International Cuisine Weekend: Italia

I’m going to be cooking all the cuisines that I learned living abroad over the years this week. It’s a delicious way to spend the night!

Today is: Italia.

In Italy, I first learned to cook. The focus is on great ingredients and long preparation times, resulting in hours-long food fests that are a regular staple of Italian life. I long to be in Italy again and to eat like they do. Here’s my five-course dinner, based on the Italian tradition.

Aperitivo: Fate Suicide Cheddar and Robiola

Drink Pairing: Spritz with Loki Snapps from Iceland and Acidulous Flanders Red Ale

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Primo Piatto: Handmade Pumpkin Agnolotti

Drink Pairing: Colorado Native India Pale Lager

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They don’t look amazing here, but the agnoletti were awesome!

I had to use an Italian tradition on the sauce and ‘fare la scarpetta!’

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Secondo Piatto: Pan-Seared Steak with Zucchini and Balsamic Reduction, with Aleppo Peppers from the garden

Oh my god, those peppers are spicy! I had to lay down for  while to let it subside.

Drink Pairing: Finkle & Garf Oatmeal Stout

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Dolce: Autumnal Cake with Szechuan Pepper (“Numbing Spice”)

Cranberry, pumpkin, apple, brandy, and a little bit of China!

 

Drink Pairing: Single Brandy (digestivo, duh)

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Frutta: Pesche al Forno (Baked Colorado Peaches)

Drink Pairing: Herbal Tea Blend from Rebecca’s Apothecary and the premier of the 20th season of Southpark

Oh hell yes.

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By the way, when I ate like this every day in 2009 while I studied abroad, I lost about 40 pounds in four months. Good food served right, the way it’s supposed to be. I feel light and energised already. Italia day is wonderful!

Food in the Life: A Day in Shanghai

Here’s a normal day in the life here in Shanghai. A day off, yes. Still a good way to see how things are is to look at my daily food.

Breakfast: Coffee, made with my convenient contraption and a dose of olive oil. Convenience store apple, polished on my scarf. Eaten on the 753 bus to Koreatown!

Lunch: Korean BBQ, yes! Beautiful spread of Banchan and meats to enjoy with some makeolli. Suwon Wang Garbi was pretty awesome. Definitely will be going back for more.

Tea: A pot of Formosa Oolong tea, and a mandarin (of course!)

Dinner: Homemade fried rice with pork and lettuce, washed down with DIY wine from October.

Beer In Situ: Big Beaver Brewing Company

We find ourselves spending a lot of time in brewpubs, brew places, breweries, and tap rooms now that we are doing the visa waiting game for our next move abroad. It’s amazing to have so many places available to us in the Front Range of Colorado. Every time I come back from living abroad, new places have opened and new beer is waiting to be discovered. We drove up to Loveland to visit a brewery with a way with words (innuendos ahead!). 

The Pertinents

  • Big Beaver brewing Company
  • 2707 W. Eisenhower Blvd. Unit 9 Loveland, CO 80537
  • Opened October 2010
Logo!

Logo!

Their Self-Description

“Let’s build a sustainable, community supported brewery that makes great beer! This can only be achieved with the support of regular customers that purchase beer in reusable containers directly from the brewery. 

We have been overwhelmed with demand since we opened in October 2010.  The little tasting room expanded two times, brewing system has expanded four times, and the walk-in cooler space has expanded three fold.  At this point, we cannot expand any farther in this space.  

We want to thank all our regulars and the tourists that stop in and support this crazy old concept: consume locally brewed beer in reusable glass (are you freaking nuts?!). 

We look forward to meeting you and sharing some laughs!                                                            

                          Sincerely, Peter Villeneuve

PS: Remember to give the finger to mass produced beer!” –bigbeaverbrew.com

Lovely Art

Lovely Art

The Space

The brewery is infused with a very healthy sense of humour. The beer section itself is at the back of the space. At the front is Blown Spoke Cider Company, which serves a surprising amount of fruit-based alcoholic treats. There is no mixing of beer and cider drinking, however. Big signs proclaiming “NO BEER BEYOND THIS POINT” and “NO CIDER BEYOND THIS POINT” keep the possibility of cross-contamination at bay. It’s a fair point, since an infection could ruin the beer (or cider). But it is important to keep in mind if you bring a gluten-free buddy, since you’d have to converse across a small hallway.

The space is simple and clean, featuring big cartoons of phallic symbols and a massive Big Beaver logo on the wall. There’s a very large TV for sporting events, and lovely, handmade blue pine accents. The brewery is in the back, where garage doors open to the outdoors, weather permitting. Knowledgeable female staff were working behind the bar on the day we visited.

Squirrel With Hammer. The Best.

