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There are many things that go so well together we often forget they aren’t natural partners… peas and carrots (sorry Forrest, aside from the freezer section of the grocery store those two veggies are far from neighborly), beer and food (the world is finally realizing these two can intertwine amazingly well), life and work…. well, that’s where I’ve been struggling—hence this disappointingly long hiatus.
Balance truly is a paradox to me (sadly both literally and figuratively). Writing can be tough to fit in the schedule once it’s not your job anymore, but beer? I was never paid for the beering, so my drinking schedules haven’t changed (whew!). There are many things beer pairs perfectly with—its forte is its flexibility—beer and food, beer and books, beer and studying, beer and a long day, beer and vacation, beer and mountain biking, beer and camping, beer and football (especially if you’re watching the Giants not live up to your expectations), beer and travel, beer and solitude, beer and friends… I could go on, but let’s cut to the chase.
Beer is awesome and fun. And the best breweries I’ve encountered have wholeheartedly embraced this concept, which is what sets them apart from the mass of micros that have appeared in all shapes, styles, and sizes.
This summer I was blessed with some truly amazing adventures (many of which you’ll read about in the forthcoming posts that I promise will continue to appear). One such adventure brought me to the heart of the Adirondack Park—a massive state park filled with a plethora of wilderness, breweries, and scenic towns. This trip in particular brought me to a rock climbing camp nestled off the side of the road and some climbing on the aptly named Beer Walls.
After a weekend of climbing, mushroom foraging, and camping with dear friends, we found ourselves reluctantly returning to civilization… albeit slowly as there is a long drive down Interstate 87 to truly exit the Adirondack Park, sometimes requiring back-road detours to break monotony. That’s where we happened on Paradox. As we drove by the rustic trailhead sign (a common sight in these parts), we both suddenly turned to each other exclaiming “did that say brewery?” and “was that a keg hanging below that sign?!”
It did and it was, so we turned around and found ourselves at Paradox Brewery. Paradox Brewery is a small, but expanding operation in Schroon Lake, New York. Open for about a year now, this low-key, rustic beer haven welcomes a constant flow of regulars (acknowledged by name by the amiable bartending “wenches”) and visitors alike, who this time of year enjoyed an outdoor tented “tasting room” complete with a wooden bar, trailer with taps, camp chairs, corn hole (or bean-bag toss, depending on your place of origin), and hand-carved bench seating surrounding a small stage area.
Indicating the taped off area of their gravel parking lot we’d stepped over as we entered, our petite, pixie-cut pourer (and wife-of-owner, Paul) Joanie noted that the brewery is in the process of expanding the current brown, log-faced former post office to add space for more fermenters and a canning line. Joanie also had plenty of insight into the beer samplers she poured for us, discussing with ease the flavor profiles, quirks, and forthcoming experimentation the 10-barrel brewery incorporates into their array of brews.
We sampled an impressive selection that ranged from their Schroon Summer Ale—light, crisp, and not overly wheaty—to the unique Effinger Steam and well-crafted and flavorful Paradox Tripel—which included the addition of Hatian orange peel, the same one used to make Gran Marnier. We topped that tasting off with the Beaver Bite IPA, which boasted a subtle hop aroma, but kept a well-balanced bitterness to malt flavor.
During an impromptu brewery tour, part-owner Paul Mrocka quipped about his Pilsener “it’s so simple it’s hard to make,” noting this beer’s tendency to pick up off-flavors from poorly washed tanks. Paul, a homebrewer for 30 years, co-owns Paradox with bearded partners David Bruce and Vaughn Clark. Coming out from washing kegs to talk beer with tasters, Paul adds “I don’t have a lab, I’m not going to dilute…you get what you get,” as he laments the challenges of working with varying sugar quantities in barley.
The Paradox family melds the perfect combination of beer knowledge and fun-loving, with an Adirondack twist that allows the brewery to fit effortlessly into its wooded setting. The brewery embraces the local, so much so that it not only mimics its home park’s trail signs, but is also established as a Farm Brewery—meaning it either sources ingredients from local farms or grows a portion of its own, which Paradox does, using ornate, towering hop plants as a backdrop to its tasting tent and game area.
