I've drunk a lot of beer in my day. A lot. I'd tell you how much, but knowing that would kind of undermine my original point. Still, I've remembered enough to keep a running scorecard of my favorite breweries in my head. And for me, one brewer from top to bottom has risen above the rest. From its Black Butte Porter to its Mirror Pond Pale Ale to its Twilight Summer Ale, I've loved every Deschutes Brewery beer I've had.
But when the Bend, Ore.-based brewer released its latest Reserve Series beer last week, it offered one of the most challenging brews I've ever tried from Deschutes. Not the Stoic is a 12.5% ABV Belgian-style quadrupel ale made with pomegranate molasses, which is then aged in Pinot Noir and rye whiskey barrels. Well, that's a mouthful. But will it be any good?
Not the Stoic (a sequel to Deschutes' 2011 release The Stoic) is dense. Its body isn't thick, but its flavor is strong. When I took my first sip I tasted the concentrated flavor ofdried fruit, and the molasses made the quad richly sweet, but not cloying. And while I noticed the slight fruitiness from the Pinot barrels, the taste of rye is more prominent, as is the whiskey-like heat that owes to the ale's high alcohol-content.
That's a long way of saying this ale is not a "Hey, let's grab a few six packs and watch the game" type of beer. Drinking the quad feels more akin to enjoying whiskey or wine. And unlike many of the beers I consume, Not the Stoic requires a meal to get the absolute best out of it.
That doesn't mean all foods work with the beer. Don't drink Not the Stoic with a big ol' brisket expecting great results. "Anything that's heavily smoked would take away from the flavor imparted by the rye barrels," Deschutes' executive chef Jeff Usinowicz says. "If you get rid of the rye notes and the oak age you end up with a malty, sweet beverage."
What works well with this beer is a tinge of funk and a touch of sweetness. Think seared gamey meat or tangy cheese, like the habanero marionberry goat cheese Usinowicz (who has the awesome job of collaborating with Deschutes brewers to build menus around beers at their brewpubs) will pair with the Not the Stoic. "The cheese's sweetness really clears out the ale's candy character and brings out the rye quality," he says. "It's also friendly with mac and cheese, baked brie and cheesecake."
For a main dish, Usinowicz gave me a recipe for lamb chops with a chimichurri sauce to try at home. The meal actually made the beer more enjoyable to drink. Why? Well, the ale, low on hoppy bitterness, doesn't have a ton of structure, so the gaminess of lamb gives the ale that structure, while not overwhelming its subtle smokiness. And the sweetness of the chimichurri's herbs and the caramelization on the seared lamb eases the ale's own sweetness. Luckily enough, the lamb dish Usinowicz shared isn't very difficult to prepare and he threw in a great roasted fennel gratin recipe that really rounds out the meal. Overall, the food and the beer's interplay is a paragon of pairing. The dish took a beer I was apprehensive about upon first taste and had me reaching for my glass between every bite.
6-8 lamb chops
1 oz. pomace olive oil
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Coat the chops with oil and vinegar then season with salt and pepper. Set aside for 30 minutes while preparing the chimichurri. Sear lamb chops in a heavy skillet until they reach an internal temperature of 125-130 degrees.
2 oz. minced parsley
1/2 oz. minced mint
1/2 oz. minced dill
1 tbsp. minced tarragon
1/2 c. rough chopped capers
5 cloves minced garlic
1 oz. can of drained and minced anchovies
1 1/2 c. of blend oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Mince herbs in a food processor with the oil until chunky, and then add in the chopped capers, garlic, and anchovies.
ROASTED FENNEL GRATIN
6 large gold potatoes
1 tbsp. garlic powder
1 tbsp. onion powder
1 tbsp. sea salt
1 tbsp. ground black pepper
1 c. grated Parmesan
1 fennel bulb fennel
¼ c. heavy cream
1 c. shredded Fontina cheese
Slow boil the potatoes so they're cooked but still firm, then cool and slice them. Cut the tops off the fennel bulb, slice it in half, cut out the core, toss the bulb in a touch of olive oil, and then season with salt and pepper. Roast the bulb 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until soft. Cool and slice into matchsticks.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Once your potatoes and fennel are cooled and sliced, combine all of the ingredients, except the Fontina, in a large mixing bowl. Arrange the potato-fennel mixture in a buttered or non-stick-sprayed 9"x9" baking pan. Top the gratin with the shredded Fontina, and then cover the pan with foil. Cook for one hour and then take the foil off and cook for another 10 minutes to brown the Fontina.
Jeremy Repanich is an Associate Editor at Playboy. His writing has appeared in Men's Journal, Popular Mechanics, Sports Illustrated and SI Kids, as well as on Wired.com, Vice.com, Deadspin and Outside Online. Follow him on Twitter @racefortheprize.
Photo via Deschutes Brewery