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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Pumpkin Beer: Long History, Developing Tradition

Timmermans Pumpkin Lambicus,
By Steve Siciliano

In view of the current popularity of pumpkin beers in this country it should come as no surprise that a non-American brewery would want a piece of this seasonal marketing pie. With the appearance last week in the store of a “pumpkin” beer from Timmermans, a Belgian brewery that produces quality lambics, inevitability has turned into reality. While Timmermans Pumpkin Lambicus is the only pumpkin beer not produced in the states that I’m aware of, it’s probably safe to assume that others will follow. I’ll be giving my impression of the Timmermans’ offering after a few thoughts on the somewhat mystifying pumpkin beer phenomenon.

There are some craft beer purists who loathe these beers. Since the use of the eponymous gourd is negligible in some and is non-existent in others, they maintain that these beers should be simply called what they essentially are—spiced ales and lagers.

The use of pumpkins in the production of beer is uniquely American. Our colonial forefathers, including George Washington, occasionally added pumpkins to their beer recipes, not because they wanted to but because they had to. Good quality, inexpensive malt was hard to acquire back then and the indigenous gourd, with its requisite starches and sugars, provided a viable alternative. As malt became more readily available, the use of pumpkins in the production of beer became an historical footnote. It might have remained there if not for William (Buffalo Bill) Owens.

Back in the mid 1980’s Owens, who was at the time the owner of Buffalo Bill’s Brewery in Haywood, California, was researching historical beer recipes when he came across one, allegedly formulated by George Washington, which used pumpkin flesh in the mash. Owens also happened to be a gardener. He took one of his prize 500 pound pumpkins, chunked it, baked it and then threw the pieces into a mash for his standard amber ale. After he fermented and carbonated the beer, Owens was disappointed that it had no discernible pumpkin flavor. But then he had a brewing epiphany—why not use pumpkin pie spices to achieve the flavor profile that he thought would be achieved from using the baked pumpkin? He brewed another batch, this time without pumpkin, and dumped a can of pumpkin pie spices into the bright tank. The first modern “pumpkin” beer was born.

Obviously it’s these spices, used in differing proprietary amounts and combinations, which are the main reason as to why pumpkin beers today are so popular. People equate the spicy flavors and aromas of these brews to those of pumpkin pie. And who doesn’t like pumpkin pie? But maybe there are other, perhaps subliminal, factors that are contributing to pumpkin beers’ wild popularity.

I would guess that most adults have fond memories of donning costumes and traipsing through neighborhoods collecting overflowing bags of treats on Halloween. Perhaps drinking a beer that exalts the most cherished and ubiquitous symbol of Halloween helps rekindle those memories and allows for a somewhat vicarious participation in a decidedly childlike activity. Then again, maybe the popularity of these brews is due to the fact that the pumpkin is such a photogenic fruit and its image looks so appetizing when plastered on a beer label. Other fruits are used in beer and make equally delicious pies—apples, cherries peaches and blueberries for instance—but they haven’t lent their names to a craft beer phenomenon. Can this be because they don’t have the same visually appealing impact and marketing panache of the pumpkin?

I have to admit that it was in part due to the appealing image of a plump pumpkin on the label that enticed me into trying the Pumpkin Lambicus. That and the fact that a lambic made with pumpkin sounded intriguing—so intriguing that I chose to ignore the words “beer with natural flavors added” that were clearly visible on the label. I poured the beer into two chalices and admired the dark orange hue and the creamy white head. It certainly looked the way I imagined that a pumpkin beer should look. But there was none of the familiar pumpkin-pie spiciness in the nose or the flavor, the beer smelling and tasting, in fact, more apple-like than pumpkin-like. It certainly wasn’t bad and both Barb and I enjoyed it, but in the end we agreed that an appealing image of a baked apple rather than the ubiquitous plump orange gourd should have been plastered on the label.

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Good Night on Grand Rapids’ West Side


This piece was written the morning after Game Two of the 2012 Word Series. Despite the Tigers' difficult loss in that game (and in the Series in general), former Siciliano's staffer Wes Eaton managed to find the beauty in a West Side Thursday night.

By Weston Eaton

While there are many that can speak with more authority on the matter, I’m certainly not a slouch when it comes to Grand Rapids’ West Side. Between small bowling allies, butcher shops, Latino grocers, Monarch’s Club, and Siciliano’s Market, I cross the river on at least a weekly basis. Max Trierweiler and Chris Andrus now bring us all one more reason to do so: the Mitten Brewing Company. As I’m sure many of you have heard, the idea is to bring together craft beer and baseball in an explicit way – hence the name “mitten”.

With the Tigers in World Series crises mode, my wife and I headed to the new “sports” bar, snuck in the back door to avoid the half block long IPO (initial public opening) line out front, and made our way to the bar in much the same way one struggles to front stage at the Orbit Room. While the room was packed and lines long, this is to be expected on an opening night. Or is it? With restaurants and craft breweries popping up like Morels in Spring across West Michigan, you might think that new craft beer venues like Perrin, White Flame, Harmony, or the Mitten (to name just a few) would need to slowly, steadily cultivate a dedicated following, and that this would take time. Indeed in the long run this may be the case, but from my recent experiences in the taproom at Perrin and last night at the Mitten, I got the feeling the beer was going to stay fresh.

