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Cheers Beers’ First Beer Dinner

What better time to experience our first ever beer dinner than during Frederick Beer Week at our favorite hometown brewpub – Barley and Hops.  The Barley and Hops Spring Beer Tasting and Dinner not only featured their stellar house brews, but the event and the menu were all organized by head brewer and culinary creator Larry Pomerantz.  Each item on the menu, shown below, was designed to pair with one of Larry’s exceptional beers.

If you find yourself in Frederick, Maryland, stop by Barley and Hops for a quality pint or two and a great menu!  http://www.barleyandhops.net.

This was Barley and Hops’ premiere beer dinner  – hopefully the first of many to come (we’ve heard rumors that various themed beer dinners may be held quarterly!).  They seated 20 or more of us at a long family style table.  When beer and food are involved, it doesn’t take long for new friendships to form. We were all chatting and laughing and oohing and ahhing over the meal items as Larry explained his thought process behind the pairings and sought our reactions to tastes and flavor combinations.

Dinner is Served

We were so absorbed in the dinner that we missed most of our photo moments. Take my word for it…the cheese course was delicious!

Celery Heart Salad with Bacon Wrapped Jumbo Shrimp served with Larry’s fabulous Sugerloaf Saison and a Saison Vinaigrette.

Stout ice cream…a great way to top off any meal!

1st Course

A cheese course consisting of local goat cheeses that included a soft tangy baby swiss paired with his flavorful sweet and malty Highway to Helles;  a tangy cheddar that brought out delicious notes in the Tuscarora Red Ale; a spicy tangy jalapeño cheddar paired with the Hoptopsy ESB; and a magnificent soft zesty gouda paired with the Annapolis Rocks Pale.

2nd Course

A unique celery heart salad served with bacon wrapped shrimp, topped with a zesty saison mustard dressing, and paired with the Sugarloaf Saison.  The Saison is amazing by itself, but this course brought out the tangy citrus flavors in the beer.

3rd Course

A fork tender Cocoa and Ancho Chili Crusted Pork Tenderloin paired with his 80 Schilling Scotch Ale.  Wow, lots of smoky and chocolate flavors from the beer.  I would never have thought of matching a Scotch Ale with southwest flavors, but boy did it work.

4th Course

Stout Ice Cream with chocolate sauce – I keep telling you all that beer ice cream rocks!  By the end of this course, 20 people practically had their faces planted in their bowls trying to salvage every last bit.

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A Few Pairing Tips 

  • When pairing foods, match stronger flavored foods with stronger flavored beers….and visa versa.  Lighter foods with lighter flavored beers.
  • Hoppy beers pair well with hot and spicy foods.
  • Malty beers pair well with grilled and smoky foods

But the most important tip of all is slow down, stop guzzling, and pay more attention to how your beer and your food complement one another.  You might find that your meal is even more interesting and enjoyable.

Beer dinners are happening all over, so check out your local brewpubs and beer bars and find one near you.  They’re tasty, they’re fun, and you’ll learn how to get the most from two of life’s greatest pleasures – beer and food!

Bon Appetite and Cheers Beers!

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Camping and Beer at Cape Henlopen, DE

November 3, 2011 1 comment

Home away from home at Cape Henlopen State Park, Delaware.

No year is complete without a camping trip to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.  Cape Henlopen State Park is among our favorite camping spots, with bike access to gorgeous beaches, geocaching galore, hiking through the white sand dunes, a short drive to the downtown boardwalk, unlimited shopping, and of course some great beer destinations.

Beer and camping are like chocolate and peanut butter.  Although many state parks have banned alcohol in recent years, we’ve found that good behavior, coupled with inconspicuous hot pink iced tea glasses enable us to enjoy our vices without bother by the local authorities. So camping life is still good.

Cozy camper - fully loaded with room for two.

Camping supplies - important for survival in the wilderness!


Not Just About Camping

Cape Henlopen is a beautiful recreational haven for bikers, walkers, joggers, campers, hikers, geocachers, swimmers, kite flyers, surfers, bird watchers, fishermen, and the list goes on.

The beach is a quick bike ride away, and within a 5 minute drive is the main coastal highway with unlimited shopping.  If you need to stock up on wilderness supplies, then Cape Wine and Spirits in Lewes has the best beer selection at the best prices in town.

