Review: Crispin Hard Cider – Original, Pacific Pear, and Bourbon Char

New stuff from the cider mavens at Crispin, including a new limited release called Bourbon Char, and two of the company’s primary offerings, which are now available in standard six packs. We looked at all three. Thoughts follow.

Crispin Original Hard Cider – A fresh, apple-loaded classic, semisweet and fruity, but restrained with notes of crisp green apple, some cloves, and hints of savory herbs, including rosemary. The finish showcases a squeeze of lemon. A simple cider on the whole, but one that acquits itself without complaint. 5% abv. B+ / $2 per 12 oz. bottle

Crispin Pacific Pear Hard Cider – Less distinctly fruit focused, and considerably drier than the apple-based original, this cider is more grounded with subtle, earthy notes and a moderate banana character that, once you taste it, it’s all you can taste going forward. 4.5% abv. B- / $2 per 12 oz. bottle

Crispin Bourbon Char Cask-Aged Hard Cider – This is a special edition apple cider aged in ex-bourbon casks and finished with smoked maple syrup. There’s a ton going on here, starting with notes of tart baked apples as expected. From there things quickly spiral into new territory, with notes of heavily charred oak, molasses, and vanilla-infused baked goods. The finish is slightly winey, with some balsamic notes. All told, the flavors here are remarkable and unique, but they don’t quite balance out the way I would have hoped. Apples and bourbon sound like a great combination, but this one doesn’t completely gel. 6.9% abv. B / $9 per 22 oz. bottle

crispincider.com

Recipe: Homemade Beer Cheese

Belgian Abbey Ale Beer Cheese
Many of us had our first taste of beer cheese at the local brew-pub. But it’s easy to make your own at home!

We picked up this beer cheese recipe from HomeBrewChef and cooked up two variations. The beer we used for the first batch was Armstrong Stout from Fogbelt Brewing Company. We added bacon slices cut into small pieces and fried them up with red onions and butter. The cheese for this batch was a sharp cheddar. We also used a pepper grinder on the peppercorns instead of tossing them in whole.

Not everyone will like this version because the stout came through strongly, giving the cheese a smoky element. It also colored the beer cheese to a medium tan shade, which may turn off some folks. The bacon pieces added a nice pop, though. Other than dipping pretzels or smothering French fries, this beer cheese would be good atop a steak with some mushrooms added.

In the second variation, we replaced the onion with fresh garlic. Then we made our own bread from a basic soft pretzel recipe with rosemary added and served it up along with chicken strips. You could also throw dried tomato or chopped jalapeno peppers into the dough if you prefer. The beer used this time was Brother Thelonious Belgian style abbey ale from North Coast Brewing Company.

Although the abbey ale is still a darker beer, the cheese sauce does look and taste lighter. The garlic came through the cheddar cheese without overpowering the sauce. Again, we used cracked pepper from our pepper mill instead using whole peppercorns. We bet this one will be a favorite. Check the end of the recipe for other variation suggestions from the chef.

For both recipes, we added an extra 1/4 cup of cheese but that is a matter of individual taste.

Beer Cheese
4 tablespoons butter, unsalted preferably organic
1/2 cup onion, yellow, large, peeled and chopped
1 bay leaf, preferably freshStout Beer Cheese with Bacon
1 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups beer
1 cup heavy cream
5 whole, black peppercorns
3 whole cloves
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup grated cheese

In a heavy bottom sauce pan over medium heat, add the butter and let it melt. Add the prepped onion, bay leaf, salt and sauté for 4-5 minutes, until the onion is transparent.

Dust the onions with the flour, stirring with a flat edge spatula, so you can scrape any flour from the bottom of the pan, to make a roux. Cook the roux for 3-4 minutes, stirring the whole time, to prevent the flour from burning. Take care not to have the heat too high.

Switching to a whisk, slowly pour in the beer, whisking to combine, getting any fond from the bottom of the pan, making sure all the lumps (if any) from the flour are dissolved. Add the cream. Bring the mixture to a simmer and adjust the heat to keep a gentle simmer. Add the peppercorns, cloves and nutmeg. Whisk the mixture occasionally over the next 30 minutes, as the flour flavor cooks out and the sauce thickens slightly.

Remove the bay leaf, cloves, and peppercorns from the sauce. Take the sauce off the heat. Slowly add the grated cheese while whisking to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed with more salt or cracked pepper.

Recipe Notes and Variants
This sauce can be made with many beer styles. You can pair the beer’s flavor with the type of cheese you use, or pair them both with a specific main course. The versatility is endless. Here are a few ideas:

Classic Cheddar Pale Ale Beer Cheese Sauce: Use a Deschutes Brewery Mirror Pond Pale Ale and grate some Tillamook Medium Cheddar Cheese for this sauce. Try it on nachos, use a cheese fondue or pour over roasted broccoli.

South of the Border Chipotle Smoked Jack Beer Cheese Sauce: Use a Rogue Farms Chipotle Ale and use either a pepper or smoked Monterey Jack cheese. This is awesome over nachos, over enchiladas, as a dip for chips, vegetables (grilled and roasted), over a baked potato, or mixed in with cooked elbow macaroni, roasted peppers, caramelized onions, and topped with barbecue style potato chips.

German Beer Cheese Sauce: To make the perfect dip for your fresh baked pretzel, take a Märzen Oktoberfest beer and add some smoked gouda or räucherkäse cheese. Also perfect to pour some of this over a pretzel coated pork schnitzel served with some spaetzle.

