Saturday, November 27, 2010

Maybe it's Star-Ledger + beer = boring

what? Beer and food pairings are boring.

Don't take our word for it, just follow the link and the comments.

Guess the folks at Boston Beer who have championed enjoying food with beer have been wrong all along. Food and beer pairings are boring. Not to mention Garrett Oliver from Brooklyn Brewery, who seems to have wasted a lot of time on The Brewmaster's Table. Alas.

Guess the folks at the Brewers Association have been on a misguided mission for the past three years with SAVOR because food and beer pairings are boring. Ditto for Sigh.

Guess White Dog Foundation and in Philadelphia and Victory Brewing in Downington, Pa., have been barking up the wrong tree with the Brewer's Plate for six years, uniting great regional cuisine with beers made within a 150-mile radius. Beer and food pairings are boring. Zounds! Flying Fish, River Horse, Triumph, Climax, Boaks and Iron Hill must have all got suckered on that one.

Speaking of Iron Hill they must have been led astray, coaching their staff to know about food and beer, and how they complement each other. Damn it all! Food and beer pairings are boring!

OK, enough sarcasm.

Craft beer enthusiasts, and not just the geeks, know food and beer go better together than wine and food, and let's hand it to wine, because it does an admirable job with food. It's just that beer, in its creation, welcomes more ingredients – hops for starters – into the fold than wine, resulting in a more expansive gamut of flavors that fit with more kinds of cuisine than its fermented cousin wine.

Beer and food pairings boring? Hardly. It's very much where beer, namely craft beer, belongs, especially right now, amid an era of wonderful beer choices. Otherwise, we might as well settle for Pringles and a Coors, or Bud and Doritos, instead of crab bisque made with a bourbon reduction complemented by a pint of Climax ESB; pork loin with a dunkel from Triumph; jambalaya with Flying Fish Farmhouse ale.

Yes, Virginia, better beer deserves better food.

Perhaps what the Star-Ledger thinks is, writing about beer and food together is boring, overdone. As if taking the days from Thanksgiving to Christmas and playing beer advent calendar is a fresh peach at the top of the tree, not easy, low-hanging fruit.

But that's not an entirely fair comment, because suggesting beers for the yule season has been done well many times in the past. Just like suggesting great beer for great food.

The fact is, beer and food always fit comfortably side by side, can seamlessly exist in the same breath. Because they can go in the same mouthful.

Sláinte. And bon appétit.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Exit 13: chocolate indulgence

Chocolate stout met glass at Flying Fish today, where the packaging crew at the Cherry Hill brewery began bottling Exit 13, the sixth installment in FF's limited-batch specialty brew series.

The labels that tell you it's a chocolate stout get added next week in the second step of the packaging process. (The lone labeled bottle of 13 at top right was pulling photo-op duty. The beer hits store shelves sometime in December.)

But the beer's chocolate cred is truly in its flavor. And waiting beneath a super-dense head of deep-tan foam is a big, fat chocolate taste that would make hedge fund manager/cocoa market mogul Anthony "Choc Finger" Ward take notice.

Exit 13 was made with 580 pounds of Belgian chocolate, 200 pounds of cocoa nibs and 1,200 Tahitian vanilla beans.

"You can definitely pull that chocolate right out," head brewer Casey Hughes says, after offering a taste of Exit 13 from the brewery's holding tank. "When a lot people think about chocolate, they don't think about the vanilla that's actually in it ... That's why we have vanilla beans in there, to bring out that chocolate flavor."

The folks at Flying Fish planned a total of 150 barrels of the chocolate stout. Today's bottling made a dent in a run of 1,250 cases of the 750 milliliter bottles that have been a signature of the Exit Series.

Chocolate lovers may want to consider the box of 12.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Another look at Newark's Port 44 Brew Pub

Port 44 Brew Pub continues to find its footing with the lineup of house ales it has been producing for three months now.

It can take a little while to find the sweet spot with the newly installed brewhouse, some time to nail down the efficiency of the equipment as far as mashing and hop utilization go.

But brewer Chris Sheehan (pictured at left) says he's getting comfortable with the results of his recipes for Port 44's flagship brews that include a golden ale, red ale, wheat beer and a stout named for New Jersey bootlegger Abner "Longy" Zwillman.

The wheat beer, Siren's Wheat, will help serve as a fundraiser for college scholarships for children of police, fire and EMS personnel. Chris says the inaugural batch had an unintended hop signature that overrode the wheat flavors, so some tweaking is order.

But he says his Goldfinch golden ale and Devil's Red have hit the mark. "I'm locked in on those recipes," he says. (A pomegranate wheat and a winter seasonal strong ale were among his brewing plans earlier this month.)

Port 44 opened back in the spring with guest beers on tap and began turning out house ales in August, figuring in the crowds that hit the nearby Prudential Center for concerts and New Jersey Devils and Nets games into its business model.

A few lingering things remain to get squared away, Chris says, such as setting up a Web site, purchasing an inventory of growler glassware, and acquiring a keg washer so serving tanks won't stay tied up too long by a single beer.

"It's still a work in progress," Chris says.