Five minutes further, and you’re in downtown Rehoboth Beach — home to none other the original DogfishHead Brewpub.  The Brewpub is a destination location for beer lovers and a must visit if you’re ever in Rehoboth.  It never disappoints and there’s always something limited on tap that can’t be found on the liquor store shelves.

Dogfish Head Brewpub in downtown Rehoboth Beach, DE

Lunch you say?

Head to the Pickled Pig Pub on the Coastal Highway – a great place to get pickled!  Top notch draught beer selection, and the best cuban sandwiches and fried pickled in town.  The locals are friendly, and there’s always a game on the tube.

Gordon’s Pond

After all that food and beverage, some activity may be in order.  We recently discovered Gordon’s Pond – an extension of Cape Henlopen.  A five mile trail leads you around the entire pond and along the beach back to your starting point.  Take the camera and capture some photos of the beautiful wetland marshes, full of wildlife and natural beauty.

Young, old, rain or shine, there’s no shortage of things to do in the Rehoboth Beach area, including Lewes (pronounced Lewis by the locals) and Cape Henlopen.  This community works hard to maintain it’s local presence and small town feel.  The area is warm, inviting, full of local events, and a great getaway for a long weekend or a relaxing week at the beach.  So enjoy your brews, and by all means…don’t forget the hot pink iced tea glasses!

Cheers beers!

Big Taste of Louisville – Fast Horses, Hot Browns and Bourbon Barrel Beer

Louisville, Kentucky, where the horses run fast, the bourbon flows freely, and the gentlemen always let the ladies go first.  I love the south and Louisville is chock full of southern charm.  A beautiful, bright and vibrant city, Louisville is filled with museums, sport arenas, waterfront recreation, riverboats, grand old hotels, fabulous restaurants, and of course bourbon.   They put bourbon in everything here – sauces, candies, cocktails, and the beer!

Arriving at the Seelbach Hilton Hotel

My business travel stationed me for two nights at none other than the  Seelbach Hilton Hotel, a gorgeous grand 4-star hotel located in the heart of downtown Louisville that dates back to 1905.  The Seelbach has entertained the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald (who mentioned this hotel as Daisy’s wedding location in The Great Gatsby) and Al Capone who dined regularly in the historic Oak Room restaurant.  The hotel has also hosted numerous presidents, historic figures and celebrities.  It was even featured in the film “The Insider”, with Russell Crowe.  It’s not often that I’d credit a hotel as the highlight of my trip, but the Seelbach is magnificent and the staff is flawless.


The Seelbach’s Rathskellar

 F. Scott Fitzgerald frequented the Seelbach’s Rathskellar, the historic “pottery room” located on the bottom level of the hotel.  The Rathskellar is, in fact, lined with Rookwood pottery tiles.  According to my counterparts who attended the opening reception held in the Rathskellar, the acoustics are so horrible even a small group can seem unbearably loud.  But I snuck down when the room was dark, empty and silent, and the door just happened to be propped open.  So I ventured in and felt as though I were in  the room of a castle as it conveyed renaissance and royalty.   The entire room was lined from floor to ceiling with pottery tiles, and the walls were lit from above, creating a quiet drama that made it easy to imagine the place coming to life with a roaring 20’s crowd.  

Supposedly the room contains hidden passages used by Al Capone, and ghost stories prevail.  Unusual Kentucky is a fascinating blog that includes some nice photos and more detailed points of interest about this unique Kentucky treasure.



The Old Seelbach Bar

The Seelbach Hotel is also home to the The Old Seelbach Bar, “one of the top 50 bars in the world” according to the Independent London.   I’m not sure what makes this bar one of the top 50.  It certainly has history and old time atmosphere,  or maybe its because they feature 44 select brands of bourbon.  I’ll bet they also stir up a heck of a mint julep.  But I bypassed the traditional bourbon and julip for a local microbrew – a Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale produced by Alltech’s Lexington Brewing Company.  This strong ale pours a gorgeous dark amber color; it drinks smooth, sweet and malty; and its loaded with smooth delicious bourbon flavor.  One gentleman at our table took a small sip and said  “this tastes like someone dropped shot of bourbon in it”.  Yes, yes it does!  And I’ve determined that’s how I like my bourbon…in my beer.

