A Convoy of Flavor Wheels

A couple of winters ago I made made my own maple syrup in Vermont. It started out more as a reminiscence of when my Dad would do it, tediously cooking down the sap over the two burners of a Coleman stove. Or maybe it was to relive the childhood smell memories of wood smoke and tree sugar forged in local sugarhouses. It is almost sugaring time again and that reminded me of something peculiar that happened when making that syrup last time.

It didn’t taste like maple syrup. It tasted wonderful, but nothing like what a New Englander would call essentially maple. Then I remembered the maple syrup flavor wheel I saw on the wall at Bascom’s, the place I’d bought the used sap buckets, lids, spouts, a razor sharp drill bit, and a hydrometer.

I saw that wheel from a distance and thought to myself, “C’mon, how many flavors can maple syrup really have?” I looked closely at it. There was mention of clove, smoke, molasses, forest humus, dried herbs, plastic, you name it. It wasn’t until I had that sap boiling – this was sap that only ran for two days before cold weather stopped the flow for anther few weeks – that I became aware of a corn-syrupy aroma. It was definitely corn. Then I discerned lightly toasted marshmallows, vanilla, and cocoa powder. Everything was clean. I hadn’t made candy or cake in any pots. It was the syrup made from the earliest runnings of sap from my trees that grew in a certain place on shallow soil atop slate ledges made of fossilized Lake Hitchcock clays, those clays made of the fine, fluvial residues of glacial till. I was befuddled – there was no trace of maple.

So here’s that flavor wheel, courtesy of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

The way my mind works, or doesn’t on a given day, naturally leads me to think about other flavor wheels. Sadly, the first thing to pop up was “whatever happened to Flavor Flav?” The rapper with big clock around his neck.

I don’t know if he likes maple syrup. Hard to believe, but true, I’ve met people who don’t like the taste of real maple syrup having been brought up on the artificial kind. Flavor Flav has all that gold dentistry. It’s called a grill in case you missed that one on TV.

 

Grillin' 'n chillin' with Flavor Flav. Take that Bobby Flay. (Source: http://www.themoderndaypirates.com)

Slightly more seriously, I began to think about all of the other flavor wheels out there. One I use regularly is Dr. Morton Meilgaard’s beer flavor wheel, though I admit that it isn’t as robust as I wish it were. It doesn’t list “deteriorating vinyl from the dashboard of an ’87 Buick driven by a four-pack-a-day smoker of menthols” or “burnt hair caught fire in the bunsen burner when she leaned too close to her lab partner.” But I’d say it is normally adequate.

There are flavor wheels for wine, cheese, tea, cannabis… all sorts of things. In fact, I’m inspired to start collecting as many flavor wheels as I can.

Here’s a good one for coffee, from gourmet-coffee.com.

And another fun one for chocolate from Chocolopolis. It is a little hard to read on the light background, however.

And the last one for today, also hard to read on a light background, is the Cognac Aroma Wheel from Cognac.com. It is arranged by season of the year. Ahhh. Cheers! TPJ

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Cheese and Beer ~ Far and Near

It has taken long hours in planning, scheming, and tasting, and now we’re just two weeks away from an awesome event: Cheese and Beer ~ Far and Near.

From the Press Release:

The Derailleur Tap Room at the Bricktop pairs their exclusive craft beer selection with handpicked cheeses from around the world. Cheese and Beer – Far and Near is a guided tasting designed to astound Nebraskans with exciting flavor combinations.

Five substantial portions of cheese with snifters of fine beer will be provided. The fascinating origins of traditional cow, goat, and sheep milk products will be described for cheeses from Nebraska, Massachusetts, England and France. Special ales and lagers from sought-after breweries in the US, Belgium, and Norway will be expertly matched to the cheeses and interesting facts of each beer’s production, ingredients, aromas, and flavors will be given.

The cost is $45.00 per person for the event, expected to cost upwards of $65-70 in larger cities. Tickets go on sale at the Derailleur Tap Room at the Bricktop at 4 pm on Friday, February 18th. Tickets are limited to the first 50 persons and are expected to sell out quickly.

For the past several weeks, Craft Beer Manager Jason McLaughlin, organic cheese maker Krista Dittman, and I have been tasting various cheeses against special beer selections. We’ve been looking not only for solid pairings, but pairings with synergies that release hidden flavors and liberate nuances. If you’ve ever added a few drops of spring water to a single malt whisky, or combined vanilla with lobster, you know what we’re talking about.

As a preview, I thought I’d list the courses in general terms. Maybe as we get closer I’ll provide more specifics, but that might take some prodding!

  • French abbey cheese, pasteurized cow’s milk, lightly washed rind, served with an abbey quadrupel from Belgium.
  • Artisanal chèvre log, blue mold exterior, paired with a Belgian witbier.
  • Rustic Spanish cheese, raw ewe’s milk, quite surprising with a Belgo-IPA and side condiment.
  • ‘Swissy’ farmstead cheese, raw cow’s milk, with a malty, nutty doppelbock.
  • English farmstead cheddar, raw cow’s milk, dances with a resinous American double IPA.

Jason and I will MC the event. He will describe the beer we’ve chosen, after which I’ll outline the cheese and guide the pairing of the two. We also have two special guests: Marty Wells from The Saucy Cook and Krista from Branched Oak Farm.

This is a high energy event that will last about an hour and a half. Come with an appetite and be prepared to be wowed. There will be cheese drama. Yes, that’s what I said cheese drama!

Cheers! TPJ

Chocolate, Cheese & Beer – Recap

It has been too much lately, reading the exploits of my friends who only seem to frolic, never work. My old buddy Rodrigo reportedly has some sort of high-tech job, but all I see on Facebook are videos uploaded from his surfboard-mounted digital movie camera. Another friend, Phil, now living in Oregon goes snowboarding down Mt. Hood when he’s not doing… Come to think of it. What does he do?

Though I have been known to strap on snowshoes, I’m not too keen on drowning in the surf or ending up a crumpled pile of fleshy bones after suffering the effects of gravity. This week I goofed off in my own way. I cooked, I brewed, I ate, I laughed.

I even got in an argument with a drunk guy and called him by a piece of digestive system anatomy… to his face. I’m opinionated, but I rarely share that epithet in mixed company. We made up. He bought me beer. What will our next meeting bring?

It’s Sunday now and I’m basking in the success of being in my own, indefinable way, the champion of un-work.

Here is my nugatory rundown of the week.

  • Monday I ate lunch and contemplated Tuesday.

  • Tuesday was the day for the chocolate and beer. I kept my fingers crossed that chocolates would come from Lincoln’s Chocolatier Blue and they did! The beers were a variable bunch provided by a local distributor. By his own admission, the rep stated he hadn’t much experience with chocolate and beer – and it showed. But the deeper message that was planted in my brain had to do with the biases inherent in distributor-chosen selections. I feel a bitch session coming on that I’ll have to post in my Gripefruit section very soon! However, there were two delicious pairings, both with Weyerbacher beer (Easton, PA):
  1. Belgian-styled quadrupel Quad with the holiday spice chocolate (“You got your apricot in my custard!” “You got your cloves in my peaches!”)
  2. Rum Soaked Currant praline with Weyerbacher Tiny (“Bing, bang, bada bing bing bang.”)

