June 30, 2009

What the firkin

As I sat down to write this, I was (obviously) thinking about the word "firkin". It's a funny word. Which made me think of another funny "f" word (and no, it's not four-letters). Fartlek. Ever heard of it? Most runners probably have, and may know what it means:"speed play" in Swedish. And just so you can sound really knowledgeable, it's a form of interval training that helps improve speed and endurance.

But we're here to talk about beer and beer-related words, so on to the firkin.

Firkin is an old British unit of measure, usually equal to a quarter of a barrel. Beers that are matured in firkins (cask ales) are not pasteurized or pressurized with carbon dioxide - meaning that they're a lot "flatter" than what most American beer drinkers are used to (or, at least, what I'm used to). Beers served in firkins are also called "real ales" by "real beer drinkers".

I had some firkin beers on Sunday. They were good, but definitely different than what I typically drink. It's funny because I've always said that I can't drink ice-cold beers (it hurts my teeth) so I typically let them warm to room temp. That's pretty much what a beer from a firkin tastes like - a flat, room-temp beer - and yet I just don't really like it.

I'd also like to note that beer is not meant to be served ice cold - no matter what the advertisers have led you to believe. Beers are actually meant to be enjoyed at a warmer temp. This allows them to release more of their natural flavor and aroma, which to me, explains why a lot of beers are served so cold. They don't have a lot of flavor to begin with, so you're really not going to gain anything by drinking it warmer.

Have you tried a firkin beer? Do you want to? If you've had one, what are your thoughts on their taste and "texture" (flat vs. carbonated).

June 27, 2009

Flying Fish Belgian Style Dubbel

Before I get in to the beer review, let's review this past week. What a week it was. I was out Wednesday night with a friend in NYC and he told me Michael Jackson had died. I'd been in a meeting all day, with no access to what was going on in the real world. At first we thought it was a rumor, but we quickly realized that it was true. Add to that the fact Farrah Fawcett had also died and you had a pretty surreal day (although, given how sick she was, it wasn't as surprising about Farrah). I have to admit, I felt badly that Farrah's death was so completely overshadowed by MJs. I know that happened once before, but I forget who it was. If anyone can remember the last time two celebs died on the same day - and one completely overtook the airwaves, with barely a mention of the other - post a comment and remind me.

No matter what you thought of Michael in recent years there is no denying the fact that he was an amazing talent and absolutely worthy of the title "King of Pop".

So, the beer. I went to the Royal Tavern (which I really need to write about - it's one of my favorite bars in the city - and not just because it's so convenient to where I live!) for dinner last night. Decided to try the Flying Fish Belgian Style Dubbel. I enjoyed it with my meal - a vegan sloppy joe (mmmmm!). It wasn't hoppy, but as I'm trying different beers, I'm realizing the incredible variety I really like.

It pours a nice amber color, with a pretty thick head that disappears fairly quickly. It's on the stronger side at 7.3% ABV. The smell is fruity and faintly spicy. You can taste the fruit when drinking this, as well as a bit of the spice (cloves?). It's definitely more malty than hoppy, meaning it's more sweet than it is bitter (hops add bitterness, and I love bitter beer!). While drinkable, I think two or three is the most I could have, mostly because of the maltiness. It's not terribly heavy, and would go well with a variety of foods.

Flying Fish Brewery
is my neighbor, just over the bridge in Cherry Hill, NJ. I need to get myself over there for a brewery tour! Anyone want to join me? They do them almost weekly on Saturdays.

June 21, 2009

Russian River Blind Pig IPA

Let me start off by saying I love this beer. I should also point out that it's not a Harp, even though that's what the glass says. I had one on Wednesday night at Local 44 in West Philly and then had another Saturday night at St. Stephen's Green in the Fairmount (or, as I always call it since I lived there for nearly 5 years, art museum) area.

It's brewed by Russian River, a brewery in Santa Rosa, CA.

This beer has what seems to me the perfect amount of hops - not overly hoppy and balanced well with the malt. It's got a great citrusy scent and pours a dark orange with a fairly thick head. It comes in at only about 6.1% ABV, making it very easy to drink more than one. And with this great taste you'll likely want to have more than one. It's also not too "heavy" - you don't feel like you're eating a meal on top of your meal - another reason it's a great drinking beer.

I highly recommend you seek out the Blind Pig, especially if you've been wanting to try a hoppy beer, but were afraid to.

June 18, 2009

Three Philosophers Belgian Style Blend

Three Philosophers Belgian Style Blend is a quadrupel ale from Brewery Ommegang.

