© Ross Todd
The bock and pilsner at La Cervecería
© Ross Todd
© Ross Todd
The bock and pilsner at La Cervecería
© Ross Todd
I’m always game to try a funky new beer, but when Maggie Fuller of Beer Ethos called to say she’d scored a bottle of chicha from Delaware's Dogfish Head Brewery, I nearly wimped out. Chicha is a traditional South American brew made from corn. I like to refer to it as “spit beer” because before the brewing process begins, the corn must be chewed and moistened in the brewer’s mouth. The enzymes in the saliva activate the starches, which then break down into fermentable sugars. The beer is ultimately boiled, which leaves it sterile and germ-free. Dogfish Head’s renegade founder, Sam Calagione, created a super-limited amount based on a Peruvian recipe that called for purple maize, yellow maize and pink peppercorns. He also mixed in strawberries, a traditional chicha ingredient that Calgione felt was best to source locally in the U.S.
Maggie had tried real deal chicha on a trip to Peru and didn’t find our tasting at all daunting. I, on the other hand, sipped with caution. The strawberries gave the brew a lovely purplish-pink hue making it look deceptively pretty and innocent for a beer with someone’s spit in it. The nose was pure strawberries and the taste was surprisingly refreshing, dry and a bit spicy. And the flavors became more complex as the beer came to room temperature. The verict: a tasty beer, if you can get past the mental hurdle of how it's made.
© Christian DeBenedetti
Brian Simpson of New Belgium Brewing Co., in Fort Collins, Colorado, pulls a sample of unblended Felmish-style sour red ale.
An estimated 49,000 craft-beer lovers descended upon Denver last week for the 28th Annual Great American Beer Festival, where they had the opportunity to taste some 2,100 beers in 78 styles from 457 American breweries. Writer Christian DeBenedetti, who recently covered the craft-beer scene in San Diego for F&W, was on the scene.” Here, he shares highlights and a few interesting trends:
“Brett” beers, named for Brettanomyces (bacteria that impart powerful, earthy flavors considered flaws in wine but boons in certain beers), are quickly gaining ground. Standouts at the festival included Odell’s Brett Barrel Brown and New Belgium’s Le Fleur Misseur. Brewers were also collaborating on pairings: Deschutes Brewery’s The Dissident, a sour Flanders brown beer, was amazing with a confit of pork with sage and macerated peaches. Perhaps most surprising was the growing popularity of sour beer styles, which are usually tricky to produce. These beers, such as Berliner weisse, Flanders red and brown ales, lambic and geuze, tend to be an acquired taste due to their acidity. Click here for a list of the festival's award-winners.
I'm of the belief that a scoop of vanilla ice cream is a great addition to many types of fizzy beverages-both non-alcoholic and alcoholic alike-beyond the usual (albeit delightful) root beer.
Since summer seems to have returned for an encore in New York this week, I can put down the Oktoberfest drinks and justify sipping fizzy beverages of the blueberry variety-and what goes well with blueberries? Vanilla ice cream. I recently discovered Maine Root's all-natural Blueberry Soda, which tastes just like fresh-picked berries and practically begs for a scoop of vanilla. For an adult float, top off a pint of Bluepoint Brewery's Blueberry Ale. This Long Island brewer adds 132 pounds of blueberries to every batch, giving the ale lots of berry flavor without too much sweetness.
Once summer's gone for good, I will continue my float experimentation with fall's favorite squash. Maine Root's just about to release a new soda flavor: Pumpkin Pie, which sounds like a Thanksgiving treat to me. And Dogfish Head brewery's rich, nutmeggy Punkin Ale might be a great fit for a scoop or two as well.
