Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Stone IPA

Stone Brewing Company©
Stone Brewing Company's India Pale Ale is a fine example both of what a true IPA should be and why exactly Stone is among the industry leaders.  IPAs are supposed to be heavily hopped, and as the label quite immodestly states, this beer has "[B]ig hop flavor and big hop aroma."  It's strong and bitter, but with a smoothness and easiness of drinking that belies the hefty 6.9% ABV in this beer.  With a pale, golden appearance and a good head, it's an attractive beer when served from a tap, but it certainly doesn't lose much out of the bottle (plus, out of the tap you don't get to enjoy the Stone Gargoyle!)

For me, the typical measure of how good an IPA is comes from the balance of the hops (massive) and citrus; Stone's is an oddity however, in that there isn't any citrus in it.  In fact, there are exactly four ingredients in this beer:  barley; hops; water; and yeast.  The huge amount of hops, and the truly sharp taste of them in this IPA, means that you taste what feels like citrus, though without the fruitiness that can sometimes come through (I'm looking at you, Harpoon) and can ruin it.  No such concerns here.

I've said previously that Stone is among my favorites, but as good as this beer is, it's got nothing on the Ruination, Arrogant Bastard, and Sublimely Self Righteous Ales; it is, however, a great alternative to the headache inducing genius that are the Dogfish Head 90 and 120 Minute IPAs.  As far as an option that holds up well to both the heat of the summer and the cold of the winter, not to mention the moderate (aka nice) temperatures of the spring and fall, this is a wonderful beer.  Highly recommended!


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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Madison Brewing Co. Pub and Restaurant (Bennington, VT)

Madison Brewing Co.©
Madison Brewing Co. Pub and Restaurant is my kind of place; simple, tasty food, good beer, and a great atmosphere.  My younger step-sister just graduated from Bennington College, and since I was not able to be there, I took her out to dinner in celebration; this was where she chose for us to go, and I can assure you, if she took nothing else away from her college experience, Madison Brewing Co. was well worth the cost of tuition.

Madison offers six year round beers, ranging from a Scottish style ale to a Belgian witbier, along with two "seasonal" beers.  I had the Old 76 Strong Ale, which lives up well to its name; it is a strongly flavored, heavy beer, though lacking the hops that I would have expected.  The beer was not special, but certainly much better than and of the mass produced options, and held up well against even some of the British ales I've had.  This is certainly a beer I can recommend to anyone who finds themselves in Bennington.

Despite being a brewpub, the food was really where Madison shines.  I had the bangers and mash dinner, and the mashed potatoes were fantastic; creamy, rich, with good texture but not so much as to be chunky.  The gravy was heavy and filling, with large slices of cooked onions in it, and while it had its own richness, it did not overwhelm either the potatoes or the sausages.  The bangers themselves, however, were a little disappointing at first; they are not really bangers, but more of a standard pork sausage, and once I got over the disappointment that they were not what I had had in England, I really enjoyed them.  They were extremely porky, which is pretty much my first requirement for a sausage (I have had good beef, chicken/turkey, and fish sausages, but let's be real:  sausages should be pork), with just enough fat to keep them moist but not so much as to feel heavy or greasy, and went well with both the potatoes and gravy.  The last thing on the plate was a small heap of apple chutney, which was an extremely sweet, but welcome addition, with the apples maintaining their crunch to provide a nice contrast to the primarily soft remainder of the platter.

Along with the bangers and mash, Madison offers a pretty great selection of traditional pub food, such as fish and chips (on Wednesdays it's all you can.  Seriously, this place was founded with me in mind), meatloaf, burgers (including bison and venison burgers), and wings, along with less traditional fare including a daily ravioli special, tortellini alfredo, and chicken scalopini.  The smoked gouda mac and cheese sounds pretty damn good too.

Now, I don't normally eat dessert, partially because I'm trying to convince myself I'm eating semi-healthy, but mostly because I just tend to be disappointed by it.  When offered apple pie with a pecan topping/crust, however, that whole "healthy" thing goes out the window, especially when the waitress (who was one of the best I've had in a while; friendly without being cloying, attentive without being intrusive or annoying) insists that it must be eaten warm and a la mode, and boy was she right.  First off, they use good ice cream; this was not that bleached looking "vanilla" that has no character, but instead more along the lines of Haagen-Dazs' Vanilla Bean (a personal favorite of mine).  Secondly, the pie itself was heavenly; think of the best apple pie you've had, and then try this.  It'll be a close comparison, I can assure you that.  While this may not be the best I've ever, it's damn close, with great texture, sweetness, tartness, and apple flavor that just melds perfectly into an overall fantastic eating experience, and one that reminded me that dessert does not have to disappoint.