Speaking of beer, my wife wrestled us a Porter and Hefeweizen from the throngs. Both were excellent, the Hefe closer to a Dunkel Weizen, the color of hazelnuts, and the Porter black with a tiny tan head and a heavy roast, which is how I like it. Not exactly sure who brewed these beers, but its likely the Mitten’s new co-brewer Robert Wanhatalo (aka Wob), formerly of the Hideout, played an important part. In the future, look for experimentation in line with the trails blazed by Joe Short.

While drinking our inaugural beers, we looked over the beer and baseball fans, finding more than one Beer City USA t-shirts on display. Like other badges, this symbol has come to embody a new collective identity within the area’s beer community, a signifier of not only past and present successes, but also a suggestion for future agendas. I felt this momentum, this change, strongly when walking past the the old firehouse that is the new brewery. I knew where I was – the city’s West Side, across from the seasonal Latino ice cream stand, the old Juke’s bar, and Quarry Ave, where I lived for years and my wife grew up – but now these familiar places seemed much more a part of the past, and the street lined with beer (and Tigers) fans was something new. I am not lamenting change now, and this is not what I experienced last night. Instead, I felt a little ‘Brooklyn’ in the air, meaning to say a buzz of activity and possibility that excites and inspires.

But this is of course only one way to understand the city’s West Side, on the cusp or not. In fact, telling the story in this way downplays culinary and beer culture happenings that have been going on in the areas for some time now. Moreover, I’ve clearly defined “the cusp” by my own biased set of standards – through the lens of craft beer. There are of course other ways to value the West Side, in terms of beer culture. Take for instance the Holiday Bar, a special treat a stone’s throw away from Salvatore’s Italian Restaurant (which serves the best lasagna in town).

Stepping out from the Mitten’s IPO energy, we were still thirsty and the game was still on – and the Holiday was waiting. Were were greeted with numerous seats at the expansive, curved, lounge style bar, and the enthusiastic Jim, Grand Rapids’ most ubiquitous bartender. Yes there are craft beers on tap – some of the city’s finest – but the circumstances, meaning a need for some perspective, called for tasty cheap red wine and a cold High Life. Developing an appreciation for this range, from the new to the old, is what the coming West Side experience is all about.

Friday, October 26, 2012

New Beer Friday - October 26 Edition

By Chris Siciliano

What in the world is he looking at?
At Siciliano's, we're big fans and supporters of every Grand Rapids/West Michigan brewery. No question about that. But we'd be lying if we said that Brewery Vivant does not hold a special place in our heart. How could it not when headbrewer Jacob Derylo is as much a part of our family as he is the family at the brewery?

Apart from being Sarah's brother, this writer's first cousin, and the boss' nephew and godson (insert Sicilian godfather comment here), Jacob was an employee at Siciliano's way back when the homebrew craze first began in earnest. Homebrewers have him to thank for lending a hand in turning Siciliano's into the store it is today.

Anyway, this is all to say we're proud of him, proud of him for landing a spot on the cover of Grand Rapids magazine this month, and also for making some damn tasty beer. Keep it up, Jacob!

Special congratulations to the boys at Mitten Brewing Co., who are celebrating their first weekend in business, and also to the folks down at Hopcat, who yesterday announced their plans to open a new location in East Lansing. Good things continue to brew in Michigan.

New (and Returning) Beer

  • Breckenridge Christmas Ale, $1.89/12 oz, $18.39/mini keg - "The chill of a Colorado high-country winter calls for a beer with extra flavor and strength. Here it is. At over 7% alcohol, with a sturdy texture and rich flavors of caramel and chocolate, our holiday seasonal is the fermented equivalent of a good fire" (source).
  • Detroit Brewing Co. Sanders Chocolate Stout, $1.69/12oz - "A traditional Irish style commercial stout (with a touch of acidic twang and at 12° Plato OG) with about 1.5 pounds of pure process cocoa/BBL added in the brewing process. Sanders Fine Chocolatiers are a fixture of the detroit community, but also some real beer fans. For that reason, they wanted the beer to taste like stout first, and chocolate second. The beer ends up coming off as a great traditional commercial stout, with some subtle and complex cocoa notes" (source).
  • Short's Magician, $1.69/12oz - "A lustrous dark red London ale with a rich malt combination that lends complex notes of toasted caramel, raisins, chocolate, and roasted toffee. Very light hop additions let the true malt characters promenade throughout the duration of this pleasurable experience" (source).
  • Shorts Black Cherry Porter, $2.19/12oz - "This Short’s brew is available seasonally, as soon as the local Northern Michigan sweet black cherries are ripe. Eight different malts, in conjunction with three varieties of hops, provide the deep radiant flavor profile and create the dark opaque color. A slight purple lace from the fruit puree enticingly leads into smooth soft hints of roasted chocolate and pleasurable black cherry flavors. This is quite possibly the most anticipated beer we offer" (source).
  • Dogfishhead Burton Baton, $4.09/12oz - "This oak-aged gentle giant has been gaining popularity over the past few years and is now available year-round. For Burton Baton, we brew two "threads," or batches, of beer: an English-style old ale and an imperial IPA. After fementating the beers separately in our stainless tanks, they're transferred and blended together in one of our large oak tanks. Burton Baton sits on the wood for about a month. When enjoying the Burton Baton, you'll find an awesome blend of the citrus notes from Northwestern hops melding with woody, vanilla notes from the oak. The wood also tends to mellow the 10% ABV of Burton, so tread cautiously!" (source).
  • Timmerman Pumpkin Lambic, $11.99/750ml - "Two traditions are brought together here in a unique complacency, namely an original succulence never tempted before. The result is sublime, liberating a graceful taste tinted by a controlled acidity on the lambic confused with the dry fruity of the pumpkin and the discreet sugar added. By crossing the middle of the mouth appears a taste of brown sugar remembering and accentuating the convivial touch of Halloween" (source).
  • Staropramen Czech Pils, $1.69/12oz - "Pale gold in colour with delicately flowery aromas and a taste in which hop crispness and malty softness combines to highly drinkable effect" (source).
  • Avery The Beast Grand Cru, $8.99/12oz - "The Beast is a seducer - accomodating, complicated, powerful, dark and created to last the ages. Beyond this, it’s futile to attempt to describe Him. He will unveil Himself differently to each of His followers. The mark is in His constitution. Brewed with two-row malted barley, honey malt, and imported Belgian specialty grains (aromatic, pale wheat, roasted wheat, and Special B), hops (Magnum, Galena, Saaz, Hallertau, Tettnang, and Hersbrucker), brewing sugars (raisins, dates, blackstrap molasses, alfalfa honey, turbinado, and dark Belgian candy sugar), water, Belgian yeast and another hellion of a yeast strain.OG: 1.138" (source
  • Rogue Chatoe Series Pumpkin, $11.49/22oz - "The newest addition to the Chatoe Rogue series is Pumpkin Patch Ale, a beer made using fresh pumpkins grown in a patch that borders Rogue’s 42 acre hop yard. The pumpkins are picked, loaded into Rogue’s farm truck, driven immediately 77 miles to our brewery in Newport, quickly roasted, and pitched into the brew kettle to create a batch of Pumpkin Patch Ale" (source).
  • Steinlager, $1.79/12oz - "Steinlager Classic has a robust hop nose of fresh-cut green grass and a full flavour delivered by the green bullet hop, grown in Nelson at 41 degrees latitude, the perfect hop-growing location. The body of Steinlager Classic delivers a full flavour that is perfectly balanced with a dry, tangy finish and crisp clean bitterness" (source).
Picture of the Week

