Monday, April 9, 2012

Allagash White (2-0) Vs. Weihenstephaner Original Lager Vs. Guinness Foreign Extra Stout

Portland, Maine's Allagash White (2-0) is going strong. After staring down some intense competition two times so far, the witbier now faces a new test: the Munich helles from Weihenstephaner, and the Foreign Extra Stout from Guinness.

Beer 1: Allagash White (2-0) The winters are awful, but I do miss New England's craft beers, and Portland, Maine's Allagash Brewing is one of the best. Allagash is an interesting case: way back in 1995, founder Rob Tod chose to eschew German and English beer styles to focus on bottle-conditioned ales in the Belgian tradition. Their White ale, made in the style of a witbier, is a must-have in warm weather. It pours a light yellow with a sizable head. The aromas and taste are a luscious blend of cloves, lemon, and banana. The hops come across in the sharpness and acidity of the finish rather than any bitter notes.

Beer 2: Weihenstephaner Original Lager Unlike many other styles of beer, the point of German helles is not to blow you away with riotous flavors. Much like the Czech pilsners that inspired them, the point of helles is crisp, clean simplicity. Unsurprisingly, the world's oldest brewery delivers exactly that. It's a lovely golden color with a modest amount of carbonation and a mild, honey-like malt aroma. The flavor is classic German lager: straightforward bready malts, crisp hopping, and bracing acidity. If nothing else, this is a wonderful session beer.

Beer 3: Guinness Foreign Extra Stout Fans of the world's most popular Irish stout may well be unaware of the Foreign Extra; unlike the black beer you see in most every pub in America, this is a different animal. This ale clocks in at 7.5% ABV, much stronger than traditional Guinness, and it's only available in bottles. It has the same appearance, but the flavor pushes hops and acidity onto your palate much more aggressively, with a long, dry finish. It has a very full, oily mouthfeel, and likely needs a very strong dish to pair successfully.


Our Dish If you want to impress someone with your cooking skills, here's an easy way to do it: get a nice salmon fillet, turn your oven on at 475, melt half a stick of butter in a roasting tin as the oven is warming, cook the salmon skin side up for five minutes, turn it and cook the other side for five more minutes, and then season with salt, pepper, and some fresh parsley. Trust me. To go with this, I cooked up a simple homemade ratatouille: garlic, onion, diced tomatoes, zucchini, and eggplant.


Tasting the Allagash Once again, there's pretty much nothing the Allagash White can't do. Its fruity aromas are a little strange in combination with a full-flavored dish like the ratatouille, but on the palate it works beautifully. It has enough acidity to tackle the oils in the salmon, and enough complexity in its malts to handle the ratatouille's combination of tomatoes, onion, garlic, and oregano. The White steps right up to the flavors the food offers, but steps back before it becomes overwhelming.

Tasting the Weihenstephaner This is every bit as good as the Allagash. Its aromas are subtle enough to back off from the food, but the soaring acidity in the beer is gangbusters when it comes to the pairing. On the palate, the hellesbier is surprisingly assertive, even when confronted with an oily (and butter-roasted) fish like salmon. It falters a bit when confronted with ratatouille, stepping back from the strong flavors rather than complementing them.

Tasting the Foreign Extra Interestingly, for how dry this beer is and how crisply it's hopped, it doesn't have much acidity. The malt flavors don't work especially well with the tomatoes and onion in the ratatouille, and the stout doesn't refresh the palate from the fish either.

The Decision This was a very tough call to make. While the Guinness Foreign Extra Stout (0-1) struggled to work with the food, both the Allagash and the Weihenstephaner Original were outstanding in the pairing. Either one is incredible when standing up to a strong, oily fish like salmon, but the Allagash has an extra bit of complexity that works wonders in dealing with sauteed vegetables. As such, while the Weihenstephaner (0-1) is a spectacular beer that I'd recommend to anyone, it's not on the same level as the Allagash (3-0), which continues its winning ways tonight.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Allagash White (1-0) Vs. Samuel Smith India Ale (2-1) Vs. Spaten Oktoberfest

It's a blast from the past today at Beer Vs. Beer Vs. Beer. The Belgian-style White ale (1-0) from Portland, Maine's Allagash Brewing will be defending its crown, but it'll have to do so against a past winner here, because we're bringing back Samuel Smith India Ale (2-1). The English IPA, you might recall, took down four strong contenders before falling to Saison Dupont last month. Also entering the mix is a newcomer: Spaten Oktoberfest.

