Jimmy Talks wine snobs, extreme beer.

I heard something interesting the other day on Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!: people are incapable of identifying more than four flavor components at a time. Apparently, the show’s writers had read an article in the Wall Street Journal, “Why Wine Ratings are Flawed,” which cites a 1996 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology “show[ing] that even flavor-trained professionals cannot reliably identify more than three or four components in a mixture, although wine critics regularly report tasting six or more.” If only Roald Dahl were still here to lampoon those fatuous oenophiles! (Must listen.) As it is, I’ll settle for Peter Sagal, the funny host of Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!: “What you have long suspected is true: those wine critics who go on and on about the fruity bouquets and a glass of chardonnay with notes of copper, plum, and wet dog—it’s all bull! They’re making it up!…This explains why one highly rated Burgundy was listed as having, ‘nut and fruit aromas with notes of oak, raspberry, clay, and oh my God, I can’t pretend anymore, it tastes, I don’t know, red, okay—it tastes like red wine!’”

DIPAs

Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me! airs on Saturdays at 4:00p.m. on our local NPR station. You can just see the dinner party crowd sniggering on their way to the liquor store, where they then traded their hard-earned dollars for rating points awarded by Wine Spectator. Not that I’m any more consistent myself, of course. I always enjoy hearing that people know less than they claim and, because I don’t even pretend to know as much about wine as anyone with a fresh memory of Sideways, I’m also always grateful to know that somebody who sniffs thoughtfully and chews a bit before swallowing thinks highly of my purchase. Seriously, no matter how flawed those ratings may be, it’s nice to have something to go by other than the price tag.

But how flawed are the ratings? Or rather, what we really want to know, just how full of shit are these so-called experts? In my groundless opinion (really, the facts are in the WSJ article—I’m just talking here): a little full of shit. The reason I feel qualified to serve up that precise verdict is that I’ve recently been finding myself on the other side of our silly little socio-taste equation, i.e., with the experts—except not about wine, but beer. Robin and I have fallen hard for a type of craft beer: the double, or imperial, India Pale Ale (aka DIPA or IIPA). These are extreme beers, with more hops (flowery bitterness), malt (sweetness), and alcohol than standard IPAs, which are themselves very flavorful. People with a taste for double IPAs are known in some quarters as hop heads, because other beers no longer do it for us—we crave that intense bitterness.

As hop heads, Robin and I spend a fair amount of time describing our beers, and although I don’t think we’ve ever come up with six or seven flavors for a single mouthful, we’ve certainly deployed our fair share of pretentious modifiers that could never be reproduced by another beer enthusiast or even, on another day, ourselves. However, we don’t think of that as a problem, because when I tell Robin that I’m detecting some blueberry and caramel, I don’t mean it literally (really, I don’t think anyone is capable of isolating two flavors as distinctive as blueberry and caramel in a beer—there’s just too much going on in your mouth); I’m speaking in shorthand, saying that this beer we’re drinking is sort of like a combination of the beer we had a few weeks ago whose hops reminded us immediately of blueberries and another beer so malty it tasted like caramel. Yes, that is vague and unscientific. But why should we care? We’re just having fun trying to describe a sensation we enjoy.

The thing is, though, something funny has started happening since I acquired even this little bit of knowledge and passion about beer: people have started listening to me. And because that doesn’t happen nearly as often as I’d like to think, I never handle it well. I pontificate, I let my shorthand sound more objective and esoteric than it is. Does that mean the other customers in the beer room of our local liquor store are somehow foolish for taking my advice? Of course not. I do know enough about double IPAs to guide people toward what they want, whether that’s an ultra-bitter hop-bomb or something more balanced with malt. But neither would these customers be wrong for going home, opening the beer I helped them choose, and—even as they enjoy it—saying, “Blueberries? That guy was full of shit.”

