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It’s a chilly winter day here in the Northeast… freezing, in fact, quite literally at 32-degrees.  Not exactly a good day for a backyard barbeque.

Ah, but wouldn’t those tangy, smoky flavors warm your insides on such a cold and dreary day?  How about a beer that can capture that in a bottle?  Stone Smoked Porter does just that.  It pours a dark rich opaque chocolate brown, and the roasted, smoky aroma gives a hint of the delicious taste to come.  The flavor is initially sweet and chocolatey followed by a flavorful but not too potent smokiness that reminds me of a cozy fireplace or campfire, and slight hints of alcohol warm the insides.  Some earthy notes of birch and sarsaparilla come through, while the finish is slightly charred, which perfectly complements and completes the smoked flavor.

For a simple meal, I paired this with some barbequed pulled pork from my local Whole Foods Market.  Pretty good in a pinch, though some real ribs or brisket from the smoker would be even better.  I also think this would be an excellent match for a char-grilled steak.

While readers in Tennessee, North Carolina and all across the South have plenty of great barbeque joints to choose from, those like me in Northern New Jersey have a harder time. Luckily, Front Street Smokehouse on the industrial Elizabeth waterfront serves up some excellent authentic Memphis-style barbeque.  We even had the chance to see the smoker in action.  While it’s initially heated with gas, a combination of charcoal and hardwood are used to smoke the ribs, pork and chicken slowly in the rotisserie.  The pulled pork is tender and moist, and the smoked chicken glazed with raspberry jalapeno sauce is probably the best chicken I’ve ever had in a BBQ joint.  Unfortunately, no smoked porter to be found here, and not many craft beers at the bar, but there’s excellent birch beer on tap, and the mouthwatering smoked meat and delicious sides (tasty collards, homemade stuffing and cornbread) are well worth the trip off the beaten path.

Definition: Smoked Porter

This unique hybrid style of beer was invented in 1988 by Alaskan Brewing Company when they approached a local producer of smoked salmon about smoking some malt over alder wood in their smokehouse. While the traditional smoked rauchbier has been brewed for centuries, it was an obscure and little-known style outside its native Germany. Today, thanks to Alaskan Brewing’s experiment, dozens of microbreweries around the U.S. have rediscovered the delicious unique flavor of smoked beers, producing their own renditions of smoked porter and other smoked ales and lagers.

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How does one get a free beer education? Well, you could simply drink a lot of beer, but you are paying for the beer itself so this method is not completely free, and who knows if you are really learning anything as you drink? You could also read my blog, and yes you may learn a little something, but I’m not providing beer for you to taste as you read. So you are now asking yourself, where I can I both learn about beer and actually taste some beer in the process? Here are three great ways:
Beer 101: Tour your local brewery

Touring your local brewery is a great way to learn about how beer is actually made. At a smaller brewery, your tour may be conducted by the brewer himself or herself, and they can provide amazing insights into how the raw ingredients (grain, hops, yeast and even the water itself) can shape the flavor of the beers they brew.

And once you know what goes into making the beer, you get to sample it! Samples (a couple of ounces, not full pints, mind you) are typically available for a few dollars or less, often even absolutely free.

To find your local craft brewery, visit

http://www.beertown.org/craftbrewing/locator/breweries.aspx

Beer 201: Bierkraft

OK, you have to be able to get to Brooklyn for this one, but each Tuesday night at 7 p.m., Bierkraft in Park Slope offers free tastings of some amazing beers. The tastings are often lead by a brewery rep, distributor or on rare occasions the brewer themselves. Typically five beers are sampled at each session, and each small sample of beer is carefully paired with an edible treat (cheese, meat or even chocolate). There’s much to learn between sipping samples, whether information on specific styles of beer or ideas on how to pair food and beer, and questions are always welcome.

Of course, at the end of the tasting, you’ll be quite tempted to actually purchase some of the beer and treats you have sampled. And with literally hundreds of beers on hand to choose from, you might want to pick up a few bottles to do some homework on your own.

If any readers know of any other beer stores that hold similar tastings in other parts of the country, please add a comment to this post, or e-mail me at pintsofknowledge@gmail.com so I can include this information in a future post.

Beer 301: Volunteer as a Beer Steward

There are dozens of homebrewing clubs around the U.S., and many sponsor competitions throughout the year. Larger competitions draw entries from throughout their region of the country, and as you can imagine, organizing the judging of hundreds of beers can be quite a feat. Often, the clubs ask for volunteers to serve as “stewards” on the day of the competition to assist the judges in their tasks that day.

I’ve personally done this twice, and have learned more about beer in a single day than any other beer-related activity I’ve been involved in. While distributing clean glasses, pouring water and collating scorecards isn’t the most exciting part of the day, sitting down with the judges as they taste, rate and compare beers is not only educational, but a whole lot of fun. Many of the judges at these events have completed the Beer Judge Certification Program, and are incredibly knowledgeable about beer. Most are also homebrewers themselves, so they know a lot not only about the final product but the process of brewing itself.

Both times I served as a steward the judges I worked with encouraged me to sample and even share my thoughts. Last year, I even had the chance to sample some of the Roggenbiers being judged, a hard-to-find style that I had never come across before. And while watching the judges study, swirl, sniff and sip each sample with great intensity may initially seem amusing to the casual beer drinker, it makes you realize that brewing is truly an art, and that great beer should be appreciated much like a fine wine or rare scotch.

To find out more about homebrewing competitions around the country, and to inquire about volunteering to be a steward, visit:

http://www.beertown.org/homebrewing/calendar/events.aspx

OR

http://www.bjcp.org/apps/comp_schedule/competition_schedule.php

Definition: Roggenbier

A Roggenbier is a German-style of beer that is brewed with a large about of rye which provides a distinctive somewhat spicy, slightly sour flavor, along with malted barley and wheat. Relatively dark in color and somewhat cloudy in appearance (this is an unfiltered brew), they are amazingly complex, but unfortunately hard to find outside of Germany (and even rare in Germany). If you are lucky across to see one in your local store or tavern, I’d highly suggest giving it a try.

Beer Quote:

“Give a man a beer, and he wastes an hour.
But teach a man how to brew, and he wastes a lifetime!”

– Unknown