A Beer Pilgrimage: Asheville, NC

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Three shelves of beer — a challenge!

My fridge has never had so much beer in it. I know, I know! It hardly seems possible, especially given that on an average day at least one entire shelf is devoted to beer and the rest of the space is a bachelor-scape of condiments. But having just come home from one of the US’s beer Meccas, Asheville, NC, I have some understandably well-stocked shelves and hardly a square inch for my Dijon.

One flat tire, one broken boot, and a sad, lonely hotel out of the way, I arrived in Asheville just in time to get to Wicked Weed’s Funkatorium. Wicked Weed Brewing is a vacation destination on its own right, or at least for those of us who unashamedly admit to traveling somewhere specifically to get a little fucked up. The Funkatorium is a taproom dedicated solely to sour and barrel-aged beers.

The Funkatorium's back room

The Funkatorium’s back room

I opted for their set flight of two saisons and two sours. And then my biggest regret since not getting a second bloody mary at Casa in Athens that morning: I drank the sours first. I blame it on road weariness. The saisons didn’t taste like much of anything. I’m sure they were lovely, but being a bit of a Sour Puss myself, I was content with the fantastic tastes of Oblivion and Genesis — both just sour enough to playfully pinch your cheeks from the inside, yet robust enough to let you enjoy a full glass. My notes tell me that Oblivion tastes like the shape of Saturn, so there you have it. Continue reading

All New Spicy Picks from the Chile Pepper Festival!

chile fest picksWell, here’s something new: a woman came up to me at the BBG Chile Pepper Festival on Saturday with a huge grin on her face and said, “I know exactly what you’re doing! I tried the same thing last year!” Apparently detecting my confusion, she clarified, “You know! Eating lots of spicy food so you’ll go into labor,” and then nodded at a grinning little boy who was, presumably, about one year old. Egad! This had not occurred to me in the slightest. Luckily, the fetal Leahey took the spice like a champ, remaining firmly in utero, and Jason and I found a bounty of delights to purchase and recommend. It says something about the depth of the product offerings that while we still enjoyed lots of our top picks from last year, we found a whole new collection of peppery offerings to love this time around. Here are the six that we deemed too good to pass up:

The Bronx Greenmarket Hot Sauce, Small Axe Peppers—The label of this one begins, “Only three locations begin with “the”–The Hague, The Vatican and The Bronx.” While that can’t be strictly true, I love the borough pride that these guys have. With the help of some Bronx non-profit organizations, they buy their serrano peppers from local community gardens, a way of sharing the profits and the love with their neighbors. But it’s not just a feel-good tale; it tastes great, too, with a slightly vinegary bite and lots of layered flavor. If you’re local, you can find it at Whole Foods and lots of other grocery stores, but if not, you can order online.

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Yes, this weird thing is where your chocolate comes from

Spiced Hot Chocolate Bar, Jomart Chocolates—I’m not going to lie; spicy chocolate is a hard sell for me. Putting chili into something sweet often feels heavy-handed and intrusive. But Jomart, a 70-year-old Brooklyn chocolate manufacturer, makes a chocolate that is so rich and smooth that the spice just elevates it with a nice little kick. Also, when Jason was sputtering from overzealous hot sauce intake, one of the proprietors gave him some non-spicy chocolate to soothe the burn, and he reported it was equally delicious. Continue reading

Dumpling Mama and Girl Power

glorious dumplingsSure, sure, everybody knows that there’s a female nominee for president. But did you know that another major stride in gender equality was made on Saturday afternoon at the NYC Dumpling Eating Contest?

Here’s how it went down: Jason and I, along with thousands of other dumpling enthusiasts, crammed ourselves into Sara D. Roosevelt Park and watched in astonishment as Molly Schuyler, a competitive eater whose other accomplishments include eating 33 corndogs in eight minutes and 440 chicken wings in 26 minutes, crushed not only every other competitor in the park but also her own previous dumpling world record, eating an incredible 115 dumplings in two minutes. Nearby, an anthropomorphized dumpling named Dumpling Mama (the mascot of the sponsoring company, Chef One) jumped up and down in excitement and clapped her little dumpling hands.

