Sunday, July 27, 2008

A little piece of Belgium at home...

So for no good reason today, I started reminiscing about my previous trips to Brugge, Belgium. I've spent a total of 3 weeks in Brugge and consider it my pretend home in Europe. I love frites from the green wagon in front of the Belfy (green curry sauce, please), the waiter who speaks 5 languages fluently at Den Dyver, and the sheer wealth of beer bars that are particularly cozy and inviting on damp and cold Belgian nights.

One of my favorite beer bars is Staminee de Garre. It's a bit hard to find because it's literally down an alley and virtually unmarked save the Duchesse de Bourgogne sign out front.

It's a small beer bar with a huge leather beer menu of several hundred beers, most of which are in bottles. But they do have their own house brew on tap, and if I remember correctly, you're only allowed 3 of those delicious brews due to the high alcohol content. Each beer is brought out on a tiny round wooden tray and with its proper glass (naturally) as well as a small dish of cubed white cheese which is eaten with toothpicks. The waiter sets the cheese on the table, then holds the glass to the wooden tray with his thumb, practically holds the glass/tray sideways, and pours the beer with caution to not get too much of the yeast poured in the glass.

The bar gets packed and smoky, but it's also the kind of place where you feel like you're one of the few tourists inside...mostly because all of the other tourists are flocking to t'bruges Biertje which is Brugges' most infamous - and least atmospheric - beer bar IMO.

In any case, I felt a sudden sense of nostalgia for Brugge and "my" bar today, so I decided to recreate a little piece of it at home this evening. Hops and I stopped off at Safeway on the way home from Magnuson dog park to pick up some white cheese. I like Jarlsberg (lite) for cubing and enjoying with Belgian beers, primary because it's a very benign mild flavor that doesn't really interfere with the flavor of the beer. My next stop was at Bottleworks in Wallingford where my goal was to only buy one bottle of new (to me) Belgian beer to enjoy at home for dessert. While my intentions were noble, I managed to walk out with 5 beers -- 2 new to me, and the other 3 some tasty beers to welcome the arrival of my parents to Seattle from VA this Thursday.

My beer of choice tonight was the Special Reserva 2006 from De Dolle Brouwers. I've had numerous beers from De Dolle, including the more popular Oerbier and the less popular Extra Export Stout (which was a bad "win" at an auction -- a whole case of skunked beer!). This beer is aged in oak barrels and packs in 13% alcohol. It pours a very nice coppery brown color with a decent head and has a sour, woody smell. I hadn't read anything about it, so I was totally unprepared for how tart it actually tastes. I'm a huge fan of sour beers, but being unprepared for one threw me off at first. The first sip is very sour and tart, and almost tastes of vinegar. It lacks the cherry tones of my favorite sour beers (the aforementioned Duchesse and its sister Vichtenaar), and the sweetness of them too. While I didn't like the first sip, I did enjoy subsequent sips - it's a very interesting beer whose taste doesn't reveal any hint of its high alcohol content and whose tartness becomes less biting as the beer warms. I'm glad I gave this beer a shot, but I'm probably not in any rush to go buy a second bottle of it.

I had the proper glass and the bowl of white cubed cheese with a toothpick...was just missing the little wooden tray!

Beer: Special Reserva 2006
Brewery: De Dolle Brouwers
Style: Flanders Oud Bruin
Alcohol Content: 13%
Serving Type: Bottle
Cost: $5.49/bottle
Where Purchased: Bottleworks (Wallingford)
Rating: B+

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Watch This: Oskar Blues' Canned Beer Apocalypse

Drink This: Ten Fidy

Beer in a can tends to draw the same impressions as wine with a screw cap -- lower class, lower quality, and cheap. When I first tried Ten Fidy, it was on tap at Uber Bier, so I had no idea that the regular packaging was a I'll admit to already knowing what a fantastic beer this was before picking it up in its can form.

I'm partial to really dark beers, and Ten Fidy is nearly as dark and thick looking as really old, sludgy engine oil. It pours with a small tan head, and practically lacks carbonation. I poured mine into a regular pint glass, but in hindsight I wish I had poured it into a brandy snifter; the strong taste of alcohol (you can definitely taste the 10%) pushes this more into the after-dinner/night-cap category that should be slowly slipped and enjoyed.

It smells and tastes heavily of mocha and coffee, and I think there's a minor taste of molasses. It's a perfect winter/fall beer, as your mouth, throat, and stomach are warmed with each sip. Totally delicious in taste and feel.

But I do have to come clean about a pretty massive slip-up regarding Ten Fidy and the Seattle International Beer Fest (SIB). I was really excited to see Oskar Blues on the list of breweries appearing at SIB over the July 4th weekend, especially since Ten Fidy had been the only OB beer I had previously encountered. I was particularly looking forward to trying their Chubourbon which is a barrel-aged version of their Old Chub Scotch Ale. My friend R got the first sample of it, and we both declared that Ten Fidy was the superior beer. Then M went to get a Ten Fidy and exclaimed that it was not Ten Fidy, and that it tasted like bourbon. Turns out the taps (Ten Fidy and Chubourbon) were reversed, and both R and I were left feeling like complete schmucks for not being able to tell the difference between the beers...and for declaring Ten Fidy a superior beer when, in fact, we were drinking Ten Fidy. M notified the staff that was pouring, and they confirmed she was right. I'll just blame my misjudgment on the other beers I had tasted at that point, including a stout that was almost 18% alcohol...surely that affected my tastebuds somehow. Right?

Nevertheless, this is a beer I will be getting again and again. I probably won't be enjoying it with a meal (or before a meal), but it's a perfect way to end a cool night.

Beer: Ten Fidy
Brewery: Oskar Blues
Location: Lyons, CO
Style: Imperial Stout
Alcohol Content: 10%
Serving Type: Can
Cost: $3.49/unit
Where Purchased: QFC in University Village
Also Seen: Uber Bier, Seattle International Beer Fest, Bricco della Regina Anna, Brouwer's
Rating: A+

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Home Sweet Tent: Mt Rainier National Park

Last weekend, I went camping for the very first time in about 15 years. My last "camping" trip in Colorado was more debauchery than communing with nature - I remember trying to start a campfire in the rain with a phonebook, drinking a lot of vodka, melting off the soles of my shoes, and sleeping in the back of a friend's car. This trip was more authentic -- 11 of us setting out on a real car camping adventure with bundles of wood, tents, sleeping bags, s'mores, hiking boots, and various gadgets and tools.

We spent 2 nights at the White River Campground in Mt Rainier National Park, and this was my first excursion out of the immediate Seattle area in the 9 months that I've lived here. Flushing toilets but no showers. Sleeping to the sound of the river. Roasting your legs in front of a campfire while the rest of you is ice cold. Drinking beer out of a can (well, not me but other people). Pure joy.

My favorite part of the trip was the hike from our campground up to Sunrise Point. It took 3 hours total (2 hours up and 1 hour down), and we had an elevation of 2000 ft. This was one of the most strenuous hikes I've done so far, and I felt like a rockstar when I reached the top. But the best part of the hike was seeing this view.

The other best part of the trip? Burning the pair of purple women's underwear that I found balled up in the corner of my tent in the Camp Opening Ceremony. Thanks, might want to check your rentals a little more closely next time.