Food Republic

Craft Beer in Rome

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Photo: Parla Food, which offers awesome craft beer tours in Rome

Last time I was in Italy, I was a pimply collegiate backpacker subsisting on cheap pizza, even cheaper wine and the desperate desire to find a lass to lay me in a hostel. I failed miserably on that front, leading me to drink even more rotgut wine to drown my perceived sorrows. I left Venice and Florence with vile hangovers and an unhealthy dose of regret.

Was it the lack of love? Hardly. Celibacy was the unfortunate status quo on that trip. The bigger regret was that I never made it to Rome, a city I foolishly skipped because…I don’t remember. I was drunk a lot during that European backpacking sojourn. I made many terrible, irrational decisions with my travel itinerary, most notably sleeping in an Amsterdam park after ingesting hallucinatory mushrooms. Let me tell you: Being awoken at dawn by drug-peddling bicycle riders is, quite possibly, the world’s worst alarm clock.

Now that I’m older and (somewhat) wiser, I wish to correct a few of my youthful missteps. Crowning my list is a long-delayed trip to Rome. The journey is not for the museums or restaurants, but rather the beer. Stick with me here. In the mid-1990s, there was virtually no craft beer commercially produced in Italy. Today, there are around 400 breweries, 140 of which were established between 2008 and 2010. Italian breweries are using indigenous ingredients such as basil, chestnuts, grapes and roses to create beers every bit as complex as wine.

The headquarters of this brewing revival is in Rome, where I’d take a taxi from the airport toBrasserie 4:20 (Via Portuense 82, +39 06 5831 0737). It’s one of Rome’s top spots to sample craft beer, dispensing selections from Italy and around the globe — and not a single drop of wine. (The collection of lambics and vintage bottles is particularly jaw dropping.) Even better, though, is the restaurant’s house line of experimental and barrel-aged beers, Revelation Cat, which are crafted at breweries across Europe.

Next, I’d keep the bar crawl rolling at the divey Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa’? (Via Benedetta 25, +39 06 9727 5218), a.k.a. What the Hell Are You Doing Here? The bar, which is located in the trendy, cobblestone-lined Trastevere neighborhood, was born in 2001 with a focus on football — jerseys, scarves and posters cover the walls. As the years disappeared, sports took a backseat to craft beer. Today, the bar has one of the most enviable selections of brews in Rome, counting selections from all-stars including Denmark’s Beer Here, Germany’s Mahrs and Italy’s LoverBeer.

Since man can’t live on beer along (oh, how I’ve tried!), I’d take a slight breather down the block at Bir & Fud (Via Benedetta 23, +39 06 589 4016). While the chewy, Neapolitan-style pizza and carefully constructed crostini would be enough to get me through the doors — provided I can get a reservation — it’s the beer list that makes this restaurant a must-visit. In the vaulted bar I’d dive into the list of all-Italian beers, including offerings from Birra del Borgo, Birrificio di Montegioco and Birrificio del Ducato, which makes the spicy Verdi imperial stout.

With food serving as ballast in my belly, I’ll pop over to Open Baladin (Via Degli Specchi 6, +39 06 683 8989). The pub comes courtesy of Matterino “Teo” Musso, the Renaissance man behind Le Baladin — quite possibly Italy’s most revolutionary brewery. In a small village outside Torino, Musseo makes peculiar ales such as Egyptian-style Nora, made with ginger, myrrh and orange peel and Al-Iskir, which is fermented with Scottish whisky yeasts. At Open, which is named after Baladin’s IPA, bottles serve as the backdrop to the bar where I can order more than 100 choice selections from Italy and around the globe. I’ve also heard rumors that Open serves the freshly fried potato chips and one of the best burgers in Rome.

By now, I’ll probably be pretty pie-eyed and in no need for another beer — that night. However, I’ll want to load my suitcase up with plenty of bottled goodies to bring home. To accomplish that, I’ll beeline to Domus Birrae (Via Cavour 88, +39 06 9799 7570), where homebrewers can stock up on grains and an educated staff guides customers through hundreds of different beers culled from Belgium, the Netherlands, the U.K. and, most importantly, every corner of Italy.

I will buy every last beer suggested by the staff. I do not plan to end this fanasty beer vacation with any regrets.

UPDATE: After publishing our dream list, some Rome-based readers alerted us of a couple omissions. Birra Piu' (Via del Pigneto 105, +39 06 70613106) is a beer shop and bar that sells some of the world’s top craft beers by the bottle (Lost Abbey,  Mikkeller, Hitachino), and has as rotating tap listBlind Pig (Via Gino Capponi 45, +39 06 7834 5642) is another recommended spot.

