Thursday, February 19, 2009

Catskeller Goose Island Beer and Cheese tasting:

I have to be honest; I have a cheese problem. I just can’t quit it. I usually pair beers with cheese at home, so when I found out Catskeller was doing a beer and cheese tasting for the very affordable price of $10.00, I emailed a plea to manager and fellow beer geek Adam Bankovich to put us on the list.

I graduated in 2007 from UC, and went to Catskeller a few times. Tucked away in the basement of the Tangeman center, some people might not even know it is there. When I visited, they boasted maybe three beers. Bud, Bud light, and Smirnoff Twist. All in bottles. Blech.
Adam is working to change all that.

Catskeller has gotten a serious upgrade. There are now two taps that Adam rotates. He’s also expanded Catskeller’s bottled offerings to over 44 beers, and it’s still growing. Take a look at the impressive list here.

It’s formatted very well, with the beer itself, size of the bottle, country of origin, type of beer, price and the ABV. I think that listing the ABV is very important, but many places don’t do it. Dilly Deli and Catskeller list it, but the Tavern Restaurant group does not.

I’d like to point out how varied this list is. I think Adam deserves some serious props.
Pilsners, imperial and regular IPAs, belgians, helles lagers, stouts, lambics, lagers, porters, barleywines—this is a very well rounded list that took some effort to put together.

Note the beer prices. There are more than a few restaurants that could learn a thing or two from Catskeller about pricing their beverage offerings. All of the 12 oz beers are $3.00-$4.00. Recall our trip to Bootsy’s, where they had the audacity to charge us $4.50 for a bottle of Bass. That’s right, Bootsy, I’m not going to let that go.

But that’s not all—there is also beer binder that Adam also put together as sort of a beer guide. It gives a short explanation of what the beer is like, and gives suggestions for comparable and similar beers.

I’d be happy enough with the beer options, but if you get hungry, Catskeller’s munchie menu has also improved to include waffle fries, chicken tenders, pizza, stuffed pretzels, wings, hotdogs, nachos and cookies and cream oreo cheese cake, all at very affordable prices. The most expensive thing on the menu are the 12 wings for $7.50 , which is good, because you’ll probably want to spend most of your money on beer anyway.

The tasting we went to focused on Goose Island beers. Six beers were featured, including 312 Urban Wheat Ale (4.2%) Nut Brown Ale (5.3%) Mild Winter Ale (5.6%) Matilda (7.0%) Goose Island Imperial IPA (9.0%) and Pere Jacques (8.0%). They were each paired with cheese and chocolate. The cheeses featured were fresh goat cheese, cheddar, fontina, muenster, and aged gouda.

As a warm up, we settled in with a Duvel and an Arrogant Bastard. We looked around and saw a mix of college students and older beer aficionados in attendance. There were also a few men in suits wandering around, and our tasting presenter from Goose Island in a cabby cap.

The suited men were from Anheuser Busch, I learned, and were in town to check out Catskeller and the tasting, among other things. You would think that there might be some animosity with the different breweries and their slightly different focuses (craft vs mass production) there, but I didn’t detect any.

Yummy Bastard

The tasting started with a pairing of 312 (the area code of the Goose Island brewery in Chicago) wheat and fresh goat cheese. 312 is an unfiltered ale, and pours a cloudy straw color. I smelled wheat and toast, which contrasted well with the tart, creamy goat cheese. David smelled lot of wheat, a little hint of cheerios, and tasted light citrus and a little bit of spice. Medium carbonation, Cascade hops and 20 IBU’s.

312 and Goat cheese

The next beer, a Nut Brown beer was served with Cheddar. Nut brown is…well, a very nutty brown beer. I tasted a lot of toast again, and for some reason a little bit of a chemical taste. I liked the cheddar, which is one of my two favorite cheeses. David smelled chocolate and a little caramel in the Nut brown. He tasted a little bit of coffee, and Dr. Pepper cola. David also notes that the beer is a little bit tart, with light sweetness and a little saltiness. Light mouth feel and carbonation. 25 IBUS.

Nut Brown and Cheddar

Third, the Mild Winter and Fontina cheese. Pours a dark tea color. I tasted honey, wheat and tea. The Fontina was firm and mild, and went well with the beer. Mild winter does have rye in it, and I could taste a little spice. David smelled a hit of root beer, toast, honey and tea also. He tasted neutral sweetness and a hint of bitterness. Lowly carbonated, a little bit thin. 20 IBU’s.

Goose Island may be a familiar beer to some, and many of their brews are not difficult to get. The reserve line, however, is a little bit harder to find, one you can’t even sell in Ohio because of Ohio idiotic beer and liquor laws— happily Adam managed to score three of them for his tasting, the Matilda, Pere Jacques and Imperial IPA.

Matilda was next, inspired by Brewmaster Greg Hall’s trip to a Trappist abbey in Belgium. It’s very fruity and a little spicy, pouring a golden honey color. I’ve had it on tap at Nicholson’s before. Matilda was paired with a Muenster cheese. I tasted wood, cherries a little bit of banana. David smelled banana, raisin and strong spice. He tasted an even stronger spice, a little bit of vanilla and slight salt, with medium sweetness. Medium carbonation and 32 IBU’s.

I was very excited for the next beer and cheese pairing. The imperial IPA—which is only available on draft in Ohio right now. I love IPAs ( Hopslam and Ruination are favorites) I also love aged gouda.

Only someone who loves cheese as much as I do would buy an 82.00 half wheel from the party source. I present to you Midnight Moon aged goat gouda. The half wheel of happiness.

Imperial IPA

This beer pours a golden honey color, with a slight haze. I smelled pine, peach and nectarine, and tasted….what did you expect? Yummy yummy hops. David smelled heavy peaches, apricots and a little bit of grapefruit. David tasted an herbal quality and wintergreen (Don’t ask me, I’m just typing up his notes) with a little bit of alcohol. Beer is slightly tart and lightly carbonated.

The last beer was the Pere Jacques, another Belgian inspired brew. It was served with organic chocolate covered pretzels. It pours a slight hazy medium amber, smells of light fruit, cherry slight alcohol taste, slight sweetness, light saltiness. A little bit tart. Light bitterness and viscosity, moderately carbonated.

David I had finished all the tastings cheeses, and pretzels. Adam told us he had a new Stone brew—the Cali-belgique—behind the counter. Did we want to try it? Did we ever! We snagged the last bottle.

We were getting pretty hungry, so we ordered a Jalapeño stuffed cheese pretzel and a cheese pizza before we headed out. They were both delicious.

We really enjoyed the tasting at Catskeller and are amazed how much it has changed in the past few years. The speaker was very knowledgeable and had lots of facts and anecdotes about the beers, which I found very entertaining. It was a super awesome event, and I hope its one of many more at the Catskeller.

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