Month: September 2014

A Craft Beer Adventure in Providence

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I’ve been to Providence, Rhode Island so many times, but I never made a full-day commitment to exploring the craft beer scene in this lovely town. After approximately seven straight summertime visits to Providence, I finally decided to spend time digging for craft beer. Accompanied by my wife and awesome driver/great friend Keith, we jetted over to Dexter Field (Armory Park) to check out Providence Kickball: “The Greatest Show on Dirt.”  The story of a Providence craft beer adventure should rightly start here, in case you were beginning to wonder. Sean Larkin, the Brewmaster behind Revival Brewery of Providence, is head of the kickball league. I got in touch with him to chat about the Providence craft beer scene and Revival. Sean let me know he had an all-day obligation, but invited me to come down and check out kickball. I was left bewildered and utterly intrigued.  I had a feeling there would be something special happening at Dexter Field.

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We arrived and were quickly pointed towards Sean’s direction. He greeted us with cans of Narrangansett Beer (the league’s official sponsor) and broke down the history of Providence Kickball. The kickball league has been in full swing for the past ten years, with games taking place every Saturday during the warmer months of the year. In order to join the league, your team needs to have some sort of schtick. The zombie team was playing in full “walker” attire. For good measure, zombies on the sideline were even spraying members of the opposing team with (fake) blood. I could only imagine what some of the other teams wear and use as props.  Some of the other team names include Jedi Mind Kicks, Bath Salt Heroes, Cereal Killers, and Derek Zoolander Zoo.  

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In between innings, you’ll find kickball players sipping on some local brews, as opposed to Gatorade.  Sean promised me the games would be “a great example of Providence drinking sub-culture” and he was absolutely right. When Sean is not presiding over this colorful sports league, he is busy brewing some really fantastic beer. Revival is two years old and has a steady rotation of five beers, with other releases on deck.  Sean earned his brewing stripes working for Trinity brewpub and Narrangansett Brewing Company, earning 12 awards at the Great International Beer Festival. I was able to try Revival’s delicious Double Black IPA at a local craft beer bar, but more on that later. We said goodbye to Sean and made our way to Pawtucket to catch the tail end of Foolproof Brewing Company’s final tour of the day.

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We had one of the best drivers in the business, but we still missed the final tour at Foolproof. Nevertheless, the tasting room was still open, so we slid right in to catch a few glimpses of the brewery. We met Nick Garrison, president/founder of Foolproof, and briefly chatted with him and his wife. After trying a few samples and snapping photos of the sparkling brewery (it is so brand-spanking new), we said goodbye to the Foolproof crew, including Lucy, the brewery’s guard-dog.

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Next stop… What Cheer Tavern   This is a pretty simple formula:  Great bar food…awesome selection of craft beer, mostly local…laid back, unpretentious vibe. The Mooredola, where I always stay during my summer excursions to Providence, is within walking distance, so we ditched the car and walked down the block. This place is dangerously good. If What Cheer was located down the block from our apartment, I’d probably have my mail sent over there. Kudos to Sean Larkin. The Double Black IPA was pretty darn good. I wish I could have tried more Revival beers.  There’s always next summer.

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Cheers,

 

BierWAX

Southern Tier Brewing Company

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Southern Tier Brewing Company was on my list of breweries to visit since I fell in love with Imperial Pumpking a few autumns ago. Distance is the only thing that prevented me from checking them out. Lakewood is actually closer to Ohio than NYC. During my winter trip to Empire in Syracuse, my close friend Grandmaster Ben Wah proposed we hit up another upstate brewery when I visited next. I mentioned Southern Tier and he was game to take the 3+ hour ride from Binghamton to the Southwestern tip of New York State.

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My adventure began after work on Friday. I jumped on the road somewhat early, hoping to beat rush hour traffic. Apparently, rush hour must start before 2:00 on summer Fridays in NYC. It took me over an hour to get out of the Bronx. Not fun! I summoned my inner monk to just embrace my reality: bumper to bumper, stop-and-go expressway madness. Once the concrete jungle was in my rearview mirror, I was able to reach actual highway speed. I went to school upstate, so this commute was not at all new to me. I ignored my urges to pull out the GPS and used the force instead to guide the way toward Binghamton, my overnight stay. I realized I was lost when I wound up in the mountains – I never remembered such a steep and treacherous route to my alma mater. It was quite scenic, though, and I discovered a Hasidic Jewish community in the wilderness (I kid you not).