Lastly, the aforementioned atmosphere:  the downstairs is small, but not cramped, with a tiny bar (maybe 8 seats, if that) and several tables.  Upstairs is separated into two sections, with an expansive indoor area and a moderately sized outdoor area, that has its own bar (though I don't believe you can sit at it), with about 8 or 9 tables.  We sat outdoors, and it was a really great place to sit, with the perfect (not too hot, but sunny) weather enhancing the already delicious meal.  If you have the option of sitting outside and the weather is nice, take advantage, you will not regret it.


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Monday, June 11, 2012

Me, on a soap box!

I've mentioned my affinity for local ingredients, but I'm also a big fan of the concept of sustainability, and while I don't think we've quite got it figured out, striving for that is a huge, huge deal.  I buy local when I can, and encourage everyone I know to do so; by buying locally grown/harvested/raised products, we can help further the growth of small, community oriented businesses, that operate in a healthy, product driven, not profit driven, atmosphere.  That said, not everything we buy needs to be local; hell, in this area, not everything can be local, simply due to the climate and farming capabilities of the area.  So, instead, we should try to find food options that are similarly produced, albeit not locally.  This can get expensive, and if the choice is between eating well enough or not eating, then just remember, pride cometh before the fall; make the best choices for you and your family, but try to do so with an eye towards sustainable agriculture and farming when possible.
And, off the soap box.  For now.

On that note, there are a few very interesting videos I'd like to recommend, from the TED Conference series.  The first two are from Dan Barber, of Blue Hills restaurant:
How I Fell in Love With a Fish
A Foie Gras Parable

These next two aren't really about sustainability, but are profoundly interesting:
Malcolm Gladwell on Spaghetti Sauce
Peter Reinhart on Bread

The last think I'd like to link to is a three part article about Kobe beef, and the myth (lie, really) that is perpetuated by fine dining restaurants throughout this country.  It also delves into the other lies that American food companies are given license to tell by the government regarding their products, in a clear expression of what can only be described as a "fuck you" to the rest of the world's rules for naming a food or beverage that is from a specific region.  Just remember, the next time you buy champagne in the USA, it may not really be champagne.
Food's Biggest Scam: The Great Kobe Beef Lie


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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Yuengling Lager

D.G. Yuengling & Son is the oldest brewery in the United States of America, and are exceptionally proud of that fact, as they should be.  Additionally, they are tied (with Samuel Adams) for the largest USA based brewery, despite being available in a distinctly limited geographic area.  In fact, Yuengling is not available anywhere in New England, except on military bases.  This makes for a rather curious, and mildly entertaining, communication web anytime any of a small group of us travels to New York, New Jersey, Delaware, or Pennsylvania.  There are about ten of us that are huge fans of Yuengling, and thus, when one of us goes away (or the Army Reservist among us has drill at Ft. Devens), we are required to send out a mass text or Facebook message informing the rest of the group, and taking orders.  This has resulted in having purchased a half dozen or more cases a couple times, and the funniest thing is, when I do get funny looks and then explain, I'm told this is not actually unusual!

Anyways, on to the beer!  Yuengling Lager is a mild, smooth, almost sweet beer, with little to no hop flavor and no bitterness.  Is it a great beer?  No, absolutely not.  What it is, however, is a refreshingly simple, light beer with enough flavor to keep me happy, though it lacks the depth of flavor to bring it into the realm of the truly fine beers.  It is somewhere in that odd purgatory between the cheap beers (PBR, Budweiser, Coors, Miller, and other mass produced brews) and the high end beers (Dogfish Head, Stone, and other upper end craft beers), being both cheap and pretty tasty.  Its closest comparison would probably be Stella Artois, though I hesitate to make that comparison due to the fact that Stella is an Anheuser-Busch InBev N.V. production, and also is over that $1/beer line that I think separates cheap versus...well, not cheap.  Comparatively, Yuengling runs about $20/case of 24 beers.

