Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Burlington, VT – Day two

Our first evening in Burlington was spent walking from restaurant to restaurant trying to find one that wasn’t completely booked.  We settled on a seafood place called on The Shanty which was down by the lake on Battery Street.  The crab cake was mostly breading but Doreen’s salad with goat cheese was right on the money.  Their house ale is made by Long Trail in Bridgewater Corners near Killington.  I found it a little weak and watered down as I have Long Trail’s other offerings.

We got up early on Sunday and took a jog on the Burlington bike trail that runs along Lake Champlain and stretches 7.6 miles to the Winooski River.  We only did about half the trail, much of which hugs the rail road tracks and bisects Burlington’s many town parks.  After a shower and a light breakfast, we scheduled our pick up by The Burlington Brew Tour which would transport us to four local breweries.  Matt Taylor, the owner and operator of the tour, picked us up last and we squeezed into the van with a dozen other beer lovers .  He got us introducing ourselves and talking about our favorite beer styles on the short ride to the Vermont Brew Pub.  Matt has been brewing his own beer for over 8 years and was the perfect guide to the workings of the brewery’s production line.  He explained the ingredients used to make beer, what each piece of equipment was used for and what made each beer unique. 
Next, we were taken up to the pub and sampled six of the brewery’s most popular  beers.  We started with a raspberry beer called Forbidden Fruit that’s made with 500 lbs. of berries per batch.  I found it a little too sour for my taste buds, but it was a big hit with the ladies in the group.  I was interested to try their brown ale called OSHAnanagans.  It tasted much like a Newcastle Brown Ale from England and was missing some of the maltiness I’ve come to love in American Browns.  My favorite of the flight was the Lake Champlain Chocolate Stout which is made from cocoa from Madagascar and lactose from a nearby farm.  It was creamy, smooth with just a hint of bitterness like the chocolate it’s named after. 
More to come . . .

Burlington VT – Craft Beer Mecca

“Hon, what kind of car is that behind us?” asks my wife Doreen. We had been making our way up the scenic back roads of eastern Vermont toward Burlington enjoying the views of cows, wide open pastures and the Adirondack Mountains in the distance.  I had just ducked my head into a bag of food we packed to find a snack.  When I looked up into the side view mirror an unmarked white sedan was following close behind us.  “I think it’s a cop car”, I replied.    We pulled over, the cop walked up to our car and said “Do you know how fast you were going through that town back there?"   There was a 50 MPH sign directly in front of us, but apparently the speed limit dropped to 30 somewhere in the last mile or so. 
While the cop was back in his car with Doreen’s documents checking to see if she was wanted in some other state, she was trying to understand how she could be getting her first speeding ticket ever here in Vermont.  “I didn’t even see a town, much less a 30 MPH sign back there.”  Agreeing, I said, “My head was only down for a minute and I missed that “town”.”
Our car was new and the temporary inspection sticker taped to the windshield was expired, so we did not voice any of our concerns to the police officer.  He seemed more nervous than we were as he gave us our $42 violation and warned us about the small town up the road that can "really come up quick if you are not looking for it".  As we drove away, we had some laughs about just how small this town must be if we didn’t even notice his town.  Thus, started our President’s Day weekend in Vermont.

Luckily, we were only about 40 minutes out of Burlington and we had two days of spa treatments, great meals and, of course, lots of craft beers to look forward to.  Vermont has more breweries and brew pubs per capita than any other state and most of them are found in and around Burlington its biggest city.  Our spirits improved drastically as we drove by Magic Hat Brewery on our way into town.  We found free public parking and walked to Church Street, which is closed for to vehicles and has some of Burlington's best shops and eateries. This pedestrian mall is the entertainment hub of the city and has a New Orleans feel to it.  There are granite boulders jutting out from the road to sit on, statues to pose next to for a picture and street performers who will sing your favorite song for a dollar. 
We were famished from the 5 hour drive, so we had lunch at Halverson’s and I ordered my first beer of the weekend: a Magic Hat #9.  Significantly, #9 was the first real craft beer I ever tried and it’s what got me hooked on good beer.  As always, the fruity aftertaste shines through in this “Not so quite Pale Ale” and it made me anxious to visit the brewery which we planned to do with BurlingtonBrew Tours on day 2 of our stay.  The toasted ham and Swiss melt was delicious and it gave me a reason to order a second local beer.  Fiddlehead IPA is brewed about 5 minutes from where I was eating in Shelburne, VT.  This beer was a little too hoppy for the time of day and the weather – winter brings out the dark beer lover in me – but it primed me nicely for my massage at Jirvana Spa across the street. 

