Bavarian Pretzels and Beer Cheese Sauce

For us, one of the simplest and most satisfying snacks for the cold months remains the freshly baked soft pretzel with a beer sauce. Of course these have been appearing on every gastropub and craft beer bar menu for the last few years now, but we’ve never taken the plunge to make our own. In Milwaukee, the best options while out on the town are always house-baked when available or the “Bavarian Beast” from Milwaukee Pretzel Company, who gives us a good working definition on their website of what we enjoy most in a soft pretzel:

 Unlike their American counterpart, Bavarian pretzels pack a denser, chewier inside and a darker, crispier outside. And there’s a certain “tang” to the Bavarian-style pretzel that sets it apart from other soft pretzels. But best of all, it doesn’t need to be dipped in cheese or drenched in butter to taste delicious! We even suggest eating them at room temperature – just like the Germans do. (Of course, the true German way would be with a dash of mustard and a nice, cold Weiss beer!)

A still-chilly spring week-end with the sun shining, seemed like a fine time to try our hand at creating these tasty morsels ourselves.

Pretzel

Soft Pretzels with Maibock Cheese Sauce

1 cup warm water
1 package yeast (2¼ tsp)
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbs melted butter
1 Tbs sugar
½ tsp salt

In a large mixing bowl, combine ½ cup of the warm water and yeast, allow to dissolve for five minutes. Add flour, butter, sugar, salt. Mix while gradually adding remaining water to create a moist, but not sticky dough. Knead for 10 minutes until smooth. Place in oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap to allow to rise to double in volume (1 to 2 hours).

Remove from bowl and place on silicone mat or lightly oiled sheet pan. Divide into 12 pieces and roll out each into a 18 inch long rope, then form a pretzel and place on another lightly oiled sheet pan. The dough has the melted butter so it should be easy to manipulate without any additional flour. There is a technique to twisting the rope into a pretzel, but you can simply form it into a pretzel, which is what we did. Cover pretzel and allow to rise again for another 30 minutes. Heat oven to 400º F. In a big pot, bring 8 cups of water and 2 heaping tablespoons to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Slide a pretzel into the pot and allow to simmer for 30 seconds each side, then place back on oiled sheet pan. Repeat for all pretzels. Sprinkle with sea salt and bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown. These are delicious on there own, but we served them with a beer cheese sauce which we adapted from Joy of Cooking, which makes the notable addition of blue cheese to kick up that cheese flavor and cream cheese to enhance the smoothness.

Maibock Beer Cheese Sauce

1 cup Maibock Beer (see note)
1 Tbs corn starch
1 Tbs cold water
2 cups grated aged cheddar
1 ounce cream cheese
1 ounce blue cheese
4 dashes Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp mustard

Note: We made this version with Lakefront Brewery’s Maibock as an homage to spring. You can read a bit more about Maibock as a style here. We’ve made this with a nice malty amber or a simple pilsner. As the basic ingredients are the cheddar and the beer, give some thought to how the flavors might marry.

Bring the beer to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Mix the cornstarch with the water and slowly stir into the beer. the mixture will thicken in a minute or two. Then stir in the remaining ingredients until melted and smooth. Serve with pretzels.

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The Next Beers to Make Milwaukee Famous

Schlitz-Beer-Made-Milwaukee-Famous
Inage: Coasters Rule

Beginning in 1902 and for about 40 years, Schlitz Brewing Company was the largest brewer in the world. And it was brewed just blocks away from Pabst Brewing Company, which was once the second largest. By the later half on the century, they were both overtaken by Miller Brewing, based just 2 miles away. Global beverage industry consolidation and shifting tastes have taken their toll on Milwaukee’s reputation as the brewing capital of the world. Though Miller Brewing is still based in the city, the merger with Coors, and the subsequent re-organization on a global scale has diminished it’s attachment to the city of it’s birth. There are a number of well-establish, great craft brewers in the city (Lakefront Brewery and Sprecher Brewery have been proudly carrying the banner for the last few decades), a new generation of craft brewers and taprooms may finally bring Milwaukee squarely into the craft brewery revolution. Better late than never, I guess. Hopefully, this next generation revitalizes the city’s well-deserved reputation as a Brew Town. We thought a quick run down of the activities of 2016 would be helpful to our readers:

MobCraft Beer, which crowdsources it’s beer selections, will appear on Shark Tank on March 11th, 2016. Mobcraft is planning to open a brewery and taproom in Milwaukee summer of 2016. Founded in Madison in 2012 by Henry Schwartz, Andrew Gierczak and Giotto Troia, they make some of the funkiest, coolest brews around and the nature of the operation makes many of them one-off creations. The national exposure should be awesome for them.

