Brewery Visit: The Rare Barrel (Berkeley, CA)

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Based out of Berkeley, California, The Rare Barrel is an exclusively-sour beer brewery at the forefront of the sour beer renaissance (currently the hottest trend in craft beer). In a pool of heavyweight breweries– think de Garde, Jolly Pumpkin, Lost Abbey, Almanac, Jester King, Wicked Weed — The Rare Barrel is, arguably, the best in the world right now at what they do.

Sour beer is complex, expensive and still largely misunderstood by the majority of beer drinkers. While almost always fermented with tart fruits, it is, in fact, the unique bacteria strains and barrel aging process that give sour beer their unique tart and funky taste. If you’ve never tried one, the best description is like drinking a cross between white wine and lemonade, with varying degrees of tartness. Sour beer is on the opposite spectrum of the bitter hop-bomb IPAs that have dominated the craft beer landscape over the five years. In that respect, they are refreshing, in more ways than one.

Situated in an industrial neighborhood, The Rare Barrel’s facility looks more like a warehouse than a brewery. It’s 20+ foot ceilings are stacked to the brim with rows of barrel racks, each filled with beers that need time (some, several years) to mature. Each barrel is like a fingerprint, imparting it’s own unique flavor profile to the batch as it ferments.

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And there really is a search for that rare barrel amongst their collection. Each year, beer sommeliers and enthusiasts alike sample from each of the barrels in the warehouse, until they’ve come to a consensus on the best batch. That barrel is deemed the Rare Barrel.

I’ve visited The Rare Barrel a half dozen times, and each time they have an array of blends on tap, several bottles for purchase and a delicious sourdough grilled cheese to pair with your beer (and pair you should!). Unlike most other breweries today, The Rare Barrel does not offer growler fills to the general public. Given the rarity of what they’re producing, they simply can’t keep up with demand. If you want a growler filled, you need to be one of the lucky few who lands a membership in their Ambassador of Sour club. If I l lived in NoCal, no doubt, I’d want to join that club!

Tip: Finding The Rare Barrel’s bottles outside of the brewery is legendarily difficult. On my last trip, I was led to a local grocery store down the block from the brewery called Berkeley Bowl West. Here, you’ll find several bottles that you can’t get in the brewery, along with bottles from many other fantastic breweries. The grocery store is also a great spot for hard to find cheeses and delicious ethnic treats.

 

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Recipe: Roasted Tomato & Leek Soup

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Most people think of soup as a winter staple, but tomatoes and leeks are at their prime in the late summer, and they are the star of this dish. This soup is bright and acidic, and pairs wonderfully with complimentary sour and/or fruit-based beers.

What you’ll need:

  • Tomatoes (any variety, as fresh off the vine as possible)
  • Leeks
  • Garlic
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Oregano (preferably fresh)
  • Thyme (preferably fresh)
  • Olive oil
  • A sour or fruit based beer (low IBU)
  1. Quarter the tomatoes; cut the leeks in half; remove garlic cloves from skin and cut in half
  2. Mix all vegetables in a large bowl with olive oil, and go light on the salt and pepper
  3. Mix in a small handfull of fresh thyme and oregano. Leave the stems on, we’re going to be blending the soup later.
  4. Pour just a few ounces of the beer and thoroughly mix all ingredients
  5. In a covered pot, bake at 350 degrees F for one hour (Note: The visual brightness of this soup is as important as the taste. It’s imperative you don’t color the vegetables)
  6. Remove from the oven and gently pour the content into a blenderBlend on high, ensuring the solids break down
  7. Pour the contents through a fine sieve, agitating to remove the liquid into a pot below
  8. Discard the remaining solids, and what you’re left with is a beautiful bright colored liquid
  9. Whisk a generous tablespoon of butter into the liquid, and bring to a boil if you find the consistency is too thin
  10. Lastly, season with salt and pepper for taste

I like to serve this soup with sourdough croutons (simply, day-old sourdough, salt, pepper, butter) because I find the sourdough plays well with the soup and the tart beer pairing. Other good options are Mexican crema (firm sour cream) or pickled radish.

Beer Pairing: Bellwoods Jelly King or Burdock’s ORIA Black Currant

 

Recipe: Cherry & Shallot Stuffing

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I got the inspiration for this recipe while on a recent trip to Michigan (Traverse City, MI is the cherry capital of the US), where I saw cherries being used in all kinds of sweet and savoury sauces, salsas and chutneys.

You can use this dish as a salsa or, like I did, as a stuffing for chicken, quail, pheasant or any game bird. Cherry’s pair fantastic with strong, dark beer; even in the middle of summer, don’t be afraid to pull a barrel aged stout or Belgian quad out of the cellar to compliment this dish.

  • Fresh red cherries
  • Shallots
  • Fresh thyme
  • Garlic
  • Salt
  • Olive oil
  • White wine vinegar
  1. Pit the cherries and slice them roughly. Remember, there’s beauty in asymmetry!
  2. Slice shallots and garlic
  3. Apply generous amount of fresh thyme leaves and olive oil
  4. Combine ingredients and finish with a pinch of salt and just a few drops of white wine vinegar
  5. Allow to marinate room temperature for 15 minutes before use

Beer Pairing: Trappistes Rochefort 8

Brewery Visit: Great Lakes Brewery (Etobicoke, ON)

Situated in Toronto’s up-and-coming Etobicoke borough, Great Lakes Brewery (GLB) has won the best brewery in Canada award twice (2013, 2014) and has established itself as craft brewing force in Ontario. It’s flagship beers — Canuck Pale Ale and Pompous Ass English Pale Ale — can be found in LCBO’s across the province, and were part of the first beers to hit Loblaw’s shelves this year when Ontario finally passed a bill allowing for beer to be sold in grocery stores.