This story was originally published on Food Republic.

Kentucky Common Makes a Comeback

Summit brewer Eric Harper dug deep into the history books for this pre-Prohibition beer. Photo: Pioneer Press

When it comes to Kentucky's proud indigenous products, one thinks of ham, bacon and bourbon, a holy trinity that has given generations of Americans immeasurable pleasure. To that list please add a most unusual ale, the Kentucky Common.

You’ll be forgiven if you’ve never heard of the style. The beer was popular around Louisville more than a century earlier, when the rank-and-file laborers favored it. Kentucky Common was often made with a blend of barley and corn. Of course, the cob-based vegetable is an essential ingredient in bourbon, which is also made according to a process known as sour mash.

Basically, grains and water are boiled to create nutrient-rich mash that’s blended with a bit of acidic spent mash that’s chockfull of live yeast. (Envision making sourdough bread with a starter.) The acids keep harmful bacteria and unwanted yeast at bay, allowing the mash to continue on its path to an oak barrel.

“Brewers in and around Louisville were likely friends with their bourbon-making counterparts,” hypothesizes Eric Harper, a brewer at Summit Brewing Co. in Saint Paul, Minnesota. “You see these distillers doing sour mashes when making bourbon and someone probably thought, Huh, I could do that with beer.”

Whether that’s truth or conjecture is tough to tell, but one certainty is that brewers in Louisville began making a dark, lightly sour beer that was low in alcohol (“common” often signified a lower alcohol content). The easy-to-produce beer remained a regional specialty until Prohibition dealt it a deadly blow. When the boozy shroud was lifted, Kentucky, like most of America, became a land of lagers.

But as American brewers increasingly turn to indigenous styles such as the California Common (the best known example is Anchor Steam) and the cream ale, interest has begun growing in this uncommon Kentucky beer. Indiana’s New Albanian Brewing Company makes the Phoenix Kentucky Komon, while Chicago’s Local Option offers the plainly named Kentucky Common. And in Minnesota, Summit has turned to the Kentucky Common for the latest release in its Unchained Series, Old 152, which is named after the official steam engine of the state of Kentucky.

To re-create the forgotten beer, Summit’s Harper turned to the American Handy Book of the Brewing, Malting and Auxiliary Trades, which was published around the turn of the 20th century. Though the book lacked a definitive recipe for Kentucky Common, the basic guideline of ingredients included corn, malted barley and, to create a dark hue, caramel coloring or roasted malt.

Harper cobbled together a recipe using maize, rye, wheat, barley and Cluster hops, which was one of the only native varieties available in the U.S. during the late 1800s. To mimic a sour mash, Harper used acidulated malt to lower the pH. “The beer is not sour,” Harper is careful to note.

Instead, the chestnut-hued beauty is subtly sweet, packing pleasant flavors of caramel and a floral, gently spicy aroma. It drinks as crisp and clean as seltzer, with a refreshing acidity that ups the beer’s drinkability. Here’s hoping Old 152 helps make the Kentucky Common, well, more common.

The story originally ran in Food Republic.

Five Session Beers to Sip This Summer

I could drink 14 of you.

Now that June has arrived, drinking season is officially in session — session beer, that is.

Named because you can savor several of them in a drinking session, this loose category of lower-alcohol beers (usually 4.5 percent ABV and below), following the guidelines at the Session Beer Project blog, dials down the booze but still retains plenty of aroma and flavor. In other words, they’re the perfect brews for sipping by the six-pack at the beach or a backyard BBQ.

Here are five of our favorite low-booze, high-flavor brews to knock back beneath the sun. What are yours?

1. Jester King Craft Brewery: Le Petit Prince

Hailing from Texas Hill Country, Jester King’s farmhouse-style Le Petite Prince is a low-alcohol revelation. Tipping the scales at just 2.9 percent ABV, the hazy table beer smells of lemony and fruity, with a twist of pepper too. It drinks crisp, grass and as light as meringue pie.

2. Drake’s Brewing: Alpha Session Like the brewing version of limbo, how low can California-based Drake’s go and still retain flavor in its Alpha Session? Though the hoppy ale registers at a skimpy 3.8 percent ABV, it still boasts oodles of piney, citric aromatics complemented by a quaffable character.

