got out.

They stumbled upon the idea of first making bullet necklaces when a 9mm round fell out of Erik’s gear and onto his dog tags. He posted a picture to Facebook and people wanted to know where they could get one. They had planned on only making a handful for what they thought would be a one-off fundraiser for a charity called the Travis Manion Foundation, honoring of one of their fallen friends who was killed in Iraq.

Things took off from there and Erik and Cole realized they had the makings of an actual business on their hands.

What I love about Bullets2Bandages is that their goal is to support veteran charities. They’ve donated at least 15% of their annual profits to veteran charities each year. In 2014, they actually donated more than 60%! Very badass.

They work a lot with the Travis Manion Foundation, and have donated thousands of medals for their 9/11 Heroes Runs. A full list of their charity partners is on their website.

Despite their start in jewelry, B2B now primarily makes bottle openers, and they’re made out of spent ammunition. And of course, they’re made in the good ol’ U.S.A. You can purchase openers as they exist on their website, or you can customize them.

They’re, of course, popular with military audiences. They get a lot of custom orders for Marine Corps Birthday Balls. And they’re pretty popular as groomsmen gifts, too.

And obviously, I had to ask the California-based Bullets2Bandages crew about some of their favorite beers and breweries. Modern Times made the “If I could only drink beer from one brewery for the rest of my life” list, and their Booming Rollers IPA was a favorite staple.

Stone’s “Enjoy By” IPA series and Black IPA series made the list, too. Other favorite breweries were Green Flash, Ballast Point, Council, Ironfire, Alpine, Knee Deep, Figueroa Mountain, and Firestone Walker. (Solid list, guys!)

All this talk about great CA beer is getting me excited for my annual Cali “beercation” in a little less than a month! (Yeah!)

There’s really not much I love more than beer. Our nation’s veterans are one of those few things I love more. I’m thankful that I grew up knowing some very inspiring veterans. And I’m extremely grateful for those veterans who are inspired enough to give back to fellow vets.

When I come across a veteran owned company that supports veterans charities AND has some badass beer geek things, what can get better than that?

FullSizeRender

Saxapahaw, NC

One of my favorite stories starts here.

It’s about time I talk about one of my favorite places in North Carolina, which will lead us to my hands down FAVORITE brewery, in North Carolina.

You KNOW that I’m a storyteller. The struggle for me to keep it short is real! Here is part one of two.

When Ben and I were preparing to move to North Carolina, finding a nearby brewery was obviously a priority. We were looking at homes in Burlington (between Greensboro and Durham), where we would be working. Priorities = finding local brewery > finding and purchasing a home. With the help of the good old Internet, we found something that piqued our interest.

A new brewery was set to be opening shortly after we moved to NC – Haw River Farmhouse Ales.

Being a marketing geek, I default to judging a brand by its cover. Their website excited me! Something told me this would be a good spot for us. (Check it out here! Haw River Farmhouse Ales)  

 
The brewery had just completed a Kickstarter fundraising campaign, but was in the process of wrapping up one outside of Kickstarter called “Barnraisers”. I figured, “Why not?”, signed up for it and contributed.

We moved from PA to NC in June of last year, and a couple weeks later, decided we would scope this new brewery out, even though it wasn’t open yet. We typed Saxapahaw, NC into our GPS, and our lives were never the same…

Seriously.

Saxapahaw, as you may have guessed by the sound of it, is no thriving metropolis. It boasts a population of less than 1,700 people. But this place just has something special.

It happened to be a Saturday when we came into Saxapahaw to check things out. We drove about 20 minutes from our house into what seemed like the middle of nowhere. We rounded a bend in the road and saw the sides of the road covered in parked cars that stretched for as far as you could see. We had happened upon the weekly “Saturdays in Saxapahaw” festival.

Knowing the brewery was near, we parked our car in a ways away alongside the road and just started walking to where everyone seemed to be. You could hear a cover band in the distance playing some folk music.

We took a path to a hillside where a tiny wooden stage with an ampitheatre-like back wall sat on the edge. People covered the lawn and sat with food and coolers. We sat down for a few minutes to check it out. A family came up to sit near us with a bunch of food in Sheetz bags, and Ben and I (both working for Sheetz at that time) instantly felt a little more at home.  

 We got up to explore the area below the stage where vendors and food trucks were set up. This place just oozes “local”. There was a stand of farm fresh fruit and vegetables, a stand with local jellies and jams, a couple with local crafts and baked goods, and also a super crafty handmade soda stand that caught my eye, having been a crafter of fun beverages myself in my last job.  

