Beer

Sour Beer: The Belgians Must Be Crazy

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I don't like sour beers.

Why should I? In the litany of adjectives used to describe beer -- hoppy, malty, sweet, crisp, floral, roasted, spicy, refreshing, clean, dry, light, pale, dark -- none are so off putting as sour. Sour says there's something wrong. Sour says spoiled.

We've all had or heard about "skunked" beers. It's what happens when beer is exposed to light too long and goes bad. You know what the predominant flavor of "skunked" beer is? Sour. Beer is also susceptible to infection. What does an infected beer taste like? Yup, a soured beer.

So how have sour beers hung around for 1,000 years and what am I doing trying to like them?

My biggest problem is I'm a beer geek. I love everything about beer. I love to drink it, I love to learn about its history and the way it's made, and I love making it at home. As an enthusiast, I like to think I have a pretty sophisticated palate. While there are certain styles I prefer -- India pale ales and English bitters -- I like to think I can find the merit in any style. I can, save one: sour beers.

They're nasty and that's frustrating. Is it me or the beer? Are all these sour beer enthusiasts just screwing with me, or is my palate merely pedestrian?

I encountered my first sour beer, Duchesse de Bourgognes, a few years ago. It was a neat looking bottle with a Medieval broad on the label, so I decided to give it a go. When I got home, I popped the cork, poured a pint and took a nice big sip ... of the NASTIEST FUCKING SHIT (really, what is this?!!) I'd ever poured in my mouth. Rather than the familiar sweet and malty flavors I'm accustomed to in dark ales, I had a mouth full vinegar.

16520015 My wife, who likes vinegary things, said the beer tasted like Worcestershire sauce and refused to drink it. I struggled though a couple more sips until she said "Do you really want a beer bad enough to keep drinking that?" No I didn't. With that, my inadvertent foray into sour beers began and ended.

However, I haven't been able to completely get away from them. Sour beers originated in Belgium, and D.C. is a Belgian beer town. I also consume too much beer-related media, so I've read, watched and heard a lot about sour beers and how wonderful they are. Yet, every time the subject of sour beers is brought up, it comes with the same caveat: they're an acquired taste (which usually means it is tastes pretty shitty, but you'll get used to it).

So I got to wondering, is it possible to learn to love the unlovable? Can I acquire a taste for sour beers? I don't know, but I decided to dedicate a couple posts to the pursuit. If it turns out that I can, then anyone can.

The thing about sour beers is they are among the most interesting of all beers. Sour is an umbrella term that refers to Flemish red and brown ales (Duchesse de Bourgognes is a Flemish red ale), and lambics. Among lambics, you have gueuze, faro, mars, kriek, framboise, peche, casis and muscat beers. You could even include beers made with brettanomyces yeast among the sour beers. Brettanomyces, or brett, is the scourge of wine makers, but a favorite yeast strain for many American craft breweries producing sour beers (The Bruery, Jolly Pumpkin, Russian River, Allagash, Odell, and Victory, to name a few).

Sour beer is like no other style of beer. Obviously, the flavor is unique, but the way the beers are made is also unusual. Traditional lambics are one of the oldest styles of beer in the world. They're made in open vessels to allow wild yeast -- and whatever else is floating around -- to drift in and trigger spontaneous fermentation. Flemish red and brown ales are made by blending freshly brewed beer with beer that's been allowed to sour in infected barrels. Speaking of infections, brettanomyces is difficult to work with and can infect every beer in a brewery if the brewer isn't careful, yet it seems to be the latest trend in craft beer. 

Bill Catron is a Belgian beer knight, which makes him an expert on these sorts of things. Yet, I have trouble believing him when he says things like "sour beers are kind of like the Gatorade of the beer world." Seriously? Yup, the sour flavor, he alleges, is thirst quenching.

Because these beers are different and because there is an audience for sour beers, Bill said breweries are willing to specialize in them and in some cases risk infecting the rest of their product line to produce them.

16520019 To better understand sour beers, and to reacquaint myself with the Duchesse, I sat down with Matt LeBarron, Granville Moore's beverage director, who agreed to do a sour beer tasting with me (yippee).

"Not everyone's palate is the same, but those who love (sour beer) really love it."

And what about those who don't?

"It's an acquired taste."

For the tasting, I told Matt I wanted try the beers a sour beer enthusiast would order. Nothing easy, nothing for the novice. He responded with Petrus Aged Pale, St. Louis Gueuze Fond Tradition, Ommegang Zuur, Rodenbach Grand Cru, Monk's Café Flemish Sour Ale, Hanssen's Oudbeitje and, at my request, Duchesse de Bourgognes. If you order any of these beers at Granville Moore's you will be asked if you know what you're ordering. If you order a Stella, you get a Stella, no questions asked.

Still, it was the most interesting beer tasting I've ever experienced. If I learned anything, it was that not all sour beers taste the same.

16520018 Hannsen's Oudbeitje was revolting. The lambic was horrifically sour, extremely tart and dry as a litter box. I found it physically difficult to drink. Matt said Oudbeitje reminds him of white wine or Sweet Tarts (Matt obviously drinks some messed up white wine and has never tasted a Sweet Tart). On the other hand, Monk's Café was sweet, smooth and faintly sour. By far, it was my favorite of the evening. The menu at Granville Moore's says Monk's Café is the Dr. Pepper of beers thanks to its many subtle (read: enjoyable) flavors. Not surprisingly, Monk's Café was the most popular of the beers we tried.

The other beers fell somewhere in between. Duchesse de Bourgognes still tastes like something you'd put on steak rather than drink with it, while the Petrus was, well, dry. That's it, just dry. Think brut Champaign without the flavor or rainbows without color. Rodenbach Gran Cru had a similar balsamic vinegar flavor as Duchesse de Bourgognes, but more restrained, so other flavors, like caramel and dark cherries, came through. I didn't love the beer, but I could stop drinking it.

The gueuze was the biggest surprise. I've heard gueuze beers described as tasting like old sweat socks, dank locker rooms, Band-Aids, and wet barns, so I expected the worst. Instead, I found it tart and very dry. It wasn't my favorite, but it wasn't that bad. Unlike Oudbeitje, I could understand why someone would like the occasional gueuze beer.

"Most people will not have these as their go-to beers, but those who do have them will have them from time to time," Matt said.

Bill is one of those people. For a guy who's recognized for his broad knowledge of Belgium's many beer styles, his favorite is the nicheiest of them all.

"I think (sour beers are) one of the most interesting beers in Belgium."

Matt is much the same. When I asked him what his favorite beer was, he pointed to the Zuur, a Belgian-style Flemish brown ale that I found sour, dry and tart.

16520024 As for me, I still don't like the Duchesse, but I do like Monk's Café. I also have a better appreciation for sour beers. If nothing else, I now know that not all sour beers are the same. Far from it, in fact.

For the next post, I'll be talking to Franklin's brewer Mike Roy about the sour beers he's making in the Hyattsville brewpub and trying a few beers that might make the transition to sour beers a little less bumpy.


The Grateful Harvest: A F@#%ING Cranberry Ale Worth Drinking.