Beer 1: Allagash White (1-0) The winters are awful, but I do miss New England's craft beers, and Portland, Maine's Allagash Brewing is one of the best. Allagash is an interesting case: way back in 1995, founder Rob Tod chose to eschew German and English beer styles to focus on bottle-conditioned ales in the Belgian tradition. Their White ale, made in the style of a witbier, is a must-have in warm weather. It pours a light yellow with a sizable head. The aromas and taste are a luscious blend of cloves, lemon, and banana. The hops come across in the sharpness and acidity of the finish rather than any bitter notes.

Beer 2: Samuel Smith India Ale (2-1) If you know my taste in beer well, you probably know about my antipathy toward many American IPAs. To my palate, the hoppy bitterness in the Yankee style tends to overwhelm everything else the beer has to offer; to quote Ron Burgundy, "it's quite pungent. Stings the nostrils." For some people, the smell of pure gasoline is the smell of desire. For the rest of us, it's unfortunate that most American beer drinkers aren't familiar with the classic British style of IPAs, of which Samuel Smith's is an excellent example. Rather than overwhelm you with a riot of grapefruit aromas and flavors, the India Ale uses smoother, milder hops as a counter to the higher-than-normal alcohol. The hop notes here are smoky rather than fruity, and the beer is balanced, with a long, pleasant finish.

Beer 3: Spaten Oktoberfest One of the originators of the Oktoberfest-Marzen style in Munich, Spaten is one of the few Oktober beers that's available year-round. While it's obviously not as cool to pour it out of a green bottle at home compared to the authentic experience in the Old World, the Ur-Marzen is still a fine lager. It pours out a honey-copper color with the classic aroma of sweet German malts. In the mouth, it's surprisingly full-bodied, with a variety of sweet notes clipped by sharp (but not bitter) hops.


Our Dish In keeping with the bringing-back-the-old theme, I decided to make a dish that diligent readers will be familiar with: veal-style tuna. The recipe here is easy and delicious: take a few tuna steaks, chop them into smaller cutlets, then dredge them in flour, beaten eggs, and corn flake crumbs. After that, you simply cook on both sides in some melted butter and olive oil, and then garnish with some parsley and lemon juice. The result combines the firm texture of the tuna with crispy breading. To complement it, I cooked up a spaghetti squash as well.


Tasting the White ale This is an incredible pairing. The sweet malts in the beer are wondrous in combination with the sweetness of the squash. Yet the Allagash also has enough acidity to tackle the oils in the tuna, allowing the fish to offer flavor to the palate before stepping in to refresh it.

Tasting the India Ale The juxtaposition is a bit of a problem for the IPA. As was the case last time I combined this beer with this tuna preparation, the crispiness of the fish is an excellent match to the smooth hops in the Sam Smith. Unfortunately, the squash presents a problem; this beer has no real answer for a simple, sweet vegetable. It just doesn't taste good to have both in your mouth.

Tasting the Oktoberfest The Spaten suffers from the opposite problem. In combination with the squash, this beer is incredible: it tastes better with sweet food than it does alone. Yet when presented with the fish, its hops are too soft and its acidity too timid to stand the test.

The Decision All three beers have their charms in this pairing, but the verdict is clear: unlike Samuel Smith India Ale (2-2) and Spaten Oktoberfest (0-1), which struggle with the range of flavors presented in this food pairing, Allagash White (2-0) has both the vibrant flavors and the backbone to accommodate that range. At least so far, there's nothing this beer can't do.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Trumer Pils (1-0) Vs. Tetley's English Ale Vs. Allagash White

Last time around, Berkeley, California's own (sort of) Trumer Pils (1-0) scored a stunning upset, taking down Belgian Saison Dupont (3-1) as well as Samuel Smith's Old Brewery Pale Ale (0-1). I've been traveling and under the weather for a couple of weeks, so the Trumer's been able to enjoy some quality time on top. Today, however, the pilsner faces a new challenge from two promising ales: Tetley's English Ale, and Allagash White.