Squirrel With Hammer. The Best.

The brewery is clearly engaged in the local community, with Free Beer Fridays (free pints until the keg kicks) and weiner dog races for charity. The crowd is a little bit more mature than at some craft breweries, but everyone is friendly and happy to see new faces amongst the regulars.

Bonus: They sell branded thongs! Yes! Butt Thongs!

(They also sell a wide variety of awesome tees and hats with mildly offensive phrases on them.)

The names would be embarrassing if your dad brought them up in conversation

The names would be embarrassing if your dad brought them up in conversation

The Beers

Big Beaver has a wide selection of beers on hand at any given time. There is a focus on Belgian-inspired styles with some interesting innovations in between. Some lacked a little bit of carbonation, and overall the beers tasted like the best kind of home-brew. Unpretentious, tasty, and simple, these beers come in a little smaller and more sessionable than some of the other craft beer offerings in Colorado (under 8% ABV). The flights are ample and come at the lowest price around, with 8 pours of ~4 oz. $6.50 for one of them, $8 for the other.

My measure of a brewery is the taste of an attempted sour beer. One of the two breweries in my hometown (which shall go un-named…but NOT Gravity Brewing) consistently tries to pass off not-sour beers as traditional sour styles like Berlinerweisse. IT DRIVES ME CRAZY. At Big Beaver, we ordered two of the flights and made sure to order the Belgian sour and the Gold Strong Ale. The Sour Brown Ale was passable and reminded us of sour candies, but not quite carbonated enough. I’m sure that it will get better in the next batch, and at least it wasn’t an imposter.

Tasting Flight

Tasting Flight

Tasting Notes

We ordered the Beaver Teaser and the Bush Whacker flights. Warning: NSFW innuendo ahead. Only selected beers are reviewed for brevity’s sake. Apparently the Big Beaver website is under construction, so some of the geekery is unavailable.

Shaved Tail Ale 

  • Style: Belgian Ale
  • Geekery: 5.6% ABV, ?? IBUs, Colour = Thick Dark Caramel
  • So. Many. Phenols. This is a funky and slightly cheesy beer (in a good way!). The Belgian yeast is on display here, and it gives a raw and army taste that lingers long after the finish. It would complement goat cheese perfectly. The aftertaste is the subtlest assertion of aniseed. I don’t like aniseed, and yet I like it in this beer.
  • Overall Rating: 4.2 pints (out of five pints)

Potent Peter  

  • Style: India Pale Ale
  • Geekery: 6.5% ABV, ?? IBUs, Colour = Light and Yellow
  • It smells like an American IPA, and tastes like a British one. Flowery nose, earthy and woody tones on the taste. But is it an IPA in the American style? 6.5% ABV is a little low, and the bitterness is not assertive enough for me. A really balanced, tasty American Pale Ale, I think.
  • Overall Rating: 4.0 pints
Attempt at Big Beaver Face

Attempt at Big Beaver Face

Sassy Lassy 

  • Style: Irish Red Ale
  • Geekery: ???% ABV, ?? IBUs, Colour = Red (duh)
  • Smells nice. Tasty. Just what I want in an imperial pint (20 oz.). Big Beaver serves many of their beers in the dimpled jugs that English cask ales thrive in, so this is perfect. The beer is not hoppy, and it actually really works. Tastes of the characteristic British biscuit (cookie) flavour I associate with red ales, especially since I have ye tot find my replacement for the 5 AM red ale from Brewdog.
  • Overall Rating: 4.5 pints

Milk Porter 

  • Style: Milk Porter
  • Geekery: ??% ABV, ?? IBUs, Colour = Strong Tea
  • C’mon guys, no innuendo? I can think of a few things that could sound off-colour and have to do with milk. This is my favourite of the beers we tried. Dark chocolate truffles that are laced with booze on the initial taste, blending into an unplaceable taste that is nonetheless nostalgic.
  • Overall Rating: 4.5 pints
Better attempt.

Better attempt.

Golden Strong Ale 

  • Style: Belgian Golden Strong Ale
  • Geekery: ???% ABV, ?? IBUs, Colour = Golden
  • Caramelly goodness everywhere. Everywhere. It’s like a toffee beer, but with a bitter balance and a delicious, strong taste. There might be the tiniest bit of a green apple taste (not always desired in beers, but somehow it works here).
  • Overall Rating: 4.0 pints

Big Woody  

  • Style: India Pale Ale
  • Geekery: ????% ABV, ?? IBUs, Colour = Weak Tea
  • There is a strange, oregano taste on the initial sip. The characteristic cutting hops of American IPAs are almost totally absent. No hop laser beams like in Stone IPAs. No persistent bitterness. This is an Old World IPA, complete with the taste of earthy English hops. Slightly tannic tea aftertaste.
  • Overall Rating: 3.8 pints
Beer education materials.