Cranberry Ale! Cranberry, NUT CRUNCH F@#%ING ALE! Let me tell ya something folks, Cranberries and beer do not go together! One’s for bladder infections, one’s for getting DRUNK!

Thus spake then coke-fueled comedian, present-day animated saber-toothed tiger Dennis Leary way back in the early nineties. Funny rant, and there was once a point when I agreed. Don't remember the bit? Check it out below (suffice it to say, this is pretty damned NSFW, so put on some headphones).

 

The world of beer has changed a lot in the past 20 years. I wonder if the calmer, more well-heeled Leary of today feels the same about microbrews as he did in his psycho days. Well, the man did make a good point: Sam Adams Cranberry Ale sucks. This beer was also my introduction to fruit beers, and I did not take another turn at it for a many a year. Honestly, I don't know why they keep making that crap; I guess someone must buy it. In any case, another Boston brewery has recently taken up the cranberry for brewing inspiration, and pulled it off with style and grace.

TurkeyBeer1 Harpoon's Grateful Harvest Cranberry Ale is a new addition to the venerable old brewery's stable of lagers and ales, and the first whose proceeds go directly to Harpoon Helps, the philanthropic wing of said brewery. For each six pack sold, Harpoon donates one dollar to a food charity local to the point of sale. According to the brewery, Harpoon Helps has already raised more than $230,000 for local charities this year, and has donated more than 16,000 pints to charitable events.

Charity is all well and good, but if the beer is no good, they aren't likely to sell a bunch. Fortunately, Harpoon did a damned fine job with this one. The beer pours a pretty russet brown, with slightly red highlights, and a short lived, off-white head. The nose is a rich amalgam of roasted nuts, dark red fruit and earth, along with a hint of malted grain. On the attack this beer is both sweet and tart, and flavored of sweet malt and dried leaves. The beer is slightly creamy on the mid-palate, where the cranberry flavor kicks in, leading into a dry, malty, bitter fruit accented finish.

  TurkeyBeer2 Where the Sam Adams Cranberry Ale is an over the top fruit bomb, Harpoon's Grateful Harvest is a highly drinkable, subtly flavored brown ale which anyone might enjoy. It's seasonally appropriate, charitable, and delicious; what's not to love? I picked up a six-pack at the Whole Foods in Arlington for $8.99, which I find to be a bargain. Unfortunately, I have not found a single other store that carries it in DC -- even the P Street Whole Foods doesn't have it, which really surprised me. I will keep my eyes open and update this post with more locations as I find them. In the meantime, the beer is available through December, according to Harpoon's website, and easily ordered from the local distributor, so encourage your favorite local shop to get you a case for your Thanksgiving shenanigans.

 


Autumn Menu: Grilled Tenderloin and Fall Hash

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Whoever decided that Labor Day marks the end of the "grilling season" has never stood in front of a warm Weber on a crisp fall afternoon. Between the football and the drop in temperatures, fall is a fantastic time of year to cook outdoors.

The change in seasons also changes what I like to grill. The fish, shrimp and seafood that grill in the summer is replaced by lamb, pork and heartier cuts of meat. Roasted tomatoes and young garlic are replaced by sauteed brussel sprouts, and roasted turnips and potatoes. Despite the fact that my house has central heat, I plan meals like I have to stay warm in a yurt.

Much of this is due to the fact that vegetables like tomatoes are no longer in season, while brussel sprouts are just coming on. But I can get either product all year. No, the real reason is the trigger the weather flips. I no more want shepherd's pie in August as I want ceviche in February. 

That being said, pork tenderloin is my meat of all seasons. It's easy to cook, flavorful as hell and a relatively cheap cut of meat. A few years ago, when my wife and I lived in North Carolina, a lot of pork tenderloin moved through our little Chapel Hill apartment. She was going to grad school and I was working a couple jobs to help make that happen, so a four pound tenderloin that could feed us for several days was a household favorite.

DSCN5692 Now that we're into the fall, I like to pair the tenderloin with a seasonal hash of carrots, apples, onions and potatoes. You could even swap out the potatoes for squash or pumpkin, or just add it to the mix. I also add a bit of bacon to punch up the flavor and because I like bacon. A poached egg works real well, too.

To go with the dish, I like brown ales and dark beers. Honestly though, any fall seasonal would work. We've moved from the light, refreshing pilsners and pale lagers of summer to the darker, richer beers better suited for fall and winter.

In fact, I've been sitting on the bottle of Autumn Maple from The Bruery that I picked up in August. I bought it with this post in mind, but it was also just too damn hot at the time. Who wants a sweet, malty high alcohol (10.5%) beer when it's 96 degrees outside? Screw that and pass the hefeweizen.

To make this Belgian-style dark ale, the Placentia, Ca., brewery uses yams - lots of yams - molasses and spices, including cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. The result is deeply rich, spicy ale that's just a bit sour and more than a bit sweet.

DSCN5717 If you can't find a bottle of Autumn Maple or just want to try something else, grab a six pack of Sierra Nevada's Tumbler brown ale. The craft brewing community has gone wild for big, hoppy India Pale Ales during the past few years, but Tumbler shows that the heavy weights of craft beer do other styles of beer just as well (that said, Sierra Nevada's Tornado Extra India Pale Ale is an outstanding hoppy beer).

So grab a coat and get outside, there's grilling to be done.

Grilled Pork Tenderloin and Fall Hash
(Makes six servings)

DSCN5681 1 4-5 pound pork tenderloin
1 apple, Granny Smith or similarly crisp apple, diced
4 carrots, pealed and diced
6 potatoes, diced
3 cloves of garlic, diced
2 red onions, pealed and diced
3 strips of bacon, fried and diced
1 lemon, halved
1 egg, poached (optional)
Salt and black pepper

Generously season the tenderloin with salt and pepper, and set aside while you prepare the grill. For this recipe, you'll need two zones - one hot, one cool - so you can sear the tenderloin before allowing it to cook slowly for 90 minutes.

When the grill is ready, sear all sides of the meat until brown and then place the tenderloin on the cool side of the grill with the fat cap up and close the lid.

As the pork cooks, prep the rest of the ingredients, making sure the apples, carrots, potatoes and onions are diced the same size so they cook at the same rate. The dice should also be small, so it cooks fairly quickly.

After the pork has been on for an hour, place a pan on the sideburner or on the grill and fry the bacon. Remove the bacon from the pan and add the diced carrots, potatoes, garlic and onions, and season with salt and pepper. Sautee for 20 minutes or until the potato browns and softens (as an alternative, you can sautee the vegetables for 10 minutes and then stick the pan on the grill for 10 minutes). Add the diced bacon and apple, and cook for another 10 minutes. Remove everything from the pan so the apples don't overcook.

DSCN5696 (If you want to add a poached or fried egg - and you do - now is the time to cook the egg.)

After an hour and 20 minutes, the pork should be about ready to come off the grill. Using a meat thermometer, the internal temperature should be 165 degrees. If it's fully cooked, allow the meat to rest for 10 minutes before slicing. Before serving, squeeze a little lemon on the pork.