3. Carton Brewing Company: Boat Beer Set sail across a sea of low ABVs with New Jersey’s Boat Beer, a.k.a. “an IPA for everyday drinking.” Within that 4.2 percent package you’ll find loads of lovely grapefruit and a nose-tingling crispness that rivals icy seltzer.

4. 21st Amendment Brewery: Bitter American Checking in at 42 IBUs and just 4.4 percent ABV, this canned creation is a study in easy-drinking restraint — and excessive aromas of citrus. The appealing bitterness is balanced by a biscuity, nutty body courtesy of a British heirloom malt called "Golden Promise," loaded with nutty flavor.

5. Surly Brewing Company: Bitter Brewer A lifetime in the brewing trenches can leave some brewers feeling as bitter as a double IPA. To honor these tireless toilers, Minnesota’s Surly has crafted this tangerine-tinged, hot-weather summer seasonal freighted with the aromas of toast and jam, partnered with an earthy bitterness and a lightweight 4.1 percent ABV.

This piece was originally published in Food Republic.

Minneapolis by the Mouthful

Quinoa waffle, why are you so good to me?

Whenever my wife and I told our friends and coworkers of our recent travel plans, we were met with blinking eyes, chased by an incredulous question: “Why are you visiting Minneapolis?” Uh, why wouldn’t we visit Minneapolis? Bike-friendly and packed with great breweries, restaurants and more cheese curds than one man should eat in a lifetime, it's like catnip for culinary tourists.

Though we did little dining exploration in neighboring St. Paul (next time!), Minneapolis offered us plenty of food and drink to fill a weekend — and our bellies to bursting. Here are favorite things we drank and ate in the North Star State.

1. Chicken and Waffles at HauteDish Minneapolis’ industrial North Loop is a neighborhood in transition. Here, hulking warehouses and factories have been converted to art galleries, condos, coffee shops and bars, and the Twins’ brand-new Target Field serves as an anchor. However, the area’s red lights still shine bright, as strip clubs and sex shops still dot the blocks, as do border-blurring restaurants like HauteDish. Here, General Tso’s sweetbreads are paired with foie gras fried rice; noodles are partnered with snails, Pernod and ricotta salata; and duck comes in a can, à la Au Pied de Cochon. My favorite? Brunch’s buttermilk fried chicken painted in bacon maple syrup and plated atop a sourdough waffle. 119 Washington Ave N., Minneapolis, MN, 612-338-8484, haute-dish.com

2. Surly Brewing Furious Located just north of the Twin Cities in Brooklyn Center, Surly has become one of the area’s breakout breweries. It formulates immense, uncompromising creations like Coffee Bender, a porter­–brown ale hybrid that’s cold-steeped with Guatemalan beans, campfire-licked Smoke lager and and the culty Darkness, a Russian imperial stout whose yearly release causes die-hards to queue up by the hundreds. Since I’m a hops junkie, I jonesed for the piney, toffee-accented Furious, a pungent palate wrecker sold by the 16-ounce can. surlybrewing.com

3. Lemon-Ricotta Hotcakes at Hell’s Kitchen Perhaps I’ve lived a sheltered life, but I’ve never devoured a transcendent pancake. Sure, I’ve eaten hundreds (thousands, perhaps) of satisfying, stomach-filling pancakes topped with plenty of maple syrup. However, none have haunted my dreams — till I nibbled the lemon-ricotta hotcakes at this underground, Ralph Steadman art­–filled eatery. Made with whole-milk ricotta and just-grated lemon zest, the hotcakes are as soft as gelato and so rich that a drizzle of maple syrup would be redundant. 90 S. 9th St., Minneapolis, MN, 612-332-4700

4. Fish Taco Torta at Tilia With 21 craft beers on tap, an open kitchen, bright walls and 40 perpetually packed seats, “this place most reminds me of New York,” my expat friend Nora said as we settled into our chairs and a dinner of homemade charcuterie and playfully goosed goodies. BLT hot dogs are served with pickled cauliflower. Red wine–braised beef cheeks are finished with charred bok choy and XO sauce. But I swooned for the fish taco torta: Well-fried fish is stacked on a pillowy bun alongside peppadew-pepper cole slaw, cilantro and crunchy tortilla chips. 2726 West 43rd St., Minneapolis, MN, 612-354-2806, tiliampls.com

