Monday, April 26, 2010

Moules et Frites

This past weekend we took in a new Belgian beer bar in Syosset, Long Island. My father-in-law had been excited to try this place ever since it was opened, and his excitement was entirely justified.

Moules et Frites is a nice looking place with open, upscale dining room and bar, and a couple of patios outside. Requisite Belgian paraphanalia up on the walls... although my favorite was actually some of the German stein glasses on display on the way in. Most all of the best known Belgian beers are on tap... which makes me wonder how often they rotate taps? Prices are not cheap but not unreasonable either -- flights of four 2.5 oz pours (which end up being much closer to 2 oz) are available for $8, while most pints are $9-10. Bottle list is very small for a Belgian bar with a few German bottles thrown in for good measure.

Palm Amber (6) seems to be everywhere I turn all of a sudden. Light, dry, mainly citrusy, and rather uninspired... Tripel Karmeliet (9) seemed to be the consensus favorite from our party of seven at the table. I couldn't disagree at all: fruit, hops, and funk are well-balanced and crisp... Het Anker Lucifer (6) was much more simplistic, with the yeast taking over... Chimay Tripel - White(7) had some bitterness and sweetness (from the raisins) present... Gouden Carolous Tripel (10) was my hands down favorite... and the one I ordered a snifter of, as opposed to the mini-sample, at that! Very fruity yeast and the alcohol is extremely well-hidden. Fantastic.

Menu is limited, but very interesting. Of course, I had to go for the mussels, which were as excellent as you would expect. Not sure I have had a better pairing than mussels and Beglains. Taken together, this place is a definite keeper. And big thanks goes out to our gracious hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Warch!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

ProPho: Justified arrogance

Stone Brewing Company comes to Julian’s
By JOSH SMITH April 8, 2010

Stone is the country’s number one brewer. And they know it.

Stone’s popular ARROGANT BASTARD ALE insists, “You’re not worthy. It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth.” Indeed, as an extreme brewer that amps up the hops and alcohol in most of its beers, Stone isn’t for beginners. But to serious hop-heads, this San Diego brewer deserves Beer Advocate’s distinction as best in class.

So Stone’s visit to the Biggest Little two weeks ago was kind of a big deal. Better yet, they were coming for a beer dinner at Julian’s, Providence’s premier craft beer destination. “Eclectic” best describes the motif, with brightly colored neon signs exclaiming nonsense like CHOP SUEY, the random chandelier, and a small TV in the bathroom playing classic cartoons on a loop. Julian’s also boasts rotating taps, elite Belgian beers, and food leagues beyond pub grub, with interesting ingredients and an obvious focus on presentation.

Now, as often is the case in the world of beer, food pairings are more of an art form than a science. In general, lighter beers go with lighter foods and darker beers with heavier foods. Hoppy beers tend to stand up better to bolder, spicier dishes. That said, where some want complementary flavors, others may seek contrast, highlighting the differing flavors in each.

For the eight courses of this beer dinner, Stone and Julian’s followed a simple progression: start strong and end stronger. We started off with one of my favorite beers, STONE’S IPA, and some pretzels . . . whole wheat pretzels, glazed with maple on top of arugula. The beer dominated this pairing, with the bitterness of the hops subduing the sweetness of the maple.

Honestly, I wasn’t especially excited for the next pairing: Stone’s red ale and chicken liver pate on rosemary foccacia bread. But I shouldn’t have written off the pate, as this flavorful, almost spicy dish was my favorite of the night. At 4.4% alcohol, LEVIATHAN ALE is almost tame by Stone’s standards and created a much more complementary pairing.

A very traditional pairing came next with an artichoke and asparagus salad and Stone’s Belgian option — the 2007 VERTICAL EPIC ALE. And then there was “Tres Bastardos”: three pork dishes paired with Stone’s Arrogant Bastard, DOUBLE BASTARD, and OAKED ARROGANT BASTARD. I was especially taken by the last of these, which was served with pork tenderloin glazed by the brewer’s Smoked Porter and served with a white bean and potato puree. Both the beer and pork had a depth and delicateness to them to make this a perfect match.

