Drunken Beans

IMG_9092I know this might surprise some of you, but there are times when I do really stupid things. Sometimes those things are forgivable, like eating a bag of Famous Amos cookies and a Diet Coke for lunch, but sometimes I pull some really egregious shenanigans that embarrass even me (and I’m a guy known to order pig intestines in restaurants). My most recent bone-headed move was buying a growler of Josiah Moody’s fantastic Scotch Ale yesterday at Vino’s…and then just letting it sit. By the time I got around to cracking that bad boy open, a lot of the carbonation had escaped, and I was left with the knowledge that I had committed quite a sin against one of God’s gifts to mankind: beer. And not just any beer, but a beer that I’ve waited around to be brewed since last year, from my favorite brewery on the face of this great earth. Something had to be done, something that could live up to the quality of the beer I had so carelessly mistreated. There was but one answer: a big pot of drunken beans.

IMG_9089Michael’s Drunken Beans

  • 1 pound dry beans. Pick your favorites. I like red beans the most with barbecue, so that’s what you see here, but this technique works with pintos, black beans, or navy beans.
  • 1/2 pound bacon
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • Your favorite barbecue sauce. Make your own, or use a good bottled kind. I’m using a new (to me) brand called “My Uncle’s Sauce” that was given to me by a nice guy I met recently who is trying to open a food truck. It’s good stuff.
  • Beer. If you want to use cheap, horrible beer, that’s fine. A good amber ale works nicely with beans. And since I’ve got some half-flat Scotch Ale at my disposal tonight — I’m using that.

Don’t worry about soaking your beans overnight. Cover them without about an inch of water in a kettle and bring them to a boil on your stove top. When they’ve reached a boil, turn the heat off, cover, and let sit for an hour or two. During this time, cook your bacon. You can either cook the 1/2 pound I called for and retain the meat and fat, or you can admit you are a bacon fiend and cook an entire pound, eating half and leaving yourself with a second half pound for the beans. Up to you — I won’t tell anyone.

Rinse your beans in a colander, returning them to the kettle. Pour a bunch of beer into the beans. If you have enough to cover them, do that. I like to pour in enough to get right to the point of covering them and then add some chicken stock for extra flavor. Crumble up the half pound of bacon you didn’t eat and toss into the pot. Using some of the retained bacon fat, cook the onions until they become translucent and somebody from the next room says, “My GOD what are you making that smells so good?!” When that happens, add the garlic just to tease them and saute for three more minutes. Dump the whole lot — onions, garlic, and bacon fat into the pot. Bring everything to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for about an hour. Add liquid if needed — more beer, stock, or water.

Once your beans have gotten soft and most of the liquid has been absorbed, add in as much of the barbecue sauce as you’d like, and adjust your salt and pepper to taste. Put the kettle into the oven and cook baked-bean style until the barbecue sauce has darkened and begun to caramelize. If you like sweeter beans, add a touch of brown sugar before baking. If you like hot, add your favorite hot sauce. Use your imagination. You’ll be left with a pan of beans flavored with the rich barley malt flavor of beer and brought to perfection by tangy barbecue sauce. Serve with cole slaw and barbecue chicken — or whatever floats your boat. Enjoy!

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College Football is Back: How About a Beer?

Rainbow Wheat from Vino's

With memories still fresh of a season that saw the Arkansas Razorbacks make their first appearance in a BCS game, excitement is high all around the state for the 2011 college football season.  With the first weekend of games in the record books (and the Razorbacks sitting at an expected 1-0), we thought we’d talk about a subject that’s just as important as wins and losses, top 25 standings, and team stats: the sort of beer you’re drinking while you watch the game.  And because we’re big fans of our local Arkansas brewers, we’ve got some recommendations for you that will help support local business – because if you’re going to cheer for the local team, you might as well do it while drinking the local beer.  Drinking local beer is a good way to get around state prohibition laws that keep liquor stores closed on Sundays, too: you can get a growler (1/2 gallon) of beer fresh from the keg at any of our three local brewers (Vino’s Pizzeria and Brew Pub, Diamond Bear, and Bosco’s) on Sunday, and you can even get packaged bottles of beer on Sundays from Diamond Bear.  Besides, why show up to watch the game with your usual 12-pack of crappy American lager? Everybody loves fresh beer, so put a little effort into it and get something that’s tasty and as unique to Arkansas as calling the Hogs.

