The Top Sail

After my experience with Boulevard Brewing's Bourbon Barrel Quad, I was excited to try another bourbon barreled beer, this one a little closer to home. Full Sail Brewing, located in Hood River, Oregon, in the Columbia River Gorge, is one of the most well-known breweries in the area. Every year they do something they call Top Sail, but last year they reserved some and aged it in bourbon barrels for 10 months. This created their Top Sail Imperial Bourbon Porter, described on their website like this:

After its initial release in February 2009, Top Sail was aged for about 10 months in Bourbon casks from Kentucky. This aging presents hints of chocolate, figs and oak to this amplified robust porter. Deep black in color, it has a roasty malt flavor and a rich malt sweetness that’s smooth and drinkable. A hearty cellar beer.

The casks they used were from Maker's Mark, Stranahan's, and Four Roses, if I recall what I read somewhere correctly. The beer was aged in the individual casks, then mixed together for bottling. If you live in either Portland or Hood River and managed to make it to their brew pubs the day it was released, they were serving horizontal tastings from each of the three casks for comparison. While it would have been fun, I didn't make it for that - but I did make a special trip out to Belmont Station once I saw they had it in stock.

At $12 for a 22oz bottle it's again not cheap, but I think I've made it clear by now that's not prohibitive if it's something that sounds good.

So how was it? It poured dark and thick, and compared with the Bourbon Barrel Quad the bourbon wasn't as strong smelling, nor did it have any kind of fruitiness to the nose. It smelled like it looked - dark and heavy.

The taste was the same - dark, thick, heavy. I found flavors of chocolate and caramel mixed into the dense maltiness of the beer, but the flavor that first popped into my head was "earthy." I'm not exactly sure how to describe that, but it tasted like it was somehow raw and had just come out from a long time away - which it had. The brewers at Full Sail say this is something best to buy and save, because they feel the full flavors will reveal themselves only with time.

To me that's a good thing. If this is all it was I can't say I'd be disappointed, but I wouldn't be ecstatic either. I may get another bottle of this to squirrel away for a couple years, just to see if the flavors really do develop into something more crisp and flavorful.

Because of that conclusion, I'm not necessarily sure I can recommend this. If you aren't sure either, go with the Boulevard brew if you have that choice.

Even More Reads and Views


Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan - This may be one of the best books I've ever read, and should be required reading for everyone. Regardless of what you eat, this book will shed some perspective on a ton of different things related to food (and I talked more about what it meant to me here). Pollan presents a variety of very intricate topics and facts, and makes it accessible to the average reader. It may just change your life.

Cleaved, by Julie Powell - Simply put, the Julie that is presented in this book is quite different than the one presented in the movie or book of Julie and Julia. She is darker, more damaged, but it's an intensely personal - and, one assumes, true - look at her own life, the life outside of the Project. Along the way you learn a lot about the life of a butcher, a path probably not too many would have predicted for her. I would suggest you read Julie and Julia first, just because reading this one first - as we did - will probably color how you approach her more well-known book.

In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan - This follow-up to Omnivore's Dilemma is meant as a simple guideline, a reaction to many people asking Pollan what people should be eating given the findings in the previous book. It's a remarkably easy answer, but Pollan backs up his mantra - "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." - with more very clear, easy to understand facts and logic. If it seems like I'm pushing this, I'm sorry - it just makes entirely too much sense to me to do otherwise.

Pirate Latitudes, by Michael Crichton - This is Crichton's post-humous release. I have mixed feelings about these kinds of things, because often they are missing the final updates by the author who knew the book best - you know, because he's dead and all. Another person simply isn't going to have the story as complete in their own mind and won't have the same frame of reference coming from the research done by the original author. They said this book as found complete, but I would guess that's not entirely true; had it been complete, it would have been turned over to a publisher. It's not a bad book, it's just not as sharp and polished as we expect from a Crichton novel. (I have the same feeling about all of those crappy 2Pac albums that came out after his death - if he wanted the songs released because he thought they were good, they would have been out already.) Crichton fans may be a little disappointed, but it's still entertaining and a fast read.

Committed, by Elizabeth Gilbert - This is the followup book to Eat. Pray. Love. - which yes, even though I'm male I did read and I did enjoy. It explores Gilbert's reluctance to step back into marriage - which makes sense given the divorce that plunged her into what became the previous book - until she was faced with the decision to marry again. It's chock full of personal inteviews from various cultures and detailed history of the institution of marriage itself. This book is also obviously a personal story, meaning the conclusions drawn aren't necessarily applicable to everyone (and Gilbert says as much); however, it's still enlightening. If you liked Eat. Pray. Love., you'll like this.

