Gluten-Free Beer Review: Redbridge

redbridge

Staring in the face of the real possibility of gluten reactivity, the biggest hurdle for me to clear is going to be the beer issue. I’ve tried a few gluten-free beers in the past, but they were totally lackluster and not really worth drinking, let alone reviewing.

Alas, times are different now for the gluten-free world at large and things have gotten better. Maybe they’ve also gotten better in the beer world?

Anyway, Redbridge is a sorghum-based amber/red lager made by Anheuser-Busch. It weighs in a 4% ABV and an unspecified IBU rating. So what does this beer have to offer? Let’s find out.

Drank straight from the bottle so I can’t comment on color, but looking at the appearance of the beer through the bottle suggests a light golden color. Aromas of citrus hops come through the nose, as well as a glycerin-like sweetness from the sorghum. Flavors were very interesting and much more like that of an American pale ale than an amber lager – pale malt sweetness/breadiness supported by a bite of piney and grapefruit hop notes. Pretty thin/light in body and with high carbonation; this one is easy to kill several of.

Honestly, I found this beer to be very good. I got it to go with my gluten-free mushroom-Swiss burger at The Cove in San Antonio and it was a great pairing. The Cove is a great option in SA if you want a great gluten-free burger and fries, and obviously they have gluten-free drinks too. Oh, and the staff is super friendly and helpful. The bartender that day? As I paid out my bar tab and returned to my table, she noticed my lower half wear and gave me a pretty high compliment – “Oh, I love your shorts!” Never did I think I would get paid a compliment on my “Davy” Dukes but then again San Antonio and Abilene are totally different animals.

Anyway, I’m just glad I have at least one beer option should I have to make the commitment to gluten-free full-time. I’m sure you’ve noticed I’ve not written a beer review in a long time, and that’s the reason – I don’t drink much beer anymore and what I have had recently in that respect are all previously reviewed beers. Alas, I might specialze in gluten-free beers in the near future as I try more. Bartender lady assured me she’d have some more different ones back in stock in a couple of weeks, so when I’m down there again it’ll be worthy of exploration.

Whatever the case, I’m giving this one a rating of 4/5. I would definitely drink this again.

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Cigar Review: The K by Karen Maduro

This offering from Karen Berger cigars is a Nicaraguan puro. The size smoked for review is a 5″ x 52RG box pressed Robusto.

The first light reveals a perfect draw producing ample medium bodied smoke. Core flavors of a smoky meat draw followed by a peppery finish and retrohale with a tinge of cedar.

The cigar develops beautifully in the first third retaining the first light flavors while adding a deep, rich, creamy chocolate onto the draw – almost like a malted milkshake. Think of the flavor profile as going to a 50s diner and ordering a chocolate malt with your burger. The pepper and cedar remain on the nose. The smoke is very thick on the palate – almost “chewy.”

No changes were noted in the flavor profile for the 2nd third which was fine by me because I was totally digging the flavors. The final third showed the smoky quality (don’t laugh!) getting more intense as the body ramps up to a medium/full. Ending at 55 minutes for a good burn time for a Robusto and bringing in a medium nicotine strength.

Construction was very good with only slight variations in the burn line that did require correction at the halfway point. Ash held on for half the stick. High quality self adhesive bands that removed easily and did not damage the wrapper in any way.

This cigar had a very unique and delicious flavor profile that kept me wanting more. With its medium blend profile, this is a great option for a mid-day or lunch smoke. Would go well with coffee, red wine or maybe even a nice mimosa. A little pricy at $9.50/stick but well worth it for the flavor profile. My final rating on this stick came out to 4.25/5.

Cigar Review: Henry Clay Warhawk

This cigar features an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper over a Connecticut Broadleaf binder and Honduran long fillers. The size smoked for this review is a 6″ x 50RG Toro vitola.