Running Amuck in Downtown Louisville

The next day I found an hour to run out and explore.  Louisville is full of culture – music, museums, glass art.  I only had time for a quick walk to the Ohio River waterfront where I was met by several riverboats and some lovely views of bridges crossing over to Indiana.  Gambling in Kentucky is limited to horse racing, but visitors can board the riverboats or cross over to Indiana to play the slots and wager on a little table action.

A bartender later informed me that the view of Louisville from the Indiana side is breathtaking at night. And the week prior to the Kentucky Derby, the city sets off one of the largest fireworks displays in the world, second only to China.

The waterfront area is also home to weekly music festivals and concerts, as well as a waterfront park that rents paddle boats and offers river recreation for both visitors and locals.

B-Line for the BBC (Bluegrass Brewing Company)

Finally, I was freed up for the evening, and so I made a B-line for the Bluegrass Brewing Company (the BBC).  The BBC has a series of pubs throughout the Louisville area, and the beers are brewed on the premises, as demonstrated by the large brewing room that’s only visible through a window lined with shelves holding bottles of spirit.  I bellied up and started with a sampler – all great beers, ranging from a Kolsch to an Alt, an IPA, a Raspberry Mead and a Bock with an unusual (but good) hoppy bite.  However, the one that really got my attention was their Bourbon Barrel Stout.  Rich with chocolate, vanilla, bourbon and roasted malty goodness, this stout was so delicious that I had to fly a 4-pack home for the hubster, along with his and hers BBC t-shirts proclaiming “Beer is Food”.


Tackling the Hot Brown

I absolutely agree, beer is food.  But I still had to order some solid food in the form of a hot brown.  This Kentucky open-faced sandwich was first created and is still served at the Brown Hotel in Louisville. Different restaurants have their own versions, and the BBC bartender assured me that when in Kentucky, I had to have a hot brown, and the BBC’s version supposedly ranked among the best.

HOT BROWN Smoked turkey, alfredo, sliced tomato, crumbled bacon and wheat toast topped with cheddar jack cheese and smoked paprika 10.99

And so word spread across the bar that I was a hot brown newbie, and as the arrival of this monumental first approached, several servers shared stories of their hot brown initiations. The bartender was even prepared to call in the circus upon its arrival.  But the hot brown needed no added attention, as all eyes were on the newbie with the monster mound of evil cheesy cream covered artery clogging turkey on toast sitting in front of me.

I ate every last gluttonous bite and washed it down with a full pint of their amazing bourbon barrel stout.

It was a good evening, indeed.  Sometimes work offers unique experiences, and travel is a nice perk when given the chance to explore the local sites…and the local beer.  And based on my short time in this grand city, I’ve come to the conclusion that no one mixes their bourbon and beer like Kentucky brewers.  Just one of the many reasons why Louisville, Kentucky tastes so darn good!

Cheers beers!  

Thoughts on Brewpubs and the Unspoken Rule

You wouldn’t ask for Folgers in a coffeehouse, you wouldn’t expect Five Guys to serve big macs, and you probably wouldn’t scoff at a wine bar that doesn’t serve Riunite (in fact, most people would react quite the opposite). So why are brewpubs expected to sell mass-produced commercial beers?  Not all brewpubs do sell these beers, but the expectation is still a sort of unspoken rule that pertains to beer serving establishments in general.

I suppose a lot of people equate brewpubs to beer bars.  But brewpubs are unique in that brewing beer is their specialty, their differentiator, the heart of their business.  So they should be exempt from that rule, right?  You’d think so, but it really is amazing how embedded certain brands are in our beer culture – and not just American.  I’ve seen people get downright angry if their beers aren’t available, even at brewpubs.

I’m not judging those who prefer the commercial brews.  We like what we like and we shouldn’t have to apologize for it.  And I’m definitely not judging brewpubs for selling those beers.  It’s a business, and brewpubs do have the option to sell or not to sell, and to charge just as much for those beers as for their in house brews, if not more.  I suppose that in itself should be lesson enough to the finicky beer-drinkers who eat at brewpubs but snub the house brews in favor of commercial beers (ok, that might sound a little judgmental).  It’s an easy way to make money and keep the customers happy.  The pressure is evident, and I know that in our semi-rural suburban region, it doesn’t matter how many house or craft brews are available, if a bar (any bar) doesn’t serve at least one of the major brands, then they’re gonna lose business.  Hey, if that’s what it takes to keep a good brewpub going strong for the rest of us, then give’em their beer.  However, I would think its gotta be a sticky pet peeve for most brewers.  Just my opinion.

