Friday, May 31, 2013

Black Walnut Dunkel

  [link to podcast page]

We picked up a bottle of Perennial Artisan Ales Black Walnut Dunkel recently from Good Beer. At $17 for a 750 ml bottle, it's a beer that you want to slowly and carefully enjoy -- this is not something with which to wash down some pizza or burritos!
This is a dunkel-weizen beer made with black walnuts grown in Missouri, which is where Perennial is located -- in St. Louis to be exact. The beer had a pleasant earthiness in both aroma and flavor, making us think "keller dunkel weizen". There was a nice yeasty ester coming off the thick, solid head, but not the overly cloying esters often wafting off of German wheat beers. It had a somewhat refined yeast character.

The deep brown colored beer had a slight sour tinge and a mild roastiness, along with a woody, earthy quality, and a bit of tannic bitterness. There was more heft in the body than most dunkel weizens that we've had.  B.R. noted that this beer would pair well with a hearty, rustic meal. As with pretty much all of Perennial's creations, Black Walnut Dunkel provides a definitively unique beer experience. 

The walnuts are given a rough chop, put into a mesh bag and are added to the bright tank, similar to dry-hopping. Oddly enough, the nut oils don't seem to bother the beer's head, as one might expect.

The leaf in the logo is that of a ginkgo tree.
When asked about the logo of Perennial, brewer and founder Phil Wymore said, "I'm a fan of ginkgo trees. They're considered a living fossil and are the least related to all other trees. They're very enduring. I tied those basic concepts to Perennial, which means enduring, and I envisioned a brewery that set itself apart from most others." Known for its use of non-standard, locally sourced, and organic specialty ingredients --  maple roasted quash, Missouri peaches, strawberries, rhubarb -- and for barrel aging, not to mention their beautiful label artwork, they certainly have set themselves in their own class!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Trip Report: Victoria, British Columbia

I recently took a trip to Victoria, BC where I was invited to give a talk at the 11th Annual Canadian Brewing Awards.

Thanks to a delayed flight out of New York, I missed my connection in Toronto and arrived much later in Victoria than expected so I wasn't able to make the welcome reception at Vancouver Island Brewery. Instead, I had no choice but to drink a Molson Canadian on the plane. But I did get to try Vancouver Island's Hermann's Dark Lager on a pub crawl the next night. It was a pleasantly malty beer with a subtle hop profile.

After the first day's seminars were over, there was a "Brewers BBQ" at Phillips Brewing Company. Earlier in the day, Phillips hosted the Great Canadian Collaboration where all of the brewers were invited to join in a collaborative brew using ingredients that they brought with them (local honey, locally grown and malted barley, locally grown wheat, etc.). The beer selection was limited (2 taps and a small selection of bottles) but the drafts were dispensed from an amazing carnivalesque truck outfitted with taps.

Then it was off to a pub crawl of local bars around Victoria. The first stop - and for me, only stop - was Garrick's Head Pub which has been around since 1867. They had large selection of local ("brewed within 2 km of the pub") and regional (Vancouver and other parts of BC) beers. The selection was so good that, when some of us heard that the next stop had fewer taps and was more expensive, we decided to stay there for the rest of the evening. Aside from the aforementioned Hermann's Dark Lager, I also tried something billed as Beer Thirst Odin Freya's Gold. Since it was on the Vancouver side of the tap list, I assumed that it was a BC beer, but it turns out that Beer Thirst is an importer/agent based in Vancouver and Odin is actually a brewery from California. It was a solid kölsch beer but I was more enamored of the carved wooden dragon tap handle (which I forgot to take a photo of. Blame it on the beers!) I also enjoyed 2 local beers: Driftwood Brewery's Crooked Coast Alt and Hoyne Dark Matter, described to me as "not really a brown ale, not really a stout". It was most like a hoppy, roasty porter.

The bartenders were extremely helpful and very patient, even on a busy Friday night, indulging my many questions since I was unfamiliar with any of the breweries. A bit of culture shock to me was seeing the bar start to empty out around 11pm. When I left around midnight to walk back to the hotel, there was hardly anyone on the streets. Downtown, on a Friday night. Not the same as the East Village on a Friday.

Legislative Building on a quiet Friday night

Thanks for the ride!
The next day I had some free time to walk around the city and also do some "research". Victoria is very small and compact but it's built around a large, meandering harbor so they have small water taxis that ferry you across and around, cutting down on walking time.

Canoe Brewpub

After a very filling lunch of seafood poutine and a grilled oyster tacones at Red Fish Blue Fish, located in a shipping container on a pier, I made my way to the Canoe Brewpub located in an airy brick building right on the Inner Harbor. I had a sampler of their 6 beers currently on tap. The Red Canoe Lager, 5.2% was a malty Czech Pils with crisp bitterness. Siren's Song Pale Ale, 5%, was very hoppy throughout, in both aroma and flavor. River Rock Bitter, 5.2% was less hoppy than the Pale Ale and was nicely balanced with a solid malt base; this one was probably my favorite of the bunch. Beaver Brown Ale, 5.4% didn't have much aroma but did have a roasty, coffee-like flavor. Their Belgian Dubbel, 5.6%, was their seasonal selection. It was fruity and estery but not particularly balanced. It also had an odd hint of tartness and a thin body. Definitely my least favorite of their beers.