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Fast forward to Saturday morning. We wake up early to make the trek to Southern Tier Brewing Co. On the way, we find a live bait vending machine. That was definitely the oddest thing I’ve seen in a while. We also found a town with an interesting name. If we had more time, we were going to stop and ask directions to Havana to see if we could piss off any locals. It probably was better that we didn’t.

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Southern Tier Brewing Company: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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The Good

Southern Tier has some remarkable beer. Many of their key beers are rated above 90 on Beer Advocate, which is a great accomplishment. As a brewery, they have a “World Class” rating with a score of 95. Take a look: Southern TierThe brewery is modern, super slick, and just plain gorgeous.

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Even the business office looks immaculate. It’s probably the result of someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

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I was able to have the first batch of Imperial Pumpking, which was just released that morning. Quite early for a fall seasonal, but I’ll take it! (Check out tap number three!)

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The Bad

I drove all the way from NYC and I wasn’t able to do a tour. The tours were at 1:00, 2:30, and 4:30. We just missed the 1:00 tour by 5 minutes. We thought we were guaranteed to attend the 2:30 tour, only to find out all tours were booked until 4:30. Apparently, you need to get tickets first thing in the morning. I just wanted to chat with someone who was knowledgable of their history and brewing process, at the very least.

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The Ugly

I would have been satisfied to chat with a Southern Tier staff member about anything Southern Tier related; however, that didn’t happen. Most of the staff members I encountered were not approachable or were just plain rude. When I asked if they were filling growlers yet of Imperial Pumking, I was answered with “Uh, that’s not gonna happen!” I also wanted to get a flight to try as many beers as possible and still make it to a BBQ later that evening. The bartender told me that none were available and didn’t know when they would be. Less than ten minutes later, two guys approached the bar and left with two flights. People travel from great distances to experience the brewery. Southern Tier management should ensure employees are equipped to interact with its customers. I didn’t take much away with me besides a few bombers and some nice photos. (Plus a very good time hanging with my great friend Wah.)

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The bottom line for me, though, is the beer. Southern Tier makes some fantastic beer. It was great to visit a top-notch brewery from my very own state, albeit 8 hours away. I cracked open one of the bombers I arrived home with and I made peace with the not so friendly Southern Tier staff as I sipped my delicious Imperial Compass. I’ll do a write up on that very soon.

Cheers,

BierWAX

A Grand Discovery (Beer Table Pantry)

With all of the craft beer spots opening up in NYC, including breweries, bottle shops, and bars, it’s easy to miss some essential fairly recent openings like this amazing little shop in the illustrious Grand Central Station. Beer Table Pantry is the type of business idea you wish you had brainstormed yourself. With a minuscule piece of probably super expensive real estate in a well traversed corridor in the Big Apple transportation Mecca, the owners are sitting on a gold mine. Catering to both tourists and daily commuters, Beer Table Pantry is designed for grab and go. New York State laws allow commuters to drink on the Metro-North, the commuter railway that links NYC with Connecticut, Westchester, and other destinations north. Most Metro-North commuters/beer drinkers were forced to purchase Bud Light, Coors, and the like for their sometimes hour or more commute home.

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Now Beer Table Pantry provides a craft beer option for those post work rides home. What better way to unwind after a day of drudgery than watching the blur of trees zip by as you sip on a bottle of Mikkeller or Evil Twin’s finest offerings. This little spot has quite a selection and utilizes every inch of its space wisely.

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Not wanting to leave empty handed, I purchased a to-go pint jar and filled up with a local IPA I have yet to try. The jars are for immediate consumption on the train.  I mentioned I was heading to Brooklyn, not up north, so they warned me about possible spillage. I didn’t lose too much by the time I got home. Let’s see how my IPA tastes a few hours later.  I might be pushing it a little bit.

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Party Boat IPA (Port Jeff Brewing Company) 

Number 6 to go, please!

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Style: American IPA

Profile: 7.7 ABV, IBU 101

Random News: Port Jefferson Brewing Co. announced Wednesday that Salvatore Barra won the ‘U Name Our IPA’ contest, naming the new brew Party Boat. Barra will receive one growler of the new IPA, which is 7.7 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). The recipe was developed by brewer Jamie Partridge, and the beer will debut shortly. In honor of Long Island Craft Beer Week, the brewery also created Hopstar IPA, which they made just seven barrels of exclusively for Superstar Beverage.