  • Wednesday I brewed my traditional Baltic Porter,  a dark, potent lager that will cold condition towards perfection (what, can’t I aim high?) for a couple of months. Thanks to my new book Yeast (White and Zainasheff, Brewers Publications), my yeast cell counts were (say it like Carl Sagan) in the “billions and billions.” Within six hours of pitching the fermenters were rollicking and spewing stuff that only a homebrewer could love.

  • It was also a good time to save some spent grains from the brewing. I had an idea, actually I thought it to be a revelation, that I could make pumpernickel rye soft pretzels. The trick to using spent grains in bread is to purée them in a blender with some warm water. Otherwise you end up picking coarse grain husks from your teeth. The recipe included stone-ground rye flour, molasses, caraway seeds and a few standard bread ingredients. I won’t post a recipe here, not because the pretzels weren’t good – they were delicious – but because a black pretzel has a rather unappetizing appearance. Judge for yourself…

  • While the infamous pretzel dough was rising I met up with beer maestro Jason to try out a few more of our cheese pairings. We had settled on certain cheeses but were still searching for the specific beers to knock it out of the park. We settled on a date (March 4) and number of tickets to sell (50) and we are sure to sell out early. There is a practical size to a cheese-beer tasting; even this one will have 250 measured portions of cheese, the same number of beers to dispense, plus accouterments. Then everything has to be at the right temperature. I hope we’re getting prep help the day of…
  • Thursday rolled around and there were still pots and pans to clean from beer and pretzel operations. I put off the cheese making to Saturday. But I did stick with the plan to attend a six course beer dinner at a Greek restaurant called The Parthenon. If you read my previous thoughts on beer dinners, you know that I believe it is a good idea to have some moderate strength beers in the mix so you don’t turn into a “pod of beached whales by the fourth or fifth course.” What I failed to estimate were the portions of food. The first course of spice-rubbed chicken drumsticks pressure-cooked to fall-off-the-bone tenderness, sitting atop couscous flavored with lemon juice and blanched almonds was huge. What would pass for a chicken tagine entrée in some Moroccan restaurants was more food than an entire upscale beer dinner. By the fifth course, we were slung over the back of our chairs, our arms akimbo and eyes at half mast. Awesome, filling, soul-warming food. Then the soup bowl sized crème brulée, redolent with vanilla seeds. It had the consistency of melting ice cream. Here’s a similar recipe with a discussion on the key ingredient: vanilla bean paste. Oh mercy. Yes, if you’re wondering, we ate the whole thing.
  • Friday, is it Friday yet? Coasting just a bit. I spent most of the day researching an article for All About Beer magazine. Something about ancient beers and their cultural and ceremonial importance. Now, that is work. Sorry. Didn’t mean to mention the “w” word. I was trying to convince you that I am really just a professional goof-off. Back to being indolent… I made a batch of cider. Although I follow my own recipe, I’m going to let you in on a guilty little secret

  • Saturday – the Day of the Satur. I pause to imagine I know what a Satur is… some sort of man-beast mythic creature. Perhaps the body of a cow, a chalky green hide of lizard scales, angel wings, and man’s head that looks like Wallace. Or maybe I was channeling my inner cheese god. This day was for blue cow’s milk cheese in the British tradition, i.e. Stilton.

  • Saturday night it snowed again. A fair dose. After an hour and forty minutes of shoveling against the drifting snow, icicles on my eyebrows, I returned to the warm interior. No hot chocolate tonight. I have invented a new hot toddy that appeals to my woodland upbringing, my Scottish heritage, and, well, a desire to consume alcohol. I call my drink Woodsman’s Fly Dope because of its memorable aroma. First I make a big mug of strong tea using Lapsang Souchong tea. The tea has a huge pine/juniper smoke aroma and flavor. It brews a deep rust-colored tea with substantial body. So much body, in fact, that a wee dram of Scotch whisky is needed to lighten it up just a bit. The smoked tea and the peaty Scotch merge. Wisps of campfire memories wend their way through your skull like the figments they represent. Sleep will come, and dreams will weave my week into one confusing mural.

So, Rodrigo and Phil, right back atcha!

Cheers, TPJ.

Chocolate, Cheese & Beer – What a Week!

What a Bohemian week it will be… I’m reminded just how cool Lincoln-town really is.

Thankfully a homebrewing homie turned me on to the Nebraska Beer Blog, maintained by a guy named Nick Spies. He keeps up on all the area events, of which there are many. I’m already in training for Omaha’s Extreme Beer Fest coming up next month.

Tonight I’ll be at one of the area’s best package stores, The Still, for a chocolate and beer tasting. It remains to be seen what beers and what chocolate. The distributor conducting the tasting is from Omaha, so the chocolates may not be coming from Lincoln’s newest treasure: Chocolatier Blue. I’ll keep my fingers crossed. CB’s chocolates rely on Italian dark chocolate and fresh, local fillings from organic cream to roasted filberts to pears and bay leaf… world class pralines and I can ride my bike there!

Exceptional cream is blended with organic butter and 70% dark chocolate for a rich ganache then encased with a dark chocolate shell. (Courtesy: Chocolatier Blue)

Then tomorrow, after an early start on brewing (I’m cooking up a baltic porter by double decoction), I’ll be heading out to Bricktop. Bricktop is a dance club at night, run by a cool guy who escaped from Patchogue, Long Island.

Bricktop owner Dave loves 80s music, beer, girls, and of course, the Huskers.

In the early evenings, before the doom-tah-doom-tah-doom-tah starts, the place is called the Derailleur Tap Room and caters to beer connoisseurs. DTR’s beer master of ceremonies, Jason McLaughlin, and I are planning a cheese-beer pairing event in the near future. We’re going over a few of the pairings with beer fresh from the taps.

I’ve been studiously developing pairings with imported cheeses sourced from The Saucy Cook and some local gems from nearby creamery Branched Oak Farm. Beer can pair magnificently with cheese – uh – much of the time. It is not as forgiving as some beer apostles may lead you to believe, however. Some of my attempts to date have brought out a stark metallic note in the cheese or accentuated oxidation in the beer. But many of the pairings exhibit dramatic synergies that release hidden flavors in both the beer and the cheese. Stay tuned for the specific pairings!

One cheese I know we will feature is this lovely sheep's milk cheese from the French side of the Pyrénées: Ossau-Iraty. Sweet, nutty, semi-hard with slight vesicles.

Thursday morning I’ll be making cheese – this time an enriched cow’s milk blue. I’m shooting for something like Saint Agur. Mine will be whole, vat pasteurized cow’s milk with some whole cream added. The blue mold (Penicillium roqueforti) is introduced during the acidification (the first step in cheese making) and will take off after the finished cheese is pierced with a sterile pick and matures for two to four months in a cool conditioning room.