And if you haven't already, pop open the beer and enjoy.


A Trip to St. Michaels: Local Beer and Wine on Maryland's Eastern Shore

BREWERYFRONT1 After a long and arduous summer of work and family obligations, Eliza and I found ourselves with an oh-so-rare free weekend recently. On an only moderately planned "whim" (which is as whimmy as we get these days), we took a trip to St. Michaels, a small resort community on Maryland's Eastern Shore, or, the Riviera of the Chesapeake! Or something! Located about an hour's drive down the shore from Annapolis, St. Michaels has all the trappings of your usual sleepy bay-side tourist town; antique shops, cafes, purveyors of $200 critter pants and... a winery and a microbrewery? Hells yes, they do.

BREWERYFRONT2 On Route 33, right at the beginning of town in the "Old Mill Complex" reside St. Michaels Winery and Eastern Shore Brewing. Though unaffiliated, the two work in tandem as the perfect one-stop-shop for the vacationing lover of local fermented treats. Sticking by the old axiom "Beer before Wine, your Feeling Fine; Wine before Beer, towards This you Shouldn't Steer," we visited the latter first.

BREWERYPADDLE1 It's no coincidence that these two establishments find themselves so close together; Adrian and Lori Moritz, avid homebrewers from upstate NY, founded the Eastern Shore Brewing right next door to the young winery in 2008, rightfully thinking it a perfect complement. Using their two sizable fermenters, Eastern Shore puts out about 450 gallons of beer every 10 days, according to The Star Democrat.

BREWERYBAR3 The tasting room is an unpretentious, sparsely furnished space featuring an eclectic selection of tables and seats, and, why not, a number of trophy animal heads. The wood and marble bar featured five brews on draught for sampling: The Lighthause Ale, Duck Duck Goose Porter, Magic Hefeweizen, St. Michaels Ale, and Knot-So Pale Ale IPA. $8.95 gets you a five ounce pour of each of the beers, which equates to a little over two full beers, which ain't too shabby.

BREWERYBEERS1 All in all, the beers tasted of pretty high quality, with a propensity towards cleaner, crisper, dryer flavors. The St. Michaels Ale (which, unbeknownst to me, I had sampled earlier at a local crab smashery) is a fantastic session beer with low alcohol (5.2%), and just a hint of hops. The Magic Hefe, though not my bushel of BREWERYBAR2 crabs, is a great example of the style, with just the right amount of banana and yeasty flavors. Far and away the best of the bunch was the Porter, which had a classic British porter texture, a hint of hops, a slight note of burnt coffee, and a pleasing, dry finish. This is just the perfect local brew to have in oyster country.

Unfortunately, licensing does not allow Eastern Shore to sell by the pint -- they do, however, sell all their beers by the six-pack, and will gladly let you pick and choose your sampler, even to include 5 pours of the same. Though production on this stuff is far too low to make it to this area, the barman told me they sell heavily up and down the shore and have recently made inroads across the bridge, so who knows what the future holds?

MICHAELSSIGN1 A quick stumble behind the brewery is St. Michaels Winery. Founded in 2005, the winery uses a combination of local and Cali grown grapes, which they vinify on premise into a staggering number of wines -- 19 in total were available the day we visited!

MIACHELSOUTSIDE1 The big, barn-like structure houses a small four-seater bar and a half dozen or so tables, situated in a quaint, high-ceilinged, nautically themed room. Though it took a bit longer than we would have liked to be seated, the staff was lovely, and the wait gave us plenty of time to plan our tastings. As I said before, St. Michaels has almost 20 wines available to try, ranging from well-known French varietals like Pinot Grigio and Syrah, to more obscure native varietals and hybrids like Niagra, Seyval and Concord. Unlike some wineries I have visited, they make it pretty simple for you, offering up everything for $1 a taste.

MICHAELSBAR2 My experience with Maryland wines, previously limited to a handful of fruit wines, was greatly expanded that day, and what I found was generally pleasant. The 2007 Chenin Blanc -- made from grapes from Lodi, California -- had some nice floral notes, and ample acidity. The Sangiovese, made from local grapes, was also amply acidic, with the high MICHAELSAWARDS1 cherry notes of a light Chianti. We brought home a bottle of 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, which had great balance, and pleasing, tropical fruit notes. I wish I had had a chance to try more of the native grape wines, but what we had were generally quite good. Prices were pretty high at $16 to $35 a bottle, but that is not unexpected of a small winery that, because of Maryland's draconian wine-shipping laws, must rely almost exclusively on on-site purchases.

MICHALESFERMENTERS1 An interesting side note on both locations is that they were MUCH more free and open with their production space that any other brewery or winery I have ever visited. Eastern Shore's brewing tanks are right there to see and touch, and the winery staff were more than happy for their patrons to wander about their facilities, completely unsupervised! Maybe its a function of looser health codes, but I like to believe it is indicative of the laid back, relaxed atmosphere of the place. The Eastern Shore is a beautiful place to spend a long weekend, particularly for that leisurely attitude. Though I don't think Eastern Shore Brewery and St. Michaels constitute in and of themselves enough to draw a visit, they certainly make for a fun stop while you're there.

Eastern Shore Brewing Company
605 S Talbot St
St Michaels, MD 21663
(410) 745-8010
MAP

St. Michaels Winery
605 South Talbot Street, #6
St. Michaels, MD 21663
(410) 745-0808
st-michaels-winery.com

MAP

 


Grilled Lamb Sandwiches: Upgrading From The Same Old Tailgating Grub

DSCN5640 When it comes to tailgate grilling, what do you think of? Burgers? Dogs? Maybe wings if you're feeling it?

All of these are great options ... that we have all the time.

So every now and then, it's good to change up the menu some. I'm not saying you have to drop the brats from the lineup, just consider a substitution. Consider a hot pressed, grilled lamb sandwich. It's a hell of a thing, and it can take less time to prepare than an Oscar-Mayer frank.

As much as I love grilling, when I'm at a tailgate party, I want to focus on football and beer drinking. Firing up the grill is part of the experience, I just don't want it to be the primary experience. Most of us, I suspect, are of the same mind.

However, there is that group of people out there who like to show up at the stadium parking lot hours before the game and cook elaborate meals. You can do that with this recipe, if you want. Or, you can prepare everything the day, or week, before and do the final steps within minutes. It's your tailgate, do what you want.

DSCN5605 Sadly, I live nowhere near my college team (South Florida) or my pro team (the Bucs). So I spend most weekends planted on my couch. But to demonstrate that this recipe can be done at a tailgate, I broke out my tiny Weber grill - the same grill that I've taken to numerous tailgating events.

Basically, all you're doing is making a sandwich. But man, what a sandwich. I marinated half a butterflied lab leg in rosemary, garlic, oregano and basil overnight. Grilled it along with some onions, and then thin sliced the meat for the sandwich. Along with the lamb and onions, I added brie and blue cheese, arugula (I like some green on my sandwiches) and finished it with roasted garlic mayo.

Once the sandwich is assembled, I wrapped it in foil and pressed it on the grill using a brick. The cheese melts, the bread gets crusty and your tailgate meal gets exponentially better.