 We walked over to the soda stand to grab a drink, and were happily surprised to see that the sodas were crafted by Haw River Farmhouse Ales. If we couldn’t try the beer yet, I’d certainly settle for another artesian beverage!

I told the people working at the stand that I had just moved from Pennsylvania, and that I was a “Barnraiser” and looking forward to trying the beer. It was Ben and Dawnya, the owners of the brewery. I think I had gotten a soda with jalapeno in it, and another with lavender. Both were excellent! I couldn’t wait to see what they could do to a beer!

We left the festival area and crossed the road to a beautiful little area seated on the Haw River. We scoped out the spot where the brewery was. It was unmarked, as it charmingly remains today, seated at the base of a beautiful, large building that is a flawless merging of raw, rustic style with a touch of modern industrial appeal. It seemed like the building just belonged perfectly there. I can’t describe it any other way.  

 We discovered a rustic ballroom, The Haw River Ballroom, right beside the brewery. We agreed that, had we not gotten married and had our reception at a brewery in California, this would have been the place for it! It has so much character and charm! It’s also a local concert venue.

To the right of the ballroom in the same building are these gorgeous lofts with glass facings and an integrated industrial feel. We were sad that we had just purchased a home. (We felt a little better after seeing the price tags, though that view is worth it!)  

 Directly above the brewery on the next level was a sign for The Eddy Pub. At this point, Ben and I were hungry. (And we’re ALWAYS thirsty.) So we decided to give it a shot.  

 Holy shit… This place was Heaven. I think I actually told Ben that I was pretty certain that this is the food they’ll serve in Heaven.  

 The menu is fresh and inspired. Almost everything on the menu is locally sourced. And they have a balcony patio dining area where I’ve seen some of the prettiest sun sets of my life over the river. Everything about this place is just incredible.  

 All of Saxapahaw just almost has this magic about it. It’s a cohesive, soft, unassuming, but absolutely breathtaking place.

We left dinner and decided to walk down the other side of the big building to check out the other storefronts. At the very end is the Saxapahaw General Store. This is another incredible find. They have aisles of all sorts of local things. Local coffee, chocolates, nut butters, gourmet breakfast bars, candles, honey, fruits, vegetables. You name it.
(And they have a kitchen here where they produce dishes that are a very close second to The Eddy Pub’s!)  

 
  
Before we left Saxapahaw, forever changed, we strolled down by the river. A very small ampitheatre with stadium concrete benches is tucked in there in front of the ballroom, beside the river.

On our next visit, we discovered a little coffee shop (Cup 22) tucked in a level above the brewey. They gave me a free slice of pie with my coffee. (These Saxapahaw people kick ass!)

And pretty recently, a butcher shop, Left Bank Butchery, opened up in that same long building at the corner where the storefronts start. Like all other things Saxapahaw, their offerings are out of this world fantastic.

Saxapahaw was the first place in NC to make me feel like this state was my home. I couldn’t wait to return, and I eagerly awaited my first taste of my local brewery’s beer.  

 Stay tuned for part two of the story to see how Haw River Farmhouse Ales became pretty much my favorite thing on Earth!

Janee Farrar… Certified Cicerone®!

Merry Christmas to me! My goal for this year was to become a Certified Cicerone®, and I found out last night that I’ve joined the ranks!

It had been about 5 and a half weeks since I had taken the test (around the same time frame when I found out my results last time!), so I had been checking my phone for the email alllllllll day, thinking it had to be coming. The results come out of the Cicerone Program offices in Chicago, so they have an extra hour on this eastern time girl.

Last time, I got my email a little after 5 pm.

(The OCD in me was obsessively calculating!)

Five o’clock had come and gone, and it was time for me to get things in order for a work event at a restaurant with a cask tapping that started at 6.

I was at the restaurant and decided to glance at my email before I got things started. I guess my inbox hadn’t refreshed for a bit, despite my incessant checking, because several new emails popped up. I knew I was looking for an email from Chris Pisney. And there it was…

“Oh, fuck”, I uttered to myself.

I needed a second to prepare myself before I opened it. I decided right away to screenshot my inbox and send the picture to Ben before I calmed myself down and opened it.

When I added the image to the text, I spotted out of the corner of my eye an email 2 spots above tthe email from Chris Pisney…

An email with Certified Cicerone® logos!!!!!

I still hadn’t even cracked open my email! But this meant that I passed!

So I called allllll the people! I knew some others (distributor reps./friends) who had taken the test with me, and called them to tell them to check their inboxes! I know myself and at least 2 others (Hey, Bri!) passed!

I really couldn’t ask for a better Christmas present. I’m a Certified Cicerone®! Mission accomplished.
Now… what next?!