Katie stocks the shelves with the latest offering from Rogue,
Rogue Chatoe Series Pumpkin


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tuesday Review: Black Bottle Original Blend Scotch

By John Barecki

I have a treat for those of you who have been wanting to explore the world of Scottish-made whisky. Black Bottle Original is a blend of all the distilleries on the Isle of Islay. This little powerhouse delivers a payload of the finest Islay whisky makers, showcasing the great balance that only peat fires can provide.

Starting off with a campfire smokiness that is soothed by a balanced malt back bone, the smokey characters are cradled by a golden caramel softness. While not as wonderfully complex as some single malts can be, this affordable, sought-after, blended whisky is a great first step into the world of Scottish malts. It is a wonderful dram that really allows the palate to appreciate all the underlying flavor notes of the various regions while still having the smokey and maritime flavors associated with Islay malts.

With the price tag at only $18.84/750ml, I think the unknown author's quote on their website sums it up pretty well. "If on my theme I rightly think, there are fine reasons why I drink: good wine – a friend – because I am dry. On best I should be by-and-by. Or any other reason why."

Black Bottle Original Scotch Whisky ($18.84/750ml) is available now at Siciliano's.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Convenience Store Stories: Schrodinger's Cat

Fiction By Steve Siciliano

On the morning of his seventy-fifth birthday Erwin Schrodinger found a kitten huddling beneath the picnic table under his back yard grape arbor. He had gone out in a light rain shortly after dawn to toss handfuls of Cheerios along the line of Rose of Sharons. When he was done he leaned against the chain-link fence and looked up at the bare branches of the maples then down at the blackening green pods lying in the grass underneath the walnut tree. “There they come, Mary,” he said when the first few sparrows began appearing. “Now your birds are happy.” It was when he was walking back to the house that he spied the cat.

Erwin wiped off his glasses on his shirt tail. “Well look it there, Mary,” he said. “A little white kitten.” He stooped down, reached into the plastic bag and tossed out a handful of Cheerios. “Are you hungry?” The cat looked at Erwin and meowed. ‘Okay, Mary,” Erwin said, then went into the house and came back with a bowl of milk.

While the kitten lapped the milk Erwin went into the garage. “Now where did I put that old cat bed? Ahh, there it is. Now aren’t you glad I didn’t throw it away? Where do you think it came from, Mary? Yes I’m going to keep it. It’s my birthday after all. Did you remember it’s my birthday, Mary? Now where’s that litter box?”

That afternoon Erwin walked to C’s for cat food and a bag of litter. “Today’s my birthday,” he told the young clerk.

“That’s nice, pop. Eight seventy-four.”

“I found a kitten.”

“That’s nice, pop. Eight seventy-four.”

“A little white kitten,” Erwin said and smiled.

“Twenty-six cents back. Have a nice day, pop.”

When Erwin was out the door the clerk shook his head and lit a cigarette. “He’s kind of a strange old duck.”

Michael Adams looked up from his liquor order. “Oh he’s a nice guy. His wife died a couple of weeks ago.”

“I think he’s a little goofy.”

“Well, maybe a little,” Michael said.

On a nasty morning in February when Erwin Schrodinger went out to feed the birds he didn’t notice that the cat had slipped out behind him. It was when he was walking up the porch steps that he saw paw prints in the snow.

“How long has she been gone?” Michael asked while he watched Erwin tacking a flyer to the store’s bulletin board.

“About seven days now.”

