Thursday, February 12, 2015

Cider Summit Chicago 2015 in Review

February 7th marked the 3rd Annual Cider Summit in Chicago, put on by SBS Import's Alan Shapiro in collaboration with Seattle Beer Collective. This year's event was upgraded to Navy Pier's beautiful Grand Ballroom, which hosted a sold out crowd of 4,000 cider fans over the 2 ticketed sessions.

With over 15 new cider vendors this year and cider makers from around the world on hand, we found this year's crowd as eager as ever to converse and learn. Even with the expanded space the crowd was thick and lines were palpable. Those in attendance were a vast range of ages and levels of knowledge, and with easily over half being women – much different (and less unruly) than your typical beer festival.

As the 3rd year attending, my strategy was to seek out as many new ciders to the market as possible. I was joined by Ken Getty – homebrewer, cider maker and President of CHAOS Brew Club and MC Johnsen – fellow designer, homebrewer, and blogger of Worth 1000 Beers.

Our friends at WBEZ's Strange Brews were recording a live podcast during the 1st session, interviewing Eric West, host of the Cider Guide Podcast. Eric created his own guide to Cider Summit, re-categorizing each entry by style, which we found extremely helpful throughout the event. You can download his list and check out his podcasts on his website.

MC (Worth 1000 Beers), Alison Cuddy (Strange Brews), Kim (Hail To The Ale).

As fests often do when you're having fun – the 3 hours flew by. Between the 3 of us we were able to sample a spectrum of styles, regions and creative flavors. While many follow traditional, century-old processes of blending regional apple varietals with yeast, there is an increasing number of cider makers taking the "craft beer approach," adding fruits, vegetables, spices, hops and even incorporating second use spirit barrel-aging.

The cider category which was once defined as dry, sweet or semi-sweet is becoming more complex and diverse. We learned that during this past week's CiderCon, the Cider Association was working to further define styles for cider, much like we see in craft beer. This will help makers, sellers and drinkers alike to better understand and communicate a proper vocabulary around cider. While it will take time to implement, it's very exciting progress!

Overall the expanded space was a huge improvement, and a thrill to see growth in the category happening before our eyes. We caught Alan Shapiro briefly and were assured that he'd be returning for the 4th Annual Cider Summit next year.

Below is a breakdown of our top cider picks of the day, all of which can be found in the Chicago market, with the exception of Troy Cider and Urban Farm Fermentory's cider, mead and kombucha, which we hope to see distributed out of Maine in the near future.

Kim's Favorites/Notes

Seattle Cider Co. (Seattle, WA) - Oaked Maple: fermented with raisins, oak chips and VT maple syrup. Full bodied and complex in flavor without losing it's cider identity. 6.9%

Worley's Cider (Somerset, UK) - Special Reserve Keeved: semi-sweet on the tongue with hints of sweet apples and caramel, sparkling effervescence lifts and dances the tannins lingering to the finish. Uses a traditional English keeving process of slow fermentation which retains natural apple sweetness. 6%

Finnriver Cidery (Chimacum, WA) - Black Currant Cider: heirloom, dessert apples and currants, semi-sweet sparkling, jammy finish. 6.5%

Urban Farm Fermentory (Portland, ME) - Amalgam: Hard Cidah & Kombucha blend. Crisp and dry with a tart, tannic finish. Currently available only in Maine and Massachusetts. 4.5%

Sheppy's Cider (Somerset, UK) - Sheppy's Somerset Draught: cider and dessert apple blend, medium body, slight sparkle. A perfect medium bodied, medium sweetness, round and drinkable cider. 5.5%

Ken's Favorites/Notes
Eden Ice Cider Co. (Newport, VT) - Eden Heirloom Blend: full-bodied sweetness balanced by acidity and tannins 10%

Troy Cider (San Francisco, CA) - Wild Fermented Cider 2012: funky and acidic with a cloudy/unfiltered appearance 7.7%

Sheppy's Cider (Somerset, UK) - Sheppy's Oak Matured Vintage: medium body, smooth lingering oak finish 4.8%