Attempt Number Two

Most of you know I just made my second attempt at becoming a Certified Cicerone! I wanted to give you a brief update on how I feel things went!

Also, if you’d like a better breakdown of how the test works, you can check out my previous post after my first attempt here. The Certified Cicerone Test

While I’d love to share EVERY question asked on the test that I can remember, especially the essays and video portion, I can’t. We sign a waiver before we take the test stating that we won’t share specific details. 

We’ll start with the tasting portion because we get the answers at the end of the test for that. The first 8 beers are cut and dry, black and white. There’s no chance for partial credit on these questions. Four beers with off flavors in a control beer and four style determination questions. I aced those. 

The last four questions didn’t go as well. You can get some partial credit, because these involve explanations. I got one fully correct. These last four questions are weighted more heavily as far as scoring goes. So my counting on an improved score is probably out the window. This was a hard tasting. Others who were taking the test for a second time agreed. 

I know I can do better on this portion of the test. Unfortunately, I just made some mistakes. Some common “off flavors” are actually appropriate to a certain extent in particular beer styles. I knew what I was tasting on the first beer in that set could be appropriate, but I overthought it and added something to it. I just overanalyzed it.
The good news is that my old score was passing, and they’ll use whichever score was best. The night before the test, during my practice tasting, I easily picked up a flavor I typically struggle with. And I got that off flavor right on the test, too. I struggled last night with a flavor that’s typically VERY easy for me to pick up, and I failed to pick that up on the test the other day in one of the last questions. At least my nose is consistent!

Onto the written! I knew a lot more of the content, and confidently answered most of the questions. Probably 95% of these are fill in the blanks with no word bank. I left probably 7 blank that I thought I’d return to later to just guess on, because I was drawing blanks. When I returned to them at the very end, I knew the answer to every one!

I know I did well on the short essay question. It’s largely objective and this one involved a beer and food pairing with a complex dish. I think I got anywhere from an 85%-100% on that. I spun off of a classic pairing, and I’m confident. I got to pair something with my favorite beer style, which was fun!

And I nailed the video portion! I had the exact same question I had screwed up on big time before.

And most importantly for how much it impacts the written score, I NAILED all 3 essays!

I missed a style ABV range by 1% and I missed the highest SRM range by 2 degrees I think. My top ABV was too high, but my starting ABV was right on. The quantitative aspect of that essay was the only part I know I didn’t get fully correct. But I hit the ranges with the exact starting quantity for all of them, and came very close on the ranges. They break down how that essay is graded in chunks. I think quantitative measures was worth 20% of that question. And I’ll bet I get awarded a 12% for those answers.

That gives me a 92% on that essay and a 100% on the other two. (This is realistic optimism speaking here.)

I need to get an 80% or higher to have passed the written portion (and to become a Certified Cicerone!). 

I thinkkkkkkk I did it…

It usually takes about 6 weeks to get the results. That means that I should find out the week of Christmas! (Or HOPEFULLY before.) Gah!!!!! Waiting is the worst. Fingers crossed, friends!

This girl is ready to trade in her Certified Beer Server pin for a new, sparkly Certified Cicerone one!

And now… we wait!

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

This is not a post I wanted to write.

But this is my story. And as much as I’d love to, I can’t just skip over the bad parts.

I failed my first attempt at the Certified Cicerone test.

I went into it concerned that I hadn’t had enough time to study. I had a nightmare the night before I got my test results back that I got a 33%. I woke up the next morning and got ready for work. I was going back to the site where I took my test 5 weeks prior.

A couple of guys from the distributor (where the test was held and where I was working that day) had taken the test with me. I told one of them about my dream, and he said with confidence, ” We’re going to find out today.” I asked him how he knew, and he said he just felt like today was the day.

It was around 5:00 and I got a call from my co-worker who was riding with the guy who had taken the test. He said, “Check your email! Kevin passed!”

I was ecstatic for him! And my hands instantly began to shake. My email hadn’t come through yet. I knew they were sending around 20 emails with varying results.

I got off the phone and told another co-worker that I should be getting my results any minute. I was freaking out. I thought about calling Ben. But I figured I would wait the few minutes so I could call him to share the news.

My phone vibrated, and up popped the words “Cicerone Program”. This was the email. I took a deep breath, walked away from everyone, and opened it…

I had passed the tasting portion… But my overall score on the whole test was not high enough to pass.

I really can’t even begin to explain how that felt…

My excitement faded and my smile of anticipation and anxiety faded in slow motion into hazy eyes with restraint, trying not to look like an idiot in front of the people I was working with. I thought of my friend Michele saying, “Always be a robot” when we’d discuss having a bad day. 