Julie and Julia, by Julie Powell - If you have seen the movie - which it seems like a lot of America, especially foodies, has - then I highly encourage you to read the book. For one, it tells a slightly different story. It's not that the book has any more or less drama than the movie, it's just different drama. For example, in the book Eric never walks out on her...which seems like a key thing one would want to be accurate on. I'm a big fan of Powell's writing style, but I know from reading various other opinions and reviews it's not for everyone. I've dug up a link to her original blog and intend to read that also at some point, but that's a lot of reading. The book is like the behind the scenes story of the project - and it's fascinating.

Snuff, by Chuck Palahniuk - Palahniuk - you may know him as "that guy who wrote Fight Club" - is absolutely, definitely, not for everyone. Mom, I would suggest not reading Chuck. His books are full of basically the raunchiest and weirdest crap you can come up with, and while it's not necessarily my cup of tea, I can't look away either. This one's premise is basically a porn star who plans on killing herself by setting a record - if you want to know more at this point, you are already going to read the book. If you don't, you aren't his target audience anyway. Palahniuk is hardly the first author to write this style of fiction (just the first I was exposed to, via Fight Club), but he won't be the last where at the end of the book you ask: "What the hell is that guy on?!"


500 Days of Summer - This movie was intriguing - both of us like Zooey Deschanel - but it was horribly depressing. It's probably more accurate than most Hollywood drivel, but that doesn't make it happy. Not a big fan of the male lead, Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

The Hangover - How, exactly, had we not seen this movie yet?! Good question - even better after we saw it and realized why everyone loved it so much. Funny, entertaining - and Mike Tyson! Thumbs up.

Funny People - Contrary to what the title of the movie may lead you to believe, this is not funny. It had it's moments, sure, but in the end it just wasn't a comedy. A drama with funny points? Sure. Not a comedy though.

Terminator Salvation - The first rule of a Terminator movie is never to expect a full-fledged story but to instead be impressed with the special effects and the body count. This one is no exception. It was probably an hour longer than it needed to be.

Post Grad - On the surface this should have been a solid movie. The main characters were that girl from the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (Alexis Bledel) and the quarterback from Friday Night Lights (Zach Gilford), two actors we enjoy. Unfortunately, the script was horrible and the story never seemed to be going anywhere. It didn't stand apart in any way and just seemed muddled. I wanted to like it, but can't.

All About Steve - In something that has increasingly become surprising to me, apparently I'm a fan of Sandra Bullock. She might be a bit wacky - or more than a bit - but she's also funny and, dare I say it, cute. Plus, Bradley Cooper is pretty dang entertaining himself. However, those two carried this movie, because the script wasn't the best. Glad it didn't have a typical Hollywood ending.

A Walk in the Clouds - The story here wasn't too bad, even as improbable as it was. Since it was set just after WWII, perhaps people were more trusting then, because bringing home a random guy for the weekend and telling your psycho dad he's your husband because your professor knocked you up just seems a little crazy to me. Oh yeah, and Keanu Reeves is a horrible actor.

Whip It - Add Ellen Page to the list of actresses we both like. Her humor and the delivery of her lines makes her always entertaining, and the supporting actors (Eve, Kristen Wiig, etc.) really made this work. Could have done without Drew Barrymore's character myself, but I suppose when you direct the movie you can put yourself in it too. Thumbs up.

Wedding Crashers - Wifey and I watched this the night before my sister was married (Congrats Sis!) to get in the wedding mood. Not sure it's really all that great for that, but it was entertaining. I don't think I'd say it was good, but you can't really expect that from anything starring Owen Wilson.

Surrogates - I used to be a big Bruce Willis fan, but in this movie he just came across as, well, old. I had low expectations going into this wack robot body replacement movie murder mystery - and they were met exactly. I'm sure it was a great comic book.


Stick to the Teeth

Like roughly 90% of the rest of the world I'm not a huge fan of going to the dentist. I have good teeth, rarely have cavities, never had anything major happen beyond getting my wisdom teeth removed, and about the most painful part of my visit is getting the lecture on how I should floss more, but I still dislike it.

