I should drink in KC more often

IMG_2327In an absurd point of fact, I’ve lived about two and a half hours from Kansas City for nearly eight years but have only showed up a few times. Two of those were trips to the airport (which full-blown don’t count), one was to spend a (really awesome) day at Boulevard Brewing Company for a piece I was writing, one was for some barbecue, and just last week I finally dragged myself to the home of the World Champion Royals for a little recreation.

Which includes beer. In preparation for an Eilen Jewell concert (she’s awesome, by the way) at Knuckleheads, Michelle and I tracked down a little art before heading over to Torn Label Brewing Company. Located in a desolate warehouse district, the 15-barrel brewhouse welcomes you with a non-descript sign (pretty sure you show up here on purpose) and a small taproom and patio area. Windows in the taproom offer a view of the brewery, and it’s all rather beautifully shabby in a “this is what my house looks like when I’m not expecting company” sort of way. So it felt like home.


I tried a flight of five beers: House Brew (a coffee wheat stout), Monk & Honey (a sorta honey patersbier, I suppose), Oscar (a German Pilsner), Quadjillo (a Belgian quad with guajillo chilis), and Quadquila (that same quad aged in tequila barrels). All were excellent, and if I lived around here, I’d sit on that patio drinking Oscar in the summer months and focus on House Brew in the colder months. Good stuff, and while they don’t serve food, you’re welcome to bring your own.

IMG_2328For phase one of our two-part food plan, we headed over to Cinder Block Brewing Company, not because they serve food, but because the Back Rack Grill food truck sets up out front on Friday and Saturday nights. We went for their burnt ends, which, you know, tastes great with beer.

Cinder Block’s taproom is quite a bit bigger and a little more put together than Torn Label’s. It’s like Thanksgiving was a day or two away and the mom had been cleaning for a week. Here, I tried several beers: Paver’s Porter, Prime Extra Pale Ale, Rivet Rye Wheat, Weathered Wit, Block IPA and Wily Mild. All were excellent. After, I went for a pint of KC Weiss, a solid Berliner Weiss I’d sampled at a beer fest this past summer while my gluten-free wife concentrated on the Cider Block, an English cherry cider, which was also quite tasty.


Part two of our food plan was to hit Local Pig near the music venue. Which really meant we ate outside at Pigwich after using the LP bathroom, ogling at the meat counter, and buying some pickled miscellany. I had a Boulevard KC Pils at the show. It was out of date like mad, but was still in good nick.

It’s a shame that I haven’t made it to Kansas City for beers sooner than now, but no sense in beating myself up over it. I’ll do better from this point forward. If you’re anywhere near Kansas City and have some time to kill with beers, you could do worse that the three places I’ve been: Boulevard, Torn Label and Cinder Block.

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Reviewed: A Visual Guide to Drink

1 a visual guide to drink coverA Visual Guide to Drink

By Ben Gibson & Patrick Mulligan


Look, I got rid of my (really cool looking) coffee table for two reasons: 1) it was somewhat oversized for my current TV room, and 2) if there’s a horizontal surface in my house, my wife and children put sundry crap all over it. I was trying to combat clutter, but this book, Pop Chart Lab’s A Visual Guide to Drink, makes me think I made a mistake.

I want my coffee table back. Because I want to put this book on it.

The visually masterful work of Ben Gibson, Patrick Mulligan, and their Pop Chart Lab crew, A Visual Guide to Drink unleashes a pile of research into beer, wine, and spirits around the world and puts this information on display with engaging graphic after engaging graphic. Warning: it’s thorough, and in some places, readers beyond a certain age might need to pull out their reading glasses.

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Am I a full-blown expert on every factoid included? No. But I scrutinized a few beer elements, and found some instances of lore-over-fact worth pointing out. Researchers have proved false the widely told origin story of IPA (India Pale Ale) as having first been brewed with higher hop levels and alcohol content to survive the long boat ride to satiate British soldiers in India. Not true. Beers of this ilk were being brewed “pre-India” in England’s timeline. On IPA, this book helps to spread myth. There is another error with regard to mild ale. Mild doesn’t mean mild, as in the low alcohol, easy-going, perhaps lower-hopped way that we might expect (and which actually describes this beer). Back in the day, mild was fresh beer. The opposite, aged beer, would have been called stale beer. It’s me being anal, but mild meant fresh, not mellow.

