Friday, September 30, 2011

Innis and Gunn Tasting – Cable Beverage

The first thing you notice when you sip an Innis and Gunn original is the pronounced vanilla taste running through it.  Apparently, it gets that flavor from the oak barrels it is aged in.  This is the flavor I fell in love with when I first tried it.  So, when I had the opportunity to sample 2 other styles by this Scottish brewer, I jumped at the chance.  The girl from the distributer was half filling plastic, shot sized cups right outside Cable Beverage on Route 304 in Bardonia, NY.  After a little prompting and a promise to buy some product when we were through, she agreed to refills. 
The original was as good as ever: smooth, sweet and satisfying.  The rum cask ale had a sweet liquery taste, but not overpowering by any means.  In fact, I thought it didn’t taste quite rum-enough.  It could have been stronger without turning too many people off.  All the participants at this tasting seemed to be happy with its taste. 
The Highland Cask Ale was the one we all were waiting for.  This one is not readily available in the states and has been aged in casks that once contained a single malt Scotch whisky.   This one had a stronger profile than the rum cask ale.  The whiskey was there without taking over the whole show. I could see myself sitting in front my fireplace on a cold night sipping this beer and warming up inside and out.  I was impressed enough with the selections that I bought a sample pack that contained the first two and a seasonal winter ale along with an I & G glass for $9.99.  I’ll let you know how the winter tastes when I work my way through the set, hopefully before winter

Monday, September 26, 2011

21st Ammendment's Hell or High Watermelon and Prohibition on PBS

The warm weather is continuing into late Sept here in New York.  This gave me one more opportunity to indulge in some fruit beers before they go into hibernation for the cold months.  So, to a recent house party, I brought a bunch of these sweet brews hoping to introduce some friends to my fruit passion.  I arranged them in a plastic tub of ice with six packs taped to the sides hoping that the colorful cartons might entice people to give them a try . 
I chose some of my favorites: Ithaca Apricot Wheat, Blue Point Blueberry Ale, Sea Dog Raspberry and Hell or High Watermelon.  The tub was positioned between a tub of Carona and one with Bud Lite. I figured that next to these standard summer beers my unusual brews would be passed over.  To my surprise, out of 24 beers there were only about 3 or 4 remaining at the end of the night.  I gave myself a pat on the back for the effective advertising and for widening the horizons of my beer drinking friends. 
One of my favorites was the watermelon ale. Brewed by 21st Amendment Brewery in San Francisco,  this wheat beer pours a pale gold and leaves a nice head that dissipates quickly like a lager.  It has just the faintest fruit scent and tastes wheaty with a hint of melon upon swallowing.  As it warms, more of the melon flavor is evident.  This beer is light and drinkable.  I can definitely see myself downing several of these babies on a hot summer day. 
Speaking of the 21st Ammendment . . . There is going to be a Ken Burns documentary on PBS about Prohibition from Oct 2-4 starting at 8 pm.  You can watch a sneak preview here. Please let us know what you think of the show.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Peekskill is Beerville

This little town, 40 miles north of NYC and just about an hour ride on the Metro North Train, has a couple of the hottest craft beer houses in the metro area.  The Peekskill brewery is across the street from the train station with a view of the Hudson River.  I happened to walk in with a software developer named Ken Johnson, who is developing an iphone app called Brew View that is scheduled to launch in October .  He intends to log all the craft beers made in the North East and superimpose them on a map so beer lovers can find their favorite beer with a tap of the screen.  

Ken ended up joining our group from the Tristate Beer Lovers Meetup .  I had called the owner, Kara Berardi, to arrange for a food pairing for our group.  We settled on a menu of a flight of four beers, one pint of our favorite, an appetizer, entre and desert for $40.  Kara was off, but her husband Keith and waitress Kate met our needs to the fullest.
The most memorable brews of the flight were a vanilla bourbon stout and a Belgian Golden Ale called Rosemary’s Baby.  The stout was delicious and strong, a little too strong for my taste.  The Ale was just right with just a hint of rosemary at the finish.

Our group shared nachos, sliders and a rarity, deviled eggs, for our appetizers.  I had the fish and chips for my entre and was too full to finish it or indulge in desert.  The bar was packed throughout our entire stay and a walk down a long hallway took me to a dining area that was just as busy.