Yesterday I sat down in the Food & Wine tasting room with Samuel Adams founder and brewer Jim Koch to try some of his latest releases. After two years of tinkering, Koch has perfected the recipe for his new Coastal Wheat. The idea was to bottle the bright taste of a classic Hefewizen-style (meaning unfiltered wheat) beer poured on draft and finished with a squeeze of fresh lemon. He finally achieved perfection with the zest from Eureka and Lisbon lemons that come from just three growing regions in California. Koch also opened the 2009 Utopias, which should be out by the end of the month. This monster of a beer (about 55 proof) is released every odd year and is a blend of cask beers dating back to 1994. The ’09 tastes a little brighter than previous releases, with a bit more fruit and some vanilla and maple flavors. We ended the tasting with a rare bottle, the 1994 Sam Adams Triple Bock. One of the first “extreme” beers, it has 17.5 percent alcohol. “This was the beer equivalent of a lunar landing on the moon. It broke the sound barrier,” Koch says. Aged in oak barrels, it’s full of dark fruit and drinks more like a fine port than a beer. You won't find this beer in stores, but Koch says a few bottles are still floating around for people willing to search.
© Samuel Adams
Sam Adam's new Coastal Wheat
Last night, supertalented chef Bobby Hellen of NYC's Resto teamed up with Phil Leinhart, the brewmaster at Cooperstown, New York’s Ommegang brewery, for a gluttonous, nose-to-tail feast. It was the first of a series of Zagat-sponsored, craft-beer dinners taking place throughout the city this week as part of the second annual New York Craft Beer Week.
Chef Hellen broke down an entire pig and a lamb from Violet Hill Farm and turned them into delicious dishes like crispy pig’s-ear popcorn, porchetta and lamb-topped tomato salad with lamb-heart vinaigrette; to match these dishes, Leinhart poured some never-before-served brews, including a test batch of Adoration, Ommegang’s first-ever winter holiday ale. The dark, Belgian-style brew is made with five spices: coriander, sweet orange peel, grains of paradise, cardamom and mace. I was expecting bold, in-your-face spiciness, but the finish is much more subtle, and despite 10-percent alcohol levels, there was very little alcohol burn—a deceptively potent brew. The beer should be available mid-October.
To go with a plate of excellent house-made charcuterie, Leinhart poured the Ommegang Rouge, a Flemish sour-red ale he made in partnership with Belgium's Brouwerij Bockor brewery. This supertart brew, oak-aged for 18 months at Bockor’s brewery, is one of my favorites. Leinhart broke the news that it’s no longer being produced (Brouwerij Bockor no longer wants to share its yeasts strains). But Ommegang plans to replace it with a brown Flemish-style beer they’re working on with Liefmans brewery in Oudenaarde, Belgium. Leinhart hinted we can also expect many more seasonal beers from Ommegang next year.
© Evan Miller
Ommegang's best and newest brews on tap at Resto.
I was on the Today show this morning (check out the clip here), recommending a few summer's-almost-over-don't-miss-them beers and wines to Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb. It was, as usual, a slightly crazy affair, but a lot of fun.
Beer-wise, I suggested people track down New Belgium's Skinny Dip, a light beer (114 calories) that doesn't taste like a light beer—i.e., doesn't taste like watery dreck. I'm not quite sure how the New Belgium brewers manage that, but if you're inclined toward light beers, you could do far, far worse. I also mentioned Hoegaarden, a classic Belgian witbier, faintly flavored with coriander and orange peel. The cloudiness (which is natural) seemed to worry KLG and Hoda, but in the end they seemed to like it; personally, I think the stuff's a no-brainer on a hot summer day.
In terms of wine, my recommendations included the 2008 Foxglove Chardonnay ($13, find this wine), an unoaked Central Coast Chardonnay with crisp tree-fruit notes and impressive intensity; the 2008 Crios de Susanna Balbo Malbec ($15, find this wine), which for the price provides a lot of smoky blackberry fruit and works well as either a summer-grilling or winter-warming wine; and 2008 Saracco Moscato d'Asti ($15, find this wine), which is perfect for summer desserts—lightly sparkling, low in alcohol, with pretty tangerine and floral notes.
I also got to walk down a set of stairs next to George Foreman, who was on the show, too, and looking mighty dapper in a striped, off-white suit. I have to say he drew more attention than I did.
