At the end of last year, I spent a good amount of time working on videos for the Saffire Grill Company. Covering everything from lighting to smoking to searing, these short clips are being used to educate potential Saffire owners on the grill's operation and versatility. I'm excited to see them finally online. You can check out the videos on the Saffire video page. In the meantime, here is my favorite: Smoking.
Sunday, March 25, 2012
Friday, March 23, 2012
By far the biggest unintended consequence of starting this blog was the portal it created to new friendships. As the years have gone by, I've met some great people I might otherwise have never crossed paths with. For this, I am incredibly thankful. Although explaining my "Internet friends" to some of my local friends is often first greeted with a skeptical eye of "What the hell is Mike up to?", concerns are quickly vanished, as the adventures made possible thanks to the bridge of the Internet are truly extraordinary experiences. Our last full day in Boston is a great example.
A few years ago, my friend Todd of BostonSake.com, reached out to me. Like me, Todd has a love of technology, food, beer and something else I've always wanted to know more about, Sake. His Beer-Sake hybrid, is not to be missed. As a chance to meet, Todd first encouraged me to attend NERAX, the New England Real Ale eXhibition, but my schedule never meshed. So, low and behold, as we started talking about a weekend trip, Boston rose right to the top of the list. Not only would I finally be able to meet Todd over dinner, he invited all of us to spend some time touring the facility of his daytime job, the Samuel Adams Boston Brewery.
First up, an apology. On Friday night, we met Todd, and his wife Amy, for dinner at the Cambridge Brewing Company. None of my photos turned out, which killed me. It's too bad, as it was great for all of us to spend the evening with Todd and Amy. Cambridge's beer, which is brewed on premises, was fabulous. The food was also stellar. Between the charcuterie plate and the lamb shank, I was quite the happy boy. This is just the sort of place I wish we had access to in Dayton; fresh local food, fresh local beer and a packed house. It's a great combination.
After a great end to Friday, fast forward to Saturday morning where we took the subway to head towards the Boston Brewery. Arriving just a little bit before noon, we left the subway station and noticed a fairly large group of people walking all in the same direction. I believe it was Zoë who asked if they were all headed toward the brewery. After a few minutes of walking, it was apparent they were. Never in my wildest dreams did I realize just how popular the brewery tour was.
Walking with Beer
The line was out the door, but since Todd referred to us as "his people", we had a feeling we were in line for something a little bit more special than the average tour. We were right.
Todd figured on a busy Saturday, roughly a thousand people take the brewery tour. I'm not surprised. The waiting area, museum and gift shop were packed. This was a popular destination.
Our first mission from Todd was beer. He was thirsty from setting up and so were we. As we clutched our glasses of Whitewater IPA and Alpine Spring the departing tour groups walking past us, some looked on us with beverage envy. Their tour was ending and ours was just beginning with a pint. Good times.
Over the first hour, Todd walked us through the official parts of the tour. In the "ingredients room", Todd gave what I thought was one of the better discussions on hops and grain. It certainly was much better than anything I've tried to string together.
As we walked, we played a balancing act of staying out of the way of the tour groups.
We would sneak out to the middle of the brewery and then, when a tour came, sneak back out of the way. It was a lot of fun.
This is the original Boston Brewery, which before being purchased by Jim Koch, was owned by the Haffenreffer Brewery. Today, the Boston Brewery is home to their R&D and smaller batch work. Almost all of the bottled Samuel Adams Beer is brewed at their Cincinnati and Pennsylvania breweries.
Although I've only toured a handful of commercial breweries, I'm always amazed at the scale. Making beer, for the most part, is making beer….everything is just bigger, cooler and a lot more shiny!
The brewery is also set up to do small five gallon batches with what I thought was some pretty sweet equipment.
I would love to put one of these conical fermentors on my birthday list.
After Todd gave us a great look at the brewery, we started to take a look at some highlights not on the normal guided tour.
Our first stop, and by far my favorite, was the Barrel Room.
Inside the Barrel Room are three large wooden casks, or tuns. Assembled on site by hand, these tuns hold a type of beer used for the base in the Samuel Adams Barrel Room Collection.
When Todd gave us a taste, I immediately remembered it from when I had tried the American Krieg. It was definitely there.
To give an idea of scale, the tun holds 134 barrels. A barrel is about 30 gallons. A half barrel, aka the typical keg, is about 15 gallons and when we brew at home, we use 1/6 barrels, which is 5 gallons. So, one tun is just over 4000 gallons of beer. With our current capacity, the Backyard Brewers would be brewing forever to fill one of these things up.