I am a hop head. A hop heart if you will… I love hops in all their herbal, citrusy, piney, floral, bitter beauty. I’m also frequently on a quest for solid Extra Special Bitters (or ESBs… capital “B”). Red Hook makes my standard ESB—Otter Creek used to make a fantastic ESB, but unfortunately retired it. Brown’s Brewing Company‘s ESB is a solid rendition, and I’ve recently discovered that Pretty Things Hedgerow Bitter hits the (hop) spot for me too (with a touch of grapefruit!). What’s your favorite ESB?
Needless to say, I was thrilled to see the buzz hops were getting yesterday cause of this lovely little Huffington Post article:
America’s Bitterest Brews
By Joshua M. Bernstein
The Daily Meal/Huffington Post, March 1, 2011
But in this era of craft beer, drinkers are shunning simple brews like Keystone and Coors for coffee-seasoned stouts, burly Belgian ales and, most of all, bitter beers like the India Pale Ale, a.k.a., the IPA… [read the article]
Read more articles I’ve collected (not by me) in the Press Pints tab!
Buried in the hip epicenter of Western Massachusetts that is Northampton—home to progressive colleges, boho-chic shopping, wide-ranging grub, and eclectic galleries—is New England’s oldest operating brewpub, duly named the Northampton Brewery.
If you haven’t perused the rest of this blog, I should mention how big a fan I am of brewpubs—these places, usually brimming with individuality, offer the steadfast trifecta of (über) locally-made beer, hearty cuisine, and friendly atmosphere. More than a sports bar, more than a restaurant, and more than a brewery, the brewpub brings it all together. In other words, I like food with my beer and vice versa.
The Northampton Brewery is a multifaceted establishment housed in a revamped 1890s carriage house. It features a low-lit bar area, a bright sunroom dining space, and a popular rooftop beer garden. Touted as the oldest brewpub in New England, it was opened in 1987 by current owner Janet Egelston with her brother Peter (with whom she also helped open Portsmouth and Smuttynose breweries in New Hampshire, which Peter now owns).
Served atop sullied copper-topped tables, the food at Northampton is hearty, bursting with flavor and creativity, and frequently embellished with beer-featuring sauces and recipes (telltale sign of a good brewpub). My menu item-of-choice, the pulled pork sandwich, comes doused in a perfected combination of zesty spices, their Pale Ale or Old Brown Dog, and homemade barbecue sauce. Topped with tangy slaw made with peppers and red onion it accentuates the underlying flavors of my beer samples (think a warm nuttiness in the red ale, herbal character of the harvest ale, and the ever-so-slightly tangy bitterness of the IPA).
Ah, the samples. Northampton does it right. I frequently grapple with the “dilemma” of whether to go with a flight of samples (which often risk being nearly shot-size) or miss out on trying the full array by getting pints of one or two selections instead. Here the samples (choice of four) come in 8-oz tasting glasses, presented on the always-appealing paddle, which are a fair enough size to get a feel for the beer while still trying out a few different styles.
I started with the Harvest Ale, a rich amber-colored ale emitting a light caramel aroma and bursting with fall sentiments plus a hint of hop bitterness thanks to the wet-hop process. Next was the Redheaded Stepchild, deep red in hue with a tangy sweetness with a smooth, hearty aftertaste characteristic of traditional red ales. The Blue Boots IPA had a sweet floral aroma with a nuttiness and hefty hop bite and the Black Cat Stout offered a creamy, rich coffee finish—extremely smooth and robust in flavor.
With fifteen year-round varieties, nearly as many specialty brews, and comparable seasonal selections, there is plenty to choose from at the brewpub. Styles range from familiar standards like stouts, porters, IPAs, and ales, but expands to lesser-seen experimentations like a German-inspired Sticke Altbier, bitters like the Daniel Shays Best Bitter and (Snow)(Sand)(No) Shovel ESB, and ryes including Magic Carpet Rye and Jess’ Goodbye Rye P.A. Apparently with a penchant for pale ales and IPAs (and fine by me) the brewery boasts quite a few variations on this style, experimenting with different balances of the Pacific Northwest hops they use. The brewery even goes so far as to have an annual IPA Week in December, during which six different India Pale Ales are available on tap. Otherwise, there is usually a mixed selection of about ten beers on tap, plus a few guest brews to round it out. Occasionally the brewery teams up with fellow microbreweries including siblings Portsmouth and Smuttynose for special beercentric events.