If someone handed you this sandwich and a beer at 11:30 a.m. on a Sunday, you'd know your day was starting off right.

DSCN5644 This is the point in the grilling post that I normally talk about what beer to pair with the meal. Not this time. When it comes to tailgating, you either drink whatever your buddy brought or you pick up a couple six packs of your favorite beer. Making sure the beer pairs well with the pre-game meal isn't (or shouldn't be) a consideration.

Instead, I'm going to discuss Abita's Save Our Shore, a big, unfiltered weizen pilsner that you'll feel good drinking, and not just because of the 7 percent A.B.V.

As it did after Hurricane Katrina, the brewery from Abita Springs, La., has produced a beer to raise money for a recovery effort. In 2005, Abita released Restoration Ale and for every six pack sold, the brewery donated a dollar to the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation.

Following the BP oil spill in the Gulf (which has not magically disappeared), Abita produced Save Our Shore. For every one of the 22 ounce bottles sold, Abita will donate 75 cents to SOS, a charitable fund managed by the Northshore Community Foundation and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation.

It's a great cause and a great beer.

DSCN5628Hot-Pressed Grilled Lamb Sandwiches
(Makes 6 generous servings)

Half a lamb leg, butterflied
8 oz. brie, cut into slices
8 oz. blue cheese, crumbled
Arugula
2 large onions, cut into thick slices
5 whole pieces of fresh rosemary
1 tbs. dried oregano
1 tbs. dried basil
3 heads of garlic, one chopped and two whole (the two whole heads are optional)
olive oil
8 tbs. mayonnaise
Kosher salt and black pepper
Sandwich rolls (ciabatta bread works, as does crusty French bread)
Aluminum foil
2 bricks
Large sealable freezer bag

Like I said, you can do everything up to pressing the sandwiches the day before, or cook everything in the parking lot.

DSCN5601 The day before you grill the lamb, place it in the freezer bag with the rosemary, oregano, basil, chopped garlic and 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Seal the bag and rub the oil and spices on the lamb. Make sure all the air is out of the bag and place it in the refrigerator overnight.

If you want roasted garlic mayo for the sandwich (you do), chop the tops off the two remaining heads of garlic, place each in a sheet of aluminum foil, coat with the remaining olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt. Seal the foil and roast the garlic in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. When the garlic is done, allow the heads to cool, squeeze out the soft garlic cloves, mash and mix with your mayonnaise.

When you're ready to grill the lamb, make sure your grill is set up with a hot zone and a cool zone. Remove the lamb from the bag, discard the rosemary and wipe off the seasoning. Lightly coat the lamb with olive oil or vegetable oil and generously season with salt and pepper. Do the same with the slices of onion.

Place the lamb on the hottest part of the grill, fat-side down. Sear the lamb for 5 to 7 minutes, being careful to watch for flare-ups. Turn the lamb over and move to the cool side of the grill, close the lid and allow to cook for 50 minutes.

Remove the lid, place the onions on the grill, and close the lid. After 5 minutes, flip the onions.

Once the onions are cooked, everything can come off the grill. Allow the lamb to rest for 20 minutes before slicing it.

When slicing the lamb, keep in mind that it's more complicated than steak. The muscle fibers in a lamb leg are not nice and uniform like they are in beef. So, you'll have to cut the lamb into pieces, and then cut thin slices off those pieces, always cutting against the grain. Take your time, and as you slice the lamb, make sure the pieces are thin enough to be bitten through easily.

DSCN5634 Now, assemble the sandwich and wrap in aluminum foil, making sure the whole thing is covered. If you're doing this the day before, you're done for now. If you've cooked everything at the tailgate, it's time to go back to the grill.

Place the wrapped sandwiches on the grill and set your bricks on top. If the sandwiches just came out of a cooler, they'll need about six minutes per side. If they're freshly made, give them about three minutes per side. Flip the sandwiches, put the bricks back on.

You'll know the sandwiches are done when you unwrap the foil and see nothing but melted cheese and crusty bread. Now go grab a beer, it's almost 11 a.m.


Local Players on the Oktoberfest Scene

OktBeer1

(Note: You'll have to excuse me, reader, for the occasional lapse in focus, as I am writing this article during the NFL season opener).

Ah, Autumn! Besides a break from the relentless heat, and the beginning of God's own field game, the Fall also heralds the release of some of the year's best beers: Das Oktoberfestbiers! Though release dates are pushed back annually, (with some being forced out as early as mid-August,) the weather has just taken a turn for the chilly, so I may finally indulge in my favorite beers of the year in their proper context.

I love these beers. Most are made in the Marzen style, a traditional German type of beer which is simultaneously rich, malty, crisp, drinkable, and ... OAHH! Favre is down!! Get up Grandpa! You can do it!!

....<cough>...sorry...

So being the polar opposite of a "Hophead," these sort of beers are right up my alley; the only hitch is most come from so far away! Just thinking about all that gasoline it takes to get my favorite Munich classics the 4000 some-odd miles from Bavaria to the grocery store shelves makes me a little ill. Thanks to the American Craft Brew Revolution, though, I'm glad to say we've now got plenty of home-grown options, many from within about 100 miles. Though very similar, each is as precious and individual as a snowflake; and nearly as fleeting! As follows are a few of my favorite local offerings, available for a limited time only at a store near you, for about $9 to $12 a sixer!



OktBeerFLY Flying Dog "Dogtoberfest"
5.30% Abv
Flying Dog Brewery: Frederick, MD

Appearance: Very dark amber with red highlights; light, short lived head.Nose: Subtle, with notes of malted barley and yeast. Rather dry, but some brown sugar, cinnamon, and mild red fruit.

Palate: Dry grains and malt dominate the front, along with some vanilla and caramel. Vivid effervescence gives a quite dry and pleasingly biting. Medium bodied, and vaguely creamy. More echos of red fruit on the mid-palate lead to a very dry, nutty finish.

Overall: Surprisingly complex and dry for the style, but possessed of all the elements of a great Marzen. Flying Dog does not produce a lot of beers I enjoy; this one is a pleasant outlier, and possibly my favorite of this lineup. Go out and grab it!

OktBeerSTOUDT Stoudts Oktober Fest
5.00% Abv.
Stoudts Brewing Company: Adamstown, PA

Appearance: Dark gold, with a slight red hue, and a short, off-white head.

Nose: Very dry and malty, with faint hints of roasted nuts and yeast.

Palate: Sweet malt leads the way on this light bodied, mildly effervescent lager. Corny flavors persist on the rather dry mid-palate, along with the surprising flavor of banana. Pleasing uptick of dark sugar sweetness on the finish.

Overall: Middle of the road and traditional. Not gonna blow your head off, but the sweetness will be comforting as the nights get cooler, and its mild texture makes this a great session beer.

OktBeerSTARR Starr Hill "Festie"
4.80% Abv.
Starr Hill Brewery: Croizet, VA

Appearance: Hazy golden-amber with reddish highlights; short, off white head.

Nose: Light, sweet and wheaty, with a slightly green grassy note, and some dark berries.