An hour long deep tissue massage later and my body felt like warm butter. Doreen had booked a facial after her massage so I had some time to kill.  A guy I met at the bar in Halverson’s told me that the place with the best craft beer list in town was The Farm House Tap andGrill.  So I walked the 20 or so steps and entered a packed Manhattan style bistro.  The vibe was not for me but the beer list was impressive.  They had micro beers from all over the US as well as many Germans and Belgians.  I opted for a Black Moon from Rock Art Brewing Co. in Morrisville, VT.  This black IPA had a nice smokiness that mellowed any bite from the hops.  The 10% ABV was not detectable in the taste or by Doreen when I returned to the spa. 

We were staying in a cottage behind One of a Kind B & B about half a mile north of Church Street. When we got there, Maggie the owner was not around but a note on the front door told us to make ourselves at home.  And we did.  This little cottage perched on the high banks of Lake Champlain was one of the best all-around accommodations we’ve found.  The place was small but had everything we needed: bed, bathroom and kitchen.  At $150 per night it would have been a great value even without the killer views across the lake to the snow covered Adirondacks about 50 miles away. 

To be continued . . .

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Kwak Beer from Belgium

For over 200 years, seven generations of Kwaks have been brewing beer in the tiny town of Buggenhout, Belgium.  Their Bosteel Brewery makes only three types of beer, but if the other two are anything like this one, then less is definitely more.  I poured this dark special ale from a 750 ml bottle that is corked to allow the yeast inside to continue fermenting.  Note: Corked beer bottles should be stored upright as opposed to wine bottles which are kept on their side. It came out of the bottle an amber color with a nice tan head.  It smells of spicy coriander and a little bit of cloves.  The taste is malty and sweet with just a slight kick from the 8.4% ABV.  It is smooth as silk on the palate with a fruity aftertaste.  It is the combination of smells and tastes that makes this beer hard to describe but incredibly satisfying. This bottle set me back about 11 bucks but I would take one bottle of Kwak over a case of Bud any day!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Meadowlands Int'l Beer Expo - Part 2

I recently attended the International Beer Expo at the Meadowlands Expo Center with my brother and our wives.  In Part1of this review, I described some of the first beers we tried.  Now I'll describe some of the best. 

The brewery with the longest line by far was Innis & Gunn from Scotland.  This is one of my wife's favorites and we repeated on the line just to get a taste of the all different selections they were pouring.  I have reviewed their beers in the past, and still feel that the original with its strong vanilla notes is my favorite.  The others were impressed by their beer stored in rum casks.  Either way, we were not alone in our love of this complex Scottish brew.
The second longest line was in front of the Unibroue table.  Unibroue is located in Quebec, Canada and claims to be the first brewery in North America to use the brewing methods developed by the Trappist monks in Belgium.  This was in 1990 and since then, they have been aquired first by Sleeman Brewery in 2004 and then by Saparo International in Japan.  This change of ownership has not dampened the views of beer geeks who sing the praises of Unibroue beers up and down the internet.  
 They were pouring two of their most popular offerings La Fin du Monde and Maudite from their distinct 750ml bottles.  La Fin du Monde translates to "The End of the World" which is what European explorers thought they saw when they arrived in America for the first time.  This bottled conditioned Triple Style Golden Ale carries a 9 % ABV and a nice golden color.  The alcohol bite was slight and the taste was sweet and spicy.  Maudite is a Strong Amber Red Ale (8%) which smells of coriander and has a nice malty taste. The bottle sports a picture of a flying canoe which refers to a myth of voyagers who made a deal with the devil in order to make it back home.  One of them changed his mind mid-way and they were all plunged down to hell.  Hence the name Maudite, which in the local Quebecois language means "damned".
Though we were focusing our efforts on foreign beers, we did come across some domestic craft beers that were standouts.  This being the Tristate Beer Blog I'll focus on the local one's that turned our heads.  New Jersey Beer Co. located in North Bergen, NJ was serving their Hudson Pale Ale which was light and refreshing with a bitter finish.  The owner and brewer, Matt Steinberg, poured me a Scottish Style Ale called a Weehawken Wee Heavy.  I liked the maltiness of this beer and will add it to my arsenal of good winter ales.
 The most local of the bunch, too my home, was Defiant Brewery located in Pearl River, NY. Their flagship Muddy Creek Lager, named for the original name of their hometown, is very popular and consistantly delicious.  I have friends that are so smitten that they keep this beer on tap in their home bars to introduce it to friends and neighbors. 