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That said, I’ve really enjoyed spending time with this amazingly tedious tome. It jumps from statistics to styles of glassware to hop-ular beer names to vine training to grape genealogy to sake cocktail recipes to the distillation process to agave plant harvesting to which celebrities are attached to which beverage companies. There’s more.

Lots and lots more, and you’ll be satisfied with the time you spend poring over this cool looking book. If you’ve got one, put it on your coffee table so all your visitors can check it out too.

FTC disclaimer: I received this book for free from the publisher.

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Reviewed: Cooking with Coffee

1 cooking w coffeeCooking with Coffee

By Brandi Evans

Skyhorse Publishing

If you like coffee like I like coffee, food blogger-turned-cookbook author Brandi Evans’ new book, Cooking with Coffee: Brewing up Sweet and Savory Everyday Dishes, might be for you.

This offering lays out a basic history of the tasty bean, as well as roasting, brewing, and flavor pairing information before shifting into the lion’s share of the book: the recipes. Evans offers a number of recipes for breakfast items, coffee creamers, drinks/smoothies, sauces, savories, and snacks.

The tone of the writing and the cursive fonts used for the introductions to each recipe section are not targeted to an aging, tattooed curmudgeon like me, but others will enjoy its bounce as much as the recipes.

The photography is inconsistent (some are dark and not particularly flattering for the food while other photos are quite good). This has been my discovery with other Skyhorse offerings of late, and I’ll blame the publisher on this. Cooking with Coffee doesn’t get too deep into the world of coffee, but it does offer a collection of appetizing recipes and may be worth a look for the coffee drinker looking to experiment with this ingredient elsewhere in their kithen.

FTC disclaimer: I received this book for free from the publisher.

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Reviewed: Beer, Food, and Flavor

1 Schuyler SchultzBeer, Food, and Flavor

By Schuyler Schultz

Skyhorse Publishing

If there are two things I love alongside my wife, two boys, dog, coffee, hiking, music, bacon, beer, traveling, and photography, they are beer and food, and Schuyler Schultz’s expanded second edition of Beer, Food, and Flavor does a great job of making the case for these two (okay, three–I like flavor as well) elements of my quality world.

Schultz offers a Beer 101 course on beer styles, tasting, and glassware before delving deeper into pairing beer with fine cuisine. The book offers a series of well-conceived menus from past beer dinners, and explains their working components. A few selected recipes are included, but these seemed superfluous to the meat of the book. All or none, I would recommend.

Schultz took his time with a solid, photo-laden chapter on beer and cheese before offering a series of profiles on notable breweries around the country. Honestly, I thought the latter strayed from the stated purpose of the book, and those included were largely the “usual suspects,” but then the book’s subtitle was, “A Guide to Tasting, Pairing, and the Culture of Craft Beer,” so the inclusion of the profiles and the preceding chapter on the philosophy of craft brewing must have been meant for the “culture” piece of the puzzle. To me, it got off topic, and since Schultz’s strength as a chef is in the realm of food, I’d rather have seen more on this side of the coin.

The foreword was written by AleSmith Brewing Company Brewmaster/Owner Peter Zien, who praises Schuyler’s work for good reason. Schultz is a true talent within this subject matter, and the book is well written, to boot. But… this book was saturated with AleSmith beers, menus, and (beautiful) photographs to the point of reader burden. I’m sure it was convenient to snag these photos and consider the flavors of this familiar and terrific brewery from the author’s own stomping grounds, but given the broad strength of this book and the growing beer culture across the United States, I’d like to have seen a little brewery expansion beyond the well-worn path to AleSmith’s doorstep for this second edition release.

If you’ve got a beer-and-food lover in your midst (or are one yourself) looking to explore some of the notable figures in the American craft beer scene while absorbing a little food knowledge in the process, Beer, Food, and Flavor is probably worth a look.

FTC disclaimer: I received this book for free from the publisher.

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Reviewed: Praise the Pig

1praise the pigPraise the Pig

By Jennifer L.S. Pearsall

Skyhorse Publishing

Though the title of the book is Praise the Pig, page 34 revealed that bacon blogger turned cookbook author Jennifer Pearsall isn’t a fan of the whole animal. While loin, shoulder, ham, bacon, and sausage are all well covered, you’ll only find a couple hint of rib recipes. As Pearsall has little praise for ribs, they are largely omitted.

You’ll also not find a delving into charcuterie or instructions for making bacon, sausage, or ham from the ground up. While Pearsall understandably outlined her reasoning for skipping instructions on the likes of head cheese or tripe, I really think that paving an avenue for readers to explore their own bacon, sausage, ham (not to mention ribs) should have been included.