Whether going for a concert at one of the many music halls in Northampton, pairing your beer with locally made ice cream at nearby Herrell’s Ice Cream, or shopping at the various boutiques, Northampton Brewery offers a welcoming pit stop or a night filled with all the entertainment you need—hit up their weekly Celtic night on Sundays for live Irish music and a St. Patty’s feel all year long. Take a growler to go and you’re all set.
It may be closed on Christmas, but the Old Forge in Lanesborough, Massachusetts, is definitely in the holiday spirit.
Adding Christmas cheer to their 300+ (and international) bottle list, the Forge has a sampling of the festive line from England’s Ridgeway Brewery.
Don’t be put off by the goofy names (like Reindeer Droppings or… Santa’s Butt), Ridgeway is serious about its beers. When the lauded Brakspear Brewery closed in 2002 (re-opened by Wychwood Brewery since then), master brewer Peter Scholey devoted his talents to opening his own brewery. Scholey, obviously with a wordy sense of humor, started Ridgeway, whose wide-ranging styles with themed names pop up around the holidays, imported to the States by the Shelton Brothers.
The Ridgeway holiday lineup includes:
Bad Elf (a strong, warm, 6% ABV IPA)
Very Bad Elf (a 7.5% ABV well-rounded English bitter… are we noticing a pattern here?)
Seriously Bad Elf (a popular 9% ABV Belgian tripel, banned in Connecticut apparently due to the appearance of Santa on the label… bah humbug!)
Criminally Bad Elf (a hefty 10.5% ABV Barleywine-style ale)
Insanely Bad Elf (this 12% ABV imperial red is only available in elf-sized 330 ml bottles)
Pickled Santa (a whole-spiced 6% ABV traditional English bitter)
Reindeer Droppings (a 6% ABV English amber balancing it’s sweet with a bit of tartness, what has that Rudolf been eating?)
Reindeer’s Revolt (a low-key 6% ABV English ale for those of you protesting Christmas’s spice)
Warm Welcome Nut Browned Ale (a classic 6% ABV brown warmed up for the season with extra hop and malt character, perhaps a better welcome than the ol’ milk and cookies routine?)
Lump of Coal (you may remember this from my 12 Sips of Christmas post, a dark 8% ABV holiday stout)
Santa’s Butt (a 6% ABV winter porter named for a large brewing barrel (or “butt”), not Santa’s rear)
With whimsical labels illustrated by Massachusetts artist Gary Lippincott gracing the 550-ml bottles, Ridgeway’s offerings make the holidays a bit brighter… or darker, depending on your tastes.
If you’re looking to escape from family frenzy, the Old Forge offers about five of these by the bottle, plus holiday tap selections like Tröegs Mad Elf and Anderson Valley Winter Solstice, in its rustic wood-paneled pub garnished with twinkle lights, hot wings, and gleaming beer-club mugs. (Or, if you want to spread the cheer, check out your local beer store and bring ’em home to your loved ones).
Ho-ho-hop to it.
Special Thanks to: Shelton Brothers, Peter Scholey, and Santa’s little helpers.
As part of a cross-blog experiment led by my friend and fellow blogger Sandy, this post is being written in conjunction with several other (largely financial) blogs under the umbrella inspiration of the Twelve Days of Christmas.
Beer lists, and specifically holiday lists, have been done before. But here’s my (current) take. I’m stretching beyond beer for this one, but bear with me hopheads, I save the best for last.
First sip: Let’s start with something traditional… Eggnog! I love eggnog and, until last year, never even thought of it as a homemade possibility, but it is and it’s relatively simple… and well worth it (think, spiked). After perusing a few recipe sources I settled on my steadfast (yet underused) Joy of Cooking cookbook. I opted for the cooked version for safety, though they offer an uncooked version for traditionalists (if you’re looking at a circa-1960s JoC like my parents, however, raw is the only option as those were simpler, less salmonella-fearing times). You make a custard using a dozen eggs, heavy cream, milk, sugar and nutmeg… chill it, add your dark liquor of choice (I did brandy), and refrigerate some more. It’s fresh and as nutmeggy and boozy as you want.
