Blog Bankruptcy

10 03 2008

About three-and-a-half years ago, I followed Larry Lessig’s lead and declared email bankruptcy. I’d gotten so far behind on my email that I couldn’t see any way out. Unless I spent a two-week vacation getting caught up, those emails just weren’t going to get answered. What I needed was a fresh start. So I put up a little note on the, er, then-blog and announced—apologetically, of course—that if I hadn’t already responded to an email, I wasn’t going to. It was about self-preservation. It had to be done.

I’m going to try a variation of that now, and I hope you’ll let me get away with it. Obviously, I haven’t blogged here since November. There’s no particularly good reason for that. At first, I didn’t have much to say. Then I was busy. Then I took a vacation in Las Vegas (for the National Finals Rodeo). Then it was the holidays. And then and then and then.

At some point, I didn’t know how I was going to get the blog caught up. I had all these things to blog about—events I’d attended, people I’d met, exotic beer I’d drunk—but I didn’t know how I’d find the time to actually do the writing. I needed to just admit that I was in too deep and start over. It took me awhile to concede that, but I’m at peace with it now.

So, I’m hereby declaring blog bankruptcy. I haven’t written here since November, and now it’s March. There’s no good way to get you caught up, and I’m not really going to try. I need a fresh start.

The first thing I’m going to do is purge my desk of the dozens of pieces of paper I deposited in a pile—in a “to do” pile—as little reminders to blog. The November 20 ticket from the Youssou N’Dour concert at the Kimmel Center? I’m throwing it away right now. I had fun that night, but I just can’t tell you about it now. I saw a group called So Percussion at the Kimmel, too, but I won’t be blogging about that, either. The same goes for at least three Flyers games (November 15, November 23, and February 9). I’m throwing those tickets away at this very instant. The same goes for my ticket to the 2007 iteration of Terror Behind the Walls, the Halloween show put on at Philly’s Eastern State Penitentiary. And my receipt for a November 16 trip to World Cafe Live to see The Gourds? I won’t be saying more than that I had fun. My trip to New York last month to see the Kronos Quartet at Carnegie Hall? Well, I went, ok?

What else is in the pile? Well, I guess I can give you a very short tour. Apparently, I wanted to tell you about my visit to Las Vegas’s Guggenheim Hermitage Museum, right there at the Venetian Resort-Hotel-Casino, for its “Modern Masters” exhibit. (Short report: Weird.) At about the same time, I was probably going to blog about the 2007 National Finals Rodeo, my stay at the beautiful Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino (especially getting cruised, oh, so mightily, in the hotel spa), and meeting a handsome man at a hotel bar.

And, of course, I’ve still been investigating beer. It looks like I’ve got eight scraps of paper here from various beer and cheese tastings at Tria’s Fermentation School. Wow! What did I like at those events? Who can remember now? My notes do seem to contain the names of a lot of Belgian beers: Cantillon’s Broucsella 1900 Grand Cru; Duvel; the champagne-y Deus from Brouwerij Bosteels; Hanssens Kriek; an Imperial stout, Brasserie des Legendes Hercule Stout; St. Bernardus Abt 12, a delicious quadrupel; another Cantillon beer, the Cuvée des Champions 2003-2004 ; and a Flemish sour, Duchesse de Bourgogne. I even liked an Italian(!) craft beer, Birrificio Barley’s BB10, which my notes suggest is a hoppy, molasses-y barleywine. Yum.

According to these beer-soaked notes, I also liked several cheeses: Beaufort d’Alpage, which I described as a sort of King of the Gruyéres; a fresh goat cheese from Westfield Farm; an aged goat cheese, Bittersweet Plantation Dairy‘s Evangeline; and Split Creek’s Marinated Feta, yet another goat cheese.

Tria even turned me onto a wine, the 2004 Muscat de Rivesaltes from Clos des Camuzeilles, but I don’t have time anymore to explain why. So be it.

So that’s all the blog’s getting about my last few months. I’m sure I’ll return once in awhile to something that occurred in the fall and winter of 2007-08…. But I make no promises. I need a fresh start. From this point on, I’m looking to the future.

What a relief!

Whew.