EZ Orchards (Salem, OR) - Poire: Sparkling pear cider. Smooth, juicy, fruit forward finish. 5.9%

Vander Mill (Spring Lake, MI) - Nunica Pine: Dry Hopped with Columbus hops. Light, resinous bitterness and dry, balanced finish 6.8%

MC's Favorites/Tasting Notes
Seattle Cider Co. (Seattle, WA) - Gin Botanical: This unique cider was fermented with spent gin botanicals from Batch 206 Distillery. It poured clean and clear pale yellow, with a complex fruity aroma dominated by apples and lime. Its fizzy and full-bodied flavor of orange, lemongrass, juniper, and pine finished clean and crisp, with a lingering citrus sweetness. (6.5%)

Troy Cider (San Francisco, CA) - Wild Fermented Cider 2012: This spontaneously fermented cider was a unique creation from the fruits found in old apple orchard in Sonoma County, CA. Unfiltered and barely carbonated, this cider was the color of a cloudy orange creamsicle, and smelled like a sweet and sour green apple. It tasted tart and tannic with notes of hay and slight vinegar. Delicious! (7.7%)

Finnriver Cidery (Chimacum, WA) - Saffron Cider: This clear, full bodied and savory cider was such an interesting approach to flavor. The saffron came through in both aroma and flavor amidst this sweet and juicy, apple-forward flavor. 6.5%)

Sea Cider (British Columbia, Canada) - Prohibition: Technically an apple wine, this caramel brown-colored beverage aged in Newfoundland Screech bourbon barrels had molasses added to it. Fruity-smelling, and tasting rich, sweet, and spicy, the bourbon really came though beautifully in both aroma and flavor. This warmed you from the inside with an herbal and spicy finish of candied toffee and sweet apple pie. 12%

Worley's Cider (Somerset, UK) - Special Reserve Medium: This mildly fizzy cider smelled like a funky old barnyard, was both tart and sweet with herbal qualities and had a fruity, tannic finish. 5.4%

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Beer Dinner Review: Howells & Hood "Barleywine Blowout" with Sierra Nevada

By guest contributor Eric Zeigler

On Thursday, January 29th we had the privilege of attending an event hosted by Howells & Hood and Sierra Nevada Brewery. Dubbed the "Barleywine Blowout Beer Dinner," the evening’s pairings would feature an extensive vertical of Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot Barleywine from years 2011 through the present 2015 vintages. Each of these five were served with a dish Executive Chef Brett Neubauer paired to compliment that particular year. Kim, of Hail To The Ale, and I found this to be the case in most every instance. 

We arrived a bit early, and had the opportunity to get accustomed to the spacious, inviting atmosphere and Sierra Nevada’s welcome beer — a newly released German-style Pilsner, Nooner. It was a refreshing palate cleanser for the full-bodied beers we were about to experience. Howells & Hood is situated in the concourse of the Tribune Tower and it boasts one of the city’s most extensive number of beers on draught — 114 to be exact. 

This particular event was unusual to the dinners we have been accustomed to in that it was served buffet style, with each of the pairing barleywines adjacent to its accompanying dish. The casual format seemed to work well for the downtown, after work crowd, looking for a unique event without too much fuss and rigidity. For those looking to learn more about the pairings, Chef Neubauer and representatives from Sierra Nevada were on hand to chat.

Chef Neubauer shaving black truffles on the galette (left). Arancini (right).

We began with the 2011 vintage, knowing that much of the American-style barleywine hoppiness would have mellowed with time. Its pairing was an Australian Truffle and Sweet Potato Galette. One of its main ingredients (and we would find out later was incorporated in other dishes as well) was Burton’s maple syrup. Looking like a beautiful gratin, it was filled with minced mushrooms and liberally topped with those delicious black truffles. The 2011 barleywine had an almost port-like backbone, and complimented this dish exquisitely. The hops were still present of course, and I began to wonder how the barleywines would differ from year to year. 

