Sum, Sum, Summertime Ale

 
 
Truth be told, the term “Summer Ale” is not an official beer style.  It can be used, however, as a sort of catch-all descriptive term for true beer styles that seem to emerge, gain popularity, or due to their flavor characteristics, achieve a new life – or all of the above – during the three months that follow June 21st.  That Sam Adams Summer?  Technically, an American Pale Wheat Beer.  Wheat beers such as this, along with others like the German Hefeweizen and Belgian Witbier seem nearly synonymous with summer.  Then come a handful of lesser known styles, like the German Kolsch, American Blonde Ale, and many fruit beers that always seem to be clinging to summer’s golden threads, like the little dog hanging on to the girl’s bathing suit in the classic Coppertone ads.

So what makes them go so well with summer? Maybe it’s a simple matter of taste. Consider that more often than not, “summer ales” are wheat based beers. The German Hefeweizen and its American approximation, the American Pale Wheat, are perhaps the most well known styles associated with the warmer months, and with the Summer Ale label.  The wheat in a Hefeweizen, according to German law, must make up at least 50% of the beer’s total grain, and along with certain strains of German ale yeast, contributes to a host of very specific, classic flavors. Among these are banana and clove notes, and sometimes even a bubble gum like taste. Hefeweizens are also left unfiltered and are bottle conditioned, meaning an additional amount of fresh beer is added to the unfiltered beer, which still has enough live yeast to produce a secondary fermentation in the bottle. The leftover, unfiltered yeast produces not only a hazy, glowing, gorgeous looking beer, but the secondary fermentation produces a higher level of carbonation that gives the beer the characteristic crispness Hefeweizens are known for. These flavors, along with the effervescence and the light to medium body, makes for a very refreshing brew, and one that many think fits perfectly when you’re melting in the summer heat. American Pale Wheat beers are an American version of the Hefeweizen, with often a lesser amount of wheat malt and more neutral yeast strains, which produce much less of the classic banana or clove like flavors.

The Belgian Witbier is another summer loving beer. Often confused with the Hefeweizen, since both predominantly use wheat in the recipe, Witbiers differ in a couple basic ways. They are always spiced, with typical ingredients such as coriander or orange peel, while Hefeweizens are not. Witbiers feature raw, or unmalted wheat, while in a Hefeweizen, the wheat is malted, or, heat is put to the grain. Witbiers still have a high level of carbonation, and along with the fruity, spiced flavors, again make for a refreshing summer beer. Think the name “Witbier” sounds odd, and you’ve never had one? Take a look at those taps at the bar again. See the Blue Moon tap? Oh, you’ve even had one before? Guess what – you’ve had a Witbier.

No discussion about summer beer would be complete without the Belgian Saison. The name literally means “season”, and here’s where history again sneaks back into our conversation. According to most versions of the story, Saisons were originally produced prior to harvesting season to serve the farmhands who were out working in the summer heat. Apparently, this particular area of Belgium may have had a particular kind of airborne yeast which produced the complex list of characteristic Saison flavors. They are described as quite fruity, can be somewhat spicy, and are often fairly tart.

There are the others, such as the German Kolsch and American Blonde Ale, which sometimes are pushed under the “Summer Ale” banner. Those two are somewhat similar, featuring a light body, and are often works of subtlety and balance, retaining both a light malt character and slight ale fruityness. Either way, the overall taste is generally sublime. This lightness in flavor and body again makes for a good, refreshing hot day brew.

The “Summer Ale” – a descriptive term really, not an official beer style. Many of the beers that end up with the Summer Ale label applied to them certainly are more than worthy standing alone without it. So what do we make of it, the next time you see those two words printed on a bottle or tap handle? Perhaps it’s best to think of the label as simply a quick way to summarize the probable flavors or body a beer may have. Somehow, the lightness, the crispness, and the fruity ale flavors just seem to go hand in hand with summer. But most of all, the label may give you one vital characteristic. From hazy looking, golden Hefeweizens that look like a lazy summer day put in a bottle, to complex beers like the Saison, to subtle tasting beers such as the Kolsch, they all do one thing well – satisfy and quench a serious thirst the next time you’re on the beach, mowing the lawn, or otherwise sizzling in the summer heat.

Written by guest blogger, Jeff Dean.  His blog was recently recognized by The Roanoke Times as one of the best local blogs.  He kindly took time out of his busy schedule to write this blog post for you.  Thank you, Jeff.  We love you, man!