The "melts-in-your-mouth" enriched cow's milk blue from france - Saint Agur. (Source: http://www.relishcaterers.co.uk)

Then in the evening I’ll be attending a six-course beer dinner at the area’s renowned Greek restaurant, The Parthenon. Thankfully we will not have to choke down salty, husky Greek beer. I look forward to meeting whoever masterminded this dinner because they have had the good sense not to choose a lineup of big beers. All too often, when strong beers are served at this sort of thing I have seen a group otherwise eager beer lovers turned into a pod of beached whales by the fourth or fifth course. Beers of modest strength with a good depth of flavor are what you need. That’s why I’m looking forward to the main course: grilled leg of lamb with ancho chile marinade and saffron orzo, served with Sprecher Black Bavarian-styled lager.

For Friday? I don’t know, might make a cider. Or if my venison connection comes in, it could be venison sausage with juniper and allspice.

Cheers! TPJ

Winter Migration Memoire – Departure

Journey is often on my mind. Not the irksome 70s band, I mean journey the process of moving through life. A journey, to my way of thinking isn’t a little undertaking. It isn’t trudging through of foot of snow to pick up some beer before the shop closes. Though I’ve done that and labeled it ‘epic.’

Journeys takes planning and commitment, or at the very least, powerful external forces acting upon us. How come? Because on some level we know that to journey is to toil. It may tire the body or challenge embedded beliefs. We have to accept that it is going to get harder before it gets better. And it does get better, it’s just that becoming comfortable with that notion might require some trust in yourself or your chosen itinerary or your ambitions of self-renovation. Journey is unclear. If the path is fully illuminated it is just a walk through a foot of snow to the beer shop.

Real journeys are not limited to the physical sort, those involving arduous travel. They can be of the emotional-spiritual sort with inner travails of cellular reprogramming… biochemically morphing your physiological response and your neural pathways.

Changing your religious beliefs involves journey. Journey could be finding a new attitude towards life while healing from a could-have-been-fatal disease.

Journey can be nearly freezing death while winter camping in Nova Scotia as images of an ice-bound bearded trapper and Micmac funereal stands and a fearsome man-bear spiritual figure taunt you to stay awake or else suffer the same frozen fate as that begrizzled long ago man motionless in ice.

Journey can be finding a ‘new’ interest in something halfway through your life, then gradually discovering that you know all about it, that you have known all about it all along. It could be music or woodworking or hospice care or abstract math or bass fishing or Tai Chi or growing vegetables or loving people unconditionally.

Journey will have unexpected consequences, synchronicity, unlikely meetings with average people who somehow peer right into you and know you and love you and teach and heal and surprise. Journey is supposed to be tough. That’s alright, it has rewards. When the voyage embodies both the physical and the metaphysical I am always left with more energy than I started with. You wonder why people go on a fast or run ultra-long distances or travel in non-touristic places. They are simply people who value certain kinds of journey. They have undertaken them before, they have realized growth from what they assimilated, and now they want more. I call this ‘growing forward.’

I am this way, too. At least I hope to be so.

My new seasonal migration route is between the expansive prairies of Nebraska and the tightly nested hills of Vermont. It is a formidable drive between two places that are important to me. These are places where I am rooting into the fabric of daily life, smelling the earth, noticing the distant horn of a freight train, writing. They are the same place really. You might not agree, if only because you think first of the physical world. That’s fine. I’m not trying to convince you of either place. These places are the poles of my pendulum and I expect most of the journey takes place as I swing from here to there.

As I said, it is a demanding drive, the better part of 30 hours. And while parts of the Interstate system are familiar to me from other migrations, parts are also new. More importantly, the main line of this drive opens up possibilities of discovery in places like central Pennsylvania, the Southern Tier of the New York panhandle, and the cities and farms of central Iowa. What lies in these places? I mostly don’t know. But I will surely get off the main track and see-feel-know for myself.

About a week ago I made the drive from hill to prairie. I wanted to have time in the daylight to close things up and that left me with a shorter first day, say seven or eight hours of driving. As the distant, white and fuzzy winter sun crept cautiously into the barren tree tops I made the last efforts to pack the truck, lock down the buildings, pack a lunch, say a prayer, and descend from my icy roost.

During this trip I knew my inner process would shift across what I call the five stages of journey. There is a planning step in which you gather your provisions, again the cache could be literal, things like food and maps and a coat and a toothbrush. Provisions could be the deals we make with people, Please do this if I don’t come back. You won’t have everything you need and you won’t need everything you brought. This truth leads one to pack fewer and fewer things as one become more experienced in journeying. This lightens the load, so to speak, and emancipates the voyager.

Embarkation follows. This is a period of excitement and alertness. There is a joy in celebrating that you’ve gotten this far, that you are underway. Your fertile imagination grows bounties of ‘what ifs?’ But you will end up realizing few to none of these dreams, because in order for journey to do its medicine you have to let go. Let go of preconception. Let go of path. Let go of need. Let go and just go.

As the toil of the journey wages on there is a time of uncertainty, of second-guessing of one’s motives, of self-doubt. This midpoint, though not necessarily right in the middle, can seem endless and monotonous. It is the time in a long race when you fantasize about a juicy hamburger or when that ache in your leg seems to dominate your perceptions above all else. This is the time, since having been on previous journeys, that you know is a passing feeling and that however interminable or uncomfortable you must push through.

The fourth stage is “horse coming home to the barn.” If you’ve ever seen the phenomenon, you know it is only a metaphor when applied to people. Horses really do pick up their energy when they know they are almost home. There is a downhill feeling at this time. It’s as if the real ‘work’ of the journey has taken place in the hard part, the interminable midsection. When I’m on my way to the barn I feel exhausted but not sleepy. I keep on going.

When I’m traveling with others this is the time they really resent me. I seem to just keep going and going, while they might be succumbing to the wear and tear of the mid-section, the germ they breathed on the plane a week before finally taking hold. If I had to explain why they get run down while I don’t, I would say it is because they didn’t embark on a journey. They didn’t plan, they didn’t schedule, they didn’t imagine when and where we would go off the plan, when we’d let go. They just went on a trip, while I was undertaking a journey. There is no better or worse, right or wrong here. Journey is fundamentally a personal pursuit.

The fifth stage hits me after arrival. I am alert and immersed in a glow of being self-aware and present in the moment. Someone will say, “You must be tired!” And I have to watch the signals I give, because I’m not tired yet, I’m thrilled. I reflect on the journey and take stock in the experiences. I marvel at how certain people and places seemingly conspired to make me see something or learn something about myself, or give me hope for this sorry lot we call the human race. Yes, there is fatigue, but it is a well-earned, rich and satisfying exhaustion from which one plunges into restful sleep.

So I drive from the hills to the prairie… by way of hours of backed up New Year’s Eve traffic on the Connecticut freeway system. Carl knew better. He always took the Taconic Parkway. A little longer, curvier, hillier and serene. The New York State Thruway is a blessing, too, not because I would ever take it, but because it runs parallel to the Taconic, just on the other side of the Hudson River. Most everyone takes that road instead.

Taconic Parkway view facing the Catskills.

The Taconic is a proto-interstate built on old Indian byways. It winds through the foothills east of the Hudson. Beyond the river valley old towns with Dutch names lurk in the forest and above them tower the Catskills. On this day they look positively massive as they peer through wintery clouds, as the first mantle of this year’s snow merges with the clouds like a forgotten Japanese ink drawing of Mt. Fujiyama hanging in a long-abandoned motel room.

