Monday, June 15, 2009

I Should Have Seen This Coming

One of my all time favorite places to buy beer is Trader Joe's. They have a pretty decent selection of micros with many labels you cannot easily find elsewhere, it is one of maybe three grocers in Massachusetts where you can actually buy beer (we have some really bogus alcohol laws in this state, but that is for another post), and just like their wine and food, it is cheap, cheap, cheap. So imagine my delight when I discovered their "mystery 6-pack" for $6 last week when I was doing the usual evening food shopping. Here is the deal: they have a build your own six pack deal, so they end up with a bunch of one-off's that they need to get rid of. They stick six of them in a brown bag, staple it shut, and throw on an eye-catching sign with a seducingly low price. Being the thrifty and distinguishing consumer that I am, I say, "Six bones for six brews? I would be a sucker not to take advantage of this fine libation liquidation of sorts." I can barely contain my curiosity and excitement on the drive home. Fortunately, I resist long enough to avoid an open container violation, and tear through the paper like a kid on Christmas morning before I even put away the rest of the groceries.

Here is what I see:
  • Kennebunkport Brewing Co. India Pale Ale
  • Kennebunkport Brewing Co. Blueberry Hefeweizen
  • Simpler Times Lager
  • Trader Joe's Bohemian Lager
  • Heineken Light
  • Amstel Light
And just like that it is the day after Christmas and I didn't get that new big wheel I was expecting. Are you kidding me, (Trader) Joe?! I have never been let down by you before, but this time you took advantage of me...and it hurts. First off, never mind that I could have purchased willingly a 6-pack of four out of six of these for $6 anyway, but there are numerous others that I LIKE that I also could have gotten for the same price. To add insult to injury, you throw in two LIGHT beers...and a froo froo beer...ouch. In form, though, I will provide a brief run-down (collectively they were bitter and tasted like regret) even though I haven't choked them all down yet.
  • KBC IPA- This is a micro out of (you guessed it) Kennebunkport, Maine, and I have found their stuff to be decent in the past. Not so with their IPA...overall it was pretty bland and lacked the complexity sought and normally found in a good IPA. It didn't taste bad, per se, but I would never buy it again. Weak sauce.
  • KBC Blueberry Hefe- Probably good it you are a girly man, but terribly emasculating to be received not of my own accord. The fruit beers (lambics or otherwise) have never done it for me; the only exception to this so far is the Harpoon Raspberry UFO, where I could enjoy ONE on a hot summer day. Other than that, fruit belongs in fruit salad...not beer.
  • Simpler Times Lager- This is a budget beer marketed as such. The label is tan paper with kind of old timey writing on it. I guess it is supposed to invoke some sort of misplaced nostalgia. (All I grew nostalgic for was the last good beer I drank.) It's fine, and I would drink it again if I were in a cheapskate mood looking for an appropriate bottle o' suds to match or if I were magically swept back to the 1800's in a time machine with a refrigerator and the only alternative was the swill of the times.
  • TJ's Bohemian Lager- Their private label beer could be roughly equated to their private label wine, Charles Shaw (or "3-buck Chuck" to the regulars). It is an option if you are short on scratch and have a bunch of close friends coming over, but I would not serve it to new acquaintances if you would like to have them as return houseguests.
  • Heineken Light & Amstel Light- While these beers are not the same, they unequivocally fall into the same category: wedding beers. You know what I am talking about. You don't want to exclude anyone at the reception (including the portly family friend whose wife's enforced diet only allows him to drink if it is light beer), but you also don't want to look tacky by throwing an iced bucket of Silver Bullets next to the dance floor. For light beers, these two are OK and probably at the top of the relative heap, but let's call a spade a spade here. Any light beer tastes exactly like what it is...a watered down version of its non-light counterpart.
So let this be a lesson to you at my expense. With the exception of a couple ambiguous Magic Hat varieties (#9, for example), do not commit to any beer when there is a mystery involved. So they didn't throw a sack of frat house can beers at me, yet somehow this was almost worse. A sixer of PBR doesn't front and makes no excuses, but this wolf in sheep's clothing was mired in disappointment. I will return to TJ's for their variety of visible beers, but the "mystery 6-pack", never again. Joe, you have been warned.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

My Favorite Beer Has Reached the East Coast

OK guys, this is a big deal for me. When asked what my favorite beer is (an impossible task, no doubt) I usually respond with one in particular - Fat Tire. I'm not quite sure where to begin with what makes this beer so special. The taste? The history? The craft brewers responsible for it? Maybe I'll start with the personal aspect first.

Beer, like anything in one's life, allows you to make a personal and meaningful connection to it through the circumstances and people you find yourself with when drinking it. For me, I had an amazing opportunity after I graduated from undergrad; I was able to take two weeks off to drive from scenic Harrisonburg, VA to Seattle, Washington with my Norwegian friend Adam.