At least as an adult you don't have to deal with fluoride anymore. I'm sure the hygienist I had when I was about seven or eight still has flashbacks to the day I inexplicably chose the chocolate flavor then proceeded to throw it up all over myself. Ahh...childhood.

So anyway, at the end of every cleaning my dentist stops by for roughly two minutes to check over the hygienist's work and ask me a few questions. He looks at my tongue and my jaws, presumably keeping an eye out for other things affecting the mouth not directly related to teeth. He checks the structure and strength of the bones in my jaw, the muscles in my throat - that sort of thing.

This time his fingers lingered on this small lump just under my jawline, to the right of my throat, on what I thought was just an ingrown hair or something.


"Hmmm"? What exactly does that mean? It sounds thoughtful and foreboding at the same time.

"It looks like you have a swollen lymph node. Have you been sick?"

No. I don't get sick.

"If that's still there for more than a week or two you should probably have a doctor look at it."

It's been at least a couple months. Well then.

So I made an appointment with a doctor. In the meantime I did what everyone with a computer does when presented with an issue like this: I hit up WebMD.

Honestly, I'm not a huge fan of this site. The information on it is so limited and rudimentary that I feel like it's just a more organized version of the textbook from my freshman personal health class in high school. Plus, no matter what your issue, the diagnose always leads to have a doctor look at it. Which, honestly, is probably the best advice, since I don't trust my own diagnosis anyway. You know, not having a medical degree and all - that Japanese degree isn't going to cut it. Heck, I don't even know medical words in Japanese, so I'm even further behind that curve.

I should take that back; the other thing WebMD usually leads you to is a conclusion you are about to die (and see your doctor!).

I'm not entirely naive about lymph nodes - I know enough to know swollen ones are not good news. I looked them up anyway and found this. This is my favorite part:

"The glands on either side of the neck, under the jaw, or behind the ears commonly swell when you have a cold or sore throat. Glands can also swell following an injury, such as a cut or bite, near the gland or when a tumor or infection occurs in the mouth, head, or neck."

I'm reading this and thinking to myself... I haven't had an injury, a cut, or a bite...and I don't feel sick...so that means... HOLY SHIT!!!!

I of course shared this info immediately with Wifey, which only worried her more despite the admonishment that I'll drive myself crazy looking at this stuff and I should leave it to a doctor. Which, of course, I already knew, because we've both done this before. Which goes to show I just don't learn the first time, apparently.

When I get to the doctor's office the nurse takes me in and weighs me, which inexplicably includes my shoes and everything in my pockets, including my wallet, car keys, and cell phone. At least she let me put my book down. That leads to a weight of over five pounds more than my actual weight, which of course makes me look much more overweight than I actually am. Guess which number gets written down in my chart as gospel?

Then she takes my temperature (98.5 degrees), pulse rate (65 beats per minute), and blood pressure (160/106 - WOW!!!).

"Um, that can't be right."

"Are you sure? It was pretty clear."

"I'm pretty sure...the last time I checked it (at Haggen's pharmacy) was a couple weeks ago, and it was something like 125/75. That can't be right."

"I can do it again."

The nurse is not very happy at this point - I'm sure she isn't used to being questioned like this, since she is the expert here, not me. I vaguely wonder why they do this the old-fashioned way, with a stethoscope and hand pump, instead of with a machine that supposedly wouldn't have distractions. She does it this way again anyway.

"It's pretty clear - 160/106."

"Wow, that just can't be right..."

"You can ask the doctor to do it again when he comes in if you like."

She's not happy with me at all at this point - and that's probably putting it mildly. I suppose if I were in her shoes in this same situation I probably wouldn't be handling it any better - likely worse - so I just let it go. She hands me a tiny patient history form to fill out while I wait for the doctor. After writing N/A on everyone line with regards to smoking, drug use, surgical history, major illnesses and the like, only writing down my 2-3 drinks of alcohol a week and exercise times, the doctor comes in.

(On a side note, what did he learn here from this sheet? Other than I have a couple drinks a week, the only thing it seems to me he learned is what couldn't cause whatever issue I have. Do these things cover something like 80% of all possible causes of issues? Great...all my doctor will ever be able to conclude is if I'm sick he needs to do more digging. Lucky me.)

I explain the issue to him and he looks a little doubtful, but he feels around my neck and throat anyway. He can't find the problem.

"Did you say it was a lymph node?"

"That's what my dentist told me."

I have to show him exactly where it is.