Second Sip: Keeping on the traditional note (and leaning towards experimentation) this year I intend to try something new. My favorite Christmas book growing up was A Child’s Christmas in Wales, an intriguing, off kilter prose poem by Dylan Thomas and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman.
I don’t know what it was about this gritty story I loved so much, but for one it felt like England. Wassail, meaning in good health, is a traditional English warmer made with spiced beer (or wine or cider) and baked apples. DRAFT Magazine offers up a fantastic sounding recipe in their holiday issue using Florida-based Cigar City Brewing‘s Warmer Winter Winter Warmer, a 10% ABV malty Old Ale. (You could also try substituting Founders Black Biscuit or the Southern Tier Old Man Winter for the Cigar City). Stay tuned for my take on this one.
Third Sip: Though not alcoholic, one of my favorite winter warming beverages is (what my family calls) Russian Tea, which is a simple combination of Tang (yes, Tang), spices, and instant tea—all mixed with hot water. It offers an aromatic, tart alternative to the usual mugged beverages.
Fourth Sip: I can’t list winter beverages without Hot Chocolate… my favorites? At home I prefer using Ghirardelli’s unsweetened cocoa powder and a little sugar (add a little zest with cayenne if you’re feeling spicy or a little Kahlua for kick). Our local chocolatier Chocolate Springs in Lenox, Mass., whips up a decadent version that is very well-worth a try.
Fifth Sip: On a recent trip to Germany I was introduced to Glühwien (pronounced glew-vine, and basically translated to “glowing wine” …mmm). Red wine is mulled with spices (and sometimes citrus) to form an aromatic alternative to the traditional red. If you’re fancy (and have connections) you can top it off with a Zucker Hut, a sugar cone (“hat”), which you douse with rum and light on fire allowing it to seep into the mulled wine. This is best done with friends… and a fire extinguisher.
Sixth Sip: This one is a classic, but is a semi-recent discovery of mine. The Hot Toddy is a mixture of brandy, whiskey, or rum with hot water (or tea), lemon, and honey. It is both light and bold, and with a whiskey bite it will warm you up from the inside. Try using the Berkshire Mountain Distillers new Berkshire Bourbon Whiskey.
Seventh Sip: The last of my non-beer recommendations is Single Malt Scotch, something I’ve been exploring recently, usually opting for the bold smokiness of the peatier varieties. For this holiday theme I’m going to recommend the highland origin, double-casked Aberlour because of it’s rosy color and combination use of bourbon and sherry barrel-aging for a fruity aroma and ginger spiciness with a smooth finish (good peaty alternatives would be Laphroaig or Talisker).
Now… who’s ready for some beer?
Eighth Sip: One of the best transitions from fall into winter are cranberries. Not having much in the way of a sweet tooth, I love the tart berries in many forms—relish, muffins, juice, pancakes… they are also one of the few fruits I can tolerate in a beer. Both Harpoon Brewery and Samuel Adams make excellent cranberry beers. Harpoon’s Grateful Harvest Ale balances out a reasonable dose of fruit with full-bodied malt character and slight hop bitterness. (Added bonus: $1 from every six pack sold goes to your local food bank). The Sam Adams Cranberry Lambic naturally adopts a sweeter flavor from its brewing process, but the addition of fresh cranberries and the wheat’s heartiness form a festive balance.
Ninth Sip: For our last monthly beer club meetup we sampled an array of pumpkin and spiced beers that included several winter seasonals. The Southern Tier Old Man Winter and 21st Amendment Fireside Chat were my two favorite spiced ales (which I’ll admit I was wary about to begin with). Both managed to pack that zesty winter flavor into a hefty beer without overpowering with spices. As with many winter seasonals these are a bit higher in alcohol (both about 7% ABV), but neither tasted too boozy, therefore allowing for more tasting all around.