En route to Denver we stopped in Colorado to have dinner at a restaurant. Our server turned us on to a local brewery called New Belgium Brewing Company in nearby Fort Collins. So we spent one night in Denver and woke up early the next day to go to find this malted Mecca named Fort Collins.

Their new brewing facility is known within their organization as the "Mothership"; and it is a sight to be seen. New Belgium encourages their employees to bike to work (there are huge bike racks out front), and their brewery at the time was more than 90% carbon-neutral (which I believe has increased since then). They use methane gas to power their boilers, and wind turbines for electricity. They constantly strive to improve their ecological impact, and you can learn more here.

The best way to describe visiting the brewery and tasting in their tasting room, is to compare it to sitting in on someone's family reunion. The locals routinely come there to get their beloved Fat Tire straight from the source, and the employees don't seem to stop smiling (maybe because they're allowed to drink on the job?) Adam and I sampled a few beers and took the tour, and our lives were changed forever. We had to buy coolers and ice to take all the beer we bought with us; regrettably it never made it home.

So, while this was an amazing experience, it was also heartbraking. Until March, the furthest East they distributed their brews were Chicago. I got some shipped to me once, but it froze and all the bottles exploded. Total bummer! But, my salvation has arrived! My wife discovered it in North Carolina THREE DAYS after they first started selling it there. As you can see in the photo below, this is a commemorative "Taking Flight in North Carolina" bottle. This is now a family heirloom, and my future children will be confused why I left them a beer bottle in my will.

Today's Beer
New Belgium Brewing Company's Fat Tire
So very tasty...
This beer is a great example of how craft beers can trump mass produced beers. The name for Fat Tire comes from a bike tour of Belgium that the creator Jeff Lebesch took in 1989. While in Belgium, he was able to learn the craft of brewing and brought these tricks home to Fort Collins.
Fat Tire is a beer in delicate equilibrium. The malts and hops are paired together so that neither overpowers the other. It has a light, fruity taste, and is a perfect way to take refuge from summer heat. Just watching this glass sweat in front of me makes me want to open another one. Not too malty, not too hoppy, this beer has become so popular because there is something for everyone in it. Next time you pass through one of the lucky states to have New Belgium, buy a Fat Tire and make your own personal connections.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Great Sadness A Sandwichless World Would Bring

First off, we must acknowledge that the inclusion of a wrap in the sandwich category is controversial to say the least. Men have gone to war over more trivial disputes. But I respect the man behind the keyboard as, while I have not partaken in said wrap below, I have enjoyed the delicacies that Palani Drive has to offer, and I will give credit where credit is due. It is a hotbed of tasty things. Let it be known though that the sandwich was created as a compact meal between two slices of bread, not a folded tortilla, by John Montagu, the visionary fourth Earl of Sandwich, who grew hungry but desired not to interrupt a particularly engaging card game by dedicating both hands to eating. And so was born the beautifully simple and wonderfully portable foodstuff that is the modern-day sandwich. No longer must we suffer card games hungry nor must our card games be plagued by stoppages of play to eat with a knife and fork (What are those? I know only one utensil, the one that's connected to the arm bone.) Now instead of devoting all our physical attention to the task of eating (I say "physical", because all thought is dedicated to the critical activity...I only think about eating while I am eating), we are free to do loads of other activities whilst eating a sandwich...things like drinking a beer, operating heavy machinery, or making a second sandwich.

Now to the purpose of this pay tribute to the sandwich overall, as it is absent from my life until Thursday at sundown (or until I cave in sooner). Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we are in the midst of Passover when chametz, or leavened food and those made with grain or grain derivatives, are not permitted. (Yes, this rules out beer too, although I cannot write a post about this for my keyboard would cease to perform covered in man tears.) I think this is a healthy exercise, as absence does make the heart grow fonder, and it certainly does make us appreciate the return of a loved one that much more. In the meantime, I will do my best to share my sandwich-like matzoh creations so that you mustn't be concerned for my mental well being during withdrawal. I will make it through. (Just keep telling yourself that, Tom.)

So this week, my sandwich-loving goyim brethren (yes, technically I am still a goy as well, but this is no place for that discussion), eat a sandwich in my honor and in the honor of anyone else forsaking the sandwich this Passover, and recognize how fortunate we all are that the good fourth Earl had his culinary epiphany. The world is a better place because of him.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Forget Boston... Come Home to the Commonwealth

Look, other people on this blog might tell you there is something of merit North of the Mason-Dixon line. Don't listen. He's probably drunk from spending too much time at a Red Sox game, or maybe hanging out with Good Will Hunting. The truth is, the Commonwealth of Virginia is awesome for the following reasons:
  1. Nudity and murders on our state flag
  2. James Madison University
  3. Delicious sandwiches
That is why I present to you this delicious taste of the Commonwealth.