"That's not a lymph node. It's an ingrown hair. It'll go away on it's own."

He says this with a minor note of contempt he probably isn't even aware is on his voice. Probably this is aimed at me, for being an idiot who can't tell the difference. I must have missed that detailed class on lymph nodes when I was learning a foreign language.

"Well, I suppose that's good news."

I'm not happy about this, really. I had to leave work early and pay a $30 co-pay to be told something I had already assumed. Awesome.

"That's the last time I listen to my dentist for something that doesn't involve teeth."

"He was probably just being thorough." The doctor's voice trails off here, like he's trying to figure out if that's it or if my dentist is incompetent. "Still, he should know where the lymph nodes are though."

For the record, the lymph nodes are probably 2.5 inches to the right of where this bump is, so yeah, he should have been able to tell that, right? Or, if he's not an expert in lymph nodes, perhaps not talk about them and cause undue stress and financial impact to a patient, who trusts the judgement of medical experts because, well, they are the experts with the experience and the big, fancy degrees?

"Your blood pressure though - this could be a problem."

Now, while the number recorded was surprising, the idea of elevated blood pressure is not. The last time I was in for something completely unrelated my BP was something like 140/90, and at the time the doctor said to keep an eye on it, check it every so often, exercise more, and lose some weight.

Since that time I've dropped 30 pounds, exercise more, eat better, and have been checking it at places like the Haggen pharmacy. I relate all of this to my doctor, but he's unimpressed. So I ask:

"How much faith do you put in those pharmacy blood pressure monitors?"

"Not every much. they get overused and not very well maintained. You should get one for your home - they are about $60-70 at Costco. If it doesn't get better in a week or two you need to come back and have it looked into some more. It could be caused by stress, but I don't think that should skew the number too much."

Hunh. My last doctor said those machines were close enough. And we don't shop at Costco - we must be in the 5% of the population that doesn't.

So I looked up what they carry at Costco and then bought the same thing from Amazon, and it cost me $70. So this should be fun. In the end, I left work early and dropped $100 total for something I had already self-diagnosed accurately on my own before my dentist filled me with doubt. Rad. I'm thinking I should stop listening to him if it doesn't involve teeth.

I'm not minimizing what was found, if it is really an issue - I'm just not going to be grateful to my dentist for it. He had no idea and instead led me down an incorrect path of assumptions. Some will say it was fate leading him to do that and get the other issue found, but I'm not a big believer in that sort of thing. Coincidences, random accidents - I believe in those. But I'm not going to thank him for this.

I go to the dentist for a reason - to get my teeth looked at. I go to a mechanic to fix my car. I hire an electrician to fix an outlet. I would never ask one of these people to do what another expert should do or would have the knowledge to do, and they don't typically volunteer opinions on things they know they aren't experts in. I wouldn't expect any of them to give me writing tips, for instance.

Please, stick to what you know. And if you attempt to go outside of your perceived realm of expertise, you better damn well know what you are talking about.

That's the last time I listen to my dentist for anything not related to teeth.


30 Days With Jillian Michaels

Anyone ever watch the show 30 Days, hosted my Morgan Spurlock (otherwise known as the crazy guy who lived off McDonald's for 30 days in Super Size Me)?

Well, not too long ago I did my own little version of that - 30 Days With Jillian Michaels, trainer extraordinaire from Biggest Loser and various DVDs and books fame, at the NWX home gym. Sort of. She's kind of busy so she didn't actually come out to my place. I had to work from a book. That I had to buy.

So really it was nothing like the show, but that's besides the point.

Anyway, the book is called Making the Cut, and in it she details various diet-related notes (which I haven't yet read) followed by a 30-day workout. The book promises to help you lose that last 10 pounds. Personally, I have about 20 to go, so I wasn't sure the book would help me that much. Maybe that's why it didn't...or maybe it's because I still eat whatever I want (as long is it's fairly natural...not necessarily healthy, but natural).

Nah, that couldn't have anything to do with it. Gotta find something else to blame...

Anyway, I thought it would be mildly entertaining to my three faithful readers to get a smattering of the thoughts that ran through my head during those painful 30 days. Some of these were voiced, some of them were not, and others I spelled out in blood and sweat. I know you think I'm kidding, but I'm not.