Then it was a walk around to the other side of the harbor and a visit to Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub. This was a late stop that I missed on the pub crawl the night before so I wanted to check it out. I did a sampler of 4 of their beers:
ESB (on cask), 5.2%. Hopped with Horizon and East Kent Goldings, the cask version (the ESB is also available as a regular draft) is dry-hopped with Hallertau. It was malty and smooth, with a soft bitterness in the finish. Northwest Ale, 6.2% is brewed with Northwest hops and the menu said it was "assertively hoppy" with 85 IBUs. I can agree with their description; it was most definitely hoppy, with notes of Northwestern hops (I was told that Americans call it the Pacific Northwest while Canadians understand that when one says "Northwest", it's obvious that the Pacific is being referred to). There was a solid malt underneath all of the hops but those hops developed catty aromas as the beer warmed. The Lion's Head Cascadia Dark, 6.5%, was dark brown in color with a malty flavor with lightly roasted notes and a hoppy finish. Jameson's Scottish Ale, 6.4%, was brewed in honor of the Jameson's clan of local tea, coffee, and spice merchants who arrived in Victoria in 1889. This malty beer had a touch of graininess and the menu said that it had "a touch of peat on the finish" which I found to be very, very subtle.
Beer sampler at Spinnakers
The view from Spinnakers' upstairs deck

Overall, I enjoyed most of the beers that I tried during my stay but nothing really blew me away. It seemed like most breweries had a fairly standard line up of beers that were often solidly brewed but not outstanding. That said, Victoria has a thriving brewing scene and I wasn't able to get to all of the breweries or try beers from all of them. I think that a longer return visit will be required because Bob really wants to try that seafood poutine.

"Seal" you later!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Queens Kickshaw

  [link to podcast page]
Interview with Ben and Jen of Queens Kickshaw podcast
We were drawn to this quirky little Astoria bistro for their second anniversary party a few months back, and, having been thoroughly impressed, we knew that a repeat visit was inevitable. Looking through the tiny storefront window at the entrance to the Queens Kickshaw, you'd expect to find a narrow rail-car sized joint, like Proletariat in the East Village, but instead, it expands into a high-ceilinged, long, open, inviting space, with a cozy warmth enhanced by exposed brick, worn wood and a rusty, rustic, archaic industrial decor.
This will extinguish your thirst!
Soon after wife and husband team Jen and Ben moved to Astoria, they wanted to add to the tantalizing, diverse culinary landscape that Queens has become known for. They were contemplating a coffee bar, but if they couldn't set up a brick-and-mortar business then they planned on launching a coffee truck mounted on an auto-rickshaw. Right away they had a name in mind -- Kickshaw, which conveniently means a small delicacy, aside from being a cute play on "rickshaw".

But they did find a space, and so quickly expanded their concept beyond gourmet java. Regardless, their coffee is top notch, supplied by Coffee Labs of Tarrytown, offering a variety of brews, including some very smooth cold-brewed coffees. But they also have a full dining menu which is simple & solid and yet quirky & creative. "Comfort food with a twist," as Ben describes it. Almost immediately, they became reputed for their decadent grilled cheese sandwiches.
Bob, B.R., Jen and Ben.
And more importantly, at least for us, is Kickshaw's central concept: a well thought out beverage program, centered around the best craft beer and cider that they can find. Granted, they're open very early every day, peddling tasty caffeinated cups to the morning set. But it's at evening time when you'll want to visit QK to take full advantage of the carefully crafted beverage menu.
Gruyère grilled cheese with caramelized onions, and endive salad.
Ben told us that he puts a lot of time and effort into curating their beer offerings. Typically, they have four beers on tap, with cider, kombucha and brewed coffee taking up the other three lines, complimented by an extensive bottle list. Jen says that she's more into the cider, and with about 30 craft ciders on the menu, there's a lot to be into!
You didn't just pour the strongest espresso on the sweetest ice cream? Oh yes you did...
One thing which sets them apart from almost all other craft beer and cider dispensaries is their ability to sell large format bottled beer by the glass. They utilize a system developed for champagne which re-fills the head space of opened bottles with carbon-dioxide, and then re-pressurizes them when resealed, so that a patron need not buy an entire 750ml. Ben says that they can open and re-seal a bottle three times without diminishing the quality of the beer. Their device was custom made to accommodate the proper carbonation for beer, which is about half that of champagne.
The kitchen.
Queens Kickshaw gets their kombucha -- which is a low-alcohol, fermented, carbonated tea beverage -- down the block, from Beyond Kombucha. In addition to the barely alcoholic (≈3%) healthy, fizzy, somewhat tart/sour teas, they also produce a very unique ale. The 6.5% a.b.v. Mava Roka kombucha ale is frequently found on tap at Kickshaw. I think that we need to look into this a bit further!
Located conveniently one block from the Steinway stop on the R-train, at 40-17 Broadway, in Astoria, directly across from a Queens Library branch, there's really no good reason not to add Queens Kickshaw to your list of regular haunts. And if you actually live in Astoria... well, you'd be a masochist if you didn't frequent this joint on a weekly basis, at the least!
The backroom.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