About a mile away on nearby Main Street sits the Birdsall House.  I had read a review that raved about the bacon ice cream and could not stay away.  First the beer:  they have about 20 taps, serving many New York beers.  I ordered a flight of five 5 oz. beers for $12. 
 Working from lightest to heaviest: Sixpoint Brevity Witbier (4.9% ABV) was light in color and taste, Empire Cream Ale (5.2) was creamy and smooth but left me a little flat, Capt. Lawrence Freshchester Pale Ale (5.6) had a citricy start and nice bitter finish, Sixpoint Signal Smoked IPA (6.0) was like tasting a nice smoked cheese, and Stone 15th Anniversary Black IPA had tons of chocolaty flavor and a whopping  ABV of 10.8.   I like to support the local brews out of principle, but the Freshchester, made about 10 minutes away in Pleasantville, was simply just the best of the bunch.  It’s bitterness held up well to my spicy meal.
I went with the pulled pork nachos which were covered in shaved apple slaw and cream cheese.  The blue corn tortillas stayed crunchy under the mound of BBQ sauce and pork.  The nachos had the same dichotomy of tastes, sweet and spicy that make the Freshchester IPA so compelling.  Bacon and ice cream sounds like a bit of a mismatch but, take my word for it, they mesh well in this desert served over waffles covered with candied Pecans.
The owner, Tim Reinke, sat with me a while and spoke about his long time commitment to the craft beer movement.  He has been part owner of The Blind Tiger, a craft beer mecca in The Village, since 1996.  Tim lives nearby and wanted to open a place closer to his growing family so he chose Peekskill.  He tries to support his neighbors by using local ingredients whenever possible.  My pork came from pigs raised at nearby Hemlock Hills Farms which are fed the spent grain from Capt. Lawrence Brewery.  Talk about closing the loop.  He also tries to keep at least half of his taps occupied by New York brews.  Tim’s long standing relationship with brewers around the country put Birdsall on the short list for hard to find beers like Delaware's Dogfish Head 120 and Bear Republic Mach 10 brewed in Sonoma County, California.
As a Rockland County resident, it’s nice to know that such great craft beers can be found just a stones throw from the Bear Mountain Bridge.  Birdsall House and The Peekskill Brewery are surely putting this little town on the craft beer map.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Let's Get Stoopid

Hop Stoopid Ale, that is. This is an Imperial IPA from Lagunitas Brewing Company in California that caught my eye. I’m generally not a big fan of Imperial IPA’s due to the high ABV which I often find to be overpowering, but in this case the taste hides it almost completely.
The pour is a clear golden color with a half inch white head, it is an extremely sweet smelling beer, beautiful hops and citrus aromas. It smells so fresh! The medium body and carbonation is what you would expect for the type, but the taste – wow. At first you’re hit with a powerful bitterness (102 IBU!) accompanied by a wonderful creaminess courtesy of the lingering head. I taste piney grapefruit with a little bit of caramel that then moves to a malty sweetness followed by a nice dry finish. I don’t detect a hint of booziness..
I poured this from a 22 oz. bomber that cost only $4.49 at Half-Time, in Poughkeepsie, NY. Quite a bargain!  At that price you might be tempted to have a second, but be careful, you might not be able to taste the alcohol, but it’s there…If you do have a second you may start to feel a little…stoopid.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Firestone Union Jack - India Pale Ale

I'm not a big IPA drinker but I have come across so many IPA lovers that I decided to try a beer that gets raves from many of my friends: Firestone Union Jack.  This Californian beer is brewed in a unique way using oak barrels that impart some of its complex flavors.  If you're interested, like I was, you can find out more about the brewery and the brewing process here
The Union Jack pours gold with slight head.  The first taste is crisp and refreshing with a bit of a bite up front.  It is hoppy in a good way, not overpowering me with its bitterness. After swallowed, this beer leaves a bitter taste on back of my tongue. There is a sourness that lingers like grapefruit juice.  My tongue is left tingling.  After the tingle dies down, I find my tongue asking for more.  It reminds me of when I see someone battle down a hot pepper and then shortly after crave for more.  It’s a sensation that begs for a repeat engagement.
I even feel this beer up in my sinuses like a menthol lozenge.  It seems to clear my sinuses in the same way.  This IPA is very different from the sweet, malty brews I typically lean toward.  But I can see the attraction.  It hits very different senses in the palate and can be just as pleasing.

Union Jack also holds up well to strong tasting food.  In this case, the gourmet tuna melt sandwich I made for dinner. I can't say that I've become an IPA lover myself, but I will definitely be more open to these complex brews in the future.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Bacchus in New Paltz, NY

by Mike
Over the Labor Day weekend, my wife, Doreen, and I visited New Paltz, NY with the intention of trying some of the great food, wine and beer available in that area.  The full write up will be forth coming.  For now, let me make you aware of one of the best beer bars in the Hudson Valley. 

Bacchus sits just off the main drag in downtown New Paltz.  It was opened by a self-proclaimed hippie in 1974 who, along with his wife Linda, still runs it today.  Linda met us with a smile when we walked in and made us feel as though we were sitting down in her own home.  The d├ęcor is funky like the rest of this college town with sharks and moose heads hanging from the walls. 

