Exile on Meat Street

Fleishers_table_fullThere are few collaborations more harmonious than meat and beer. No one appreciates that as thoroughly as a butcher  whose go-to IPA is Sea Hag from New England Brewing Company.

That butcher, Ryan Fibiger, was on-hand last Wednesday night for a beer-pairing dinner at the restaurant he co-owns in Westport, Conn.: Fleishers Craft Kitchen. The four-course extravaganza featured NEBCO and is the first of five pairing dinners Fleishers will host that feature Connecticut breweries.

“My love of good beer came from years of cutting meat until the middle of the night and needing to have something great when that was all done,” Fibiger told me during a break between courses. “I would think, ‘I’m entitled to this beer.’”

I had the opportunity to take part in the tasting on, as it turned out, my birthday. (I accepted the free meal, as did my wife, as a gift). During each course NEBCO met beef and pork in ways I didn’t think possible. While sitting at a long wooden table in a cozy space inches from the kitchen, the 26 guests were treated to running commentary by chef Adam Truelove and NEBCO head brewer Matt Westfall.

Fleishers_Truelove_owner
The guests enjoy a beer-meaty meal pairing at Fleishers Craft Butchery in Westport, Conn.

Arriving early, I gratefully accepted a cold can of 668, NEBCO’s Belgian-style strong pale ale and munched on some gourmet pork crackling. The popcorn saltiness of the deceptively airy rind played well against the brute force of the 668. With great swiftness the room filled with well-dressed patrons, some of whom appeared to be beer enthusiasts.

Fibiger welcomed us and waitstaff deftly placed stemless wine glasses filled with Sea Hag IPA, the beer that Westfall explained represented about 75 percent of what NEBCO produces from its Woodbridge, Conn. location. While we received our steaming white bowls of chorizo and IPA-steamed mussels with crispy bread, Truelove explained that the fattiness from the sausage and garlic in the broth found unity with the Sea Hag’s resinous impact.

With very little delay Westfall was chatting us up about the near-legendary mystique of the next beer: Fuzzy Baby Ducks. FBD. The Ducks. However you refer to this highly popular double IPA, you learn quickly that its reputation is deserved. Bursting to the rafters with Citra hop, yet balanced with a creamy texture, the beer delivered from the first sniff to the dregs. Truelove came close to matching the intensity with the second course: two spicy pork tacos with pickled onions, grapefruit, and avocado salad. Pulling out the citrus flavor of the beer with actual citrus was a smart move and I found that the beer seemed to bring out the intensity of each of the ingredients instead of overshadowing them.

Fleishers_beef
Brisket with Ghost Pigeon Porter

The dinner took a dark turn as the elusive Ghost Pigeon Porter made its landing. I’m naturally drawn to porters, but this one provides something that English ones — and even some American versions — do not, which is that day-old espresso bitterness. The name comes from an actual pigeon that would fly in for visits at the brewery, but then one day took a few steps and, well, entered the land of ghosts. It was a refreshing change of pace after so much hop flavor, and Truelove coaxed out all of its charms with a chocolate and coffee-rubbed brisket with cauliflower mash.

The final course would need to be bold, I knew. Not only were our taste buds nearly exhausted from overstimulation (I don’t get out much), but the alcohol was taking hold. While John Williams’ theme for Darth Vader didn’t actually play, the score was running through my head as I was handed a glass of NEBCO’s exquisite Imperial Stout Trooper. Viscous and gritty, with dark fruit aggression and cacao bitterness for miles, the beer is rather rarely found outside of the brewery. With great curiosity I enjoyed the accompanying course: braised beef cheeks with celery root, red wine, and carrots. Decadence upon decadence.

Fleishers_meal
The guests enjoy a beer-meaty meal pairing at Fleishers Craft Butchery in Westport, Conn.

Fleishers will be releasing tickets for each of its events at least two weeks prior to each date, and you can only make reservations through this ticketing system. You’ll need to sign up for their newsletter to learn about tickets, and you can do so here. Each dinner is $90.

Here are the dinners with Connecticut breweries, each on Wednesday nights at 6:30: Jan. 27 (Thimble Island Brewing), Feb. 10 (Stubborn Beauty), Feb. 24 (Relic), and March 9 (Black Hog).

