Left to right: Tara Nunin, Robin Shreeves (my good friend and fellow blogger), and me
Back in college, I made an amazing discovery one night when a friend handed me a bottle of craft porter. Sure, I’d drink the generic swill at those keggers-but it wasn’t for the taste. After all, I didn’t like beer. But this porter…it was rich, smooth, and creamy, with hints of chocolate and coffee…it had purpose. From then on, I was hooked: IPAs, stouts, barley wines, wheat beers-all of it fascinated me. And it was easy to explore the seemingly infinite styles of beer that were now opening up to me-after all, it was the first wave of the American craft brew explosion! Soon, everyone, everywhere was opening up a microbrewery or brewpub; tons of books and articles were being written on the subject, and I devoured them all. I bought equipment and a copy of Charlie Papazian’s Complete Joy Of Home Brewing and, enlisting John’s help, began the “Back Closet Brewery” (available only to select family and friends) and discovered that I could actually make some GREAT beer! At our wedding, it was my mom who insisted on the silly little Mikasa crystal bowl favors- I insisted on a bottle of my exquisite home brew at every place setting (complete with a label hand-designed by John and Jordan almonds tied to the bottle).
Over the years, my enthusiasm for my hobby/obsession remained steady. But there was one problem I encountered with it- blatant sexism. I could hand someone a bottle of my precious home brew, tell all the details of how it was made (the hops I used and why, the specific gravity), and still they would turn to John and say, “Wow, great beer, bro!” As a writer, I discovered that although there were females blazing trails in this industry, beer publications just weren’t interested (including one that regularly featured large-breasted women on the cover, yet had a female editor-in-chief). Fast-forward to the middle of the current “second-wave” of the craft brew “fad” this past November, when I was introduced to a new friend that showed me that, thankfully, the times are a-changin’. Tara Nunin, a freelance writer, craft brew expert, and all-around great person invited me to the club I have been unknowingly waiting to join for over 10 years: Beer for Babes.
Tara started the group in order to get like-minded women (at any level of beer knowledge) together for education, conversation, and camaraderie surrounding all things craft beer. The events vary- sometimes it’s a little tasting, sometimes a beer-pairing dinner-but they are always interesting. The first event I attended was at Brewer’s Towne Tavern in Westmont, where we sampled an array of beers, accompanied by the traditional “wings and things”. Suzanne Woods, a representative of Sly Fox Brewery(Phoenixville, PA) gave a bit of a talk on how some of the beers were made and why the flavors come across as they do. A few notables were Dogfish’s Indian Brown Ale (the color of an American brown, the caramel notes of a Scotch ale, but hopped like an IPA), Sly Fox’s Reilly Stout (think of a more exciting Guinness), and Troegs Hop-Back Amber (despite the name, one of the most balanced beers I’ve ever had: caramel malt, floral spicy hops-couldn’t stop drinking this one!).
The chocolate-and-beer pairing at Cork was a surprising combination but oh-so-good. A Dove Chocolate representative was there to describe in luscious detail the making of the sweets, while Tara commented on the subtle nuances found in the pairings. Yes, we had a luscious Brooklyn Chocolate Stout ( a no-brainer with its strong, rich coffee-and-chocolate notes, a favorite dessert beer of mine), but we also had a Lindeman’s Framboise Lambic (a raspberry beer brewed in Belgium with wild yeast, containing sweet but pleasingly sour notes; it is brewed with hops but not for bitterness- and if you think raspberry liqueur or wine is great with dark, heavy chocolates, you’ll be amazed at how much better this goes with it!). The most surprising pairing for me that night was a Japanese white ale from Kiuichi Brewery’s Hitachino Nest. This Belgian-style ale with flavors of coriander, nutmeg, and citrus cut a crisp line across the palate when sipped alongside chocolate-dusted pecan pralines- amazing.
Last month, however, was when I finally felt like us ‘beer babes” were finally getting the respect we deserved. We met for a grand beer-pairing dinner featuring Stoudt’s at Carolina Blue, a place John and I have wanted to try for a long while (you can imagine how jealous he was in staying home with the kids that night). For me, this event represented some long-awaited justice: Carol Stoudt is a former kindergarten teacher and mother of 5 who founded and still runs the successful microbrewery-one of the women I wanted to write about all those years ago. Representative Mike Pearlman walked us through the beers featured that night, while Chef Randy Wagner was hard at work in the kitchen and Jeff Cook (one of the owners of Carolina Blue) was on-hand to make sure we were all happy. As I perused the menu for that evening, I asked Jeff about their smoking techniques; he explained they use only local peach wood, which adds a more subtle-sweet flavor to the food than traditional woods, such as mesquite. Our opening course was a house-smoked salmon topped with creme fraiche and tobiko (a kind of caviar popular in sushi) on a potato gaufrette (a very pretty homemade potato chip). The salmon was more of a mousse, which I found disappointing as I was hoping for a nice little slice of the fish instead. But paired with the balanced Extra Special Bitter titled “Scarlet Lady”, which cut through the rich cream, I had to admit it was delicious. The next course was an offering of Boston Bibb salad with apple wood smoked bacon,egg, English cucumber, red onion, red pepper, tossed with a whole grain mustard vinaigrette. Normally, I can’t say I usually get excited by salad on a tasting menu, but everyone was amazed by what the Imperial Schwarz Pils did to amplify the flavors. This “dark Pils” is actually a double-dark lager that is smooth, not too “roasted” in flavor, bringing out the best in the bacon and vinaigrette-wow. It was honor to hear from Mike that only a limited supply of this beer was made-and we were drinking from the only keg of it available in the area! Our third course, however, is the one that was truly memorable. Smoked fillet mignon, accompanied by blue cheese smashed potatoes and fresh asparagus. Flawless. The sides were treated with the utmost care (I even enjoyed the potatoes, and I don’t care for blue cheeses), but the beef-oh, the beef! A gorgeous smoke ring around the edge of the twin tournedos, served rare and perfect. So juicy, with a light smoke flavor that did not overpower, but brought out the natural beef flavor of these exquisite slices of meat. As if that weren’t enough, it was served alongside the American Pale Ale; modeled after the recipe that put Sierra Nevada on the map, the citrusy, piney-hopiness was the perfect compliment. Chef Wagner’s decision to finish things up with a bit of chocolate was a wise one. For dessert, dark-chocolate-dipped strawberries (from local confectioner Duffy’s Chocolates) were paired with Fat Dog Stout- served alongside whipped cream laced with the said stout. Yum.
If you’re a “babe” who is interested in joining us next time (sorry guys-women only, except at certain select “men’s auxiliary” events), just contact Tara at “Beer for Babes” on Facebook. You don’t have to know a thing about beer- just come with your taste buds and an open mind, and I guarantee you”ll learn a lot.