As a craft beer fan, you’ve got to love what GLB has done with it’s Project X and Tank Ten series lines. Project X is a members-only program that allows GLB fans to a monthly tasting of GLB’s experimental beers. These beers are also sold out of the brewery’s bottle shop in very limited amounts, and they sell out quickly. Among 2015’s most memorable Project X brews includes Harry Porter and the Cherry Hoarder, GLB’s Harry Porter infused with cherries.

GLB also uses it’s Project X program as a test pilot for experimental beers. If a Project X brew has rave reviews, they may move it to the Tank Ten series, casting a wider production net. These beers are seasonal and may, on occasion, be available outside of the brewery’s bottle shop. In my opinion, Tank Ten is where GLB produces some of their best beers. Standout’s include Thrust! An IPA (possibly the best Canadian IPA on the market), Karma Citra, Audrey Hopburn and Octopus Wants to Fight.

The brewery is unassuming, on a small side street sandwiched between the Gardiner and the Queensway. Though they do have a small taproom, most of the best beers in their offering can be snatched up in the bottle shop. The staff is always super cool, and because GLB does a lot of tap takeover’s across the GTA, they become familiar faces on the Toronto beer scene.

Lastly, and worth mention, is GLB’s Blonde Lager. In my opinion, it’s very underrated, and one of the most refreshing beers in the Toronto beer market. If I’m out fishing, or headed to the cottage, this is one of my go-to brews.

Notable Brews

Blonde, Harry Porter and the Cherry Hoarder, Thrust! An IPA, Life Sentence IIPA, Imperial Bout Imperial Stout

Brewery Visit: Bellwoods Brewery (Toronto, ON)

 

Nestled on one of the hippest blocks in downtown Toronto, Bellwoods Brewery isn’t just one of the most innovative breweries in the city, it’s widely considered to be among the best in the world!

As a cellar keeper and collector of aged beer, Bellwoods is often my go-to local brewery for Brett-laced sours, boozy stouts and porters that only improve with time. Their barrel program is among the best in Canada, and constant releases drive fans to their bottle shop (which is open until 11PM everyday, by the way) on a regular basis.

Don’t let their big, barrel-aged releases overshadow the rest of the Bellwoods beer catalogue, though. They produce some solid IPA’s and session ales, too. Witchshark, Boogie Monster and Roman Candle are all regularly available and respectable IPAs.

Aside from consistently innovative and fantastic beer, Bellwood’s also has some of the most creative and visually appealing label art in the business. Most of the labels can be purchased in poster-form in the bottle shop, and all are man-cave worthy. Notable labels include Witchshark , Farmageddon and 3 Minutes to Midnight.

Perhaps the only downside to Bellwoods is the brew pub. Being located in the heart of Toronto’s hipster-ville, the small bar area is always full and I personally find the crowd pretentious. If you manage to get a spot, though, the bottle list always has some old gems from the Bellwoods vault. The food is not bad at all, but you should note that you’re in the heart of Ossington/Dundas West and food choices near the bar are varied and fantastic.

**Note: Bellwoods has recently announced plans to open two new locations in Toronto! The location on Hafis Road will be dedicated to production and storage with a bottle shop; the location on Dupont Street will be a brew pub and event space (events are not managed by Bellwoods). To read more about the progress, follow their blog here. 

www.bellwoodsbrewery.com

Recipe: BBQ Shrimp (Portuguese Style)

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There’s nothing more delicious — and simple! — than shrimp on the BBQ. Traditional Portuguese-style calls for shrimp with the heads on. While it might be intimidating, the heads preserve a fantastic amount of flavor and add to the presentation of the dish.

  • 13/15 shrimp, shell on, preferably with the heads on.
  • Portuguese Malagueta (pimento paste)
  • Sambal Oelek (Indonesian hot sauce)
  • Olive oil
  • White wine
  • Fresh cilantro or parsley, roughly chopped
  1. Combine Malagueta, Sambal Oelek, olive oil and white wine in a stainless steel bowl. Reserve half the sauce to the side.
  2. Toss the thawed shrimp with the other half of the sauce and allow to sit for a 10 minutes at room temperature.
  3. Bring grill to med-high heat and throw shrimp onto the grill. In case of flame-ups, keep an open beer handy!
  4. Seafood cooks very quickly on the grill. You’ll only need a couple minutes per side. Once the shell changes color and the tails start to burn, pull the shrimp off into a clean bowl
  5. Toss with the remaining sauce
  6. Finish with the chopped cilantro or parsely
  7. Crack open a crisp lager and mangia!

Beer Pairing: Singha Lager or GLB’s Blonde Lager

On Cooking

For me, food is tightly bound in memory, experience, culture and family. My greatest culinary influences are family members, and nearly every fond memory I have with them involves cooking. I do truly believe that great food is made with love; it’s not mechanical or scientific; great food, like memory and experience, is transcendent.

I am a man who likes to color outside of the lines, and so it should come as no surprise that I do not believe in following a recipe or measuring the ingredients that go into my creations. Cooking, for me, is stream of consciousness. Culinary schools and restaurants alike will often teach “consistency is key,” though I am not interested in cooking, or eating, for consistency. I want to be surprised and challenged; I want the risk, and the reward, that comes with cooking from the heart.

My recipes posts, as such, will not look like your conventional recipe book. I don’t outline quantities, weights or fluid ounces. I’ll often recommend substitutions for core ingredients. Many of the foods I make leverage left-overs from a previous recipe. In short, when it comes to cooking, I give a big, giant ‘fuck you’ to convention.

Enjoy and mangia!