29 March 2008

A Good Time for Beer

The Hudson Valley, where I live, is something of a hidden gem, especially considering its location. A land of great natural beauty (think of the Hudson River School), and diverse landscape, it lacks a great unifying industry (such as the winemaking in Napa and Sonoma) and so is not seasonally overrun with tourists. Rather, we have rolling hills, historic towns, horse, dairy, cattle, and produce farms, the River itself, and the oldest mountains on earth. It is a generalist's country, and definitively disproves the theory that the polymath is good at everything but excellent at nothing. Rather, it is the whole that is excellent.

The Hyde Park branch of the Roosevelt family gave us FDR, who loved his house on the river above all others (the White House included), and gave his home county (Dutchess) many fine civic buildings and miles of stone walls during the WPA.

But none of this matters here. What matters is that 75 years ago, fulfilling a campaign promise, FDR's administration saw the ratification of the 21st Amendment, and as a direct result, we all not only enjoy delicious beers daily, but also do we write and publish this blog without being imprisoned for sedition.

In celebration of this, Historic Hyde Park, in conjunction with the FDR National Historic Site (yes, the Department of the Interior), is sponsoring a Beer Festival and the produce of some local breweries. FDR would be pleased.

I intend for this posting to be the first part of two, the second to be written, of course, after sampling the brews and paying due homage at the gravesite.

"All that is within me cries out to go back to my home on the Hudson River." ~FDR

links of interest:
Chatham Brewing Co.
Olde Saratoga Brewing
Hudson Valley Fresh
Home of FDR
Hudson Valley Institute
Historic Hudson Valley
Empire State Brewery Trail

27 March 2008

Nice, if short, article on Indian Food and Beer

In his masterly tome, The Brewmaster's Table, devoted to the art of pairing beer with food, Garrett Oliver (of Brooklyn Brewery fame) writes about Indian cuisine and the pitfalls of drinking wine -- especially red wine -- with it:

"I can't tell you how many times I have seen nearly full bottles of wine, especially reds, abandoned on the tables in fine Indian restaurants. The food had ruined the wine, and the wine had ruined the food. The diner had somehow imagined that a Barolo could hold its own against a vindaloo or had sent a California Chardonnay to its death against a powerful chutney. What a shame!" (The Brewmaster's Table, p.86)

I tend to agree. It is at best an impaired, risky conjoining on the palate, and at worst a disastrous culinary nightmare.

So how about a beer? Here's a great little article from the Morning Advertiser (UK) -- if anyone knows their curry (And their beer), it's surely the British. In the aforementioned quote from Oliver, he goes on to say, "Weissbier would have saved those meals; in fact, it would have made them spectacular."

From personal experience, I have a handful of can't-go-wrong beer-and-Indian pairings:

For milder, creamy-sauce dishes (especially those with coconut), go for an Allagash White -- it works wonders with desserts, too. This pairing came to me at our favorite Asheville Indian destination, Mela, where they serve Allagash on tap.

For the more fiery curries, go for Ayinger Ur-Weisse, Schneider Weisse, Samuel Smith's India Ale, or Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

If you've got a 5-alarm Vindaloo, why not break out the Avery Maharajah Imperial IPA?


24 March 2008

The brew of the earth

I like organic beers. They don't necessarily all taste good, but the spirit is well with them: the fruits of the earth, unadulterated (except by the mash tun), and transformed into delicious liquid bread. It's like having a farm in the glass.

For my birthday, a friend who knows me well, and properly, gave me a bottle of the Butte Creek IPA (the bottle above, on the left), wrapped appropriately in a brown paper bag. Very exciting!

It packs a hefty 7.1% ABV, and so tastes good and will, on an empty stomach, leave one feeling pretty well too.

This beer pours a head of epic scale, stability, and stubbornness. Even observing proper decanting techniques, two fingers of beer yielded a head that filled the rest of the glass and could not be reduced by gentle blowing, nor indeed even by waiting. In the end, I lacked sufficient patience to observe the head's full life cycle, and so the only remaining course of action was to love the whole beer, head first.