Quadrupel is a Belgian style ale inspired by the Trappist brewers of Belgium. It's meant to have a bolder flavor than Dubbel and Tripel (makes sense, right?) styles.

Three Philosophers is a good, complex beer - a belgian-style ale mixed with Lindeman's Kriek Lambic, which adds a nice cherry flavor to the chocolate and caramel malt flavor of the ale.

It comes in strong at 9.8% ABV. In my mind, that makes it a beer to sip, almost like a liquer, rather than one that you'll constantly be reordering. Also (and again, this is for me) the cherry flavor gets to be a little much and I can't see drinking it for an entire night. I think this would make a nice substitution for a dessert wine (port), if you're looking for one.

I think the history of the Trappists is interesting. The Trappist order came to be in 1664 when the Abbot of La Trappe felt that the Cistercians were becoming too liberal. Wanting to bring some order back to the abbey, he introduced stricter rules, and so the Strict Observance was born.

Trappist monks follow the Rule of St. Benedict. Monks have long brewed beer as a means of feeding their community, in an act of self-sufficiency. They've also produced cheese, bread and other items, including clothing. In this way they are following a rule from the 48th Chapter that states "for then are they monks in truth, if they live by the work of their hands". Contrary to popular belief, they do not take a vow of silence, although they do typically only speak when necessary.

There are certain criteria that must be met in order for a beer to be called Trappist. These criteria are:
** The beer must be brewed within the walls of a Trappist abbey, by or under the control of Trappist monks
** The brewery and what is chosen to be brewed must be determined by the monastic community
** All proceeds from the brewing of the beer must be used for assistance purposes and not for financial gain

It's also good to know that Trappist isn't a type of beer, but rather a designation given to a beer that meets the above criteria.
Currently, there are 7 recognized Trappist breweries - 6 in Belgium and 1 in the Netherlands.

If any of this has piqued your interest in meeting a Trappist Monk you're in luck if you live in Philadelphia (or will be in town on Tuesday, June 23). Monk's Cafe is hosting a meet and greet with Abbot Izaak from La Trappe from 5 - 7 pm. This is the Abbot's first-ever stop in America, and it's sure to be a special event.

June 13, 2009

A lesson in beer

Last week was a great beer-tasting/learning week for me. I went to two amazing beer-related events.

On Wednesday night I went to a Love of Lager class at Tria Fermentation School. It was a great event! I learned so much about beer. Someone calling themselves "phillybeergirl" should probably be embarrassed to admit that she didn't know this, but there are only two types of beers - ales and lagers. (Hey, I stated from the outset I was here to learn and wanted others to learn with me. And learning is what we're doing!)

The difference between the two is how they're fermented. Ales are brewed at a higher temperature, typically using yeast that ferments at the top of the fermentation tank. The high temperature causes the yeast to "throw off" different flavors; you don't necessarily know what you're going to get.

Lagers, on the other hand, are brewed at a lower temperature, for a longer period of time, typically using yeasts that ferment at the bottom of the tank. What the brewer wants you to taste is what they're going to put in to the tank. There's a lot less "guess work" in this approach.

Another interesting fact I didn't realize is the number of different types of beers that fall under each category. For example, lagers include pilsners, bocks, and dunkles, among others. Ale examples include pale ales, IPAs (yay!), porters and stouts. Somehow it all reminds me of religion and how there are so many sects that fall under the term "Christian". Maybe not an exact analogy, but it works for me.

Okay, that was all very educational. But I can hear you asking "how do I know which to order when I'm out?" Well, if you haven't tried the types of beer I've given as examples, here's the basic "taste" differences between the two: Ales tend to be fruitier and more complex while lagers are typically crisper and more refreshing. Hopefully that helps a little.

Or you can do what I do and just ask to try something new! That's the best way to learn what you like anyway.

On Saturday I went on a walking tour of Northern Liberties. It was sponsored by First Person Arts, a wonderful organization in Philadelphia whose mission it is to "transform the drama of real life into memoir and documentary art to foster appreciation for our unique and shared experiences."

We started out at Swift Half, a new bar that just opened in the Piazza at Schmidt's. Schmidt's, as it turns out, was a brewery that was open in the Northern Liberties section of the city years back. The Piazza should be a huge hit. There's an enormous outdoor TV, tons of galleries, retail stores and of course Swift Half (owned by the same people that brought us Good Dog in center city). We also went to the Standard Tap, 700, The Foodery (where we met one of the brewers from Yards Brewing), and ended the day at North Bowl. All along we were drinking and learning about beer from none other than Joe Sixpack himself. I have to admit, I was a bit nervous about going on this tour by myself but I met some wonderful people and had a really wonderful time.

