Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Ballast Point Tongue Buckler Imperial Red Ale


That was the first thing that went through my head, and came out of my mouth, after my first taste of Ballast Point's Tongue Buckler Imperial Red Ale.  It is not so much that Tongue Buckler is a great beer--it isn't--or that it is bad--it definitely isn't--it is just that it is the kind of drink that makes you think "wow."  I do not really know how to explain it, because I do not love this beer, though I do like it, but it is incredible nonetheless.  The amount of flavor packed into it is kind of bizarre, and I think it is the wide range of tastes that threw me off and also keep me from putting it into the pantheon of beers that I crave.

The first thing that hits you is malt, which you smell as the glass approaches your face, and the fact that it is a 10% ABV beer never comes into the equation, from either sense.  After the malt comes the wheat, then a burst of hops, powerful and a little citric, which takes over from everything else.  Finally, the sweetness of the malt comes back in the aftertaste, while the hops do not really linger.  There is a spicy (not hot spicy, but spices kind of spicy) note as well, though I would be hard pressed to tell you exactly from what.  It is an easy drinking beer, which is good because it is not cheap, but bad because, again, it is 10% ABV, which means that if you drink a 22oz bottle on your you may need to wait a few before driving anywhere.

It is a kind of strange looking beer; a few people on BeerAdvocate have remarked that it is not a "red ale" in the traditional visual sense, a dark, cloudy, only slightly reddish pour that has a solid head of deep tan.  I think it looks good, or at least kind of cool, but it is not quite as "pretty" as some other red ales, like the Founders Red Rye PA.  When all put together, it is definitely a beer I will buy again, but I will not crave it the way I do some others.


On a related note, Ballast Point is rapidly approaching "favorite" status, potentially overtaking Maine Beer Company.  The highs (Sculpin, a top three IPA; Fathom, a truly special pale ale; Sea Monster, a beautiful and inspired imperial stout that I did not know was 10% ABV until I just looked it up; and Victory at Sea, one of the most interesting beers I have ever had) are barely behind MBC's Lunch, and tied with or ahead of the rest of the offerings.  Neither company offers a bad beer, though the Serrano Pale Ale from Ballast Point was just plain weird, albeit in a way I can appreciate.  I see Ballast Point becoming what Dogfish Head has been for so many years; a company with a few tremendous year round offerings, some limited/seasonal beers that people seek out whenever they are released, and a revolving stable of "experimental" brews.  Hopefully, those experimental types are a little more successful than Dogfish Head's, but I see a similar level of creativity out of Ballast Point.  I really love this brewery, though, and classy San Diego should be proud of them.  Thank you to my friend Sean for introducing me to them.


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The Roost (Northampton, MA)

The Roost is one of many cafes in Northampton, MA, fighting for supremacy in a market that should be able to support them all.  Similar to last week's review, this is a place that I had seen a few times but never thought to drop in, as I did not really appreciate what it was and what it offered.  My friend Sean and I were going out to grab a beer, but wanted somewhere different than our normal haunts, so he suggested The Roost.

Offering breakfast foods like waffles, egg sandwiches, and bagels, along with soups, sandwiches and salads, they have a rather interesting menu.  Their soups and quiches change daily, but the rest of the menu stays essentially the same.  They serve several beers in the bottle and have about half a dozen taps, all but one of which were stocked with local or semi-local beers, and prices are extremely reasonable.  They had Brewmaster Jack's IPA for $12 pitchers, so we grabbed one of those to go along with a cup of soup each and the Mixed Board.

Sean had the New England Clam Chowder and I had the Butternut Squash and Yam Bisque.  The chowder was gluten free, and the bisque was vegetarian, and there are several items on the menu that satisfy each of those requirements for those with limited diets or dietary restrictions.  My bisque was tremendous, slightly sweet and definitely more distinctly recognizable as having butternut squash than yam, with a heat that was very subtle at first but built as time went on.  It was very creamy, and the texture was just right.  Dipping the bread and some of the cheese from the Mixed Board was the perfect way to eat both.

The Mixed Board itself was quite good as well, with a small, house-made baguette, ample piles of hummus and peanut noodles (served cold), a side salad, some berries, a few thick slices of cheddar cheese, and some olive oil based dressing that was probably 95% oil.  The baguette was delicious, but there was not enough of it, so we bought a second one; they make them daily, and you can really tell, so kudos to them.  Hummus is something I tend to enjoy, but not love, and this was no different, as it was very good but not something I would ever really crave.  The peanut noodles, on the contrary, were definitely crave worthy, and I do not tend to be a huge fan of cold peanut noodles, but these had little chunks of actual peanut in the sauce and it did not taste like someone had just thinned out some mediocre peanut butter.  The side salad and berries deserve no more mention other than to say they seemed relatively fresh, I guess.  Cheddar cheese being among my favorite things on Earth, I was really happy to find it on the plate, but really disappointed to find only a small pile, since it was really good stuff.  The dressing was good with the bread, but nothing exciting; they can do better there.  Overall, this was very good and I was very impressed.