I called Ben before I would let my emotions get the best of me. “Check your email”, I said, as I attempted to hide the devastation in my voice. 

Ben quickly said, “Did you get my text?”

I hadn’t looked or even noticed that I had one. I took the phone from my ear to look. 

“I PASSED!!!!!”, it read.

My eyes instantly filled with tears of happiness for him as I blurted out a, “Congratulations, babe! I’m so proud of you!”, before I lost it. And as soon as the first tear left my eye, the rest were fucking horrible and restrained tears of shitty saddness and devastation. 

Ben asked, still with excitement, “How did you do?”

I was silent. 

“Are you there?”, he asked.

I gathered enough breath to slowly get through telling him I hadn’t passed…

This is my life. This is what I fucking love with all my heart. And I wasn’t good enough to succeed. 

If you’ve ever seen the documentary “Somm” (about a group of people preparing for their Master Sommelier exam), I felt like that one guy who didn’t pass as he tearfullly pulled off a painful smile watching his friends be awarded the title.

I tried to pull my shit together to walk back over to my co-worker and the two people from the distributor we were riding with. 

I’m admittedly an emotional person. I remember a family dinner one night long ago where my dad was asked to describe me in one word. He chose, “emotional”. I instantly was offended. Then my dad explained. “That’s not a bad thing, Janee. Emotional doesn’t mean you’re a crybaby. It means you wear your heart on your sleeve, and whatever you feel, you feel whole-heartedly and with a lot of passion.” 

I can practice restraint in almost every case.

But this, to me, was actually heart-breaking. It was like being dumped. 

It didn’t matter that I had passed one portion. I almost didn’t even care.

I failed.

“I failed”, I kept thinking.

My team and I got into a car to go sell some more beer. It was the very last thing on earth I wanted to do at that point in time. I just wanted to bawl my eyes out.

After work ended, I drove a few minutes to a nearby restaurant where my husband was. 

I felt like a huge asshole. My husband accomplishes this awesome thing, and I don’t want to tarnish it for him. I decide to bawl my eyes out alone in my car after dinner on the half hour ride home.

Ben and I are big fans of the husband/wife high five. So I immediately walk in to join him at the bar and greet him that way and follow it up with a big hug.

I can’t describe well enough how incredibly happy I was for him. Shortly into our conversation, my smile broke into tears and I apologized, again telling him how happy I was for him and explaining that I didn’t want to take away from his happiness.

He’s come a long way with his consolation skills. Years ago, it would have been a mechanical “there there” pat on the back. But he was awesome and tried to make me laugh.

After dinner, I got into my car and bawled the whole way home on the phone with a friend.

The next morning, I woke up. I thought about feeling sorry for myself. But I literally thought of this one Barney Stinson meme that reads, “When I get sad, I stop being sad and be awesome instead.” And I just did that. And that day, I got to go back to my new job doing what I love. And it was a great day.

  
I needed to go through that shitty feeling. It wasn’t the end of the world. I wanted with all my heart to pass the first time. But I had less than 3 months of committed studying. I knew I wasn’t as prepared as I had wanted to be. And a good number of people have said that the tasting portion is the hardest to pass.

The only failures are quitters!

There’s a test at the end of August that I had planned to take if I failed, but that test is already full. There’s one in October that I think I can make it to instead. Work is going to be crazy for the next few months, and I’ll be working day and night. But I have a game plan to focus on my weak spots, and I’m going to pass!

I plan to retake the tasting portion, despite having passed it, because a better score on that can boost my overall score. Once you pass that portion, you’ve passed. So even if you fail at a second attempt, they take the better of your scores.

I’ll keep you posted. I’ll pass this test! Ben can’t be the only Certified Cicerone in this house for long!

The Eddy Pub & Steel String Brewery Beer Dinner

I love beer. And I love food. So it stands to reason that I LOVE a good beer dinner.

I’m not quite sure how I really became a foodie… My dad is a plain burger, no seasoning on his fries, NO sauce ever of any kind, pizza-hating kind of guy. (Pizza hating!) My sisters are both pretty picky eaters. (Chicken tenders and cheese fries are the safest way to go for these two.) My mom probably is the most adventurous. But they’re ALL well-done burger people. I know several of them have commented “Ew.” on my Instagram burger shots upon seeing a beautifully topped, bit into, pinkish-reddish burger.

Yet somehow, a foodie I am. I work on the food team in my company’s marketing department. So somehow between a childhood of PB & J sandwiches and super-well-done burgers, and my growing up and life in the foodservice industry from restaurants to working in catering to my current job, I’ve become a full-fledged foodie.