I tried a lot of different beers over the past few days and will be writing my review of the Three Philosophers later this week. I chose that one for now because I actually have pictures to accompany it. Probably not the best reason (although I also really liked the beer), but we'll make it work.

June 8, 2009

Walt Wit Belgian Style White Ale

Before I begin to review this beer, I'd like to write about my night. I came home and made dinner - something I've done far too little of recently. I decided to eat dinner at my dining room table. Without the TV on. Without reading a magazine or talking on the phone. Just me and my food, the way the experts say you're supposed to eat.

It was the quietest, most boring meal I've ever eaten. I don't know if it was the deafening silence or the fact that I was starving, but I think I can say without hesitation I've never eaten as quickly as I did tonight. The experts can say what they will - I will not go through dinner like that again. TV, radio, phone, magazine - you are all my friends when I'm dining alone.

On to the beer...

While I usually like much hoppier beers, I liked the Walt Wit. It's made by the Philadelphia Brewing Company (which in no way influences my review). I also like the play on words - Walt Whitman was a famous playwright who spent the last years of his life at a house in Camden, NJ, which is right across the bridge from Philly. There's a bridge connecting Philly to Jersey named after him. There's a lot more to Walt Whitman than just a bridge, but you'll have to look on wikipedia to learn more - this is a blog about beer!

Wit, or white beer, originated in Belgium about 400 years ago. While there were once a number of brewers in Belgium brewing this type of beer, in 1954, the last of these breweries closed. Then, in a moment of genius (and nostalgia) Pierre Celis started brewing the wit beer again and he called it Hoegaarden. Anyone out there who hasn't enjoyed a Hoegaarden on a hot summer day should make sure to do so at their next opportunity.

The Walt Wit is brewed with grapefruit and chamomile, giving it a light, citrusy taste. There's a hint of pepper in there, too, but overall it's very refreshing. The beer pours a light, golden yellow. It may not be the best beer I've ever tasted, and while I'm not sure I could spend a day drinking it, I can imagine enjoying a couple out on a deck before switching to something with a little more hops to finish off the night.

June 6, 2009

Hangover ruminations

I was a bit in hell this morning. Spent the night drinking. I would say a good 8 hours drinking. That's a full day of work! Good brews - Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, Yards Pale Ale, and I have to be honest and say I'm not sure what I finished the night with. I'll figure it out tonight, since I'm heading back to the same bar I ended at last night (The Royal Tavern at 937 Passyunk Ave in Philly. I'll write more about this gem of a bar in another post).

Given how I felt this morning (but luckily have recovered, since I'm heading out to do it all over again shortly), I started thinking about hangovers. I've experienced my fair share. Or rather, a lot more than my fair share.

So here's what I was wondering. Does drinking a mixture of beers cause a worse hangover? How about a mixture of alcohols? How many times have I said to myself "beer before wine, always fine, wine before liquor, never sicker" to determine what I can drink based on what I started with? Is there any truth to those silly rhymes?

I'd love to hear ideas on how to avoid hangovers. Well, other than not drinking too much, of course. To me that's like teaching only abstinence to teenagers. Better to be prepared with all the facts for when you inevitably do that which you probably shouldn't be doing.

June 3, 2009

Long Trail IPA

I've realized that I'm not as in love with all IPAs equally and am trying to figure out what the differences are. A brief history on IPAs - they date back to the 1700s, when England was exporting ales to British troops stationed in India (starting to get it?). These English pale ales were infused with extra hops (a natural preservative) to help them survive the long voyage. And hence, a great beer type was born.

Right now I'm enjoying a Long Trail IPA from Long Trail Brewery out of Bridgewater Corners, VT. (I want to mention that I'm also watching a documentary on the Dave Matthews Band, which is, and has been for a long time, my favorite band. This night couldn't be any better!) It's an unfiltered beer, which means that the yeast hasn't been filtered out. Good news about this - yeast contains B vitamins, so there are those that think that unfiltered beers reduce hangovers. Sweet! Most beers are filtered to remove the yeast to give a clarity to the beer, but filtering does sacrifice some of the taste.

It's a good beer but I don't think I'd put it on my list of favorites. Too bad, since I bought a case of it. It doesn't seem quite as hoppy as I'd like it be. It has an ABV of 5.9%. I appreciate that, as most of the hoppy beers I like tend to have higher ABVs, which can led to some rough mornings. It's golden in color. It had a pretty good head but just seemed so much lighter than what I've come to expect from IPAs.

I would recommend this to someone who wanted to try an IPA that is lighter tasting (nice and refreshing in the summer!) and not overly hoppy.