DRAFT PICKS: Learning to cook with beer

My best buddy and his best friend recently gifted us a meal at my favorite restaurant in Michigan.

Any who know me at all also know that at the drop of a hat I can wax poetic about Amical on Front Street in Traverse City.

Having gift card in hand, and having gone through a very ... uncomfortable ... weekend with no water, electricity, or heat in our new abode, my Dearly Beloved and I headed north to spoil ourselves with a great meal.

It was a wise decision.

Amical has a regular series throughout the fall and winter called The Cookbook Dinner Series during which time the chefs take five or six famous cookbooks, give each a week or two, and offer a full number of entrees taken from that specific cookbook.

One session may involve Thai food, and French bistro specialties may be offered the next.

The change in menu is always a culinary joy.

So ... off we went to TC and an evening’s festive board at Amical.

And then ... only on arrival ... and completely coincidentally ... we found that this week’s Cookbook Dinner Series offerings were from The American Craft Brew Cookbook by John Holl.

I must be leading a pure life!

The Light of My Life and the reason for my existence enjoyed a generous portion of Pomegranate Trout - Harrietta Hills rainbow trout, with a pomegranate-lemon stuffing, bathed in a gentle Short’s Brewery Soft Parade butter sauce, (Page 251 in the cookbook.)

I opted for the Venison Stew with Drettmann Ranch venison, Right Brain C.E.O. Stout, fresh herbs, fingerling potatoes, mirepoix - mirepoix is a mixture of chopped celery, onions, and carrots — (Page 155 in the cookbook.)

The meals were simply divine, and the use of beer in cooking was inspired.

I asked chef how the stout was used in my exceptional stew.

I was told that rather than simply pouring a bottle of stout ale in the stew pot, he “reduced” the already creamy brew down quite a bit.

“Reducing” is a method lessening the amount of liquid in a recipe element by boiling it out.

When you “reduce” or evaporate the liquid, the end result is a much more intense and concentrated flavor and a more gravy-like consistency.

The venison stew was simply out of this world, and the use of Right Brain’s CEO Stout was a stroke of genius.

Stouts, porters and other more hefty brews are wonderful in cooking - especially soups and stews.

You don’t need to search for the exotic stouts and expensive brews. Members of my family love a simple stew I make using Leiniekugle Creamy Dark.

It is hearty, full-bodied, and exceptionally warming on a cool autumn or cold winter’s day.

Ahhhhhhh ... cooking with beer.

This is an unsung way of enjoying the rich flavors of beer without drinking them.

And now, this week’s offerings.

Double Stout

Green Flash Brewing Co.

San Diego, Calif. 

I simply love these big bodied, ever-so-creamy stouts that deserve the title “Imperial.”

I’ve never had a brew produced by Green Flash. This one certainly earned my appreciation for the brewers’ artistic rendering of a classic styling.

Double Stout pours pure black and offers up a head of tan of darkish beige foam which certainly isn’t shy. (I had an uncle who used the expression “Black as the Earl of Hell’s waistcoat” on occasion. This would be a suitable description of Double Stout.)

The first sniff reveals a surprisingly mild brew that is obvious but not overly expressive in the combined aroma of good coffee, dark chocolate, and a very well-considered malt list.

Take another whiff. It is so enjoyable.

Do they make candles like this???

There is simply a ton of flavor racing through the mouth at first wash. It’s a holiday!

Lots and lots of coffee with a full-packed dose of chocolate. There is a lasting background of malts, and the whole mix creates a certain creaminess that simply is exciting.

There isn’t a lot of fizziness to disturb the creamy sensation.

Gosh, this is good.

Despite the descriptives, this couldn’t be described as a sweet stout. It is full-bodied, full of taste, and a hearty drink especially suitable — at just about cellar temperature - for a winter session of deep discussion and hearty fellowship.

I can’t recommend Double Stout enough.

Although this brew was gifted me, it is available in better shops around the central Michigan area.


O’Fallon Brewery

O’Fallon, Mo. 

Grasping desperately at the last vestiges of ‘normal’ Michigan weather, I sipped this crisp, clean fruit beer on the deck last weekend, (with a misty, rain-snow mix drifting down all the while!)

It was fun.

Wheach pours a bit cloudy — a somewhat dusky yellow color with a decent layer of early head that disappears rather quickly. This is a touch fizzier than I really like.

Wheach is a fruity brew with a good nose of dried fruit and a touch of florals.

There is almost an apple cider quality to the nose — more than the peach which this is tagged to be. Whatever the case, it is certainly not unpleasant, and actually very inviting.

There also is a strong wheat beer background which is always a good thing in my book.

The peach taste really expresses itself at first wash but is muted and not overwhelming in the least.

Wheach is less a fruit beer, and more an enhanced wheat beer which says a lot for the thought process in the development stage.

It is a touch sweet, but not too much so.

It is a smidge fruity, but not Kool Aid-esque.

It is certainly refreshing, and probably much more suitable to a warm summer’s day, than a sit on the deck in a season’s inaugural snow shower!

I enjoyed Wheach a lot. Fresh, frisky, and just fruity enough to make it a special experience.

Good stuff, but you might want to wait ‘til summer.

Wait ... I wonder how this will complement a nice peach cobbler if it isn’t fully chilled.

Hmmmmmmm ...