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I love this label.

Not long ago I was driving Cari to the airport in Raleigh, NC and while passing through Hillsborough we decided to kill some time by going to a co-op market I had seen along the way. The Weaver Street Market is worthy of an article all it own, so I’ll reserve that for the spring and go back when their patio is open. After a brief tour we found ourselves in a brightly lit and magnificently stocked beer aisle. To my delight there was a nice selection of 750ml bottles including some of my favorite Belgians and Belgian style ales.

After five minutes Cari was staring at me impatiently and I had to make a decision. My eye was caught by a bright blue and gold label and I had made up my mind. My pick was an ale by Brewery Ommegang in upstate New York. They have been brewing only Belgian style ales since opening in 1997. As I found out, they’ve developed quit a recipe and expertise in their 13 years of brewing.

I think what first drew me to the Hennepin was the label, as I don’t often go for saisons. The contemporary design juxtaposed against the boast of Belgian providence and the words “BOTTLE CONDITIONED” said to me that this bottle is making a bold statement, and I like that. I initially intended to let the brew age in my closet for six months or so, but after less than four weeks I cracked it open. While it was still winter, I decided to put their claim, “Hennepin is the perfect ale for all seasons” to the test.

Review

After my initial pour which produced a solid head, I was overtaken by the color which is vibrant and golden not unlike the label. The ale developed a good head and lots of bubbles. In fact the beer was surprisingly carbonated, which I think suits such a bright summery ale. The first sip gave me a mouthful of bubbly head, which tastes bright, wheaty, and slightly of citrus.

The nose is a touch astringent and reminds me of spring flowers and verbena in a wet burlap sack… in a good way. Saisons can often have a surprising nose, something about the spices and aromatics being welled up by the high carbonation make for quite an experience. In this case it did a wonderful job of setting the tone for the overall tasting.

Initially my first full sip past the head was light and a touch buttery. Hennepin is quite hoppy and floral but less so than an IPA or Triple Ale.  Its only a touch bitter at the end. Notes of wild flower honey, ginger, and coriander were a nice surprise. The ginger really helps it live up the the “for all seasons” claim on their site. The finish is very crisp and clean with notes of citrus and flowers. The after taste is barely perceptible, and pleasant.

The Rating: Highly Recommended

A layer of foam hangs pleasantly around the glass as the ale recedes, as if to say good choice. Overall I loved this ale. I had it with some wheat crackers and Dubliner from Kerry Gold, some walnuts, and some toast points with honey.

Some parings:

  • Dubliner irish chedar from Kerry Gold or even better a Keswick Cheddar
  • Crusty bread with honey and sea salt
  • Coriander crusted tuna, cooked rare
  • Arugula
  • Frites with a lemon aioli

For more great beer reviews visit our friend’s blog, A Beer For Everyone.

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From the Checkered Pig Fan Page

Amazing Brisket is a Rare and Beautiful Thing

Brisket is easily my favorite food ever, and I take it upon myself to seek it out anywhere I go in the United States. From New York to South Carolina and all the way out to Chicago, the nation is falling in love with barbecue, and I am both an evangelist and critic of this slow-cooked succulent style of preparing meat. Without hashing out the history and minutia of barbecue,  it involves smoking meat and cooking it over low heat (except in the North, where it is generally cooked with direct heat) producing a smoky, juicy product that is more tender and delicious than the particular cut could otherwise be.

With brisket, the process is especially important because the cut comes from the breast of the cow and it is full of connective tissue and dense muscle. However, connective tissue results in big flavor when it breaks down with fats and saturates the surrounding meat. As a result, what starts as the toughest part between the hoofs and horns can transform into a truly magnificent piece of beef. The very nature of the cut is such that good and mediocre preparations are miles apart. In my experience, most barbecue restaurants don’t make very good brisket. Either they rush it, over- or under- season it, cut corners in smoking or preparation, or at times they just don’t understand the cut, and then in the end the brisket will be dry, tough, and flavorless.

The Pig is King

As I mentioned, when I travel I make a point of eating at barbecue restaurants whenever I come across them. So far I haven’t had the pleasure of testing the barbecue in either Oklahoma or Texas, which is a problem I hope to remedy. Brisket was originally a cowboy cut,  and I imagine it is very good in Texas. That being said, the best barbecue places I have found are a Texas style barbecue restaurant in Kentucky (the name of which I now forget), and surprisingly (for me, anyway) a small place in my home town. On a trip to visit my family over the summer I discovered the Checkered Pig, and my life has changed. Well, at least my standards in good brisket have changed.