 

Information

Fleishers Craft Kitchen, 580 Riverside Ave., Westport, Conn.

(203) 226-6328

http://www.fleishers.com

Pouring it forward

Steve and Eileen Maynard, behind Tess Szamatulski, at Maltose Express in Monroe, Conn.
Steve and Eileen Maynard, behind Tess Szamatulski, at Maltose Express in Monroe, Conn.

The couple with the bag of beer bottles beamed as they bounced into the hombrew store.

Steve and Eileen Maynard were just beginning their annual tour, visiting friends to distribute their Christmas beer. They let me tag along as they handed out whimsically wrapped bottles, which they called their Jolly Good Christmas Ale. From sitting in on the brewing to witnessing the deliveries, I had a chance to see what real appreciation looks like.

They’ve just entered Maltose Express in Monroe, where the employees have walked Steve through crises small and big since he started brewing almost 10 years ago. Steve’s hobby began with an extract kit that he lobbied for as a Father’s Day gift. In five years he graduated from turning pre-fabricated syrup into beer on his stovetop to brewing with raw ingredients on a small, open-flame set-up on his deck that overlooks a wooded backyard in Cheshire. It was there in August that I had a chance to watch as Steve, Eileen and Eileen’s brother Peter poured the nascent beer into its fermentation bottle in hopes that months later it would serve as a small thank you for a year of inspiration and guidance. Continue reading “Pouring it forward”

Free speech, outrage, and beer

Gandi-Bot label

It’s been a wild week for New England Brewing Company and its double IPA, Gandhi-Bot. After a lawyer in Hyderabad, India, filed a petition against the Woodbridge, Connnecticut, company over the use of the name and image of Mahatma Gandhi, news coverage around the world has put the brewery in the spotlight. After a Facebook apology to those it offended, New England Brewing has issued another update as of today. In part, it read:

After threats and some truly hurtful assumptions about the incredibly caring people that work for New England Brewing Company we are working on finding the best way to amend this situation in a manner that both is respectful to those who are offended as well as a way that is manageable for our small company.

What follows, in the comment section, is just as big a part of the story. I was not in the mood to read all 345 comments (and counting), but from what I gleaned, the majority of responses read sounded a lot like:

“Screw those guys! Don’t change the name! Hindus don’t drink beer anyway! Stupid political correctness!”

So there are fans of the difficult-to-get beer voicing their opinion. Their hearts are in the right place, and I’m sure they’ll still buy Gandhi-Bot even if it’s rebranded. But this all comes a day after an attack on a French satirical magazine that insulted the Muslim religion; I don’t believe that there would be an attack on the brewery over the beer, especially because offense seems to stem from the other side of the world (although local liquor store owners have expressed their personal distaste for the imagery). However, religious and moral leaders matter to people in a way that goes deeper than rational behavior dictates.

Besides, NEBCO wants to be known for its beer, not for threats against its labels. This comes after George Lucas threatened action against the brewery’s Imperial Stout Trooper label, which featured what was obviously a storm trooper. They covered that image up with Groucho Marx glasses, and already there have been suggestions that NEBCO do the same with Gandhi-Bot.

NEBCO had to know that the image could possibly offend people; you’re talking about a beloved civil rights leader. You don’t have to be “politically correct” to sympathize with that. Would people balk at a Martin Luther King Jr.-inspired beer? I’m going to say yes. So now that NEBCO feels as if this decision is something worth reversing, I believe that’s worth honoring. If you want to take this as an opportunity to stand up for the right for free speech, there are other realities at stake here. NEBCO deserves to be known for it’s beer, not just its beer names.

There are so many comments to NEBCO’s post calling into question what offends someone else. It’s silly for others to be offended, they say. I’m not offended, so why should you be? This is just flat out confusing to me: just because you don’t want someone to be offended doesn’t mean it’s going to be so. “The world has become too sensitive,” they say, displaying just the same kind of sensitivity they’re mocking.

Enough with the pumpkin beer, already!

www.magichat.net
http://www.magichat.net

There’s a time in every mild-mannered columnist’s life when the rage must bubble out.

