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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Dining with Upland

Earlier this month I went to my first dinner and drink pairing at Pikk's Tavern in Valparaiso, Indiana. The drink was Upland beer, and I liked every one they had on the menu. I usually visit Pikk's for brunch, and I always leave happy. Pikk's food and Upland beer, it sounded perfect to me.

Overall, I was very impressed with the pairing. Most that I've been to pick food that complements or contrasts with the beer to strike a good balance. They pick food that brings out characters in the drink you didn't taste before. The chef at Pikk's took it one step further and fully incorporated the beer into some of the dishes. He built the food around the beer. I rather enjoyed this experience.

The food was served family style, which was nice to get a taste, but as I filled up I really wanted to be able to take some home. By the time the main course arrived I was stuffed. 

As each beer and course was served the Upland rep and chef talked about the course. It was really informative and informal. It felt like I was at a friend's party. Very cool.


Course #1: Iceberg Wedge Salad with Upland Wheat Ale
blood orange-chili vinaigrette drizzled iceberg, oven dried tomatoes with crab profiteroles

The blood orange citrus tang complemented the orangy citrus of the wheat. I'm not big on iceberg, but the lightness of the lettuce went well with the lightness of the wheat.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Double Dragonfly (Upland)

I had this IPA at a beer and dinner pairing at Pikk's Tavern. I've had this brew before, but that was pre-blog. It was as good as I remembered it. It was carefully paired with a specially formulated braised lamb aloo gobi. It was spiced to stand up to this IPA. The lamb so so tender that it just shredded as I was eating it.

General Thoughts
Look and Smell: This amber-colored brew had a bubbly white head. It left thick bubbly lacing as I drank it down. The smell was piney hops.

Taste: This IPA was well balanced. The malt comes through the piney hops. It ends with the malt and just a bit of bitterness.

From the Upland site:
We took our award-winning Dragonfly IPA and cranked up the malt and hops, but managed to hold onto the the perfect balance our Dragonfly is known for. The result is a brew with a very powerful hop profile, matching malt character, and an enticing floral nose.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Wheat Ale (Upland)

I enjoyed a glass of this brew at a beer and food pairing at Pikk's Tavern in Valparaiso, IN. I've tasted this brew before, but it was pre-blog. I got the cloudy bottom of the pitcher, and I think that gave it a very nice bready taste. It is a good, standard, wheat.

General Thoughts
Look and Smell: It was a cloudy, almost pastel yellow. It poured with a very thick foamy head, even after sitting in a pitcher for a while.

Taste: It was thick in consistency but light in flavor. As hearty was it was, it wasn't heavy. The light citrus picked it up. I tasted the bready yeast. I could sit down with this brew it's own meal.

From the Upland site:
Upland Wheat Ale is a classic rendition of the Belgian Witbier (white beer) style. We brew it with organic coriander, chamomile, and orange peel to be light on the tongue and refreshingly tart. In the tradition of the Belgian Wit style, Upland Wheat Ale is unfiltered, allowing suspended yeast to create a cloudy, golden appearance and satisfying mouthfeel. Upland Wheat Ale is the flagship beer of our brewery and the best-selling beer brewed in Indiana.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Irish Ale (Boulevard)

This brew was on tap at a a local chain bar as part of a St. Patrick's Day selection. I don't remember loving this brew, but I wanted to give it another shot. It was better than I remembered.

Boulevard Brewing Company produces some decent craft brews for the general beer-drinking public. Some are refreshing, some make a good brat boil, others are good everyday brews. They definitely don't push the limits of brewing, but not every brewery needs to. They have the Smokestack Series, which at the beginning was hit or miss. One was actually drain pour to me. (I can count on one hand how many times that's happened.) I've heard good things lately, and I'm looking forward to trying the Tank 7 I have in my lair.

General Thoughts
Look and Smell: The head was a creamy white with moderate to heavy lacing as I drank it down. It was a dark red color. It had a malty smell that I could pick up over the bar smells.

Taste: It was malty and a little watery (not in a bad way, just very light). The aftertaste was the malted grain. It was drinkable. I'd take it to a party; it seems like it would be widely enjoyed.

From the Boulevard site:
Irish Ale, Boulevard’s early spring seasonal beer, is our Midwestern tribute to the legendary red ales of old Ireland. Our recipe combines six kinds of pale and roasted barley malts to provide a rich, toasty flavor and tawny reddish hue.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tipperary (Moylan's)

I'm slowly working my way through the Moylan's brews. It's close to St. Patrick's Day, so I figured this Pale Ale would be fitting.