Bacchus was the Roman god of wine, but here beer rules. The beer list is endless.  I have never seen such an extensive menu of craft and foreign beers; almost 500 in all.
The bar maid, Kate, took our orders: a flight of 4 different tap beers for me and a Sea Dog Raspberry Wheat for Doreen.  The Sea Dog brewed in Maine had a crisp sweet taste.  I would put it up there with the best fruit beers I’ve tried this summer. My flight consisted of: Blue point’s Rasta Rye, Smuttynose Brown Ale, Sierra Nevada Porter and Lake Placid Ubu Ale.  My goal was to experience the local flavors of the area so I ordered a pint of the Ubu as my pre-lunch beverage.  Ubu is named after a dog the brewer kept as a pet in the Adirondack brewery. This English strong ale pours dark red and has a nice caramel aroma.  Doreen and I both agreed that the maltiness of this brew hid the 7% abv very well. 
Kate is an energetic grad student at the SUNY college right down the road.  Doreen commented on her stylish, short haircut and Kate explained that she recently shaved her head bald for St. Baldrick’s day.  This fund raiser, which I have taken part in for 6 years, raises money for research into childhood cancers.  I am usually accompanied by hundreds of other guys who don’t mind shaving their heads for a good cause.  It is rare to find a woman who is brave enough to take it all off.  When asked what it was like Kate said, “It was freeing. I felt like a weight was taken off my head. Even the sensation of feeling the air on my scalp was a rush”.
We had lunch on the outdoor patio off the back of the building.  After the huge breakfast at our B & B that morning, our appetites were minimal. So I ordered a bowl of chili and Doreen got the black bean soup.  The beans in the soup were pureed, which took a little getting used to.  The beans in the chili, on the other hand, were hearty and accompanied by ample meat, cheese, sour cream and chives.  It was such a large, filling meal that I had to take half the bowl to go.

I found room though to order one more local beer from their list.  Keegan’s Old Capital Ale is brewed in nearby Kingston, NY.  Kingston is the old capital of New York.  This American blond ale was flavorful with just the right amount of bitterness. I could taste lemon up front and it had a crisp, clean taste that was perfect for session drinking on a summer day.  I drank it as I walked around the bar, which has another outdoor eating area off the front of the building and a large pool hall adjacent to the main bar room.
This is a “must see” for any beerophile.  It would be have been fun, had we been there for a longer stay, to work our way through their long list of craft beers.  As it is, I’ll have to settle for a taste of Bacchus and a commitment to return soon. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Uncle Lou and Eddie Kranepool

by Tom

You can file this story as something “remotely related to beer”. This is more a “slice of life” story than anything else. It’s my life, but, at the very least, maybe it’ll remind you of a similar moment in your life and make you feel nostalgic for a moment.
In the late 1960s our family often travelled down to Flushing, Queens to visit my Uncle Lou and his family. Uncle Lou was a Brooklyn guy, like my dad, and the only thing that somewhat softened the blow of losing the Dodgers to LA some years earlier was that he now, living in Queens, had the Mets. And Eddie Kranepool. Not Ed Kranepool, Eddie Kranepool… he was our guy, he was the Mets, and no formality was necessary. He was Eddie to Uncle Lou, Ralph Kiner, Lindsey Nelson, and Bob Murphy and that was good enough for me. I won’t bore you with stats, but it was safe to say that Eddie was never going to get a plaque in Cooperstown, but he was THE face of the Mets for many fans in those days and even into the 70s and he had some decent years interspersed with some, well, not so decent years. He was also a New York guy, from the Bronx, but hey – you might run into him on the subway and be able to tell him why that guy WAS OUT at first.
So Mom and Dad and my sisters and I would pack into my parents black 1964 Checker (a great source of embarrassment for my older sisters) and head down to Flushing on a Saturday afternoon. Uncle Lou would be in the kitchen, smoking filterless Lucky’s, drinking Piel’s Real Draft from a can and watching the Mets and Eddie Kranepool. The most amazing thing to me, at six or seven years old, was that I could sit at his kitchen table and raise my eyes from the flickering black and white General Electric portable with its rabbit ears extended, look out the kitchen door and see the top of Shea Stadium ! Since I’d not actually been to a game at that time I was amazed that the game I was watching on TV was being played so close to where we sat.
He loved his Mets and he liked that young kid Eddie Kranepool. He also liked his Piels Real Draft, which was understandable since Piels was a still Brooklyn beer in those waning days of the great local breweries. Years later I kind of wondered why he wasn’t a Rheingold man. Rheingold was the official beer of the NY Mets, one of the best selling beers in the northeast and a Brooklyn beer to boot. But Uncle Lou was a bartender so he must’ve had his reasons.
By the end of the 1970s, most of the local and regional breweries were gone, including Piels and Rheingold and by 1979 Ed Kranepool had retired. The brands were bought up by other brewers and, I assume, the recipes changed, so I could never get a taste of the Piels that Uncle Lou drank. I did try what they sell now. The truth is that if it’s served very cold, it tastes like just about every other pale lager you’ll find occupying 90% of the shelf space in supermarket. Hot day, cold beer, life is good. Rising temperatures, however, begin to reveal strange flavors that don’t belong in beer, like a vague metallic aftertaste mixed with sour corn. The same can be said for the 2011 version of Rheingold.

Sometime in the mid-1990s my wife went shopping at a Shop-rite supermarket in New Windsor, NY. When she arrived home she told me that there was “some guy sitting at a table who used to play for the Mets” giving out autographed pictures and she took one. That’s right, it was Ed Kranepool. Whenever I happen to look at that picture, though, I only think of those hot, non-airconditioned Saturday afternoons in Queens, watching the Mets with Uncle Lou while he smoked his Luckies and drank his Piels from a can with the two triangular holes popped out of the top, and how we talked about baseball, the Mets and Eddie Kranepool.