The views from this road never look the same to me. It is as if the roadway slithers around its general course and each time I drive upon it I see places I don’t remember seeing before. I like to say Taconic the Algonquin way: make a mouthful of spit and say taghkanic. It gives me chill, like whenever I hear bagpipes – a reminder of distant lifetimes that I know something about. I know something about it, but I do not deign to explain it. I would just be making up stories. Next trip, no more Danbury Dip. Take the Taconic.

Then on to Pennsylvania, a northeast state that always surprises me how long it takes to traverse. I had an appointment with a homebrew shop in Akron the next day. I had to get pretty far along, at least halfway across the Commonwealth. And so it happened that I had looked around for breweries near where I thought I might end up. It was a loose plan, one that allowed for me being energetic enough to carry on for a couple of more hours. But I also knew that I’d be in the third stage, the self-doubt and time-moves-slowly stage. There was a little town called Millheim, somewhere off the freeway and in the folded limestone hills east of State College. A beer writer I trust had said some good things. The only accommodation nearby was a family-run place, a cluster of five single cottages, a mile to the east. By the time I arrived they would have “rolled up the sidewalks,” as my mother was fond of saying.

It was dark now, and had been for a couple of hours. I managed to not overshoot my exit and soon found myself at a stop sign, headlights peering through inky dark into impenetrable woods. No buildings, no lights, no sign of habitation. Left turn. Winding road warning sign, whew, down to 20 miles per hour just to stay out of the woods. I needed to come down from the highway speeds to this new place, a place with such a winding, plummeting little road that I thought I might be in Dummerston, VT. Had I really been driving for nine hours? Had I left Vermont? How could I be this turned around?

With a new breath the lay of the land began to agree with me and after going down into a stream valley and up the other side, and down again, the road straightened out somewhat and I came upon two flashing red tail lights on an as yet invisible and slow-moving thing, a tractor I thought. But as I pulled on by I saw it was an Amish buggy, a sleek black pony clopping along sending frosty spirals of steam from its nostrils, nearly the only thing illuminated by the light on the front of the craft.

I was to pass five more identical buggies in the few miles it took to get to Millheim. My first thought was how undereducated I was to think that the Amish only lived in Lancaster County. Of course they would be here, in verdant vales and foggy meadows, along age-old farm roads, atop rich damp soil. Of course. I’m traveling these twisting, late night roads with Amish buggies and snorting ponies and it should be said, with headlights and taillights, the price of a high speed society “evolving” around this idyllic existence. The long barns and white clapboarded farmhouses, dimly lit by their Spartan inhabitants… A sliver of moon just hinting at the murky meadow’s edge where it meets the deer-filled old sugarbush… A dip in the road, a narrow concrete bridge, a trout stream passing beneath. I’m beginning to understand this place and I haven’t yet seen it in the daylight.

Somehow I already knew I would be back, especially if the beer was good. Every great pilgrimage needs a few good way stations and I’m not averse to returning to a place. But I can become jaded by so many brewpubs. Sometimes I just go to say I’ve been, to check them off a list. But beneath that is the real reason I hunt down new beers: because every one out of so many is really delicious, made by interesting people, set in a fascinating backdrop, or otherwise hints at a little bit of treasured and elusive synchronicity that happens when my spirit guides just happen to be in the same room with me. It has been a while since I found one of those amazing places. I was overdue. I did not want to become a curmudgeon, a stiffy, a person with ever-narrowing beliefs, such as happens with age. I see it all around me. Part of this journey was the sometimes difficult rehearsal to keep my eyes open and not tell my eyes what to see. It takes practice to let go and be only in the present moment. Journey is ironic like that, that while one usually plans the undertaking, at some point the planning has to evaporate. When that transition occurs you find yourself in another place that you see as if for the first time. It is like waking up in a friend’s guest room all disoriented. Where am I? How did I find myself here? Where is here? That changeover from planned to purely spontaneous is the thing that happens in the midstretch of journey. For me it is what journey is all about. And you can’t predict it, you can’t wait for it. It might never come. It’s like happiness. You know it when you experience it but you can’t always know how you got to that state. You find yourself there, and in that place you can find yourself.

Though I felt the unknown was just around the bend I was still being practical, still conscious of a plan, but I could feel effort and posture and itinerary blowing away, like the last durable brown leaves of winter finally dislodging from their oak and beech limbs. My last conscious thought for the day was that it might not be worth coming back here. While trying to keep an open mind my mind began to open.

Was this a place you could ride a bike, fell a tree, organize a lawyer’s records, patch a broken soul, any of these or all? Does it have the local-ness, the genuine full-bodied lifestyle I crave these days? Whole-some-ness? These are questions that shot past me. Were their answers relevant, worth seeking? I’m writing them down so fast, so fearful of missing a thought, that I’ve broken a sweat. That’s what happens when the richness of being present overflows me.

To be continued… TPJ

LambicLand – Getting the Scoop

Tart cherries added to lambic (wild-fermented wheat beer) will mature into a wine-like delicacy called kriek. (Source: beermad.org.uk)

As a beer traveler and sometimes tour guide I admit to a certain one-upsmanship. That being the occasional need to outsmart the geekiest of the beer nerds. I dig out tidbits that never hit the mainstream websites and aren’t in the more well-known guidebooks. If I’m on top of my game I don’t even make a big thing of it, but behind the scenes I am really doing my homework.

Of course it’s work. You have to shuttle yourself through the warp and weft of local customs, language, and geography. In Belgium, I dress in plain, dark clothes, speak softly, and don’t ask anything important in the first hour. Unlike a lot of American tourists, I have no objection to changing my dress code and lowering the volume of my voice in a beer café. I’d like to think that I’m not the American that gave American’s a bad name in the first place.

Point being, it’s the little nuggets you accumulate while exercising discretion that really make you worth hiring as a tour guide or as an author. Same’s true for an earnest traveler with a thirst for experience: little facts just make the journey more tangible, more memorable.

Once, in Namur, Belgium, I met an interesting chap named Georges. He told me he had found a great beer near Charleroi that nobody knew about. By telling me, he was giving me, in his words, “a scoop.” Georges’ mom was American and his pop was a Walloon. In true Belgian style he spoke a basket full of languages. His English was so good he spent Saturdays translating British comedies into French.

“It’s called Cuvée de Trazegnies. It’s really good,” he told me. “Go there and find it. Then you can tell your people about it.”

Right! So, on to the little town of Trazegnies (pron: trazsh-knee). I gassed up in the small town and asked directions.

“Excusez-moi monsieur. Connaissez-vous la bière Cuvée de Trazegnies?”

“Ah, Brasserie Lannoy…” and then some patchy directions, which managed to get me a few streets closer. Repeat. Get closer. Then finally to a shop window with said beer. But the place was closed. The lady in the market across the street told me the father of the man who made the beer ran a charcuterie, through the next town, near the motorway. He might have some beer in the cooler.

