A Good Night for Beer

Well, the sweet taste of victory still lingers after a successful night at the Brass. We’re not the worst anymore, but I can also say we’re not the best.

Chimay RedChimay Blue

Maybe it was the 23 points we gained, but it was just an exceptional night at the bar last night. Dogfish Head’s 60-minute IPA was on tap, which I had never seen before. I believe it tastes better in pints, particularly as it warms up a little. Such a great herbal aroma on that beer. I had four.

The best part of the evening, better than the IPA, better than the darts – Sheepdog guy. More than a year ago, I spent another night at the Brass, probably throwing darts, definitely drinking too much, and I ended up in the Ranger’s Corner area sometime late-ish. I began talking with Sheepdog guy, whose name I never got, and he mentioned he was heading to Iraq the next day, just getting a last HB night in before shipping out to drive for Halliburton. Before I knew it, he’d ordered a Chimay Blue and shared it with me. We polished off the bottle and I wished him good luck as I stumbled out to the car where Sarah was waiting.

Fast forward to present-day. Last night, Andrew spotted Sheepdog guy, back safe and sound. I bought him a bottle of Chimay (Red, they were out of blue) and reminded him of that night a year ago. Well, Andrew reminded me, and I reminded him. I think we all remembered. A very beer moment – not something easily done with a bottle of wine or whiskey (and hope to wake up).

13th Annual Hillsdale Brewfest

We set out for parts unknown – a little-known pub in Southwest Portland, where no man dares to go, least not without a good stiff drink and mapquest directions. Our destination – McMenamin’s Hillsdale Brewery & Public House, home to the 13th Annual Hillsdale Brewfest. After what seemed like hours of aimless driving on crooked streets, a light in the sky told us we were near … the Bat Signal? No, dear reader, the Beer Beacon. Behold it’s magnificence! 139.5 gallons of brilliance!

The Beer Beacon

The reason for our journey? “The Battle of the Belts.” It’s no “Thrilla in Manilla,” but there were 18 beers to be tasted from across the McEmpire, and far less danger of contracting malaria. Remember … no known pathogens can survive in beer.

The Brewer\'s Belt

Patrons to the Hillsdale House were invited to sample each beer in two flights of nine beers each. Each flight was $6. Pours were approximately 2 oz. “Vallhalla” is Norsk for “Hillsdale.” You be the judge.

A point (pint?) of criticism: beers were not well-arranged in the proper light-to-dark tasting order that is preferential. Each tray contained a good mix of very light and very dark beers. I assume someone thought that most patrons would only order one flight, and so tried to mix it up. That someone, it seems, had not met Bruce and Eryn.

Bruce and Eryn

A tasting of scope so large required a group of trained drinkers: the much-feared Bruce and Eryn team, Kari and Andrew, Sarah, and myself: brewer, drinker, photographer, renaissance man. Pose!

Trained Brewing Judges

Isn’t it great when every moment of your life is documented, even the moments you’re documenting? I imagine Jane Goodall’s life would have been much richer and certainly better-documented had the apes had digital cameras and high-speed internet.

Kari has a digital camera, too

With thoughtful livers, we began, laying waste to 2 flights per couple. The tiny glasses began to add up as our commentary became more colorful.

“Terrible. Fishy.”
“Belongs in a goblet.”
“Remiscent of Rome on the morning March 13th, 1974 – airy, but with a still calm prescient of manifest destiny.”

Note: napkin not to scale.

Napkin not to scale

Taste buds deadened, we proceeded to vote using my ever-present Sharpie marker and the blood of our enemies. The group favorite was easily Cornelius Roadhouse’s “Los Diablos del Paso” Imperial IPA, although it ranged from 1st to 3rd favorite depending on intellect. My personal favorite was “Monkey Wrench” from McMenamins Queen Anne, an American Amber that tended more toward the Imperial IPA style with just a bit more color. The Chinook hops were present at every turn … Hoptastic.

