Well this weekend brought another fantastic beer party at Heavy Seas filled with wonder, mysteries, chili and beer. It was a fantastic balmy day and all in attendance benefited from the event not being fully sold out. I am not sure why everyone living within 300 miles of Baltimore was at this event, but last year they ran out of chili very early so it was very beneficial to those of us in attendance.
The restaurants there did good job changing up how traditional chili can taste. The majority of the chili there was in the Texas style (i.e. no beans, all meat) but they also had vegetarian chili and alligator chili. Whiskey Island was there as usual and offered two interesting chilis including one made with a large quantity of pureed pumpkin and jalapenos. There was also a table dedicated to specialty cheeses which was aptly placed half way between all the different chili tables. It was a nice way to break up the inevitable gorging.
I can’t deny I felt bad for the veggie chili station at the event because most people who attend a chili festival are just there for beef (or gator). Gator was a nice inclusion because most chilis are made with ground beef. Gator brings new flavors and textures to the chili pot; the meat is really chewy and from this experience it doesn’t really bring any negative flavors to the chili. Many of the chili stations also did a good job by including different ingredients or even altering how they prepared the meat or the cut of meat they used. Ribeye chili was a fantastic idea and I can’t wait to try my hand at making a pot. The meat was chunky but just melted in your mouth when you took a bite. However, I have to give it to the Firkin Guy for making the best chili…
The food was an interesting foil to the beer because spicy food can overwhelm a weaker beer. Also depending on the type of beer selected, the heat from the spices in the food can be enhanced or diminished based on the type of beer. A general rule of thumb is that maltier beers make spicer food less intense and hoppier beers will intensify the spice. Well Heavy Seas offered us this…
Well shit, the beer has hot peppers in it…I’m sure that will make it terribly spicy. The Loose Cannon recipe was posted on Twitter a few days before the event and the cayenne wasn’t bad because I had already had 3 different chilis so it was hard to detect and spice notes from the beer. The Tangelo was nice and added an oily fruit character to the fruity flavors brought on by the hops. The beer also had a nice complex oak flavor and really enhanced the flavors of the chili. The winter storm was really scary because the ghost pepper is one of the hottest peppers on the planet. The chocolate and sweet characters of the molasses did a good job balancing out and adverse impact the pepper could have had on the palate. Brewing and cask building usually focus on balance so usually when you see a list of ingredients, don’t think that one ingredient will overwhelm the others. However, there was one beer there that was shrouded in mystery and wasn’t an exercise of balance…
This beer was called a “mystery cask” but I am an all-purpose nerd and had gathered from Twitter that it was a special bourbon barrel aged Below Decks Barleywine from 2010. This was an interesting offering because usually you see dates on bottles and kegs because they are sealed. Sealed containers trap flavors within and it can be fun to track how these beers develop over time, but they are sealed so you can at least control the environment. Casks allow for evaporation and need to be kept under close observation because the live yeast in the barrel can actually contract viruses from the air and turn the beer sour. From what I can tell, the brewers left this barrel in their store house and only discovered it recently. The cask apparently had to be quarantined to verify that the contents weren’t going to make people sick (or ruin neighboring casks). After sampling, they found that it was fantastic and the brewery was kind enough to release it to us for the event.
As you can see from the picture, the beer frankly looks slightly like muddy water. This should not be off-putting (in THIS case) because that muddiness comes from sugars and other solids from the bourbon barrel that have been extracted during the prolonged aging process. The beer has that nice rich nutty malty barleywine feel to it with a real punch of bourbon in at the end. Warm and filling, but goes great with the richness of the food that was being served. It also topped out at over 11% which is why the designated driver could only have one sip before passing hers on.
Overall, a fantastic beer and food experience. I can’t say enough about the quality of the special small batch beers that are available at Heavy Seas. If you can only get out there for a tour, you should. It’s a fantastic brewery that will change the way you think about beer.
Stay tuned for my Thanksgiving beer suggestions!