See what Jeff Dean is up to on The Beer Road – one person’s travels through the world of good beer.

Published in: on July 30, 2010 at 10:43 pm  Comments (1)  
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One Foodie Couple’s Journey Through Spain – Part I

Adam Z. Markham

I recently read an opinion by the editor of Bon Appetit magazine that one of the primary reasons people travel is for food.  I know in our case it is.  When my wife, Kendall and I decided to honeymoon in Spain, food was definitely one of our motivating factors.

Ah, Spain.   A better decision we could not have made.  If you have not personally travelled to Spain, I cannot begin to encourage you strongly enough, especially if you are a foodie.  Over the next month or so I will publish several installments detailing some of the more spectacular aspects of our journey.  What better place to begin than in our first stop, Madrid, with an homage to my well-known predilection for all-things-pig!

Museo del Jamon!

Museo del Jamon!

The pork, MY GOD, the pork in Spain!  Most of the Spanish must eat pork three meals a day.  The sheer quality and quantity of pork product the two of us ate in the first 36 hours alone is unimaginable to mere mortals.  Suffice it to say, we went to the ¨Museo del Jamon¨.  Yes, you read that right folks… the Museum of Ham.  The Museo del Jamon is actually less a museum and more a food store/restaurant.  Kendall and I made a conscious decision to make it our first official meal in Spain.  We simply ordered up a sampler platter of Iberico hams and sausage products along with a bowl of olives, some beautiful Manchego cheese and a loaf of nice, crusty bread.  Perfect in its simplicity and accompanied by dos grande cervezas, this was, I swear, one of the greatest meals of our lives!

That first evening we went out for tapas.  A simple salad made of canned tuna and tomatoes was a delight (Spanish canned seafood products bear no resemblance to their American equivalents and are, in fact, often even better than fresh).  Our second course was a glazed pork chop accompanied by French Fries.

"The Best Pork Chop EVER"

The description may not sound so exciting but the dish itself led Kendall to exclaim “this may be the best pork I have ever put in my mouth!”  We had a pitcher of fantastic sangria with our meal.  Sangria in Spain seems to be a much simpler affair than it does in the States and makes me want to rethink my recipe no matter how good it might be.

Caviar & Vodka!

Our second day on the ground we went to Mercado de San Miguel, one of the largest and most notable food markets in Espana.  We stayed for over three hours and enjoyed exquisite Spanish sturgeon caviar (we had a small sample of the relatively inexpensive $70 per ounce kind since the Russian Beluga ranged up to $4,000 per pound!) with the finest, smoothest Russian vodka I have ever tasted.  We also sampled grilled octopus and potato skewers and then olives stuffed with pickled sardines and roasted red peppers.  We drank a Taittinger Rose Champagne with strawberries (yes, a French Champagne in Spain – fear not, we had plenty of Cava as well) followed up by fois gras topped with a Valencian orange marmalade.

Sea Urchin, Ostra Gigante and Cerveza

We are adventurous eaters in general and had decided to push ourselves to the limit so we then went to the fishmonger and ordered up fresh, raw sea urchin and ¨gigantic oysters¨ on the half-shell.  Sea urchin.  What can I say?  Honestly, it tasted exactly like the ocean smells (on a good day) and was indeed a bit challenging.  I am not entirely sure we are dying to repeat the experience but I would not trade it for anything.  The oysters, on the other hand, were not in the least bit challenging and were washed down with Spanish Estrella Damm cerveza.

We then moved on to the butcher counter and had a (GET THIS!) $50.00 per pound beef that had the texture of fine silk and was cured in a style similar to Spain´s famous hams.  It was an absolutely sublime experience that you would have to try to believe.  Think chipped beef if chipped beef was one if the greatest red meat products you have ever put in your mouth.  We then proceeded to the queso counter and had a “Minitorta de Oveja”, one of the best, creamiest, funkiest cheeses I have eaten in my life.