Beer 1: Trumer Pils (1-0) If you haven't spent time in the San Francisco Bay Area, you might not be familiar with this beer, but trust me, you're missing out. First established in Austria in the 1600s and now made in (of all places) Berkeley, Trumer is a classic pilsner in the eastern European style: sharp, haylike hops, a smooth, crisp flavor, and a beautiful golden color.

Beer 2: Tetley's English Ale While I'd obviously prefer to enjoy this English bitter drawn from a cask, my landlord would be really upset if I tried to set that up in my apartment. So we'll have to make do with pouring it from a tall-boy can with a widget. Nevertheless, Tetley is possibly my favorite session beer. Between its thick, creamy mouthfeel and its modest 3.6% ABV heft, it's perfect for an evening at the pub with friends. Its aromas and flavors are mild and pleasant: the malts offer a smooth mix of bread and caramel, and the hopping is very gentle.

Beer 3: Allagash White The winters are awful, but I do miss New England's craft beers, and Portland, Maine's Allagash Brewing is one of the best. Allagash is an interesting case: way back in 1995, founder Rob Tod chose to eschew German and English beer styles to focus on bottle-conditioned ales in the Belgian tradition. Their White ale, made in the style of a witbier, is a must-have in warm weather. It pours a light yellow with a sizable head. The aromas and taste are a luscious blend of cloves, lemon, and banana. The hops come across in the sharpness and acidity of the finish rather than any bitter notes.


Our Dish For this round, I decided to pair up two ingredients that rarely get the appreciation they deserve: cod and cabbage. Half of the cabbage is sauteed with ginger and garlic, while the cod fillets are roasted on top of the other half. The sauteed cabbage gets added to the pan toward the end of the roasting, and the dish is topped with sesame oil and chopped scallions. The cabbage stays nice and crisp, and its flavors are mild enough that they don't overwhelm the fish.


Tasting the Pils This is really a tale of two ingredients. When you have a mouthful of cod, the pilsner is a delight: it lifts the oils in the fish right off your palate. When it has to contend with the texture and the subtle bitterness of the cabbage, it doesn't know what to do: it doesn't work well and it isn't strong enough to be refreshing. I love this beer, but it looks like we have a blind spot.

Tasting the English Ale This was not one of my better ideas. When paired with food, the Tetley feels flabby and weak. Its subtle hops are enough to deal with the oils in the fish, but the pairing isn't pleasant, and it can't handle the strange challenges of the cabbage.

Tasting the White ale Now we're talking. The Allagash is full-flavored enough to hold its own regardless of what it's paired against; even dealing with the cabbage's mild bitterness, this beer knows how to counter it on your palate. It's wonderful in all aspects of this pairing. Not too strong to overwhelm the food, and acidic enough to be consistently refreshing.

The Decision Interestingly, this was rather easy. Trumer Pils (1-1) put up a good fight (which is more than I can say for Tetley's (0-1)), but in the end, Allagash White (1-0) was the clear winner tonight.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Saison Dupont (3-0) Vs. Samuel Smith Old Brewery Pale Ale Vs. Trumer Pils

Belgian farmhouse ale Saison Dupont (3-0) looks absolutely unstoppable right now, having taken down six other competitors already. Tonight, it faces a new challenge, though, as two more beers vie to take it down: Samuel Smith's Old Brewery Pale Ale, and Trumer Pils.

Beer 1: Saison Dupont (3-0) If I were pressed to choose my single favorite beer, the farmhouse saison from Belgium's Brasserie Dupont might be the one I'd pick. There may not be a perfect beer, but this is awfully close. It pours out a dull, cloudy yellow with a thick, stubborn pillow of foam. The aroma is a delicate blend of lemon, apples, peppery herbs, and mellow hops. On the palate, it combines a full body with excellent acidity, bringing delicious fruit flavors to a dry, snappy finish.

Beer 2: Samuel Smith Old Brewery Pale Ale You may be noticing a pattern: I really like the beers from Samuel Smith. This one is every inch the classic English pale ale: copper-brown color, thin head, sweet apple and haylike notes on the nose, and a clean, bread-like flavor with just enough hops to keep things interesting.