The boldest pairing of the night had to be my entrée of chili cocoa dusted ostrich and Stone’s 12TH ANNIVERSARY BITTER CHOCOLATE OATMEAL STOUT. The fact that the bitterness of this beer comes from bitter chocolate instead of hops really works well to accompany the spicy cocoa flavor of the meat. While this pushed the limits of how heavy a beer I would serve with this steak-like entrée, it worked. My wife equally enjoyed the alternative entrée of seared tuna and the dark and hoppy SUBLIMELY SELF-RIGHTEOUS ALE, its debut in Rhode Island.

But the heat of my entrée was nothing compared to dessert: Milk chocolate-crème caramel served on butterscotch chiffon cake, topped by habañero foam and toasted pistachios. And that habañero topping packed a punch! Of course, they finished with a strong beer for a strong dessert, breaking out rare bottles of the 2006 and 2009 IMPERIAL RUSSIAN STOUT. This is the highest-rated of Stone’s beers, and the 2006 version had mellowed to a magnificently balanced, flavorful brew.

I think my wife’s favorite part of the night might have been the fascinating narration provided by Michael Saklad of Stone and Michael McHugh of Julian’s before each course. It had the feel of being a judge on Iron Chef America.

Undoubtedly, this beer dinner was a special occasion at $75 a ticket. But after enjoying every moment and emerging with an even greater appreciation for food and beer pairings and Stone Brewing Company, I’d like to think we proved that Arrogant Bastard wrong: we were worthy.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Brewpub roundup

Went to Cambridge Brewing Company yesterday to grab a bite and a beer. As always, there were some new seasonals. The Spring Training IPA (6) was pretty weak for my taste, with the flavor of mild grassy hops. Kelly ordered the Sgt. Pepper (2) a saison brewed with peppercorn. Not surprisingly, the peppercorn was overwhelming, taking on a spicy, anti-septic taste that lingers. This was a wounded soldier.

At the start of the spring I made a visit to The Tap in Haverhill. The Smoked Pils (8) had a sharp bitter flavor with smoke in the background. Nice. GestAlt (5), an altbier, was on cask. Sweet and kind of watery with the low level of carbonation you tend to get from a cask.

Going back even further was a visit to Trinity Brewhouse in Providence. My sampler tray covered a number of new beers: Belgian Wit (4) was tart and quite lemony... Schwarzbier (5) had an off-note, closest to a nuttiness... The Kolsch (6) was good, if lacking substance... ESB (7) was even better with some coffee amidst all the malts. BeerAdvocate claims this beer has been retired... and the Imperial IPA (6) was predictably hoppy, herbal, and coarse. Oh, and Trinity's Russian Imperial Stout was as good as ever.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Beer Geek Breakfast & Co

Bayerischer Bahnhof Brau Berliner Style Weisse
Sample -- Ebenezer's Pub, Lovell, ME
dan thought this tasted a lot like a mimosa. with the taste of sour lemon and an almost pulpy texture, it was hard to disagree. each berliner weiss i've had has been very different... and none rival the one i had on tap at full sail with the syrup added. nevertheless... not bad.
Score: 5

Cervesera del Montseny Lupulus
Bottle -- Ron's Liquors, Farmington, ME
first beer from spain. light, hoppy, and enjoyable. scary name for a beer though.
Score: 7

Chang Beer
Bottle -- Thailand Restaurant, Easton
flavor is of grainy and grassy hops, but just barely. what you would expect in an asian macrolager: washed down my green duck curry just fine.
Score: 3

Hofstetten Kubelbier
Bottle -- Ron's Market, Farmington, ME
both my first keller bier and beer from austria. a fascinating beer that is tangy and bitter. enjoyed every minute of this one.
Score: 9

Lion Stout
Bottle -- The Lighthouse, Manchester, ME
i have had lion's lager before, so had pretty low expectations going in. quite good though. lots of dark flavors.
Score: 6