On to the 2012 and its pairing — a Turban squash prepared with red curry, Israeli couscous, San Marzano tomatoes, greek olives and feta. There was a wonderful earthy, woody characteristic that was heightened with a spiciness from the red curry. The squash was perfectly al dente. Paired with the 2012 Bigfoot, the slightly younger barleywine stood up well with the heat and complexity of this dish’s flavor profile. 

The next pairings (yes, there were two!) for the 2013 vintage were an Arancini made with buttermilk blue cheese and a venison sausage accompanied by pork belly, wild rice, parsnips, carrots and topped with a beautiful barleywine gastrique. The huge richness of the arancini (risotto in a ball form that is deep-fried) was expertly cut by the increased hoppiness of this particular Bigfoot. The venison, prepared in a terrine-style, had the coarse fattiness that stood up well to the caramelly, vanilla notes that were pronounced in the 2013. The gastrique only hinted at the sauces yet to come. 

Chef Neubauer carving the porcelet (left). Decadent butterscotch & chocolate bread pudding (right).

The next station, paired with the 2014 vintage, was humbly dubbed the Carving Station. In my opinion, it was the penultimate course(s) of the evening. Wild boar with black molé, lamb chops with a juniper demi-glace and porcelet — a suckling pig that had skin so chewy and luscious in the maple glaze, we couldn’t stop eating it. When it came to the lamb chops, however, I felt nirvana. Perfectly cooked, the juniper demi-glace added a thick, smoky decadence for me that was sublime. The 2014 Bigfoot stood up to this pairing with its massive floral and hop character blending perfectly with the savory meats and decadent reductions. With each course we found the Chef's complex and flavorful accompanying sauces to be the thread that tied together the spices of the food and the hop/malt characteristics of the beer.

Last but not least we had reached the dessert pairing  a Butterscotch and Dark Chocolate Bread Pudding made with brioche bread, vanilla bean custard, 70% dark chocolate and topped with butterscotch sauce. The 2015 Bigfoot had the exact flavor I was looking for to pair with it. Vanilla, caramel and bourbon notes helped to seal the deal on what was a perfect ending to the meal. 

After dinner we conversed with Matt and Bob of Sierra Nevada about the unique premise of basing an entire dinner on a beer style as bold as barleywines. I always expect them to be huge, filling and malty sweet. Somehow the American-style Bigfoot Barleywine, with its characteristic California hop-forward profile, the amalgamation of vanilla, oak, and caramel tones and its ability to stand up to the complexities of rich foods — just works. 

Matt (Sierra Nevada) pouring Bigfoot 2011 & 2012 (left). The barrel room (right). 

As a final parting gesture, Kim and I were kindly given a short tour of the barrel room where approximately 300 kegs, along with what seemed miles of pristine piping, valves and gas tanks were kept at a delicious drinking temperature. For a beer connoisseur, it was like standing at the threshold of paradise. Howells & Hood has certainly struck a chord with this reviewer, and my advice is to check out their event calendar and get to one of their upcoming beer pairing dinners soon. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Beer Cards For Your Valentine

Who needs generic Hallmark cards when we've got the perfect gift to show your beer loving Valentine just how you feel? Each of our 3D slide cards is handmade from high quality papers, card stock and ribbon.

There is only one of each design available in our store, so you'll want to act quick on these whales.

Visit our store for the full spectrum of cards and apparel.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

SideDoor's Rare and Vintage Beer Dinner with Goose Island

By guest contributor Jeff Balasa

Chicago boasts one of the most diverse and innovative craft beer scenes in the country, and arguably the world. Yet as I have seen the “boom” progress, I keep asking myself what are breweries, bars and restaurants going to do to keep beer enthusiasts coming back? Jeff Van Der Tuuk of SideDoor and his visionary staff have embarked on a mission to answer that very question.

I had the distinct privilege of being part of SideDoor's Rare and Vintage Beer Dinner, featuring Goose Island beer this past Wednesday, and what an experience it was. It’s a rare occurrence to find a collaboration of this caliber, teaming up to create an unforgettable night for those in attendance. The focus was the acclaimed Bourbon County Stout, its marvelous variances, as well as some wonderful sour offerings. The beer alone speaks for itself, but when paired with the exceptional cuisine of SideDoor, something profound occurs.