Palate: Bright and malty on the front; medium bodied, and relatively dry. Finish is dry, rather sharp for the style, with an almost mineralic quality.

Overall: Simple, but a great example of the more aggressive and dry side of the style. A solid pick for the fan of your more effervescent Czech pilseners, whose looking for a bit of nutty richness to ring in the season.

OktBeerCLIP Clipper City Heavy Seas Marzen
5.40% Abv
Clipper City Brewing Company: Baltimore, MD

Appearance: Clear golden-brown, with light, short lived head.

Nose: Light notes of brown sugar, yeast, and some spice.

Palate: Rather sweet on the attack, giving way to cinnamon and malted grains on the weighty mid-palate. More brown sugar sweetness lingering on the finish of this hefty dark lager.Overall: This replacement for the old Clipper City "Balto-Marzhon" is a good pick for those looking for a heavier, sweeter offering. Though typical of the Oktoberfest/Marzen style, this one is actually a year-round offering from Clipper City, so live it up!


ChurchKey: Ambitious Vision Is Realized As D.C.'s Very Best Beer Bar

33680018
Everything you need to know about ChurchKey is on the draught list.

Look at it. Drafted on tan, heavy paper - good paper, hardy paper - it's a black script roadmap to 55 drafts and casks. Hoppy, spicy, fruity, smoky beers are offered by the taste and by the glass. Along side each beer is the name of the brewery, its style, its place of birth. There's the alcohol percentage, the serving temperature, the price and the proper glassware. In case you don't know a tulip from a pint, there's a key of glassware silhouettes along the bottom of the menu.

Churchkey6 It's polished, elegant and written for nebbish beer geeks, but designed to guide anyone through ChurchKey's substantial selection of beers. 

It's the best menu I've ever seen.

The bar is almost as nice. From the solid burnt orange bar with its inset of keys, to the gothic chandeliers and floor to ceiling windows overlooking Logan Circle, ChurchKey is a beautiful establishment that was built to impress.

Without a doubt, it is one of the best bars I've ever set foot in. ChurchKey is not just one of D.C.'s best beer bars, it's our most important bar. The Brickskeller was ahead of its time when its lengthy beer list made the record books. But Miss Havisham has had her day and D.C.'s beer scene has come into its own. Portland has the Horse Brass Pub and Brussels has the Delirium Cafe. Now, thanks to Michael Babin and Greg Engert, we have ChurchKey.

I'm not the only one who's noticed.

"I was very pleasantly surprised with the professionalism [of the ChurchKey staff] and especially Greg has a great knowledge," Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, the Danish brewer behind cult beer favorite Mikkeller, told me via email. Earlier this year, Engert hosted Mikkel at a beer dinner at ChurchKey's downstairs sister restaurant, Birch & Barley. "It is hard to compare [to other beer bars] as ck is unique, but it is definitely one of the best beer restaurants I have been to."

Then of course, there are the local awards (two Rammys and the City Paper's pick for Best Beer Bar/Best Beer Menu) and national recognition (Food & Wine, The New York Times, Paste, All About Beer). Clearly, the arrival of ChurchKey and Birch & Barley has not gone unnoticed.


48580023 It's never easy, or cheap, to open a restaurant, much less two of them in a shitty economy. Yet, Babin (above, right), co-owner of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, did just that. Last year, he turned a former hamburger joint into a destination beer bar set atop an upscale restaurant. The establishments are treated separately, but are equally bound by a lineup of beers that stretch between floors and into the hundreds, all of which is overseen by a beer director that obsesses over every little detail. Needless to say, it was Babin's most expensive project, but it made Engert (above, left) a very happy man.

Before spending most of his waking hours at ChurchKey, Engert was (and is) the beer director of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, including Rustico, Babin's beer-centric restaurant in Alexandria. Although Rustico was launched with a beer program, it was Engert who focused and expanded it.

He brought in interesting beers, cask ales and a hand pump, hosted beer dinners, started a library of rare beers, headed up beer themed events, and eventually started talking to his boss about an even better beer bar.

Babin and Engert knew there were limitations to what they could do with Rustico. There was only so much space, all of which was built before Engert was hired, and they wanted Rustico to remain a neighborhood restaurant. So a plan was hatched. Babin asked Engert what he would do if he could do anything. Engert responded with ChurchKey.

"Every single thing I wanted to do with beer here, I did," said Engert, who is also a partner in ChurchKey and Birch & Barley.

33680011 It shows. If you know anything about ChurchKey or the District's craft beer scene, you probably know these stats: 555 beers on hand, 55 of which are drafts, five of which are hand-pumped cask ales. It's impressive in its size and scope, but it's not the most impressive aspect.

No, the most impressive thing is the trio of coolers. Each cooler is set at a different temperature (42, 48, 54) based on the style beer being stored (for example, lagers are stored at colder temperatures than ales). The draft lines that run the beer from the coolers to the taps are insulated and cooled to ensure that the beer filling your glass is the same temperature it was when it left the keg.

It's an attention to detail most people will overlook, but it separates ChurchKey from most bars in the country, much less D.C.

33680014 Consider the bottle list. It's 500 deep, yet there are dozens and dozens of names you probably don't recognize. As he did with the beer list at Rustico, Engert organized the beers by flavor rather than style or place of origin. Understanding that hundreds of somewhat obscure beers don't sell quickly, Engert keeps a limited number of each beer. And when one sells out a new one usually comes in.

33680017 Engert's regular rotation of rare and eclectic beers, on draft and by the bottle, has led some folks around town to question how he gets such unique products. Some have suggested that ChurchKey and the
Neighborhood Restaurant Group can spend more money than other bars and restaurants, while others speculate that because ChurchKey is the popular beer bar in D.C., brewers and distributors are lining up to get their products in.

Engert said it's none of those things. Rather, he said, it's simply a matter of working harder than everyone else to find out about new beers entering the market, establishing relationships with the brewers and distributors, and keeping his draft lines pristine and his coolers at the proper temperatures. ChurchKey also maintains a stash of 76 casks that they ship to breweries to keep the hand-pump selections interesting.

And then there's the beer dinner series and meet-the-brewer nights, the vintage beer list, and the firkins (because five beer engines pumping fresh cask ale just isn't enough - and it's not), but I should stop. I should note that ChurchKey may be designed with beer enthusiasts in mind, but they make their nut on the curious and the uninitiated.

For Engert, ChurchKey is an opportunity to teach. The less you know the better. Come in and peruse the pretty draft menu or thumb through the bound bottle list. If you can't make up your mind, that's fine. Engert and his staff will show you the way. That's why he spends an hour and a half every day working with the bartenders and servers in ChurchKey and Birch & Barley on the beer program. If you have a question, everyone should have an answer.

"We believe very strongly that this would be an eye-opener for many people," Babin said. "You get people in the right mood to try new things."

Of the many trips I've made to ChurchKey and Birch & Barley since it opened last fall, I've only caught one bartender off guard. The guy gave me the wrong beer and assured me the stout I ordered was the bitter I received. However, he double checked with Engert, who relaized the mistake and got me the right beer. A rookie error by a new bartender that was quickly addressed.