This was followed by trying to solicit more help from a lady in the next village’s town hall. We were going nowhere fast until she realized my French pronunciation was not due to being a Dutch-speaker from the north of Belgium. See, dressing like the locals confused the locals!

“Vous-êtes flamande?”

“Non, je suis americain,” I replied.

“I speak a bit of English,” she offered, now that she didn’t have to defend her heritage to one of those Flemish brigands. There were soon maps being photocopied and outlined in yellow marker, and in due time (actually about three minutes down the road) I came to said charcuterie. Indeed the beer was there. I bought a bottle of the blonde and bottle of the brune.

That evening I ended up at another brewery. I brought the beers with me. The brewer and his wife studied the labels, scrutinized the corks. Tasting seemed to be secondary. After a short tête à tête they said they had no idea who made the beers and knew nothing about this brewery. It was less than 20 minutes away from them! We decided the blonde was a good one and the brune “not so good.” I still didn’t have my scoop. I hadn’t met Monsieur Lannoy, I hadn’t seen the brewery. To make matters worse, my companions told me that the labeling on the two bottles was so precise and equal, that this beer could only have been made at a large and somewhat modern brewery.

Cuvée de Trazegnies wasn't made by Brasserie Lannoy after all. It was made in neighboring Binche at the Brasserie la Binchoise. (Source: http://www.lionnet-th.net)

Later, after more research on my own, I discovered the beer was being brewed on contract for Lannoy by Brasserie la Binchoise. It was a bière d’etiquette (literally “label beer”), a contract beer made on behalf of someone who didn’t even have a brewery. Well, it might have been a scoop.

I’m telling this cautionary tale to make a point: that it takes a lot of effort to chase down beer in Belgium. Same’s true for a lot of places. This was just one example. Similar pursuits have lead me to all sorts of wondrous places, like a cheese ripener’s caves or a Vermont farmhouse cidery with big dogs (but no cider in sight) or a descent into private lambic maturation cellars. The outcome may or may not be important, but the process can bring on a mighty thirst.

Esoteric beer guidebooks and travelogues are some of my resources. Wherever there is beer there will be some person with too much ambition and a spouse with a good salary. They take up the cause and chronicle this region or that style or other. I have a shelf load of out of print doozies. And what’s odd, half the time the book is written by an outsider. Sure Michael Jackson came to America and told us about real beer. Larry Hawthorne wrote the best book on the Munich beer scene. And a sometimes dodgy clutch of Brits have devoted themselves to describing beer in Belgium, Holland, France and elsewhere.

LambicLand is THE scoop.

Today I’m giving up on one of my trade secrets. Why? Well, I’m not running any trips soon and the landscape of lambic beers is so tenuous that I’d be just plain mean for keeping this timely information to myself. Take my little story about Cuvée de Trazegnies and multiply it by a hundred. That is what Tim Webb and his co-authors have endured to produce the second edition of LambicLand – A journey round the most unusual beers in the world.

California brewer Lee Chase, the author, and Tim Webb in a well-known little Bruges beer bar...

I met Tim a few years back in a Bruges beer bar. I found him easy-going and super knowledgeable. I already owned an earlier edition of his Good Beer Guide to Belgium, now in its sixth incarnation. One thing I’ve always liked about his books, they don’t draw arbitrary lines between the brewery and the retail establishments where you can find the beer. Sure, sometimes the brewery itself is atmospheric, but it can be anything from awkward to impossible to get into some breweries. Continental formality really requires advance appointments for most brewery visits. If you’re contrary to that, if you’ve coerced brewers to give you tours on just showing up, then you are the Americans that give Americans bad names. Pay attention.

Mr. Webb, along with Chris “Podge” Pollard and Siobhan McGinn, have chronicled every lambic brewer, gueuze blender (geuzesteker), cherry steeper (kriekenweker), and diminutive local serving everything from faro to kriek to oude geuze to the most challenging vieille lambic. One of the peculiarities of the lambic scene is the small number of actual brewers and the vast number of permutations created from their beers by the brewers themselves and blenders and steepers.

When I think back to my escapade of looking for that scoop on Cuvée de Trazegnies, I realize I have nothing on these guys. Their level of dedication and effort at once humbles me and pisses me off. Why am I pissed? Because with a short, claustrophobic jump through the Chunnel, these bastards are there drinking lambics and gueuze while the rest of us are destined to take what little the importers can wrangle, or be happy with armchair travels through the most peculiar and rewarding beer landscape that ever draped the planet.

My hat is off to the authors for this excellent work. I hope they at least break even. If you are planning explorations of any kind in the great Republic of Belgium, this book is a must-have. Available from Cogan & Mater, along with several other great titles on beer.

Cheers. TPJ.

The Reinheitsgebot is Nonsense

There is a lot to be said for tradition, more so than ever with the current trends of cultural homogenization and closures of local businesses. And while it is often portrayed as tantamount to tradition, the famed German purity law is hooey, plain and simple.

Its relevance in focusing the styles of Germany has been been as instructive and destructive as 13 years of Prohibition were in this country. Gose (pron: gōz-eh, a sour beer made with naturally salty water), breyhan (sour wheat beer), grätzer bier (highly hopped, pale, smoked wheat beer), and many varieties of fruit or spiced beers – gone! Some of these lost styles are only now being made again in a few of the more risk-tolerant brewpubs.

I’m not going to get emotional about it, no not me, not like the rabid advocates of this misappropriated and antiquated policy. But it is fair time we let the cat out of the bag.

The Reinheitsgebot (pronounced something like: HRHINE-hites-ghe-boat) literally means “purity order.” However it was not until 1908 that that term gained use as a title. Originally is was called the “surrogate prohibition” decree. It was laid down in April of 1516 by the Dukes Wilhelm IV and Ludwig X of Bavaria. But the concept is even older. A similar document, predating the other by over 80 years, was uncovered north of Bavaria in Thuringia in 1999.

The order has since been touted as a way of protecting the wheat and rye for the baking industry, ensuring strange ingredients were kept out of beer, or even as a consumer protection act, but it holds darker secrets. As far as beer quality goes, the code does not require traditional methods like decoction, nor eschew off-flavors like diacetyl. Growers are free to use pesticides, and brewers can use chemical additives and chemically extracted hop oils. No, the “purity order” doesn’t say anything about healthfulness. In fact, organic beer producers pose a real threat to the house of cards upon which this marketing phenomenon has been built.

Brewers had been using wheat and rye and medicinal herbs and mushrooms in their beer. What is now Germany was a region of rich and varied brewing traditions that had been documented as far back as “the Holy Roman Empire.” Why worry about what brewers put in their beer? If you make a beer with weeds from your yard and rye with fungus growing on it (ergot is a rye rust from which LSD was first isolated), people will either like or not. If they like it they’ll come back for more. If they don’t, well, the brewer had better find a different line of work. Then again, maybe that’s the sensibility of the modern free market, and as we’ll see, the Reinheitsgebot is not at all about a free market system.