Besides the tuns, the barrel room also hold other casks, most notably for Utopias.
Utopias is a special limited release beer, most noted for his it's high 27%-ish ABV and price, over $140 a bottle.
I think Gary joked about tasting it, but Todd was dead serious and poured tasters all around.
Wow, what a treat. Utopias really reminds me of a port. It was incredibly sweet and very, very good.
Although I'm not one to run out and drop over one hundred bucks on a bottle of beer, I may have to rethink this. Seeing as the longer Utopias ages, the better it gets, I may be able to justify this purchase as a special annual holiday treat. Part of me is regretting getting a taste, as now I really want to buy some!
After trying a few other beers in the Barrel Room, we headed next door to a larger room, that happens to be a large refrigerator.
It was here we walked past rows of kegs and shelves of hops. The grey containers at the bottom of the picture above are holding hop pellets, nothing unlike what we would typically use at a Brew Day.
This room also contained some local beer experiments pulled off by one of the brewers.
Todd gave us each a taste of a ginger porter which was going to be put on in the tour center later that day, it was better than great…and that's not just the Utopias talking. I really hope it ventures its way into a Single Batch or something bigger.
Walking through the next room we discover the beer library. Starting with Jim Koch and extending through all employees of Boston Beer is one word: quality. To this day, Jim still tastes every batch of beer that heads out for distribution. As part of the record keeping and quality control process, they organize samples of every beer shipped in the last year. We continued on through to the tasting room and the lab, where all of the beers are examined and analyzed.
For all of the times I forget to take a gravity reading, half of the stuff in the lab would make any brewer's life better, or in the case of my hack brewing skills, perhaps a little humbling!
Speaking of scale again, the grain mill used by the brewery is really just a larger version of the mill we us, albeit ours doesn't have a digital scale and fork lift access.
We continued along to the outdoor beer garden and then back into the brewery to wrap things up.
It was late in the afternoon and the last tour groups were just wrapping up. We spoke to, and overheard, a number of the tour guides. They all were very good and all appeared to have a great passion about the brewery. That sort of spirit is contagious.
In fact, it was readily apparent to all of us that Boston Brewery really promotes a family atmosphere amongst its employees. By "promotes", I don't mean by direction, I mean it occurs organically. I think it just happens, like getting beer from yeast and wort. Starting with Todd, there was not one person we ran into that didn't have that twinkle in their eye and the understanding that they were a part of something much larger than themselves. Their spirit was infectious.
Boston Beer was built on Jim Koch's idea that great beer should be held to a high standard with fresh ingredients and no adjuncts. Starting in his kitchen in 1984, Jim's work throughout the years helped usher in the craft beer movement and with all of that, it's hard to believe they have just 1% of the overall beer market.
Boston is an incredible city and our trip was fantastic. By far, our time with Todd at Boston Beer was the capstone of the weekend. Todd is a great guy who showed us an amazing time. From one "Internet Friend" to another, I send my heartfelt thanks! I think we will need to get together again very, very soon.
Monday, March 19, 2012
The first thing that struck me about Verloren was the mouthfeel. I love a full mouthfeel in a beer and Verloren delivers. My first taste hit me with sweet malt and orange, which was quickly followed by hop bitterness and pepper. As the beer warmed, I started to taste apricots too. Lovely.
As of late, I have really gravitated towards beer in 22 ounce bottles. Variety is the spice of life, especially when it comes to beer. I would rather try one really big bottle, than wade through a six pack. In the end, I liked Verloren a lot and the fact I can enjoy a rare and limited release beer in a big bottle, makes it just little bit better.
Beer is a beautiful living thing and sometimes a still photograph isn't enough to relay its beauty. Sometimes you need moving pictures, too. I'd call this new series Beer Porn, but frankly I'd hesitate to see my Google search traffic. Instead, I'll just call it, Moving Beer.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
It should come as no surprise I'm led around by my stomach. It should also come as no surprise I require meat at breakfast. When I'm on vacation, these two traits tend to get turned up a notch or two, which is what led us to the South Street Diner.
Armed with Yelp and Google Maps, we guided our way from the hotel and into the cozy confines of this 1947 diner.
We must have timed things just right, for as we slid into our booth, the only other customer, who was finishing his eggs and Boddingtons beer, was directly behind us. No sooner than I could admire his morning eating habits, a group of 10 walked in followed by a handful more.
