Tighthead Brewing’s Scarlet Fire Red Ale

2500 beers in 28 countries. Except for North Korea, who reportedly makes one of the best beers on the planet, there isn’t a beer producing nation on earth I haven’t sampled. I’ve had beer on the frontlines around Sarajevo, with Gypsies in Romania, with brewers in the Czech Republic amid Roman ruins on the Dalmatian Coast and in a castle in Germany, and it all began in a small bar in Brookfield Illinois, sitting beside my father at the age of 7 sipping a small glass of Schlitz. I won’t divulge how long ago that was. After all that, I still get surprised by the amazing spectrum of beer styles and flavors. While others have moved off to whatever drink is fashionable this week, I remain loyal to that first taste of beer so many years ago.

Friday night was a special occasion. It was my wife’s birthday. We’d decided on a perennial favorite restaurant in the neighborhood to celebrate with a romantic dinner. Taste of Peru, which has been featured, and for good reason on shows such as the Cooking Channel’s Diners, Dine-in and Dives, easily won the toss. We arrived just after 6, and despite the cold and Super Bowl weekend, the restaurant was already packed. That says quite a lot in a neighborhood with perhaps the most diverse cuisine in the city, and a phenomenal number of competitors. That also says quite a lot about owner and Peruvian native Cesar Izquierdo. Add to that, the restaurant, at 6545 North Clark Street is unambiguous in a tiny strip mall beside a Dollar store, Laundromat and fast food place. You have to want to find Taste of Peru.

The same is true for the beer I brought along that evening. Out of Mundelein Illinois, Tighthead Brewing Company’s Scarlet Fire Roasty Red Ale promised the elements I was looking for to pair with Peruvian cuisine, which blends a variety of influences, from European and West African to traditional Incan. Here hearty sauces, rich spices, grilled meats, sea food and those eclectic influences are married under Peru’s truly unique culinary umbrella. I wanted something with a bit of sweetness and smokiness in the beer pairing. Scarlet Fire promised, now it remained to be seen how well it delivered.

There is an ambiance to Taste of Peru; a certain family quality and a community one might expect to find in a closely-knit barrio. Conversations overflow from table to table, feeding moments, all of it lofted upon the scents of grilling meats, warming bread and warmed Peruvian spices. The lighting is suitably low, the tables near enough to underscore the sense of community imbued within the cuisine. Amid all of this Scarlet Fire poured to a twilight red color with a full creamy head. The aroma was fruity. I’d ordered Aji de Gallino(Ah-gee day Guy-yeeno), a rich and creamy Chicken and walnut sauce served with rice, a deep-fried potato wedge and half a hard-boiled egg; the odd combination works in only a way Peruvian cuisine can.IMG_1841

At a modest and comfortable 5.6% ABV (Alcohol by Volume), the beer was light and pleasant, with smoky caramel notes and a neatly balanced sweetness that paired wonderfully with the food. This was the sort of beer that would work well on its own, and stands among some of the best local beers in and around Chicago. Also recommended by Tighthead Brewing is their Hat Trick Belgian Tripel, which stands up nicely to traditional Belgians.

It really is about the community, and like a great meal, the right beer really can play a powerful part in constructing that ambiance. I found both of those that night at Taste of Peru and with Tighthead’s Scarlet Fire Red Ale. Cesar, the owner of Taste of Peru, ultimately stopped by our table, the effort feeling more like a gesture of hospitality rather than one of obligation. He took one look at the beer and asked whether or not I’d ever had Peruvian beer. Obviously the gauntlet has been thrown, and for that challenge I am only too happy to pick it up. But that is another story.

Listen Saturday’s from 11am-1pm to WC Turck, Brian Murray and guests on Chicago’s real alternative media, AM1680, Q4 radio, streaming at www.que4.org.
CAM00236WC Turck is an author, artist, playwright and talk radio host in Chicago. He has been called the most dangerous voice on the Left. His new book “Shoot Down: is an unflinching look at the events leading up to the shooting down of Malaysia Air Flight 17.” His first novel, “Broken” was recommended by NAMI for its treatment of PTSD. In 2006 he published “Everything for Love,” a memoir of his experiences during the siege of Sarajevo. He wrote and produced two critically acclaimed plays, “Occupy my Heart” and “The People’s Republic of Edward Snowden.” He works with the homeless and foreclosure victims in Chicago. He partners in a weekly radio show dedicated to issues, society and politics with cohost, activist and artist Brian Murray For more information, past shows, videos and articles, visit www.revolutioandbeer.com

The Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) is a conservative think tank with offices in Chicago and Springfield, Illinois, and member of the State Policy Network. IPI is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) as of 2011. IPI is also a member of ALEC’s Health and Human Services Task Force and Education Task Force. Senior Budget and Tax Policy Analyst, Amanda Griffin-Johnson, presented model legislation (the “State Employee Health Savings Account Act”) to the HHS task force at ALEC’s 2011 annual meeting.[4] Collin Hitt, Director of Education Policy, is a private sector member of the Education Task Force representing IPI. He sponsored the “Local Government Transparency Act” at the ALEC 2011 States and Nation Policy Summit. In its 2006 annual report the Cato Institute states that it made a grant of $50,000 to the Illinois Policy Institute. The Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank founded by Charles G. Koch and funded by the Koch brothers.