Now. Back on to this beer dinner!

The Eddy Pub in Saxapahaw, NC never fails to impress. (Saxapahaw in itself never fails to impress either!) We get to The Eddy Pub about once a month probably. It’s one of Ben’s and my favorite local places. We recently brought a few other foodies from our Culinary R & D team from work from Pennsylvania to The Eddy, and the hard-to-impress were impressed and still talk about it.

We knew we would be lucky to live close to all this great beer when we moved to NC, but we found that we’re extremely lucky to live close to some extremely talented chefs. And Chef Isaiah at The Eddy is our absolute favorite.

The Eddy has a private room attached to the pub where they hold their beer dinners. They hold these dinners with different local breweries fairly often. And this most recent one was a dinner with Steel String Brewery.

The ambience is always phenomenal at The Eddy’s beer dinners. There’s typically some kind of flower or plant that is plucked from a local farm for use in one of the dishes, and they use the small flower buds in an understated, but perfect, centerpiece. The private room has a rustic feel to it, and you sit at one of two long tables, amongst the other foodies eager to see what Chef Isaiah and the brewery have in store for us.

The actual pub (minus the private room) boasts amazing sunset views, with the Haw River in the background only making it better. It’s literally the most beautiful spot I’ve visited in NC in my year since my move.

I’ve always been appreciative of my non-beer loving friends for entertaining my long-winded chats about the beer style I’m drinking or the 17 things I love about this brewery and the 27 things that I taste in the beer in my hand and why the flavors should all be there, or when I explain in depth what a “beer clean” glass is or why I wish this beer had a better malt backbone, or when I explain that a Lindeman’s Framboise isn’t at all indicative of the fruit lambic beer style because it’s sweetened post-fermentation, or when I explain that when a beer geek describes a beer as “catty”, that it’s really just a nice way of saying that it smells like cat pee, and that it usually comes from Simcoe hops and is entirely acceptable in American IPAs and similar styles. These friends are damn near saints. They listen to my beer geek talk ALL. THE. TIME.

I feel like Chef Isaiah is the same way about food that I am about beer. The food geekiness oozes out of him. He probably talked for 2 minutes just about how he made the popcorn biscuit for one of the courses by popping popcorn and then taking it and grinding it down to a powder to make it almost like cornmeal, and then using that to make biscuits. He talks about the processes and equipment he used and the mistakes he makes and how he turns them into something else amazing.

And nearly every ingredient he uses in his dishes is something from a local farm or something that just happens to be growing right outside the pub, like pine needles from the trees lining the walkway to The Eddy.

Steel String was one of the 106 breweries I had visited last year, and I was very impressed with their gose. We left the brewery with a growler fill of it. And we really reserve growler fills for outstanding beers, because we just have so damn many bottles at home that we need to drink!

For a beer dinner, keep in mind the 3 guidelines for pairing food and beer. You can read more about these guidelines and why they work and what else doesn’t work on my recent blog post about pairing food and beer here: How to Pair Food and Beer. First, you always want to match intensities. You don’t want either the beer or food to overwhelm what you’ve paired it with. Then, you can find complementary flavors, find contrast, or even both.

Here’s the amazing food and beer from that night, along with my notes on the pairings:

First Course: NC flounder tartare with goose egg béarnaise, cilantro juice, goose egg whites, beet powder, and micro bull’s blood paired with Der Schneid Berliner Weisse

NC Flounder Tartare

I can hear the voices of my mother and sisters in my head already – “Ewww! You ate something with bull’s blood in it?!”

Calm your shit… It’s just a type of beet.

This dish was beautifully plated, and a nice, approachable dish for the first course. The Berliner Weisse really shined here. A Berliner Weisse is known for being aggressively sour with a light body and a dry finish. It’s a wheat-based beer with high carbonation.

The intensities between the beer and food were a little off. The beer consumed some of the more delicate flavors in the dish. Carbonation in beer is a good palate cleanser, and the beer’s flavors don’t linger, so this actually did work for me in the end.

Second Course: Grayson cheese with mayhaw jelly, charred spring onions, and red buds paired with Pretty Polly American Wild Ale

Grayson Cheese with Mayhaw Jelly

This was one of my favorite pairings of the night. Chef Isaiah talked about loving this horribly stinky cheese. I always think that a stinky cheese like this belongs with a farmhouse ale, wild ale, or Brett beer because of the similar flavors of funkiness or farmey barnyard character.