The first course was a salad with fresh greens with a citrus dressing, candied pecans and bourbon macerated blackberries. This dish was paired with Lilith, a pomegranate Berliner Weisse. A magnificent pairing that balanced the spicy nature of the greens with the acidic qualities of the dressing and beer. The blackberries were the stand out element in this dish, and took on an identical flavor profile of Bourbon County Bramble Rye.

Second up, duck confit paired with one of Goose Island’s famous ladies, Madame Rose. Few words need to be uttered about this dish other than WOW. One stab at the duck and it all fell off the bone. An amazing salty and savory taste was only amplified by the tart flavor of Madame Rose. Cherries that had been cooked down under the duck danced on the palette when in contact with the rare beer.

Being affiliated with Lawry’s means you have to bring some steak to the table, and a New York Strip was the answer. Cooked to a beautiful medium rare and accompanied with kale and brussel sprouts, this main course was destined to be a home run. The menu indicated that this dish was to be paired with Bourbon County Stout, which was a bit intriguing as its sweetness doesn't always lend itself to savory flavors. While the dry, tannic qualities of the red wine espresso reduction was a perfect match for the tender steak, it did not pair particularly well with the sweet, fruit forward beer. Bourbon County Stout, as amazing as it is, was reserved on the side to be savored on its own.

Finally, dessert. There was a buzz in the dining room dedicated to the flight of beers that were about to be presented. Bourbon County Barleywine, Coffee, Vanilla Rye as well as Proprietors were delivered to the tables as if Fort Knox was transporting gold bricks. After the sticky toffee pudding with chocolate covered espresso beans was distributed, we all were offered the chance to experiment with the flavors of the BCS varieties. Each offered a unique experience, but in the end Proprietors reigned supreme.

Feeling extremely satisfied, and full I might add, the meal concluded but the experience was far from over. Sitting down with Jeff after the meal allowed me the chance to hear his vision for SideDoor – to bring exceptional, reserve beers to the table with equally exceptional cuisine. Based on the evening I had, this was accomplished with flying colors. 

So what’s next for SideDoor? Well there is a vacant room in the building with some exciting plans in mind, but you'll have to ask Jeff yourselves when you visit him for a stellar evening.

Contributor Jeff Balasa is a passionate advocate of craft beer with experience in Brand Strategy and Packaging Design. Constantly searching for innovative events and experiences, Jeff is always ready to step outside of his comfort zone.

Monday, January 26, 2015

International Cider Makers Return to Chicago for Cider Week 2015

Cider makers and purveyors from around the world will return to Chicago for the annual CiderCON and Cider Summit at Navy Pier. While the conference itself is industry-only there are a number of opportunities for the public to meet and taste some of the world's best hard cider, perry and mead.

All week, Featured cider drafts and bottles at The Publican. Featuring, on tap: Drouin Poire, DuPont Brute, Sanford Orchard Aston B. Bottles: DuPont Triple, Du Pont Pommeau, Tieton Reserve.

Feb 3rd, Luxbar Cider Mixer, 7:30pm: Mingle with the owners and cider makers of Wandering Aengus and Anthem Cider. Featuring many traditional favorites from Wandering Aengus and Anthem Cider and some new limited releases:
Anthem Cider Gin Barreled - Ransom barrels 2 months
Anthem Pinot Cider - Pinot grapes fermented within the cider fermentation.

Feb 3rdFirkin Loves Vander Mill at Jake Melnicks, 7pm: Featuring firkins of Totally Roasted, Cyser and Single Varietal Gold Rush. Oaked Chapman's Blend, Ginger Peach, Hard Apple and Blue Gold will be on draft. Stop by for a chance to win a Vander Mill wearbles and cider cans.

Feb 4th, Karaoke + West Coast Cider at Emporium Arcade, 8pm: featuring a tap take from 2 Town Cider, Wandering Aengus Cider, Vander Mill Cider, Anthem Cider, Finnriver Cider, Sonoma Cider, Seattle Cider Company and Tieton Cider.