First light reveals a slightly snug draw but producing plentiful creamy medium bodied smoke. Core flavors of a sweet nuttiness on the draw with a heavy oak and pepper finish and retrohale.

Getting into the first third the draw opens up to the perfect resistance and the smoke retains a medium body as the pepper diminishes somewhat allowing a hint of cocoa to enter the draw. I have to say not quite my expectations for a Connecticut wrapped cigar.

The 2nd third sees not so much a transition as an addition to the already complex flavor profile. Everything holding at medium body, but the finish adds a note of yeasty bread to the mix.

A slight shift in the final third as the nutty flavor transitions to a thick, creamy leather note and the pepper dropping off almost entirely. Ending at 1 hour 15 minutes for an impressive burn time and bringing in a surprising medium nicotine strength kick.

Construction was very good with a razor sharp burn line and high quality self-adhesive bands that removed effortlessly and did not damage the wrapper. Short, flowery ash so be aware of that though.

What a surprise. Definitely exceeded my expectations for a Connecticut blend. At about $8/stick it’s very reasonably priced too. Great morning or mid-day smoke with some great coffee spiked with Bailey’s, Chila or Rumchata. Rating: 4.5/5.

Continuing the Gluten-Free Discovery

I spent yet another weekend in San Antonio hanging with Laina, sniffing out some other parts of town and visiting tourist locations (downtown, the missions, etc.) and of course food destinations, in which I jump in to gluten-free mode.

The more I get into the whole GF thing (with Laina practically holding my hand through it all), the more I discover so many new favorite flavors. Saturday mid-morning we ventured into the Pearl Brewery area (which is no longer a brewery by the way) for the farmers market, intending just to peruse for the time being but she spotted a stand making gluten-free crepes. Naturally we had to stop, for neither of us have had a crepe in years. We both ordered one to our tastes and they were absolutely delicious and filling. We totally skipped our planned lunch spot as it held us over until dinner. Like wow.

Also at the farmers market there was a winery with a stand (Bending Branch). I decided what the hell and got a glass of their Cabernet Sauvignon. It was delicious, so much in fact I went back and bought a bottle.

Over the course of the weekend we also visited two sushi places, and while I wasn’t able to order what I am accustomed to, I found other great, flavorful alternatives. Pitfalls to avoid include, but are not limited to, imitation crab, wasabi, soy sauce, eel sauce, none of which you would think have gluten but in fact do. That’s ok, with help I navigated to safe options, axing wasabi and doubling down on ginger instead. Oh, and GF soy sauce is a thing, and I cannot tell any difference between that and regular soy sauce. Why then do they add wheat to soy sauce I haven’t a clue. Oh, and I can still have sake too, which I love and will order with sushi when they have a hot sake option (I don’t care for cold sake, has to be hot for me, for that’s how my great-grandmother drank it and what I developed a taste for).

Sunday morning I munched on some GF crackers with roasted red pepper hummus while we ran some unexplored territory (at least on my account). Oh man that was delicious. We then stopped into a Mediterranean place. I considered a lentil soup appetizer but that was quickly shot down as I asked and it was in fact thickened with flour (dammit!!!), but afterward I was glad I forwent it as the entree was very filling indeed, with lots of very exotic flavors from the sauces used (which were totally safe).

So then the weekend comes to a close and I venture back to my dwelling place, where dad had grilled hamburgers. Not having any GF buns on hand, I grabbed a normal bun and had dinner. First bite of gluten since the Thursday evening prior to my trip. I also had a scotch with my cigar after (which is distilled from barley – and while there is no consensus as to whether or not it is GF, I would assume it at least contains traces of gluten). I had no ill effects at the outset, but I woke up this morning with terrible stomach cramps. OMG I hurt something fierce, and whereas I can’t tell for certain that the gluten was the cause, I can’t think of any other variable that would account for it.