Writer Christian DeBenedetti, who reported on San Diego’s craft-beer scene in our June issue, recently took a trip to the Hamptons in New York to harvest hops (the delicate green flowers that give beer flavor). Here, he tells what beer lovers can look forward to:
Fresh-hop ales, made from hops that are picked and brewed on the same day, are amazing. But brewers in the Northeast haven't been able to make any of these ales because the hop farms that once thrived here have essentially disappeared. Now Phil Markowski of Southampton Brewery at Southampton Publick House has decided to bring these aromatic ales back. Last week I helped him harvest a crop grown by Long Island farmer Gian Mangieri, who has just a tiny patch of Cascade, Nugget and Fuggles hops. We picked about six pounds of Cascades, then transported them to the brewery and added them to a special one-off 330-gallon batch of ale.
The fresh-hop beer, based on the British style ESB, or Extra Special Bitter, will be ready in about two to three weeks. The only place to drink it, Markowski says, will be at Southampton Publick House. But Dave Brodrick of New York City’s Blind Tiger Alehouse helped us with the harvest, and he's angling for a cask. We’ll let you know if he scores one, and when to get in line.
I've been to Fonda del Sol a few times now—it's just down the street from our office, conveniently—and it seems to be on an ever-inclining curve towards extreme tastiness. That's not a surprise to me. When I first met the restaurant's chef, Josh DeChellis, at the culinary festival Madrid Fusión a few years back, he was wandering around gnawing on a black truffle the way one might an apple (the thing was about the size of an apple, too). To my mind, any chef who eats truffles as if they were apples is a man after my own heart. At FdS, DeChellis is channeling his inner Spaniard, perhaps aided by the fact that he was born in Colombia, with impressive success.
The other night I particularly liked a silky scallop tiradito—disks of sweet scallop with shards of hot chilies, dabs of briny sea urchin, and grace notes of cilantro—which wine director Nicholas Nahigian paired with a sympathetically citrus-minerally 2007 Do Ferreiro Albariño (one of the better Albariños around, in fact). Later on, I also enjoyed an incredibly tender Colorado lamb chop aromatized (as it were) over toasted hay and served with tangy sheep's milk yogurt and a lovage puree. In an earlier incarnation of this dish, the lamb was cooked in an earthenware vessel over the hay, the vessel sealed with a bread crust—in that case, the hay, lamb and yogurt were all from the same farm. With the newer version, a 2004 Fratelli Revello Vigna Conca Barolo, surprisingly generous given its intense concentration, and somehow elegant despite that, tasted great.
The pairing that may have worked the best, though, and that was certainly the most surprising, came when Nahigian brought out glasses of Victory Brewing Company's Prima Pils (which, oddly enough, I just used for my 4th of July segment on summer beers for the Early Show) to pair with DeChellis's Alaskan rock fish a la plancha with salsa moluscada de verano, a Catalan (I think) sauce involving surf clams, mussel jus, squid, octopus, tomato water, clam jus, basil and cherry tomatoes (whew). The fish was expertly cooked, the sauce something between a light seafood stew, a sauce, and a sublime essence of ocean, and the crisp, gently bitter Pilsner was perfect with it—and also extremely refreshing, sandwiched as it was, course-wise, between a fairly substantial white Rioja—a 2003 Marqués de Murrieta Capellania—and the even more substantial Revello Barolo.
And there was dessert. But by then, do you really expect I was taking notes?
Dear Mr. Larry Bell,
Perhaps it may seem that everything a person could ever want is here for the buying in New York City, but you and I both know that that is not the case. What New York lacks is a supply of beer from Bell's Brewery. While I would be thrilled to see even one of your brews in my bodega's refrigerator, this time of year it's Oberon-that wheat beer embodiment of summertime-that I yearn for the most.
This yearning is especially strong after having spent the July 4th holiday weekend in northern Michigan, where the Oberon flowed by bottle and pint. The highlight of my summer thus far was a pitcher of that hazy orange-scented Oberon on the patio at Art's Tavern in Glen Arbor accompanied by both burgers and friends. I would like to recreate that moment on balconies across New York-to share with the unlucky bunch that has not yet sipped anything from Bell's.
I've heard rumors that the reason we don't have access to your beers is because you're not keen on this city, but our craft beer-loving residents would be thrilled to welcome you (or, more specifically, your Oberon) with chilled glasses and orange slice garnishes.
What do you say?