I’m talking about frustration with something insidious, repellant and soul cracking. I’m talking about pumpkin beer.

Why pick on pumpkin beer? It’s the playful symbol of autumnal splendor! The nectar that introduces the casual beer drinker to exotic flavors! People are passionate about their pumpkin beers. They routinely stock up on Southern Tier Brewing Co.’s Pumking, a high-alcohol, rich and mildly spicy ale made with pureed pumpkin. Others celebrate Dogfish Head’s Punkin Ale, Shipyard’s Pumpkinhead Ale and Weyerbacher’s Imperial Pumpkin Ale.

I posit only this: we should stop buying so much pumpkin beer and encourage brewers to make better seasonal beers instead. I would rather drink a finely crafted porter that incorporates the spices we associate with pumpkin beer than the unappealing messes that most of these vegetable beers have become.

Reason 1: They either taste like a spice cabinet or not much of anything. Pumpkin meat, the gooey orange glop also known as Jack-o-Lantern brains, doesn’t really taste like anything. What we associate with pumpkin flavor is really pumpkin pie, which comes from spices like nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. So when brewers try to translate this into beer, they use some form of pumpkin (sometimes roasted to bring out a little natural flavor) but a bunch of spices to complement the malt and hops. The result is either overly spiced or bland. Continue reading “Enough with the pumpkin beer, already!”

Northeast brewery explorer talks shop

whereandback.blogspot.com
Photos from whereandback.blogspot.com

Ben Keene, a travel writer, wants the world to know: there’s a burgeoning brewery scene in the Northeast U.S. and it’s high time you took advantage of it.

Keene will be promoting his latest book, “The Great Northeast Brewery Tour (Voyageur Press, 2014) on Friday, Jan. 24 at Relic Brewing in Plainville, Conn.

The book signing takes place from 4-7 p.m. at Relic, 95 Whiting St.

Ben Keene
Ben Keene

Keene, who lives in Cambridge, Mass., writes about hiking and camping, and he told me last week that his dabbling in outdoor sports extended into adventuring into the world of breweries.

“I did not [always] have a refined palate or appreciation of beer,” Keene said. “When I moved to New York it was 2000 and kind of the second wave of smaller breweries was just kind of beginning to surge. So bars started popping up and breweries followed. I think the East Coast since 2000 has been evening out the balance with out West.” Continue reading “Northeast brewery explorer talks shop”

Bring on the spring

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(A version of the following column was originally published in the Waterbury (Conn.) Republican-American on April 17, 2013.)

You want to garden, toss the baseball around and wear that cute tank top with the owl on it.

Mother Nature, however, has other plans. It’s rarely above 55 degrees, and your imagined April wonderland is populated by leafless trees and gray skies.

Just because the world outside is slow to bloom this year doesn’t mean you can’t launch a psychological spring with the help of some crisp, refreshing beers.

Brooklyn Brewery Pilsner

This is a take on a Czech style that’s a big more bold. Pilsners are supposed to have a nice sweetness in the background with a crispness and lightness that makes for easy drinking. It’s a lager (as opposed to an ale), which usually suggests that it will have a “clean” taste, as in nothing much to cloud your taste buds like bitterness. Continue reading “Bring on the spring”

Pairing beers… with people!

(The following column was originally published in the Waterbury (Conn.) Republican-American on Dec. 12, 2012.)

Your aging cousin?www.beeradvocate.com
Your aging cousin?
http://www.beeradvocate.com

 
Let’s admit this much: shopping for some people is arduous and draining.

Uncle Larry? The one who’s hosting Christmas Eve this year? All you know about his new “lady friend” is that she seems to have a condition that does not allow her to stop talking. What do you get for someone like that?

And then there’s your best friend’s cousin… Cliff or Clive or something. He’s hosting a get-together that will be completely vegetarian. He brags about not wearing shoes since 1995. How do you get anything appropriate for barefoot wonder?

You already know my answer. Yeah, it’s beer.

Matching the gift with the receiver isn’t difficult and can be rewarding, if only for you. Now for some recommendations that allow you to find your match.

1. For your aging cousin who lives on the Maine Coast: New England Brewery’s Sea Hag IPA. Like her, it’s bitter and might overwhelm anything it’s paired with.