Feb 4th, Cider Maker Meet & Greet at Howells & Hood, 6-8pm: Join cider makers from Vander Mill, Ace, Wandering Aengus and Original Sin for a taste of featured ciders. Open to the public, no ticket required. Vander Mill will be raffling off a pair of tickets to Cider Summit at Navy Pier on 2/7.

Howells & Hood will feature a special cider flight for the week of Feb 2 - 8 in honor of CiderCON, featuring: Ace Cider Co. The Joker, Anthem Hops, Original Sin Elderberry, Vander Mill Totally Roasted 

Feb 4th, Bacon & Seattle Cider Party at Paddy Long's, 7pm. Featuring Seattle Cider Company's Semi-Sweet, Three Pepper and Oaked Maple ciders on tap. All 3 can be tried as a Bacon & Cider flight. Seattle Cider's Gin Botanical Cider will also be available in bottles.

Feb 4th, Meet the Cider Makers at Whole Foods Kingsbury 1550 Bar, 6:30pm: Sample ciders of Artisanal Imports, with Lanny Hoff from Aspall, Steve Wood of Farnum Hill and Kevin Zolinsky of E.Z. Orchards. Learn what foods pair well with various ciders. Raffling a pair of tickets to Cider Summit with purchase of any Farnum Hill, E.Z. Orchards or Aspall ciders.

Feb 4thTwin Anchors Cider Event, 7pmAlmar Orchards (J.K. Scrumpy), Thistly Cross, and Sheppy’s Cider Bruce Wright (Scrumpy), Daniel Sherry (Thistly Cross), and David Sheppy will be in attendance. First availability of Sheppy’s in Chicago with the owner on hand to taste and share his cider. Casual food pairings and tastings!

Feb 5th, Jake Melnicks A Bushel & A Peck, Interactive Cider Dinner, 6pm: Cider and food pairing stations featuring Wandering Aengus, Original Sin, Vander Mill, Ace, Farnum Hill, Seattle Cider, Finn River, Virtue Cider, Uncle John's. Menu items will feature a wide array from BBQ shrimp and sashimi tuna to charcuterie, sausages and cheese. Tickets $35

Feb 5thMonks Pub Cider Tasting, 7pm: Multiple cider producers on hand, featuring Ace Blackjack 21, Original Sin Northern Spy & Apricot, Aspall Imperial and Vander Mill Chapman's Blend.

Feb 5th, The Power of the Press at Fountainhead, 6pm: The Fountainhead and The Northman explore and celebrate ciders throughout the US, UK, Spain and France paired with inspired menu items from Chef Cleetus. Featured ciders on draft: Wandering Aengus Wickson Single Varietal, Farnum Hill Dooryard, Uncle John's Perry, Original Sin Northern Spy, Seattle Cider Company Gin Botanical, Aspall Imperial, Trabanco Cosecha Propia (Sidra Natural) Viuda de Angelon "Cidre Brut". Plus 35+ bottles available by the glass.

Feb 6thVander Mill Firkin Tapping at The Publican, 6pm: Firkin tapping of "Too Gold," a blend of Golden Russet, Grimes Golden and Gold Rush apples.

Feb 6th, Cider Sampling at Walgreens (151 N. State St.), 5-8pm: Louis Glunz will be pouring featured cider samples from their portfolio including Wyders Pear, Reposado Pear, Sam Smith Organic Cider, Uncle John's Apple and Tieton Apricot Cider.

Feb 7thCider Summit Chicago, 11am and 4pm sessions in the Grand Ballroom at Navy Pier: SBS Imports and Seattle Beer Collective return for a third year to produce Chicago's largest cider tasting event. Cider Summit will feature sampling of 162 ciders from around the world, with cider makers on hand. Advanced TICKETS recommended. Chicago Brew Bus will provide shuttle service starting at 10:30am between the Blue Line Grand stop, Red Line Grand-State stop, and Navy Pier throughout the day. CTA buses also run directly to Navy Pier. Onsite parking is available in the Navy Pier garages.

