Thursday, January 17, 2008

Rock Art

Getting back into this has been harder than I expected and it doesn't help that work has seemingly blocked all blogspot pages. Strangely, they haven't blocked the homesite, so I can still log in and post but I can't view my actual blog. Weird. If I don't have access to Lew or any of the other beer blogs, I lose momentum...coming up with your own ideas is too hard! When I get home, I get involved in other things and forget to check them out.

Oh well. The other night I bought a variety 12 pack of Rock Art, a brewery in VT. It included a Golden Ale, a Red Ale, a Smoked Porter, and a Barley Wine (at only 7.5% abv). I'll probably post about the Golden Ale because it was very interesting, at least as far as "golden ales" go. Other than their winter seasonal Bock, I'm a newcomer to Rock Art.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

John Harvard's (Manchester, CT)

We hit John Harvard's on Sunday after seeing Atonement. I can't remember the entire tap list, but I'll do my best:

Armadillo Amarillo IPA
Dastardly Dark Lager
Helles Lager
Pale Ale
Oatmeal Stout
Fire Drake Barleywine

Unfortunately nothing on cask until 1/21.

They seem to be getting away from the spider theme of naming their beers. Their Schwarzbier used to be called Black Widow Dark Lager so they've either renamed it or it's a slightly different beer...not sure. I had the Oatmeal Stout (served via nitro), which was smooth and tasty but not earth shattering. Low in alcohol so it would be a good choice if driving. I also had a snifter of the barleywine, which is worth making a specific trip to drink. It's always great and was no exception this time. I'm not a big barleywine guy, but I've always loved the Fire Drake, especially if lucky enough to find it on cask. The sip of Mandy's IPA told me it was decent but not as good as the Brown Recluse (I wonder if this is a new recipe necessitated by the hop shortage?).

Monday, January 7, 2008

Back to the Grind

I'm back after a nice long break. I survived Christmas and there's really not much beer-related to talk about. I didn't drink a great deal and when I did drink it was rather run-of-the-mill stuff. I haven't been to a proper beer bar since the Allagash tasting at Eli's.

After Christmas we packed our bags and headed to Alabama (again). 4 adults and 2 dogs piled into a rental car at 4am and made the 18 hour trip in one shot (we also came home in one shot, which is a first for's harder coming home because you lose an hour). In AL I continued the trend of drinking just north of moderately, but the most exciting beer was Terrapin Rye (not to slag off Terrapin Rye because I'm a huge fan). Mostly it was Yuengling Lagers.

There was one beer highlight though, another beer dinner. The menu, as best as I can remember:

  • Kielbasa & Souerkraut paired with Terrapin Golden
  • Salad (loosely based on The Corner Pug's Pug Salad) paired with Hoegaarden Original White Ale
  • Kässpätzle paired with my homebrewed hefeweizen
  • Shepherd's Pie paired with Abita Amber
  • Bailey's Irish Cream Cheesecake paired with Rogue Mocha Porter

The best pairing, by far, was the Mocha Porter with the cheesecake (which was made by my BIL and was phenomenal). With the exception of my homebrew, I made sure all the beers were available in AL (I had to because I bought them all there).

After this longish break from geeking out about beer I look forward to getting back into the swing of things.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Eli's - Allagash Tasting

We hit Eli's last night for a late snack and some beer. The purpose of the trip was to try the phenomenal Allagash Black. I was so focused on the Black that I don't remember much of the rest of the rotation. I do remember:

Allagash Black
Allagash Tripel
Allagash Dubbel
Allagash Grand Cru
Stoudt's Double IPA
Rogue Imperial Red (!)
Aventinus Weizen-Eisbock (!)
Great Divide Fresh Hop Ale
Sierra Nevada Celebration
Smuttynose Scotch

The Black was so tasty and silky smooth I had three (Mandy was driving) Eli's first for me as I usually mix it up. It's a unique beer because it's made with roasted malts similar to a stout, but it also has belgian dark candi and is fermented using a belgian yeast. Allagash calls it a "Belgian style stout." I was concentrating on drinking it, not analyzing it, so no detailed notes. I remember it being silky smooth and much more stout-ish than Belgian-ish...the Belgian-y qualities were very subtle and came out in the finish adding a layer of complexity not found in normal stouts. The alcohol (7.5% ABV) is so well-hidden that I would have guessed it was in the 5% range, which is dangerous. I would rather drink Black than the vast majority of stouts (imperial or otherwise) I've had recently, which seems to be my developing yardstick "how much do I want to drink more of this?". It was still on at Eli's at 10:30 last night, so get there quick before it's gone!