Beer 3: Trumer Pils If you haven't spent time in the San Francisco Bay Area, you might not be familiar with this beer, but trust me, you're missing out. First established in Austria in the 1600s and now made in (of all places) Berkeley, Trumer is a classic pilsner in the eastern European style: sharp, haylike hops, a smooth, crisp flavor, and a beautiful golden color.


Our Dish Kept it simple again tonight. Along with some asparagus, I made some broiled sole. This is delightful and very easy. I sauteed some mushrooms in butter along with garlic and parsley, then spooned the mixture over several fillets of Dover sole. Five minutes under the broiler later, the result has a lovely texture and soft, delicate flavors.


Tasting the Saison For a beer that's been so ideal in other pairings with food, tonight is the night we discover its blind spot. Like many Belgian beers, Saison Dupont is rich and complex in flavors and odors; while it's delicious, it has a tough time playing nice with delicate foods. And this pairing is no exception. The saison completely overwhelms the fish, and lingers on the palate into your next bite.

Tasting the Pale Ale The pale ale has problems similar to the saison. It's a tasty beer, but there's nothing subtle about it: this is an ale for hearty, cold-weather food. As such, it utterly overwhelms the fish, to such an extent that I wouldn't recommend trying it with food like this.

Tasting the Pils Now we're talking. The Trumer brings the perfect combination of light body and strong acidity to this pairing. It asserts itself against the fish, then backs off slightly and allows you to taste the food through its finish. Unlike the other two beers, this works perfectly: a delicious beer that plays nicely with dinner, allowing you to enjoy them more together than you'd like them separately. Put this on your list of good summer beers.

The Decision It might not be on the level of Tyson-Douglas or the 2007 Super Bowl, but as Buster Douglas and the Giants showed us, sometimes pulling the upset is all about being in the right place at the right time. And that's Trumer Pils (1-0) tonight. The Saison Dupont (3-1) and the Samuel Smith Old Brewery Pale Ale (0-1), though fine beers, both struggle when paired with a delicate dish. So, apparently Berkeley has given us another great thing besides LSD and UNIX: the Trumer pilsner.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Saison Dupont (2-0) Vs. Fuller's London Pride Vs. Sierra Nevada Kellerweis

The competition is still young, but the Belgian Saison Dupont (2-0), fresh off a win, has joined Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale (2-1) and Samuel Smith India Ale (2-1) as the only beers to win two rounds. Now, the farmhouse ale tries to become the first beer to win three times as it takes on Fuller's London Pride and Sierra Nevada Kellerweis.

Beer 1: Saison Dupont (2-0) If I were pressed to choose my single favorite beer, the farmhouse saison from Belgium's Brasserie Dupont might be the one I'd pick. There may not be a perfect beer, but this is awfully close. It pours out a dull, cloudy yellow with a thick, stubborn pillow of foam. The aroma is a delicate blend of lemon, apples, peppery herbs, and mellow hops. On the palate, it combines a full body with excellent acidity, bringing delicious fruit flavors to a dry, snappy finish.

Beer 2: Fuller's London Pride As the flagship beer of Fuller's of London, this bitter is obviously best when drawn from a cask, and better when drawn from a keg. Nevertheless, when served as a pale ale in a bottle, it's still quite nice. It pours out amber in color, and on the nose it suggests mild, earthy hops and notes of tart dried fruit. The taste leans heavily toward the malts, featuring flavors of caramel as well as apples. Throughout its finish, the beer is medium-bodied and very dry.

Beer 3: Sierra Nevada Kellerweis This hefeweizen hails from the granddaddy of American craft breweries, Chico, California's Sierra Nevada. And it's a beauty, reminiscent in many ways of classic German weissbier. It pours out a cloudy orange-yellow with a thick head, and the nose is redolent of banana, citrus, and clove, with a pleasing undertone of grains as well. In the mouth it's medium-bodied and crisp, with vibrant orange, lemon, and banana flavors and very mild bitterness.


Our Dish I'm trying something new tonight, this time a stovetop variation on a French cassoulet. After browning some herbal chicken sausage in oil, I cook some onions, garlic, and carrots until softened. After this, I add some white beans, tomatoes, and thyme, and cook for about 20 minutes. I was going to top it with toasted bread crumbs, but discovered at the last minute that we were out. (Note: if you want to make a traditional cassoulet, you really need to try harder than this.)