English Pale Ale from Diamond Bear

We’ve talked about Diamond Bear Brewing before, and they’ve got a beer to please any taste.  My two favorite varieties are their award-winning English Pale Ale, a full-bodied, hoppy brew with just enough malt richness on the back end to give a nice, round flavor profile, and the Presidential IPA, which has a nice balance between the astringent flavor that overpowers too many IPAs and a more subtle sweetness.  Fans of darker beers won’t be disappointed by Diamond Bear’s Paradise Porter, a chocolatey brew with a smooth finish, and the guys who crave something more like Bud or Coors Light will enjoy Diamond Bear’s Southern Blonde, a light, crisp lager with just enough hops flavor to assert itself, but smooth and easy-drinking enough to compliment any game day food and appeal to those who don’t like beers that are overly bitter or floral.  It’s a well-rounded stable of beers that Diamond Bear fields, and Russ Melton and crew have really been impressive in their attempt to bring quality craft beer to Little Rock.

Lazy Boy Stout from Vino's

Of course, if you want to bring along some food with your local beer, there’s no better place to do it than Vino’s Pizzeria and Brew Pub.  Vino’s is very near and dear to Jess and me, from all the music we’ve listened to over the years out back to the afternoons we’ve spent over pints and pizza, talking and enjoying the atmosphere.  I’ll admit that Vino’s beer has swung back and forth over the years between good, mediocre, and great, but it beats another can of Busch any day.  Dark beer lovers will love Vino’s for their Lazy Boy and Oatmeal Stouts, not to mention a wonderful Scotch Ale that they have on tap from time to time.  Wheat beer fans can enjoy the Rainbow Wheat, an unfiltered wheat beer with a full flavor that’s just sweet enough without being cloying.  The Firehouse Pale Ale is perfect for anyone who likes a good, solid full-flavored amber beer, and the Six Bridges Cream Ale is a wonderful light beer with a smooth, slightly creamy mouth feel.  And although this post is about beer, we have to mention that Vino’s has (in our opinion) the best pizza and calzones in town.  They’re usually showing the game, too, so if you need to take your watch party on the road, you could do worse than heading to 7th and Chester.

Hook Slide Ale from Bosco's in the River Market

There’s a bit of argument about whether our last local brewer should be considered local or not.  After all, Bosco’s Restaurant and Brewing Company is a miniature chain of restaurants that originated in Tennessee – but when we found out that Bosco’s in the River Market had brewed up a beer just for the Arkansas Travelers baseball team, we decided that was good enough for us.  The Hook Slide Ale is brewed to be a ballgame beer, and I loved its bright, crisp flavor from the first swallow.  This is the beer to bring your brother-in-law who refuses to touch anything but Miller Lite – the flavor is subtle but far more flavorful than a typical mass produced pilsner.  Bosco’s Famous Flaming Stone Beer is a good beer with a slight caramel flavor, and I’ve always found their Oatmeal Stout and Isle of Skye Scottish Ale to be good representatives of the style.  Bosco’s has samples available for $1.00 per 3 oz. glass, so it shouldn’t be hard (or expensive) to decide on which brew is perfect for your crew.

While Arkansas isn’t known for being a hotbed of craft brewing and local beer, there are still some great options for getting your game-day brew and keeping the money in the community.  Do what we did – put your deposit down for a growler from each of these places so it’s just a quick trip for a refill any time you need good beer.  And try this, the next time you’re headed out to watch the big game with friends: show up with a growler or two of beer fresh from the keg and see how much more popular you are than if you’d showed up with the same old cans of your normal brew.  We don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Enjoy – and Woo Pig Sooiee!