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Bitter Challenge (Cambridge)

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How do you keep a talented bartender on her toes? Bring your own homemade bitters and ask her to come up with a couple of cocktails using them.

That’s exactly what I did at Belly Wine Bar in Cambridge when I met my bitters-experimenting friend for oysters and house-aged ribeye. He brought his latest amazing bitters. We really wanted to try them immediately in a drink.

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She created two fantastic cocktails that we liked so much we asked for the recipes:

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No telling what she’ll do with the sak√©/cedar bitters I’m working on!

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January 13, 2013 · 4:22 pm

Bear offal led me to Newburgh Brewing Company

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How would you respond to the following statement?

“My brother bagged a bear and saved the heart and kidneys for you.”

A. Absolute disgust
B. Complete elation

There isn’t much in between when it comes to offal. When I asked a chef friend if he had any advice for preparing it, he said, “No, but I am paralyzed with joy for you.”

So when the person who offered the offal- let’s call him Brian- told me about a brewpub he stumbled on that “had pretty good beer” (waxing for him) I had to try it.

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I approached the Newburgh Brewing Company with a heavy heart returning from an unexpected funeral in Philadelphia. It’s sort of half way to Boston if you take some odd turns. The pub is in an old factory built into the side of a hill, so you enter on the third floor and go upstairs to the fourth. (See top photo). I ordered one of the four staple beers- a saison. Pretty gutsy to have a saison as a staple- and to my absolute astonishment it was delicious! The other staples are a cream ale, a brown, and an IPA.

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The vibe is warm and friendly- I got the sense that everyone is pulling for the brewer and will do what they can to help the place succeed. I didn’t meet him, but the bartender has known him since they were kids. He bragged about his childhood pal’s stints at a French culinary school and eight years at Brooklyn Brewery (ah-ha!) just before I met Charlie Benedetti, head of sales. I never would have guessed that- he was slinging beer behind the bar like everyone else.

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Charlie gave me the grand tour and chatted like a proud parent about the history of the building, the brewing equipment, his favorite beer (Unkel Dunkel- he being the uncle himself…) and the brewer’s passion for curing meat in the basement. (See photo below, with the rock-wall crowding into the room) I wonder what he would do with bear heart and kidneys?

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December 22, 2012 · 7:32 am

Road beer (Jacksonville and New York)

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“Download the app.” That’s what Jimmy, the soft spoken bartender at Kickback’s in Jacksonville Florida, said to me when I asked for the beer menu. Really? But actually- it’s fantastic. 68 pages of detail, updated daily. The zero-carbon menu. Bravo!

Jimmy also told me that when the new bar across the street opens the block will have a record breaking number of taps anywhere in the US. While that might be exciting news to someone going into the line cleaning business, I’d prefer 11 well chosen drafts myself.

The beer menu had some gems and some duds. For example- the beer I follow around the world (Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien) was only $30- for both the ’06 and ’09! That’s retail, if you can even find it. On the other hand, they had High & Mighty, which is an excellent quaffable beer from Massachusetts – when it’s fresh. H&M brewer Will Shelton told me it hasn’t been distributed in Florida since 2010. Ick.

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My Old Piano has replaced the Arnaud as my favorite cocktail, thanks to Ari Form at Amor Y Amago in New York. It has two kinds of bitters, a “hard to find” French wonder called Kummel, and some other magic. It’s so hard to find the ingredients that I HAVE to go back. Well done, Ari!

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After such a lovely cocktail experience, my companion and I went looking for craft beer. My BeerFinder app directed us to several places in the area. We chose to avoid Burp Castle because it sounded like a bar full of televisions and bad pizza. But after discovering that the first two places on the list were either closed or didn’t exist, we accidentally stumbled on it anyway and ventured in. Ignore the name! Rachael, our knockout, crowd shushing bar tender, brought me a beer I never got around to in France- on draft. Followed by a hard to find Italian craft beer, also on draft. The space is warm and inviting- nary a television. Don’t skip this one!

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November 28, 2012 · 6:07 am

If I had my Druthers (Saratoga)

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My family is fond of beer. Not quite to the degree that I am, but enough that when I was visiting over Thanksgiving my father arranged for a visit to the latest brewpub in Saratoga called Druthers.

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Maybe to say they’re fond of beer is even a reach- it’s really more that they indulge me. Like in Bermuda, for their 50th anniversary trip, my parents let me drag them to the one craft brewery on the island called the Frog & Onion.

Of course I met the brewer!

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Druthers has a funky outdoor space with lots of heat and fire to let northerners pretend it’s not bitter cold, and three especially good beers: the brown, the stout, and – ready? – the pale! Super and quaffable.

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November 26, 2012 · 7:07 am

Late Boat to China (Beijing and Shanghai)

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I meant to provide what I learned about the craft beer scene in China several months ago- which is why this is the Late Boat. But the first beverage isn’t beer- it’s yogurt. Everywhere around Beijing, street vendors sell room-temperature clay vessels with paper strapped across the top. Once you pay for it, you get a straw to break the paper. You have to stand there and finish it- no keeping the clay cup! It’s fantastic- tangy, creamy- and definitely alive- as yogurt (and beer) should be.

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I met Chandler Jurinka, General Manager of Slow Boat Brewery, at one of his customers in an expat part of Beijing called Home Plate BBQ. The all-Citra hop IPA (called mango IPA, as a head-butt instead of a nod to the distinctive flavor and aroma characteristics) was refreshing and clean. He pointed to the keg sitting directly next to the hot brick BBQ oven and explained that much of his job is educating about proper beer care and service.

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I had hoped to try the beer being brewed by Carl at Great Leap Brewing Company, but was told it was “closed for a little while” which apparently happens sometimes in China. So instead I took a cooking class at Black Sesame Kitchen, which is located within one of many walled communities in Beijing called hutongs.

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The four hour class had room for 10, a Chinese chef, and an interpreter. After the knife work portion, the beer came out. Not very good beer, which prompted me to ask the interpreter about craft beer in China. That question opened many new doors. It turned out that the Beijing Homebrew Society was meeting that night – at Great Leap – around the corner!

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That night I met some amazing homebrewers, joined the club, and finally sampled some of the Great Leap beers I’d heard so much about.

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I also engaged in another of my travel pursuits in Beijing: offal. Pig brain hot pot at Hai Di Lao– yum! I will spare you the photo and instead introduce you to the best beer I had in China. I really wanted it to be at Boxing Cat, a fine twin set of brewpubs hugging the French section of Shanghai.

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And while Boxing Cat’s Winter Warmer in bourbon barrels and its King Louis Imperial Stout were excellent- it was the subtle Kelly Green, the perfectly balanced IPA, and the Pils at The Brew in Shanghai’s Kerry Hotel by handsome brewer Leon Mickelson from New Zealand that stole the China show.

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A few months after the trip to China, a couple of members of the Beijing Homebrew Society descended on Cambridge Brewing Company to sample Will Meyers’ beer- and then buy homebrew supplies at Modern Brewer.

I would love to hear from people who’ve found craft beer in China!

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November 9, 2012 · 2:33 pm