Beer Notebook: 2SP’s Wawa Winter Reserve Coffee Stout

In terms of true confessions, this one doesn’t have much significance beyond the Philadelphia area: I’ve never had a Wawa coffee.

Oh, sure, I’ve been in many a Wawa, which is still the source for some of the freshest TastyKake products around, but it’s not an integral part of my life here, if only because parking at or near any Wawa in the city proper, any time of day, is as rare as a sports championship in this town. Still, my neophyte Wawa ways aside, I couldn’t help picking up a four pack of Winter Reserve Coffee Stout, a collaboration between nearby Delaware County brewers 2SP Brewing and Wawa, utilizing Wawa’s signature seasonal coffee bean blend.

Though technically an oatmeal stout, this deep mahogany beer feels more like a porter in terms of viscosity, with a strong initial foam head that dissipates quickly and with little lace. The taste arrives as aggressively coffee forward, reminiscent of a pot of morning coffee steeped to just this side of bitter, with a hint of chocolate thrown into the mix. It’s an easily drinkable beer, hiding its modest 6.5% ABV behind a dense flavor and a slightly sweet aftertaste. Winter Reserve Coffee Stout is a coffee lover’s beer, no mistake, and it’s easy to forget you’re actually drinking a beer rather than a coffee beverage of some sort.

It’s a shame this is a season-limited beer that probably won’t get wide distribution, because it’s a refreshing take on that old standby, the oatmeal stout. The collaboration between 2SP and Wawa also opened my eyes to the rest of 2SP’s beer lineup; given the huge number of choices on the shelf of the local beer distributor, it’s hard for an independent brewer to get noticed, but 2SP has managed to stand out with this beer. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for their products the next time I’m beer shopping.

A Meal Fit for a Doctor: Alton Brown’s Fish Sticks and Custard

Under ordinary circumstances, I would keep my distance from this particular dish, given that I’m about as far from pescatarian as is humanly possible. But Alton Brown‘s recipe for Fish Sticks and Custard, from his recently released (and beautifully photographed) cookbook, EveryDayCook, combines my abiding appreciation for Alton Brown’s approach to food with my undying love of all things Doctor Who.

Fish Sticks and Custard from Alton Brown's EveryDayCook

To explain briefly, just understand that the Eleventh Doctor manifested a craving for this particular dish upon his regeneration, a telling and touching scene involving the young Amy Pond, and Alton Brown, as a card-carrying Whovian, saw fit to include this version in his cookbook:

My version is different in that it’s actually tasty…even if you don’t have two hearts and live in a blue box.

Note, too, that the dish is photographed upon the Fourth Doctor’s scarf. A nice homage to Doctor Who indeed.

It’s interesting to note that, up to the current point in the Doctor Who Project (Season Seven, Story Two, “Doctor Who and the Silurians,”), food has played a very minor role in the series. There’s been the odd poisoned coffee and more than a few cuppas, but as yet, no stories with much gustatory focus. Indeed, thus far in the re-watch, I’m not sure if we’ve even seen the Doctor eat anything besides a very hard candy. And, as the events of “The Gunfighters” bear out, that wasn’t good eats at all…

(Image from Alton Brown’s EveryDayCook.)

Dutch Treats: Rijsttafel

Say what you will about a buffet, there’s no denying the glee that stems from having an assortment of dishes from which to fill up a plate. A little of this, a dab of that, a heaping spoon of the third. And when the buffet sits right upon your table, precariously balanced in small containers perched atop warming trays, well, that’s an experience worth seeking out.

Purnama rijsttafel at Indrapura

On a recent trip to Amsterdam, I finally had the opportunity to sample the legendary Indonesian Rijstafel, the “rice table” so beloved by the Dutch and Indonesians alike. Our search for a casual yet high quality purveyor of this meal led us to Indrapura, right off Rembrandtplein and mere blocks from our accommodations. Arriving early on a Friday, we had the place to ourselves to begin, and the waiter provided nice attention, offering an Indonesian Bintang beer to accompany the “Purnama” rijsttafel.

After an appetizer of minced lamb in a fried pastry wrapper, the table began in earnest, with the waiter depositing a good score of small containers arrayed with some flair and a brief description. I could hardly keep track of what he was placing before us, but it all looked brilliant. The dominant tastes were of peanut sauce, coconut milk, and very mild spice, carried by a variety of pork, chicken, beef, and vegetables. Two bowls of rice, one plain white and one fried, accompanied the meal.

Purnama rijsttafel at Indrapura

I must confess to being underwhelmed by the spice levels. I had hoped for, and indeed expected, for heat to suffuse the meal, but on the whole, the tastes were subtle and the heat nearly nonexistent. I’ve had this problem in the Netherlands before, where theoretically spicy dishes came out with a “tourist” level of spice. Perhaps I should have let the waiter know that our spice tolerance sits on the high side of the scale.