Bavarian Bierhaus Brewpub plans to open spring 2016 on the grounds of the former Bavarian Inn. The brewery will be located in the beer hall and will be able to produce eight different beers at one time. Created as an independent operation after several German breweries declined to move forward. let’s hope the independence allows for some creativity to flourish as we already have Old Town Beer Hall in Germantown and the Old German Beer Hall in downtown Milwaukee which both feature Hofbrau products. It’s worth noting that the Bavarian Soccer Club has hosted an annual Oktoberfest on these grounds for years which served the second tastiest spanferkel in the city (top honors go to this Bunzel’s Meats), so they have a tradition to live up to at this site.

Westallion Brewing Co. is planning to open spring of 2016 in West Allis, WI, a southern Milwaukee suburb. Erik Dorfner, brewmaster and formerly with Lakefront Brewery, expects the brewery’s signature beers to be a Scottish Ale, a Vienna Lager, a Pilsner-style and a Hefeweizen, and hopes to offer seasonal and historical beers as well.

Enlightened Brewing Company is expanding at their 2018 South 1st Street location in Milwaukee, to open a tap room and increase production space. Hoping to open in spring or early summer of 2016. They have played around with American Wild Ales, Belgian Blondes and a Dark Wheat, but the standard offerings are an American Pale Ale, a Common Ale, and a Stout.

Black Husky Brewing, a microbrewery originally from Pembine, WI and brewers of a number of creative spruce-infused beers, will open a taproom at 909 E. Locust St. and convert the building at 2872 N. Bremen St. into a brewery. They will be located in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood, which is also home to Lakefront Brewery, a tremendous training ground for many of the local brewers in Milwaukee.

Third Space Brewing plans to open a production brewery, a tasting room and an outdoor beer garden in summer of 2016 in a re-purposed factory at 1505 W. St. Paul Ave. which is near the Marquette University campus. It will be lead by Kevin Wright, a brewer who spent six years at Hangar 24 Craft Brewery in Redlands, CA.

City Lights Brewing is planning on opening in the old City Lights building at 2200 Mt. Vernon Ave. in summer of 2016 with brewery operations separated by a glass partition from the tasting room as well as a special event space and an outdoor beer garden. The historic buildings, which overlook the Menomonee River, were designed at the beginning of the 20th century by noted architect Alexander Eschweiler. First offerings will likely include summer and winter India Pale Ale styles, and a Brown Ale, according to Jimmy Gohsman, brewmaster.

Good City Brewing  will open summer or fall of 2016 at 2108 N. Farwell Ave. with a 17-barrel brewhouse. Co-founder David Dupee of crowdfunding platform CraftFund, said the brewery will start out at about 2,000 barrels per year, under leadership of brewmaster and co-founder Andy Jones, formerly the plant manager at Lakefront Brewery. The planned line-up includes an IPA, Double IPA, and Imperial Stout variations, and most offerings will be vibrant, hop-forward versions.

Pabst Brewing Company new owner Eugene Kashper will try to revive the historical beer recipes with new small-batch beers based on Pabst’s archived recipes. Most, if not all, will be made by other brewers, but a taproom is planned in the historic renovation occurring in the Pabst development here in Milwaukee. The location is reportedly the former First German Mothodist Church on the historic Pabst campus, which had been used by the firm as a community gathering location after the church no longer used the building. It has great history and great architecture so it will be great to see it re-open as a beer hall. Also, the holding company that includes Pabst also includes Stroh’s and Schlitz. It would wonderful to get each of those brands going in Milwaukee once more.

Finally, Milwaukee Brewing Company will be taking over the former Pabst warehouse on the same campus, giving them a substantially larger footprint. They offer some of the most innovative brews coming out of Milwaukee right now (I’m looking at you O-Gii!) so a major expansion is great news for the Milwaukee beer scene.