Although things certainly got busy, the solo waitress was able to easily handle the pace of her suddenly packed diner. Our breakfast arrived hot and fast. Everyone's meal hit the spot and my corned beef hash and eggs were simply awesome.
We opted fairly early on to take a tour bus to maximize the amount of time and space we could cover in the city. Although I was pegged by no one else than my friend Eric, as taking the "old man" route, I was not deterred. In fact, seeing the only place we got off was one of the biggest tourist traps in Boston, I was still fairly comfortable on our heated narrated bus trip, but also felt pretty proud about putting the "T" in tourist. Oh, what tourist trap you ask? Why the only place I imagine that has an Employee Assistance Program for bartenders who can no longer take jokes about not knowing your name: Cheers.
All touristy talk aside, it was kind of neat walking down the steps to the old Bull & Finch Pub, now known as Cheers Beacon Hill. For the TV show, Cheers, The Bull & Finch was filmed as the exterior of the fictional Cheers bar. Although the actual pub, down below, doesn't even remotely resemble the Cheers bar, you can visit the "TV show set bar" that is upstairs next to the obligatory gift shop. Where, it happens to be, I also bought said obligatory souvenir, which I shall unveil at a future date.
According to our tour guide, the owner of the Bull & Finch refused any royalties for sometime, but once the network decided to start merchandising the show the royalties started to flow and the bar cashed in.
The bar was actually pretty sweet with its cramped quarters and low ceilings. The bartender and staff were great. So great that when Zoë, who was a little cold, asked for whip cream for a hot chocolate, the bartender gave her the entire can.
Reruns being what they are, we sort of wondered about the longevity of Cheers as a tourist destination. It's hard to believe, but Cheers has been off the air since 1993. There will probably come a time, where the novel attraction of what Cheers is will be last on many…unless of course, it comes to Nick at Night. Thanks to Nick at Night in college, I'm one of the few people who probably still long for the days of Donna Reed, Dick Van Dyke and the tales of Patty Duke and her identical cousin.
After enjoying our time at Cheers, we jumped back on the bus for more exploring before eventually ditching the bus and walking back towards our hotel.
Since our eating/drinking schedule was totally skewed, we stopped for a little bite of chowder, which, coincidentally, reads nothing like how it is pronounced in Boston. However, I can say, all of the chowder I had…and I had a lot, was excellent. Exhibit C:
In the fifteen minutes between meals and beer, Gary had a craving for German, so we plotted our return trip past Jacob Wirth. Jacob Wirth, aka Jake's, has been a Boston landmark since 1868.
Just by pulling open the front door, I found my senses flooded with history. The restaurant is very wide and incredibly deep. A long mahogany bar framed one side of the room with a large dining room on the other.
Once inside, it still felt as if though we were at the turn of the century…and by turn of the century, I'm talking 1901.
For beers, we went all European and for food, German.
The potato pancakes with apples and creme fraiche were simply steller.
My knockwurst/bratwurst combo? Even better. I loved the presentation, devoured the cabbage and about licked my plate.
We packed a lot in over the course of the day and I've still not touched dinner. I'll leave that, and the magic that was Boston Beer, for Day 3.
Thursday, March 08, 2012
Good Timing[good tahy-ming]: The irony of spending the weekend in Boston and coming home to find beer from the Boston Beer Company on the front porch.
I realize I'm not even into Part Deux of our Boston weekend, but this couldn't wait. Unbeknownst to me, the Samuel Adams Single Batch series has continued. I'm pretty stoked.
In a nice note from Jennifer Glanville, the manager of the Samuel Adams Boston Brewery, Jennifer talks of the excitement of experimentation and the fruits of the Sam Adams Brewer's imagination: the Single Batch Series. I couldn't agree more. Perhaps my view is slightly amplified after having just spent some time at the brewery, but in reality, I think it is right on par. Perhaps more, it might have been the opportunity to taste some of that "experimentation" and let me tell you, wow. I wish my homebrew was one quarter as good.
Even though Samuel Adams has about 1% of the overall beer market, they take it upon themselves to entertain an even smaller percentage who aren't afraid to cozy up to a 22 oz bottle of something rarely seen and seldom tasted. For this, I salute them.
Enter: Norse Legend. Norse Legend is a sahti style and according to Jennifer, was brewed predominately by women. In order to duplicate this, it's looking like the Backyard Brewing Society needs to start kissing up to our wives.