Only a single stanza of the decree deals with ingredients – the rest is about price controls. In the highly touted ingredient portion, the decree stipulates that beer must be made exclusively from barley and hops and water. One commonly hears about how yeast hadn’t yet been described by Louis Pasteur, so it was fine that yeast was left off the list. But even brewers in this dark time knew that one cropped the barm from one batch to the next. No, there was deeper meaning in the Reinheitsgebot…

One way to think about it is that the Dukes had created a more restrictive definition for the word “beer,” along with the provision that anything not meeting the definition could be confiscated by the authorities without compensation to the brewer.

Modern historians endlessly quote one another, saying that the underlying reason for the rule was to ensure that there was adequate wheat and rye for making bread. Frankly, bread, beer, what’s the difference? – they are both hearty, nourishing comestibles and generally immune to Medieval sanitation problems.

There was no way the people were going without their beer, so if the overlords said this is the way it must be, you might as well roll with it. Besides, if you didn’t abide by the code the authorities would confiscate your beer without remuneration. What these historians fail to mention is who owned all the barley fields. You guessed it, the Dukes. The original Reinheitsgebot was market protection for the wealthy. And you thought American corporate lobbying was a new idea?

 

The Reinheitsgebot has been modified throughout history - the current definition bears little resemblance to the original. (Source: google, frequency of historical dates with regard to the rule.)

As time went on the rule was variously massaged, abandoned, lost and rediscovered, until it ultimately arrived in its modern form – as a shallow marketing tool to help push claims of traditionalism behind your beer product. How could I posit such claims? Well consider the following, which I’ve knocked down to only a handful of points.

The original decree affected only the feudal region of Bavaria. Later, as Germany began its long crawl from 300 fiefdoms towards today’s single nation, Franconia and Thuringia were added, and the Reinheitsgebot came along for the ride. But after a couple of centuries one heard much less about the decree. It became seen more or less as a rule for pricing and taxation on beer.

Almost from the beginning the rule was gradually modified. In the 17th century a provision to allow brewing with wheat was added, but only members of the aristocracy were allowed to do so. Reorganization in 1803 resulting from the Napoleonic wars saw the famed brewing cities of Bamberg, Nürnberg, and Bayreuth added to a growing Bavarian state. The Reinheitsgebot now expanded northwards. Later, at the turn of the 20th century, the states of Baden and Württemberg in southwest Germany were added.

But back in 1810 Bavaria’s Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen in Munich. Five days after the royal wedding the commoners were invited to a field for horse racing and, it goes without saying, beer drinking. The party grew into an annual commercial enterprise, and by 1818 mercantile beer stalls had appeared.

The grand wedding reception had inaugurated the Oktoberfest tradition. Some say the Reinheitsgebot had been lost in obscurity and largely ignored for the previous couple of centuries. With the rise of Prince Ludwig, a descendant of the of the original Ludwig X, talk of the Reinheitsgebot re-ensued.

The latest ode to the Reinheitsbegot: the Kuchlbauer museum in Abensberg, Germany. It houses an exhibition on the German "beer purity" tradition.

So the Reinheitsgebot’s influence grew throughout Bavaria and other German city-states. In 1919, at the close of WWI, further consolidation took place when the Weimer Republic was formed. As a condition of joining, Bavaria, the largest single participant, asserted that the purity law had to apply to everyone else in the Republic. Even some other countries, Greece and Sweden for example, adopted the standard. In the most amazing display of vibrato, Germany even tried to leverage their participation in the EU with the five-centuries old ball and chain. But in 1987 the EU ruled it an obstacle to commerce. Which it always was.

Some American brewpubs and microbreweries even began touting the rule as a marketing device. It’s not so surprising. We’re victims of the preferential retelling of history and we love a hero. Just as we still think Benjamin Franklin was a great and mighty man of all seasons. No, he was a misogynist, turned-with-the-winds kind of guy who took credit for the work of those around him. But we really do admire that portly gentleman dangling a key from a kite string, don’t we? Now even Ben Franklin is a marketing device with the oft-misquoted “Beer is living proof that God loves us…” bit.

This is not to say that there aren’t other obstacles to beer commerce and that megalithic global corporations don’t dominate the market. There are, and they do. But at least the Reinheitsgebot is finally being seen for what it is: antiquated, price fixing, trade control, and pap marketing.

I’m not alone in thinking the Reinheitsgebot has outlived its usefulness:

[Note: with this piece I am inaugurating a new category on the Palate Jack called Gripefruit – my bitter editorials. Don’t fear, there will always be sweet stories to temper the bitterness.]

Cheers! TPJ

Cedar Plank Salmon with Chanterelles

Eastern Red Cedar - handsome, fragrant wood - killer of apple trees. (Source: botit.botany.wisc.edu)

While immersed in recipe selection for my Feast of the Seven Fishes I had the opportunity to cut down three “cedar” trees (Juniperus virginiana) for my neighbor Deb. The trees provided me with some aromatic firewood for future seasons. Felling them also planted the seed for the enclosed recipe, number 6 out of 7 in my countdown for holiday season fish dishes.

The trees had been planted there in the 1960s by Barnacle Bob, the former owner, and were now tall enough to block much of the light on that side of Deb’s house. Old crusty told me a cockamamie tale about how he “rescued” these three trees from NYC’s Central Park. Maybe he did, maybe not. Fact remains, this locale is within the natural range of the specie, and they could well have arrived by most any other natural means.

I was delighted to cut these trees down, since they harbor an apple-damaging blight called cedar-apple rust (Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae) and are dangerously close to my orchard. In the springtime, when the apples are leafing out, spores from growths on the cedar tree travel to nearby apples trees and disturb both leaf development and later, the fruit. Since I continue against all odds to attempt an organic orchard, this is one of the more bizarre steps I’ve yet to take.

As I suspected, when I began cutting into the wood, I noticed its perfumed, purple-stained heartwood. This was the wood made into hope chests and closets. It’s commonly called Eastern Red Cedar, but really a juniper. It was smelling that fragrant wood that caused plank salmon to fall on my conscious thoughts. I’ve often cooked this way, usually on a barbecue and usually with riven sheets of Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata) that have been first soaked in water.

Cooking salmon on planks combines grilling and smoking techniques. (Source: greatlakesgrilling.com)

Some say it is likely that plank cooking was in use by Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest long before colonists arrived. Author Hilary Stewart reports how some coastal tribes called themselves “people of the cedars.” Their entire culture revolved around the myriad uses of the tree. Others contend that the technique is Scandinavian in origin. To me, it doesn’t seem worth arguing; many cultures would have used similar methods when there was an absence of pottery or metal cookery. In earlier times, wood smoke could add flavor when there were few imported spices or herbs.

Of course those earlier peoples ate salmon. I imagine that a fish from the Pacific Northwest would be most appropriate and I am particularly fond of sockeye. It’s flesh is a deep red-orange tone with the finest grain and texture of any salmon. It possesses an earthy, piny note that works well with cedar.

I prefer salmon from a sustainable wild fishery to avoid perpetuating the pesticides and dyes commonly used in “grocery store salmon.” Wild salmon fisheries are threatened by a range of issues, including pollution from cities and riverside fish farms, over-harvesting, and migration-interrupting dams. The ethical choice of “what’s for dinner?” is not without consequence. The most vocal proponent of restoring salmon waters in the lower 48 states is Save Our Wild Salmon, and I encourage you to see what they’re up to. This recent video release from Skip Armstrong sums up one of the many watersheds being contested. Ultimately I end up purchasing far less salmon than my love for it would otherwise dictate.