Scandinavian Craft Brews

16 10 2007

North Europe
On Friday night, after nearly a month away [insert frowny face here], I was finally back at Tria Fermentation School for a beer-tasting. The session was led by brewer Anders Kissmeyer, from Copenhagen’s Nørrebro Bryghus (Bryghus is Danish for brewhouse), and importer Dan Shelton. Kissmeyer and Shelton served nine(!) beers, and nearly every one of them was something I’d buy. (The exception? Mikkeller’s Stateside IPA. It gets good reviews, but I just don’t need anything that hoppy in my personal stash.)

What did I like? Well, I particularly liked three of the Nørrebro brews. The Skärgaards Porter combined two of my favorite flavors—porter-style beer and honey. The Old Odense Ale, co-brewed with Dogfish Head, offered a sweet barleywine flavor. If my notes are correct (caution: this was six beers into the evening), the Odense Ale was flavored with fir trees…. And the North Bridge Extreme was one of the most balanced beers of the evening; it was both pleasantly malty and hoppy, a combination that’s all too difficult to achieve.

I enjoyed another Danish beer, Ølfabrikken’s Abbey Ale. I’m always drawn to Belgian-style beers, and the Abbey Ale qualifies. It’s brewed with Belgian yeast, and its funky sweetness reminded me of some of the best of Belgium’s beers. A nice butterscotch smell added to my interest.

But my favorite beer of the evening was probably Haandbryggerriet’s Norwegian Wood. The “Hand Brewery” is a tiny Norwegian brewery that was started by four farmers. Their Norwegian Wood is brewed in a traditional style—smoked with, of all things, juniper twigs. I didn’t get a particularly juniper-y flavor from the Norwegian Wood, but I certainly did get a pleasant smoky, spicy flavor from it. The beer was complex, with just enough hops to keep the smoked malt from being too much. I can’t wait to sample Norwegian Wood again.

It looks like it’s going to be a few weeks before I make another formal beer-tasting. Buy me a beer or two in the meantime?





Question of the Day: World’s Best Beer

20 09 2007

Framboise
What is the best beer on planet Earth?

Submitted by Remmy Van Hornie.

Well, I haven’t changed my mind since January, when I proclaimed—in answer to a different QOTD—that Lindemans Framboise was “the best thing since sliced bread.” It’s a Belgian Lambic beer flavored with raspberries. If you like funky Belgian beers (yum), and if you like raspberries (double yum), this might just be your gold standard. The beer is sour, and it’s sweet, and the balance of those two properties is (to my palate, anyway) ideal. By contrast, I’ve previously blogged about how a Cantillon Lou Pepe Framboise was simply way too sour for me. The Lindemans gives you both sourness and sweetness.

By the way, I’ve also been drinking quite a bit of Lindemans Pomme lately. If you like apples, you might want to give the Pomme a try. It’s like drinking the best Green Apple Jolly Rancher you can imagine. As that suggests, it may be a little too sweet or candy-like for some. Not me, though. The Pomme hasn’t displaced the Framboise as my favorite, but I think it’s downright delicious, too.





The Malt Bomb

16 09 2007

Brewers’ Malts
On Friday night, I was back again at Tria Fermentation School for a class taught by Tom Baker, who brewed at the now-defunct Heavyweight Brewing Company. The topic was malt, a particularly relevant topic in these times when beers are so absurdly hops-heavy. All sorts of malted grains are used by brewers to produce the sugary base that eventually gets fermented. For this class, then, it was time to think about the basics.

To get a sense of the malt base for beer, Baker started us off with a Budweiser(!) and a nonalcoholic, carbonated malta. I’m sure you know what Bud tastes like (i.e., slightly sweet water), but it provided a good start to the evening. After all, Bud contains so few hops that most drinkers can’t taste them at all; instead, we were confronted with a pretty straightforward—if blah—malt base.

I guess I’d never had a malta before, although I’d definitely seen them in the ethnic foods section of the supermarket. Maltas are quite popular in Latin America and the Caribbean. As for the taste, well, I enjoyed it. It was dark and sweet, with a flavor strongly reminiscent of molasses. It tasted, somehow or other, like I was actually drinking grain. I’d try a malta again, although I’m pretty sure there are about four million calories in a serving of the stuff….