“In this weather?” the clerk said. “Ain’t no way that cat’s still alive.”

“Shut up, Frankie,” Michael said. “You know Erwin, someone might have taken her in.”

“I know, Michael. I know there’s the possibility that my cat Sadie is alive.” He placed the cup of thumb tacks on the counter then looked at the clerk. “Then again this young man might be right. There’s also the distinct possibility that she’s dead. I look at it this way, young man. At this moment, Sadie is both dead and alive. I guess I won’t know one way or the other until I actually see her.” He began walking out of the store then stopped and turned. “Until I see her with my own eyes. One way or the other.”

“I told you that old man is goofy,” the clerk said a little while later.

“I don’t think so,” Michael said. He was looking at the picture of Erwin Schrodinger’s cat on the flyer. “As a matter of fact, I’m quite convinced now that he’s not.”

Friday, October 19, 2012

New Beer Friday - October 19 Edition

By Chris Siciliano

In addition to all the new beers on the list below, this week I was asked to pass along two other small but potentially important pieces of beer news, both very much centered on product currently in-store or arriving very shortly.

First, we will soon be receiving Samuel Smith gift packs. The packs include three of Sammy Smith's classic, true-to-style beers and also come with a collector's glass and several coasters. (Pricing on the gift packs is not known at this time.)

Second, for a limited tim only, August Schell Stout and Firebrick are available for the low, low price of $0.99/12oz. We know these two beers don't inspire the same awe as, say, KBS or Hopslam, but for under a buck a beer, how can you go wrong?

New (and Returning) Beer

  • Bells Expedition Stout, $2.99/12oz - "One of the earliest examples of the Russian Imperial Stout in the United States, Expedition Stout offers immensely complex flavors crafted specifically with vintage aging in mind, as its profile will continue to mature and develop over the years. A huge malt body is matched to a heady blend of chocolate, dark fruits, and other aromas. Intensely bitter in its early months, the flavors will slowly meld and grow in depth as the beer ages" (source).
  • Bells Third Coast Old Ale, $2.69/12oz - "Third Coast Old Ale focuses on malt, offering notes of burnt caramel & other earthy malt flavors. Designed with vintage aging in mind, the malt aspect is matched to a heavy complement of hops. Sharply bitter at first, this will fold into the malt character over time and balance out the maltiness" (source).
  • Bells Java Stout, $2.69/12oz -"Java Stout uses a custom blend of coffee beans, roasted locally for us by Water Street Coffee Joint, to generate its intense flavor. Possessing an unmistakable aromatic punch, Java Stout has long been one of our most popular stouts" (source).
  • Bells This One Goes to 11, $3.09/12 oz (limit one 6pk/person) - "This One Goes to 11 Ale opens with bright, juicy aromas such as tropical fruits & ripe cherries, largely derived from massive kettle & dry-hop additions of Southern Hemisphere hop varieties such as Galaxy, Motueka, and Summer. The citrus & resinous pine notes of the Pacific Northwest hop family are also well represented, making their presence known through Simcoe, Citra, and the newly released Mosaic varietal, just to name a few. A wide range of specialty malts anchor the hops to this Imperial Red Ale, contrasting the assertive bitterness & juicy aromatics with a robust, toasty depth of flavor. Fermented with Bell’s signature house ale yeast, This One Goes to 11 Ale finishes with a lingering warmth" (source).
  • Bells Hell Hath No Fury, $2.69/12oz - "Originally conceived along the lines of a Belgian Dubbel, Hell Hath No Fury... Ale morphed during development into something entirely different. Blending a pair of Belgian abbey-style yeasts into a recipe more akin to a roasty stout, Hell Hath No Fury... Ale offers up warm, roasted notes of coffee & dark chocolate together with the fruity & clove-like aromas" (source).
  • Liberty Street Brewing Steamy Windows, $1.69/12oz - "A "Steam" style beer made with a lager yeast and fermented at ale temperatures and then aged at lager temperatures for a smooth, clean finish" (source).
  • Liberty Street Brewing Red Glare Amber Ale, $1.69/12oz - "A malt focused beer with an initial sweetness and a roasted dryness in the finish. A deep reddish-copper color is unmistakable for this style" (source).
  • New Holland Cabin Fever, $1.79/12oz - "Robust in character yet smooth in delivery, Cabin Fever is a roasty brown ale and a hearty, comforting companion for long, mind-bending winters. Its rye, roast and raisin notes play off a subtle caramel sweetness and culminate in a dry finish. Excellent with roasts, stews, caramelized onions and snowfall" (source).
  • New Holland Hopivore, $2.39/12oz - "Michigan grown hops are the story in this seasonal harvest ale. Hopivore is wet-hopped with hops added to the brew just hours after harvest, creating rare, fresh flavors" (source).
  • Brewery Vivant Big Red Coq, $3.39/16oz - "Citrus with mango & pineapple notes give way to a big malty character. Made with our house Belgian yeast to give it that Vivant-ness you would expect" (source).
  • Dark Horse One Oatmeal Stout, $2.09/12oz - "Number one in a series of five stouts produced for the fall and winter seasons. This beer is full bodied with hints of chocolate, roasted barley, coffee flavors and a nice creamy head" (source).
  • Founders Harvest Ale, $2.59/12oz - "This liquid dream pours a hazy golden orange straw color with a large puffy white two-finger head. First sip of this beer rewards with a super juicy hop presence bursting with fresh orange and lemon citrus then continues to introduce toasted malt undertones" (source).
  • Lagunitas Borwn Shugga', $1.99/12 oz - "An aborted batch of their Old Gnarleywine ended up tasting nearly as good as that they were hoping for, so they bottled it. God bless capitalism. OG 1.100 IBU 51.1" (source).
  • Arbor Brewing Phat Abbot Dubbel, $2.29/12 oz - "Strong ale with a pronounced Belgian character. A complex malty palate with sweet and sour fruits balanced by a dry woodsy bitterness. Strong, warming, alcohol finish. 8.0% alcohol" (source).
Picture of the Week