For a more in-depth look of the sahti style, something I knew little about, I suggest taking a look at this article by the late and great beer hunter, Michael Jackson. Sahti traditionally included the use of juniper berries. Back "in the day", this meant putting open casks under juniper bushes. Every batch was different to a degree of chance.
Crafting Norse Legend involved cycles of experimentation and ended up being a nine year pursuit of Jennifer's, which finally found it's place in the Single Batch Series Collection. Her passion is contagious and so is the beer.
In the nose, I immediately detected a sour note. I'm guessing the berries. From there, my first taste immediately filled me with tastes of more berries, pine and earthiness. The mouthfeel was delightfully full. I love that. Towards the end, I felt that the berries really held on to my tongue. They lingered. Things changed though. Over the next half hour as the beer warmed, I found the berries taking a little bit more of a back seat and the sweet malt moving forward. Wow, a great beer.
So, what would I pair Norse Legend with? Easy, parsley and garlic stuffed rotisserie chicken.
Great beer requires a great dinner.
My thanks to Jennifer for sharing her thoughts. As she gives her perspective from the inside out, I look forward to sharing my perspective from the outside in. Boston Beer is a pretty amazing place and true to form carries out some amazing experimentations, again.
Note: Norse Legend was provided to me by Boston Beer. The opinion that I liked it a lot, was provided by me, as was the chicken, grill. bottle opener and deck.
Wednesday, March 07, 2012
Three days sound like a long time to spend somewhere, but it really isn't. Even with the goal of packing in as much human adventure as possible, there is bound to be something missed. Which, in retrospect, I'm fine with. It gives me another reason to go back to an amazing place.
Last weekend we set off to Boston with our good friends, Gary & Terri. Coincidently enough, we hatched the trip while sitting at our local, Boston's (named after the family, not the city). None of us had been to Boston before and all of us craved a little weekend adventure. It was an easy itinerary to make.
When it comes to fluid intakes, I mostly drink three things: water, coffee & beer. As I get older and find it hard to stay awake past 9 PM (just kidding 9:30, I'm that big of a tool), I dramatically up the coffee intake. It was the first thing I grabbed after landing.
Boston was described by several people, including our gregarious taxi cab driver, as a "small big city". I really couldn't agree more. After checking into our hotel, we hit up Yelp and then double-checked with the concierge on a spot for dinner. What seemed like a pretty good distance on my phone, was literally a few steps around the block. It was those few steps that brought us to Stoddard's Fine Food & Ale.
For a Thursday night at 10 PM, they were pretty busy. Stoddard's has been around since the late 19th century. Like so many buildings of this time, the inside was long, narrow and full of history.
Thankfully, the bar was easy to find. Not only was their beer selection great, they had 5 beers on cask.
I considered the presence of firkins and beer engines a positive omen for the weekend. For dinner, I had a beef tenderloin served over pureed potatoes with sweet onions and creamed spinach. I about licked my plate.
The plate licking was in part because the meal was incredible and also in part as I had not eaten in about 7 hours. My stomach was working on chewing its way out of my body. My tapeworm can be quite surly when not fed on a regular schedule.
I believe it was somewhere over dinner I realized I had brought my English wife to the birthplace of the American Revolution. Whoops. Although she naturalized many years ago, I reminded her that Paul Revere was not some kind of English traitor. She promised to behave.
Stoddard's is a great example of a gastropub. Just because dinner is at a pub or bar, doesn't mean the food has to be wings and burgers. Conversely, having dinner at a fabulous restaurant shouldn't mean the wine list is longer than the beer list. Great food and great beer are meant to go together. I wish more "higher end" non-chain restaurants in my neck of the woods would see this light.
After gorging ourselves and satisfying my tapeworm, we made our way back to the hotel. I was already pondering about breakfast. No surprise there.
Sunday, March 04, 2012
As I sit down to type this, I realize I'm quite tired. Actually, I'm really tired. Late this afternoon we returned home from a whirlwind weekend in Boston. Traveling with friends, we spent just under 4 days soaking up everything we could. Although we maxed out our time, we still left a lot on the table. Most assuredly, another visit will be required to finish out the experience. In the end, we had a great time and I've found a new big "little" city I really love.
Over the next week, I will post the highlights.
Rest assured, we had plenty of food.
Plenty of beer.
And a little behind the scenes time with our friend, Samuel Adams.