  • Running 10 mph for a whole minute is way too much.
  • Doing it on level 8 on the treadmill is insane.
  • Wait, 10 was too fast, why the hell would I want to do 12?
  • 15?! Jillian, you're insane!
  • Could someone please tell me what the fuck a scorpion pushup is?!
  • Does our treadmill even have a resistance level of 15?
  • It does? Dammit.
  • I'm pretty sure Jillian should be jailed. This is torture.
  • I don't need another trainer.
  • Wait, I was supposed to do THREE sets, not two?!
  • Normally I just wipe my forehead on my shirt, but it's already wet...
  • Bitch! ... Bitch! Bitch! Bitch! (this was meant in the nicest way, really...)

I'll be honest...it can get a bit salty around me when I'm hitting a workout like this (both literally - as in sweaty - and figuratively, as in the language that comes out of my mouth). The above is actually pretty well edited, though the part about the scorpion pushup is exactly how it came out of my mouth.

About halfway through the month Wifey pointed out this is supposed to be an advanced workout. Yep, that's me - an old pro when it comes to working out. That made me feel a little badass.

Of course, I didn't lose the 10 pounds. Maybe I should try again after I lose 10 another way, so I make sure I'm setting myself up for the LAST 10 pounds, as specified in the book. I bet that's it...only works if I'm trying to get read of the last 10.

Or perhaps I should eat more plants...

No, I don't want to do anything too drastic.


My Omnivore's Dilemma

I love food, I really do. I love how the mixtures of different foods bring out interesting and complex new flavors, and I love to cook. I will easily admit I'm not the most daring person when it comes to trying new foods - sweetbreads and other offal are things I just don't think I'll ever be able to get my mind around putting in my mouth. But meats, fruits, vegetables...I'm willing to try anything once. Even mushrooms, I guess.

It's funny, when I was growing up there were so many things I simply wouldn't touch. Onions. Tomatoes (unless it was pasta sauce or pizza). Mushrooms. Any vegetable that wasn't carrot or lettuce. Fish. Mexican food. I could probably go on and on (and if you ask Mom I'm sure she will remember a list 10 times as long as mine).

But as we all eventually find out, sometime after your college years, after life has given you a sedentary job and you find yourself happy with sedentary pursuits, you simply can't eat like you used to. Your metabolism slows down and depending on how fast you figure this out you may - like I did - find yourself a few extra pounds overweight. Or 40. Something like that.

At this point, for me, I decided I needed to eat a little better. I needed to expand my horizons. I needed to educate myself. I needed to figure out what would and would not work for me, and figure out what was going to make me healthy in the long-term.

(Heaven forbid they actually teach you important shit like this at school. Nooo...instead I learned really important crap about economics. Look, I get the fact schools are limited...but maybe teaching students about things that will kill them - like high fructose corn syrup and margarine - would be a good idea. Maybe that's just me. I have no idea. Fodder for another blog post - or maybe a series of them...)

So over the past few years Wifey and I have learned little things here and there, tidbits about protein, fatty acids, and all sorts of nutritional factuals that, presumably, knowing will make us healthier people. We exercise, too, which seems to be a common thread throughout all weight loss info (I know, who would have guessed that, right?!).

A couple years back we saw Super Size Me. We didn't eat much fast food at the time, but it was still eye-opening. Then we read Fast Food Nation, which was a similar story with many more details. All of it was nasueating, but the thing that really struck me was how none of it was actually surprising to me. What? Fast food is low quality and will kill you? Really? I mean, it's not like I need a degree in advanced biology to figure that out.

So going along, trying to get my diet in order, there was something tugging at the back of my mind. I couldn't put it into words, but it was something about the fruitlessness of what I was doing. I mean, did it make sense for me to change my diet based on every new tidbit of nutritional information? It's not like I can identify exactly what polyphenols and how much of them I really should be eating. Sure, it's good to know things are good for me, but if it's anything smaller than a mouthful, I can't confess to caring a whole ton, no matter how good it is. If I can't see it or measure it, it's great to know but what's the point?

So here I am, following this stuff but not really feeling in my core it's necessarily the right thing to do. It feels like it should be, but something is bugging me.

Then I read a couple books by Michael Pollan, and I think I finally figured it out. The first one was The Omnivore's Dilemma and really dealt with food lifestyles. He spent time following where the foods came from for a few different meals - fast food, industrial organic, farmed, and hunted and gathered - and did copious amounts of research into the science of what makes up these foods. The second book was In Defense of Food, where he talked about America's culture of nutritionism - the way our public view of food seems to bend on every new discovery science makes - and he talks a little about the things that actually may be best for you to eat.