In the end, Yuengling is a craft beer in technical terms only at this point, as it is really more of a mass production beer, but is made with rather more care than Bud or Coors.  There is a pretty intense cult following, and the movement to get Yuengling to come into New England has attracted nearly 14000 Facebook members, myself and several friends included.  Hopefully one day they will be a nationwide option, but until then, I will savor it when I can get it, and regret that I am consuming the last few sips I have right now.


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Monday, June 4, 2012

Amherst Wines and Spirits (Amherst, MA)

Amherst Wines and Spirits©
Amherst Wines and Spirits is not only my favorite liquor store, but they recently got a big boost for one simple thing:  they carry BenRiach 16 and can order BenRiach 20!  I don't know how to express the happiness...that said, it's $120 for a bottle of the 20 year old, so I have established the "Jeremy Gets BenRiach Fund," now accepting generous donations.  Thanks in advance!

In all seriousness though, Amherst Wines is a great place, with a great selection.  The staff is incredible, extremely knowledgeable, friendly, and most of all, helpful.  If they don't know something, they don't make something up, they look it up.  I've spent several minutes on the phone with them asking little questions, and they never seem even remotely put out by it; rather, they seem to relish the opportunity to inform and educate.  I owe them a great debt of gratitude.  If you're in the area, and need a bottle of fine wine, Scotch, Bourbon, or other spirit, I absolutely recommend that you stop in.  They also hold weekly tastings on Saturdays from 2:00pm to 5:00pm, with something different each week (this week is rosés).


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2012 American Craft Beer Fest (Boston, MA)

The American Craft Beer Fest (ACBF) is the first, and thus far only, beer festival I have been to, and have now gone for consecutive years.  It is not only an opportunity to sample some fine beers, but also support BeerAdvocate and the many breweries that come to showcase their wares, while mingling with several thousand other fans of craft beer.

Craft breweries are a specific category, defined as producing fewer than six million barrels of beer each year.  This actually includes breweries that you wouldn't expect, such as Boston Beer Company (aka Samuel Adams) and D.G. Yuengling & Son, both of which are typically thought of as being "larger" independent breweries.  At the 2012 ACBF, there were at least 121 breweries serving more than 550 beers.  While I'd love to say I tried all of them, if I had tried to do so in the 3.5 hours of the event's "A" session, I'd have succumbed to alcohol poisoning long before succeeding.  However, I did try to take some brief notes on many of those I did try.  Each pour is two ounces or less; oftentimes the heartier (aka, higher ABV) beers are poured in smaller amounts, though that all depends on the brewery and/or person pouring.  So, in no particular order, here goes:

  • Brooklyn Brewery:  Mary's Maple Porter (English Porter, 7.2%)--The first beer I tried, mostly so that I'd have something to drink while waiting in the extensive Dogfish Head line, this was a truly lovely little porter, with a light maple flavor that was present in every sip.  The porter was exceptionally smooth, almost milk stout like in that fashion, but with a burst of flavor in every sip that belied that same lightness.  Absolutely one of the best beers I had all day.                                                                        
  •  Dogfish Head Brewery:  120 Minute IPA (American Double IPA, 18%)--This is a super strong, super flavorful IPA, though not hugely different from the 90 Minute IPA that is available year round.  I am certainly glad I tried it, but it did not hold up to the WorldWide Stout that they served last year.                         
  •  Stone Brewing Company:  Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale (American Black Ale, 8.7%)--I'd have sworn this was an IPA, based on the tremendous citrus-y flavor and strong bitterness, but apparently I was wrong, as this is considered a Black Ale.  That said, it doesn't lose any of its brilliance, as this was tied for the best beer I had at the ACBF.  If this were an IPA, it would be the best I'd ever had, which is impressive; instead, it's the best Black Ale I've ever had.
  • Kona Brewing Company:  Big Wave Golden Ale (American Blonde Ale, 4.4%)--This is actually pretty flavorful, which surprised me, because my only other experience with Kona had been their Longboard Island Lager, a super light lager that, while refreshingly enjoyable, isn't exactly flavor packed.  Big Wave is also light and refreshing (much needed at about halfway through the event, especially since most of the other beers I'd been drinking had been high ABV offerings), but doesn't sell itself short by skimping on flavor.  Highly recommended if you can get it and are going to be relaxing outside on a hot day.
  • Element Brewing Company:  Dark Element (American Black Ale, 8%)--I'm a big Element fan, as it is located in Millers Falls (MA), a village of Montague, where I've worked for the last couple years, and where my mother has worked for nearly 30 years.  As always, I love to support local businesses, and it's so much easier when the local business puts out a good product.  Dark Element is one of a few beers I've tried from Element, and it is my favorite thus far.  A strong, dark, and citrus-y offering (and available on tap at Hope and Olive), this is not a beer that everyone will enjoy, but if you like strong beers, try this.  
  • DL Geary Brewing Company:  Geary's Hampshire Special Ale (English Strong Ale (7%)--I'll admit, I'm a little biased when it comes to Geary's; it was my first beer, and I've been drinking it for...well, since before I could legally drink beer.  It's pretty much omnipresent in southern Maine, so I had easy access.  The Hampshire Special Ale (or "HSA") is the best that Geary's has, a porter-ish "Strong Ale" that always seems to hold up to my (very high) expectations for it, year after year.  It's quite hoppy, very malty, and just overall a fine choice, and among my all time favorite options.  
  • Kennebec River Pub & Brewery:  Penobscot Porter (English Porter, 6.4%)--The first beer I had of the night that I wasn't thrilled by.  Now, it wasn't bad, but it wasn't special either.  That said, it was from Maine and the girl giving out the samples was pretty damn cute, so it's an acceptable option for those simple reasons.