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Brewery Info:  Port Jeff Brewing Company is located at 22 Mill Creek Road, within the Chandler Square walking mall. The brewery features a 7 barrel system which is capable of producing 217 gallons (about 86 cases) per brew. Beers are packaged in keg, 22 ounce and special release bottle formats for distribution throughout Long Island, NYC, and Westchester County bars, restaurants, and other retail beer outlets.

The facility opened for production in October of 2011.  Tours are available on Saturdays.

Cheers,

BierWAX

John Brown Smokehouse

Rare beer can be currency, as proven by my recent beer adventures.  After driving up to the Alchemist Brewery in Vermont and back in one day, my case of Heady Topper proved to be a very valuable commodity.  I had strangers making all types of wild offers for the coveted beer, from trades of the highly sought-after Pliny the Elder to undisclosed amounts of cash money.  A very notable Heady Topper transaction took place in Long Island City, Queens, in a smoked-meat/BBQ spot with a whole lot of character.  John Brown Smokehouse makes it to Bushwyck Craft’s top 3 places to drink craft beer during the month of April.

It really all starts and ends with Josh Bowen, the charismatic and stand-up owner of the John Brown Smokehouse.  I hadn’t heard of either Josh or his wonderful restaurant until he somehow found me on the Interweb (ha).  We brokered a deal: 4 Heady Toppers for a meal and drinks at his establishment.  I’m a sucker for brisket, pastrami and the like, so it wasn’t a hard sell.

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I decided to head to John Brown’s early Thursday evening and took a tour of Long Island City on the way to the restaurant.  Born in Astoria but raised in Flushing, Long Island City was always the outer-rim, a virtual no man’s land of factories and warehouses.  So much has changed in the past 7 years.  It was like discovering a brand new neighborhood.

John Brown Smokehouse is a serious smoked-meat joint thanks to Josh’s passion, expertise, and training. He spent two years manning the pit at Hill Country in Chelsea.  If you have ever had the brisket over there, you will want to venture out to Long Island City to see what he is up to now.  I had the burnt ends, pastrami, and pulled pork – All were amazing.  It was the sides, though, that really did me in.  Their version of corn bread is simply incredible.

Josh is a supreme pitmaster, but he has developed an affinity for craft beer in the past six months.  His selection of beers on draught did not disappoint and he keeps the taps rotating on a regular basis.  I had a great time chatting it up with bartender Pete and sampling every single beer they had on tap.  My two favorites on tap were Kuhnhenn Double Rice IPA and Founders KBS.

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As a former history teacher, I was very curious as to how the restaurant was named after John Brown the abolitionist.  I thought it was just a catchy gimmick, but there is a John Brown lending library at the restaurant and this past Sunday has been hailed “John Brown Day” in NYC.  The Smokehouse was awarded a NYC citation for its work towards preserving the legacy of John Brown.  On Sunday, two professors visited the restaurant to facilitate a talk about John Brown’s legacy.  Josh is genuinely invested in the history of the abolitionist turned freedom fighter and martyr.

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I’ve posted a few photos already of Josh’s excitement over Heady Topper.  After chilling the can for twenty minutes or so, he didn’t waste any time to QUICKLY consume the hoppy masterpiece.  I’ll end this piece with a few photos of Josh shotgunning his can of Heady.  Classic!

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If you are in NYC, definitely pass by the John Brown Smokehouse for a meal and some great beer:

10-43 44th Drive, Long Island City, New York

Cheers,

BierWAX

Torst: Love at First Sight

Tørst – 615 Manhattan Avenue, Greenpoint

Everything I wrote about Torst last year when it first opened is dated and irrelevant now.  In one full year of business, Torst has received plenty of accolades and much has been written about this fantastic place.  If you have not yet visited this craft beer (must visit) destination in NYC, please go now!  Whether or not the G train is working, you need to find a way to get there. Here are photos from my first visit. Cheers! -BierWAX

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NYC Craft Beer Festival “Spring Seasonals” Recap

1.  Maine Beer Company Mean Old Tom (American Stout)

2.  Bear Republic Cafe Racer 15 (Imperial IPA)

3. Otter Creek Russian Imperial Stout 

4.  Sam Adams New World Tripel (Belgian-style Tripel) – I am not usually a huge fan of Sam Adams, so I was shocked.

5.  Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout (Imperial Stout)

