Sunday, August 21, 2011

Beer Quest

And now for something completely different. Well, maybe not completely, as it does fall into the food category. 

I've been learning a bit about beer - most importantly, that I don't dislike it, as I had previously thought. You see, I tried very, very hard in college to like beer, and yet despite trying it again and again, I could never choke down more than about three-quarters of one really cold beer. I just didn't like it. It tasted rotten and watery; and the stronger stuff tasted rotten and strong. (Strangely, I found whiskey and Scotch acceptable.)

My feelings about beer changed recently, as I was introduced to the world of craft beers and homebrewing, and gently nudged into sampling. Surprise! Much different. Flavor, nuance, and even some brews with big bold tastes. To be sure, I don't like them all, but I was intrigued enough to learn and sample more.

Unexpectedly, I had the opportunity a couple of weeks ago to help steward at the semi-finals for Empyrean Ales Beer Quest in Lincoln, NE, where 21 homebrewers' brews were narrowed down to a list of ten by six judges. Today was the public judging of those ten - and a chance to meet and talk with the brewers. (Also of great interest was simply listening to the public talk about the beers and what they were noting.) There were some interesting flavors: maple, chocolate-orange, pumpernickel/caraway, molasses, peach cobbler, orange "creamsicle", and rhubarb, just to name a few.

What I took away from it all, is the striking similarities between brewing and cooking. Some of the brewers had a particular goal in mind and planned for it ("I want to make something that uses ginger; how should I go about it best"); while others were inspired somewhat on a whim by a particular ingredient or idea ("Hey! I wonder what these wild raspberries would taste like in a beer; I'll buy a few pounds and take them home") . This is not unlike cooking or even baking - sometimes I will have something very specific in mind and go shopping for ingredients; while other times, I improvise based on what I have on hand and end up with something really remarkable.

Congratulations to Belding & Anciaux on their lovely rhubarb witbier and also their rhubarb saison, and to Watson on his orange blossom rye (one of my favorites; the type I could drink all-around as a general beer). But, the real winner was me, for expanding my horizons. 

In the future, look for suggested beer pairings with the dishes I serve up for RQT.

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