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Revolution and Beer of the week…best of the Pumpkin brews NSA-style!

So I was at rehearsals yesterday for my new play,

Autumn Beers by independent Craft brewers will dominate the season

Autumn Beers by independent Craft brewers will dominate the season

The People’s Republic of Edward Snowden. One of the actors, the amazingly talented and one of Chicago’s funniest comedians, Catherine Povinelli, or Povs, as friends call her, considers herself a connoisseur of Pumpkin beer, which I like, but which is thankfully also a seasonal offering. So, I threw together a sampling of three currently on the market, whipped together a food pairing and headed off to rehearsal.189114_709116582710_8120832_n

We’re reading and working the script, a satirical swipe at the security state, out of Eddie Marks’ Uptown Apartment. Eddie plays my hapless NSA agent’s, a disillusioned company man who realizes that he’s been set up for failure by the agency and falls for Catherine, the sexy KGB agent babysitting Snowden.

The Pumpkin Beers are just making an appearance on shelves, though it is still a bit early. There are really cool weather beers, with the bite of expectant winter cold in the air and the scent of turning autumn leaves. I brought three to the rehearsal, Pov’s eyes lighting up when she spotted the telltale black and orange label of the first, Pumking, from Southern Tier Brewing out of New York, sporting a hefty 8.6% ABV. It poured to a really nice deep copper color and an off white head. This was one of the richest of the pumpkin beers I’ve tasted, coming off sweet and almost thick in flavor, with ample notes of cinnamon and nutmeg. Povs loved it, and was somewhat taken aback by the flavor, in a good way.

Pumpkin beers with the author's seasonal take on traditional German Flamkuchen

Pumpkin beers with the author’s seasonal take on traditional German Flamkuchen

Guy Wicke, local actor and proprietor of Wicke International performing arts promotion had never before tasted Pumpkin beers. He was tasting a can of Pumpkin Ale from The Wild Onion Brewing company out of suburban Lake Barrington, a small but solid craft brewer. “

“It was like tasting a pumpkin pie in a can…with a kick,” he offered. At 5.4% ABV, this didn’t pack the kick of Pumking, and was lighter in flavor. It poured to a lighter copper color as well, with a thin off-white head. Across the room, my co-director, Erik Parsons, was working his way through a long neck bottle of Arcadia Ales Jaw-jacker spiced Ale. Again, not as rich as Pumking, the added spice of nutmeg, cinnamon and All Spice was muted and lighter in flavor. At 6%ABV, it made for a comfortable brew.

I poured Povs and Nick Haugland, my Snowden, the last of the Pumking as Ed marks dove into a line. “The Agency, as we like to call it, enables Network Warfare operations to defeat terrorists and their organizations at home and abroad, consistent with U.S. laws and the protection of privacy and civil liberties. Okay, we just threw in that last part to cover our ass…Let me break it down this way, some 12 year old will come along sooner rather than later and render every spying capability we have obsolete, and he’ll do it from the back of his mom’s Volvo on the way to soccer practice. Our job at the NSA is to stay one step ahead of that 12 year old. That 12 year old only has to be right once. The NSA has to be right every time…”
Pumpkin beer is perfect for those late autumn hearty meals with spice and depth and character. This night I paired it with my take on a traditional German favorite called Flamkuchen. It’s a sort of a German pizza of sorts, served on a cracker this crust, with a cream cheese-like sauce traditionally topped with bacon and caramelized onion. To pull it together with the beer, I topped the Flamkucken with a mix of shredded sweet potato, chopped onion, mint and a touch of brown sugar. Lightly browned bits of bacon were added, and the whole thing placed in an oven preheated to 380 F, for about 12 minutes, or until the edges of the crust had browned nicely. Cut into wedges, I garnished with chopped parsley. I made two that night. They were gone in an instant.

Generally I am of two minds on Pumpkin beers, which have grown in popularity over the last several years. First, I believe that they should not over power the palette. Pumking comes right up to that line without crossing it. I enjoy a bit bolder flavors, though there are times a lighter brew works in the absence of meal in helping to capture that autumnal character of the season. More to come on other Pumpkin beers soon…

Catch WC Turck and Brian Murray only at RevolutionandBeer.com. Watch us every Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., and Wednesdays at 2:30 p.m., on Chicago Cable Channel 19. Please don’t forget to Like us on Facebook.
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BEER! Catch the Beer of The Week review with 900poundgorilla, along with weekly food pairings for our featured beers by Chef AJ Francisco and Simply Healthy Gourmet author Carole Cooper here. Find all of the great beers we review each week at www.glunzbeers.com.

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