From the Beer Writer: Since I first got into beer, I found myself gravitating toward Belgian-style ales. Their mix of floral and spice notes just hit my palate in all the right places. Some of my favorites early on were Belgian Christmas beers; high-alcohol, typically medium-to-dark-colored ales brewed with myriad spices akin to those used in yuletide baking. I became so enamored with them that, since they are only available during late-fall and early-winter, I would stockpile them for the rest of the year. Over the past decade-plus, I’ve tasted just about every Belgian holiday ale available in the States, leaving me pining (pun intended) for undiscovered Christmas goodies. So, when I caught wind of Kearny Mesa’s Kilowatt Brewing releasing a holiday offering paying tribute to the rich brewing traditions of…Ohioans…I had to check it out. Kilowatt Christmas Ale comes in at 9.45% alcohol-by-volume and derives much of its December appeal from usual suspects cinnamon and nutmeg, plus ginger and a heaping helping of honey. That last one is lesser seen in beers of this ilk and imparts an earthiness seldom found in wintertime brews. That taste sensation fits in nicely with the traditional dark fruit, baked sweet potato and brandy-like notes representative of Belgian Noëls.
From the Brewers: “Our Cleveland-style Christmas Ale is handcrafted in small batches with 20 pounds of honey, fresh ginger root, cinnamon bark and nutmeg. This high-gravity, amber-hued, Belgian-style ale is brewed with red wheat malt, toasted malt, caramel malt and a pinch of special roast and roasted barley. We call it ‘Cleveland-style,’ since almost all of Kilowatt’s owners are from Ohio and the Midwest, where Christmas ales are extremely popular and typically sell out. Every year in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio near the shores of the Great Lake’s Erie, there is an unwritten friendly competition among local craft brewers for the best-brewed Christmas ale in the land. Each and every year, the brewers bestow upon their tasty brews delightful holiday flavors such as you’ll find in this beer. We West Coasters of San Diego, California—the IPA capital of the planet—tip our hat to Clevelanders and recognize that locale as the Christmas Ale Center of the Universe. Cleveland Style is our tribute!”—Rachel Fischer, Co-owner & Brewer, Kilowatt Brewing Company
The holidays are great, but beer makes everything better, including December’s most iconic condiment
When it comes to familial gatherings during the holidays, many see the helix strains of DNA as the ties that bind…but not me. I say our winter comings, goings, catch-ups and throw-downs are bound by two mighty forces—alcohol and gravy. The former makes everything better—or at least far more tolerable—including the latter. With Thanksgiving in our near-horizon rear-view and the yuletide fast approaching, this seems the perfect time to share a base recipe for beer-infused gravy as well as several fun variations and preparations for it.
Many believe you need to have the drippings from a large roast beast or buxom fowl to construct authentically delicious gravy. I am not arguing the glories of starting with the rendered fat and juices of a slow-cooked behemoth, but gravy on the fly can be made using just about any form of fat desired. It all depends on your ultimate saucing goal.
If you’re looking for a really meaty or smoky gravy, but aren’t starting with a meaty, smoky hunk of protein, the best way to go is sausage. But know your links (or patties). Breakfast sausage is a nice midpoint. It generally exhibits big pork flavor, plenty of salt and a touch of black-pepper spice, making it ideal for the “sawmill gravy” used to smother biscuits across the South. That dish sees crumbled breakfast sausage rendered in a cast-iron skillet, followed by a sprinkle of flour (typically Wondra, a super-fine variety easily found in supermarkets) and the addition of whole milk and more pepper. Other forms of sausage can be used in this preparation, most notably loose, Mexican-style beer or pork chorizo, which adds plenty of garlic and paprika flavor to the finished product. But given its high fat content, you may need to actually remove some of the abundant (and abundantly tasty) orange oil slick that results during rendering.
Getting back on the holiday-accoutrement track, Italian sausage rendered in olive oil provides nice flavors for turkey gravy, as do the giblets (the heart, kidneys, liver and neck packaged inside a frozen turkey’s cavity), though the latter lends flavor sans fat. With turkey and beef gravy, it’s not as important to extract flavors from fat so long as you use stock. One can make their own stock by simmering bones or the aforementioned giblets along with aromatic vegetables (generally, carrots, onions and celery), but store-bought versions have come a long way over the years. When utilizing them, it’s recommended to go with low-sodium or unsalted varieties so you can control the amount of seasoning in your gravy.
When it comes to incorporating beer, it’s important to select the right type for the dish that you are adding the gravy to. For beefy gravies, reach for ales with rich, roasted-malt character—brown ales, porters, stouts, Belgian dubbels and quadrupels. Even coffee beers can work, especially when making “red-eye gravy”, which typically incorporates black coffee and is served over country ham. For lighter gravies served over poultry, it’s best to stay on the lower-bodied, gold-to-blonde side of the SRM scale, opting for beers with floral, herbal or vegetal character—helles, Kölsch, Belgian blonde ales, witbiers, table beers or saisons. The nuances of Belgian ales, in particular, create a flavor bridge for herbs like sage, thyme, parsley and rosemary. In the case of any gravy, it’s highly recommended that hoppy beers be avoided altogether.