In honor of Liberty Street Brewing's arrival in bottles at Siciliano's, we give you this:
a picture of the squirrel that keeps watch in the men's restroom at their brewpub.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Leinenkugel Big Eddy Series: Wee Heavy, Imperial IPA, Baltic Porter

Big Eddy Series, $2.99/12oz
By Doug Dorda

Though the name of Jacob Leinenkugel has become synonymous with berryweiss and all other manor of shandy offerings, they have been releasing bold beers under the “Big Eddy” brand for over a year now. The beers found in this series include a Russian Imperial Stout, Wee Heavy, Imperial IPA, and finally a Baltic Porter.

Leinenkugels' aim for this series was to showcase that they are as serious about beer as any other craft brewery, and that they do not lack the vision to provide them to the enthusiasts of America. However, as the beers have rolled out, I could not help but notice that they seem to have flown a little below the radar – often times I will hear, “Hmmmm, an IPA from Leinenkugel, I wonder what that would be like?” As such, I decided to profile the three styles that we have currently in the store. Personally, I find each of them to be wonderful, bold, and hearty enough to stand their ground against many of the teriffic offerings that even our Michigan breweries produce. It is as though Leinenkugel has set a stake within their own brewery to simply say, “Yes, we make Summer Shandy, but our Baltic Porter will blow you halfway across the Adriatic sea!”

  • Leinenkugel Big Eddy Wee Heavy, $2.99/12oz – The beer pours a deep mahogany, or tawny amber that is similar to a clear dark caramel. The head lasts for a brief moment, and quickly dissipates due to lower levels of carbonation. The nose in an intensely complex symphony of roasted nuts, smoke and dried fruits that are balanced with a mild presence of malt sweetness. Upon first sip, the palate is dominated by roasted and smoked malts that are encapsulated within a shell of intense toffee malt. Interestingly enough, the overall taste experience left myself, as well as other tasters, with the impression of banana. Overall, the ale fits well within the stylistic guidelines for gargantuan Scotch ales, and would be enjoyed with bread puddings, or even a hearty stew.
  • Leinenkugel Big Eddy Imperial IPA, $2.99/12oz – Deep golden straw, reminiscent of rolling fields at twilight, this is how this ale appears from the depth of a pint glass. The head sits atop the beer as a thick cloud of well-coalesced bubbles that positively team with aromatic possibility. Copious amounts of citrus and piney resin jump into the nose as the glass is held closer; a mild note of malt helps to cut the onslaught of floral dominance. The taste reveals a heightened awareness of malt that is quickly overtaken by a showcase of intense hop flavors. The same citrus and pine notes are at play, but a nuance of fresh mowed grass can now be discovered. It is also important to note that the beer does not come off as overly bitter, due to a wonderfully struck balance with the malt. The finish leaves the drinker with just a touch of alcohol to remind us that the ale is 8.5%. I would love to enjoy this ale with grilled salmon, or any melange of mushrooms. 
  • Leinenkugel Big Eddy Baltic Porter, $2.99/12oz – A void of color sits before me in the glass. The seeming pitch blackness is given small contrast when held to the light for blood red accents can be notes through this transluscent beauty. The head is a deep brown that offers notes of dark chocolate, raisins, and lightly burnt toast. The lager lays on the palate like silk, it simply slides along the tongue as it offers tastes of cocoa, caramel and toasted chestnuts. Each of these flavors has its own moment in the sun, and can be pinpointed distinctly due to the clean flavor profile of the lager yeast. As I drink this beer I am reminded of respites from a winter's day, sipping on hot chocolate while the fire crackles in the hearth. I would pair this lager with all and every manner of dessert, stroganoff, or chili. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Tuesday Review: SpeakEZ Lounge

Tenderloin Elinor
By Steve Siciliano

Barb and I had been to the SpeakEZ Lounge a few times since it opened last February at its Monroe Avenue location, a space formerly occupied by the Cambridge House. While we had always gone solely for the solid list of draught craft beer offerings, a perusal of the menu during a recent visit convinced us that someday we would have to try the food. Last Saturday evening we did.

While owner Eric Albertson has retained much of the minimalist feel and understated décor of the Cambridge House—the high top tables, booths, and wooden bar; the soft lighting and exposed brick walls and ceiling—he has succeeded in elevating the quality and variety of the food. The SpeakEZ offers nine interesting appetizers ($7.00 - $11.00) and a small but eclectic list of seven entrees ranging from $9.00 to $18.00. The menu also includes eight sandwiches ($8.00 - $14.00) in addition to soups, salads, sides and desserts.

Escargot Normandy
For our starter we chose the Escargot Normandy. The snails were accompanied by crimini, button and portabella mushrooms, seared shallots and a rosemary crepe in a brandy cream sauce. For her entrée, Barb opted for the Tenderloin Elinor—seared medallions of beef tenderloin in a mushroom, shallot and brandy butter reduction with grilled asparagus and roasted Yukon potatoes. I chose the Year of the Dragon—garlic and sesame infused pork tenderloin with sugar snap peas and a sesame red pepper pasta salad topped with pork cracklings. The appetizer and both entrées were excellent and a bottle of Shannon Ridge Wrangler Red ($26.00) went nicely with the meal.

