Beer: Lee's Liquid Dinner Brewery: Sonoran Brewing Co. Style: English Brown Ale ABV: 5 percent
If we've learned anything from Sonoran's Chef Series beers so far, it's that the cooks tapped for these brews aren't afraid to get a little weird. First we had Jeremy Pacheco, who threw seven different ingredients -- including fennel and mesquite syrup -- into his Seven Wives Saison. Eddie Matney took things even further with FFF, which featured brown sugar, grapefruit and more basil than your average Olive Garden goes through in a week. Lee Hillson, the Iron Chef participant and former executive chef at T. Cook's who's now designing dishes for The Phoenician resort, is no different in his drink-making habits.
For Lee's Liquid Dinner, the third in Sonoran's four-part series of collaborations with local chefs, Hillson decided to go with a few helpings of his favorite veggie, honey-roasted parsnips. Cranberries, orange peel, chestnuts and hazelnuts were also added to the English brown ale base, accentuating the beer's nuttiness and roast.
Sonoran and the chosen chefs must be applauded for their choice of beer style throughout this series -- each of the beers released thus far have perfectly complemented the season. As a brown ale, Lee's Liquid Dinner is a brilliant style choice for the transition to fall. The warm temperature here still calls for something more refreshing and with gentler alcohol burn than, say, a stout, which this 5-percent ABV brew delivers. Its gentle nuttiness also works very well with the flavors of the season.
Before you pop open the bottle for this one, take a minute to admire the label. Drawn by local artist Ellison Keomaka, the design takes inspiration from chef Hillson's food choices as well as his love of horror films -- hence Lee's diabolical expression. Okay, enough admiring. Pour the brew into a pint glass. Soft haze clouds a copper-colored liquid under a soft tan head like just-picked cotton.
Rub your nose in it and you'll find a majority of Hillson's ingredient additions -- honey-drizzled biscuit, a touch of tart cranberry, the toasted nuts mingling with the base beer's established aromas. It's a wonderful, autumnal aroma that'll slow down your drinking speed as you continually stop to admire it.
But drink we must, and so we move on to the flavor. Funny thing about this brew: It can be quaffed without much affecting your taste buds at all. A light, ethereal body combines with nearly-not-there carbonation to create a very fickle flavor. The trick is to let this one sit on your tongue a while, which opens the liquid: sweet biscuits and roasted parsnips up front, slight bitterness and a bone-dry finish after the swallow.
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Lee's Liquid Dinner is available in 22-ounce bottles and on draft in select accounts across the Valley. Grab some for yourself and get a taste of the flavors of the season as well as a bit of Lee Hillson's madness.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.