As for the other ingredients, you will see that there is an undertone of pine-scented ingredients. I roasted the potatoes with sage, sautéed the squash with thyme, and used rosemary in the balsamic reduction. I served the Scots pine ale Alba to top off my homage to an evergreen forest.

A feast of simple foods infused with various evergreen aromas.

Cedar Plank Salmon with Chanterelles

Ingredients for Two

Time to Prepare: 60 min

  • a cedar plank 4×8 in, minimum (you may have to cut down a cedar tree)
  • 10-12 oz salmon fillet
  • 1 teas olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 teas shallots, minced
  • salt and white pepper
  • 2/3 c high quality balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 c pomegranate juice
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 spring fresh rosemary
  • 3 medium red potatoes
  • 2 teas olive oil
  • 6 leaves fresh sage
  • salt and black pepper
  • 3 oz fresh chanterelle mushrooms
  • 1 teas butter
  • 1 small zucchini
  • 1 small summer (yellow) squash
  • 1 teas butter
  • 1 spring fresh thyme
  • salt and black pepper

Preparation

If the cedar plank is dry, soak in lightly salted water for 30 minutes. Place the salmon skin side down onto the plank, coat lightly with olive oil, and season with garlic, shallot, salt & pepper. Set aside in a cool place.

In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, juice, sugar, garlic, and rosemary. Bring to a low boil then lower the heat to slowly reduce. While this is taking on the consistency of honey, carry on with other preparations.

In just a few minutes of cooking the cedar aromas penetrate the salmon and the fish cooks to a delicate state.

Slice the red potatoes about 1/4 inch thick with the skins on. Brush with oil and season with sage, salt & pepper. Arrange in a shallow pan and roast in the oven at 450 deg for about 10 minutes, turning once. When you open the door to turn the potatoes, place the entire plank and salmon into the oven. While these two items are finishing you have about five minutes for the veggies.

Set two small skillets on the heat. In one cook the squash in a tad of butter, seasoning with thyme, salt & pepper. The squash can be cut into 1/4 inch thick rounds or into sticks. In the other you will simply cook the chanterelles in a little butter. Cook the mushrooms al dente, removing them before they wither and go flat.

Onto warmed plates arrange the sliced potatoes. Remove the salmon from the plank and place a portion onto the potatoes. Plate the squash and chanterelles beside the potato/salmon, then drizzle the balsamic reduction around the plate and onto the salmon and potatoes. Serve with a piny, resinous beer like Alba, Racer 5 IPA, Russian River’s Pliny the Elder, or most any beer from Southern California’s Green Flash Brewing Company. Wine drinkers can go with the surprising Brut Rosé from Roederer Estate (thanks Otto for the suggestion), or a pinot noir from Oregon’s southwest corner.

The Countdown

So far:

  • No. 7 – Bacalao con Patates Dulces (Spanish-American salt cod and sweet potato casserole), best served with a hoppy American ale
  • No. 6 – Moules à la Normande (French-style steamed mussels with creamy bleu cheese finish), serve with a semi-sweet hard cider (check out Farnum Hill).
  • No. 5 – Ceviché Mixto (Peruvian cold seafood salad with chilis and citrus juice), served with a cold pilsner or the Classic Cocktail: the Pisco Sour.
  • No. 4 – Fried Smelts (Italian, with a mushroom risotto and fennel-burdock side salad), served with an Italian saison-styled beer.
  • No. 3 – PBR and Caviar (Russian-White Trash Fusion) Dine like a rock star, served with ice-cold cheap beer.
  • No. 2 – Cedar Plank Salmon – (Nouvelle Native American) First, cut down a cedar tree…

Coming soon:

  • No. 1 – Lobster with Vanilla-Blueberry-Mascarpone Ravioli, Asparagus and Three Sauces – A massive, freaky effort to be made by the adventurous chef or dreamed about by armchair cooks.

Life is to be enjoyed and enjoyment is all the more savory if toil is required! TPJ

PBR and Caviar

Snack out like a rock star with affordable and authentic caviar. Wash it down with a can of beer!

It’s time for recipe number 3 of 7 in my countdown for the Feast of the Seven Fishes. If you’re checking your calendar you’ll realize that we still need two more recipes by Christmas. I will deliver on that, but it was challenging to find sustainably harvested sturgeon caviar for this dish.

Caviar (salted fish roe) is best served entirely by itself or with simple accompaniments that soften the saltiness without overshadowing the caviar taste. These sides can include blinis (small pancakes) or toast points, sour cream, and seived, hard-cooked egg. Some people go as far as to include capers, cornichons, lemon, red onion, pepper or herbs. The choice is yours, but be forewarned about criticism from caviar snobs. In truth, accompaniments of all sorts have been served with caviar for centuries.

Caviar’s flavor can range from subtly fishy to buttery or nutty, herbal, iodiney, and in some cases, very fishy. The palate development can be short or long. It is always a bit salty, although modern producers have managed to get the salt down below 3.5 percent. For the amount you will consume, this is less total salt than in many American meals.

Caviar also has a texture that contradicts its apparent soft look. Smaller grains have an almost poppy seed quality, while the large salmon roe are more surprising. You will experience how the roe explodes in the mouth releasing its nuanced flavors. Suffice to say, caviar may not be to everyone’s liking, but those who like it generally look forward to their next chance to taste it. And there may be another reason to eat caviar. As Brillat-Savarin wrote in his Physiologie du Gout:

…unanimous observations have demonstrated that it acts strongly on genetics, and awakens in both sexes the instinct of reproduction.

The shovelnose sturgeon, rebranded as the more appetizing hackelback sturgeon, plies the waters of the Mississippi River. Hackelback is an affordable caviar that compares favorably with Russian Sevruga. (Source: http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/)

What might be called “true” or “authentic” caviar is obtained exclusively from the sturgeon, among which there are many species. Generally the larger and lighter in color the grains, the more highly valued the caviar. However with salmonid roe (derived from various salmon or trout species) the rule is reversed, whereas the darker, smaller eggs are considered higher in quality.

A third group of fish roe, that of the lumpfish, is more of a novelty and better suited as a garnish, if you even purchase it at all. It is the cheapest of all roe and is often dyed into deep colors and may have preservatives added.

Current perceptions of caviar derive from a complicated history of royal families, issues of rarity among certain types, and taste preferences of disparate cultures. Hanging on to these traditions is one reason that sturgeons in the wild are on endangered species lists around the globe. So a new caviar ethic is in order, one in which you know where your caviar originated, i.e., that it came from a sustainable fishery (nowadays often a fish farm).

Considering that caviar was once so common it was served in Colonial American taverns instead of pretzels or peanuts, it seems fitting to pair it today with the quintessential blue collar beer: Pabst Blue Ribbon – PBR. This notion should agree even with those who hold conservative views about what to drink with caviar, seeing as ice cold vodka or frosty Champagne are traditional. I’ve simply substituted another very cold, bland drink. Do you like the irony of this suggestion as much as I do?