That's it, though. Babin and Engert have hired a lot of staff, and all of them (well, most of them) are clearly well trained.

48580017 When ChurchKey is packed, I like to grab a seat at the bar in Birch & Barley. All the beer is the same and you get to admire the copper "beer organ" that houses the draft lines coming from upstairs. However, Birch & Barley's bar doesn't have direct access to the bottles or cask ales on the hand pumps. Nevertheless, the bartenders always seem more than happy to run upstairs for an order. It's a nice touch.

Babin and Engert are quick to note that much of ChurchKey's success - and Birch & Barley's for that matter - is also due to the work of Executive Chef Kyle Bailey and Pastry Chef Tiffany Macisaac. They're right to do so. Bailey and Macisaac do an excellent job servicing two restaurants with semi-distinct menus (there are some crossover dishes). They even keep in the spirit of things by working beer into a number of dishes.

I would add to that Nahem Simon, who's worked with Engert for years, bartending at both Rustico and ChurchKey. Simon is an excellent bartender and may be as well versed in his product as Engert.

So is there a bad thing to say about ChurchKey? Maybe some nitpicking.

DSCN5408 One man's eclectic beer list is another man's frustration. Engert obviously puts a lot of thought into his bottle beer list, but I think it's a bit over thought. As much as I like to try new things, I also have a number of favorite beers I'd expect to see at a place like ChurchKey. Rather than an obscure gueuze beer from Belgium, how about sticking in a couple Titan IPAs from Colorado?

I'd also like to see more local beers. Engert is skeptical of the concept of localism and builds his beer list around flavors rather than geography, but I can't see the harm in supporting local breweries. He's done a few events with Frederick's Flying Dog and Brian Strumke of Baltimore's Stillwater Ales, but he can do more by keeping a few bottles of our exceptional local breweries on hand.

Normally I knock beer bars that have a strong dining presence, but for all of Chef Bailey's hard work (there's poutine, people), the food is a supporting player at ChurchKey.

Finally, this might be might strangest criticism yet, but ChurchKey is just too popular. It's been open nearly a year, and it still draws a mob. In time, the crowds will thin and the line to get in will disappear. When that happens, ChurchKey will cease to be a scene and settle into being D.C. very best beer bar.

Score: 18 of 20 (beer: 7 of 8, atmosphere: 4 of 5, bartenders: 5 of 5, other elements 2 of 2)

The Best Beer Bars so far: Birreria Paradiso (17 of 20), The Galaxy Hut (16 of 20), Franklin's (14 of 20), Rustico (16 of 20), Lost Dog Café (12 of 20), The Black Squirrel (16 of 20) and Dr. Granville Moore's (15 of 20). And don't miss our special feature on D.C.'s best German bars.

(Note: The Best Beer Bar series is going on hiatus. I'm taking six months off to check out new beer bars or beer bars I haven't visited in a while. I will also be revising the criteria that I use to judge the beer bars. If you have any suggestions for places I should visit or what I should look for in a good beer bar, leave me a comment below.)


Dr. Granville Moore's: Best Beer Bar is Belgium on H Street

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Every bar is the same: four walls, one roof and booze to drink. What differentiates one from another, importantly, is the atmosphere inside.

A good bar will have a good atmosphere. The beer, the liquor, the food, all that's secondary. The people around you and the people serving you will determine whether you stay or you go.

Then again, sometimes you go because you're an idiot.

Halloween 2008, my buddy Columbo and I walked up to Dr. Granville Moore's from my old apartment on Capitol Hill. The Belgian restaurant looked as it always does: the low ceilings of exposed timber, the knotty wood bar backed by elegant beer cabinets and chalkboards advertising food specials and beer. Amongst it all was a hive of people feasting on mussels and emptying glasses of golden ales and Flemish reds.

66020001 What I remember most, though, was our bartender. Decked out in a little pink cowgirl hat and little jean shorts, she asked if we liked whiskey. We said "Yes ma'am," unhesitatingly. With that, the three of us and a waiter hanging out behind the bar shared a round of American bourbon ... gratis.

I loved it. A generous moment with strangers, free whiskey, and those short shorts. Man, those short shorts. Without a doubt, it was the highlight of the evening. Then we made the biggest mistake of the night, we left. The night was too young, so after a few beers and food, we decided to check out a couple other places. Nothing was as good. We peaked early and the rest of the night was a slow let down.

On a recent Saturday night, my wife and I stopped in for a beer. The hectic energy of the Halloween night was replaced by families and twenty-somethings drinking quads and dining on the signature mussels and fries. We sat at the downstairs bar between a couple guys pouring over pints and a punch bowl of fries, and a 10-year-old girl and her family having dinner.

Both nights were great.

I know I rant about families and food in bars. I still prefer my drinking establishments to be drinking establishments, not family-friendly eateries. But this is what a pub looks like in Europe, at least the ones I've visited. The Belgian gastropub may have been designed with New Orleans in mind, but the creaky floors, tight spaces and dim lighting give the H Street restaurant an appropriately older feel. It may be in Northeast, but it feels like Antwerp.

66020019 Again, that's just the trappings. Disney can get the trappings right. What seals it for Granville Moore's is the people on either side of the bar. Three years in, the place remains one of the most popular destinations along the increasingly crowded Atlas corridor. Certainly, some of the folks filling the booths and bar stools are tourists and Food Network fans hoping for a pot of Chef Teddy Folkman's (left) blue cheese mussels and maybe a glimpse of the man himself. But the rest, the bulk, are a healthy mix of neighborhood regulars and beer enthusiasts.

Assisting them all is a hurried group of servers and bartenders who are happy to take the time to sherpa you through the beer list, steering the wary toward the safe (Stella Artois) or the adventurous toward something new (St. Louis Gueuze), all the while getting jostled in their tight confines.

Before D.C. fell hard for craft beer, it was infatuated with the Belgians. In 2004, Bart Vandaele opened D.C.'s first Belgian restaurant, Belga Café, on Barrack's Row. Three years later, Dr. Granville Moore's and Brasserie Beck followed suit. And then came Marvin, Et Voila, Sur la Place, and now Mussel Bar in Bethesda.

Clearly, there are a lot of places to spend your money on Trappist ales and croque monsieur, but there's no better place to do so than Dr. Granville Moore's. This is a bit if a surprise if you consider that with the exception of Marvin, it's the only Belgian restaurant that isn't owned or affiliated with someone from Belgium. Yet, it's easily the best Belgian beer bar of the lot.

Joe Englert is a prolific bar and restaurant owner, who's responsible for several places along H Street, including The Argonaut, Palace of Wonders, The Rock and Roll Hotel, The Red and the Black, The Pug, Sticky Rice, and the H Street Country Club.

Englert's managing partner in Granville Moore's, Chris Surrusco, built the original beer list and recruited his college buddy, Teddy Folkman, who was running the kitchen at Balducci's and had no experience with Belgian cuisine.