In addition to a lineup of ten draught craft beers the SpeakEZ also offers a good selection of 12oz bottles as well as a handful of 750mls. Wine lovers should also be pleased with the small but well priced and, in terms of how they pair with the food, well thought out wine list.

The SpeakEZ Lounge is at 600 Monroe Ave. NW
 in Grand Rapids, MI.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

New Beer Friday - October 12 Edition

Siciliano's T-shirts - Now on sale!
By Chris Siciliano

We're going to kick off this week's edition of New Beer Friday with one of our favorite all-time television quotes. It comes courtesy of the original beer nerd, Cliff Clavin:
"Well you see, Norm, it's like this: A herd of buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo. And when the herd is hunted, it is the slowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of the whole group keeps improving by the regular killing of the weakest members. In much the same way, the human brain can only operate as fast as the slowest brain cells. Excessive intake of alcohol, as we know, kills brain cells. But naturally, it attacks the slowest and weakest brain cells first. In this way, regular consumption of beer eliminates the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient machine. That's why you always feel smarter after a few beers."
See below for the latest beers to arrive at Siciliano's. Also, check out the brand new Siciliano's Market T-shirts, now on sale for $12 (see above picture). Have an intelligent weekend, everyone!

*Big thanks to Jo at for the great looking shirts.

New (and Returning) Beer

  • Founders Furniture City Stock Ale, $6.99/22oz - "Furniture City Stock Ale is a malt-forward beer brewed with seven different varieties of malts and grains. Our version of this historic style of beer pours a deep mahogany and is smooth and easy to drink. Each 750mL bottle has a suggested retail price of $6.99 and will be available at participating West Michigan retailers beginning on Monday, October 8. Our taproom will also be pouring this beer on draft and selling bottles out of our coolers" (source).
  • Thirsty Dog Cerberus, $3.39/12oz - "This beer is made with one grain and 4 Belgian yeasts, a deceptive golden color, and a malty palate lend complexity to this Belgian Trippel Ale. ABV = 10%, IBU’s = 31, OG = 23.1 P" (source).
  • Goose Island Bourbon County Stout, $5.79/12oz (limit 2) - "Brewed in honor of the 1000th batch at our original Clybourn brewpub. A liquid as dark and dense as a black hole with thick foam the color of a bourbon barrel. The nose is an intense mix of charred oak, chocolate, vanilla, caramel and smoke. One sip has more flavor than your average case of beer" (source).
  • Sierra Nevada Hoptimum, $2.49/12oz - "Hops, hops and more hops are the stars of this big, whole-cone Imperial IPA. Resinous ‘new-school’ and exclusive hop varieties carry the bold and aromatic nose. The flavor follows the aroma with layers of aggressive hoppiness, featuring notes of grapefruit rind, rose, lilac, cedar and tropical fruit – all culminating in a dry and lasting finish" (source).
  • Lagunitas Lil Sumpin' Wild Ale, $4.79/22oz - "Another big sister of the Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale. Loads of malted wheat for a curious malt foundation and a light color. But our Belgian yeast leaves a huge flavor and complexishness" (source).
  • Shiner Brewing Wild Hare Pale Ale, $1.49/12oz - "Wild Hare is a classic American Pale Ale-richly hopped, fruity and floral. Munich malt nicely balances the assertive character of the U.S. Golding and Bravo hop varieties that give this brew its signature bitterness and aroma" (source).
  • Shorts Black Cherry Porter, $2.19/12oz - "This Short’s brew is available seasonally, as soon as the local Northern Michigan sweet black cherries are ripe. Eight different malts, in conjunction with three varieties of hops, provide the deep radiant flavor profile and create the dark opaque color. A slight purple lace from the fruit puree enticingly leads into smooth soft hints of roasted chocolate and pleasurable black cherry flavors. This is quite possibly the most anticipated beer we offer" (source).
  • Anderson Valley Winter Solstice, $1.89/12oz cans, $2.19/12oz bottles - "Each year, when people are starting to unpack their winter clothes and replenish their firewood, our tiny brewery in the coastal redwoods of Northern California makes seasonal preparations of a different kind. As the cold arrives, we release a unique beverage created to add warmth to even the coldest and darkest of winter's days. Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale begins with a very high original gravity to create a hearty and spicy brew with a deep amber hue and a smooth finish. Anderson Valley Brewing Company wishes you the very best for the holiday season and the New Year" (source).
  • New Belgium Lips of Faith Super IPA, $6.69/22oz - "Alpine might be small, but their brewing chops are mighty. We teamed up to create this triple dry-hopped imperial IPA bursting with Columbus, Amarillo, Centennial and Simcoe hops. Consider yourself a hero for getting an Alpine beer outside of San Diego" (source).
  • Jolly Pumpkin La Parcela,  $14.39/750ml - "Ok, so the joke was that Jolly Pumpkin doesn’t brew a pumpkin beer. Well, now we do. Just this one. Packed with real pumpkins, hints of spice, and a gentle kiss of cocoa to liven the soul. An everyday easy way to fill your squashy quotient. Guess now folks will have to find something else to joke about" (source).
  • Sierra Nevada/Russian River Brux, $15.09/750ml - "BRUX is a "domesticated wild ale", or an ale fermented with Belgian yeast, finished by a secondary bottle fermentation with Brettanomyces bruxellensis. It's a little more than 8% alcohol, very dry, earthy, spicy, and tasty" (source).
Picture of the Week

Peanut Butter Porter?
(Picture courtesy of The Mitten Brewing Co.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Winexpert Limited Edition Kits, Now Available for Pre-Order

By Steve Siciliano

Each year Winexpert releases five unique, super-premium wine kits that are not part of the company's regular portfolio. These kits are available only on a pre-order basis and are released during the first four months of the year. 