I recommend this to everyone, especially lovers of IPA. The first sip made me roll my eyes and think, "This tastes like the earth! Where does "dirt" usually figure into brewing, once the hops have been harvested?" However, more sustained drinking revealed a snappy, honey-colored IPA of full body. This is not your grandfather's English IPA, and like you, it is American, bold, and modern, but is also somewhat unsurprisingly (given the back-to-basics character of today's craft brewing culture) a truer IPA than what many modern British factories pour. I give it high marks for hoppiness, refreshingness (my term), and all-around tastiness.

Butte Creek Brewing is in Chico, California, and not – as I first thought – in Chino, where, seriously, he did six months for exposing himself to an eight-year-old.

Perm's Pick of the Month for March: Dupont Forêt

Gather 'round, kids, it's time for another installment of Perm's Beer Pick!

In Belgium (and, I presume, much of Europe) this ale goes by the moniker "Moinette Biologique" (the "Organic Nun"), but over here look for a whimsical label vaguely resembling medieval tapestries and bearing the title "Forêt." It is an organic Saison (the label claims it is the only organic ale brewed in Belgium, at least by a commercial brewery) brewed by Brasserie Dupont, the purveyors of such fine offerings as Saison Dupont, Moinette Brune and Avec les Bons Voeux.
The Forêt holds its own against any of the other products put forth by this brewery; indeed, it rises near the top for me.

I've had said brew in the past, but never in a situation where I could prepare a review. I bought a 750 mL bottle a few days ago (from the Hendersonville Food Co-Op) to break out with our Easter Dinner on Sunday afternoon, and was it ever worth it.

For my enjoyment, I poured it into a Unibroue tulip glass, forming a huge foamy/rocky head. This beer is beautiful: the color of gold, hay at sunrise, and strong chamomile tea, with bubbles a-plenty rising from the bottom of the glass.

On the nose, this ale continues to unfold a plethora of offerings the longer I linger -- burnt sugar, caramel, grass and hay, almonds, cardamom, and (my favorite), boxwoods after a summer rain.

The taste picks up right where the nose leaves off: almonds, spice, white pepper, raw unrefined sugar and caramel, with a tart (almost mild citrus) twist. Superb!!

Nor does the palate disappoint: even thought the beer is slightly sweet on the tongue, the palate is cava-dry and bubbly. Wonderful stuff.
Its ABV strength registers at 7.5%, but it is quite well hidden -- so beware! It's easy to quaff this stuff fairly liberally.

Here was the culinary line-up:

Duck, marinated in orange puree and fresh rosemary, then oven-roasted with onions (mixed with brown sugar to caramelize)
saffron brown rice with peas
balsamic reduction sauce
homemade rosemary olive oil sourdough rolls
fruit salad
sweet ricotta tart with orange zest crust.
[ignore the interloper bottle of wine, of course...]

The main course AND the dessert were near-perfect matches for the beer.

And, on top of all that, it's organic!

16 March 2008

New Digs

So we're now about 2 weeks into our new abode, and we're getting settled in and enjoying the vast new tracks of floorspace on which to stretch our legs and terrorize our cat with the greatest cat toy ever. And I'm enjoying the greatest commute to work ever -- 5 minutes if I'm slow or stupid.

[this photo has not been digitally tampered with]

This also means that there is now a huge amount of space for the brewing operations -- including dedicated running water, cool-temperature (cellar, in fact!) space for storage, and it's all out of the way, so no more boxes and empties overflowing into our living space. The only missing piece to this is that I'll still need to use the kitchen stove for boiling (wah wah, right?). I'm not concerned about that. I've even got space aplenty for if/when I decide to branch into lagering and need a fridge or chest freezer. I've also begun a compost bin, so in go the spent grains (the ones I'm not baking with, at any rate!).

The plan is to resume brewing operation in April with an IPA. I'm also hoping to try getting supplies from 7 Bridges Cooperative in San Francisco -- all organic ingredients.

Perm's Brew Picks is concerned with much more than just homebrewing, of course, and the new house affords space for the other sides of this hobby as well. We have a great little built-in liquor/glassware cabinet in the dining room: some of our more attractive stems and goblets are now on display, as well as a storage cabinet below where bottles of brews can rest in the dark. And, of course, the aforementioned downstairs cellar for longer-term aging.

And, lest we forget, a terrific front porch upon which can be enjoyed any of Perm's Monthly Picks!