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!’”


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.”


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.)

Jimmy talks the ScanPan

“Product Reviews” — that’s what it says on the door to my new office here at the C&C Complex, an office to which I was relegated after failing to turn in a single post for three weeks. Champ was given my old job. After he’s finished lapping up all the scotch I was given for Christmas, he’s somehow expected to review restaurants. I think I might be supposed to train him, but to hell with that — he can’t even type. My plan is simply to wait until he, too, gets demoted, and in the meantime review all the products I’m assigned promptly and bitterly.

First up, the ScanPan! Unfortunately, this is a product about which it is impossible to be bitter. The eleven inch saute pan is hands-down the best pan I’ve ever used. Not only is it so nonstick that everything you put in it slips and slides like a drunk eighty-pound dog on black ice (ladder-climbing mutt) but, unlike most nonstick pans, you can use metal on it. Which for me, when I’m flipping eggs, is crucial (I hate plastic spatulas). With just a little butter, an egg over-easy glides so smoothly I’ve even been tempted to try the restaurant flip. The thought of yolk oozing into the cracks of our electric stove has held me back, of course; but when that dog gets fired and my scotch is returned, I imagine I’ll probably give it a go. The pan really is perfect for eggs.

Fish, too: Robin wrote a post a while back about the way I used a knife to sort of squeegee off (or rather out) all excess liquid from the skin to ensure its crisping in the pan (somebody named Keller does it too). That method, I’m almost sad to say, is now obsolete. Using the ScanPan the other night, all I had to do to my salmon was saute it skin-side down in olive oil for four minutes (applying pressure here and there to make sure the skin crisped evenly) before covering it for another three minutes so the rest of the filet would steam to medium-rare. That was it. The skin, the fish, was perfect. (Admittedly, this new method might also work with a lesser pan: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Pan-Seared-Salmon-on-Baby-Arugula-242445; I’d never tried it before the ScanPan was sent to us, and I don’t have endless salmon filets to test our other cookware. I doubt it would come out as well, though. At no point, even when I first set down the filet in the crackling-hot pan, did the fish stick: I could have flipped it whenever I wanted; hell, I could’ve set up little pins and bowled with it. And if I’m starting to sound like a salesman here, that’s because I’ve really been sold, and there’s no reason not to celebrate an excellent product. I just wish it were a scotch.)

[Editor’s Note: To win a ScanPan of your own, click here.]

Jimmy talks scotch.

[Editor’s Note:  Being that we are inching towards the 3-year mark, and that the prospect of us going our separate ways seems more and more unlikely, we’ve decided it’s high-time Jimmy started speaking up here on Caviar and Codfish. I like to think of me as the Caviar and Jimmy as the Codfish. I urge you to do the same, and to leave him encouraging words because I’d love to have him stick around.]

“Honey, I don’t think your P.O. reads my blog.” This from Robin on numerous occasions when I complained that one of her posts mentioned me and alcohol in the same sentence. I was not allowed to drink, you see. And yet I did. Regularly. (We hid the liquor bottles behind a fake wall of Phyllo Dough in the freezer.) I did not want to go back to the clink.

I sometimes wondered what my P.O.—a teeny-tiny Hispanic woman who once told me she thought she’d found her “niche” in criminal justice (never a good sign)—would think if she stumbled across my girlfriend’s sunny domain and noticed a wine pairing, say, or even some mention of a night out drinking. Considering that my five years(!) of probation stemmed from my teenage years as a thug-druggie, you’d think that this blog (written by my lover/partner/best-friend/everything) devoted to seasonal cooking and humane carnivorism would, if anything, prove that I’d changed my ways. (I’ve never met a meth-addled locavore.) But of course I couldn’t take a chance: these were stupid, petty people I was dealing with—or at least that’s what I had to keep on telling myself for fear that they’d prove me right and crush me.

Anyway, that’s all over. October 24th was my last day of probation, Robin and my parents threw a party for me, and I’m guest-blogging today to tell you about two of my presents, both bottles of the scotch. The first, from Compass Box (my new favorite whisky makers), is the aptly named Eleuthera (Greek for “freedom”). A light-colored smoky blend of twelve- and fifteen-year-old malts, it goes down surprisingly smooth for something 92 proof(!), though “smooth” does not stand for “boring” here: there’s plenty of peat (more than Talisker,” less than “Lagavulin), plus, I think, the slightest hint of something sweet that keeps bringing you back to the glass. In short, it’s one of the best scotches I’ve ever had. And I was sad to read on the Compass Box website this morning that because one of the fifteen-year-old malts they were using became unavailable, Eleuthera has been “retired” since 2005. Apparently it’s still in some stores, though. If you see it, get it.

The other bottle is noteworthy for being good and cheap. At about thirty dollars a 750ml bottle, Jon, Mark and Robbo’s Malt Scotch Whisky is significantly cheaper than the Macallan or Dalmore 12 Years, and to my mind about as good (certainly better than the comparably priced JB Black). It’s marketed as accessible scotch (the three blends are called “The Smooth Sweeter One,” “The Rich Spicy One,” and “The Smokey Peaty One”), and that’s exactly what it is and exactly what it should be (I don’t want a “complex” bottle under forty dollars). If you already like scotch, you’ll like it; if you’re trying to like scotch, it’s perfect. I was given The Smokey Peaty One, of course (actually that’s the only one I’ve tried, so the others just might suck, though I doubt it), and I’ve taken to drinking one glass of the Eleuthera and then switching to Jon, Mark and Robbo’s—it really works.

I hope you enjoyed reading this guest-post as much as I enjoyed writing it (I really, really doubt it); depending on your comments, it might not be the last.