Mikkheler Beer Geek Breakfast
Bottle -- Nikki's Liquors, Providence, RI
dark roasted coffee malt flavor. hops add liveliness to beer. great name, great beer.
Score: 10

Nogne Special Holiday Ale
16.9 oz -- Lighthouse, Manchester, ME
poured into my maine stein glass to cheer on the umaine black bears hockey team. so i can't rate the appearance, but the aroma has a hoppy note to it. burnt malts hit tongue first... although i do taste both the sage and the juniper. an interesting winter warmer. nogne brewed this with jolly pumpkin and stone brewing, so pretty good company too.
Score: 7

Pinkus Mueller Organic Ur Pils
Bottle -- Nikki's Liquors, Providence, RI
an organic german pilsner. only slightly cloudy with primarily bready aroma. fruity taste that is balanced by bready malts. mustiness that i pickup in most german beers is only minor here. spicy hops work stealthily in background. overall, a very tasty, balanced beer.
Score: 8

Ridgeway Seriously Bad Elf
Sample -- Ebenezer's Pub, Lovell, ME
an english strong ale that is fairly light in color. you smell the 9% more than you taste it. malts seem toasted to me, and very sweet. not bad.
Score: 6

Unibroue Maudite
Bottle -- Prezo Grille and Bar, Milford
malty aroma. robitussin / dark fruit flavor. very lively. accompanied my sushi pretty well i thought. dan was less impressed, calling it "simple." suppose i am a simple guy.
Score: 8

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

ProPho: Beer Heaven

A pilgrimage to Ebenezer’s Pub
By JOSH SMITH March 24, 2010

Beer heaven does exist. And it’s in the backwoods of Lovell, Maine.

I love beer trips. They are an opportunity to discover a new favorite brewer and chase that perfect pint. At this point, I’ve covered most of New England and even took a Beer Trip/Honeymoon — in that order — to Portland, Oregon! (That joke only works in certain company.)

The key to a successful beer trip is a little research up front. I always create a Google map with points of interest en route. Even more important is finding that friend willing to step up and be the designated driver for the day. (Thanks, Nate!)

Our destination was Ebenezer’s Pub, the brainchild of restaurant veterans Chris and Jen Lively. The couple relocated from Los Angeles in order to live out their dream of opening their own restaurant. But this wasn’t to be a run-of-the-mill eatery; Ebenezer’s extensive collection of Belgian beer led it to be voted by Beer Advocate as the number one beer bar in the world!

In the craft beer universe, Belgium is renowned for brewing some of the most complex, diverse, beautifully presented, and just plain tasty beers known to man. Many of these beers are bottle-conditioned (whereby the yeast sediment remains in the bottle during fermentation) and brewed using centuries-old traditions. This tiny country is home to 125 breweries . . . and even the monasteries make beer!

I had convinced three friends to join me on a weekend excursion to the town in western Maine. Although to call Lovell a town may be an exaggeration; we passed a general store, bait shop, a quilting store . . . and not much else. We were not the first beer geeks to make this trip, and a couple of wrong turns along the way seemed a rite of passage.

Hidden down a dirt road, it isn’t hard to imagine how Ebenezer’s was once a dive bar. The Livelys had put in a beautiful bar and lined the walls with some very cool beer paraphernalia. We settled into a table overlooking the adjacent golf course, our home for the next five hours.

The tap list, with its 35 options, can be a bit overwhelming at first . . . and that isn’t counting the coolers full of bottles behind the bar or the cellar with even rarer beers downstairs. Fortunately, the staff is very knowledgeable and seemed to have tried every beer we ordered. Then the beer is not only brought to you in proper glassware for the style, but often from the very brewer you ordered!

I felt like a kid in a candy shop. My first pick was a CANTILLON GUEUZE, a lambic-style beer with many white wine qualities. Even better were the darker and complexly flavored VAL-DIEU GRAND CRU and a 2007 version of PANNEPOT OLD FISHERMAN’S ALE. The DUCHESSE DE BOURGOGNE was a perfect beer in my opinion, a Flanders Red Ale where the sour cherries and candy-like sweetness wrestled for supremacy.