Neither of these breweries produces their beers in 12 oz bottles yet, but Defiant puts out a Triple in a 750 ml bottle and both beers can be found on tap in their local bars.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Meadowlands Int'l Beer Expo - Part 1

I heard about the International Beer expo from a member of Tristate Beer Lovers Meetup back in January when tickets were being offered at half the $40 entrance fee.  Of course, I didn’t act fast enough to get that deal but waiting worked out in my favor.  My nephew Sean, who had to work the show, was able to get me a comp ticket so I felt ahead of the game right from the start. My brother and I and our wives took the train into Secaucus Junction and then hopped in a cab for the 10 minute ride to the Expo Center.  On the train, we split a bottle of Labyrinth Black IPA and some pretzels in order to prime us for the show.

We accepted our plastic tasting glasses and program at the door and took a lay of the land.  It was a very similar set up to The Atlantic City Beer Fest I attended last year.  The girls headed for the food stands while Joe and I scouted out some of our favorites.  The program listed all the breweries of which only about half were foreign.  We were a little disappointed to see there were only 2 Belgian Breweries in attendance.   American Craft beers were well represented though. 
The first beers that caught my eye were the distinctive cans of 21st Amendment from San Fran whose Monk's Blood Strong Ale is quickly becoming one of my favorites.  I walked up to the pourer and asked for some Monk and he poured me some amber colored ale from a bottle.  I asked him why it wasn’t served from a can like the others and he said that he was from North Coast Brewery also from California.  Apparently, they didn’t bring a sign which made for some confusion. 
The beer has a sweet complex taste like the Monk and is called Brother Thelonius Monk. It too is a Belgian Style Abbey Ale, and part of the profits from its sale go to a Jazz Institute named for Thelonius.  Not a bad start.  I just have to remember to ask what I’m getting before they pour. 

I sidled over to the 21st Amendment table and was bumbed that they didn’t bring their Monk, but they were pouring Back in Black.  This black IPA is toasty malt with a nice bitter finish; not too different from the Labyrinth we had on the way down. 
We joined the girls for some basic beer fare of burgers and sausage and pepper heroes.  Then we set out to try as many international beers as we could. We got our next fill from a St Paulie Girl look alike at the Stiegl table.  She didn’t have much of a personality, but this Austrian beer had a floral nose and was one of our favorites on the day. 

My sister-in-law, Irene, is Polish so we made a bee-line for the two Polish beers at the show:  Tyskie and Lech (as in Welesa).  We had a little trouble pronouncing the former, calling it Titsky even before we saw the girl behind the counter.  Both beers were standard lagers but I thought they stood up well to the competition. 

To be continued . . .

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Football and Craft Beers at Sutter's Mill in Suffern, NY

by Tom

The night of the last playoff game found me at Sutters Mill in Suffern, NY with a couple of friends.  While enjoying the game and a great burger I asked for whatever seasonal Samuel Adams they had.  I was surprised that it was their spring offering,  Alpine Spring.  This is a nice, unfiltered kellerbier that really hits the spot.  It is a little higher on the alcohol content, but still something you can sit back and consume in volume.  Not that I did, as far as you know. 

I preferred last years spring beer Noble Pils more, but as I understand it Boston Beer Company is making that beer a permanent part of their repertoire.  By the way, Sutters Mill is great place to hang out have some great pub fare with friends and family.   Their craft beer selection is limited, however, to the Sam Seasonal and a rotating offering from local Defiant microbrewery in Pearl River, NY.