Still, the total experience left us happy to have sampled such a wide variety of Indonesian dishes in a welcoming environment. A pleasant way to begin a Friday night, indeed, and a quintessential Indo-Dutch treat.

Beer Notebook: A Dutch Trio

A recent trip to the Netherlands allowed me the opportunity to, well, buy Brooklyn Brewery products on the shelf of a local Amsterdam grocery store. But I didn’t do that. Whenever possible on trips, I try to quaff the local suds, three of which, all India Pale Ales, are presented here.

Jopen's Mooie Nel IPA

Jopen’s Mooie Nel IPA, sitting at an agreeable 6.5% ABV, surprised me with a decent level of hops bitterness (70 IBU) and a very long, and pleasant, finish on the palate. There were hints of floral and citrus flavor, but only hints, and that was just fine.

I like my beer hoppy, and any more citrus would have overwhelmed the beer. The head kept its shape for a while, and on the whole, I enjoyed this beer quite a bit, particularly with the fine Indian food we brought to the hotel room from our Amsterdam stand-by, Koh-i-Noor. Any future trips to the Netherlands will see this beer take a spot in the fridge.

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Beer Notebook: Flying Dog’s Easy IPA

IPAs are tricky. It’s easy to overload an India Pale Ale with enough hops to sink a clipper bound for Calcutta, and many a microbrewer has inflicted a resinous, piney, viscous liquid on unsuspecting fans of the style. But too much restraint with the hops leaves a confirmed hops-head such as myself wanting more. So when a brewer manages to find that balance, I tend to go back to that IPA over and over.

Easy IPA

But, traditionally, the IPA tends towards the stronger side, and as the calendar turns to summer, a lighter, more sessionable quaff is demanded. Session IPAs have been around for awhile on the American brewing scene, and when my former session IPA standby, 21st Amendment’s Bitter American, ceased production in 2015, replaced by the fine-but-not-amazing Down to Earth, I figured it would just be a matter of time before I found a good replacement. Little did I know it would take about a year.

Finally, I found a very drinkable session IPA, Easy IPA, from a most unlikely source: Frederick, Maryland’s Flying Dog Brewery. I say unlikely because I’ve always found Flying Dog’s beers to be inventive and interesting and usually good for one bottle as an experience. One look at their Dead Rise Summer Ale, with Old Bay seasoning, sort of proves the point. I’ve seldom gone back to a Flying Dog beer after the first bottle.

Easy IPA, on the other hand, does what it says on the tin (and also on the bottle, as it’s available in both formats)—just an easy drinking IPA, with a rush of hops on the palate that quickly fades while retaining an overall pleasant bitterness. Only a subtle floral aroma comes off the head, and it provides a more quenching taste than the usual IPA. The hops are pronounced but non-aggressive in character, clocking in at 50 IBU, making Easy IPA a welcome companion on a summer afternoon. And at 4.7% ABV, it’s a companion you can keep around for a bit. Certainly, Easy IPA stands as the best beer in Flying Dog’s stable.

I’d still choose Bitter American over Easy IPA, but since I can’t anymore, I find that Easy IPA is an, ah, easy choice for my standard session IPA.

Beer Notebook: Oskar Blues’ Death by Coconut

Oskar Blues' Death by CoconutI’m not a huge fan of concept beers, and far less a fan of “stunt” beers—lager with a chili pepper in it, I’m looking at you. Combining lots of ingredients with an eye towards producing a particular flavor usually falls flat with me. Indeed, I’m of the opinion that one of Germany’s greatest contributions to world civilization is the Rheinheitsgebot.

Nevertheless, I have a soft spot for chocolate beers, and Oskar Blues Brewery’s entry in the field, Death by Coconut, manages to draw out a strong yet subtle coconut flavor without overwhelming the palate. It tastes very much like a liquid Mounds bar, and that’s a fine result. The beer hews closely to the porter profile otherwise, with a slightly stronger alcohol content than normal (6.5% ABV) and a fine, lacy head. It drinks smoothly with very little bitterness in the aftertaste.

Sometimes chocolate beers can carry too much sweetness, but Death by Coconut avoids the “desert beer” category with a mellow sweetness and a light, thin mouthfeel. Still, one in a session feels like plenty, unlike, say a Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, which remains the pinnacle of session drinkable chocolate beers.

I secured a four-pack of Death by Coconut in late January, but it is apparently a seasonal beer, so if you see them on the shelf, pick one up before they’re gone. It’s worth seeking out, unlike most concept beers.