If you need a quick, tasty, fresh made bite to eat and a beer or coffee, The Roost is definitely a good option, and I would recommend it a bit more than I would The Foundry, and the prices are a bit better as well.  FYI, the desserts look AMAZING.


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Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Foundry (Northampton, MA)

Located across the street from my favorite Northampton spot, The Foundry is a sandwich/coffee shop, which also offers a few craft beers on tap, including a local brew or two.  I had wandered by many a time since The Foundry opened, but never stopped in, thinking it more of a coffee bar than a place to have a meal or a drink, and figuring that if I were getting expensive coffee, I'd go to La Fiorentina, Western Massachusetts' best coffee and pastry shop.  This past Tuesday, however, I found myself with a solid hour or two of down time while I waited for Town Fair Tire to put my new tires on my car, and, wanting to try something new that was not too heavy, I decided to stop in and have a sandwich and a beer.  (**Shout out to Town Fair Tire; those guys rock.  Great deals, good customer service, and nice people in general**)

I ordered one of their hot pressed sandwiches, The Anvil, which includes turkey, sun dried tomatoes, and pepperjack cheese.  This was a very simple sandwich, but was quite tasty, with pretty decent turkey that did not taste like the processed crap you get at the supermarket, sun dried tomatoes that provided a great combination of sweet and savory, and a subtle spice from the cheese.  It did not suffer from the standard issue I find with paninis, where the sandwich is pressed into an homogeneous blob with no character or ability to differentiate between textures and flavors.  The sandwich was served with a small salad of micro-greens that was quite good, and a balsamic vinaigrette that was no better or worse than the ones I make when I'm in a rush or not motivated enough to make a good dressing.

The Foundry also has a few decent beers on their list, and I had a glass of Maine Beer Company's Mo, a great beer that deserves its own review.  They also had something from The People's Pint, a fine local brewpub (though their service sucks horrifically at the restaurant), so it is good to see them supporting local breweries.

All in all, I will almost certainly go back, and I would say it is a good place to check out if you need a quick, light bite to eat.


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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Tunnel Bar (Northampton, MA) and V-1 Vodka

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Situated under the old Union Station, in--obviously--an old train tunnel, Northampton's Tunnel Bar is, on a quiet night, about the classiest place in the city, and on a Friday or Saturday, one of the most popular.  Elegant and comfortable, with the bare walls of the tiled tunnel contrasted by the comfortable leather chairs situated around small wooden coffee tables, there is a bar about twenty feet long with some stools and space to stand.  They have a few beers on tap at any given moment, but they really specialize in cocktails, and especially martinis.  With a pretty decent selection of gins and vodkas, you can get just about any variety of martini, from my rather simple personal preference (V-One Vodka with extra olives) to any number of specialty and original drinks.  Additionally, they have a wide selection of other spirits, including but not limited to Scotch (including the cheapest pour of Johnnie Walker Blue I've ever seen, at $23), bourbon, rum, and tequila.  Prices are definitely not low, but considering the incredible potency of their cocktails, they are well worth the cost.  If I am driving, I never have more than one martini at Tunnel Bar, and I make sure there's a little time and water before I get behind the wheel.

When Tunnel Bar is quiet, it is the perfect place for a drinking date, pre-meal cocktail, or after dinner nightcap, giving ample room to stretch out while still maintaining enough proximity to your accompaniment to have a real conversation without worrying about being overheard.  On weekends, it gets too busy to have a quiet conversation, and you may well end up upstairs at a regular restaurant style table, as the tunnel itself cannot hold nearly so many people as want to crowd in.  They will be crowded from about 8:00pm until close on Friday and Saturday, so plan accordingly.


V-One Vodka is somewhat a product of Western Massachusetts, the brainchild of Hadley's own Paul Kozub.  Produced in Poland, it is the winner of several awards in its short lifespan, and is my second favorite vodka, following only Cold River Vodka from Maine.  Incredibly smooth, it makes a great martini, though like most grain vodkas it lacks the flavor of the potato based versions; it lies somewhere in between Cold River and Stolichnaya for me, and is actually unique in that is uses 100% spelt.

I cannot recommend either of these highly enough.

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