DIPAs

Which is not something I want Robin’s readers saying about me. So here, without further adieu or aureate adjectives, are tasting notes on three of my favorite double IPAs:

1) Double Dog Double Pale Ale by Flying Dog Brewery in Maryland: This is the beer I find myself wanting to drink the most often. It’s bitter enough to provide my hop fix, but also has enough malt to tint it orange. I hesitate to use the word “balanced,” because double IPAs aren’t really about balance: sometimes you want pure hops, sometimes you want malty sweetness. The Double Dog has the amount of each I most often crave, but that’s just my taste. Plus, at 11.5% alcohol content, it makes me as warm as wine does. I’ve seen people online complain about high alcohol content in beer; I just don’t get that.

2) Green Flash Imperial India Pale Ale by Green Flash Brewing Co. in California: Unless I’m in the mood for something even more ridiculous (about which there will be future posts), this is my hop-bomb of choice. Flowery, bitter, delicious, it’s a also a little thicker and less carbonated than other double IPAs in this style. Which for me is a big plus.

3) Double Simcoe IPA by Weyerbacher Brewing Co. in Pennsylvania: Simcoe is a type of hop. Most double IPAs (and I think most beers in general) use a combination of hops, but this beer is all Simcoe. I think I read somewhere that Simcoe is a particularly strong and bitter hop, but I can’t be sure; I just know that this beer definitely has a distinctive flavor. It starts out a little malty for me but then finishes with an intense bitterness that, again, tastes somehow different — and I love it. (One thing I should note: “a little malty for me” really isn’t all that malty; I like my beers bitter, my wines dry, and my whiskeys peaty. Beer lovers rave about Hercules Double IPA by Great Divide Brewing Company in California, but it’s just too sweet for me.)

Rosemary and Brown Butter Applesauce

I can’t write much today. My migraines continue to take their toll, and this past weekend we took a trip to Southern California to see our nephew, getting back on Monday and not catching up on nearly enough sleep yet. I should probably be sleeping right now, really. But I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t tell you about this recipe in time for your Thanksgiving shopping list.

apple

The recipe is for rosemary brown butter applesauce.  If the name alone doesn’t make you want to drop everything and head to your nearest orchard, let me say it again: Rosemary. Brown butter. Applesauce.

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If you’re still reading this, and not running out to purchase your apples, or maybe even wondering why I’d be putting rosemary in my applesauce, let me explain.  Brown-butter applesauce tastes similar to something you’d find in a delicious apple pie: sweet and buttery, with a background warmth and nuttiness from the browning and the cinnamon.  It kind of tastes like a warm blanket, with a cup of hot chocolate, on Christmas morning, if you were five years old and staring at the biggest pile of presents you’d ever seen.  Or rather, dang delicious.

apples

The thing is, though, that cinnamony-sweet brown butter in your applesauce can taste a little too apple pie if you’re not careful.  It would be fine for breakfast or a midday snack, but placing a bowl of apple pie filling on the Thanksgiving table just doesn’t work so well. This is where the rosemary comes in, taking the dessert level down a few notches by adding a woodsy, Christmas-tree aroma and savory side notes.  The perfect, wintry foil.  If I don’t speak with you before then, Happy Thanksgiving!

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Rosemary and Brown Butter Applesauce

adapted from Bon Appétit, Dec 2008

3 cups unsweetened apple juice
3 4-inch fresh rosemary sprigs
1 1/2 cinnamon sticks
3 1/2 pounds (7 to 8 medium) Braeburn apples or other tart-sweet apples, peeled, cored, and chopped into chunks (or cut into eighths)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

In a large pot, combine the apple juice, rosemary, and cinnamon.  Add in a big pinch of salt and put the heat on medium, to bring the juice to a boil.  Reduce the juice by half.  Mix in the apples.  Cover the pot, and cook for about 35 minutes, or until the apples are mushy.  Uncover and discard the rosemary and cinnamon.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a small skillet over medium-low heat until it browns, stirring occasionally.  Mix butter into applesauce. (Can be made a few days ahead.)

Maple Roasted Squash

Sorry to be away so long, I’ve been missing this blog lately, but migraines, MRI’s, and doctor’s visits have kept me away (not to mention all the applesauce making and pork shoulder braising…) but today, on one of my first migraine-free days, I couldn’t resist it anymore, I had to post.  There’s a lot of stuff I want to tell you guys.