Pearsall does offer advice on working with a butcher, navigating cooking temperatures, and considering flavoring and cooking methods for shoulder and bacon, two elements of the pig that warrant quite a bit of real estate in the recipe section of the book.

While the exterior of the book (don’t judge) is inviting, the photographs on the inside are dark and lackluster. I feel that the publisher could have asked for or provided more visually (and should have steered Pearsall away from citing Wikipedia as a source when discussing Trichinella in the introduction). Surely there’s a stronger source out there worth mentioning.

If you’re a pig lover looking to elevate your porcine mastery to a higher level, this might not be the book for you, but if you or someone you know is looking to acquire some basic pork recipes, Praise the Pig might be a worthy investment.

FTC disclaimer: I received this book for free from the publisher.

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Reviewed: Beer Pairing

Beer Pairing by Julia Herz and Gwen ConleyBeer Pairing: The Essential Guide from the Pairing Pros

By Julia Herz & Gwen Conley

Voyageur Press

A lot of books position themselves as the “essential guide” to this or that, and while some disappoint, the upcoming Voyageur Press offering from the team of Julia Herz and Gwen Conley, Beer Pairing, does not. Along with a select few other beer titles (especially beer-and-food titles), this one really should find its way onto your shelf.

Beer Pairing covers the basics of beer and food flavor and aroma and other characteristics as well as offering guidance to pairing principles. It teaches the reader how to taste beer. It tracks down expertise from notable figures within the beer, food, and even wine realms. It offers solid beer style information and go-to pairing suggestions.

But drawing from a deep well of expertise and experience, Herz and Conley also dig deeper. They push the search for sensory and vocabulary information further. They delve into science. They remind us of the bioindividuality of hedonics–all too many casual tasters (and self-proclaimed beer experts) don’t realize or forget that not everyone’s taste buds are the same. To me, this is so terribly important, and Beer Pairing reinforces this more than once.

While Herz and Conley take pains to escort our taste buds and brains further down the beer-and-food trail than many have gone, it’s done so in a clear writing style and unpretentious tone. One needn’t graduate from Siebel or CIA to keep up.

Scheduled for release just in time for the holidays on December 1, 2015, Beer Pairing offers a wealth of technical and practical information for the beer and food lover looking to elevate their skills in the pairing department. Along with Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer (he wrote the foreword of this book) and Garrett Oliver’s Brewmaster’s Table (he’s featured within the pages of this book) Beer Pairing lands on a short list of what I would consider essentials for the beer and food enthusiast’s library. Buy it.

FTC disclaimer: I received this book for free from the publisher.

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Reviewed: Brew Better Beer

Brew Better BeerBrew Better Beer

By Emma Christensen

Ten Speed Press

From the earliest days of my homebrewing obsession, I’ve constantly sought to brew better beer. To that end, I’ve read books, tasted beers, and asked a lot of questions. If you’re new to the homebrewing hobby, Emma Christensen’s Brew Better Beer proves an unintimidating yet useful guide into the world of producing quality beer.

As one might expect, Christensen offers a rundown of ingredients, process, and equipment. It lays out recipes (from extract to all-grain) from a wide array of styles. And it includes many tips on stepping up your game once you’ve been at it for a while.

That said, I’d argue that some of the recipes could stand tweaking (I’d approach IPAs more aggressively, especially in today’s world, and I’d adjust the Pilsner recipe as well–to offer but a pair of examples).

Christensen’s tome breaks no new ground in the how-to heavy world of brewing books, but the author brings forth useful know-how in an easy-to-understand manner. For those new to the hobby, Brewing Better Beer will help you do just that.

FTC disclaimer: I received this book for free from the publisher.

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The great fest

Great American Beer FestivalThere are two sorts of great: that of exceptional quality and that of grand size. After my second trip to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver recently, I’ve concluded that it is both but especially the latter that describes this notable beer event.

Hop ManSure, I tasted incredible offerings from the likes of Russian River Brewing Company’s STS Pils and Supplication to Firestone Walker Brewing Company’s Pivo and Parabola. They were amazing, and beyond this short list of delicious beers, I confirmed that breweries such as Almanac, Wicked Weed, and The Rare Barrel absolutely deserve the buzz they’ve generated.

