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 molĂ©, 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.