PBR and Caviar

Ingredients for Four

Time to Prepare: 30 min

  • 4 slices firm white bread
  • 2 tbls sour cream
  • 1 oz caviar (Hackelback Sturgeon,$30 at Whole Foods)
  • 1 hard-cooked egg, shelled and pushed through a sieve
  • 2 teas chopped chives
  • 4 cans cheap American lager packed in an ice bath

Preparation

Remove the caviar from the fridge, allowing it to warm up while making the toast. Toast the bread to medium toast, cut off the crusts, and cut each into four triangular toast-ettes. Place the sieved egg in the middle of the plate. Arrange the toast around the egg. Carefully place a dollop of sour cream on each piece of toast. The amount you want is about 3/4 teaspoon and should be equal to the amount of caviar you will place on top. Using a slim, non-metallic implement (I used the handle of a plastic spoon), place a wad of caviar on each bit of sour cream. The eggs stick together pretty well, so this is easier than it sounds. Sprinkle the chopped chives around the edge of the plate. Provide a knife for people to place egg on their morsel, if they so choose.

Serve immediately with very cold bland beer!

Get it on with caviar this Holiday season.

The Countdown

So far:

  • No. 7 – Bacalao con Patates Dulces (Spanish-American salt cod and sweet potato casserole), best served with a hoppy American ale
  • No. 6 – Moules à la Normande (French-style steamed mussels with creamy bleu cheese finish), serve with a semi-sweet hard cider (check out Farnum Hill).
  • No. 5 – Ceviché Mixto (Peruvian cold seafood salad with chilis and citrus juice), served with a cold pilsner or the Classic Cocktail: the Pisco Sour.
  • No. 4 – Fried Smelts (Italian, with a mushroom risotto and fennel-burdock side salad), served with an Italian saison-styled beer.
  • No. 3 – PBR and Caviar – (Russian-White Trash Fusion) Dine like a rock star, served with ice-cold cheap beer.

On deck:

  • No. 2 – Cedar Plank Salmon – (Nouvelle Native American) First, cut down a cedar tree…
  • No. 1 – Lobster with Vanilla-Blueberry-Mascarpone Ravioli, Asparagus and Three Sauces – A massive, freaky effort to be made by the adventurous chef or dreamed about by armchair cooks.

More coming at you! TPJ

Embracing Diversity in Beer and Food

The diversified Bill Owens. (Source: switchimage.org, photo with permission by Guillaume Ehrenfeldt.)

Does the name Bill Owens sound familiar to you? It might, if you know something about the renaissance of craft brewing, or the emerging microdistillery movement, or publishing, or photography. Owens is man who can keep reinventing himself, all the while remaining in touch with his other personas.

Owens founded Buffalo Bill’s Brewery way back in 1983. He is the creator of that brewery’s well-known Pumpkin Ale, inspired by George Washington’s brewing methods. He explored publishing for 17 years, founding and running American Brewer magazine. More recently he established the American Distilling Institute as a trade organization for small distillers.

I think I first met Owens at the Mondiale de la Bière festival in Montréal about a decade ago. He was dressed in colonial period work clothes making a porter in an iron pot suspended over a wood fire. The next day (yes, the very next one) he ladled out barmy, fresh beer for me to try. It was, in a word, astounding. The only anachronism to the whole experience was the way his gray hair was cropped short on the sides and spiked high on his head. Spiked, like some sort of beatnik-punk retrograde. He intrigued me, but his constant leering at my girlfriend made me uneasy. It remined me of that Modern Lovers song…

Well some people try to pick up girls
And get called assholes
This never happened to Pablo Picasso
He could walk down your street
And girls could not resist his stare and
So Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole

Was it mysogyny or ego or the fearlessness that comes from success? Or was it simply the photographer’s eye? I’ve seen him work through a group with a camera. Like other highly talented photographers I know, he has a disarming way of interacting that doesn’t effect the flow of events.

This morning I received an email from Owens. It referred to an article in Smithsonian Magazine last month. It was another commendation for his ca. 1970s candid images of American life in California’s burgeoning suburbs.

One of the most famous images was young Richie Ferguson, sitting on his Big Wheel, BB gun in hand, surveying his domain and looking for outlaws.

A kid in 1971. (Source: smithsonianmag.com, photo by Bill Owens.)

Twenty-nine years later Owens went back and found him. He lived less than a mile from where he was raised three decades before. Ferguson had graduated from Big Wheel to motorbike and finally to tricked out Harley.

Same kid in 2000. (Source: smithsonianmag.com, photo by Bill Owens.)

As I look at his face, his hairline, his furrowed brow and suspicious glare, I begin to contemplate to what degree we are formed early on and whether that upbringing causes unavoidable conclusions later in life. Yet I do believe we can enforce change when and if we so choose. Which brings me to today’s thesis on beer and food choices.

I don’t know what Richie Ferguson prefers for dinner or liquid refreshment. That isn’t the point. The point is that we can either go through life sticking with familiar choices or we can decide that while familiar is okay, sometimes we want a change of scenery.

Despite the layers of insight Owens’ images provide, I introduced him in the beginning of this article because of his approach to life. He is one of those people that can languish in the familiar for a while, but then the urge to explore rears its multifaceted head and he’s off again on another adventure. There is a lesson in this for us all. And don’t argue about personality types or economic means or Catholic upbringing. I’m suggesting no “degree” with which you have to adopt diversity. For some it will be a little, and for others of you, you don’t need to even hear this from me, you’re already there.

Then I get a text message from an old friend who is now a wine merchant in Maryland. When I asked him about it, he said it was told to him by another wine merchant, whose wife is herself a beer merchant in Wisconsin.

men who only drink hoppy beers are like women who only drink buttery chardonnay.

Ouch! But then, aren’t these the Richie Fergusons of the world? They found one little flavor niche and can’t or won’t make the small effort to explore. If you will only drink a hoppy beer and you came to that decision by open-mindedly trying many, many types of beers. Good for you. You have explored and now rest in your comfort zone.

But I think this is rarely the case. People who only drink hoppy beers have only made one step in life: from beer that doesn’t taste like much to beer that is overfull of flavor. This embraces the American ideal that excess is good. It does not represent any real risk taking. Same goes for the aforementioned chardonnays. For the longest time I have referred to these as “IYF,” meaning “in your face.” These are among the most unsubtle of wines.

The kind of beer (or wine) lovers I want to be around are unconditional in their love for beer (or wine) and diverse in their explorations of it. They want to try new ones. They are inquisitive about the story behind the drink, just like Bill Owens, who brewed his Pumpkin Ale because he was inspired by our Founding Father.

When I head out for beer and a meal I usually want to try something I haven’t had before. I am aware that by taking small bites out of fear I evolve. But if the beers aren’t that great, I’ll just as soon drink the hoppiest thing they have. Those hops can camouflage some of what’s wrong with a beer. And if the menu is not very inspired I can always default to my comfort food – buffalo wings – no relation to Buffalo Bill’s Brewery. Then again, I wouldn’t be surprised if he invented those, too. Cheers. TPJ

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