As a (hopefully) quick sidenote, this beer presents an interesting stylistic quandry. Beeradvocate calls it a "Belgian Strong Dark Ale" and Ratebeer calls it a "Foreign Stout." It struck me as much more a stout than a Belgian Dark Ale so I'd probably lean more towards the "Foreign Stout" side or maybe "Export Stout." I'd say a new style is emerging "Belgian Stout," but when half of the examples are American, it seems weird to call it Belgian. Anyway, this doesn't really concern me much, as long as it tastes good, and Allagash Black does. I just think it's rather interesting watching a new style bloom in front of us.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Flatbread Restaurant - Canton, CT

Flatbread Restaurant (not to be confused with American Flatbread Burlington Hearth) is a chain of flatbread pizza restaurants that cook using fire pits similar to this:

A branch opened in the (relatively) new Shoppes right off Route 44 in my hometown of Canton, CT. It's located in the back, right past Barnes & Noble and near Old Navy and Dick's. Over the past 2 years or so it's become my favorite place to go eat pizza.

The atmosphere is very "crunchy" for lack of a better word. All the ingredients are organic, they cook in an open flame fire oven, the decorations are earthy including some tibetan prayer flags, the furniture is wooden and functional, and on Thursdays there's live music usually consisting of a guy playing acoustic guitar and singing folk songs. Personally I love the atmosphere and prefer something along these lines to modern or fancy. Also, just remember it is Canton, CT (a fairly wealthy suburb) so while the restaurant itself is fairly crunchy, much of the clientele just got home from their white collar job in Hartford.

The menu is extremely basic with two choices: salad and/or pizza. The salad is very good made with organic ingredients with an optional topping of local (actually, MA) blue cheese crumbles. The pizza is also made with all organic ingredients. You can start with a simple red pizza (I think it's called "Jay's Heart") or one with no red sauce and add your own toppings, or pick from one of the many specialty pizzas. You really can't go wrong, everything's fantastic. My favorite topping is the maple sausage, so sweet with a nice kick at the end...perfect with a lighter IPA.

Since this is a beer blog I guess I should get to the good stuff. While the selection won't blow beer geeks away, it is surprisingly good for Canton. None of the big 3 are available on tap or otherwise. They continue with their local and organic theme by keeping the selection from New England breweries and often having an organic choice. The draft list on Saturday included:

Wolaver's Oatmeal Stout
Farmington River IPA
Farmington River Brown
BBC Lost Sailor IPA
BBC Cabin Fever Ale (this was a surprise, usually it's Gold Spike)
Opa Opa Red Rock

I know they had a few more than this but I'm drawing a blank. They usually have a Long Trail seasonal, but it had just kicked. In short, it's not Eli's but it's a heck of a lot better than any other pizza restaurant in the area. There's never anything wrong with a Wolaver's Oatmeal Stout or a fresh Lost Sailor. My only complaint about their beer is that they keep it on a fixed menu including a "guest tap." They change their rotation enough that the list is never accurate and their "guest tap" becomes meaningless because there are 3-4 beers not on the list. I usually just ask the server to run through the beers on tap to avoid confusion.

I highly recommend this place if you're looking for some great pizza and some really good beer. The prices are a little steep (for the food, the beer is reasonable), but it really is worth it. And after, you can head over to Barnes & Noble for some coffee and finish your Christmas shopping.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Surly Darkness

Surly is a small brewery near Minneapolis, MN. It was on my list of things to seek out during my trip to St. Paul, but didn't have time. I have gotten the chance to try some of their Coffee Bender at Beeradvocate's American Beer Fest a couple of summers ago and it was fantastic. This marked their "coming out party" so to speak as they were very new at that point and only distributed to MN. Since then their popularity has exploded (not necessarily because they participated in the American Beerfest, mind you, because they make fantastic beer).

On Saturday they released their annual Russian Imperial Stout, Darkness. They followed Three Floyds example and created a special day for its release with the intent of selling all the bottles at this one event. Apparently there was music and food along with all their regular beers on tap. Every Spring, Three Floyds has their Dark Lord Day . I guess the difference between the two is that Dark Lord Day has becom so big they're looking into off site locations to hold it because the lines have gotten so large. People travel from all across the country for this and turn the day into one big party and beer tasting event. Three Floyds wins by guaranteeing their Dark Lord will sell out at $15 a pop, not to mention all the other beer they sell that day. I guess the guys at Surly realized what a good thing this was and decided they wanted in the game.

