Friday, December 11, 2009

FoodTrek: Cheers to Winter Beers

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas... when you've got a beer in-hand...What...? You mean that's not how the song goes? Well let me put down my frosty beverage and convince the disbelievers how Winter Beer Fest 2009 was plenty festive and brought a good deal of joy to world last weekend at Hale's Ales Brewery and Pub. You'll be wanting to leave a plate of bittersweet dark chocolate and a frosty nitro-poured pint of porter for Santa this year. Don't worry, Rudolph is cool about being the DD.

Beering it up with Pike Brewery - Photo by Wasabi Prime

Held in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, this annual event presented by the Washington Beer Commission is designed to showcase late-season beers from Washington beermakers. We are very fortunate, as there are a lot of breweries in the Pacific Northwest, many award-winning, and even more independent hidden-gem breweries that create some truly well-crafted brews. Winter beers tend to be dark caramel or smoky in color, with a malty rich flavor. Much like the way late harvest foods take on the distinctive notes of rosemary, juniper, coriander and other strongly-flavored botannicals and spices, beers will do the same, along with infusing the distinctive smokiness of oak and peat, like in a scotch ale. Heavier-flavored beers like stouts, porters and bocks often take on bitter notes of chocolate or coffee. This worked out perfectly, as hometeam favorites, Caffe Vita and Chocolate Box were a couple of the prominent sponsors of the event, providing decadent sweets and delicious java to pair with the beers.

Hale's Palladium - Thunderdome was already booked that day. Photos by Wasabi Prime

The Prime received an early holiday gift this year -- fellow food blogger The Hungry Dog was kind enough to bestow an Honest Scrap Award to Wasabi Prime. It's a kind and thoughtful way of passing along the blessings of kudos and support, of which I am totally honored to receive! I raise a glass to fuzzy Frances' food-bloggin' mama, who not only has a great blog that lets readers follow her delicious cooking adventures, she has a writing style that has a great deal of heart and it's easy to become very connected to this person's world. Plus, she loves her dog like crazy, and for all those who have fuzzy children of their own, what's not to love about that?

Fern latte, holiday lights, happy discoveries and hey -- I got a beverage here, man! Photos by Wasabi Prime

Instead of a general list, here are Ten Honest Things about my thoughts on beer and this festival in particular:

1. Porters are probably my favorite kind of beer, so the Winter Beer Festival was like a frothy nirvana, topped off with chocolate samples and lattes. So this is what heaven looks like!

2. Black Raven Brewing Bourbon Barrel-Aged La Petite Mort really does give you the "O" face. This was my surprise favorite for the day. I had tried Black Raven's brews before, and they had good flavor, but this special beer was a real gem, having the barrel-aged flavor of whisky and a nice bitterness to keep you savoring it and wishing you were wearing a silk smoking jacket in front of a giant fireplace.

3. Lebowski Fans Love the Lebrewskis. If you love beer, get to know The Big Lebowski, the Cohen Brothers' operatic bowling-themed film that stumbles through a haze of pot smoke. Naked City Brewery made a beer called The Big Lebowski, an Imperial cream stout aged on Kahlua-soaked oak -- the beer equivalent of a White Russian, or I should say, the Caucasian, which is the preferred nomenclature of the Dude's favorite beverage, man. Nice marmot.

4. I love fancy-drawn things in lattes, because they remind me to slow down. So when the nice folks at Caffe Vita drew the lovely little feathery fern in my latte, I made sure to take the time and really enjoy it amidst the drunken chaos around me. And they were most kind to be handing out bags of delicious coffee beans -- thanks Caffe Vita!

5. There's never enough time or tokens to try everything. Granted, you can purchase more sample tokens, but by the time you whittle through them, your palate is hosed. That's the one thing about beer festivals; you're drinking, not sampling. It's not a bad thing, but make sure you have your must-try choices first, to really enjoy them with a fresh and sober palate. By the time you're down to the last samples, all you want is a cheeseburger to soak up the alcohol.

6. Holiday decorations are my Prozac. All the holiday lights and general festoonification made for an all-around happy mood -- for serious, this was even before my first beer sample!