Today's Sandwich
Palani Drive's Shenandoah WrapThe Shenandoah
  • Grilled chicken
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Grilled green apples
  • Spinach
  • Smoked Gouda
  • Sherry walnut dressing
  • Warm flour tortilla

This filling monster can be found from a local Richmond restaurant called Palani Drive where they advertise "Well-Built Food". It is named after Virginia's Shenandoah Valley in the Western part of our state; known for it's apples, I-81, and mountains (as well as ONE FANTASTIC UNIVERSITY). Each year I like to head out to the Valley and fill my house with apples from Carter Mountain Orchard, and the inclusion of green apples in this wrap showcases one of the Valley's finest crops.

The warm green apples and sweet potato puree adds a complimentary sweet taste to the crisp spinach and hot chicken found inside. As they grill the entire beast in the back, the smoked gouda melts together with the sherry walnut dressing into a blissful combination. The last bite of the wrap is a collection of all the flavors and tastes this sandwich offers and leaves you full and happy knowing you've eaten well for cheap.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Taste of Amurica...Boston Style

Anyone out there not so much a fan of classic Sam Adams Lager?  I have to say that I never was much of one myself for quite some time, and I am not sure what my long time aversion was.  I think that I had it for the first time years and years ago when my beer palate was that of an infant and chances are the hop assault (relative to keg Natty) turned me off, and I just never gave it a second shot.  When I came to Boston, I was really surprised to find that Samuel Adams was everywhere...and popular to boot.  Now you're probably thinking, "Oh Tom, Master of the Glaringly Obvious...why were you shocked to find that people drink Sam Adams Boston Lager in...drumroll please...Boston?"  I guess I just anticipated irony to reign over cliché.  (Kinda like Guinness in, it is not just an Ameican marketing ploy.  Irish people drink it too!)  Well I gave it a second chance, and while I am not going to start an "I Heart Sam Adams Boston Lager" Facebook group, I do appreciate it and enjoy it from time to time.  I'll tell you what I do love though ( Facebook group) is their myriad seasonal and Brewmaster selections.  Enter Sam Boston Ale, stage left.  I have sidestepped this one numerous times in favor of their Octoberfest, Winter Lager, White Ale, Summer Ale, Scotch Ale, etc., but I was finally compelled by some unknown draw to take the plunge this weekend.  

Before I delve into this, let me comment on the glass you see this beauty filling to the left.  Do we have any people out there who have considered buying the ShamWow?  (Just me?  I mean, come on, Vince Shlomi makes such a condescendingly convincing case for's so absorbent, for god's sake!)  Well, the Sam Adams Perfect Pint glass is like the ShamWow of beer glasses...meaning that it is mysteriously desirable.  (Ineffective and ambiguous analogies requiring blatant explanation have always been one of my strong suits.)  About the only difference between the two is that Jim Koch doesn't beat hookers like the public face of ShamWow.  Despite this shortcoming, it boasts numerous other features such as a specially designed (and feminine, I would say) shape to trap and aim aroma right at your schnoz, thicker glass toward the bottom to slow the heat transfer from your hand to the beer, a rolled lip that directs the beer to the front of your tongue, and etchings at the bottom to help encourage release of the bubbles.  Apparently they hired a think tank of world class (?) scientists to spend years developing the perfect glass for drinking Sam Lager.  This is all supposed to add up to a full-sensory experience to make the beer taste even better.  Does it work, you ask?  Does beer actually taste better from this glass?  You bet your sweet ass it does!  Everything it is supposed to do, it does.  (Is this a rationalization thing to protect myself from feeling like a sucker after dropping 8 bucks on it after the brewery tour?  Nah.)  I think we can all agree that if nothing else, it sure does look classy.

Now, I am generally an ale man.  I love the hoppiness (don't even get me started on IPA's...woah, baby)...the florals, bitters, bite, you name it.  Not to mention, too many bubbles kinda piss me I am drinking some sort of spritzer or something.  Naturally I would be partial to this over their Lager, but bias aside, there is no question in my mind the Boston Ale stands head and shoulders over it.  

The Breakdown: The color is wonderful and inviting, and, as it is an American ale, it appears slightly more effervescent than its British counterpart, but the bubbles have their place here.  The first note to phone home is a slight sweetness at the tip of the tongue (it's that rolled rim, I'm sure of it) that is soon countered by a moderate bitterness.  What I found that made this ale artfully crafted was the fact that the bitterness doesn't overstay its welcome, and I think it's due to the mild, almost unreadable citrus note resulting in a very clean finish.  It bows out on a slight biscuity note that is almost like a savory little snack stoking your appetite for the next sip...and eventually the next pint (contender for a good session beer).  All in all, Sam Adams Boston Ale packs a medium body with full, complex, and (most importantly) balanced flavors that make it, in my mind, a great summer beer that would quench the thirst and complement nearly anything that might land on the grill at your next cookout.  I quite enjoyed it and would definitely choose it again.  I am putting this one in the warm weather, crowd pleaser, go-to column.  Well played, Mr. Adams.