A well-known Irish revolutionary was born in this county in Ireland. Charles Joseph Kickham was a novelist, poet, journalist, and prominant member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. His writing was said to be ordinary, but the content was inspiring.

"For many years Knocknagow was the book - along with a prayerbook and Old Moore's Almanac -- most likely to be found in any Irish home. Most Irish writers born between 1870 and 1950 would have read it as children." - From Ex-Classics

Because of this interesting tidbit, I've always wanted to try this one.

I'm always surprised how reasonable the price is for a 20oz bottle these days when people are really going nuts with high-priced bombers. This I had on tap at a local chain bar. They must have been making a killing off that keg charging their typical craft brew price. For a low-cost brew, I'm always pleased by the content. Not every beer can be extraordinary, but their brews are consistently good.

General Thoughts
Look and Smell: The head was a white froth. As always at this chain bar, the glass was overflowing. I couldn't smell much more than a light malt over the restaurant and bar smells. It left moderate to heavy lacing as I drank it down.

Taste: It was a surprisingly light pale ale. Almost like a lager. It had a light hop finish. This is a brew that you could drink all day. I think this might be a go-to summer beer.

From the Moylan's site:
Our version of the classic Pale Ale style is named in tribute to County Tipperary, our Founder’s Father’s Homeland. Sweetly sharp and smoothly bitter, this beer straddles the line between what you want and what you need. It’s not a long way to Tipperary anymore! Slainté.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Happy International Women's Day

To my surprise, this is the first year that I've actually been aware of International Women's Day. I know about Women's History Month, but just noted it with the rest of the history months. This year I did some research and discovered International Women's Day celebrating women.

You can find good information on the International Women's Day website. Women's Day started as a US national day in 1909 pushed by the Socialist Party of America. This was even before women could vote in the states! It was a day to make a statement and push for equality for women. In 1911, it was celebrated on a wide scale by over a million people internationally.

When reading about the demonstrations, about the conflicts, about the victories of getting it recognized as a non-working day by the USSR and China, it really makes me think. I've grown up with the notion that inequality is behind us. I know that you can still see it in the attitudes of others, but as a youth I was treated just as a youth. As I moved into adulthood, through the hard work and struggle of the women before me, I was able to be independent. I can drive, I can vote, I can walk the streets without the company of a man. I am married to my best friend as a sort of partnership, not a dependency for fitting into this society. These are things that I don't think of every day as special, just part of life. I know of women's suffrage, but I don't know the feeling of that struggle they went through. It's not so long ago in the history, yet somehow out of my mind. Women, pushed for equal pay and inclusion through the 70s, 80s and even 90s while I was too young to know the difference.  I deeply appreciate it. Some never saw progress in their lifetimes, they were doing it for their children, and they were doing it for me. Women are still fighting all over the world.

In this day when every group seems to have their own day, week, or month of recognition, it is easy to lose sight of why we should recognize them. So, this International Women's Day, and Women's History Month I recognize how good I have it. I have freedom and independence, not just because of the country I live in, but because of the fight the American women put up for equality in the community and workforce.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Kiwi Lambic (Upland)

During the wintertime I abandon the notion of local produce and turn my eyes toward the tropical fruits. Being a Florida kid, I need my citrus, pineapple, and mango. I crave fresh lychee and starfruit. I need fruit that is generally not found naturally in the midwest. I try to buy local berries and whatnot when they are in season, but winter is a fruit free for all.  I tried going without when I first moved here, and it was a disaster for all involved.

With winter winding down, I cracked open this oak-aged lambic that I bought last year. It was bottled 12/6/10 from batch 134-08 (handwritten on the label). The idea of a kiwi lambic appealed to me, not just because I love kiwis, but I thought it might give this lambic a unique taste. Kiwi is an interesting fruit. It's tart, can be a little earthy, the juiciness varies. I was excited to try this.

General Thoughts
Look and Smell: This was so very fragrant as it poured, with smells of kiwi and earthy peach-like sugars. It poured a hazy peach/orange color. I could hear the carbonation fizzling away. The head was thick and foamy, but dissipated in seconds. This brew had bonus bits o' kiwi (seed and all) preserved in the booze floating about.

Taste: It was tart and juicy. So good that no other picture could be taken. It was a bit musky from the fruit and from the oak. It had bit of fruit sweetness to it, but ended dry and tart. My mouth is watering as I type.