Review: Breckenridge Brewery Vanilla Porter

A year round member of its Mainline series, Breckenridge Brewery boasts of using fresh vanilla bean in the brewing process of Vanilla Porter. This is certainly evident in the beer, with a strong vanilla nose the minute you open the bottle. The first taste delivers a strong root beer and vanilla essence, followed by a quick cascade of chocolate, coffee, caramel, and roasted almonds. This beer finishes nicely and lingers pleasantly with notes of cocoa and coffee. The mouthfeel is slightly thinner than other porters, but that doesn’t stand in the way of the beer being a very enjoyable one.

5.6% abv.

B+ / $10 per six pack / breckbrew.com

Review: Virtue Michigan Brut Cider

Virtue’s Michigan Brut Cider is made from Michigan-grown apples (a blend of heirloom varietals) and, like its high-end Lapinette, is a bone-dry brut. As with Lapinette, it offers overtones of mushroom, bramble, and oxidized wine, but here, the core of the cider — the apple — is significantly dialed back. Pushing through the earth tones and letting some of the carbonation fade allows the fruit to come forward more, here taking on notes of dried apples, a bit of orange peel, and a little plum. There’s a touch of sweetness on the finish, though it’ll hardly make you think of anything approaching apple pie — but the overall clean and crisp style may be particularly appealing to beer fanatics.

6.7% abv.

B / $10 per four-pack / virtuecider.com

Review: Stone Enjoy By 02.14.17 Chocolate & Coffee IPA

Stone’s latest “Enjoy By” IPA says it should be consumed by Valentine’s Day, but it was seemingly created for consumption on Valentine’s Day. Anyone looking for a special V-Day gift for that beer-loving special someone should look no further than this romantically-themed one-off brew.

As the name suggests it’s an IPA, brewed with the typical pantheon of hops (12 of them) plus added chocolate and coffee — in the form of cocoa beans processed by Stone and a blonde coffee brewed by San Diego Sunrise.

The results are really intriguing and fun: The bitter hops are impossible to ignore, sure, but the coffee and chocolate work as surprisingly deft foils for the ale. Both are more understated than I’d expect (schooled by years of overblown coffee stouts and the like), adding just a hint of dessert-like sweetness to an otherwise hop-forward experience, which tempers the whole affair and makes it more suitable for after dinner than before. With a moderate fruitiness and its bold, rounded body, consider building a fire before cracking it open.

9.4% abv.

A- / $8 per 22 oz. bottle / stonebrewing.com

Review: Bear Republic Double Aught Pilsner, Racer X (2016), and Pace Car Racer

A trio of new beers from Bear Republic

Bear Republic Double Aught Pilsner – A light, Euro-style lager made with imported Hallertauer hops, this beer fully fits the part it was designed to play, bold with malty notes, a slight nutty character, and toasty cereal notes to round things out. Gentle in flavor but packed into a powerful body, it’s a great cold-weather lager with plenty of meat on its bones. 5% abv. A- / $10 per six-pack

Bear Republic Racer X Double IPA (2016) – This was a late 2016 arrival that we’re finally getting up. As always, megadoses of Cascade, Columbus, and Centennial hops give this rich IPA a hefty yet fully manageable bitterness, the silky caramel core tempers things and allows to show through notes of sweet apple, cloves, and dates. The finish is piney resin, as to be expected, as waves of bitterness come crashing back in. Rinse and repeat. 8.3% abv. A / $8 per 22 oz bottle

Bear Republic Pace Car Racer – Bear Republic’s session IPA is a dead ringer from the start as a session beer. While it isn’t at all watery, the hops are muddy and lacking in citrus and piney character, coming across with notes closer to those of pine cones than pine resin. While it’s got ample bitterness that helps it stand out against, say, your typical bottle of Miller Lite, any true IPA fan will be wishing for the full-strength experience once the leathery finish arrives. 4% abv. B- / $10 per six-pack

bearrepublic.com

Review: Guinness Rye Pale Ale and Antwerpen Stout

Guinness is back at it, with two new limited line extensions that further distance it from its best-known product. Both part of its skunkworks “Brewers Project,” the beers launched at the end of 2016.

Guinness Rye Pale Ale – A pale ale made with Mosaic and Cascade hops, plus rye. Originally brewed for Guinness’s Open Gate Brewery in Dublin, it was reportedly such a hit that it merited a broader release into the market. The rye and more traditional bittering agents make for a fun mashup, giving some gravity and weight to a moderately hoppy intro. While citrus peel is more evident, it’s light on the piney resin notes, showcasing notes of mushroom, cedar planks, and leather on the finish. A nice diversion. 5% abv. B+

Guinness Antwerpen Stout – Previously only available in Belgium, where it is known as Guinness Special Export, Antwerpen Stout was first brewed here in 1944 and has never before been made in the U.S. While one should not confuse this with the somewhat different Guinness Foreign Extra, they drink with some similarities. Antwerpan Stout is carbonated (not nitrogenated) drinks as a fruit-forward beer, moderately hoppy but featuring layered notes of roasted coffee, licorice, raisin, and cloves. It’s all surprisingly well balanced, with a lasting, lightly spicy finish that echoes the coffee and clove notes the strongest. Worth looking into. 8% abv. B+

each $9 per four-pack of 11.2 oz bottles / guinness.com

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