Feb 7th, Rare Vander Mill Ciders at Links Taproom, 11:30am: Sip on some very rare artisanal ciders from Vander Mill that will showcase the range of tasty possibilities in this emerging trend. Featuring Ancho Mama (crisp with a gentle heat imparted from dried poblano peppers), one of only 2 kegs in the entire city. Complete your evening with a Chicken Sausage Link served with an apple slaw with a jalapeño-cider mustard to create the perfect pairing for these crisp and refreshing ciders. These special ciders will be available until the kegs run out. Also on tap: Loving Cup (pink peppercorn & hibiscus), Chapman's Blend Oaked, and a firkin of Too Gold (Golden Russet, Grimes Golden & Gold Rush apple varietals, barrel-aged for 8 months).

Feb 7th, Right BEEday Party at Kaiser Tiger, 7:30pm: Join Right Bee Cider at Kaiser Tiger for cider and curling (weather permitted).

Feb 8thVander Mill Cider Brunch at Farmhouse, 10am-2pm: Featuring a three course paired brunch for $25. First Course: Bagel & Lox (paired with Ginger Peach). House Cured Salmon, Pickled Red Onion, Capers, Whipped Cream Cheese. Second Course: Sweet Potato Hash (paired with The Lovin' Cup). Braised Short Rib, Root Vegetable, Fried Farm Egg. Third Course: Bread Pudding French Toast (paired with Totally Roasted). Orange Curd, Spiced Pecans. Reservations recommended.

Feb 8thCiders of Spain at Binny's Lincoln Park, 2-4pm: Ciders of Spain founding importer James Asbel will be on hand to taste through a selection of his unique portfolio

Jerry's 4th Annual Oak & Iron

The 4th Annual Oak & Iron IV: A Bounty of Barrel-Aged Beers is Thursday, Feb 12th at Jerry's in Wicker Park. Celebrate an eve of magic, myth, and epic heroism. And beer. Lots of barrel-aged beer. 

Oak & Iron begins at 6 pm with an array of fantasy-inspired prog and assorted metals, while regaling you with tales from forgotten sword-wielding cinema on our ten-foot screen.

Live set of crazy rock and destroy your roll from Rabble Rabble at 11pm!

This event has NO entry fee and is pay as you go. Many of these beers are very limited so it's first come, first served for all. Fantasy costumes are encouraged, not required.

Tap List (All beers tap at 6:00 pm.):
Port Brewing / The Lost abbey Angel's Share
Avery Brewing Company Samael
Left Hand Brewing Company Barrel-Aged Wake Up Dead
Solemn Oath Brewery Patron Saint of Quality Footwear
Revolution Brewing Gravedigger Billy
Great Divide Brewing Company Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti
Founders Brewing Co. Backwoods Bastard
Goose Island Beer Co. Bourbon County Barleywine
2013 Point Brewery Whole Hog Barrel-Aged Barleywine
Avery Brewing Company Tweak

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Return of Cider Summit Chicago to Navy Pier

SBS Imports and the Seattle Beer Collective are pleased to announce the return of their successful Cider Summit festival to Chicago, IL. This year’s event will take place on Saturday, February 7, 2015 in two sessions - 11am-3pm and 4pm-8pm in the Grand Ballroom at Navy Pier.

Cider Summit will feature over 120 ciders including regional favorites and international classics from countries such as England, Scotland, France, and Spain with owners and cidermakers will be on hand to inform and guide guests through the samplings.
Tickets are $30 and will be sold online only via Admission includes a souvenir tasting glass, 8 tasting tickets and a $1 donation to Heartland Alliance. Additional tasting tickets will be available for sale onsite at $2 per ticket. Designated driver tickets are available for $5, and include a bottle of water. A separate ticket is required for each session.

The Chicago Brew Bus will provide shuttle service starting at 10:30am between the Blue Line Grand stop, Red Line Grand-State stop, and Navy Pier throughout the day. CTA buses also run directly to Navy Pier. Onsite parking is available in the Navy Pier garages.