Tasting the Saison Dupont This is almost unfair to the other beers: the warm, herbal flavors in the cassoulet are an absolutely ideal match for the herbal, citric flavors of the Saison. What's more, the strong acidity in the beer allows it to play back and forth with the food, refreshing your palate at one moment while allowing the flavors and textures of the food to shine through at others.

Tasting the London Pride I love London Pride, and with a mild, agreeable dish like this, the pairing is quite nice. The sweet malts in the ale offset nicely with the herbs and oils in the food. Unfortunately, it's not the most acidic of beers, so it doesn't refresh the way the saison does. But I would recommend the pairing again in the future.

Tasting the Kellerweis The story of the Sierra is similar to that of the London Pride: its sweet notes work well with the food, but it isn't acidic enough to be refreshing to the same extent as the Saison. The fruit flavors of the beer recede when confronted by the herbs in our dish. Again, it's not a bad pairing, but it's not spectacular either.

The Decision Not a difficult choice this time. Once again, Saison Dupont (3-0) outshines the competition, both in terms of its overall flavor and its ability to pair well with food. I can't say a bad thing about the London Pride (0-1) or the Kellerweis (0-1), but neither one measures up in terms of its affinity for food. The Belgian farmhouse beer is officially on a roll.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Saison Dupont (1-0) Vs. Pilsner Urquell Vs. Green Flash West Coast IPA

Last time around, the Belgian farmhouse ale Saison Dupont (1-0) took over the competition with a solid performance. Today, the battle heats up as the saison faces two new beers: Pilsner Urquell and the West Coast IPA from Green Flash Brewing.

Beer 1: Saison Dupont (1-0) If I were pressed to choose my single favorite beer, the farmhouse saison from Belgium's Brasserie Dupont might be the one I'd pick. There may not be a perfect beer, but this is awfully close. It pours out a dull, cloudy yellow with a thick, stubborn pillow of foam. The aroma is a delicate blend of lemon, apples, peppery herbs, and mellow hops. On the palate, it combines a full body with excellent acidity, bringing delicious fruit flavors to a dry, snappy finish.

Beer 2: Pilsner Urquell If you want to know where the modern notion of beer began, well, this is where it began: the Czech Urquell is the world's first pilsner beer. And it's a classic: golden color, subtle aroma, and a luscious sweet, malty flavor. The hop bitterness really shines through on the finish and with food, as it works with the carbonation to cleanse the palate.

Beer 3: Green Flash West Coast IPA If you don't already know my opinions of American IPA, see here and here; opinions aside, though, I rather like this IPA from Green Flash Brewing. Hailing from God's Country (which others refer to as northern San Diego County), the hop notes in this beer are predictably dominant, but smoother than in many similar beers, and they don't crowd out the nice herbal notes either. In other words, if you're used to boozy hop bombs from California craft brewers, you might be pleasantly surprised by this one.


Our Dish I decided to go simple tonight, and make spaghetti puttanesca. There are numerous explanations for this dish's name (loosely translated, it means "whore-style pasta"), but I lived off of it when I was still single. It combines dried red pepper and a number of salty ingredients (olives, capers, anchovies) with tomatoes; as such, any beer will have a good bit of spice and salt to contend with.


Tasting the Saison The Belgian ale steps right up to the plate against the dish. Which is a great thing; it takes a lot of heft to refresh your palate after the puttanesca. Interestingly, the citrus flavors in the beer don't clash with the flavors in the food. Instead, they leap to the fore once the salt and spice in the dish have receded.

Tasting the Pilsner The Pilsner Urquell does its best, but puttanesca is too much for it. The beer brings good acidity and doesn't clash with the food, but it's not powerful enough to be really refreshing.

Tasting the IPA Ouch. As Ron Burgundy once said, "I immediately regret this decision." If you think that spicy pasta doesn't go well with a beer that tastes like grapefruit, well, you're right. But it's more than that: the hops in the beer actually accentuate the spiciness in the food. So the beer is pretty much the opposite of refreshing.