**Please note that from here on out, my reviews will be a little less informed; I had previously been typing my notes into my phone, but then I (finally) got a pen, and started writing them into the booklet, which I appear to have left at my friend's apartment in Boston, so this is entirely memory based now**
  • Rogue Ales:  Double Dead Guy Ale (American Strong Ale, 9%)--Strong, bitter, and tasty.  Well crafted beer, as almost all Rogue beers are.
  • Brewery Ommegang:  Hennepin (Farmhouse Ale/Saison, 7.7%)--This was a decent beer, not Ommegang's best, but certainly drinkable.  That being said, if offered any other similar beer I'd probably leave this one.
  • The People's Pint:  Farmer Brown (English Brown Ale, 5.4%)--The People's Pint is a brew-pub in Greenfield (MA) that serves solid beer and solid food and that I will absolutely, 100% not go to ever again.  The service is that bad.  However, since this isn't about their brew-pub, but just their beers, I'll give a pretty strong endorsement to the Farmer Brown; it's not nearly as strong as most beers that I'd recommend, but it's got a pleasant taste, and would make a fine introductory beer for those who think they don't like non-Budweiser options.  I would like to mention The Pint's sister restaurant, The Gill Tavern; great food and great service, one of the best restaurants in Western Massachusetts.
  • Maine Beer Company:  Mean Old Tom (American Stout, 6.5%)--Holy SHIT!  The best beer I had all night, and apparently, I didn't even have their best (that would be "Lunch," a strong 7% IPA that they were, quite sadly, out of by the time I meandered over at the end of the night).  I'm not even sure how to describe this, other than to say that this is the ultimate stout.  I cannot wait until I find some more, and I also cannot wait to find the Lunch.
I'm sad to say that the last beer I'm going to review is also by far the worst.  Not only that, but it's also a Dogfish Head beer, which surprised the hell out of me.  But, here goes:
  • Dogfish Head Brewery:  Festina Peche (Berliner Weissbier, 4.5%)--Wow.  Just wow.  Awful.  I think wasting beer should be a criminal act, and yet, I tossed the majority of the pour I received of this atrocity.  According to BeerAdvocate, this is actually a highly rated beer, but I couldn't stand it, and neither could my friends Joe and Sean who accompanied me to the ACBF.  Stay away, especially considering there are so many fantastic options from this standout company. 
So, in conclusion, the ACBF is a really fun, really informative event, well worth the money and the trip out to Boston.  The event is one of the premier beer events in the country at this point, and with a few more years of growth, it could well become the premier east coast event.  Kudos to the Alstrom brothers for their incredible work at BeerAdvocate, and to Harpoon Brewery for being the main sponsor of the event, showing their dedication to the craft of brewing and to fine beer remains the driving force behind their products, rather than simple profit or growth.


Harpoon Brewery©


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