Tenth Sip: The first time I purchased the Ridgeway Brewing Lump of Coal it was largely inspired by my intent to put a jesting “lump of coal” in my dad’s stocking for Christmas. Then we opened it (after the presents… and breakfast) and realized it was more a reward than a punishment. Uber-dark with a chalky bittersweet chocolate flavor and smooth body, it’s now a tradition, stocking or not, for me to procure this English beer (imported by Shelton Brothers of Belchertown, Mass.) for our family’s yuletide.
Eleventh Sip: Winter’s bluster pushes us closer to our woodstoves, Otter Creek captures those wintry sentiments in its Stovepipe Porter. This dark ale has a prominent roasted character and a hearty, slightly herbal bitterness. Smooth and full-bodied it goes well with stews, roasts, chocolate, and fires.
Twelfth Sip: I couldn’t skip my favorite beer style (what is Christmas without the ones we love?) so here’s that hop fix, but kicked up a notch to follow suit with other winter strong beers. The Lagunitas Hop Stoopid is a hefty Imperial IPA with a well-balanced flavor, not too overpowered by syrupy malt, but bursting with hop bitterness (what are the holidays without bitterness? wait…). This one’s available all year, but is a nice winter treat in my opinion.
And those are my 12 Sips of Christmas… they taste best when shared, so eat, drink, and be merry… together.
Special thanks to: Sandy for the idea, family and friends for drinking together, and Santa… for the spirit.
Three years ago, stuck on an IPA kick (not unusual for me), I asked my most trusted bartender for a bottle recommendation as I’d exhausted the tap hoptions that night and wanted to continue with something new.
She thrust a map-imprinted bottle down on the bar without hesitation, followed by a glass.
I poured, I drank, I fell in love.
I had a new go-to IPA, one I could count on for hop-filled satisfaction with enough balance for a low-key night than the bolder (other go-to delicious) Green Flash West Coast IPA. Set more in the middle ground, and new to me that night, Avery IPA was a special discovery—even in bottle form.
There was no question in my mind, then, when a trip to Colorado this summer offered a chance to tour some of the state’s amazing breweries, hampered only by time and travel constraints. What would I make a point of visiting and let the rest (which ended up including Wynkoop Brewing Company, Breckenridge Brewery & BBQ, Walnut Brewery …not too shabby for five busy days) pour as they may?
Avery Brewing Company, Avery was number one on my list.
I have to say, my high-hopes dipped slightly as we pulled in—the brewery is located in the unfortunate confines of an industrial park, nearly impossible to spot from road, and disrupted by another company’s office between the brewery and tap room. BUT, for what it lacked in curb appeal, Avery certainly made up for on the inside (and, really, that’s what counts anyway, hmm?). Besides, our tour guide noted that owner Adam Avery has a stand-alone, owned brewery space brewing in the future.
So, atmospheric concerns aside, we embarked on the brewery tour, which was the usual (with a touch of color courtesy of a road soda to quench our thirst… for knowledge…? and our tatted, brogue-tinged tour guide), but had the bonus of a postlude trip and more extensive discussion in the cask-conditioning room—a rough barrel-lined space bedecked in rogue twinkle lights and an impressive, customizable bar for private parties (yes, please).
After our brains were full, we worked on our livers. Ordering a sampler of eight different brews we ran the gamut from the sunny Wheel Sucker Wheat to the Seventeen Anniversary black lager, to the syrupy sweet knockout 2009 and 2010 Beast Grand Cru (the 2009 having been cellar-aged and coming in at 15.01% abv, while the 2010 stepped it up to 16.21%, beastly indeed.)
Avery rotates their tap room menu and fills it to the brim with special offerings that can be hard to find elsewhere (especially way out here on the East Coast, sigh, distance relationships). We definitely had a few that were… not for us, per say, but it was a well-rounded tasting experience full of new flavor. And the tap room atmosphere was stellar, peppered with regulars including quite a few cyclists.
Avery was my scratch at the surface of the many, many top-notch (and inventive) brews that come from the Centennial State. I consider that trip the first of many, the next being for the first-ever Beer Bloggers Conference.
So stay tuned…
Special thanks to: Sadie, Craig,
Donny & Meredith,
and the great state of Colorado.