The result of this was to create demand for the product that may not have existed otherwise. Now all of a sudden it has become the beer to obtain. If you glance at the beeradvocate and ratebeer trading forums, it seems every thread is devoted to looking for Darkness or figuring out what people are willing to give up for Darkness. The beer is seen as rare because only a select few were able to get it. The rarity seems to create a sense of demand for the product that wouldn't exist if it was more readily available and it keeps people interested in the breweries that hold these events (another example is The Angel's Share from Tomme Arthur at The Lost Abbey, which is also a hot commodity in the beer trading circles).

I'm not trying to make a value judgment about these breweries because, frankly, I think it makes great business sense. I guess what I don't understand are the people who feel such a need to try these beers. I've never had Dark Lord, or Darkness, or The Angel's Share, but I can't help thinking as I'm enjoying a more readily available imperial stout: "how much better could Darkness really be?" Is it really worth getting upset about not being able to try it? My answer is a resounding no. I'll continue to enjoy Southern Tier's Oat or Storm King or Smuttynose Imperial Stout and let other people arrive in Minneapolis at 2AM when it's below zero to wait for a beer that they must absolutely have. I guess I just don't understand this need people have to try everything. People even get mad at the monks of Westvleteren because they don't make more beer and distribute to the USA. Like the monks care about that. Sorry, but I'll wait until I make it to Belgium to drink Westvleteren...and if I never make it? I'll drink biggie.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Plan B and City Steam

I had a busy Sunday, hitting both Plan B and City Steam.

We stopped into Plan B for a quick snack and a couple of beers during the afternoon. The tap list was better than the last time we went, but still not as good as the reports from the Simsbury location that we still haven't made it to. The tap list included:

Sierra Nevada Celebration
Great Divide Hibernation
Long Trail Double Bag
Dogfish Head Chicory Stout
BBC Porter
Farmington River Brown
Ipswich Original
Brooklyn Lager
Southern Tier Old Man Winter Ale
Avery The Czar
And probably a couple of others

(Note: I wrote this before realizing that I've never done a review of Plan B in West Hartford! I'll try to remedy that in the next few days)

In the evening we tried to hit City Steam for dinner prior to a Christmas show at the Civic Center. Unfortunately, it reiterated why I'm not really a big fan of this place. The beer was great, it was everything else. For starters, I ordered the mead I mentioned here. It came in a white wine glass, which I guess is OK, but they only fill it halfway and charged $5. I got 5-6 oz of a mead that they advertised as 8%ABV. It was a decent enough drink, though I'm no expert on meads, but I was left feeling a bit taken. After waiting an hour, we were finally seated. We informed our server that we were in a bit of a hurry and proceeded to receive horrendously slow service. The food we got wasn't very good either.

I think I finally figured out what rubs me the wrong way about City Steam. It's very impersonal. Other bars and brewpubs we go to focus on either the neighborhood (locals) or the regulars (if it isn't a neighborhood setting). Everyone is welcome, but you always get a certain sense of conviviality and friendship between both the patrons and the staff. Obviously there are exceptions, but for the most part these places make you want to become one of the regulars. Despite this, they never make "tourists" (people who aren't regulars) feel unwelcome, it just gives you something to strive for by coming more often.

I never get this feeling at City Steam. Instead, I get the feeling that they cater to the "tourist," which tends to create a feeling of coldness and impersonality. I feel like, while there may be regulars (and there are because they have a mug club), they never really cater to them. Instead, they're happy to accept the hordes of one-timers who stop in for a meal prior to attending an event at the Civic Center. This is understandable as the place is always packed on event nights, but it makes me want to choose someplace different. It leaves me feeling that there's no sense of community, I'm just surrounded by strangers waiting to go somewhere else. The servers become unfriendly, the bartenders downright rude (standing there waiting for a tip?!), and the other patrons: nameless strangers.

The beer was very good (the Flowers of Edinburgh Scotch Ale was top notch), but suffice it to say we didn't have a very good time. I think I'm knocking them down to fourth on my list behind Willimantic, Cambridge, and John Harvard's. They're still ahead of Hops.