Keeping the theme going, Granville Moore's new beverage director, Matt LeBarron (sitting next to Teddy), grew up in Annapolis working in his parents' butcher shop. Aside from talking his father into stocking a few Belgian beers, LeBarron had no experience with Belgian beer before Granville Moore's. After working as a host and server for six months, LeBarron was given the keys to the beer cabinets and told to update the beverage program.

If you know anything about Belgian beer, you know that developing a beer list can be difficult. First, most people don't know much about Belgian beer. Second, there are hundreds of styles of beers produced by hundreds of breweries in a country about the size of Maryland. Add to that the growing number of American craft breweries that make Belgian-style beers and you have and bewildering variety of beers to build a list from.

66020011 So far, LeBarron's approach is to keep the core list of 40 or so bottles intact, keep the seven taps rotating at a break-neck pace (with the exception of Stella, the beers change multiple times per week) and add more than a dozen 750ml bottles and branch out into French ciders and meads. In the next several months, he hopes to double the bottle selection (a daunting challenge seeing that he already stores cases of beer in the dining room). LeBarron has instituted training classes for the staff and he's hosting beer dinners that bring Folkman out of the tiny kitchen and into the crowded dining room.

Above all else, though, LeBarron's job is to keep the customers happy. Case in point: if you don't like your beer, you can send it back, even the wine-bottle sized 750s. This doesn't mean much if you're dealing with a $3 Coors, but when it's a $16 Rochefort that's a nice touch. LeBarron said he'd rather replace the beer and eat the cost then have someone go away unhappy. And the thing about Belgian beers, it's easy to drop $20 on a beer you'll hate.

For example, just because you like the sweet clove flavors of a Delirium Tremens doesn't mean you'll enjoy the face-puckering qualities of a Monk's Café Flemish Sour. A Poperings Hommel farmhouse ale might look like a Gouden Carolus tripel, but it sure doesn't taste like it.

To minimize the buybacks, LeBarron and the bartenders will warn customers about what to expect, especially if someone is transitioning from a pint of Hoegaarden to a bottle of Duchesse de Bourgogne (they're very different). But if it's a sour you want, it's a sour you'll get.

Despite the complexity of Belgian beers and the proliferation of American craft beer bars in the area, Belgian restaurants are as popular as ever. On weekends, you can still face an hour wait for a table at Granville Moore's. Robert Wiedmaier, who opened the Belgian-themed Brasserie Beck in 2007, is drawing crowds to his newly opened Mussel Bar in Bethesda.

Folkman chalks up the popularity to the fact that the District is a city of transplants, many of whom are open to new experiences. D.C. residents are also a traveling bunch, so it's not unusual for someone to come into Granville Moore's looking for a beer or a meal they enjoyed in Brussels.

Whatever the reason, places like Granville Moore's and Belga Café set the stage for the American craft beer craze now thriving in D.C. Belgian beer gave us a foundation to build on, an identity. As with any trend, craft beer and Belgian beer will eventually surrender the floor to the next big thing. When that time comes, it will be the quality of the service, the loyalty of the regulars, the atmosphere that will keep a place like Granville Moore's alive.

As long as Folkman and LeBarron keep doing what they're doing, Granville Moore's will be just fine.

That's not to say there aren't a few things to nit pick.

66020013 First, LeBarron does need to expand the beer list. What they have is good, but with so many Belgian beers available, the list could be many times larger. I'm not suggesting adding 200 labels, but LeBarron needs to find room for another 40 to 60, even if that means Englert rents them some off-site storage. That would put them in the same range as Brasserie Beck, arguably their chief rival.

That expansion could include a few more Belgian-style beers made here in the states. Had LeBarron kept the beer list Belgian only, I'd be fine with it being Belgian only. But he opened it up to the Americans, so he should take the opportunity to further explore what's available. The handful of American offerings seems unduly small. Organizing them on their own beer list or chalkboard would also help customers differentiate between what's made in Belgium and what's inspired by Belgium.

And how about some signage out front? Obviously, Granville Moore's doesn't have a problem drawing customers, but I've walked by that beige row house numerous times without realizing it. I now use The Pug next door to let me know when I've arrived. I'm all for preserving Dr. Moore's legacy, but I think he'd be fine with dangling a shingle out front.

Score: 15 of 20 (beer: 6 of 8, atmosphere: 4 of 5, bartenders: 4 of 5, other elements 1 of 2)

The Best Beer Bars so far: The Black Squirrel (16 of 20)  Birreria Paradiso (17 of 20), The Galaxy Hut (16 of 20), Franklin's (14 of 20), and Rustico (16 of 20), Lost Dog Café (12 of 20). And don't miss our special feature on D.C.'s best German bars.

(Bonus!: New to Belgian beer and not sure what to order at Granville Moore's? LeBarron says you should consider a Houblon, a hoppy triple that he describes as "Belgian candy," a Saison Dupont, a cloudy gold farmhouse ale with a crisp, dry flavor, or the malty and robust Maredsous 8. If you don't like one of these, you don't like Belgian beer.)


Grilled Quail and Beer by Ferran Adria (hint: one is better than the other)

DSCN5521
There are a million recipes, but when it comes to weekend grilling, most of us fall back on the familiar: beef, chicken, pork and fish.

Even with the variety of ways to prepare these protean staples, they can get a little redundant. So every now and then it pays to branch out. In this case, I'm getting quail.

Unless you hunt, the only time most of us encounter quail is in white table cloth restaurants. They're a nice alternative to chicken, though due to the fact that they're all dark meat, quail are closer in flavor to duck (not quite as rich). What I especially like about quail, though, is that I don't have to share.

DSCN5522 There's just something about devouring an entire animal (and its friend) in a sitting. Staring down at the pile of bits and bones, whether they be fish or fowl, it's pleasing in a primitive sort of way. If you must, you can eat quail with a knife and fork, but the birds are small enough to necessitate getting your fingers dirty.

That's when you're really in the spirit of things. Pulling the meat from the bone as warm fat, olive oil and lemon season your fingers, it's a moment more backyard than brasserie. And that's why I decided to pick up a few of the small birds from Market Poultry.

The diminutive size of the birds also means you're not going to be spending all afternoon at the grill. But because of the haute connection, it's a dish that impresses.

I don't want to spend a whole lot of time messing with the quail, so I dress them simply with olive oil and grilled lemon. Like I said, the bird is all dark meat, which is rich and flavorful. Why get in the way of that?

Keeping with the Mediterranean theme, I served the quail with warm pita and tabouli salad, both of which I bought. Seriously, I'm keeping it simple.

DSCN5525 To accompany the meal, I picked up a bottle of Inedit, made by the Spanish brewery S.A. Damm for none other than famed Spanish chef Ferran Adrià. Adrià put molecular gastronomy on the map and his restaurant el Bulli has produced such chefs as Denmark's René Redzepi and our very own José Andrés.

Despite Adrià's culinary success, I was skeptical about the beer. Adrià is known for his skill in the kitchen, his culinary vision and his very exclusive restaurant in Catalonia, Spain. The only thing he exports to the world is talented chefs. The beer seems like something dreamed up by marketers and accountants to take advantage of the popularity of craft beer. It's made by a brewery that's best known for its popular lager, Estrella, and partially owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev, a corporate behemoth better known for hostile takeovers than quality beer.

