As you know - I don’t pregame my seasons, unless we’re talking beer. Last Thursday, Great Lakes Brewing Company held their First Pour Party for what’s become a Cleveland holiday staple, Christmas Ale. New this year is the addition of their Cookie Exchange Milk Stout, which many of us couldn’t wait to try, and lo and behold, I got my thirsty hands on a six pack.
There’s something to be said about anticipation being so high that it dwarfs the experience you’re looking forward to, and that’s what happened with my first sip of Cookie Exchange. The promised notes of Caramel Vanilla Shortbread (or Speculoos) are most definitely present in the aroma. It’s a lighter stout with only a 5.5% ABV. I can definitely confirm that it’s very smooth and malty and seemed to have a clean finish. Those are the positives. For me, it lacked depth and fell a little short of my expectations. The flavors are more subtle than other dessert beers I’ve enjoyed, and it fell just a little flat.
By no means am I saying to pass on it - it’s still a good beer, it’s just not as good as I wanted it to be. It also could be because my senses still aren’t 100% back due to recently having covid and my sense of smell and taste did vanish and has been slow to completely return, so I’m not fully trusting my first impression of the GLBC Stout, although I did look into other reviews of the brew in question. No one has actually written anything about it yet, but it has been rated on a 5 star system. I consistently saw 4 stars and even 3.5 star ratings for it. I have to agree, although, I intend to “re-try” Cookie Exchange in a couple more weeks when my senses are (hopefully) even more recovered. You can pretty much get the full family of holiday brews from Great Lakes just about anywhere in the Cleveland area right now, including the Classic Christmas Ale and my favorite, their Bourbon Barrel Aged Christmas Ale.
The final segment of my trip to Southern Tier covers why I went to begin with - there’s a new member to the Pumking family, Caramel Pumking, and to get a fall preview for you, but Lydia shared so much more and let me pick her brain for beer knowledge. In Part 1, we covered late summer brews and food pairings - plus Lydia’s personal concoction of a double IPA and a Sour, called Berry Gusher, which is refreshing, delish (and dangerous at 9% ABV). In Part 2, I was also introduced to a very unique brew that’s technically a red beer, but wine drinkers will enjoy, plus, an IPA for fall that I actually liked!
So as we conclude this series, we look at those amazing fall brews that Southern Tier is best known for, the amazing fall flavors of the Pumking Family and in using my new knowledge of how to properly taste beer, it was kind of like being reintroduced to them.
Now Pumking is described as “pumpkin pie in a glass,” delish, right? Well, not for some, and for those who don’t “pumpkin” but do enjoy spice, Lydia suggests trying Warlock, an imperial stout that is a part of the Pumking family. I heartily concur with her advice, as I fell in love with Warlock before Pumking. I now love both equally and it’s a fall staple for many craft brew enthusiasts. Caramel is the newest addition, and it is glorious. I feel like it adds a little extra depth and flavor that makes it even better. It may be my new fave. At their tap house on Prospect, you’ll also be able to enjoy a rum barrel version (Rumking) as well as a Chai Pumking…. and then, THEN, are you ready for this? There’s a Pumking Whiskey. Um…. If you notice I’m missing this fall, I’ll be at Southern Tier….
An absolute MUST try, is their dessert pretzel bites, which goes amazingly with any of the Pumking beers, but especially well with Caramel Pumking. Remember, Pumkingfest is tomorrow September 9th at the tap house on Prospect!
A HUGE thank you to Lydia for letting me hijack her evening and tap her brain for all kinds of brew info!
For part 2 of my trip to Southern Tier on Prospect, we’re taking a look at the transitional summer to fall beers on offer - for days like we had this week - chilly, but not cold, yet, warm but not hot. There are a few brews Southern Tier offers for this transition, and I think their Praise the Haze IPA is a good option - very, very piney, a classic east coast IPA, (just like a Carolina Pine Forest), is one for those days that are definitely still summer like. Southern Tier recommends their Harvest IPA. Now, I don’t generally like IPA’s, yet, I love this one. It was also my favorite to pair with their brisket meatballs with IPA Marinara. All their IPA’s are great with that dish, but, there’s something I love about the Harvest with that pairing and as an IPA in general. It’s a fuller body IPA that’s surprisingly smooth. Lydia from Southern Tier refers to it as her “leaf blowing beer,” a perfect end to a day of cleaning up fallen leaves. I also highly recommend any of their IPA's with their fried pickles with Nashville Hot Aioli... especially if you like the heat to linger (if you want to cut the heat Legacy Lager is the brew for you). Speaking of the Nashville Hot Aioli, it's a game changer in the world of aioli and heat. Truly delish.