5. Sake at Moto-I Today, every town worth its salt boasts a brewpub — or five. But Minneapolis is America’s only city that can claim this rarity, the first and only sake brewpub outside Japan. In the basement, Blake Richardson (also the owner of the nearby, German-influenced Herkimer Pub & Brewery) concocts more than seven different sakes, which are served alongside sumo on the television and excellent bar nibbles including homemade beef jerky, miso popcorn drizzled in pork fat and lagoons of ramen. 2940 Lyndale Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN, 612-821-6262, moto-i.com

6. Libertine at Fulton Beer Seeking to bone up on my Minnesota beer knowledge, I spent an eve at Four Firkins, quite possibly the city’s friendliest, most knowledgeable beer store. Owner Jason Alvey and Co. popped bottles and introduced me to local outfits like Belgian-inspired Boom Island, Steel Toe and Fulton Beer, which is home to Minneapolis’ first brewery taproom. (They were illegal until 2011.) I paid a visit to Fulton, savoring the easy-sipping Lonely Blonde, Sweet Child of Vine IPA, aromatic Ringer Pale and the Libertine. The rich and malty imperial red ale is made with a smidgen of rye, imparting an appealingly spicy note. Yum. 414 Sixth Ave. N., Minneapolis MN, 612-333-3208, fultonbeer.com

7. Happy Hour at Republic As a lifelong cheapskate, I’m a sucker for a super happy hour, and Republic’s ranks right up there with the best of ’em. Every day from 4 to 6 p.m., many of the 50-plus, largely local beers are discounted to $3 (I particularly liked the West Side Belgian-style IPA from local outfit Harriet), and the kicked-up comfort grub also gets a serious shave. My choice: the grass-fed Thousand Hills hot dog done Chicago-style with sport peppers, pickle relish, tomatoes and mustard, served on a poppy-seed bun with a tangle of salty, skin-on fries dunked into homemade ketchup. 221 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN, 612-338-6146, republicmn.com

8. Vegetable Sides at Brasa Heaps of pulled pork, smoked beef and rotisserie chicken take the starring role at this fun, flesh-forward restaurant with food designed for sharing. But while the meat was mighty good, my wife and I favored the filling vegetable sides, namely the crisp yucca fries, candied yams, rustic cheesy grits and the warm chunks of honey-glazed cornbread. 600 East Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, MN, 612-379-3030, brasa.us

9. Asparagus, Fontina and Quinoa Waffle at Birchwood Cafe Quinoa and waffle are not two words that typically rub shoulders, but at the funky, family-friendly Birchwood Cafe the grain joins forces with asparagus slivers and the Italian cheese to give this breakfast standby a savory complexity. A dab of hazelnut-infused butter and an oozy, sun-yellow fried egg are the fab finishing touches. 3311 E. 25th St., Minneapolis, MN, 612-722-4474

10. Masala Mama IPA at Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery Since 1997, the venerable Town Hall brewpub has followed a successful formula: Quality pub grub, such as addictive fried cheese curds and a walleye hoagie, partnered with craft beers and flavorful, all-day-drinking brews including the Black H2O Oatmeal Stout, Hope & King Scotch Ale and my favorite, Masala Mama IPA. It’s a crisp and bitter treat showered in flavors of tropical fruit. 1430 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN, 612-339-8696, townhallbrewery.com

This story was originally published on Food Republic.

Here's Why Boston Made Me Fat

Hello, precious. A lobster roll from Island Creek Oyster Bar.

I liken living in New York City to being trapped in a cocoon surrounded by a force field. There’s so much to eat and drink in the metropolis that it’s tough to break out. Weeks and months pass before residents escape the city limits.

This brings us to Boston. It had been too long since my wife and I had driven the 220 miles north, so we decided to spend a weekend diving face-first into the city’s food and drink scene. Here’s how we happily came back five pounds heavier.

1. Fried Mussels at Park Restaurant I typically despise mussels, but at Harvard Square’s recently opened Park, a subterranean boîte packed with comfy parlor furniture, a fine beer selection and even better cocktails, I found a mussels dish to make me a believer: The bivalves were coated in a batter cut with preserved lemon and fried till fluffy and crisp, then served with a zingy horseradish dipping sauce. It was sort of like eating seafood popcorn. 59 JFK St., Cambridge, MA, 617-491-9851, parkcambridge.com