Frankly, Adrià's beer seems like a gimmick, but I don't know for what. Is it meant to draw attention to a restaurant none of us will visit or a chef that none of us will meet? If you visit Inedit's Website (yes, it has it's own Website), you can find tasting notes, instructions on how to serve it (thus the white wine glass), and a series of incredibly pretentious videos in multiple languages.

On the other hand, the 750 ml bottle of Inedit was $10 at Whole Foods, so the price alone makes it worth trying.

The first thing that jumped out at me was the fact that the beer wasn't a traditional light lager. The Spanish love beer, but they primarily drink pale lagers. Inedit is more of a witbier, equally refreshing in hot climates like Spain, but more popular in Belgium and the U.S. According to the fancy booklet tied to the bottle, the beer is a lager/wheat blend. The 4.8 percent beer pours a cloudy straw color. It's crisp, a little sweet, with a faint orange peel flavor. For a $10 beer, it's good.

DSCN5515 But that's the thing. It's just good. Why would one of the most respected chefs in the world go out of his way to put his name on a beer that's just ok? If it's a first step toward a few tapas joints in Barcelona, then I'm not sure I'd want such a pedestrian beer to be my flagship. In one of the promotional videos, Adrià says Inedit fills a need for a proper beer to accompany food. That's ridiculous, of course. The variety of traditional Eurpean and American craft beers being made today - including Belgian witte beers - more than fills whatever gap Adrià and S.A. Damm allege.

Don't get me wrong, it's a good beer. But when Ferran Adrià produces a beer, you expect something great. On the other hand, it's $10 a bottle, and that's the important thing. Ignore the self-important black and white photo on the dangling brochure, ignore the pedigree, and just enjoy a good beer at a good price. Because once you start thinking more about it, it only gets worse.

Grilled lemon quail
(Makes four servings)

DSCN5505 8 semi-boneless quail, two per person
1 lemon, halved
4 tbs. olive oil
1 tbs. balsamic vinegar
Salt and black pepper to taste
Pita bread
Tabouli salad (optional)

This is a very fast recipe. The birds take 10 minutes to cook, so you'll probably spend more time getting the grill ready.

DSCN5514 As you're heating up your grill, pull the quail out of refrigerator and season both sides of the birds with salt and pepper and two tablespoons of olive oil. Grill the birds directly over the hottest part of grill for five minutes per side with the lid down. Grill the lemon halves for the full 10 minutes slightly off the hot spot.

Remove, dress with the hot lemon juice, remaining olive oil and balsamic, and eat ... with your hands.


Mussel Bar: First Impressions

Mussel_Bar_ChefsIn the months, weeks and finally days leading up to the opening of Mussel Bar, Robert Wiedmaier's new restaurant in Bethesda, you could hear people talking on the street about it. "I can't wait for that place to open!" I heard groups of people say as we passed by. People were definitely looking forward to this place opening.  It's been a long time since a new restaurant like this came in Bethesda. The last one I can remember is Redwood, and we all know how that went.  

Anyway, Mussel Bar finally opened on Thursday, after pushing back the opening day from Wednesday. Another reason I could tell it was long awaited? The already hour-long wait when Amy and I arrived Friday night at barely 6:30. Luckily, the small bar was no more than one level of people deep so we were able to get a beer and wait it out. We heard the wait times increasing, one hour and ten minutes, 1 hour and 20 minutes, until when we were finally seated, 1 hour and 30 minutes. Not bad for it only being your second night open.

When you first enter the restaurant, the aroma of the mussels and all the broths is intoxicating. Someone should bottle this as a perfume/cologne and sell it. There is not much of a waiting area, so you are forced to congregate around the bar, which isn't very large itself. Overall, the entire restaurant seats a maximum of 125 people, which makes me think there will be many long waits in the future for people.

Tap_listAs with most of Robert Wiedmaier's restaurants, beers, not wines, are the focus. A small selection of draft beers is available, with a large (not Brickskeller large) selection of bottled beers. On tap Friday night, were Brabo Pils, Delirium Tremens, Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor, Gouden Carolus Tripel, Kasteel Rouge, and Kasteel Donker. Prices for the draft beers range from $7 to $13, which was a little pricey in my opinion. At least that's what I thought at first, until I tried the Gouden Carolus Tripel and realized what I'd been missing all these years. While we were waiting at the bar, a guy came up and ordered a Bud Light. "Sorry sir, we don't have Bud Light," the bartender said. 

"Do you have any light beers?" he replied.

"No sir, we don't." 

(I'll leave the any further beer analysis to the likes of Drew and Rob since they know a lot more in this area than I.) 

Once we were finally seated, everything went pretty smoothly, particularly for a new restaurant getting so thoroughly slammed on its second night open. Our waiter explained the menu, which was not too complex. There is a small selection of salads and soups ranging in price from $7.50 to $15. It was way too hot out for soup, so we chose a couple of light salads; one with roasted beets, grapefruit, cumin, herbed yogurt, and a confit of lemons and raisins, and the other an asparagus salad with a poached egg and bacon. Both were very big successes 

Mussels_at_mussel_bar Of course, Mussel Bar has moules frites and are all $16. The mussels are all “Blue Bay” Prince Edward Island mussels, which is what you would expect. There are also some wood-fired tarts, which are basically flatbreads/pizzas, and some sandwiches. If you're looking for something on the larger side, there are three entrees including a short rib bolognese pappardelle available in a full or half portion, a grilled strip steak, and a grilled Atlantic salmon. that range in price from $22 to $24.

We figured getting anything other than mussels on our first visit would be criminal, so Amy and I both ordered our own. Amy beat me to ordering the wild 'shroom preparation with pancetta, Parmesan, and truffle cream, so I went with the "classic" mussels with garlic, shallot and white wine broth. The staff deliver the mussels in piping hot cast iron pans. Upon placing them on the dining table, the staff took the covers off the pans and oh, man, it smelled so good. We took deep breaths and then dug in. I was loving the "classic" mussels I had ordered, but after trying Amy's 'shroom mussels, mine just seemed outright bland. I think the added touch of truffle is really what made them stand out. 

Mussel_Bar_frites The mussels themselves were cooked well, but my only complaint is that there were a good deal of mussels with a tiny amount of meat inside. The frites were very crispy and made for good dipping in the mussel broth as we ate. Although, I would not say the frites are classic frites that follow the fry and bake cooking approach, but thought they were delicious.

We skipped dessert because we were full, and the dessert selection is not especially tempting. You have a choice of vanilla or chocolate ice cream and a vanilla creme brulee. While Amy is a big fan of creme brulee, she was way too full to eat anymore.

Overall, our first visit to Mussel Bar was very successful and we'll definitely be going back. I only hope that things calm down a bit in the coming months and the wait goes down. If the wait scares you, you probably want to get there on the very early side, or try a weeknight (although not Monday night -- they're closed).

Mussel Bar
262 Woodmont Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20814
301.215.7817
www.musselbar.com