Minitorta de Oveja

After an experience like this, what to have for dessert?  How about  ENORMOUS prawns?  I’m talking bigger-than-hot-dog prawns.  The problem was we then realized that we would have to buy about a dozen of the things and honestly didn’t feel up to it after such a bout of conspicuous consumption.  I asked a very nice bartender I had met earlier if a smaller quantity was available.  When the fishmonger turned his head for a moment she surreptitiously grabbed a couple and shoved them at me.  Kendall and I snuck off into a corner to gulp them down but before we could the bartender came running back over with a couple of lemon slices for the squeezing.  Good shrimp.  I’m talking good shrimp.  Our new friend sat watching us happily as we consumed our illicit goodies.  When we were done we literally sucked the fat out of their heads for good measure!  What I would give to have such an experience available to us here in the Roanoke Valley. 

Surreptitious Shrimp

Next Chapter:  Suckling pig at the oldest restaurant on earth!

…Adam

Williamsburg Mini-Vacation

Adam Z. Markham

When my wife and I met (and things started progressing nicely) she made it clear to me that one of her absolute priorities in life was vacationing.  Since I feel exactly the same way, I not only didn’t see this as an obstacle to the progression of our relationship, I saw it as a bonus!

Fast-forward to real life.  My wife and I are extremely busy people.  Between my job at Wine Gourmet, my musical engagements, teaching banjo and guitar lessons, Kendall’s job in the Advance Auto corporate office and “home-keeping” duties, both inside and out, it seems we rarely have a stretch of days off at the same time.

A year or so ago we came up with a concept that helps to tide us over between our “real” vacations.  Once a quarter we make sure there is absolutely nothing on our calendars.  Sometimes we use this time to plant our hindquarters resolutely on the sofa and do nothing.  Sometimes, however, we choose to get away for a few days.  This past weekend was just such a time.

Castillo De Fuendejalon

Castillo De Fuendejalon

We left Thursday night for Richmond, where we spent the night with our friend Tracy.  She prepared for us a wonderful meal of spinach lasagna and we opened up a bottle of 2006 Castillo De Fuendejalon, a very nice Spanish wine that is 75% old-vine Grenache and 25% old-vine Tempranillo (and the $10.99 price tag you’ll find on it at Wine Gourmet makes it a bargain as well!).  After dinner, to celebrate Tracy’s new job the three of us shared a bottle of Bitch Bubbly (no, I don’t make these things up…): a fun, slightly sweet rose’ sparkler .

Bitch Bubbly

Bitch Bubbly

First thing Friday morning we joined my daughter Haley, who is a student a VCU, for breakfast at 821 Cafe on Cary Street.  WOW!  We had an amazing experience.  I had a breakfast burrito (which are so often bland, squishy, insipid affairs that appear on menus with far too-great a frequency these days) that was absolutely delightful!  It was stuffed with ham, rosemary potatoes, cheddar and perfectly done black beans.  Kendall had a smoked salmon platter that was astounding.  The salmon was like butta’, I tell you!  Haley (a vegetarian) had a breakfast platter with veggie sausage that actually looked, smelled and (by all reports) tasted like the real thing.

One of the things that impressed me most about 821, however, was the beer selection.  A sign on the fridge intended for employees read “shift drinks – draft or mimosas only – no bottles or cans”.  If one was an employee at 821 this would hardly be an impediment.  The draft selection is fantastic and includes Olde Richmond #4 Brown Ale and Legend Gold Ale (both of which, incidentally, are available at Wine Gourmet).  The draft beers at 821 are $4.00 each and during happy hour are only $3.00.  The best part?  On Thursdays happy hour lasts all day long!

After breakfast Kendall and I drove to Williamsburg where we checked into the Historic Powhatan Resort, a fantastic place that is a steal.  The condo we rented had a full kitchen, master suite with king-sized bed, a second suite with a queen and a pull out sofa in the living room.  I looked on their site and found a room like I described above for $79 per night (although we booked ours through Hotwire and got it even cheaper)!

Christiana Campbell's Tavern

Christiana Campbell's Tavern

That night we dined at Christiana Campbell’s Tavern in Colonial Williamsburg.  We had a remarkable dinner.  Even though the wine list was not-half-bad we chose to start out with a house drink, the Vodka Kir.  A blend of vodka and Creme De Cassis topped with a splash of lemonade and a couple of blueberries, while not a traditional colonial beverage, it was great.  Our appetizer was the Fried Oyster Salad.  It consisted of huge, perfectly fried oysters nestled in a bed of simply dressed greens accompanied by semi-crispy ham lardons, a spicy “gunpowder” remoulade and a corn relish similar in preparation to chow-chow (northern folks commence to scratch their heads in curiosity…).  It was beautifully executed and the combination of flavors was exquisite.