The cheese was definitively stinky with a creamy but slightly sharp finish. The beer stood up to it and cleared your pallet for the next bite. The brightness of the beer scrubbed the pallet well, despite minimal carbonation. The jelly added depth to this dish and made the pairing even better by providing a slightly sweet, mildly fruity balance to the dish, while also providing some contrast to the beer.

Everything on the plate was edible. As we walked outside to leave the dinner, I spotted the red buds on one of the trees and contemplated pinching a bud off to sample again.

The Pretty Polly was one of my favorite beers of the evening. I had picked up a bottle of it the other week, and immediately regretted not picking up more than one. The dry hopping makes this amazingly complex.

Also, don’t underestimate the importance of proper glassware! This is a beer dinner, folks! Lots of time has been dedicated to working on the pairings and preparing a menu to highlight each and every flavor of the beer and the food. The beer geek (or as my husband would call me in this particular instance, “beer snob”. And I’m good with that!) in me applauds a brewery for bringing glasses that highlight each particular style of beer, or even for just bringing one type of glass like a tulip glass that generally is good to use for tasting any beer. (It’s just a little bonus that this glass actually is branded with the beer’s name. Bonus points to Steel String.)

I love proper glassware!

Pint glasses were NOT made for beer, people. I accept that they exist and will likely always exist in different places and circumstances. But I have to 86 them at a beer dinner. You wouldn’t give someone a straw to sip soup with because you’d be missing out on the aroma. This is the same concept.

Third Course: Popcorn biscuit with red eye gravy, bacon lardon, NC shrimp, sweet pea puree, and pea shoots paired with Dooley Black Saison

Popcorn Biscuit with Red Eye Gravy

The popcorn biscuit was really intriguing. I love popcorn. And I love biscuits. This was a marriage that just seemed like it was always meant to be. The bacon was the rockstar of this dish and was perfectly salty, fatty, and thick. I love a good piece of crispy, crunchy bacon, but I could eat this thick, fatty bacon all day long without even giving a second thought to wanting a nice crisp to it.

Dooley Black Saison has cold brewed coffee added to it. This isn’t your standard saison. I love coffee, but I truly didn’t love it in this beer. Saisons are dominated by fruity flavors, are moderately spicy, and sometimes have a tart sourness to them. It just didn’t work for me with the coffee added.

I understood the coffee/breakfast food pairing, but it didn’t hit it out of the park for me.

Fourth Course: Curried quail with paw paw ginger sauce, roasted daylily shoots, cleaver pesto, lambsquarter, spinach, and young garlic pakora paired with Cryin’ Holy Double IPA

Curried Quail

Fantastic dish. Fantastic beer. Fantastic pairing. And again, it was beautifully plated.

The IPA was very well-balanced with a good malt backbone and an approachable dry bitterness. It had a lemongrass and grapefruit finish. The malt backbone complemented the roastiness of the quail skin. And the lemongrass and grapefruit finish contrasted the curry with perfection. The IPA made the spiciness of the dish pop even more and really put this dish over the edge, in a good way.

Cryin’ Holy was another favorite beer of the night.

Fifth Course: Dark chocolate mousse with pine needle merengue, orange froth, sweet focaccia, and caramel powder paired with Turn Table Session Saison

Dark Chocolate Mousse with Sweet Focaccia

This dish was a champion I definitely didn’t expect. The pairing of sweet focaccia and chocolate mousse was a pleasant surprise. By themselves, they would have just been good. But the point of the dish was the two working together to create something unexpected and truly delicious. The pine needle merengue was the icing on the cake, almost literally.

Also, only a badass would pluck pine needles from the pine trees standing outside the window and make something truly incredible and edible with it.

I didn’t love that this was paired with a session beer, and I would have loved to have seen this with the Cryin’ Holy Double IPA to really highlight the pine needle merengue. But the chocolate in this dish may not have agreed with that pairing either. My heart says an American Barleywine may have worked phenomenally with this dish, as American versions of the beer are highly hopped with a rich and intense maltiness that would have supported the chocolate mousse well. The intense maltiness would have contrasted well with the sweet focaccia, too.

Few breweries have a full repertoire of beer styles available, and this dish is extremely complex on its own. The Turn Table Session Saison is one I could drink all day long. (Which is good, because that’s the entire point of a session beer!)

Steel String produces some solid beers that I continue to seek out. (The week after the beer dinner, I couldn’t help but to drive out to the brewery for round two of some Steel String beer. The Rubber Room Dry-Hopped Rye Pale Ale was just calling my name.) Cheers to the brewers and entire staff at Steel String (some of whom I sat beside during the dinner)!