Responding to the Inevitable Request

Of course it never hurts to ask, fair enough.  I’ve witnessed several ways that brewpubs handle the request for commercial brands…

  1. Sure thing, whatever you want, no questions asked.  The larger chain-type brewpubs often serve commercial brews in addition to their own – no muss, no fuss, no questions asked, the customer gets what they want.
  2. You can have it on one condition.  Give ours a little taste first, and if you don’t like it, then we’ll give you your commercial beer.  This approach encourages non-craft beer drinkers to acknowledge that they are in fact in a brewpub.  And out of sheer respect to the brewer and the establishment, at least give the lightest house brew on tap a fair shot.  Hey, like it or not, its free beer!
  3. We only serve house beers, but our XYZ beer is the closest match to your request.  This “take it or leave it” approach is a sure sign of an independent, confident brewpub whose regulars appreciate the good stuff and come back for it often, and whose head brewer (I’m assuming) probably takes immense pleasure in giving the big three a big bird.


Respect the Brewer, Respect the  Beer

I am not a beer snob – truly, I don’t know enough, nor am I serious enough to be a snob.  But I have tremendous respect for brewers and the passion and commitment they have for their craft.  And virtually every brewpub I’ve ever been in produces one or more lighter beers that speak to a wider audience.  You say you like beer?  Then branch out a little.  Ask for some samples.  Give the house beers a fair shot.  You might even find a new regular, in which case, good for you!  Welcome to the brave new world of craft beer.

Cheers beers!




Jolly Good Beer at the Jolly Pumpkin Cafe and Brewery

Our final beer destination on this year’s State Capitols and BeerVentureJolly Pumpkin Cafe and Brewery in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Jolly Pumpkin always seems like our beer of choice on a beautiful relaxing evening outside by the fire pit or on the front swing. We’re seeing it more and more in the mid-Atlantic region, but its still rather hard to find, so this visit was a much anticipated venture for us.

The pub is a spacious two story building, with full bars on both levels, and an upstairs rooftop patio. I love the dim, relaxed, artsy fartsy atmosphere, and the walls are filled with artwork adapted from their artisan beer labels.

As for the beer, the actual brewery, located in Dexter, Michigan, is well known for their openly fermented, oak barrel-aged, bottle conditioned artisan beers. I tried their Raspinical, which is an Abbey del Norte brewed with spinach. This experimental beer is only produced in small batches for their brew pub. Raspinical has medium body, and a dark, sweet, malty belgian character. Excellent brew for those who enjoy darker belgian-style ales.

I also enjoyed their Bam Noire, a dark farmhouse ale – one of Jolly Pumpkin’s better known beers and one of my personal favorites. Their description tells it best:

Bam Noire– Dark Farmhouse Ale
Dark, smooth, delicious. Aromas of worn leather and cool
autumn nights. Notes of sweet plum and toasted raisin, hints of
coffee and cacao. Lingering tart and refreshing finish.
Only available for a few short months. Not to be missed.

Seasonal released in September
4.3% Alc./Vol.

750ml bottles – 12 case

The pub also offers a full line of non-sour beers brewed at their “sister” brewery, North Peak in Traverse City, MI. North Peak‘s beers include the Diabolical IPA and the Siren Amber Ale, Majestic Wheat Ale and Vicious Wheat IPA, as well as a number of seasonals. The Diabolical IPA is fully aromatic and flavorful with floral and citrus hops, but distinct pine notes and a dry earthiness give it a really unique taste that sets it apart from other IPAs.

Their rustic food is prepared fresh and designed specifically for pairing with their rustic beers – warm flatbreads, marinated olives, cured meats and cheeses, pizzas, truffled fries with rosemary, and artisan sandwiches. Don’t let the upscale interior fool you – Jolly Pumpkin is relaxed, casual, easy, warm, and inviting, much like its Ann Arbor surroundings. The pub is surrounded by streets full of great shops and artsy attractions – glass galleries, speciality food stores, clothing, and more – so be sure to set time aside to walk around the downtown area. It’s a perfect location for this artisan brewpub, as Jolly Pumpkin clearly demonstrates that brewing original rustic craft beers is indeed an art.

Cheers beers!