Beer and Cheese Pairings

On a recent evening, we challenged ourselves to put together a tasting comparison between California and Wisconsin cheeses and beers. We’re happy to share our pairings below.

1st course: Clock Shadow Creamery Maple Quark on whole grain rye toasts

Originating in Germany, this fresh, soft cheese tastes like a mix of soft goat cheese and ricotta. We served the Maple Syrup Quark on whole grain rye toasts, consistent with the German heritage and matched it with a traditional German brew, Ale Asylum’s Unshadowed. A Hefeweizen style brewed in Madison, Wisconsin, it was a very nice, bright, citrusy opening to the evening.

Beer - Cheese

2nd course: Cypress Grove Midnight Moon goat cheese and Columbus herb salami along with Sartori Limited Edition Extra-Aged Goat cheese and landjaeger dried sausage

Aged at least six months, an ivory-colored cheese with a lovely smooth texture, nutty and a slight caramel finish. Only after we selected this cheese did we discover it is made in Holland for Cypress Grove, which is based in California. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was a perfect example of this Dutch classic, with an extra bit of complexity from goat’s milk. We paired it with a traditional San Francisco salami with herbs. Our beer pairing was Ballast Point Calico, English Pale Ale brewed in San Diego, California. One of my personal favorite combinations of the evening.

We had a direct side-by-side comparison for this course, with Sartori’s Extra-Aged Goat. The aging has enhanced its caramel notes and created a dense, dry texture with some mild crystallization. We paired this with a traditional dried, European-style sausage from Wisconsin and a big, bold red ale. Lakefront Fixed Gear is a Red IPA brewed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the additional hops creates a lovely complement to the grassy flavors a goat cheese can bring to the party.

 

Beer - Cheese1

3rd course: Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog goat cheese

In this Cypress Grove offering, we’re getting the tang of a goat cheese, similar to the flavors of buttermilk with floral and herbal overtones. As it matures,  the area closest to the rind gets softer and develops a more intense flavor, perfect for the big flavors in a classic West Coast IPA. We choose Lagunitas IPA, an India Pale Ale brewed in Petaluma, California. For some of the guests, these flavors were a bit too much, but together, these partners danced beautifully. The bitter hops of the IPA tamed the tang of the ripe goat cheese. Surprising…in the nicest way.

4th course: Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam with house-made California Golden Fig spread

A smooth and creamy triple-cream cheese made with organic milk, Mt Tam is firm, yet buttery with a mellow, earthy flavor. The mouth feel is luscious. We served it on almond thins with a house-made golden fig paste. We paired this with barley-wine flavors found in Ale Smith’s Grand Cru brewed in San Diego, California. Though they complemented each other well, a contrasting flavor may have brought more interest. A previous pairing with Cracked Wheat from New Glarus Brewing worked very well. The Grand Cru is a great, Belgian-style beer, but not our favorite pairing.

5th course: Hook’s Blue Paradise and Wisconsin Honeycomb

This is a double cream blue with a smooth, creamy texture that simply melts in your mouth. We doubled the decadence by adding a bit of honeycomb and then provided a perfect set of contrasting flavors in the big, malty, sour fruit beer – Serendipity from New Glarus Brewing in New Glarus, Wisconsin. We’ve done this combination before and it is a show-stopper, which is why we place it here to finish the evening.  The creamy rich flavors of the cheese are both accentuated and then washed away in the big tart flavors of the beer.

Overall, it was a successful evening and fun exploration of the many ways the flavors of cheeses and beers can dance together. We invite to make your own music.

New Bar Added – Stubby’s Gastrogrub and Beer Bar, Milwaukee, WI

“We’re kind of like your favorite local dive bar — but with a killer craft beers and a robust menu packed with locally-sourced offerings.” – Stubby’s Gastrogrub and Beer Bar website

Yeah, that about covers it. Stubby’s has a great selection of draft beers with healthy selection of local Wisconsin brews, an equally healthy selection of some of the best Great Lakes brews, all supplemented with a number of world beers which are high-end representatives of their style. It took me ten minutes to select my first beer because I knew I was limited to only having a few. I’m glad I started with Karben4 Fantasy Factory.