And as long as I live near Saxapahaw, I’ll keep going back to The Eddy Pub for more great beer dinners. I love the risks they take with their food. Each dish is a creation just for that dinner, and at the next dinner, there’s a completely new and refreshing lineup awaiting. The Eddy has a lot of heart, and Chef Isaiah’s love for food absolutely shines through in each dish.

How to Pair Food and Beer

People often think of wine when they think of pairing a beverage with food. I’m here to tell you that not only is there another option, but that there’s a far better option. Beer.

Beer can be whatever you want it to be. Beer is all about choices. From water to hops to malt to yeast, the brewer has many choices to make. Then there’s the option to add additives or adjuncts. Do you want to dry hop the beer? Go for it. How about barrel-aging? Want to add some Lactobacillus or Pediococcus to sour the beer? Go ahead.

Beer offers options that put “red or white” to shame. In the most prestigious wine test that one can take, the Master Sommelier test, the tasting portion includes 3 red wines and 3 white wines.

There are 12 color descriptors used to describe beer. Straw, yellow, gold, amber, deep amber/light copper, copper, deep copper/light brown, brown, dark brown, very dark brown, black, and black opaque. And that doesn’t even include colors for any color contribution from the addition of fruit, etc.

The BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) currently lists TWENTY-THREE different categories for beer! And that doesn’t include the categories for cider and mead.

Amongst a group of other beer geeks, I literally was asked for my favorite beer style the other day, contemplated briefly, and declared it to probably be a Flanders Red right now. It was followed by a few chuckles, as people declared that that was such a specific choice. I could have just said “I’m really into sour beers right now.” But this love for beer makes me the geek that chooses the specific style of that complex acidic sour that boasts dark fruit flavors and is aged in oak barrels.

No disrespect to wine. Wines can be amazingly complex and beautiful. But wine just doesn’t have the versatility that beer has. Wine is really at its basic sense just grapes, and the yeast that naturally occurs on the grape skins. It can be aged on stainless steel or in barrels. Those are the choices.

The choices when it comes to beer and brewing are endless.

Often, people will tell me that they’ve been drinking light beers for a long time and that they want to branch out and try something new. And they’ll ask for a recommendation. It’s not the same for everyone.

I challenge wine to find my coffee-loving friends something that can compare better than an Irish stout can.

I challenge wine to find something that can please bacon-lovers better than a rauchbier can.

I challenge wine to pick me a suitable pairing for chicken noodle soup. Munich Helles is up for the challenge.

I challenge wine to find a better pairing for chocolate than a sweetened kriek fruit lambic.

There. I said it. All. And I feel much better now.

Now, let’s talk food and beer pairings.

Last year, my husband and I attended Savor, a large food and beer pairing event spanning two days. When you register, you have the option to sign up for one of several salons before they sell out. And they DO sell out quickly! (A salon is “a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation”. Sounds like a geeky, fantastic time, right?)

We attended a pretty badass beer and donut pairing salon with Certified Cicerone, Dr. Bill Sysak. Dr. Bill is Stone Brewing’s resident “Craft Beer Ambassador”. (For those of you on Untappd, you may recognize his name from the “New Brew Thursday” badges, as he joined forces with those guys and came to create “Master Pairings”. Read more about that here. New Brew Thursday.)

The first thing he told the small group of us attending the salon was to remember that, “There are no rules.” I’m pretty sure he even told us to write it down. And I did.

He went on to explain why different foods work well with different beers. There truly are 3 basic concepts for pairing beer with food. But Dr. Bill’s point was that beer is unpretentious. Beer is fun. And if you understand the basic concepts, you really can’t go wrong.

Here’s a photo I got the chance to take with Dr. Bill after the salon. We chatted briefly about cellaring beer, and he was a great representative for everything craft beer is and should be: Approachable, down to Earth, and badass. Cheers, Dr. Bill!

Here’s a photo I got the chance to take with Dr. Bill after the salon. We chatted briefly about cellaring beer, and he was a great representative for everything craft beer is and should be: Approachable, down to Earth, and badass. Cheers, Dr. Bill!

When it comes to pairing beer with food, here are the 3 basic concepts:

Match Intensity

Find Complementary Flavors

Find Contrast

You should always match intensities. And you can choose to either find complementary flavors or find contrast, or even both. If you’re following those guidelines, you can’t really go wrong. Let’s break it down.

Matching Intensity is the idea that you don’t want either the beer or the food to dominate the other. Intensities should always be matched.

For instance, you wouldn’t want to pair a dense imperial stout with a light chicken salad with a citrus vinaigrette.