2. Grass-Fed Burger at Craigie on Main Forget the Pat LaFrieda–blend burgers. At Craigie, chef Tony Maws mixes his grass-fed beef with umami-rich dehydrated miso and bone marrow — drooling yet? — and cooks the patty in a low-temperature, CVap steam oven to a juicy medium rare. The finishing touches: a quick char on a steel plancha, mace-spiked ketchup, aged cheddar and house-crafted red-wine pickles. The burger is a heap of yum. 853 Main St., Cambridge, MA, 617-497-5511, craigieonmain.com

3. Harpoon Brewery Cider While the Boston-born outfit is best known for its unfiltered UFO beers and floral IPA, a trip to Harpoon’s south Boston brewery clued me in on a few styles worth your stomach space. The newly released Rich & Dan’s Rye IPA is a citrusy, slightly spicy delight. But I was more smitten by the relatively rare cider. Made with nothing but juice from New England apples, including the McIntosh, the Harpoon Cider is a tart, lightly sweet treat that temporarily made me forget my love affair with beer. 306 Northern Ave., Boston, MA, 617-574-9551, harpoonbrewery.com

4. KK’s Bacon and Sea-Salt Pretzel Nuggets With Pimento Cheese Dip at Area Four Pulling quadruple duty as a coffeehouse, bakery, bar and restaurant focusing on local and season ingredients, Area Four might just be a jack-of-all-dining. The pizzas pulled from the wood-, gas-, and infrared-heated oven are finely crusty and charred, but I could happily — and gluttonously, I might add — subsist on the pretzel nuggets cooked in bacon fat and served with a pimento-cheese dip. Um, more please. 500 Technology Square, Cambridge, MA, 617-758-4444, areafour.com

5. Ward 44 at Saloon Whiskey, grilled and roasted meats, and dark wood are the focus at this subterranean, well, saloon outfitted with arches, old-timey mirrors and an excellent cocktail list. Given the kitchen’s focus on the pleasures of the flesh, it follows that the most intriguing cocktail is the bacon-y Ward 44. Pork belly­–infused whiskey is the focal ingredient, providing a lingering smoky flavor, but lemon and grenadine add crucial balance. 255 Elm St., Somerville, MA, 617-628-4444, saloondavis.com

6. Wormtown Brewery Be Hoppy IPA at Flatbread Company Long past the point of common sense, my wife and I wended our way to Davis Square with our bleary eyes set on the former Sacco’s Bowl Haven. Several years ago, the team from quirky Northeast pizza chain Flatbread took over the bowling alley — candlepin bowling, mind you — ripped out a few lanes, installed a pizza oven and stocked the bar with Massachusetts beer and cocktails made with regional spirits. Booze seemed like a bad idea, so I focused on Worcester-based Wormtown’s Be Hoppy, a pungent pleasure bursting with grapefruit bitterness. 45 Day St., Somerville, MA, 617-776-0552, flatbreadcompany.com

7. Lobster Roll at Island Creek Oyster Bar The Hotel Commonwealth is a dining and drinking powerhouse, counting buzzy brasserie Eastern Standard, comfortably mod lounge the Hawthorne (overseen by cocktail mastermind Jackson Cannon) and Island Creek Oyster Bar, which might just be Boston’s finest seafood restaurant. The oysters are impeccably sourced (“These are my favorite oysters,” my wife moaned, sucking down several buttery-briny Island Creeks), the breads are house-baked and the lobster roll was a lightly dressed beauty with an unlikely, but delicious addition of diced pickles. P.S. Come at brunch for the decadent lavender doughnuts. 500 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, MA, 617-532-5300, islandcreekoysterbar.com

8. Notch Session Saison from Craft Beer Cellar On a sunny Saturday afternoon, I forsook the fine weather and spent a few hours marinating inside Craft Beer Cellar, which is quite possibly Boston’s finest beer store. Amid the bottles of locally brewed beers like Slumbrew’s blood orange, infused Happy Sol and the lovely lagers of Jack’s Abbey, I found myself drawn to the low-alcohol quaffs of area outfit Notch Brewing. The brewery specializes in session brews like the crisp Session Pils and my favorite, the dry, peppery and compulsively drinkable Saison. 51 Leonard St., Belmont, MA, 617-932-1885, bostoncraftbeercellar.com

9. Mashed Potato, Bacon and Scallion Pizza Slice at Otto When my wife and I were married in Portland, Maine, last summer, our rehearsal dinner consisted of inviting guests onto the evening ferry, supplying a couple coolers of beer and buying a boatload of thin-crust Otto pizza. So you can understand our excitement when we spied the Harvard Square outpost of the mini chain, which was serving slices to hordes of hungry customers. The plain cheese is commendable, but go big baller and get a slice topped with mashed potatoes, scallions and bacon. Don’t judge: It works. 1432 Massachussettes Ave., Cambridge, MA, 617-499-3352, ottocambridge.com