At this point, given my own personal anecdotes and experiences it seems to be that the evidence is stacking up – I would say there is a higher chance that I am reactive than not. Again, I’m not jumping to conclusions and I will have the Array 3 run to verify, but it just seems that way to me. And if it is, I’ve decided I’m ok with that. I’m quickly discovering great new flavors that I love. My palate is morphing the more I consume GF foods, many of which I’m finding I like better than the mundane things I was eating day to day. Like this has gone from “well shit, this fucking sucks” to “oh wow, this is actually fun!”

I’ve learned that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I can still have many of my existing favorites, some with just a slight modification, and I’m exploring all sorts of uncharted territory and finding great new-to-me flavors. Whereas beer and probably whisk(e)y is a no-go, I can still have wine, hard cider and a variety of liquors I’ve yet to get into. I can still have sushi (while avoiding certain pitfalls) and sake.

I can totally do this. If my suspicions are confirmed, I’m ready to make the switch full time. I’ve proven to myself I can do it, and I will do it if my well being depends on it.

Cigar Review: Smokin Joe’s 34th Anniversary

For cigar smokers looking for a stellar stick at an unbelievable price, definitely stay tuned to this review. You’ll be glad you did.

This commemorative cigar, available exclusively from cigarandpipes.com in New York was blended by E.P. Carillo Cigars and features an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper over a Nicaraguan binder and Nicaraguan and Dominican long fillers. This cigar comes in three vitolas – a 5″ x 50RG Robusto, a 6″ x 52RG Toro, and a 6″ x 60RG Gordo. All three vitolas are less than $5/stick, so definitely budget smoker specials.

So let’s just get into the review and talk about why these sticks are so special. For this review, I am smoking the Toro vitola.

The first light reveals a perfect draw putting off plentiful thick, medium/full bodied smoke. Notes of cedar and pepper dominate out of the gate, along with a smooth leather. Quite a surprising start to such an inexpensive stick.

Getting into the first third the cigar develops in complexity, still holding a medium/full flavor profile. The notes above remain, but are joined by a rich cocoa on the draw and unsalted roasted nuts oh the finish. The smoke is very thick textured and creamy on the palate.

The second third sees the same great complex flavor profile but with the balance of flavors shifting a bit. Whereas the first third emphasized the wood and pepper notes, the cocoa and leather really take over in the second half. That’s really all there is to report as the stick is fairly consistent otherwise, which is fine by me as it has a complexity and richness to the flavors. Ending at 1 hour 15 minutes for a solid burn time for the size and entering a matching medium/full nicotine strength.

Excellent construction throughout with a near razor sharp burn and an ash holding on damn near half the cigar. High quality self-adhesive band that came off without issue and did not damage the wrapper.

I told you that you were going to want to read to the end. You are just not going to find a better cigar in this price bracket. Full of flavor, a nice kick, and an unbelievable price. I hope they make these regular production. Do yourself a flavor and buy a bundle in your preferred size and try it out. You’ll thank me later.

Pair with red wine, rum or imperial stout beer for best results. For what you’re getting for such a diminutive price, I’m giving this cigar a 5/5. It blows away many cigars 3 times its price point and sometimes more.

Cigar Review: Sobremesa

This offering from Saka cigars features an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper over a Mexican San Andreas binder and Nicaraguan long fillers. The size reviewed here is the Elegante en Cedros – a 7″ x 50RG Churchill vitola.

The first light reveals a perfect draw producing ample medium-bodied smoke. Core flavors of earth and leather out of the gate with a substantial but not overbearing red pepper blast on the retrohale. There’s also a tinge of bright cedar on the nose.

Getting into the first third we see many of the same flavor notes, but with the addition of a light roast coffee – akin to a breakfast blend – on the draw. The body flavors also see a bit of an uptick and they are now solidly medium/full. The smoke is very creamy and thick on the palate. Overall the flavors are definitely on the savory/zesty side.

The second third brings a very welcome transition as the earthiness takes a back seat and brings in a note of dry unsalted nuts and a distinct creamy note with a slight tinge of sweetness. The pepper and cedar notes remain, as do the coffee and leather. Very complex blend but no one flavor dominates any of the others.