Without giving too much away - see, this is the kind of things kids should be reading, not the damn Scarlet Letter - what it came down is the best food is really the kind that gets the best inputs. The best vegetables have the best soils. The best cows have the best grasses to eat (not corn - cows don't naturally eat corn, so this whole being happy about corn-fed beef thing is a complete joke). The best chicken eggs come from chickens with the best variety of grasses and bugs to eat.

Really, the answer could be simply to eat like people did 150 years ago. Fresh foods, naturally grown, sustainable, and stay away from as many ingredients you can't pronounce as possible.

I'm not trying to be preachy here, but this is what clicked for me. This is what I couldn't put words to in my own head, this is the gut feeling I had. Theoretically it just feels right that the more natural the things I eat, the healthier I will be.

So yes, that means free-range chickens (and their eggs), pastured beef, and local fruits and vegetables. And yes, that means it's a concious choice you have to make, because this stuff will cost you more money. One of the things that struck me was a number that American's spend a lower percentage of their incomes on food than just about anyone. Part of that could be the literal reason of having more money, but it also has to do with cultural choices, which I don't necessarily feel a need to get into; people can spend their money however they like. That's part of our society - free will.

Our choice has become one of FLOSS now (Fresh, Local, Organic, Sustainable, Seasonal foods - and the Organic one is up for interpretation since it really means natural, not necessarily certified organic). We joined a couple Community Supported Agriculture programs, one a year-round CSA from Hood River (couldn't find one closer and they have an exisiting delivery route in Portland) and another that will kick in this summer from a farm west of Hillsboro.

So far, it's actually been quite eye-opening. I've eaten a ton of things I never had before and it's only been a few weeks: parsnips, turnips, celeriac, cremini mushrooms, portobello mushrooms, chioggia beets, thumbelina carrots, white carrots, new varieties of apples and pears... Crazy all these yummy things I just hadn't tried before. Hell, we even pre-ordered a turkey from the farm we won't get until just before Thanksgiving (you know, because she has to be hatched and grown and all that). I'm overly excited about chicken eggs with orange yolks because that means they get a lot of beta carotene, a side effect of a good free-range diet with a good variety of grasses and the like. We're thinking of ordering a part of a pasture-raised cow, if we can just find the room in the freezer. We've taken to buying whole milk from a dairy in the Willamette Valley that raises Jersey cows, because it's a heck of a lot yummier (it's pasteurized).

And you know what? I think we are getting healthier. Perhaps that's the mind wanting to believe in the choices - can you ever really know? - but at the same time the foods coming out of our kitchen seem more flavorful.

You can't completely discount nutritionism. It's good to know these things science is finding, you just have to consider the source. Is the source a true scientist doing research into what makes the body work? Or is the scientist employed or funded by a food corporation trying to take advantage of the next big thing?

This might sound a like crackpot-like, like someone on the edge of going off the grid. That's not going to happen - not sure what I'd do without the wonders of the internet and my Blu Ray player - but it may be something worth thinking about. Even if you don't necessarily agree with the conclusions in the book or even here, it's worth reading just to find out something you didn't know before.

Of course, we will still be eating our way through Portland. Sometimes - and in moderation (which is still something I struggle with) - good food is just good food, no matter where it comes from. And sometimes you just don't want to cook.

Now, excuse me while I try and find room in my freezer for a quarter of a cow...


Boulevard's Bourbon Barrel Quad

At the risk of making this blog way too heavy on the beer and me look like an alcoholic (I'm not, really - I just play one on weekends), here is another beer post/review.

I set out last week to find a bottle of Full Sail's new Top Sail product, but the stores I visited didn't have it in stock. Wifey pointed out this new arrival to me - Boulevard Brewing's (from Kansas City) Bourbon Barrel Quad. It came in a 750 ml bottle with a cork, cost about $13, and promised all sorts of goodness. Apparently the beer was stored in bourbon barrels for aging. This is a limited release they have done a couple times before and part of their Smokestack series.

Now, while intrigued, I also admit to being a bit skeptical. I've had beers aged in various kinds of barrels before, and they almost never seemed to have much of the taste at all from whatever the barrel held previously. So while it was promising, I didn't necessarily think I'd get much bourbon flavor. And yes, I do like all the flavors of bourbon - the caramel, the vanilla, etc. - even though I can't say I'm the kind of person who loves to knock back bourbon shots in my spare time (despite the fact my cupboard has a couple different bottles...).