10. Super Duper Weenies On our trip to Boston, we made a most crucial stop in Connecticut at Fairfield’s Super Duper Weenies, a long-running hot dog joint focusing on beef-and-pork wieners crowned with from-scratch toppings. Fries are fresh-cut. Everything is cooked to order. I select skin-on fries and a New Englander, which is crowned with ’kraut, mustard, bacon, mustard and sweet relish. It's sweet-and-tart, snappy, zingy and rich as a Rockefeller. In other words, the weenie is just super. 306 Black Rock Turnpike, Fairfield, CT, 203-334-3647, superduperweenie.com

This story originally ran in Food Republic.

Whiskey, It's Time You Met Beer

It starts life as beer! Sort of. Credit: A Decadent Existence

Whiskey and beer have long embraced a special kinship. At bars, a bolt of the brown stuff is often served with a cool can of beer, a one-two punch that leads to long nights and achy mornings after.

Yet there’s more to this coupling than the promise of pleasure and, occasionally, pain. Whiskey begins life as a distiller’s beer, or wash, that’s made with malted barley, water and yeast. The difference is that beer is given a dose of hops, which contributes bitterness. Wash traditionally lacks hops, meaning it’s a raw ingredient. Translation: You do not want to drink un-hopped wash.

Another crucial distinction is that distilleries are concerned about starch conversion — unlocking the sugar in grains to create the most alcohol possible. Contrasting that, craft brewers use the available grain palette, not caring that darker-roasted grains offer fewer fermentable sugars. It’s all a tradeoff for flavor. This means that whiskey and bourbon require a slumber in charred oak barrels to transform the rough-edged white dog into a smooth sipping spirit.

But in recent years, brewers have begun pulling double duty as distillers, and distillers have begun relying on brewers’ tricks of the trade. For example, New Holland Brewing (Holland, MI) offers a line of beer-inspired brewers whiskeys, and Kentucky’s Corsair brews imperial stouts that are distilled and run through a hop-stuffed distillation column. On the other hand, California’s Charbay Winery & Distillery distills Bear Republic’s bottle-ready Racer 5 IPA, while Japan’s Kiuchi Brewery turns its aromatic Hitachino Nest White Ale into Kiuchi No Shizuku. Here are five of my favorite spirits blurring the line between beer and booze.

St. George Spirits Single Malt Whiskey Sierra Nevada supplies the Bay Area’s St. George with a smoky, caramel-licked ale, which is distilled down and aged in a mixture of bourbon, port, French oak and sherry casks. The blended result is beautifully smooth and fruity, featuring notes of nuts, vanilla and chocolate.

Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling .36 Texas Bourbon Whiskey Situated in San Antonio, the self-proclaimed “brewstillery” has devised a nontraditional Texas-style bourbon made with a measure of rye. While the big-barrel release is still aging, Ranger Creek has released this bold, small-barrel version with a spicy bite and sweet flavors of caramel and maple syrup.

New Holland Artisan Spirits Brewers’ Whiskey Double Down Barley The Michigan spirits makers use 100 percent two-row barley (the preferred brewing grain) to concoct this small-batch delight that’s double distilled, then sent into heavily charred American oak. There’s a nose of fresh, woody oak and rich flavors that dart from toffee to dark fruits.

Charbay Winery & Distillery Doubled & Twisted Light Whiskey One of our favorite bitter beers is Bear Republic’s Racer 5 IPA, a citrusy, pine-laced pleasure usually at home in our fridge. So imagine our excitement when Charbay used its as the base for this unaged whiskey chockfull of green, herbal notes and a sweetly floral complexity.

Kiuchi Brewery Kiuchi No Shizuku Kiuchi’s Hitachino Nest White Ale is a killer witbier spiced with coriander, orange peel, nutmeg and even orange juice. Distilled and aged in oak, Kiuchi No Shizuku (its name means first drip from the distillation kettle) calls to mind coriander and citrus, with a sweet, slightly woody finish.

This story was originally published on Food Republic.

Hello, London. It's Craft Beer Calling

British beer gets a bad rap as being boring. The brews are best known for milds and bitters—beer styles whose nuanced pleasures and restrained ABVs seem quaint to American craft-beer drinkers conditioned by hoppy, boozy beers that are about as subtle as a Will Ferrell film.