After that, we moved on to the craft beers. I particularly liked three of them. First, there was a Castelain St. Amand French Country Ale, a bière de garde with a delightfully sharp and fruity smell and a subdued, sweet taste. Late in the evening, we had Heavyweight’s Old Salty Barleywine Ale from Baker’s personal stash. The bottles we had were seven years old, and the ale was showing some age (a funky, boxy aroma?), but it had a rich toffee/caramel taste—like a good barleywine. My favorite beer of the evening, though, was surely Paulaner Salvator, which I’ve had before. The Salvator is a doppelbock, and it pours a beautiful coppery color. Caramel, malty goodness!

To finish off the evening, we sampled Victory Brewing Company‘s new Baltic Thunder, a higher-alcohol, porter-style beer. It hasn’t actually been released yet (expect it October 15), and this was the first time it had been tasted outside the brewery (is that way cool or what?). I’ll be interested to see what it tastes like after it has aged a bit more—the bottles we tasted were about four months old. According to my tasting notes, I thought our sample had a strong taste of, er, field peas.

It looks like I won’t be back at the Fermentation School for another month or so. Who can I buy a beer in the meantime?





Back to School

11 09 2007

Raw Milk
After a month-plus-long hiatus (I missed the place), I was back tonight at Tria Fermentation School for a class on cheese. The session was led by Phil Falsone, the executive chef and culinary educator for Hendricks Farms and Dairy—a local farm that’s making a name for its artisanal cheeses. Falsone taught a class at Tria in the spring, and I really enjoyed it, so I made sure to book a spot in tonight’s class, “Baby, I Like It Raw.” (Gosh, blush city.)

As the name of the class suggests, the topic was raw milk cheeses. We tasted seven different raw milk cheeses from Hendricks. My favorites were Hendricks’s Cow Pie, its take on a Camembert, all runny and delicious; its Cheddar Blue, which struck me tonight as more blue-y than before; and its Dirty Laundry, an amazingly aggressive blue cheese that’s flavored, somehow or other, with cherries. Falsone also let us taste from the first wheel of Hendricks’s new Preserve cheese, which, to my palate, had all the best qualities of the farm’s Colby cheese in a kind of super-concentrated fashion.

Tria served some delicious beverages tonight. There was a Farnum Hill extra-dry cider and Makana Meadery’s ¡Qhilika African Herbal Blossom Mead, which I’ve blogged about several times now. Two delicious beers were on hand, too—Southampton’s Saison, which I blogged about here, and Brouwerij Sint-Pieters’s Zinnebir. I believe this was my first tasting of the Zinnebir, and I was absolutely taken with its citrus-y and yeast-y funkiness. I definitely want to get my hands on some more Zinnebir.

It was good to be back at Tria’s school. Falsone leads a good class. In the spring, I described him as “100% cute and adorable.” That’s high praise for me, but it probably understates his charm, really. Of course, I could just be flattered that he remembered me. I know, though, that that’s probably because I made a fool of myself last time—memorably so?—over the Cow Pie.

But that Cow Pie is seriously delicious stuff.





Session Beers

25 07 2007

PA Breweries
Last night, I attended a Tria Fermentation School session led by beer writer (and local beer, um, demi-god) Lew Bryson. Oh, and that’s also newbie beer blogger Lew Bryson. (See, it’s already in the blogroll.) Bryson’s topic was session beers, or relatively low-alcohol brews that can be enjoyed one after the other. That, of course, is an excellent topic for the middle of summer, when you’re probably not going to hole up, fireside, with a high-alcohol beverage to sip….

We sampled seven beers, and I’d have to say I enjoyed six of those.1 (I’m easy, let’s face it.) Two, in particular, I can highly recommend. The first is actually one of my all-time favorites, Lindemans Gueuze. A gueuze is created by mixing young and, er, more mature Lambic-style beers. It’s a Belgian thing, of course. I’ve previously mentioned my passion for another Lambic, also by Lindemans. In fact, I’ve previously mentioned my passion for all things Belgian; I’d have to move to Brussels if Philly weren’t so strangely filled with Belgian restaurants and beers and waffles and chocolates.