We are now taking orders for the 2012 Limited Edition offerings. Please note that the April kit will include grape skins. The following are the individual varieties along with the respective pricing and release dates. Complete description of all five varieties are available at

    • Argentine Malbec Bonarda, $139.00 – Availabe January
    • Argentine Torrontes, $134.00 – Available January
    • Portuguese Arongones Cabernet Sauvignon, $139.00 – Available February
    • Washington Riesling Chenin Blanc, $134.00 – Available March
    • Italian Nebbiolo with grape skins, $161.00 – Available April
Please note that we must receive pre-orders by Wednesday, December 5, 2012 either by phone (616-453-9674), email ( or, of course, in person at the store.

Photo from Siciliano's files

Monday, October 8, 2012

Hi Doug: Where are all the Pumpkin Beers?

With the whereabouts of previous advice columnist Hey Kevin currently unknown, Siciliano's staffer Doug Dorda has stepped in to pitch hit. For his first column, Doug tackles an age-old question, one, in fact, that Hey Kevin himself took a stab at during his short-lived heyday.

Hi Doug,

I can't help but notice the fact that fall beers come out earlier every year, why is that, and why is it that a lot of my favorite pumpkin beers are gone already?

-Zachary Binx

That's right, Zachary, according to our shelves at least, it has been fall for well over two months. Octoberfest and Pumpkin beer seem as though they arrive earlier and earlier each year, which is wonderful for those who hotly anticipate the season, and woeful for those that wait for nature to show the signs of change. For as these beers are easily found in August, by the time their intended season rears its head in a tumult of climactic activity, the beers that are meant to accompany them are dwindling rapidly in terms of availability.

However, this is not a trend that is unique to fall. Throughout the year, winter beers arrive in fall, spring beers arrive in winter, so on and so forth. It's easy to see how fall beers make the most startling impact fo the consumer though. “Pumpkin beer?! But it's only August!” In the last month of summer, this is an exclamation commonly heard around the retail universe of beer. It isn’t often you hear people scoff at the maibock that arrives late winter and isn’t meant to be enjoyed until spring. Similarly, fall beers often fit into the paradigm of winter seasonals and vice versa.

There are a few reasons that we see these beers as early as we do, but principal among them is a brewery's production schedule. Lets say that brewery “A” intends to release a pumpkin beer for the fall and an imperial stout for the winter on top of all the mainstay beers that they must produce in order to fill the demand of the general drinking populace. In order to do this, and have the beer available at the intended time, they will have to brew the beer well ahead of its desired season within gaps that exist in their year-round production line up. Generally, but not always, this means pumpkin beers are brewed as early as June each year (hardly a time of year that people seek out the spice-laden indulgence of fall).

Alright, so the beer has been brewed in June and is now taking up fermenter space that is generally used for one of its flagship beers. After it is packaged, it occupies space in their warehouse that is generally taken up by one of the flagship beers, as a result they will send the beer out to the distribution channels as soon as they can to make room for the rest of their product line. Once the beer is in the hands of a distributor, they will sell it as quickly as they can in order to continue to have room for all of the brands that normally occupy their warehouse. Boil it all down, and we end up with pumpkin beer on the shelves in August. The cycle continues for the next seasonal beer down the line, and so it goes, destined to become something as dutifully complained about as the aisle in Meijer that is selling Christmas decorations before thanksgiving dinner has even been served.

As to why many of them gone already, that is for an entirely different reason. One would think that beers such as the fall seasonals would be wholly undesired until the fall is actually here. In the case of the modern beer aficionado, however, this is not entirely true. Those seasoned ale-heads that have noticed the trend over the years have begun investing heavily in the season. Often times they will notice that the beers have arrived and purchase them a case at a time so that they are well provisioned throughout the season. Indeed I believe I saw a case of O'Fallon Pumpkin Ale leave the store on a near 90-degree day. It would seem then that the time to purchase these beers is the moment they land at our feet. Of all the pumpkin beers that were received at Siciliano's in the past months, only about 2 percent now remain.

Think of their arrivals like early season clearance sales in retail stores – buying winter clothes in summer is clearly the best choice for your pocket book. While you wont be getting the beer on sale if you purchase it early, you can guarantee your seasonal enjoyment of it. This author posits that “Pumpkin August” shares strong similarities with “black friday” in that you spend a lot all at once on something that will make someone very happy in the future. The best part is that you save yourself worry over availability in the long run, so that when the big days come, you can simply sit back and enjoy your forethought, and most importantly, a beverage.

Thanks for listening.


Thursday, October 4, 2012

New Beer Friday - October 5 Edition

Chris & Max brew a test batch
in Chris' garage, winter of last year.
By Chris Siciliano

Good news, Grand Rapids beer fans. Before the month is out, yet another craft brewery will be opening its doors in Beer City, USA. That's right, The Mitten Brewing Company recently secured all necessary licenses and are planning to serve up their first pint on October 25, 2012.

