The dinner showcased new releases from Sierra Nevada Brewery and Boulevard Brewing Co., including Terra Incognita, a collaboration between the two breweries, paired with specially-designed dishes from Chef Adam Dulye.
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I'll drink a stout any day of the year, but it's impossible to argue with dark beer in winter. Considering stresses that can accompany December, you're forgiven for reaching for stouts with a bit more nerve-soothing booze than usual. Enter imperial stout, or as I like to describe it to Irish stout loyalists: "three Guinnesses in one glass."
In addition to being a fine excuse to drink German lager, in the beer world, October is hophead Christmas. Every year more and more breweries produce "wet hopped" beers using hops that have not been dried in a kiln to preserve them. (You'll also hear the terms "fresh hopped" and "harvest," which—with the exception of some semantic beer geek controversy—are generally considered synonymous.) When tasted fresh, these beers pack an extra-special hop punch and are coveted by many.
American beer geeks have consistently worshiped the iconic hops of the Pacific Northwest: the grapefruity Cascade, the orangey Amarillo, the resinous Columbus. This obsession will likely continue into infinity, but there's a recent trend in American craft beer that bears acknowledgement: the growing popularity of Southern Hemisphere hop varieties, particularly from New Zealand and Australia.
While it doesn't get much better than sipping Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale from the tanks or the chance to try unique beers from previous Beer Camps every night in the brewery's taproom, Sierra Nevada's commitment not only to their employees but to sustainability and to protecting the environment left me inspired and excited for them to call North Carolina their second home.
Barleywines, even in a field of brews with ever-increasing ABVs, are among the biggest of the bunch. They're characterized by their strength, depth, and complexity. Barleywines fall into two categories: English and American. The original English interpretations place a greater emphasis on rich malt and can be darker and fruitier. American barleywines dial up the hop intensity but the best still maintain balance. The significant malt character in a proper American barleywine, often equal to or greater than the hop presence, is what distinguishes it from an imperial IPA.
I honestly can't tell you the last time that I walked out of a bottle shop carrying only the beer I went in to purchase. There's always a new release, an obscure bottle, or something I forgot I needed before I went inside. Last year my wife, Lauren, and I went bottle shopping while visiting one of her high school friends outside Baltimore. On one of the lower shelves in a local beer shop, I found a cache of Sierra Nevada Bigfoot from 2008 to 2011. I can't say I went into that store looking for a four-year vertical of American barleywines, but I had a good feeling about the way the staff was storing their beers and the opportunity was way too convenient to pass up. It was an impulse buy, no doubt, but one with merit.
Brewers have been known to describe pilsners as the hardest style of beer to produce. Good pilsners have clean, light malt flavors like grain and crackers, often backed up by herbal and grassy hops. There are only a few ingredients in most pilsners, and they're outwardly simple beers. This simplicity and minimalism means there's nowhere for a brewer to hide flaws in their method—imperfections are laid bare to taste and smell. That said, I was blown away by the generally high quality of the US-brewed pilsners we tasted for this roundup.