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Cheers,

BierWAX

Trading Craft Beer Like Polo Gear

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I’m not sure if this was just a NYC phenomenon, but if you were a teenager or in your early twenties in NYC in the early 1990s you probably knew a few Lo-Lifes or Lo-Heads.  ‘Lo, for the uninitiated, is short for Polo and was what we called Ralph Lauren’s very ostentatious clothing in the early 1990s.  Ralph Lauren’s clothing between 1989 and 1993 was what many (or at least Lo-Heads) consider the golden era of Polo clothing.  All of the pieces, whether hats, button-ups, sweaters, jackets, or coats had their own names. (Snow Beach, Eagle Knit, Cashmere Teddy Bear, the Outdoorsman, Indian Head, Racing Jacket, and P-Tennis, to name a few.)  You still might catch people rocking Polo gear from 1992 walking around the gritty city.   For more info on the NYC crew from Brooklyn called the Lo-Lifes and this very unique subculture, click here.

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There were one or two degrees of separation between me and the actual crew Lo-Lifes.  I considered myself a Lo-Head and started dressing in ‘Lo from head to toe in high school.  Finding the exclusive and rare Polo “pieces” became quite an obsession.  I would often beg my mother to take a day trip to the Ralph Lauren outlet in Reading, Pennsylvania to find some pretty amazing deals and sometimes find highly coveted pieces to wear to school the following day.  My friends and I soon got hip to the game and realized we could trade our Polo gear with other ‘Lo youth throughout the city.  Another Lo-Head was, of course, easy to spot.  If you were wise, you would have your ‘Lo photo album on you at all times.  The photo album served two purposes: to document what ‘Lo pieces you had at one time and to show others what was currently available for trade.  Sometimes a trade left you with a sweater that didn’t actually fit too well.  (There were no full length mirrors on NYC subway platforms or in front of Mickey D’s on Broadway in the Village.) I’ve heard of trades that resulted in guns being pulled out and hundreds or thousands of dollars in clothing being snatched from your hands. This was serious business, indeed!

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Fast forward to 2013… I was very late to this party, but I finally made my first craft beer trade.  Google+ has a terrific Craft Beer community and this trade was the result of online craft beer networking.  I posted a photo of Sixpoint Resin in the “What I’m Drinking” section and a fellow craft beer sipper from Minnesota made a comment about wishing Sixpoint was distributed to his neck of the woods.  That’s how the deal was struck.  I looked up some beers from Minnesota that aren’t distributed to New York and the rest is history.  I will not be making this a new habit because shipping beer across the country is pricey.  I’ll throw up a review of Fulton Beer’s Worthy Adversary once I crack it open.

When your passion for something borders on the extreme, you’ll figure out ways to get more of it.  Whether it’s amassing an obscene number of P-wing hats, shirts, and jackets or stacking crates of vinyl to the ceiling, you might hear a voice in back of your head telling you that there’s still more out there to discover and acquire.  Now in my 30s, I’m hoping to have a healthier relationship with my passion for craft beer.  Thankfully, I have a wonderful wife that keeps this obsessed collector and connoisseur in check.

Cheers,

BierWAX

In Search of Heady Topper (Part II)

The adventure begins with an early morning exodus from our apartment. As soon as our twins awoke from their slumber, we ushered them into the car and made our way to the Bronx. I dropped off my wife and kids and picked up my brother, who was accompanying me on this journey up North. Our wives understand our mutual love of craft beer, but most other people were dumbfounded to learn about our one-day trip from NYC to Vermont to buy beer. We kissed our loved ones and set the GPS for Waterbury, Vermont.

I’ll skip details about the ride up to Vermont and our pitstop at Cracker Barrel to have breakfast. The ride up was fairly routine for a trip to Vermont: smooth roads, very little traffic, beautiful snow-capped mountains, and plenty of moose crossing signs.

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We arrived by 3:00 pm. My brother and I chatted the entire ride up, so seven hours passed by painlessly.  It felt great to finally pull up to the Alchemist Brewery, though, after nearly an entire workday of driving.  We trekked through the muddy parking lot and eagerly made our way into the brewery.  I tried to take a self-guided tour, but quickly changed course and made a bee-line to the tasting room. Our samples were poured into snifters and we both nodded in mutual understanding – We knew we were about to taste something very special.