The Decision This was a pretty easy decision to make: Saison Dupont (2-0) is once again on top. I like the Pilsner Urquell (0-1) and Green Flash IPA (0-1) a lot as beers, but neither one comes close to pairing well with this food.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Samuel Smith India Ale (2-0) Vs. Saison Dupont Vs. Gordon Biersch Marzen

Times are good for Samuel Smith India Ale (2-0), which easily took down the Belgian Chimay Tripel (0-1) and Sam Adams Alpine Spring (0-1) last time around. But there's no time to rest. Today, the British IPA faces another test, this time from Saison Dupont and Gordon Biersch Marzen lager.

Beer 1: Samuel Smith India Ale (2-0) If you know my taste in beer well, you probably know about my antipathy toward many American IPAs. To my palate, the hoppy bitterness in the Yankee style tends to overwhelm everything else the beer has to offer; to quote Ron Burgundy, "it's quite pungent. Stings the nostrils." For some people, the smell of pure gasoline is the smell of desire. For the rest of us, it's unfortunate that most American beer drinkers aren't familiar with the classic British style of IPAs, of which Samuel Smith's is an excellent example. Rather than overwhelm you with a riot of grapefruit aromas and flavors, the India Ale uses smoother, milder hops as a counter to the higher-than-normal alcohol. The hop notes here are smoky rather than fruity, and the beer is balanced, with a long, pleasant finish.

Beer 2: Saison Dupont If I were pressed to choose my single favorite beer, the farmhouse saison from Belgium's Brasserie Dupont might be the one I'd pick. There may not be a perfect beer, but this is awfully close. It pours out a dull, cloudy yellow with a thick, stubborn pillow of foam. The aroma is a delicate blend of lemon, apples, peppery herbs, and mellow hops. On the palate, it combines a full body with excellent acidity, bringing delicious fruit flavors to a dry, snappy finish.

Beer 3: Gordon Biersch Marzen My feelings about Gordon Biersch's offerings over the years have been mixed, but they do have a spot in my heart. I used to live near the brewery in San Jose, and last fall they gave me the single greatest craft brewery tour I've ever had. Unlike many craft breweries, Gordon Biersch actually began as a brewpub rather than a microbrewery, so its beers tend to work well with food. As their flagship beer, the marzen isn't exceptionally adventurous, but it is very nice. It pours a pleasing reddish-brown, and both the nose and the flavor abound in tasty caramel malts. The finish is roasted, nutty, and satisfying.


Our Dish If you want to impress someone with your cooking skills, here's an easy way to do it: get a nice salmon fillet, turn your oven on at 475, melt half a stick of butter in a roasting tin as the oven is warming, cook the salmon skin side up for five minutes, turn it and cook the other side for five more minutes, and then season with salt, pepper, and some fresh parsley. Trust me. To go with this, I cooked up a simple homemade ratatouille: garlic, onion, diced tomatoes, zucchini, and eggplant.


Tasting the India Ale Not surprisingly, the Sam Smith comes out swinging. The beer's excellent acidity takes on the oily salmon with spirit. But the herbal flavors in the ratatouille fight with the bitter notes in the beer. The pairing is still nice, but it doesn't work as well as I'd hoped.

Tasting the Saison Wow. As good as the saison is by itself, it's even better with food. Whether your mouth is full of the herbs and vegetables of the ratatouille or the heavy oils of the fish, Saison Dupont is up to the task. It's full-bodied enough to assert itself against any flavor, yet acidic enough to refresh your palate and back away quickly. In other words, the pairing absolutely could not be any better.

Tasting the Marzen Like many lagers, the Marzen has good acidity, and can stand up to the food pairing easily. Unfortunately, it's a bit of a one-note beer, and the sweet caramel malts clash terribly with the oily fish and herbal vegetables. With a different dish, especially something spicy, this would work splendidly. But not this time.

The Decision The Gordon Biersch Marzen (0-1) didn't work well at all in this pairing, but the other beers brought their A-games and made this a tough choice. Ultimately, though, the superb body, acidity, and flavors of Saison Dupont (1-0) were too much for Samuel Smith India Ale (2-1). I'll miss drinking this incredible English IPA regularly, but the saison was the better beer today.