Bell’s Brewing Company – Best Darn Brew in Kalamazoo

The only bad thing about Bell’s beer is that we have to drive to Virginia to get it.  One of our all-time favorite craft breweries, no way we were passing up the chance to stop in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Since the brewery isn’t open for tours, we settled for the next best option – dinner at Bell’s Eccentric Cafe.

Bell’s Cafe is located in a rustic wood building with stained glass windows, and high ceilings lined with wood beams. A beer drinker’s sanctuary of sorts. The chalkboard tap list is surrounded by tribal masks, one of which resembles a Dr. Seuss character. There’s a casual quirkiness about the place, and an old fashioned vibe.  Fresh roasted nuts are served in paper boats, they offer a long list of old fashioned soft drinks, and the menu includes interesting updates to some old classics. The prices are reasonable, and the beers are sold in 12 oz, 16 oz, and 20 oz glasses.  If you read my SimplPlea for Half Pints blog, then you’ll know what a fan I am of smaller sizes!

My first beer was a limited release, draught only brown sour ale called The Wild One. Hands down one of my favorite beers ever. A tart, sweet, fruity beer aged in oak barrels and brimming with funky sour flavor from the wild yeast.  I also had the Oarsman, a golden wheat sour mash that was a light, crisp, fruity mild session beer, similar to a farmhouse ale with only a very mild sourness.

They also had a number of IPAs on tap, including the Oracle Double IPA (DIPA) Ale, a delicious strong, citrusy, malty, hoppy brew that clocks in at 10% ABV.  If you’re lucky, you might find this one in bottle form.

But no visit is complete without heading next door to their general store.  Lots of great Bell’s takeaways, including homebrew supplies.  Another fun brewpub – they rarely disappoint – and it was truly a great beer experience as the restaurant features quite a few small batch, draught only beers that you won’t find anywhere else.  So the next time you’re up Michigan way, head to Kalamazoo for some darn good brew by Bell’s Brewing Company.

Cheers Beers!

Lunch at the Three Floyds Brewing Company and Pub

Our trip took us through Munster, Indiana, so we couldn’t pass up lunch a the Three Floyds Brewpub and Brewing Company.   This small craft microbrewery focuses on brewing smaller batches of top quality, unconventional craft beers that are primarily available throughout Indiana and the Chicago regions.

They’re also well known for Dark Lord Day, a “fantasy drinking event” held in honor of their Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout:

“A demonic Russian Style Imperial Stout, brewed with Intelligensia coffee Mexican vanilla, and Indian sugar this beer defies description, available one day a year in April at the brewery, Dark Lord Day.”

Three Floyds Brewing Company was founded in 1996 by two brothers and their dad, last name Floyd.  The brewpub later opened in 2005, and much of the pub food comes from their 3,000 square foot organic herb and vegetable garden.  Schedule your trip right, and take in a Saturday tour to learn more about the brewery and its history.

The beers all have bold eclectic names from various historical, medieval, comic book, cinematic, fantasy influences.  I had Robert the Bruce (7.0% ABV, 30 IBUs) –  a smooth, dark, roasted, malty scottish ale that was slightly dry, with medium body and mouth feel.  That’s my description, here’s how they describe it:

“A bold Scottish ale with a complex malty body derived from roasted and crystal malts balanced with just the right combination of hops. This ale pours a deep ruby color, has a sweet malty nose with layered caramel and roasted notes and a full body. Robust yet smooth, Robert The Bruce is a malt lover’s delight.”

We also tried the Alpha King (6.5% ABV, 66 IBUs), 3 Floyds’ flagship American Pale Ale – bursting with fruity, floral hop aroma, full flavored, and well balanced with the malt and the hops.  Here’s their take:

3 Floyd’s flagship beer, Alpha King is a big American pale ale that pours a deep amber with a creamy head. This ale is brewed with Centennial, Cascade, and Warrior hops giving it an intense citrus aroma and a crisp hoppy finish.

The pub is small and packed with locals, and the brewery’s artwork and image screams non-conformity – heavy metal spattered with pop art, overlaid with skulls and crossbones, with undertones of pop culture geekiness (e.g. Homer Simpson, Star Wars, and the projection of Japanese cinema on the bare walls).  It all adds up to a fun, quirky atmosphere for enjoying some finely crafted brews, paired with fresh unconventional food.

Cheers beers!

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