Anyway….gosh, was that a digression or what?…the Lindemans Gueuze is un-fruited but somehow comes across as fruity. It’s sweet and, like a good Lambic, also lightly sour. It’s pure genius. If, like me, you don’t demand significant bitterness from your beer, you should check out a good gueuze. I’m a fan of Cantillon’s gueuze, too, but I’m an even bigger fan of the Lindemans, I think. (Side-by-side taste test, anyone?)

I also particularly enjoyed Legacy Brewing’s Midnight Wit. And, again, that’s a predictably Belgian-friendly preference: Although Legacy is brewed in Reading, Pa., it’s done in the style of a Belgian witbier. It was cloudy, like many wheat beers, and it offered a pleasant lemony taste. There was one off-putting note in its bouquet, an almost sulfuric smell, but the brew’s taste more than made up for that.

I can also say fairly nice things about four other beers: O’Hara’s Celtic Stout, a pleasant stout; Orlio’s Organic Common Ale, which was malty and sweet; Dr. Fritz Briem’s ’1809′ Berliner Style Weisse, a fairly plain but lightly sour brew; and Stone’s Pale Ale, a light(!) pale ale. I probably didn’t enjoy any of these four enough to go out and buy a case or anything, but I wouldn’t turn any of them away.

Tria served us a really interesting sheep’s milk Gouda, Ewephoria (ha!), from the Netherlands. It offered a nutty, slightly sweet flavor, and it wasn’t at all sheep-y. It was firm and rather dry; I really enjoyed the feel of it in my mouth. It held up well against even the strong flavor of the Celtic Stout. I’m definitely keen to have some more.

So it was a good night. My only regret? That I absent-mindedly forgot to bring my copy of Pennsylvania Breweries for Bryson to sign.

1The exception? Sadly, it was a local-ish beer: Tröegs Sunshine Pils, which always just leaves me flat. On my palate, it’s almost flavorless, just watery and bitter. I’m sure this is about me, though, because so many people seem to enjoy it.





Victory

11 07 2007

Two Goats
Last night, I attended another Tria Fermentation School class, this one devoted to pairings of cheese and Victory Brewing Company beers. Victory is a local brewery, based in suburban Philadelphia, known more and more for Hop Devil, its über-hoppy IPA. Victory owner Bill Covaleski and Michael McCaulley, Tria’s wine director, led the session. (McCaulley focused on the cheeses.)

I was already familiar with several of the Victory brews. My favorites were the Whirlwind Wit, a Belgian-style wheat beer that offered some striking anise notes and a refreshing, clean flavor; the Golden Monkey, with its strong (yeast-y) banana on the nose; and the Storm King, Victory’s Imperial Stout, which—if anything—may have had too much coffee-type flavor for me (given my coffee-friendly palate, that’s not easy)

The big revelations last night were the cheeses. Two were goat cheeses: Westfield Farm’s Capri, which was paired with Victory’s Sunshine Weissbier, a light wheat beer; and Haystack Mountain’s Haystack Peak, which Covaleski and McCaulley paired with Victory’s Prima Pils pilsner. Both cheeses were fresh, light, and tangy—everything that you’d want in a summertime cheese. I also really enjoyed Jasper Hill’s Bartlett Blue, a raw cow (ho hum) cheese. The Bartlett Blue was so salty (“wildly salty” is what I wrote in my tasting notes) and yet full of blue-cheese flavor that it actually competed well with Victory’s strong Imperial stout. Jasper Hill makes an even stronger blue cheese, Bayley Hazen Blue, that I need to try. After all, I love blue cheese, and I love strong flavors.

After the session, I started daydreaming about moving back to Oklahoma, raising goats, and making delicious artisanal cheeses. That sounds like a lot of work, though. I’d need help. And as perpetually single as I already am, I’m thinking it might make my social life harder if I had to find goat-friendly dates. Egad.





The Dude on the Farm

1 07 2007

Belgian Farmhouse
Last Thursday, at the beginning of my mini-”vacation” in the city, I started things off with a beer-tasting at Tria Fermentation School. The class (“The Dude on the Farm”) was led by Scott Morrison, who will soon be brewing at Philly’s Dock Street Brewing Company. His topic was farmhouse ales.