We followed that up with the Fricassy of Shrimp, Scallops and Lobster.  The seafood was remarkably fresh and was simmered in a light sherry-butter sauce with peas, tomatoes and leeks and served around a mound of brown rice. It was absolutely heaven on a plate! Finally we enjoyed the Grilled Tenderloin of Beef and Salmon.  The salmon was topped by an almond aioli that was delicate and delicious.

As an after dinner drink I ordered the Rummer.  Supposedly one of the most authentic drinks on the menu it was a VERY strong but tasty combination of dark rum, apricot and peach brandies with a fresh lime.

For dessert we had what was honestly one of the best things this confirmed chocolate lover has ever eaten.  A chocolate pie crust was filled with layer of what was essentially a pure chocolate ganache followed by a layer of chocolate mousse and topped with a layer of what must have been a white chocolate mousse.  This dessert was so astounding we walked a couple of miles the next day to have another as our lunch only to discover Ms. Campbell’s establishment is only open for dinner!

The entire experience, while certainly not inexpensive was well worth it.  The dimly lit room was a wonderfully authentic setting and periodic visits by reenactors (including a visit by Ms. Campbell herself) was the icing on the cake.

Saturday morning we slept late and decided to go straight for lunch.  We went to the Cheese Shop located in the Merchant’s Square area of Colonial Williamsburg.  Not only is the food emporium at the Cheese Shop a foodie’s dream, the sandwich counter in the rear was recently listed third on a list of msn.com’s “15 Essential Sandwiches” in America, and it completely lived up to the hype!  In my mind a perfectly composed sandwich is as good as anything you can possibly put in your mouth and these were no exception. They were amazingly well-composed of artisanal ingredients and delicious in their simplicity.

Cheese Shop

Cheese Shop

Downstairs is a fantastic wine cellar that has a cool semi-industrial vibe.  It reminded me a bit of Wine Gourmet in the sense that their goals are “high quality, intriguing uniqueness, and great value”.  Also, their staff was knowledgeable and professional while not being even vaguely pretentious.  All of these are traits we pride ourselves on at Wine Gourmet and it is always a treat to find another store that shares similar values.  Kendall and I decided on a bottle of late-harvest Zinfandel to save for a special occasion.

Afterward we went to the Smithfield Ham Store to satisfy my well-known desire for all-things-pig.  We were fortunate enough to not only sample products of the porcine variety but to also participate in a tasting of Virginia Wines.

Before heading home on Sunday we visited the exhibits at Jamestown Settlement.  Neither Kendall nor I have been there since childhood but we were very impressed.  The experience was thoroughly enjoyable and highly educational… if are in the neighborhood it is a must-see.

If you find yourself in need of a little “vacating” of your own you would be hard pressed to have a more relaxing and spirit-renewing mini-vacation than a trip to Richmond, Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown.  Only three-and-a-half hours or so from Roanoke, it was an easy drive, and it proved to be a quite economical trip as well!

…Adam

St Pat’s Celebration Fri 3/12 5-8 pm

Get That Leprechaun!

What’s better than a leprechaun running through Roanoke with a pot o’ gold? Check out our new video to see.

Published in: on March 11, 2010 at 1:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Viva Sangria!

Sangria Tasting on Thursday, Sept 10, 5-8 pm

Sangria Tasting on Thursday, Sept 10, 5-8 pm

Sangria is a host’s best friend.  Made properly, Sangria is tasty, food-friendly and a perfect quaffer for guests “not into wine.”  

Sangria originated in Spain. The word Sangria comes from the Spanish word, sangre meaning blood. The drink gets its name from the red color of the wine used in a traditional sangria recipe. The drink is also made with white wine which is called sangria blanco.

Sangria is basically a mix of wine, juices, soda water and fruit. Any young red wine can be used in a traditional recipe. 

Tried and True Tips:

1.         Good, quality ingredients are important in this drink. Wine is the dominant ingredient, so care is taken to use a good wine.

2.         It’s important to allow time for the liquid to blend with the fruit.  A few hours or even overnight in the refrigerator will enhance the flavor.

3.         Add soda and ice just before serving. 

4.         Use a Spanish Rioja to get the authentic flavor of red Sangria.  Here are a few wines we think are perfect – Protocolo Tinto $8.99 and Cortijo III Rioja $10.99

Published in: on September 9, 2009 at 1:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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