A study of pints

A study of pints - Vegetal MattersWhen traveling it is natural to compare the place you are visiting to your home. Especially since while on vacation you have a little more leisure time to seek out the things you love to do. During our stay in Cork, Will and I did an earnest study of pubs while we were in Ireland, making sure to to get a wide sampling of the local brews. I think that every Irish student has to learn to pour a perfect pint before graduating school. Stouts you expect to be poured with a certain finesse, but no matter what beer or where we were each pint was expertly filled to the brim (and served in appropriately branded glassware).

A study of pints - Vegetal MattersBesides just pouring, the Irish have their pubs down pat. They are full of cozy nooks, friendly bartenders, empty liquor bottles used as candle holders, and just about none of the decor you would find plastered on the wall at an “Irish” pub anywhere else in the world (though there were always a few token beer signs). Often Guinness was on tap, but it’s a Dublin beer so in Cork you’re more likely to see the local stouts, Murphy’s and Beamish, on tap. Murphy’s was originally brewed on the north side of the city and Beamish on the south, so loyalties fell accordingly. Our first beer was a Guinness, but after that we stuck to the other two. To be honest all three beers are very similar. We did a side by side comparison and the main differences were Murphy’s had a slightly richer and creamier head, and Beamish was a hint more sour (and was usually the cheapest of the three).

There would always be a stout on tap, plus a few other big name lagers like Heineken (which has a production facility in Cork), Carlsberg, and Coors Light. There are a few local craft breweries as well, and they are gaining ground. We saw Franciscan Well and Rising Sons on tap pretty regularly. I was indecisive while ordering a beer so the bartender gave me a taste of a few Irish brews, and Rising Sons’ Handsum immediately became my favorite beer of the trip (though it was later dethroned). Then I looked at the beer description and laughed at my utterly predictable taste…it is an American IPA.

A study of pints - Vegetal MattersBoth breweries have their own pubs in the city that are worth visiting. Franciscan Well is a small spot with a beer garden out back three times their inside space (they also had woodfired pizza, which we didn’t get a chance to try). Rising Sons was on a busier street with a few tables out front. Their pub had a huge lofted ceiling and felt more like a sports bar (…probably because there was a rugby match on). They also had pizza, which we did try, and wasn’t especially exciting but 10 Euro for a pint and a pizza is hard to beat. We also listened to a man order an IPA and then complain about paying an exorbitant 5.30 Euro for his 20 ounces of beer. We should have probably warned him to not come to drink in the US.  Elbow Lane is a restaurant which sells their own beer. The beer was good, but the cocktails looked particularly amazing (sadly we never got back to try them…next time). It was a much more upscale place and the small plates we tried were excellent.

A study of pints - Vegetal MattersThe most interesting thing to me was that all of these places that brewed their own beer also had all of the other usual beers on tap as well. We talked to a few bartenders and brewers about the beer scene, and they said people were warming to the more intense, different styles there were brewing, but not necessarily embracing them wholeheartedly. From my observation there was interest in the new little guys, but a long-seated devotion to the big beers. The US has such a saturated brewing scene that a small brewery will often only pour their own beers and focus on very specific styles. There is enough business to go around that no one has to try to please everyone (and the ones who do often make an inferior product).

A study of pints - Vegetal MattersThere was one beer habit in Ireland I can’t even begin to try to explain…ordering Coors or Bud Light and pouring it over ice. Not a good showing of American beer.

Part of the hold-back in adopting more American or Belgian style brewing could be the quantity beer is served in. The imperial pint is 20 ounces, and most stouts hover around 4% ABV. Imperial IPAs, Belgian triples, strong ales, and many other styles are often double that or higher. Making higher alcohol beers and adding extra ingredients adds to the cost, so such beers are often higher prices and smaller quantities. Plus Ireland has incredibly strict drunk driving laws and you are considered impaired after a single beer. In A Pint of Plain Barich guessed that this had a lot to do with the downfall of the true Irish pub, which was often isolated by farmland.

A study of pints - Vegetal MattersWhile in the end the styles of beer were not enough to make me want to relocate, the charm of the pubs could make me reconsider. They were often brightly colored, had fun names (Hi-B, The Huntsman), very often fireplaces, and even sometimes bar dogs. Stouts were a nice change of pace, with the added joy of dating a man with a full beard is that gets a mustache full of head upon every first sip. Observing the dynamic of regulars in a pub is  more than enough entertainment for a pint (or two).