But while I drank my fair share of fabulous beers over the course of four sessions, I also sampled a number of lackluster offerings. During one stretch of randomly sampling unknown breweries, I bet I tasted a half dozen disappointments in a row. Of the over 3,750 beers served by some 750 breweries at this year’s immense festival, many were far from great.

This quibble is but a picking of the nits. If you’re a beer lover, the GABF should be seated on your bucket list. It is indeed great by any definition, and the entire week is great, too. Whether or not you score tickets to the fest itself, show up in Denver and take it all in. The streets are crawling with great brewers, the breweries and beer bars are laden with great events, and it is a guarantee that you will have yourself a great time. Revel in the great beers you encounter, and learn from the disappointments.

One of the highlights of my 2015 GABF experience was hearing Vinnie, Sam, and Matt discuss pilsners during one of the educational sessions.

One of the highlights of my 2015 GABF experience was hearing Vinnie, Sam, and Matt discuss pilsners during one of the educational sessions.

Learning is great, and the GABF is a great place to take it all in. Do it.

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Reviewed: Bourbon Curious

Bourbon CuriousBourbon Curious: A Simple Tasting Guide for the Savvy Drinker

By Fred Minnick

Zenith Press

When I was in high school and college, I very purposely stayed away from smoking weed. Figuring I’d probably like it, I steered clear. For the most part, I’ve approached hard liquor with this same strategy (and admittedly because of an ill-fated early encounter with tequila). While I can afford a ten-dollar six-pack of good beer now and again, I’ve simply allowed the expense of higher end booze to divide me from a deep relationship with whiskey and other spirits. We’ve crossed paths. I quite like it. But broadly, I restrain myself. I can’t afford another expensive hobby.

Despite my noble efforts to protect both my liver and my wallet, I am certainly “bourbon curious.” And that’s where Fred Minnick’s well-named book on the topic comes in. A guy with the affliction of curiosity—how does he get savvy when he decides he wants to? This book is ideally suited for this task.

Laying out his depth of knowledge in the bourbon realm in an easy to follow, non-pretentious manner, Minnick covers bourbon history, legend, and politics. He covers ingredients, distillation, and aging. He offers a tasting tutorial and a run-down of bourbons falling into four categories to guide new bourbon tasters to renditions that might best suit their palate: grain-forward, nutmeg-forward, caramel-forward, and cinnamon-forward.

Bourbon Curious is informative without feeling overwhelming. Minnick glows expertise onto the page without talking down to the reader. If you are curious about bourbon, I’d highly recommend mining Minnick’s latest release. It’s a hundred-proof effort packed with useful backstory and tips for a savvy drinking future for those ready to make the leap.

FTC disclaimer: I received this book for free from the publisher.

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Selden: ‘I can’t get no satisfaction’

“I am never satisfied.”

-Will Ferrell as Chaz Michael Michaels, “Blades of Glory”

33BOOKS_BEERS_LUNAR_COVER_1024x1024Dave Selden of 33 Books calls his Lunar Eclipse Special Edition of 33 Bottles of Beer “a design idea I feel I’ve probably taken way, way too far,” but I beg to differ. Selden is the Chaz Michael Michaels of the design world, and this new project is really just another example of this beer-loving artist flexing his ample creative muscle.

As if the original journal wasn’t clever enough in massaging the beer nerd toward recording and evaluating his or her beery conquests in a new and experimental fashion, this limited edition version takes us to deeper, darker places for beery interludes.

Released in time for the September 27 lunar eclipse, Selden’s latest fruit in a long line of tasting journals, kits, and posters has been printed black on black. It utilizes black staples, and the finished product has aged in a retired beer/whiskey barrel. The cover ink has been boosted with a portion of a 2009 barrel-aged stout, and the whole two-journal shebang is housed in a resealable mylar package (to preserve aroma) with a glow-in-the-gosh-darn-dark label. It suffers from cool-overload, but what are you going to do?

This journal is intended for “big stouts and the movement of celestial bodies,” but I don’t think Selden will begrudge what you insert into its pages or whether you do it in the night or broad daylight. However, this you must keep in mind: there are only 500 copies in existence. I have Number Nine, and am very much satisfied with my marching orders: drink a big stout on September 27 (and record it).

Having said all that, it’s worth noting that while I groove on all this creativity and nuance, my grandma would have had a hell of a time reading the back cover with all its snazzy attack of black. But this ain’t your grandma’s beer journal. And I find that very satisfying.

FTC disclaimer: I received this book for free from the publisher.

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