Sub-hed: In which Gary Dzen tries to make a beer lover out of me
Once upon a time I liked beer. This was back in my early 20s when I was living in Wisconsin (a great beer-producing state), and I could eat anything I wanted and still fit into my pants the next day. My then-boyfriend and I would pass hours eating brats and drinking local beers- everything from Miller Lite to Sprecher Black Bavarian was fair game. These were the days when Leinenkugel wasn’t available out of state, and the folks that started New Glarus hadn’t yet met the president. Back then, beer seemed to go with everything- from Friday night at a polka hall to a Saturday football tailgate outside Camp Randall to a Sunday afternoon fishing trip (fun fact: I learned to fish in Wisconsin). I drank beers at fine establishments along State Street, in taxidermy adorned bars in the state’s northern woods, and in my tiny studio apartment in Milwaukee’s Marquette neighborhood where I could smell the Miller Brewery just blocks away.
Then I moved to Florida, and everything changed. Gin and tonics tasted better in the semi-tropical nights, and on the occasion I wanted a beer, Corona Light and Coors would have to do. Little has changed since then. Summers, I drink gin and cheap light beer. During winter, the last thing I want is a cold drink in my hand, particularly one that fills you up like Thanksgiving dinner. Pass the red wine.
When I befriended Boston.com beer blogger Gary Dzen a few months ago, I could see the hurt in his eyes when I proclaimed Coors my favorite beer. “We gotta work on that,” he said. I just nodded and reached for a can with blue mountains. But true to his word, Gary called a few weeks ago and asked if I’d help him taste beers for his “12 beers of Christmas” column. I agreed, mostly because he played up to my ego and also asked me to cook for it. But I was more excited about my chicken chili than I was about any of the beers Gary wanted to try.
Last week, six of us convened for an evening of beer tasting. Gary had done a lot of research and arrived with a large box filled with cans and bottle of various sizes. Being the connoisseur of fine things that I am, I was most excited for the beers with pretty labels. Chili was served, and tasting commenced.
The first thing I realized is that I know nothing about tasting beer. While I could say “Yeah, I like that” and “This is gross” I had a hard time quantifying any of my claims. While others talked about flavors popping and citrus notes, I said things like “This one smells like an old lady.” Not exactly insightful.
The second thing I learned is that you can’t judge a beer by it’s cover. I always thoughts that dark beer = heavy beer, but that isn’t always the case. There were just as many lighter colored beers that I didn’t like as there were dark ones. That said, there were some that I did like.
Which brings me to my third point: I remembered why I used to like beer. Beer can be as complex as wine, and it can be delicious. While I don’t think I’ll ever be a freak for hops, or crazy about malts, I do firmly enjoy Belgian ales. A few of my favorites of the night: Vineland One, Hibernation Ale, and Delirium Noel. If beer’s your thing, or you want to learn more, you can read Gary’s full review here.
Lastly, beer seems like a much more viable option when looking to buy local, which is something I think about as it pertains to food, but not as much when it comes to drink. New England wines are not ever going to do it for me, but beers are another thing. I’m already a huge fan of Pretty Things, Harpoon and Sam Adams, but Gary’s tasting made me realize that I’ve just scratched the surface. Mystic Brewery, Mayflower and Notch (to name a few) are all doing interesting things, much more worthy of a taste than a no-name glass of Cabernet. Gary may not have made a beer drinker out of me yet, but he’s greatly improved the chances that I’ll venture out of my comfort zone when I imbibe in the future.
And that chili I was so excited about? It was delicious too. Lest you think beer is only good for drinking, I highly recommend cooking with it as well.
White chicken and beer chili
2 lb ground turkey/chicken
2 onions, diced
4 cloves garlic
1 10-oz can green chile, chopped
6 cups chicken stock
1 12 oz bottle beer (I used Sam Adams Boston Ale)
1 lb dried navy beans (do not soak)
2 bay leaves
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp smoked black pepper
salt to taste
2 Tablespoons chili seasoning
shredded cheese, sour cream, chopped onion, cilantro
Heat a large dutch oven over medium-high heat and cook chicken until done. Drain meat and set aside. In same pot, heat a glug of olive oil over medium heat and saute onions and garlic. When onions are translucent (~2 minutes) add green chile, stock, beer, beans and spices. Return chicken to pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer 6 to 8 hours (You can also cook over night in a 250 degree oven) until beans are tender and mixture thickens. Makes about 10 servings. People will want seconds.