Fittingly, this was the night where I would rate beer number 1000 on my beer blog. DE PROEF’S SIGNATURE ALE seemed appropriate as a collaboration with California’s legendary Port Brewing and billed as “a hybrid of American and Belgian brewing techniques.” The distinctive yeast, biscuity malts, and healthy dose of hops all shined through in this delicious and balanced brew.

Most wouldn’t consider the beer cheap at $8-$9 per glass (the De Proef bottle cost $25), but it was very affordable considering many of these beers can’t be found on tap anywhere else. Besides, Ebenezer’s isn’t just a bar, it’s an event, a destination. Dinner is a must, with an impressive menu ranging from massive burgers to my choice of mussels cooked in Witte Bier.

Ordering perfect beer after perfect beer was almost surreal and certainly one of the coolest beer experiences of my life. And while I highly recommend making the trek to the greatest beer bar in the world someday, you can start by getting to better know the joy of Belgian beer.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Vermont Beer Trip

My wife and I recently spent a weekend away in beautiful Burlington, Vermont. Among other tasks was testing the rumor that Burlington had the best beer scene in New England.

Undoubtedly, the crown jewel of Burlington's beer scene was American Flatbread. Highly regarded for both it's flatbread pizza and adventurous brew styles, American Flatbread has expanded to a few select cities across the country. The brewpub has a very warm feel upon entering and was positively packed with UVM students on a Friday night.

With very reasonable $2.25 half-pours, I was able to sample quite a few of their beers. The organic Farmhouse Ale (7) and Bob White (6) were solidly fruity and drinkable Belgian offerings. The Extra Stout (7) was also not too heavy and pretty true to the Irish Dry Stout style. My favorites though, were their more adventurous offerings. Wassail (8) was a "dark brown ale with raspberries." Malty up front, sweet raspberries dominating in a middle, this was a clever style that could appeal to both sexes. The Solstice Gruit (8) succeeded with one of my favorite styles, bringing the taste of grape, without the low carbonation making it feel like drinking a juice. Well worth the hour plus wait.

The next day we went to visit Magic Hat Brewery. There was very little effort put into the brewery tour itself, but there was an entertaining us versus them film at one point charting the rise of craft beer. The gift shop where we started and ended the tour was going for an industrial garage sort of look, with loud thumping club music. If there is one thing Magic Hat does well, its marketing, with Magic Hat frisbee's, $54 sweatshirts, beer bread kits and even soap made with beer on hand.

Very small samples of Magic Hat's seven current beers were available at the bar on the far side of the room. Magic Hat staples #9 (4) and Circus Boy (5) were present but a little too weak for my taste. Lucky Kat (5) and Vinyl (6) had a little more depth with a note of maltiness. Odd Notion American Pale Wheat (6) and Blind Faith (7) would have to be my favorite beers for the presence of some raw, bitter hops. Not the strongest collection in the world, but a pretty good place to bring that novice beer drinker.

The Vermont Pub and Brewery was kind of busy when we went that afternoon, but the waitstaff was totally overwhelmed. I was not allowed to order a sampler, which didn't seem too cool. Anyways, Kelly ordered the Forbidden Fruit (5) which was far to sweet and one-dimensional. The Dogbite Bitter (7) had a nice building bitterness but I think the Vermont Smoked Porter (8) was my favorite. Tasted more like barbeque than smoke to me, with a nice smooth bitterness.

But those weren't the only Vermont beers I came across that weekend. Long Trail Winter White (8) is a tasty and unusual summer offering. Switchback Pale Ale (7) is widely available around town as an extremely sessionable, mildly flavored brew. Stowe is another mountain boasting a brewery. The Shed National IPA (8) delivers a solid hoppiness and their Mountain Ale (7) is a strong ale deserving of its name.

No question, this is a stellar beer scene. Better than Portland, Maine? I don't think so, but I suppose that may require some further research...