Beer education materials.

Burning Bush 

  • Style: Chili Pale Ale
  • Geekery: ???% ABV, ?? IBUs, Colour = Menacingly Reddish
  • Is this beer? This experimental, boundary-pushing ale is full of tomato puree and is much spicier than any chili beer I’ve tasted. In all honesty, it tastes of King’s Cup in college. Heavy tomato taste and a certain saltiness mean that this beer would make a lethal bloody mary base.
  • Russell: “Is it supposed to taste like gonorrhoea?”
  • Overall Rating: 3.0 pints

The Munchies

The brewery offers a brat with all the fixings, or some bags of crisps. Not a huge selection, but it sure looked good.

Thoughtfully considering his puns.

Thinking of beavers….

Russell’s One-Line Review

“Dam good place!”  

Beer In Situ: Gravity Brewing

We find ourselves spending a lot of time in brewpubs, brew places, breweries, and tap rooms now that we are doing the visa waiting game for our next move abroad. It’s amazing to have so many places available to us in the Front Range of Colorado. Every time I come back from living abroad, new places have opened and new beer is waiting to be discovered. Today’s review is of my hometown brewery, a favourite place for me and my husband when we are in town. 

A note: In honour of the Top Gear host who was fired this week, Russell has channeled Jeremy Clarkson to review a few beers. Please direct your inevitable complaints to BBC headquarters. 

The beer parlour. Little bit dark at night!

The beer parlour. Little bit dark at night!

The Pertinents

  • Gravity Brewing
  • 1150 Pine St, Louisville, CO 80027, United States
  • Founded in September 2012

Their Self-Description

“Are you one of those folks who appreciates the road less traveled? If so, we’ve got a tip for you. Tucked away in a funky corner of Historic Downtown is an only-in-Louisville brewery and tasting room serving up unique craft-brewed beers. Now serving food from Worldwide Vittles!!

Being a touch fanatical about beer and brewing, we could use the rest of this space to bore you with lots of science and detail, but you know what they say, “one pint is worth a thousand words.” So come on in and get the Gravity experience first hand.” – thegravitybrewing.com

No separation between the brewery and the beer parlour.

No separation between the brewery and the beer parlour.

The Space

It’s a big space for a brewpub, and the brewkit is a part of the room instead of behind some glass barrier. The bar itself is probably one of the longest in Colorado, handmade and shiny in the light. The room has has an unmistakable feeling of Louisville (the hometown I can’t really come home to). It’s unpretentious and normal, with picnic tables, games, and a TV that usually has the science channel playing in the evening.

The bier garden in the back is the perfect place to sit in the summer, and they grow some small hop bines in the sun. Relaxed, approachable, and friendly. The trains that go by add ambiance to the place, especially since that temporarily cuts the beer parlour off from the rest of town. No gimmicks. No pretenses. Gravity shares the bathroom with the local chapter of the American Legion.

This is a craft brewery that endures beyond the current boom in craft beer.

“It’s a bit like your Nan’s house, but you still want to go every Saturday.” – Russell “Clarkson” Knight 

Beer list!

Beer list!

The Beers

The first thing that I notice, especially since this has not been the case for all the breweries that we visited over the past month for the Beer In Situ series, is the strong aromas all the beers have. Even the Hale-Bop lager smells like a lager beer plug-in and I love it. The blackboards behind the bar are all but filled up; the beers have suitably punny names like Coal Kriek and Steve.

There is a serious barrel-aging programme at Gravity, and they’ve stashed the maturing beers under the bar, in corners, and in a special barrel-aging rack built to purpose. This was where I had my first-ever BA beer, and they experiment with different liquor/beer matches I’d never come up with.

Barrel-aging in process.

Barrel-aging in process.

The styles are all tricky to make, but there are none of the growing pains that I’ve seen at other breweries of the same age. American-style IPAs, German weizenbocks, Belgian abbey styles, and a huge Russian Imperial Stout that rivals any I’ve had in the world of craft beer. It doesn’t matter if you like beer. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t sure which beer to choose. There isn’t a single one that I wouldn’t recommend.

One of the coolest things about Gravity is that the brewmaster comes from especially strong craft beer stock. Julius grew up with the first craft brewery in Colorado, Boulder Beer, which was co-founded by his father at the dawn of the craft beer age (1979). Despite how homey the Gravity Beer parlour is, the simplicity belies a secret: this brewmaster won more than a dozen medals at the Great American Beer Festival over the years. These beers are seriously good, and I’m not just saying that because Gravity happens to be my favourite brewery.