Special consideration went to Dad Watson’s “Marchioness di Garibaldi,” by far the most daring entry, and a flavor explosion in teh Gueze style. Cidery with tons of Black Cherry flavor, it was a taste explosion that easily could have topped ice cream. This is the one that belongs in a goblet.

Beer ballots

When all was said and done, a fine evening spent at pretentious pursuits. After some hazy calculation, we bid the Hillsdale Brewfest Buh-bye and adjourned for trendy-first.

The bill

Epilogue: “White Lightning” took first place. Our group felt it a good contender and some of our party rated it in the top 3. Our favorite, “Los Diablos del Paso,” took home 2nd place. Krakatoa, the one we labeled “fishy,” “worst beer ever,” and “this is the beer they serve in hell,” took 3rd. Just shows to go ya.

Hamdog Test Kitchen

We discovered the legend of the “Hamdog” on the interweb, and realized we had to attempt it. Since we can’t afford to head down to Georgia or wherever to go to the one restuarant that makes the damn things, we took the list of ingredients and a description (hot dog, wrapped in beef, deep-fried, covered in chili, cheese, fried eggs, bacon, and a handful of shoestring fries, all on a hoagie roll) and went to town. Below are the results from our own Test Kitchen, in preparation for Superbowl XL.

Hamdog Illustration

We tested both traditional hot dogs and brats, to see which tasted best at the center our meaty tootsie-pop. The answer: hot dogs, hands-down. Brats end up just bland.

Hamdog Illustration

Dave broke with the recipe and made three different kinds of beefwrap, so we could test their respective deliciousnesses. Note the neat paper labels denoting different mixtures, like place settings at a meaty, meaty wedding. On the left is a mix of 1/2 ground beef and 1/2 ground italian sausage, with spicing as desired (in this case, many spices); in the middle, the same meat mixture without spicing; and on the right, 100% ground beef.

Each of the test hamdogs are 1/4 pound of meat mixture over half a dog or brat, following the original recipe which, in one of its few specifics, refers to a 1/2 pound hamburger patty over a full-sized hot dog.

Hamdog Illustration

The winning combination, determined after an unhealthy amount of taste-testing: spiced beef and sausage mixture, with hot dog.

Hamdog Illustration

The key to making the hot dog and meat patty stay together in the deep-fryer is to roll the dog in flour. Who knew? Without this, the meats will separate when they hit the boiling grease.

Hamdog Illustration

Prepare your flattened patty to wrap around the dog. Dave calls this “the meat hammock.”

Hamdog Illustration

Make sure the meat gets all around the dog!

Hamdog Illustration

Ta-da! You’re ready for battering. Battering, you say?

Hamdog Illustration

Hell yes, battering. The recipe is simplicity itself (taken from www.fishermansexpress.com): 12 ounces light beer, 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp paprika, poured into a bowl and whipped until it’s as frothy as you can make it. We used closer to 15 ounces of beer and still never got it “frothy,” but maybe a step less solid than pancake batter.

Hamdog Illustration

After fully coating the hamdog in batter– and be warned, this process feels unclean, in the same way that portions of “The Exorcist” are unclean– roll it around in some more flour until it’s covered.

Hamdog Illustration

Starting to look good.

Hamdog Illustration

Throw the messy wad into a pan holding 1 1/2 or 2 inches of hot oil, and watch the show. Originally we overheated the oil a bit, which we figured out by all the smoke. Don’t do that.

Hamdog Illustration

After 12 to 15 minutes (turn it every so often so that the sides get equally covered), pull it out and towel it off. The hamdogs may look done after about 6 minutes, but trust us, the meat inside ain’t. The half-dogs ended up about the size of large potatoes, and once you get through the delicious, tempura-like exterior, yummy meat awaits. We got some boxed chili to simulate real, non-boxed chili, and recommend it highly as a dipping sauce.

Hamdog Illustration

Now that the Test Kitchen has served its purpose, we’ll give the real thing a shot on Sunday, including all the fixins, and hopefully document that too.

Update: Click here for Hamdog: The Final Answer (as told in pictures)