Chris plans to have the keg washer custom-made with the help of a metal fabricator from the city's Ironbound section. Then the brewpub's stock of 30 Hoff-Stevens kegs can stirred into the mix to get more house brews on tap. (Brews from Cricket Hill and New Jersey Beer Company are two of the guest brews that remain on tap for now.)

"We have eight taps here but I have five serving tanks," he says. "The other three taps I want to fill with my own beer instead of having guest beers."

In the meantime, Port 44's second-floor bar area has been pulling in private parties from the corporate crowd in Newark (Prudential and Verizon, for example), as well as students from Seton Hall law school.

"We've been doing a fair amount of business that way," Chris says.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Exit 13 release set

The next stop in Flying Fish's Exit Series gets bottled on Friday, with a release event set for 7 p.m. Dec. 7 at the Pub on Passyunk East in Philadelphia.

Folks at the Cherry Hill brewery say the release event for the chocolate import/export stout that is Exit 13 (Port Newark-Elizabeth) may be your only chance for a while to sample the beer on draft.

The chocolate stout – the sixth in series of limited-batch brews that kicked off in April 2009, was made with 580 pounds of Belcolade dark chocolate (the port at exit 13 of the New Jersey Turnpike is the ingredient's entry point into the US), then aged with 200 pounds of cocoa nibs and 12 pounds of of vanilla beans.

The exit brews have been a Garden State study for FF head brewer Casey Hughes, who has dug into the back pages of Jersey to research ingredients for the brews.

With Exit 1, a stout released a year ago that used Delaware bay oysters, the brewery messages on the bottle labels took on a somewhat historical tone regarding the regions the brews represented, and in turn offered craft beer enthusiasts an engaging glimpse into New Jersey culture.

But Casey thinks he's the one with the leg up on Jersey lore.

"I'm learning the most from this, because I probably know more about Jersey exits than anybody now. I can go up the highway and say, 'This happened at this exit, this happened at this exit ...' from just researching all the stuff."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Another shot of caffeine & NJ proposed ban

As forecast, federal regulators threw a flag on caffeine added to alcoholic beverages, taking aim at concoctions like Four Loko and Joose that feature a sort of Jekyll-Hyde combination of ethyl alcohol (12% ABV) and caffeine jolt (three cups of joe).

The Food and Drug Administration warned the makers of those beverages, in addition to Massachusetts-based New Century Brewing and its Moonshot beer (4% ABV and 69 milligrams of caffeine), that caffeine is an unsafe additive in their beverages and their beverages are being marketed contrary to federal regulations. The upshot: they risk seizure of their products and a halt to production.

But it gets doubly worse for the beer industry's Rhonda Kallman, founder of New Century (and a figure known for helping launch and establish Boston Beer and the Samuel Adams brand): the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is frowning harder on caffeine in alcoholic beverages than the US Food and Drug Administration is in its warning of last week. Her company apparently could end up getting knocked out of business. (Moonshot's Web site was inaccessible on Sunday.)

Here in New Jersey, there are bills in the state Legislature that would ban the sale of caffeinated alcoholic beverages, including beer (keep reading).

The two bills – an Assembly version and identical Senate version – were introduced by Assembly members Valerie Huttle and Ralph Caputo, and Senator Kevin O'Toole, toward the end of October. The Assembly version has been referred to that chamber's Consumer Affairs Committee.

The legislation casts a wide net and lumps in beer, while defining a caffeinated alcoholic beverage as "any prepackaged alcoholic beverage that has been supplemented by the manufacturer with caffeine or other stimulant that is metabolized by the body as caffeine."

What's not indisputably clear (think lawyers arguing fine points) in that wording is whether brewing with coffee, chocolate or other caffeine-bearing ingredients could amount to supplementing the beverage. Logic – and craft brewing practices, for that matter – would tell you no. So would the FDA.

But it's not specifically spelled out.

That's a reason the Colorado-based Brewers Association, the craft beer industry trade group, has asked federal regulators for some clarification (and rule-making), since states can pretty much make whatever rules that want to control alcoholic beverages manufactured and sold within their borders. While the FDA wags a finger, states can slam doors closed.

As we know, craft brewers sometimes use ingredients like coffee and chocolate – and their signature flavors – to shape the flavor profile of a beer, unlike Kallman's Moonshot. (Kallman conceived of the addition of caffeine as a boost.)

Jersey brewers are taking the view that any caffeine that winds up in a coffee porter or chocolate stout is an incidental byproduct of the brewing process, not a direct addition of caffeine to the beer.

And that's backed up by the FDA, which said its warning wasn't directed at those alcoholic beverages that only contain caffeine as a natural constituent of one or more of their ingredients, such as a coffee, but rather malt beverages to which caffeine has been added as a separate ingredient.

Still, for craft beer enthusiasts, it could be worth writing the sponsors of the New Jersey legislation (A3437, S2423), asking for delineation (assuming this measure picks up speed) and that the state not take bona fide ingredients away from Garden State brewers.

Valerie Huttle:
1 Engle St.
Suite 108
Englewood, NJ 07631
(201) 541-1118

545 Cedar Lane
Teaneck, NJ 07666
(201) 928-0100

Ralph Caputo
148-152 Franklin St.
Belleville, NJ 07109
(973) 450-0484

Kevin O'Toole
155 Route 46 West
Suite 108
Wayne, NJ 07470
(973) 237-1360