Sunday, July 28, 2013

Butternuts Beer and Ale Heinnieweisse

I'll admit, I purchased the Heinnieweisse, a weissbier (spelled weissebier on the can) by Butternuts Beer and Ale (check out the website, it's probably the best I've ever seen from a brewery) of Garrattsville, NY, accidentally.  Cans still being a bit of a rarity in the craft beer section, these were situated next to a variety of Oskar Blues beers, so I, not paying much attention, assumed these were as well.  It turned out not to be so bad, as the beer is enjoyable and refreshing, and based on the description of weissbier on BeerAdvocate it is a fine example of the variety.

Similar in taste and feel to a classic saison, the entertainingly named Heinnieweisse is a light ale, lacking hops, but with a pleasantly sweet malt flavor to it.  The head, which looks impressive enough when poured from the bright green can, dissipates quickly, which is a classic trait of the weissbier, though it is delightfully foamy while it remains.  Once it disappears, it does so almost entirely, leaving simply a ring around the edge of the glass of lacy white bubbles.  It is a cloudy looking brew, rendering it nearly opaque, though the light golden color would lead you to think it should be nearly clear.  The taste of the beer, besides the malt, is rather simple, just a wheaty flavor that the two sprigs of it on the can promise; I did not really notice the clove taste that some of the reviewers on BeerAdvocate mentioned, though I could agree with a light citrus taste if pressed.

At just 4.9% ABV, this is a fine option for a warm summer's day spent grilling or hanging out with friends, and it goes well with summer food; while writing this review I was drinking one while eating stuffed patty-pan squash, a laughably shaped summer squash grown just a short way up the road from me by Atlas Farms.  While it is not ever going to be a favorite of mine, I would say it's worth a try.


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Monday, July 15, 2013

The Farm Table at Kringle Candle (Bernardston, MA)

Having grown up in Bernardston, a small town that until a few years ago was best known for being the last exit on Interstate 91 before Vermont (aka, not known at all), I was extremely excited when Kringle Candle Company came into being, adding a major business to a town that otherwise lacked for them, especially following the closure of the much beloved Aldo's Harley Davidson.  Kringle, which is the brainchild of Yankee Candle Company founder Michael Kittredge, was opened almost as soon as the non-compete agreement Kittredge signed when he sold Yankee Candle expired.  In building it, along with his son, Kittredge brought not just a factory, but a showroom and a fine dining restaurant, following a similar path to the Yankee Candle flagship store in South Deerfield, MA. 

The Farm Table at Kringle Candle, colloquially "Farm Table" follows the theory espoused by its name, where ingredients are sourced locally and the food has very little diversion between the farm and your table.  Like Chandler's Restaurant at Yankee Candle, Farm Table is a high end restaurant, and thus expensive; unlike Chandler's, Farm Table will allow you to get in and out without spending your entire paycheck if you order properly.  Farm Table's menu includes a half dozen brick oven pizzas, all of which are somewhat reasonably priced ($12-16), and the entrees include several relatively affordable options.  The appetizers are somewhat expensive, but a few of them can be ordered as a smaller, and thus cheaper, portion.  Since I was going with my mother, who does not have nearly the appetite I do, I had both my own entree and a couple slices of her pizza.

I went with the Summer Pasta, which can also be ordered as a small or large portion (though at just a $3 difference, I question why anyone would order the small), and it was a little disappointing.  It is a simple dish, just some penne pasta, nut free pesto, grilled chicken and confit cherry tomatoes with Pecorino Romano shaved on top, and some aspects of it worked exceptionally well, but it was completely undone by the chicken.  Cut into bite sized and smaller pieces, the chicken was overcooked and dry, making it completely unappetizing and hard to eat.  The pesto, which tasted quite good, was far too oily, leaving a greasy feel to the chicken and pasta at the bottom of the dish.  The pasta itself was good, well cooked, though I strongly suspect it was not homemade.  The best part of the dish was the tomato; as a huge fan of cherry tomatoes in general, and of almost anything confit, it was a really nice addition, as the sweetness set off the earthiness of the pesto and pasta, and almost made up for the failure of the chicken.  Overall, I'd say this is a dish I would not order again, simply because of the chicken, but if they could rectify that issue it would be solid, and at $18, it is the cheapest entree on the menu, and not out of line with what you would pay at many other, less "fancy" places.

My mother's pizza, on the other hand, was very good, likely the best north of The Hungry Ghost in Northampton; in fact, I suspect that most people would prefer Farm Table's, as it is a little further from true Neapolitan.  The crust is a little thicker than my ideal, but is very tasty, and the texture is just right for its thickness, crisp on the bottom and chewy on the inside.  The Spanish Pizza that my mom got has house made chorizo, fresh garlic, egg, smoked local mozzarella, Manchego and fresh herbs over a roasted tomato sauce.  I'll admit that I could not really taste the egg, even when I knew I was biting directly into it, as I felt it was overshadowed by the sauce and especially the chorizo, and I would never have guessed that the mozzarella was smoked, but it tasted delicious nonetheless.  The chorizo is great, though not spicy as I expect with that sausage variety, but it does not suffer for that.  Overall the pizza is very well done, and I would strongly suggest getting one of them, either as an appetizer to share, or as a meal.  Be aware, however, that they are not large, around six to eight small pieces; I would have eaten the entire thing easily, and as it was we finished it despite the fact that I only had two pieces.