Next, the beer I personally think is perfect for transition, the Redwood Redemption - and even early winter.This is described as a beer that’s like a red wine - it’s a “wine drinkers” beer, and a good one to stock for those “I only drink wine” guests, because it’s my bet that they’ll no longer adhere to their “wine only” rule.It’s an incredibly unique beer - quite possibly the most unique beer I’ve ever tasted. It’s like someone brewed a wine. “She’s a breed all her own - she’s a unique brew” is what Lydia says concerning Redwood Redemption. So far, it’s been great with anything you’d pair with red wine. Marinara, pizza, a rich burger. It’s smooth, but not sweet, not too heavy or too light. I also think it’ll be great with a bonfire on a cold night. Lydia and I both thought it’d make a great companion to a hearty chili, and if you put beer in your chili, this one is a great choice. Considering we’re definitely not done with the hot weather, be sure to check out the Southern Tier brews still on offer for summer in That’s What She Drank Jaci’s Visit to Southern Tier Part 1. Again, big thanks to Lydia for sharing all her brewery information and taste guidance and to Nikki who took care of us.
We of course explored the flavors of the Pumking Family, (including the new Caramel Pumking), and if you're a Pumking fan, one date to put on your calendar is Saturday, September 9th because it's Pumking Fest starting at noon at Southern Tier Brewery. Another prominent date is the following day, Sunday the 10th as they are releasing their CLE Brew'd Brown Ale and celebrating the game with $5 dollar drafts of the football season's brew.
To be continued...
Last night, I met with Lydia from Southern Tier at their taproom on Prospect with the intent of doing a fall preview… but… when you get two people together who are passionate about beer, food and love their jobs, well, it turns into something bigger, and well, we ended up closing the place down.
The thing is, everything I've ever had from Southern Tier, I've liked, (and would go as far as to say loved), so it was truly a pleasure to hang out and learn the methods to their insanely delicious madness. They take flavor seriously, have a great work environment, (similar to 107.3, the coworkers really care about each other), and have an incredibly knowledgeable and passionate staff.
We covered the seasonal layers of flavor, food and beer pairings, (along with what's a bad idea to pair, but that one was all me), and how it changes what you thought you tasted, local ingredients, and what makes Cleveland such a great beer city. So this is now part 1. Some of what I learned is if you’re testing out a new brewery, do what actual brewers do and check out their pilsner, or a lager as they’re harder to perfect than you think, so testing that will reveal more than trying a hazy IPA that can cover flaws. I learned how to appropriately taste a beer, and it starts with a quick pass of the nose. Second, take a little longer to sniff. Take a tiny taste, give it a beat then a bigger sip to get the full experience of the flavors of the beer. Even though I had already had some of the beers in the flight, doing this really was like taking a moment to enjoy the beer fully.
Even though I did preview some fall flavors, we are still technically in summer, so if you just can’t with pumpkin yet, Lydia showed me what is still on for summer, starting with a sour. Sours seem to have become increasingly more popular since we first saw them on brewery menus. This Year's Anything Gose is a watermelon sour, and as someone who is "meh" about sours, this one is great. Light, very refreshing. Even though it’s a sour, it still maintains the characteristics of a beer (not all do). If you’re looking to give sours a try, this one is a good one to start with. I also highly recommend the Fried Pickles (made in house) with Nashville Hot Aioli. IPA fans - definitely try Praise the Haze, North East IPA - (Also great with the pickles). Southern Tier's Legacy Lager Is probably my favorite to date, it's so incredibly smooth - it tones down the "hot" in the Nashville Hot Aioli, and is pretty much their baseball season beer. My Secret Weiss - a lovely wheat, great on its own but also delish if you decide to add a slice of orange to it. Harvest IPA Is a great accompaniment to their Brisket Meatballs with IPA Marinara, and great for the Fried Pickles as well. Ideally, Lydia recommends pairing IPA's with fattier foods in general.
Then... There's Lydia’s own personal concoction, coined "Berry Gusher," a fruity combination of Southern Tier’s Juice Jolt mixed with Victory’s (their brother brewery) Berry Monkey; it packs a hella punch and goes down dangerously easy. Very fruity and oh so good, and yep - still very (or berry), summery, and just SO GOOD. I highly recommend her brilliant combination.
BIG Thanks to Lydia for letting me hijack one of her evenings, and big thanks to Nikki who took great care of us.
To be continued...