I figured Super Bowl Sunday would be a good day to pop this cork - literally - so I got it out just before game time. Getting this thing open was kind of difficult. It had a cork, but it was mushroom-shaped and a little soft. I tried using my wine bottle corkscrew and only succeeded in breaking off the top part. Thankfully the second attempt got out the rest of the cork, and even though it was sufficiently shredded I didn't drop any in the bottle. Well, at least not that I noticed.

A small word of caution here: If you plan on drinking this whole bottle, scuttle your plans for leaving the house for the rest of the day. It's just short of two full pints and 11.8% alcohol - so yeah, guaranteed to knock you on your ass if you let it.

The pour was very smooth. It's a dark amber color with a nice bit of head, and it literally smelled like an open bottle of bourbon, but without that 80 proof bite. The caramel, vanilla, and various little fruity tidbits were all clear - I think I got some honey too. I was pleasantly surprised because, as I said, I wasn't expecting the bourbon to come through very clearly.

So how did it taste? In a word, excellent. There was just the slightest bit of hoppiness, but it also had a tiny citrus crispness to go with the bourbon flavors. It's literally tasted like some of the bourbon caramel we made a couple weeks back, but if you added a little bit of malt, hops, and a tad bit of carbonation to it.

I decided to leave the bottle out of the fridge after I poured the first glass, to allow it to warm up (since apparently that's when you get all the best flavors). What I did notice with the second and third (half) glasses is the crisp hoppiness seemed to dissipate completely, leaving only the smooth bourbon flavors. Honestly, it was just very, very good.

But what kind of bourbon was it? I thought for sure it was Maker's Mark, but the description is already gone from their website so I emailed them to see if I was right. No such luck - they used a mix of Jack Daniels, Templeton Rye, and Heaven Hill barrels. Oh well, it was just a guess - apparently my bourbon palette isn't that refined.

I would absolutely recommend this, but only if you like the flavors of bourbon. If you don't, this will just nauseate you. Me, I like it...thinking about picking up another bottle to save.


W '10 Pitch Black IPA

So, raise your hand if you have ever heard of a Black IPA. Anyone? No? No one? Yeah, neither had I. It seems to go against what an IPA is, adding in dark malt. The whole idea of an IPA is hops - typically double the hops, actually. Dark malt is typically sweet, which IPAs are not.

Given all that, just what is Widmer's W '10 Pitch Black IPA? Well, it's a science experiment, really. This is how they describe the beer:

Pitch Black IPA is a Pacific Northwest twisted tribute to an IPA style of beer. It is almost a traditional IPA but it is instead brewed to the emerging style of Cascadian Dark. We add a modest amount of a specially made debittered black malt to give this IPA a very dark color but without the characteristic dark malt flavors. Pitch Black IPA is hopped generously in the brewhouse and then again later during the dry hopping process. Hopheads of the world will certainly enjoy this dark version of IPA, as will beer drinkers looking for something new and experimental to fill their pint glass.

I first read about this beer on Beervana and I was intrigued. IPAs aren't typically my thing, because a normal amount of hops is plenty for me. Still, I thought perhaps with some malt in there, sweetening and darkening the brew, it could be a good thing. As Jeff at Beervana said, the difficulty of a black IPA is to find harmony in disparate elements. Did Widmer pull it off?

My short answer is kind of. As their description says they didn't use a normal malt, so it wasn't going to be as sweet as usual. To my tastes it still was a little milder than a normal IPA, with a slight cocoa taste. Very slight - and still a little bitter. I really think this could be good if it was brewed longer, allowing the hops and malt to meld together to create a little more cohesion.

Of course, I'm not an expert, and that very act probably turns it into something else, so it would no longer be a black IPA.

My final conclusion? In my book black IPAs go right below IPAs now on the "don't really like" list. This one isn't horrible, but perhaps if you like that style - or IPAs in general, check it out. Beervana doesn't typically like black IPAs and he liked it, but then again he likes IPAs a lot more than I do. I'll pass.


Night Out At Taste Unique

I'm a huge fan of Italian food. Huge fan. Growing up my favorite food was always spaghetti, and then when I got to high school and college I found a fascination for fettucine alfredo. I love pizza. I love pasta.