Farm Table's beer list is decent, with a good mix of local and national craft breweries represented at the taps and some very good bottle options.  The growing number of gluten free eaters will be pleased to know that many of the items on the menu either come gluten free or can be made gluten free for a small up-charge, including the pizza.  The spirits list is fine, and includes some higher end whisky, like the massively overpriced Johnny Walker Blue ($50, despite going for only about $200 wholesale, or less) and Macallan 25 Year ($75; this is an exceptionally rare scotch, and I have seen it as high as $125 a shot, but still, this is absurd, as it takes about a third of the bottle, at most, to recoup the cost), and some really good options on the more affordable end like BenRiach 16 ($10) and Talisker Distillers Edition ($19).  Whistle Pig Rye ($10) is probably the most intriguing American whiskey option, but there are several good ones to choose from.

All in all, for the price you are paying, I think there are probably better options food-wise in the area, but the ambiance is nice, the location is beautiful, and the option to sit outside in nice weather is not to be under-appreciated.  I will likely go again, as I would like to try some more things, but it is not somewhere that I will find myself drooling over.


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Monday, July 8, 2013

Cockeyed Gull (Peaks Island, ME)

Located a short walk from the Casco Bay Lines ferry landing on Peaks Island, the Cockeyed Gull restaurant offers decent to good food, acceptable alcohol, and some truly stunning views from their back deck.  A beautiful place to sit and enjoy a meal, my step-family and I had a very nice Independence Day dinner there, and as long as you order the correct things, it is my best recommendation if you are visiting Portland and make a trip out to the island, or are vacationing there already.
**Full disclosure:  my step-sister worked as a waitress at the Gull for a couple summers, but then, she's worked everywhere else on Peaks Island as well, so I feel like I have a pretty good handle on the restaurants, of which there are only a few, and can offer an unbiased opinion.

We started by sharing a few appetizers amongst the table, including a couple orders of oysters on the half shell, a beet salad, and a scallop special.  The oysters were, I believe, from the Damariscotta River, my personal favorite locale for oysters, where they do not grow to be very big, but are exceptionally flavorful, with a vibrant sweetness and brininess.  They were served with a "deconstructed" mignonette sauce, some traditional cocktail sauce, and my favorite, fiery and pungent horseradish.  The beet salad was delicious as well, but it was the scallops that were truly remarkable.  Perfectly cooked, something that rarely occurs, they were not seared but rather, I presume, poached, and had such a delicate texture that it is difficult to describe it.  It was served with tomatoes and other vegetables that were wonderful as well.

My step-sister encouraged me to stay away from the more Italian inspired dishes on the menu, so I went with the Potato Crusted Haddock.  I love haddock, which along with cod and hake is one of a few thoroughly fantastic, completely under-appreciated fish, and potato crusting is both a neat concept and really tasty.  The Gull did a nice job with this, as the fish was nicely cooked, possibly just a hair over, but barely enough to even notice it; the potato crust was crispy and succulent, and while it pulled a little away from the fish, it was much better than how I have had it in other restaurants, where the crust barely stays attached past the first bite.  Served with roasted acorn squash, which was exactly what it should be, sweet and savory all at once, it was a good side dish.  The dish was huge, with a giant slab of fish and about half of a squash.  My step-sister got the same, and enjoyed hers as well.

The other two entrees at the table were a special scallop dish and a lobster pasta dish, the first of which was successful while the latter was a failure.  The special thinly sliced scallop crudo served with basil and crostini, which was delicious, but the basil overwhelmed everything.  It was a very small amount of food for an entree, but considering how much food we had ordered, that was not a problem.  The lobster pasta dish had far, far too much sauce (a simple red cream sauce) and not nearly enough lobster, so that everything seemed drowned and overshadowed.

Carrot Cake
For dessert, I went with carrot cake, which I was promised would be the best I had ever had; it was not.  It was, however, quite good, but could not live up to David Burke Prime's version, which had far less sweetness and far more actual carrot to it.  This did not have anything that felt like carrot texturally, and the frosting, of which there was an abundance, was sweeter than I would have preferred.  It was still probably the second best I have ever had, but that is not necessarily saying much.

This was a very nice meal, but for four people, it was not cheap, even with a couple bottles of wine, a beer for me, a couple cocktails and some port to end the night, so I would not recommend this for those who do not have high end prices in mind.  That said, if you order the right thing, and go at the right time, it is well worth it, as you can see from the pictures below.  There was a nice view of the fireworks at the end as well; unfortunately, Portland really dropped the ball on the show this year, but the view was still beautiful.


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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Great Divide Heyday Belgian Style White Ale

Great Divide Brewing Company is a great brewery, putting out some fantastic beers, including the spectacular Claymore Scotch Ale, the light and refreshing Nomad pilsener, and the second best beer I had at the 2013 American Craft Beer Fest, the Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti, an imperial stout that beats out almost anything else in the category.  Their Heyday Belgian Style White Ale, though, is only okay, an acceptable but not particularly special example of the witbier category.  I personally love witbier, including the always delicious Allagash Brewing Company White, and I think it is among the best options for introducing non-beer people to "real" beer, showing them an alternative to the Budweiser and Coors products that many think represent beer.

The Heyday is just a little bit too sweet, with a bit more fruitiness than I typically expect.  I expect a little bit of citrus flavor in my witbier, but this just goes a bit too far on the fruit scale.  That said, it is pleasantly wheaty, and an easy drinking beer, than went nicely with the Greek pizza (feta, black olives and tomatoes) I drank it with.  I think this would likely appeal to many who are on the fence about beer, and would likely be a good segue into craft beer for the Blue Moon crowd, but it is not going to hold its own against the top tier examples of the style with major beer fans and aficionados.  This is sort of the sweet white wine of the beer world; it won't offend anyone, but it probably won't thrill anyone either.


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