Stubby's4

Karben4, out of Madison, WI, has created a beautifully balanced IPA which leans towards the citrus end of the hop spectrum, but the English malted barley adds plenty of body. Stubby’s is located on the Milwaukee River, on the edge of a newly revitalized neighborhood. It was a sunny, breezy, happy hour kind of night. We ordered a selection of appetizers for the group – fried mac-n-cheese, fried cheese curds, and nachos topped with pulled pork.

Stubby's

Apart from the obvious artery destroying power of this display, it was ton of fun. The fried mac-n-cheese were lusciously creamy and complemented with a spicy marinara-style sauce. The nachos were topped with pulled pork and a ridiculous amount on cheese, guacamole, and sour cream. This is not subtle folks, this is a full-on bar food binge. And yes, those barrels are painted with the Central Waters logo. So what do you pair with deep fried cheddar cheese cords with a Parmesan bacon dipping sauce?

Stubby's2

Well, the Black Husky Pale Ale was exceptionally nice as the bright hop flavor cut through the richness of the deep-fried cheese and bacon sauce. Then you slip slowly and blissfully off into a food coma. Oh, it’s so worth it. If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend it. We’re happy to add Stubby’s Gastrogrub & Beer Bar to our Restaurant page as another representative of Great Lakes Cuisine.

In Praise of Rhubarb

Rhubarb means summer. Summer in the 12 year-old, off-of-school, complete freedom sense. Summer in the sleep-in, wake-to-warm-sunshine, go-play-in-the-field sort of way. When I was 12, we lived on forty acres of prairie grasses and wild flowers, bordered on two sides by a slow flowing river, which would sparkle like gold in the setting sun. We also had a garden with a gooseberry plant, an apple tree, and a pear tree. As summer closed, we could harvest all types of fruit and vegetables, but only one plant provided an unlimited snack in early summer – rhubarb. Mom gave us complete freedom to snap off as many stalks as we wanted to dip in sugar and enjoy long before anyone thought of sour patch kids.

Rhubarb

A recent article about freezing fresh food in the New York Times included a reference by Chef Tory Miller of L’Etoile and Graze in Madison to freezing rhubarb to use year round as “Wisconsin’s lemon”. That reference inspired a flurry of rhubarb creations, not the least of which was my daughter’s rhubarb crumble.

Rhubarb Crumble

Another creation captured a bit of that childhood essence of summer – a rhubarb radler. Radlers are a German creation which combines a lighter beer with a fruit soda for a lower alcohol, refreshing summer drink. Typically the fruit soda is lemon, though more recently grapefruit has become popular. Why not rhubarb? We simmered diced rhubarb in water and sugar, strained the solids out and then added sparkling water. That house-made “soda” was then combined in equal parts with Hinterland White Cap IPA. If you can’t get Hinterland in your area, Blue Moon’s White IPA would work or you could select another flavorful craft IPA that is not too heavy on the bitter flavors and not overly malty. The hop bitterness in the Hinterland White Cap is beautifully bold and the rhubarb soda accentuates the floral notes. The resulting drink reminds me of a fresh ruby red grapefruit. I recommend enjoying it this way:

Rhubarb Radler

The rhubarb radler got the creative juices going. These flavors combined really beautifully, so how might we create a dish with the same profile? We marinated boneless, thick-cut pork chops in 1 can of Hinterland White Cap with 5 cloves of smashed garlic, 1/2 cup of sea salt, and 2 tablespoons of chopped oregano flowers. Fresh oregano can be substituted, but the flowers are a bit less powerful in flavor and seem to bring a somewhat floral character. The chops marinated overnight and then were grilled. We topped them with a rhubarb compote made of 1 cup of diced rhubarb and 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup more beer slow simmered on the stove. When the rhubarb softened just a bit we removed the solids, reduced the liquid down to a very thick sauce and then added back the solids for a quick compote. The dish is topped with more oregano flowers and of course enjoyed with another Hinterland White Cap.

Rhubarb compote1

The compote was sweet but the IPA added the needed complexity to hold a bit of interest. My daughters claimed they could taste the beer in the pork chop, but only after I told them it was marinated in beer. The beer flavor is subtle, but different enough to make it a bit intriguing. Overall, a very nice blend of flavors. We enjoyed these with skillet browned baby potatoes and tarragon butter green beans. It tasted like summer.