In fact, I loved Italian food so much that when it came time to pick another language in college I chose Italian and then studied in Perugia (north of Rome) for a summer. Okay, not completely because of the food - I do have a quarter of my blood from Italian roots. My dad's mom's parents hailed from near Genoa, a city on the northwest coast known for great seafood and seafaring. My "pilgrimage to my homeland" (or, well, one of them, since as a white citizen of the United States I'm really a mutt) was a little about language, a little about travel, a little about food, and a little about finding my history.

It would take a novel to recount what I learned in Italy - maybe someday... - but when it came to food I found out one thing: I really didn't know what Italian food was at all.

I mean, sure, Italians do eat pizza, and they do eat pasta, but it's nothing like here. The also eat a ton of different meats, seafood, and vegetables, and apparently what passes for Italian food here in the States really is just 1% of the Italian diet. After a couple days of just pasta and pizza, I figured out you really can't live on the stuff (I won't lie though, during my time in Italy, I sure did try).

Before my trip to Italy I always wanted to go out for Italian food, but afterwards? I did at first, hoping to find some of the yummy things I ate there. But you know what? Italian food in Portland - at least the places I went to then or had liked before my trip - simply didn't measure up. I know, I know - like it's some kind of big shock the Olive Garden doesn't do things like a real Italian.

So for awhile I just didn't eat that much Italian food, unless it was spaghetti, lasagna, or something alla carbonara we made at home. (Pizza is a different story, which has so many variations and styles as I've recounted in a couple posts here.)

Then about six months ago we read on some foodie forums about this new Italian place on SE Division called Taste Unique. It's a hybrid restaurant/take-out place, specializing more in the takeout. Stefania is the chef - her husband Lawrence also works with her - and she makes all sorts of wonderful creations, including real fettucine, wonderful Tuscan onion soup, saffron risotto (filled with mozzarella, when she can find Italian saffron), fresh breads, and tiramisu that will make your eyes roll back in your head like...well, you know.

As it turned out, Stefania is actually from Perugia (Lawrence is American). She was excited when she found out I had been there, but it had been 10 years for me and even when I was there, I was studying or, um, hanging out - so I knew very few of the places she wanted to talk about.

Wifey and I have been into Taste Unique probably 15-20 times since our first foray, basically choosing what sounds good out of the fresh and frozen cases, but we had never actually eaten there. And we wanted to. We frequent this messageboard and veteran members there will occasionally have dinners, but we had never gone. Stefania had even offered up her place a few times for dinners, meals that had looked pretty good. We just had never gone, not being all that social and all.

However, a few weeks back Stefania posted on the board and offered up a pasta dinner...and the demand far outstripped supply for her tiny place, which can only hold 12 for a dinner. So she opened up a second date and I signed up Wifey and me. A five-course pasta meal with fresh sauces? Yes, please!

And it was quite the experience. She informed us when the meal began we would actually be having seven pasta courses, pictures of which you can see here halfway down the page courtesy of another diner. Her pictures are much better than the ones I would have taken with my cell phone camera.

The first two, the frittatas, were served cold on the same plate and we were told they are considered picnic foods because they don't need to be heated. Her bolognese sauce was fantastic (with her fresh fettucine), with a wonderful saltiness. My favorite, by far, was the carbonara. It featured guanciale from Olympic Provisions as well as pancetta, and the creaminess was by far the best I have ever eaten. Mine never turns out this good. The pesto trapanese was surprisingly sweet, which is something you don't expect from a pesto to be sure. A week later I'm still not sure how I feel about the broccoli dish - which also had anchovies, though you couldn't really pick them out in the flavor profile. I think I liked it.

The dessert was intriguing. Chocolate pasta? It shouldn't work, but it did. I'm not sure it'll make it high on my dessert list - definitely not past her tiramisu - but it was an interesting dish to try.

I'm positive no Italian would ever eat this way, but all of these small dishes were a great representation of pasta side dishes from all over the nation and a great way to try a ton of different flavors.

I will say, that was a crapload of pasta. Both of us rolled out of there with leftovers, and I didn't even really feel like eating breakfast the next day. The scale wasn't kind to me either. And I don't think I'd do a seven-course pasta meal again, but once was fun.

Taste Unique is absolutely a place to stop in and visit. It's an easy way to pick up dinner on the way home from work, and Stefania also teaches various classes (pizza making, pasta making) as well as she is starting to do theme dinners open to anyone who signs up. We definitely recommend it.