Thankfully, this is no longer the case. Over the last decade the British beer scene has begun blossoming, shaking off the shackles of cask ale and creating brews every bit as inventive as those crafted across the Atlantic Ocean. On your next visit to London, seek out these first-rate British beers. What are your favorites? 1. The Kernel Brewery Export Stout The London brewery has made big waves with its bold, citrusy American-inspired pale ales and IPAs. But instead of modern times, our favorite Kernel release takes its cues from the 19th century. Based on a circa-1890 recipe, the roasty Export Stout is as black as a tar pit, presenting a lusciously oily mouthfeel and flavors that flutter from dark fruits to a freshly pulled espresso shot.

2. Magic Rock High Wire Brewed in homage to America’s unabashedly hoppy West Coast ales, High Wire tastes profoundly of grapefruits, mangos and pears. Smooth, lightly sweet malts and a mouthfeel as silky as Victoria Secret’s finest undergarments help balance High Wire’s full-throttle bitterness.

3. Thornbridge Saint Petersburg Imperial Russian Stout Whereas many imperial stouts knock your socks off with booze, Saint Pete registers a relatively restrained 7.7 percent ABV. The stout is milkshake-creamy, with a pronounced bitterness and a subtle current of smoked peat that goes grandly with the flavor of bittersweet chocolate.

4. Lovibonds 69 IPA The saucily named IPA hails from Lovibonds, which is located about 45 minutes from London in Henly-on-Thames. The IPA’s moniker references its ABV (6.9 percent), a rebuttal to the standard low-alcohol, low-hop British IPA. U.S.-bred Centennial and Simcoe hops give the golden brew a citrusy nose and a clean bitterness.

5. Camden Town Brewery Ink Forget Guinness: Served on nitro, this hop-forward stout is every bit as creamy as Ireland’s favorite quaff. It’s got all the expected flavors of coffee and dark chocolate, but the beguiling hop aroma helps set Ink apart. It also drinks deceptively light.

6. Otley O-Garden This Wales brewery focuses on modern cask ales and bottle-conditioned brews, such as the hoppy O4 Columbo, robust O6 Porter and the O-Garden, a whimsical riff on the classic Belgian witbier Hoegaarden. Otley’s hazy take on the wheat-beer style is dosed with coriander, cloves and orange peel, resulting in a dry, citrusy delight.

7. Summer Wine Diablo The Yorkshire brewery sets itself apart by focusing on unfiltered, unpasteurized and, above all, flavor-forward ales like the devilish Diablo. The IPA is heavily dosed with American hop varieties such as tropical Citra, which lend notes of lychee, mango and plenty of sticky pine.

8. Dark Star Hophead Since 1994, the West Sussex outfit has won over legions of drinkers with its uncommonly balanced, always inventive ales like the Black Coffee Pilsner, Milk Chocolate Stout, Summer Meltdown (made with Chinese stem ginger) and the Hophead. Instead of socking drinkers, well, over the head with bitterness, the 3.8 percent golden ale is an easy sipper, with a fantastic floral aroma courtesy of Cascade hops.

This story originally appeared on Food Republic.

General Tso, Meet an IPA

Fellow Americans, we’re living in a golden age of craft beer and Chinese grub as our nation is finally moving beyond Budweiser and General Tso—that fictitious soldier who led chicken charging into a deep fryer. But despite all the bitter IPAs, inky stouts and lip-singeing dan dan noodles currently awaiting your stomach, craft beer and Chinese food hardly ever intersect. At restaurants, the fieriest Far East fare is typically served with Tsingtao, a lager that’s every bit as nuanced as MGD. Bold foods deserve equally bold beer.

That’s the modus operandi at AmerAsia, the rare restaurant to combine top-flight Chinese food with beer not grabbed from the bottom shelf. Located in Covington, Kentucky, within spitting distance of Cincinnati and the Ohio River, AmerAsia is a funky little place in a sleepy little downtown. The walls are decorated with graffiti-style murals and kung fu movie posters like Enter the Dragon and Game of Death, as well as, uh, lesser-known classics like Beverly Hills Ninja.

The kitschy, cartoony menu depicts master chef Rich Chu — a Hunan-born, Taiwan-raised sixty-something who learned Sichuan cuisine from the former imperial chef to China’s last emperor — as a wok-armed “Kung Food” master. Some dishes are described as “fly rice” and “Brocco-Lee.” The aesthetic teeters close to schlock, but then you nibble the dragon’s breath wontons and all tongue-in-cheek cultural trespasses are forgiven.