De Struise At De Ciccos

What could lure five jaded New Yorkers on to a commuter train headed towards suburban Brewster, N.Y. on a Friday at rush-hour of a holiday weekend? And the destination: a supermarket?!? BEER --  that's what! Six rare De Struise brews on draught, to be more precise, offered in the spacious tap room of the DeCiccos gourmet supermarket in a woodsy Putnam County hamlet.
The trip started at "Beer Central Station" aka Beer Table Pantry -- Beer Table's pop-up-shop-like bottle and growler closet of a store, located in the Graybar Passage of Grand Central Station. The Pantry is one of those things that makes NYC so beautifully absurd. Surely, there's nowhere on earth that has, in such a small place, so concentrated a selection of top notch, and stylistically varied, craft beers in bottles -- and also on tap, for growler fills!

For the 80 minute train ride, B.R. got a Victory Prima Pils, Jimmy B. got the same, and I picked up a bottle of Mönschof Schwartz Bier, which was utterly delicious, with it's mild, YooHoo-like coco flavor. Joel and Ninonne didn't plan ahead (or just weren't thirsty).
A fraction of De Cicco's cold bottle selection.
We were met at the Metro North train station by Andrew and Chris of DeCiccos, who drove us up a short hill from the station, to their mind-blowing épicerie, which is kind of like Whole Foods but with Key Food prices, and with no crowds or lines. Maybe it's Brewster that's beautifully absurd! Their beer case was a thing of immense wondrous joy -- all of our gasts were completely flabbered.
We knew that we'd be hitting that seemingly infinite cold case before we got back on the train home. And we did, taking back a not-so-easy-to-find bottle of Weyerbacher Riserva 2012, along with some more modest beverages to enjoy on the return journey.
After the tour of the beer section of the supermarket, it was on to the main event -- De Struise!
Most people would laugh at the idea of a craft beer bar -- a full service bar, with food, tables, etc. -- inside of a grocery store. It sounds like some kooky West Coast concept, like a bar in the laundromat. Well... many kooky West Coast concepts are actually pretty awesome -- like a bar in a laundromat or grocery store! And what better way to get your spouse to handle the shopping chores?! "I'll run out for the groceries!" "NO! I'll run out for the groceries!" And the joint was packed and jumpin' on this Friday after work, heading into Memorial Day weekend.
Good luck finding these beauties on tap all together!
We ordered one sampler for the five of us, to figure out what to focus on. With all six beers clocking in at 10% and above, this was a smart way to go. Everyone seemed to agree that the Jaded, a collaboration with Stillwater, and the Old Monk's Ale (a Pannepøt beer) were the two most quaffable. Both were heavily malty, almost viscous, but very approachable, despite the 10% strength they each carried.

A description of all the De Struise draughts on tap.
The Black Albert Imperial Stout was very strong in all respects -- super roasty, bitter and with a K.O. a.b.v. of 13%.  The version of Black Albert aged in Four Roses bourbon barrels, Cuvée Delphine, was a just a bit smoother and rounder, the smokey notes it imparted being subtle, having to push through the dominating roast character of the beer.
The Rio Reserva 2008 was the most difficult to peg, and most complex in flavor and aroma. Brewed in collaboration with Rio Brewing, this quadrupel (11% a.b.v.) had some dark aged fruit qualities melding with vanilla oak notes. Pannepot Reserva 2009 was also quite involved, but the darker roast characteristics took front seat to any subtleties imparted by its aging in French oak barrels. Another 10-percenter, it was clearly a 10 oz. sipping beer.

 After enjoying some tasty pizza and other snacks, and sampling some of the other taps, we set our minds at conspiring about future visits to the "grocery store" during the warm months, perhaps coupled with a bicycle tour of the quiet, leafy, muggy, lazy country roads winding around the ponds, lakes and reservoirs scattered throughout this bucolic county. Yes, I think that we're quite eager to go "grocery shopping" again.
Back: Jim, Chris DeCicco, B.R., Bob. Front: Ninnone, Joel.
Order for here, or in a growler to go.

A few of the 12 beer taps, in addition to s number of wines on tap, as well.
Andrew of DeCiccos at far right.
Peekskill Simple Sour.
All the draughts available.

DeCiccos pizza, with the Jaded in the foreground, Simple Sour in the back.