Some of my favorite beer-gravy dishes during the holidays include herbed saison gravy with turkey and brown ale beef gravy with steak of any kind. Either work well over mashed potatoes, especially if they have goat cheese whipped into them along with whatever herbs are used in the gravy. And a dish that holds a special place in my heart 365 days a year is something I affectionately call Debu-Tots. It gets its name from the main ingredient—The Debutante, a Belgian-style amber ale made at my nine-to-five, Societe Brewing. That, bacon fat and beef stock form the basis for a gravy that is ladled over tater tots that are then adorned with cheese curds (if you can get them…queso Oaxaca or queso fresco if you can’t). It’s a modern, beery take on poutine that benefits greatly from the depth of malty, spicy flavor in the base beer. I’ve included the recipe so that you can enjoy it now, into the New Year and beyond!
with Bacon, Cheese Curds & Belgian Amber Beer Gravy
Yield: 4 servings
Add the bacon to a cast-iron skillet or large sauté pan over medium-high heat and cook until it is crispy and its fat has fully rendered. Remove the bacon from the pan and, if necessary, remove some of the fat so that there is ¼ cup remaining in the skillet. Whisk in the flour until it is fully incorporated with the fat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add the stock, beer and Worcestershire sauce. Bring the mixture to a boil, add the rosemary and cook until a gravy consistency is reached 5 to 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Strain the mixture into a gravy boat and set aside.
To serve, divide the tater tots into serving bowls. Place the cheese over the tater tots and ladle with warm gravy. Garnish with the reserved bacon and scallions. Serve immediately.
Like many families, every Easter mine congregates to enjoy each other’s company and a delicious brunch. This tradition is bolstered by the presence of champagne and mimosas, both of which I wholly support, but there’s something else I look forward to popping the cork on each year – saisons.
For me, there is no beer-style more evocative of and so perfectly suited for springtime as saisons. These farmhouse-style ales of Belgian and French origin convey myriad flavors, many of which epitomize the season on which we are currently and pleasantly entrenched. Esters and phenols from saison yeast strains bring on vibrant bouquets rife with grassy, floral, fruity, spicy and, depending on the presence of Brettanomyces or other wild yeast strains, funkiness often described as “barnyard” in nature. Beer aroma doesn’t get more springtime-in-the-country than that.
On the flavor front, absolutely no type of ale or lager is as unpredictably wide-ranging. Saison’s guidelines are just about the loosest of any style category. A fan of variety, this is what makes saisons my personal favorite. Wrestling a cork from a bottle labeled “farmhouse ale” is always an adventure. My taste buds might encounter a boldly fruity, herbaceous quaff with tight champagne-like bubbles or a spicy, flowery ale with a sticky, fluffy, snow-white head and the driest, sharpest finish imaginable.
When searching out some brunch recipes built to marry with saisons’ wealth of characteristics, I consulted the culinary minds at Breakfast Republic. This early-to-midday chain has spots in North Park, Liberty Station, Encinitas and the East Village, with an Ocean Beach location debuting this month at the former site of OB Warehouse, and a Carmel Valley location coming this summer. If you’re looking for inventive breakfast and brunch fare served in tandem with eye-opening adult beverages, this is your spot.
Breakfast Republic owes its popularity and success to items like shrimp and grits, breakfast bacon mac and cheese, and flights of pancakes or French toast. It’s a strawberry and mascarpone cheese-infused version of the latter that the chain’s kitchen- eam chose as an ideal go-with for a fruitier-flavored saison. And for a drier, spicier or more herbaceous farmhouse ale, they selected their Breakfast Jambalaya, a traditional take on the Cajun classic with shrimp, andouille sausage and fried eggs. The recipes for both of these dishes are included here for your home-kitchen experimentation. When looking for the best saison to pair, feel free to cast a wide net – there are exceptional versions of this style brewed the world over – but know there are plenty right in your own backyard.
Great local saisons include The Lost Abbey’s Brett-infused spring seasonal Carnevale Ale, as well as its year-round Red Barn Ale. They come from the same San Marcos brewery, but taste completely different. Still, each makes for an excellent springtime indulgence. The same can be said for Saison Rustique from Vista’s 100% wild-ale operation Toolbox Brewing, which brings wine-barrel vanillins and grape mustiness into the equation. Other flavorful and thirst-quenching San Diego County offerings include BNS Brewing’s Saloon Girl, Iron Fist Brewing’s Hired Hand, Modern Times Beer’s Lomaland and Second Chance Beer’s Saison Solare, any of which will go well on your brunch table come Easter and beyond.
There are plenty of positive things to appreciate about San Diego’s brewing community. Ales and lagers take the spotlight, but perhaps even more impactful and important is when breweries’ reach goes beyond taps, bottles and cans, and increases the quality of life for people in need. It’s something that happens with great regularity in our county. The first instance of such brewery humanitarian efforts will take place Thursday when 32 North Brewing Company (8655 Production Avenue, Miramar) releases a special beer called “Julia’s Grand Cru”.
This dark Belgian-style ale will go on-sale in 32 North’s tasting room on January 5 from 5 to 8 p.m. Its Candi-sugar sweetness matches that of the individual that proceeds from sales of this beer will benefit: Julia Davidson. In June of 2015, little Julia (then just six years old) was diagnosed with Stage IV Neuroblastoma. This particularly aggressive form of cancer attacked her bone-marrow and compressed her spine, but after a year-and-a-half filled with multiple rounds of chemotherapy and trips to specialists around the country, she is in remission. This is a wonderful outcome, but the extensive treatment steps undertaken to beat this disease were costly to say the least. This is where 32 North is so graciously coming into the picture.
Head brewer Nick Ceniceros and brewer Jeff Swem got together to develop the recipe for Julia’s Grand Cru. In their words, it’s “a special beer for a special girl,” and proceeds from sales at the event as well as kegs sold to accounts will go straight to the Davidson family. Additionally, the food offered at the beer-release will be sold in exchange for donations. It’s a heartfelt undertaking marked by a hearty beer benefiting a strong, brave, resilient girl with immeasurable heart.