Keep in mind the beer’s malt profile, sweetness, body, hop bitterness levels, hop flavors and aromas, ABV, acidity, tartness, sourness, or other special processes that contribute flavor, like barrel aging of additions of fruit, spices, etc.

A good example of matching intensity would be to pair a lighter, citrus-forward pale ale with that salad.

Find Complementary Flavors. Complementing the malt profile of a beer is one of the easiest ways to accomplish this. You want to look for flavor similarities within the beer and the food. For example, the nutty flavors contributed by the malt in a brown ale go well with nutty cheeses like aged cheddars. A peppered steak would go well with a peppery saison. And the caramel and smoke flavors from a rauchbier would match seamlessly with BBQ pork with a caramelly BBQ sauce on it.

Find Contrast. I think this one is the most fun. There are two main ways to find contrast. One way is to use a beer’s attributes to refresh the palate while eating. Carbonation and/or high alcohol can do that by “cutting” through sweetness or fat. Roastiness can also do that. A moderately carbonated and roasty imperial stout can cut through a rich, sweet chocolate dessert.

My favorite example of this is pairing a big barleywine with a creamy, earthy blue cheese. The barleywine and blue cheese pairing works well because the high alcohol in the barleywine will cleanse the palate of the creamy fat from the cheese.

The second way to find contrast is to actually contrast the flavors. A bitter American IPA contrasts beautifully with a sweet, rich carrot cake. The equal intensities in the bitterness from the beer and the sweetness and light spiciness from the cake pair beautifully.

A sweet cherry cobbler will contrast well against a dry Irish stout.

Some things to keep in mind when pairing are cooking methods and sauces. A baked apple dumpling will pair differently with beer than a brie tart topped with fresh cut apples will. Rosemary baked chicken will pair differently than grilled chicken with a bourbon glaze will.

There are several things you want to avoid when pairing.

You don’t want to pair bitter, hoppy beers with oily fish like sardines, tuna, salmon, trout or anchovies. Pairing these together can result in harsh metallic flavors. You also don’t want to really cook with IPAs, as the bitterness is drawn out by the heat and will overwhelm everything in the dish.

Also, keep in mind that when pairing beer with spicy or hot foods that carbonation pushes capsaicin heat forward. A good pairing for these spicy foods would be a mild ale with its low carbonation levels and its good malt presence and light to medium body.

Here are a few of my favorite pairings!

Beef Stew and a Flanders Brown/Oud Bruin: A Flanders brown is a malty, fruity, moderately sour beer boasting dark fruit flavors, caramel and toffee. Pairing this with a beef stew shows complementary flavors from the carameley cooked beef. The dark fruits like plums, raisins and figs contrast the roasty umami of the rich beef stew. These are well-matched being equally intense and complex.

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream with an Imperial Stout: My favorite imperial stout is The Bruery’s Black Tuesday. This is a HUGE stout aged in bourbon barrels. It’s viscous, bold, chocolately and has some vanilla, bourbon and oak flavors from the barrel. A good quality vanilla bean ice cream complements the vanilla flavors in the beer and will pull them forward. The contrast of chocolate and vanilla is always a classic one. And the intensities are perfectly matched. Another great contrast is the warming of the almost 20% ABV and the creamy, cold bite of the ice cream. (Now I’m hungry. And thirsty…)

A Bacon Cheeseburger with Sharp Cheddar and an American Pale Ale: The moderate to high hop flavor cuts through (contrasts) the umami from the bacon and the fattiness from the bacon and the burger. The clean and present malt flavors present in a pale ale provide for a bit more of an approachable beer that matches the intensity of the burger well.

Gose and a Dense, Moist Watermelon Cake with Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting: This is a really fun one I want to use as a pairing example on the Certified Cicerone test. (A portion of the test involves pairing beer and food. And food and beer pairing menus and explanations have been known to be included as one of the long essay questions.) A gose is a light, refreshing sour ale brewed with salt and coriander. To me, a gose is like a far more refreshing beer version of a margarita. Salt and watermelon are a classic pairing and they contrast well. Contrast is also exemplified by the play on the sweet cake versus sour beer. They match intensities well, both being of a light-medium body. The cream cheese frosting cuts through (contrasts and clears the palate of) some of the acidity.

Many breweries work with local restaurants and chefs to prepare beer dinners. If you’re curious and want to experience how well beer pairs with food, I highly recommend seeking out a good beer dinner. Stay tuned for my next blog post on a recent beer dinner I attended here in NC!

And don’t be afraid to try out different things at home when you cook or when you go out to eat. There are beer geeks everywhere who love to share their love of beer with others. Ask questions. We’re friendly people. And beer is a friendly drink! Cheers!