The final third sees another shift, but this one more subtle as the coffee takes on a distinct dark baker’s chocolate bite. The pepper also dies down somewhat. Ending at 1 hour 50 minutes for a truly impressive burn time and bringing in a matching medium/full nicotine strength.

Excellent construction throughout with a burn that wasn’t totally straight but didn’t need any manual correction, which was impressive given how windy it was when this was smoked for review. Ash holds on solidly for a third of the stick at a time. High quality self adhesive band that removed easily without damaging the wrapper.

Overall a very robust and complex smoke that leans strongly toward the savory side. I would have liked a bit more sweetness to round out the package but otherwise it was a very nice smoke for sure, though I do prefer Saka’s Mi Querida over this one. Pair with a sweet red wine or a nice rum to balance out the relative dryness of the stick. Rating: 4/5.

Some Brief Reflections on Going Gluten-Free For a Weekend

As the sun set on the biggest day in motorsports, with a stomach full of all gluten-free food and plenty of Ace and Angry Orchard hard cider, I smoked the day’s last cigar and wound down for the day, completely satisfied that I had accomplished my major project for the weekend: going gluten-free for a couple of days.

Of course, it’s not because I had to. I don’t know yet whether or not I am gluten reactive, though I still think there’s a high probability that I am for reasons mentioned prior. Rather, I did it because it was because I wanted to. I wanted to experience the struggle first-hand, as sort of a sympathy/empathy thing for those who have to fight this battle every day. I wanted to learn about what all has gluten and what doesn’t, and just how careful gluten reactive people have to be day to day. I wanted everyone at my viewing party to feel fully accommodated so that nothing was off-limits. And…there might have also been some other ulterior motives for this personal project. 😉

At any rate, I was shocked by two things – not only how much stuff actually is gluten free, but how much stuff is NOT that one would think is. In looking at getting hamburger patties, my jaw hit the floor when I saw that the lesser priced ones actually had soy flour in them! Like what the actual fuck? Why does that shit even need to be in a hamburger patty? Needless to say I quickly rejected those and paid the premium for the “real thing” – the real thing probably tastes better anyway.

So after figuring out what all I could and could not have, it was a huge learning experience to say the least, not only about the logistics, but some about how I personally felt this weekend. For reasons I cannot explain, I did feel like I had more energy this weekend than I had in a long time. Maybe it has something to do with the fact I did eat gluten free this weekend, maybe it was some other factor. I don’t know and I’m not going to make a call one way or another.

Lastly, I also figured out just how flavorful gluten free food can be. I actually found out that I prefer the taste of a gluten free hamburger bun over a plain white bun, especially after toasting it (though I should say I absolutely despise the taste of plain white bread). Gluten free barbecue sauce? I couldn’t tell the difference. Of course, base spices, etc. are also great and dress up just about any food, and everything in the end came out just fine.

I guess at the end of the day, I proved to myself that if I do wind up having to be gluten-free, it is something I can do. There are as many different varietals of hard cider out there as there are beer, of course I already love wine and rum. I could still have sushi, minus wasabi and imitation “crab”and with gluten-free soy sauce (yes, there is such a thing!). Who knows? Maybe even sorghum beer is better than it used to be, and I forget what it’s called by a prominent bagpipe maker who is also a homebrewer has to be gluten-free and brews his own beer with normal barley malt and adds an enzyme that removes the gluten. Maybe I could try my hand at homebrewing and still have my beer and drink it too?

Of course, I can’t go completely gluten free yet. I need to wait until the test because I’ll need to continue consuming gluten at least intermittently to keep the antibodies up to show in the test (assuming I do have such antibodies). Alas, nothing says I can’t experiment with doing so on a part-time basis in the immediate future, and I plan to do just that.

I guess whatever happens, does. So be it.