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Dumpling Mama presides.

What I found truly shocking about the feat was not the fact that Molly easily outpaced men who were two to three times her size (many competitive eaters are really quite svelte), but that she looked perfectly comfortable after the competition, mugging for the camera and calmly chewing, yes, another dumpling. Her punk rock hairdo was barely mussed. There was none of the puking into a bucket that I witnessed among the top contenders at the Coney Island hot dog eating contest a few years ago.

In other words, she’s pretty much my new hero. Continue reading

What I Talk About When I Talk About Beer

Me being misinformed

Me being misinformed

In a recent editorial, or “Beer Smack,” as they’d have it, the Alström brothers of Beer Advocate urge beer-lovers to become knowledgeable about beer and the brewing process. After all, they say, “the internet is littered with misinformed beer geeks.” And I said, Hey, that’s me they’re talking about!

Because, let’s face it, I know plenty of people in my immediate friend group who know more about beer than I do. I can’t keep straight all the hop varieties that begin with “C,” I never measure the gravity when I brew, and I thought “Grisette” was the name of a new Muppet.

Some people think that’s all there is to beer. But to me real beer is nothing less than spiritual.

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The Big Hunt, home of the Chaz

Several cities ago, I found myself sitting at a bar on Dupont Circle, my idealism newly squashed under the weight of corporation-sized nonprofits. I was with my new roommate, a stranger who said “know what I mean?” too much. The bar was called The Big Hunt, and, at least in my memory, part of the seating area looked as though it was in the belly of a whale, ribs and muscle arching across the ceiling. Continue reading

The Rules of Vacationing: 1) Drink Beer

Beer and cheese. You can't see the condiments.

Just beer and cheese here. You can’t see the condiments.

Lots of Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ and Great Lakes Chillwave, two rye IPAs — Rhinegeist’s Streaker and Cane and Ebel from Two Brothers — Fat Head’s Head Hunter Imperial IPA, Sixpoint’s Bengali, Troegs’ Hop Knife, and a double stout from Green Flash. This line-up — essentially an all-star team of my favorite beers this summer — was what filled my fridge on my week-long vacation last month.

The vacation was in Canada, but I brought the beer from The States, which brings us to the second rule of vacationing: 2) Be prepared. In my personal experience, the beer in the part of Canada we visit is crap, so I always bring my own.  Canadian customs allows exactly one case of 12 ounce beers for each person in a vehicle crossing the border. With Kate coming with me that came out to be 48 beers in our car and about three and a half beers per person each day on this week-long trip. That’s cutting it pretty close, frankly, for a vacation, so we made a number of excursions to The Sandbar around the corner to drink generous glasses of Dan Aykroyd Cabernets. (That man’s so damn talented.)

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Kate and Coffee

My friend Kate and I breezed through customs, as two young white women of extraordinary beauty are wont to do, and made it to our cabin in time for beer and a sunset on the beach. The next morning we took our coffee with our towels and sun hats to the lake. By noon it was beer time. Rule 3) Keep it classy. We found two plastic champagne flutes in the cabinet, forgotten by long-ago celebratory campers, and shared an imperial stout. Continue reading

Peppered Peach and Manchego Sandwiches

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Peaches, peaches, peaches. How I love thee.

Looking for some way to maximize peaches in our lives, I hit upon the following. It is quick, makes very little in the way of mess or dishes, doesn’t heat up your apartment with the oven, and is a delicious change of pace.

Peppered Peach and Manchego Sandwiches

  • 1 large peach
  • Manchego cheese
  • slices of thick sandwich bread
  • arugula
  • butter
  • fresh ground black pepper

Cut the peach from its pit in thick slices.  1/2 slices are best.  Over low heat in a lightly-greased pan, saute them with slivers of butter and lots of black pepper on top of each.  Meanwhile, toast the sandwich bread and layer one side of each sandwich with thin slices of the Manchego.  When the peaches are starting to look a bit gooey or caramelized, layer them on top of the Manchego.  The heat will soften the cheese.  Cover the peaches with arugula, pour whatever peachy butter runoff remains in the pan on the top halves of the sandwich bread, then slice in half and serve.