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Hosting an Oktoberfest Party

Hosting an Oktoberfest Party - Vegetal MattersAfter the usual reluctance I’ve started to accept fall. It’s not a season I dislike, but letting go of summer is always hard (have I mentioned I like eggplant and tomatoes?). But I also want to embrace the here and now, so we decided to throw an Oktoberfest party (and there is nary a nightshade on this menu). Besides sending out an invite, collecting firewood, and making mustard, the prep happened the day of. All the food was made beforehand and put out so guests could eat as they arrived and sampled beer.

Hosting an Oktoberfest Party - Vegetal Matters

The Menu

Timeline

The only thing I made before the day of was the mustard which I started on Tuesday (soaking the seeds) and then finished Wednesday.

The party started at 7, so I shopped in the morning and got home around noon. First order of business was the apple cake, which needs 90 minutes in the oven. Then I made the potato salad, followed by the pretzel dough so it could rise. I puttered around setting some things up, sliced cabbage for the slaw, then rolled out the pretzels, boiled the water and preheated the oven. The pretzels were then boiled, painted with egg, and salted. Once the pretzels were in the oven, I put the sausage in baking sheets and punctured holes for the fat to drain out. After the pretzels came out of the oven I turned it up a bit and put the brats in to cook for about 30 minutes (remove them when they are a little brown on top). While the sausages cooked I made the hot slaw. I just set out all the food so people could graze, but this could be a sit down dinner as well.

Hosting an Oktoberfest Party - Vegetal Matters

Notes

The flavor of the German potato salad was great. I overcooked my potatoes a bit so they were not the cleanest chunks, but the party did not seem affected by it.

I doubled the pretzel recipe and made half-sized pretzels, so I had 32 total. I was expecting about 15 people, and wanted everyone to be able to have 2 (there ended up being a few leftover, maybe 10). The dough rose just as it was supposed to, and was super easy to work with while rolling them out. I didn’t have pretzel salt (because I didn’t buy any….) and just used coarse salt which was a little intense.

This is seriously spicy mustard. I halved it because 5 cups of mustard seemed like a whole lot and it was a smart move. I am a spicy mustard lover, and just a tiny dollop of this is fine for me.

The brats were pretty hands off as I just stuck them in the oven. If I had a grill I may have used that, but the oven was already on and I needed to be in the kitchen so roasting was plenty easy. A chicken and apple sausage would be a good option if you don’t want all pork. I also read up on traditional Oktoberfest foods and considered roasting a chicken as well, but I’m glad I didn’t because that would have been so much meat. Good alternative for next time.

I wavered about putting the bacon in this but eventually decided to go with it (not my most vegetal of meals…). Caraway is a spice I disliked violently upon my first taste, but recently I’ve tried to be more accepting of. I used just a tiny pinch and felt very open and accomplished. In the end I thought this was very appropriate, and I really liked it paired with the potato salad, brats, and a little extra mustard.

This apple cake is so moist and great for a crowd. I have never bothered peeling the apples, used apple cider instead of orange juice and substituted just a bit of the white flour for wheat. It is a heavy cake, and took more like 105 minutes to bake for me.

Hosting an Oktoberfest Party - Vegetal Matters

I left the beer selection up to Will who picked a variety of German and American made märzens. German breweries we were able to find were Ayinger, Erdinger, and Weinstephaner, and then American Oktoberfests came from Sierra Nevada and Switchback. Guests brought lots of other options like Sam Adams, Blue Moon, Brooklyn Brewery and a few we already had. And one person brought a bottle of champagne that we didn’t see until everyone left…off theme, but always acceptable. We set out tasting  glasses and left bottles open on the counter so someone could just sample a beer or take a whole one. If I hosted this as a dinner party I might make it a more formal tasting with rating sheets and everything, but I liked this system with more people.

It was really fun to host a party outside of the times I feel like everyone is having something (don’t expect a Halloween or Christmas party here) with a good theme. I can see this becoming an annual occurrence. Excluding the year that I make it out to Munich, of course.