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I’m not going to even review the beer. Enough is written about it. However, I will say that the hype is well worth it. What I will do is point out three things I learned from visiting the brewery.

1) The elusive Heady Topper – I knew Heady wasn’t distributed to New York. Heck, that’s why we traveled to Vermont in the first place. I was under the impression that the Alchemist Brewery distributes to other states in the nation, just not New York. It turns out that Heady Topper isn’t distributed past state lines because they have a hard enough time keeping up with demand in Vermont. The photo below also explains why.

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“Local First” is a language that I can understand, thanks to my Master’s program at Goddard College, not too far from Waterbury, Vermont. I studied Socially Responsible Business and Sustainable Communities, so the Alchemist’s sustainable practices make perfect sense for a brewery in Vermont. Actually, it just makes sense.  I had a conversation recently with a fellow Goddard alum about how the craft beer industry can take steps towards reducing its carbon footprint. (I’ll return to that idea another time.)

2) The Secret Recipe – I’ve never been able to find the different types of hops the Alchemist uses for Heady Topper. That’s because it is a highly guarded secret. Supposedly, the tasting room staff members don’t even know; at least that’s what they said when we asked. According to founder and brewer John Kimmich, Heady Topper is brewed “with a proprietary blend of six hops – each imparting its own unique flavor and aroma.”

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3) Extreme dedication and focus – The Alchemist used to brew 10-12 different styles of beer at a time. When Tropical Storm Irene hit in 2011, the Brewpub in downton Waterbury was destroyed and the brewery had to switch gears. The brewery and canning line was already up and running two days after the brewpub met its end. The Alchemist decided to focus on making one beer really, really well.

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It was an absolute privilege to see the Alchemist Brewery in person and to bring home an entire case of Heady Topper. I’ll be enjoying Heady for the next few weeks. Props to every single person who contributes to the production of such an incredible beer, a huge shout out to the friendly folks we met in Waterbury, and peace to my brother for joining me on this adventure.

See below for a few more photos from our trip.

Cheers,

BierWAX

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The Brewer’s Daughter

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Posted on March 4, 2013

I was super excited to meet up with my crew after work on Friday.  Since we were all descending on Manhattan from different directions and we didn’t have a concrete agenda, I recommended Tops Hops Beer Shop to grab a few beers before deciding where we should go for the night. I was looking forward to hanging out at a bonafide beer shop with this group of friends for the first time.  We were like kiddies in a candy shop; we definitely tried a wide array of craft beers. (Too many to remember or list here.)

Truth be told, craft beer bars/shops and craft beer events are usually what some people dub “sausage fests.” (I’m not talking about Bratwurst or Kielbasa).  There was a lone woman at the beer shop, so my crew struck up conversation.  We soon realized that she knew a lot about craft beer.  She divulged that her father was partial owner or perhaps the brewmaster of a craft brewery in Canada.   She asked if I ever heard of Muskoka Brewery and I sheepishly replied no. The brewer’s daughter was returning home to help at the brewery after spending time working at a New York City beer distributor that specializes in craft beer.

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After sharing several beers with our new Canadian acquaintance, she asked if we would like to try some beers from Muskoka.  She mentioned that it is rarely distributed to the U.S., so we were definitely game.   She went back to her nearby apartment to grab a few bottles and quickly returned.  (I have nothing but good things to say about Canadians.)  We tried Muskoka’s Twice as Mad Tom IPA, an Imperial IPA that was amazingly good.  She gifted us the following beer, which I will review with much more clarity below.

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Muskoka Winter Beard Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout

I was so excited to finally try this beer after my vague recollection of how much I enjoyed their Imperial IPA.  I cracked it open with my wife and poured it into an oversized, wide mouth wine glass.  The aroma was clearly roasted malts and chocolate.  During my first few sips, I tasted very rich chocolate, roasted malts, and a slight hint of coffee.  After a few sips, the finish left me with cranberries swirling around my palate.  After each sip, the cranberry flavor was quite pronounced and was a welcome balance to the rich chocolate profile.  At 8% ABV, this is a beer that you savor and enjoy at a slower pace.  I loved it and wish I could get my hands on another bottle before winter officially closes shop.

A special thank you to KM for her generosity and charm.  For more information on Muskoka Brewery, please visit their website: http://www.muskokabrewery.com/

Cheers,

BierWAX