From the bottle:
Lambics have been made in Belgium for over 500 yrs, and we are honoring this tradition by brewing our own Indiana version. Upland lambics are fermented by wild yeast and aged in oak casks for over a year, which creates a tart, complex beer. We then add whole kiwis, giving the beer enticing aromas and flavors. The beer is bottle conditioned, which adds a zesty and refreshing carbonation. Upland lambic is the perfect drink to share with friends over a plate of good cheese and fresh fruit.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Pre-Trip Planning (Upfront Obsessing)

I travel as much as I can get away with. Whether it's some rural outpost or a bustling city near or far, I get out. I go to watch and roam. It is rare that I go somewhere for any reason in particular, I generally just want to experience the area. If it happens to have a notable museum, Roman ruins, featured restaurants, or some rarities, that's plus, but I'll always find something new.

When I plan for my trips I try to get as familiar with the area as I can. I try hook up with locals or frequent visitors. I comb the web for pictures, articles, reviews, and tips. I try to learn some basic courtesies in the local language. I've been known to make the occasional spreadsheet to accompany my fully-loaded Google Map.

When people talk to me in this planning phase, they probably think I'm nuts. But believe me, I'm not like this when I get to my destination. My highlighters and spreadsheets are tucked away once I set foot in my vacation spot. This upfront obsession makes for a very laid back trip, since I know my surroundings. It's amazing how you can be right next to something and not know it's there. While I don't catch everything on every trip, it's nice to have a feeling that I'm not missing anything major. Having a better expectation also helps me feel like I'm not getting ripped off (too much).

So what do I focus on?

Generalities & Landmarks/Attractions
DK travel guides have really been helpful in all of my travels. I've looked at all the Frommer's, Lonely Planet, Fodor's, Rick Steves, but DK works with my brain. It's the right amount of clear pictures, graphics, and text. The layout works for me too. Breaking cities into zones is how my brain works. The area and transportation maps are always helpful. Websites are great sources too, but the DK book gives me the overview I need. It's even a good souvenir with pictures you may not get in some museums. I will say that the pocket-sized NFT (Not For Tourists) Guide for NYC was amazing too, but I was already semi-familiar with the area.

The guides give me a good start to do some further research on the local museums, parks, and monuments. I can figure out which ones to skip and which ones are worth seeing. I may have one or two must-sees on my list, but generally I just like to know what's out there. If I'm around and have time, I go. It's always good to know and to be very flexible.

Transportation
I always scope out the local transit. I compare day passes and per trip rates. I check out local bus routes, metro lines, trains, and trams. I check out taxi rates. I like to know my options. If there is a major sight that is out of the way, I map it out.

I make sure my transportation to and from the airport is clear, whether it's taxi, shuttle, or bus. I can't make those decisions feeling jet-lagged and out of it from zero sleep. (I can't sleep on the plane.)

For more rural areas I check out maps. I might check out construction zones and known areas of congestion.

Currency & Costs
I check the exchange rate before I go, so I have an idea of how much of my hard-earned USD it's costing me when I buy that drink, meal, or postcard. I'll never forget when Mr. K proudly brought us what amounted to $25 worth of meat after conversion. It was tender and juicy slow-roasted pork from the market, but that was still a hefty sum for the area and a whole lot of pork. (Weight conversion is good to know too!)

I try to get a reasonable expectation of general costs. It was good to know that San Francisco tacks on a health service tax. For a Chicago coffee to cost double what it does in Blue Springs, MO is not unheard of.

I like to find out if you have to pay to use the restroom, and try to find out if there are free areas too. I can always go to a cafe or pub, but I always make sure I bring some potty change just in case.

Food
I always focus on the food. Many a trip-planning session ends with me, drooling in front of the monitor at some photo of an entree or some menu option. I like to know what to look for. I like to know if there are some must-visit restaurants or local dishes that I shouldn't miss.

If I had not looked into it, I would have missed out on the four slices of fresh pie I took back to the room after I completely stuffed myself with home cookin' at Wagon Wheel Cafe near Hutchinson, KS. I wouldn't have known to try the Slivovice, a Czech plum brandy with an "acquired taste". 

My pre-planning obsession always gives me the knowledge and comfort level I need to relax and enjoy the trip. I can only be flexible if I'm aware of the options!

First Ascent (Figure 8)

The first time I had this Belgian honey lager was at Grow NWI's Farm-to-Table Dinner. I didn't write up notes about it, because I was too involved in everything else going on around me. I knew I'd have it again.

General Thoughts
Look and Smell: The head was super thin. What it had dissipated quickly. It was a translucent honey color. The smell was a light sweetness.

Taste: I tasted bitter-ish floral hops and earthy honey. It wasn't syrupy or too sweet. It was a nice, light brew.

From the F8 site:
Brewed with an overabundance of local light clover honey and cascade hops, this brew has a crisp citrus/clover nose with a clean malty slightly bitter finish and a hint of toast.