Fruity Beers: This Ain’t No Love Poem

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Fruity Beers over Mansfield, Ohio

I firmly believe that it’s important to challenge your own likes and dislikes, because, once you’ve stuck by them for a while, they become an actual part of you, and not a quirk of your personality. For example, I have allowed my love of beer to define me. Beer has become my “Thing.” I’ve tried to figure out how that happened, but it doesn’t really matter: I am The Girl Who Likes Beer, A Lot.

I am especially vigilant in challenging this Like. I challenge it pretty much every night. But these challenges have split my definition into further subset labels like “Hop Head” and “Sour Puss” (which isn’t actually a label, but it should be), and “Despiser of Fruity Beers.” It’s this last label I decided to challenge recently, employing the help of three poets, which as you might remember, is the only way to have tasting.

I picked up a mixed sixer of beers that were somehow fruit-related several weeks ago. Then, about 10 minutes before we were scheduled to start, I began frantically researching them. From there I created a lineup of beers that I hoped ranged from tamest to most taste bud-withering. Continue reading

Adventures on the Poutine Trail

Patati Patata

The patati patata, topped with a single kalamata olive. Très chouette.

I once read an argument that pad thai is as close as one can get to a perfect food. This had to do, as I recall, with complicated reasons of nutrition and global food supply and economics. I think, though, if we were thinking only of taste, the perfect food would involve not rice noodles and peanuts, but French fries, cheese curds and gravy.

Longtime readers of the blog might remember my love affair with the poutine I found on a trip to Vancouver a few years ago, but we recently upped the ante with a trip to Quebec province, the very epicenter of poutine culture. When we crossed the border into Canada and the guard asked us what our plans were in Montreal, we told him the truth, which basically amounted to “going to the Biodome and eating poutine.”

“You know, you can get that at McDonald’s,” he said, deadpan. Droll border guard! We had no intention of settling for the fast food version. We were on a mission to find high-class, vegetarian-friendly poutine. Oh, and find it we did. Continue reading

Pokemon GOse & Other Pop Culture Curiosities

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The Phoenix Brewing Co, home away from home

When, in a small town such as mine, there are people outside in the city square at three in the morning, smiling maniacally and following their smartphones around like divining rods, you become curious. Are they on drugs? Is it a cult? Have the proper authorities been notified? But more importantly: what am I missing out on?

I hate know-it-alls as much as the next person, but mostly because I am always the smartest person in the room. I was sort of disgusted that this cultural phenomena snuck up on me. Similarly, one day I was blissfully naive and innocent of the gose style of beer, and the next, it was a nationwide sensation.

In the last few months, the style has popped up in breweries all over the country in that same inexplicable way that everyone knows, suddenly, to roll their jeans up above the ankle. One day I realized the gose style was everywhere and I didn’t even know how to pronounce it. Gauze? Goose? Nope: GO-zuh. It is a German style wheat beer, originating in the Leipzig area. They are traditionally tart and refreshing, so I think we may be related. Continue reading

Open-Faced Squash and Goat Cheese Sammies

squash sandwichThere’s a perception that vegetarians are required to worship all vegetables equally. Unfortunately, embracing a meat-free diet does not mean that there are not certain members of the plant kingdom that you’d rather skip. For me, it’s raw bell peppers. For Jason, it’s summer squash, so this is a particularly tough time of year for him to stare down our farm share. As we were cooking on Saturday night, he gave me a sidelong glance over the cutting board and said, “Maybe we only need one squash for these sandwiches.”

“Two,” I said. “Trust me, squash hater. I’m going to do right by you.”

Doing right is much easier armed with some caramelized onions and a few medallions of delicious Quebecois goat cheese brought back from a weekend in Montreal. (Fear not, readers; a poutine post is coming.) Top them with some mint to balance out the richness, and you’re treading in the footsteps of angels.

A half hour later, Jason uttered the words, “This is fantastic,” and he wasn’t talking about the DVD copy of Airplane!  we were watching. Surely, there’s hope for even the most difficult-to-love veggies.

Open-Faced Squash and Goat Cheese Sandwiches Continue reading