The Buzz staff would like to congratulate Mitten Brewing co-owners Max Trierweiler and Chris Andrus. We wish them nothing but luck and I for one sincerely hope and expect great things from them and their beer, and their pizza. No doubt it will all be good.

Keep up on the latest news from The Mitten Brewing Co. by following their Facebook page and by bookmarking their website. We'll also be sure to pass along any updates we hear. In the meantime, here's a few other new and tasty beers for you to try.

New (and Returning) Beer

  • Left hand Wake Up Dead Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout, $6.69/22oz - "Wake Up Dead hibernates in our cellars for over 12 months before being blended to woody perfection. Hints of raisins, cherry, licorice and toffee, followed by earthy, herbal hop notes that rise up, joining in your fight for a better life" (source).
  • Epic Brewing Fermentation without Representation Pumpkin Porter, $13.19/22oz - "An Imperial Pumpkin Porter to celebrate the season" (source).
  • Epic Brewing Bad Baptist Russian Imperial, $12.09/22oz - It’s Big, it’s Bad, Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout, with Coffee and Cocoa Nibs" (source).
  • Ommegang Scythe and Sickle, $2.79/12 - "Scythe & Sickle Harvest Ale is brewed with barley, wheat, oats and rye. Scythe and sickle is a seasonal brew that celebrates the richness of the grain harvest. Brewed with barley, wheat, oats and – in a nod to traditional upstate New York grains – rye, this fine ale is malty and creamy on the palate. The flavors of the grains and earth shine through. Enjoy the refreshment of the season and joys of fine brewing" (source).
  • Brooklyn Brewing Post Road Pumpkin, $1.69/12oz - "Early American colonialists, seeking natural ingredients for brewing ales, turned to pumpkins, which were plentiful, flavorful and nutritious. Blended with barley malt, pumpkins became a commonly used beer ingredient. Post Road Pumpkin Ale brings back this tasty tradition. Hundreds of pounds of pumpkins are blended into the mash of each batch, creating a beer with an orange amber color, warm pumpkin aroma, biscuity malt center, and crisp finish" (source).
  • Brooklyn Brewing Oktoberfest, $1.69/12oz - "Brooklyn Oktoberfest was introduced in 2000. It is true to the original German style, full-bodied and malty, with a bready aroma and light, brisk hop bitterness" (source).
  • Shorts Kind Ale, $1.99/12oz - "Short’s Harvest Ale, a seasonal beer made each fall to celebrate a successful growing season. True to tradition, we commemorate the earth’s agricultural environment by using freshly picked hops to “wet hop” this brew. Straight from the fields on LeelanauPeninsula to our kettle, local hops impart a mellow earthiness to this ale that lead to moderate bitter tones and a subtle sweetness in the finish" (source).
  • Capital Brewing Autumnal Fire Dopplebock, $2.89/12oz - "A blazing rich beer, this is a doppelbock based on an Oktoberfest personality. Warm and intriguing, the perfect "Brandy Snifter" beer. Available September and October" (source).
Picture of the Week

Kati & Sarah posing with pumpkin beers


Sam Siciliano's Homemade Kapusta Recipe

Sam Siciliano
By Steve Siciliano

For the past ten years or so we have capped off our big fall sale during Customer Appreciation Week by setting up a make-shift hot dog stand and treating our loyal customers to German wieners, draught root beer and homemade sauerkraut, aka kapusta. While the dogs and suds always garner their share of accolades, it is the kapusta hand-crafted by my father, Sam Siciliano, that has emerged as the undisputed star of this annual event. Today we share Sam’s kapusta recipe in response to dozens of requests.


    • 2 lbs. canned sauerkraut, drained 
    • ¾ head of cabbage, shredded
    • 1.5 cup onion, diced
    • 1.5 cup celery, diced
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 2 garlic cloves, minced
    • 2 15 oz. cans chicken broth
    • Pork steak, pork roast or spareribs
    • Brown sugar
    • Salt & pepper to taste 
Directions: Sauté onions, celery, garlic and pork in oil. Add drained sauerkraut and chicken broth and simmer for fifteen minutes, Add bay leaves, salt and pepper to taste. Add shredded cabbage and simmer for one hour, Add brown sugar to taste.

*Special thanks to Neve Trumpeter for the great candid photo of Grandpa Sam. It was taken this summer on Sam's property up North.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Green Coffee Beans - Now Available in Bulk at Siciliano's

 By Steve Siciliano

Home coffee roasting enthusiasts will be pleased to hear that we have revamped and expanded our green coffee bean section. Ten varieties of green beans, all carrying a Free Trade Organic designation, and all retailing at $9.49 per pound, may now be purchased in bulk quantities.

For a brief overview of the home coffee roasting process from The Buzz archives, please click here. Click here for a personal take on the roasting process from Abbey Blodgett, longtime friend and customer of Siciliano's.

We are also carrying the following publications, some pertaining to coffee in general and others to the home roasting process in particular:

    • The Book of Coffee and Tea ($17.99) – A guide to selecting, preparing, tasting and serving.
    • Coffee ($17.99) – A guide to buying, brewing and enjoying.
    • Home Coffee Roasting: Romance & Revival ($17.95) – Guidelines for every step in the home roasting process (for a review off this book from The Buzz archives, click here).
    • The Art and Craft of Coffee ($24.99) – A guide to selecting, roasting and brewing.