Squash

I recently found out about a fantastic food blog through the equally fantastic language blog, Language Hat.  This food blog, The Language of Food, is similar to Harold McGee’s Curious Cook in that it let’s me think about food and get my nerd on at the same time.  These types of blogs hold a special place in my Google Reader, and are read religiously because, while I adore great photography, and baking babies, studies in food really whet my appetite. (Hardy har har. Can you tell I’ve been totally out of it?)

Ready to be roasted.

Dan’s most recent post sparked my interest, and hunger, a few weeks ago.  The topic is dessert; he ate subjected himself to a bacon doughnut, and the experience spurred Dan’s thinking about the mixing of savory and sweet in desserts, and main courses, and about desserts in general.  I’d love to recount some of the insightful, educated things Dan says, but I think I mentioned the two weeks of migraines I just had, and well, brain don’t work so good.  So you’ll have to go there (go on, click) and read for yourself. (Please do, too, it’s a great read.)

Squash, peeled

The post got me thinking, in a much less articulate way, about my own food tastes.  I only recently started mixing sweet with savory.  As a kid, I didn’t understand applesauce with pork.  As a self-satisfied twenty year old, I thought that I had exceptionally nuanced tastebuds, and that was why I was so skimpy with the chutney I added to my cheese (my woefully unstinky cheese).  But recently, as adulthood continues to humble me, I realize I was all wrong.  It started with a dish of thyme roasted apples and onions (I promise to post it soon) that I could not get enough of.  I was giddy, ecstatic, repeating over and over to Jim how happy I was with this dish that I’d cooked (yes, I did say humble in the last sentence, so what?) I couldn’t believe how well the sweet apples played against the onions and thyme.  I made the dish over and over again.  And then I realized that I needed more of this sweet/savory combination.

Salt, pepper, maple, olive oil

Maple roasted squash was next.  I’d always thought squash was itself sweet enough, no maple syrup, or brown sugar, or marshmellows were needed.  But given my new-found love of sweet thyme roasted apples, maple roasted squash would be a test.  If I liked it, that would be it: I would forever be a girl who embraces sweet things with her savory courses. (I have big dreams, I know.)  The squash turned out lovely, subtly sweet; the maple syrup lending a warming quality, offset by the bits of charred edges and the round, clean flavor of olive oil, and,  totally autumnal.

Suffice it to say, I’m that girl.  A little sweeter than I used to be, and better off for it.

Maple Roasted Squash

Maple-Roasted Acorn Squash

This is hardly a recipe: I don’t want to give quantitative amounts because who am I to tell you what size squash to get?  Uniformity is not a squash’s strong suit, so don’t get too caught up with finding the perfectly sized one for your recipes.  Just go for an approximate size, and use your better judgement with the rest of the ingredients.  This particular recipe is forgiving; just start slow with the maple syrup, and remember that you can always add a touch more olive oil, or salt, to mellow out the flavor.

2 small acorn squash, peeled, cut in half, deseeded, and sliced
a glug or two of maple syrup
a more generous glugging (or two) of olive oil
a big pinch of salt
a big pinch, or grinding, of black pepper
chives, for garnish, optional

Preheat oven to 350F.  Have a baking sheet pan, lined with parchment paper or a silpat, ready.  In a large bowl, add the squash, maple syrup, olive oil, salt, and pepper and mix well with your hands.  Tip the contents of the bowl out onto the baking sheet, letting all the excess oil pour out, too.  Put the pan in the oven and bake to your desired donneness (I like mine a bit charred), anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.  Serve garnished with some snipped chives, if you like.

P.S. Have you heard that Barry Estabrook has started a blog?  He did. Cue ethical-meat-eater’s rejoice.

P.S.S. (Or is it P.P.S.?)  I have a Muntz fix for all you cat lovers, posted on my friend’s blog. You’re welcome. Update: More Muntz, this time it’s a video! (with sound)