Morrison, who’s apparently “the dude,” designed a four-flight tasting of bières de garde and saisons. Each flight paired a traditional European brew with an American gloss on the style. I’d enjoyed a couple of the European beers before (including Saison Dupont), but the American brews were the eye-openers. I was particularly impressed by Southampton Publick House’s Saison, which offered an amazing lemon-y smell and flavor. I also liked a West Coast beer (gasp!), Lost Abbey/Port Brewing Co.’s Avant Garde; it was malty and delicious.

I didn’t really come away from the evening with much of an appreciation of the differences between bières de garde and saisons—except, of course, that the former are from France and the latter are Belgian. Actually, my impression is that it’s hard to pin down any real differences because there’s so much variation within the styles. What they have in common, though, is a maturation/cellaring process that’s akin to wine fermentation.





The Sweet Life

22 06 2007

Cubes
Last night, for the first time in several weeks, I attended a beer-tasting at Tria Fermentation School. (And, dang, I was missing it.) The class was led by Tom Kehoe, a respected local brewer and the co-owner of Yards Brewing Company. His topic was sugar, the dirty-little-secret ingredient in many non-German beers.

Those uptight Germans (hey, I’m just joking — sorta), with their Purity Law, the Reinheitsgebot, didn’t allow sugar in beers until 1987, when a European court ruling forced the issue. German beers are still an almost entirely sugar-free product. I tend to be a fan of those freewheeling, sugar-friendly Belgians.

Anyway, tonight’s session was lots of fun. We actually started out by tasting Colt 45(!), which is made with high-fructose corn syrup and is, well, pretty much disgusting. I hadn’t tasted it in years. It’ll probably be years before I have another taste…. It’s like beer-scented water. That said, it was definitely amusing to see all the beer snobs in the room, myself included, swirling and tasting Colt 45! It works every time, you know.

I particularly enjoyed three of last night’s beer. Yards Brewing’s own General Washington Tavern Porter, based on a recipe written the former general/president himself, uses molasses. It’s a dark, aromatic brew, and I got some pleasant coffee notes out of it. Rochefort Brewery’s No. 8, which I’ve enjoyed before, is a sophisticated dark ale. I appreciated its caramel notes (not to mention its impressive head). My favorite beer of the evening might have been Gale’s Prize Old Ale. It smelled and tasted something like a barleywine. In fact, it reminded me strongly of a sweet, aged liqueur that I might want to sip over the course of an evening. It’s not something I’d want to polish off in a half hour, or with dinner, though.

I have another beer-tasting next week. I doubt there’ll be any Colt 45 at that one!





Philadelphia Phillies 8, Milwaukee Brewers 6

15 05 2007

And I was there—for what turned out to be a thrilling, come-from-behind victory by the Phils. By the bottom of the eighth inning, I’d long ago essentially given up and drifted from a highly unsatisfactory seat in Section 320 to watch the game from a cleaner, warmer, and less windy perch behind lower-level seats. I could barely believe my eyes when the Phillies suddenly got it together, making up a four-run deficit and scoring still more. Everything seemed, suddenly, to go wrong for the Brewers and just right for the Phillies.

After the game, I stopped by Tria Cafe for some beer and goat cheese cake. I had a Cantillon Lou Pepe Framboise beer that was incredibly sour—so sour that I longed for an even sweeter dessert. I’m not sure eating even straight sugar would’ve been sweet enough, though…. When I’m in the mood in the future for a raspberry beer, I’ll probably just stick to Lindemans, which I’m still absolutely in love with. But I certainly enjoyed sitting in the corner at Tria, fresh from the Phils victory, watching all the beautiful people. What a great place.

P.S. Memo to Phillies management: Section 320 is a great, tiny section directly behind home plate (if above the action). The three rows of people sitting in that section last night, however, suffered. Right behind Section 320 is an area for wheelchairs. Apparently, before the game, or perhaps even the day before last night’s game, someone sitting there had eaten a lot of sunflower seeds. The nasty detritus from those seeds—spent shells and whatnot—rained down on us, inning after inning. Ewww. When we complained to ushers and a security guard, we were assured that no one was actually spitting on us. But that, of course, really wasn’t the point. Doesn’t anyone at Citizens Bank Park have a broom? Ewww. I’ve showered three times since the game, and I still feel dirty.

Will I ever feel clean again?








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