Sip well… Road Jam

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Imagine showing up to a pool party in May, where the host has tossed a few buckets-full of chlorine and scooped the leaves out with a rake. There are still twigs in the water, and even though you can see the bottom of the deep end, there are swirls of dirt hesitating before they settle.

This is how I experienced Road Jam by Two Roads Brewing of Stratford, Conn. This rapsberry ale, made with lemongrass, is forcing summer early for me. It’s dry, with a touch of the advertised raspberry. It’s got a beautiful pink hue. It’ll be a go-to this summer; I just didn’t enjoy it the first-time out.

Tart, without much malt balance, Road Jam will be great with loaded burgers or with vanilla ice cream. I just can’t appreciate it now, and I am at peace with that.

When the world discovers Connecticut beer

Ted Pert, left, and Ryan Crowley working the taps at Two Roads Brewing Company. (photo: Andrew Sullivan for the New York Times)
Ted Pert, left, and Ryan Crowley working the taps at Two Roads Brewing Company. (photo: Andrew Sullivan for the New York Times)

You know how when you go to see a band, and the opening act is just amazing? You’d never heard of them, and weren’t even expecting to see them play. They were so mesmerizing, in fact, that you don’t remember much of the headliners. All you know is that you’ve been listening to the openers nonstop for two weeks and are checking up on their live gig schedule.

And then you hear them on the radio. And their video goes viral. You think, I knew them first.

There’s a parallel with breweries there, I think. Once the world discoverers “your brewery,” there’s a dual twinge. One is, “Hey, they’re MINE! You’re going to just ruin them… somehow.” The other is, “Cool. Good for my brewery. I mean, OUR brewery.”

The buzz around the Feb. 27 New York Times piece by Christopher Brooks, “Slaking a Thirst for Beers at Craft Breweries,” reminds me of this duality. The piece covers the latest generation of Connecticut breweries that have cropped up in the past year. Firefly Hollow, Top Shelf, Broad Brook, Beer’d,  Shebeen, and Two Roads are highlighted, with brief quotes from the brewers. Continue reading “When the world discovers Connecticut beer”

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”

Sip well! Two Roads Brewing Route of All Evil

Route of All Evil

Some books take work to finish.

Take, for instance, Cryptonomicon, the 1999 novel by Neal Stephenson. In paperback, it’s 1,168 pages, and while it contains scenes that flow freely, the separation between the three main characters in two time periods calls for some serious concentration. Add to that the healthy doses of mathematics and computer programming talk and you’ve got a chunk of a story to swallow. I’m 34 percent through with the book according to Kindle, and while I have no desire to give up, I know that this satisfying read is working out my brain muscles like crazy.

Similarly, there are beers that take work to finish. This would seem like a slam on them, and sometimes it is. But really, unless you paid $150 for a 24-ounce bottle, most would simply pass a beer that takes work off onto someone else or drain-pour it instead of suffer through.

Two Roads Brewing of Stratford, Conn., makes a beer that I find work to get through, but I should stress that this is not a damnation. Route of All Evil is a “black ale,” that at 7.5 percent alcohol by volume packs a bit of woozy. It’s a dark brown, almost black, and smells a bit like plum.

Since “black ale” isn’t specific enough for me, I made peace with calling this a porter, although the harshest porter I’ve had (which I guess keeps it out of that category). The piney hops are aggressive and prickly, which kept me from chugging. But even little sips made the bitter-chocolate taste a bit of a wrestle.

As it warmed up, the malt came through a bit more. I tried it with a Hershey’s kiss, but that only made the bitterness more pronounced. My mouth got used to the beer eventually, and I felt as if I’d made it to a plateau and could enjoy the view so many were talking about.

I learned not to give up on Two Roads’ beer, but I’ll admit I couldn’t finish the 12 ounces. I may do the same with Crytonomicon, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the plot along the way.

The Great Shandy Experiment

Raw ingredients for the perfect shandy
Raw ingredients for the perfect shandy

(The following column was originally published on July 31, 2013, in the Waterbury (Conn.) Republican-American.)

Muggy weather has a liquid antidote.

For this, we can thank the British. They’re known for creating the logically mixed summer drink called a shandy: beer and usually lemonade (although other carbonated non-alcoholic drinks are known to qualify).

I figured I’d walk you through some commercial examples, then experiment a bit with some of my own combinations. Prepare to be refreshed.

Shandy-licious
Unlike the snake bite (beer and hard cider) and the dog’s nose (beer and gin), the shandy quenches instead of puckers. It’s usually very effervescent, which often requires the base beer to be either a light, crisp lager or a hefeweizen, which is a wheat-based beer.

The biggest player among American shandies is arguably Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy, a seasonal favorite. This Wisconsin brewery also makes a Lemon Berry Shandy, which has blackberry juice. Other breweries in the shandy game are Carib (which makes a teeny-tiny 1.2 percent alcohol by volume shandy) and Anheuser-Busch’s Shock Top.

A Vermont-based brewer, Traveler Beer Co., has a line that’s exclusively shandies. Traveler has a traditional lemonade shandy, a strawberry shandy, and a ginger/lemonade shandy. The ginger shandy, called the Tenacious Traveler, is my favorite. Blended just right to have the ginger undercut the tartness of the lemony beer, the Tenacious goes best with other food, including salads.

Research!
Research!

Home concoctions
You don’t have to rely on what brewers consider to be a superior shandy. You can build one at home. And to save you from wasting your time experimenting with lemon flavors and base beers, I’ve wasted mine.

Continue reading “The Great Shandy Experiment”

Shandy mixology

Genius at work.
Genius at work.

In preparation for my column about shandies, I decided to try and blend my own, using three Connecticut beers and a variety of lemon-based additives.

Who will the winner be? Will it be City Steam’s Innocence IPA mixed with pure lemon juice? Or Two Roads’ Worker’s Comp saison and San Pellegrino-Linonata? Or how about Cavalry’s Dog Soldier and Sparkling ICE Lemonade carbonated water?

Stay tuned to find out!

Tart combos!
Tart combos!

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”