7. Chocolate beer can be misleading. I don't want to give chocoholics the wrong idea -- these beers aren't like a mocha. I had Lisa's Chocolate Stout from Georgetown Brewing, and it was made with Theo Chocolate, but it had more of the true cacao flavor, which is to say it was bold, and the malt helped round out the bitterness of pure chocolate. Give chocolate-flavored beers a try, but don't think you're getting a Snickers Bar; enjoy it like you would savor a good coffee.

8. I am a sucker for pumpkin ales. Elysian Brewery's pumpkin spice has always been my favorite, but that was an Oktoberfest beer and that season has passed. I indulged in Diamond Knot's holdout stash of pumpkin ale that they were serving up at the festival. Not as pumpkin spice-sweet as Elysian's, and tasted more true to the pumpkin's flavor.

9. I hate letting beer go to waste. While I didn't pick any duds at this festival, I've been at other beer festivals where people's reactions to the beer was, "Did it go bad?" I'll still drink it, even to much squinchy-face making. I'm not sure if that makes me a trooper or an alcoholic.

10. I have more fun at beer festivals than wine festivals. Not that I don't enjoy wine or being amongst other winos, I just feel more at ease with the hop-heads. Sure, there's a higher likelihood of frathouse hooliganism, but that's kind of fun, too. And there is always the inevitable sighting of The Admiral, this guy that is at every beer festival wearing aviator sunglasses, a Navy cap, videotaping everything, and kind of looks like Stan Lee. If you've been to any of the festivals here, you know what I'm sayin'.

To round out my duties as the recipient of an Honest Scrap Award, I am to list seven other blogs to recommend. Given the subject of this post, I would like to list several sites that are hearty supporters of frosty beverages of all sorts:

Wine and Beer of Washington State
Washington Beer Blog
Mark Sexauer's Cocktail Blog
LUPEC (Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails)
Foodista - Night School at the Sorrento Hotel
One Pot - Experiments in Table-Making

Cheers to beers - yes, we all Tweeted/Facebooked while we were there. Photos by Wasabi Prime

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  1. Great post. I agree on so many levels. Things drawn in lattes, holiday lights, and the chocolate stout. My favorite is Youngs. R&R

  2. Glug glug... love beer, love festivals! there's something about the words "beer" and "festivals" that's very enticing (together and on its own!)

    the funny thing about festivals is that I do believe they're best enjoyed out of your own country, for some strange reason.

    ale rocks too =) and kudos on the love latte art.

  3. I'm with you on the favourite too. I like big, gutsy beers.

    I'll be showing this post to my local beer shop, which is more of a beer treasure trove, run by a bearded young man who knows nearly everything there is to know about the stuff. He searches, imports, promotes, sells and tastes a vast, vast range. The Pacific Northwest is well represented on his heaving shelves already.

    There are some great micro and small breweries over there - you're very lucky to have them. Here in the UK, we've got a long and proud tradition of brewing, which of course, yours is directly descended from, but the smaller breweries have taken a battering over the last couple of decades at the hands of the multinationals peddling bland Australian lager.

    Things are changing fast, though, and we're seeing plenty of tiny little breweries cropping up and brewing some excellent beer. There's one bar in Leeds that brews it's own lager on site - they have so little capacity that nothing actually ever leaves the's all sold and drunk on site, and it's extremely good too.

    That's how things should be.

  4. We are a bit lacking in the brew pub department here...sure do miss those west coast brew fests. Thanks for sharing your fun with us~great recap.

  5. Great recap! My husband's the drink guy (microbrews, wines, anything really - so I know he'll enjoy this post too!), but I do enjoy the dark oatmeal stouts the best. And I'm with you on the latte art - so pretty and elevates my coffee experience!

  6. High five on porter love! Though I'm still of the opinion that nothing beats a great schwarzbier...

  7. I like my beers big bold and malty so Winter Brewfest is usually one of my favorite festivals.
    Thanks for the shout out for our blog. I love that we both refered to fireplaces when singing the praises of the La Petit Mort, it-get-better/


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