Fat orbs of ground pork are blended with cilantro, ginger and onions are wrapped in egg dough, simmered till plump and steaming, then anointed with incendiary red-pepper sauce and cilantro. The result is mouth-burning bliss, as are the spicy zonxon noodles mingled with mushrooms, pork, tofu, peanuts and cilantro. There’s also homemade tofu (terrific in the mapo tofu), cold beef salad marinated in sesame oil, smoky peppers and ginger, and even an impeccably fresh, incendiary General Tso’s chicken that puts its gloppy, cornstarch-coated soldiers in arms to shame.

And what of the beer? Avid homebrewer Micah Wright turned on the chef to the pleasures of craft beer and was soon installed behind the bar, tending to two rotating taps and a constantly rotating list of more than 100 beers. There are prickly pilsners, pungent IPAs, decadent stouts and aromatic ales from the likes of craft-beer all-stars Bell’s, Three Floyds, Southern Tier, Great Lakes and Rogue, along with Wright’s expert advice on pairing each brew with a specific dish.

Who knew an IPA could tame a dragon’s breath?

The story was originally published on Food Republic.

Forget America. Try These Foreign IPAs

If the American craft-beer movement flew a flag, it’d feature an image of a pint glass filled with frothy India pale ale. Though this bitter brew has its roots in Britain, the IPA has become a runaway American sensation. Brewers have gone gaga for hops, crafting increasingly bitter brews bursting with flavors of citrus, pine resin, tropical fruits, mango and more. For taste buds accustomed to watery canned lagers, American IPAs are like that first ray of sunlight following weeks of clouds and rain.

While the modern IPA is a distinctly brash American construct, the Stars and Stripes do not have a lockdown on the style. Inspired by these bold and bracing brews, European and New Zealand beersmiths have begun dabbling in supercharged IPAs. The result is proudly bitter beers as familiar as they are foreign. Here are 5 IPAs that tickle my taste buds.

Epic Beer Armageddon IPA Checking in at a devilish 6.66 percent ABV, this devilish New Zealand hop monster relies upon a quartet of American hops—grapefruit-y Cascade, super-citrusy Centennial, earthy and spicy Columbus, piney Simcoe—to drive its flavor profile.

ReAle Extra While Italy may be best known for its wine, in recent years the boot-shaped nation has had a serious craft-beer boom led by brewers every bit as rule-breaking as their American counterparts. In particular, I adore ReAle Extra, an Italian IPA with a serious bitter streak, luscious flavors of honey, gobs of grapefruit and a nicely peppery close.

Urthel Hop-It A trip to the Great Alaska Beer & Barley Wine Festival compelled Hildegard van Ostaden, brewmaster at Ruiselede, Belgium’s Urthel, to create the Hop-It double IPA—the country’s first of its kind. Exclusively dosed with European noble hops, the golden brew presents an appealing spicy profile.

BraufactuM Indra A German IPA may seem like an oxymoron, but the land of lagers will soon unleash this novel spin on the American-style India pale ale. Though Indra is currently only available in Florida (pesky licensing issues!), keep your peepers peeled for the IPA this summer. The unfiltered, wheat-driven brew marries a hefeweizen’s cloves-and-bananas qualities with plenty of grassy, citric bitterness.

BrewDog Punk IPA When Scotland’s BrewDog set out to fashion its flagship IPA, brewmaster James Watt opted for a double-barreled blast of Nelson Sauvin and Ahtanum hops, which gives the golden ale an earthy, tropical perfume. The light body packs flavors of orange peel and pine resin, somewhat lightened by biscuit malt.

This story was originally published on Food Republic.

Here Is Why I Gained Weight in Hanoi

Mmm...bia hoi in Hanoi! That is, fresh, cheap beer. Food-loving globetrotters, here’s a bit of sound advice: If you’re headed to Vietnam’s northern city of Hanoi, we’d recommend you pack a pair of elastic-banded pants. The city is a wonderland of cheap eats and drinks, offering an endless variety of soups, noodles, buns, rolls and sandwiches paired with plenty of fresh herbs — and fresh beer, too.

You could spend a week eating your way through the hectic, motorbike-clogged streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter and never eat the same meal twice. I know I didn’t on my recent trip. Here are 20 dishes and drinks from Hanoi that haunt my hungry dreams.

Curious what I ate?  Check out the full story at Food Republic.