Aliens is really have.

Aliens is really have.

Tasting Notes

Acceleration  

  • Style: Double India Pale Ale
  • Geekery: 9.8% ABV, 98 IBUs, Colour = Thick Golden Caramel
  • Do those numbers remind you of anything? Yep, the standard acceleration due to gravity toward the centre of the Earth is 9.8 meters per second squared. This big, balanced, almost cutting DIPA is one of my favourite beers on Earth. Massive flavours, including lychee, pine, and cedar. In it’s barrel-aged form, this beer is truly special and takes on a slight buttery character. Thick, satisfying mouthfeel.
  • Overall Rating: 5.0 pints (out of five pints)

 “A car crash of hops in your mouth.” – Russell “Clarkson” Knight 

Rum Barrel-Aged Mendacious   

  • Style: Barrel-Aged Belgian Golden Strong Ale
  • Geekery: 8.0% ABV, 28 IBUs, Colour = Yellow Blonde (like my hair)
  • Tastes and smells like a fancy cocktail from the Night Jar cocktail bar in London. I’m not even a huge fan of rum, but this was the perfect barrel-aging choice for this beer. Boozy and slightly less sweet than the non-aged version, this is Belgian-y (characteristic yeast taste) and bitter, but not at all hoppy. Balanced and clean, with a teensy bit of buttery taste that is obviously purposeful and complements the ageing.
  • Overall Rating: 4.8 pints
Acceleration.

Acceleration.

Louisville Belgian Ale   

  • Style: Belgian Abbey/Dubbel
  • Geekery: 6.5% ABV, 25 IBUs, Colour = Chestnut with red undertones
  • A huge amount of aroma comes off this beer. It’s soooooooo Belgian. Spicy (cardamom, cloves, nutmeg), with the characteristic dry fruit and raisin flavours of a Dubbel. It tastes like coffee cake, but without the coffee. Better than the most widely-available commercial Dubbel, Westmalle’s abbey ale.
  • Overall Rating: 4.7 pints

Regular   

  • Style: India Pale Ale
  • Geekery: 7.5% ABV, 65 IBUs, Colour = Regular IPA
  • Deceptively session-y for that ABV! Regular is a simple, clean, American-style IPA. A slightly toasty malt backbone gives it support for the clean, not-too-assertive hop profile. I seemed to taste this beer mostly on the centre of my tongue. It’s not overly bitter, and easy to drink.
  • Overall Rating: 4.6 pints

“Reliable like a Subaru tuned with nitrous oxide.” -Russell “Clarkson” Knight 

Beautiful beers!

Beautiful beers!

Houndbeast  

  • Style: American Barleywine
  • Geekery: 11% ABV, 80 IBUs, Colour = Rosy Brown
  • I brought this beer to London, to share with my colleagues at Brewdog. The first reaction was, “This is f***ing delicious!” And it is. This is easily one of the best barleywine styles I’ve ever tasted, easily outstripping even big names like Alesmith and Victory breweries. Subtle butterscotch taste, with treacle, Ponderosa pine, sultanas, and bread pudding. Complex and even the slightest smokey middle taste. This could be aged in Islay Scotch barrels and called “Beast of Islay.”
  • Overall Rating: 5.0 pints

“I’d let an overzealous Husky dry hump my leg before I let them take this beer off me.” – Russell “Clarkson” Knight 

Tsar Bomba 

  • Style: Russian Imperial Stout
  • Geekery: 12.5% ABV, 60 IBUs, Colour = Nuclear Winter Nighttime
  • Served in an understandably small pour, this is a serious stout for serious beer drinkers. Like Gravity’s motto says, take the beer seriously and yourself lightly. So much chocolate and coffee taste, balanced with a certain assertive creaminess that I’ve rarely found in this style. It’s dense and heavy, but not boozy (if you can believe it!). A celebration beer.
  • Overall Rating: 5.0 pints

“Rasputin himself could not compete with the allure of this beer.” – Russell “Clarkson” Knight

Worldwide Vittles!

Worldwide Vittles!

The Munchies

The Gravity beer parlour has an attached kitchen, which has housed Worldwide Vittles for some time now. The food is awesome pub fare, from Big Ass Nachos to jalepeno poppers. Our favourite are the breaded chicken fingers, which are more than enough to share (get the buffalo sauce!).

The family that runs the food operation for Gravity is welcoming and friendly. They work very hard to provide great service and ever greater food. This week they had a special, a flaming cheese board! Looks delicious!

Driving like Jeremy Clarkson. On a provisional license.

Driving like Jeremy Clarkson. On a provisional license.

Russell’s One-Line Review

“9.8 out of 10! And on that bombshell…drink here!!!”