Dinner

Checkered Pig is apparently named for, and equally well known for ,their pork shoulder – but who cares when the brisket is this good. Don’t get me wrong, the pork is great, and they win awards for that as well, but the brisket is so good I will literally eat it all day. In fact, last week I did eat Checkered Pig’s brisket all day. I went to the Danville location for lunch and settled up to a New Castle, a brisket sandwich, and fries. The Brown Ale is great with brisket, but that’s beside the point. The sandwich is cheap and piled high with brisket in a regular bun with a bit of sauce. It is strictly a no-frills affair, and for good reason. Even with a slosh of the excellent house-made hot sauce and BBQ sauce, I could easily bite cleanly through the sandwich without losing brisket on either end, a rare feat for a dish like this.

The ease with which I ate my meal speaks to the tenderness and texture and quality of the meat. The texture is perfect – just a little spring on the tooth and then it melts on the tongue. The taste is buttery, smoky, spicy, and beefy. Looking at a slice of the meat you can see a distinct thick pink smoke ring all the way around, and you can taste the time and effort that went into creating that marker of good smoked meat. The bark (or ‘crust’ for the non-barbecue-aficionados) is crunchy, subtle, and full of flavor. You can easily detect paprika, onion, garlic, sugar, molasses (likely from brown sugar,) and many other spices. It is beefy perfection between bread.

The Numbers

Taste 5 of 5

Appearance 5 of 5

Texture 5 of 5

Then I Went Back For More…

The brisket is so good, in fact, that after it settled I got back in my car and went to their drive-through for dinner. Yes, it is so popular, they need a drive-through window in addition to the main restaurant. Sadly, state law prohibited them from passing me a six-pack through the window along with my dinner. The above photo was my dinner – well, there were also fries, a sweet potato, and hush puppies, all delicious in their own right –  but who wants to hear about starch when there’s a steaming delicious pound of meat on the plate. In short, if you’re ever in Martinsville or Danville, VA,  GO TO CHECKERED PIG. If you live in Greensboro, NC, just hop on 29 N, and Checkered Pig is less than an hour away.

For more information (and barbecue worship) check them out on Facebook. The previous post on The Garlic Press is a video of the guys from the Checkered Pig in competition.

Checkered Pig on Urbanspoon

Whiskey, whether Bourbon or otherwise, is generally the favorite spirit here at the Garlic Press. The word “whiskey ” comes from an English approximation of the Gaelic uisce beatha, itself a translation of the Latin aqua vitae, or “water of life.” As an ingredient or beverage this spirit certainly lives up to the name. In fact, as of 1964 whiskey is the official spirit of the United States, in honor of its importance culturally and as a trade good in the development of the nation. Steeped in history and full of flavor, it should come as no surprise that we are among the devotees of this spirit. As such, we hold this complex drink to very high standards.

This month we have decided, after a friend’s recommendation, to review Bulleit Bourbon. The Kentucky native is unique among whiskies, weighing in at 30% rye – the highest by far of any non-rye whiskey. This results in a sweet, nutty, and complex flavor. Bulleit is aged  for a minimum of six years in the traditional white oak barrels.

Review

The bottle is an absolute classic, with a shape inspired by antique medicine bottles. The raised lettering in the glass and cork stopper give Bulleit the look of a much more expensive bourbon (Think 1792 Reserve.) The label is inspired in a similar fashion and applied diagonally, giving the aesthetic character of a true small batch whiskey.

Tasting notes begin with honey and herbs and a mild spice note. As it rolls across the palate the careful taster will pick up oats and sweetness, not unlike corn. The finish is long and warm but without the fire typical of Jim Beam products.

On the nose, Bulleit is equally complex floral, earthy, sweet, and has in its background a slight cinnamon aroma. The smell should be pleasant even to those that may cringe in the face of Irish water.

The Bottom Line

Overall, for $23 – $32 dollars Bulleit Bourbon is a great choice, especially in states where it is closer to $23. Look for this whiskey in PA or MD to really impress your friends on the cheap. The attractive bottle makes Bulleit more than appropriate as a gift, especially for friends in their mid twenties.  At $23 for 750ml of 90 proof deliciousness you can drink yourself clever without so much as ice or a glass to pour it into.

  • For bonus points marinade a filet in a mix of Bulleit, honey mustard, garlic and rosemary.