Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Ultimate Bar Food: Deep Fried Pickles

This might be heresy to suggest this, but I think I might have found a bar snack that rivals the Buffalo Wing. I am starting to see these things on more and more menus, and like the Buffalo Wing, this tasty little bar snack was at one time a very regional thing. What I really enjoy seeing is, more and more brewpubs and beer bars are adding these tasty little snacks to their menus. The bar snack/appetizer I speak of is fried pickles.
The history of the fried pickle like that of the Buffalo wing, is a relatively short one. The legend goes fried pickles were first made popular in 1963 by Avery "Fatman" Lindsey when he put them on the menu at the Duchess Drive In located in Atkins, Arkansas. Another account goes they were "invented" in Hollywood, Mississippi at the Hollywood Cafe, when a patron wanted something different and asked asked the fry cook if he could deep fry some dill pickles.
They have been on menus in Southern states for decades, but can now be found from coast to coast, and that is a very good thing. My first experience with the deep fried pickle? As you might of guessed, it was at a brewpub, The Salem Beer Works in Salem, MA back in the late 1990's. I enjoyed them in their spear form, and needless to say I was hooked. The sad part at the time was, few places carried fried pickles on their menus as an appetizer. You really had to seek them out, or make your own. That is not the case any more, and for a beer lover, that is a very good thing.
Fried pickles are just a natural with beer. The combination of the salty and sour flavors from a good quality dill pickle with the hot, salty, texture and flavors of the various batterings, make for one great beer snack. This is not a new concept, anything salty will make you thirsty and you will want to drink more beer. Bars have been offering salty snacks for this very reason for years.
I've enjoyed these both in spear and chip form, both are excellent, but my preference is the dill chips. Fried pickles work well with your standard lager, but I've matched them with a nice hoppy IPA, even dry stouts. Lets not get overly pretentious with this either folks. I know lots of beer geeks are into pairing high end beers with high end foods, and beer and food parings are all the rage with the beer geekery. They might look at fried pickles as being a bit mundane and pedestrian. They are missing the whole point of enjoying food and beer in my opinion. A simple bar snack like this with a nice cold beer is plenty good enough for any beer lover or beer geek for that matter.
So the next time you are out at a good beer bar or brewpub and you see fried pickles on the menu? Give them a try. I will warn you though, these things are addicting, and you will not want to stop eating them. If you can't find them? You can always make your own version. All you need is some good pickles, batter/breading, and oil for deep frying.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Beer Sommelier or Beer Douche? Round 3: The douches have it

Here we go yet again. I came across a recent blog entry on the Washington City Paper from the Beer Director at a Washington, DC beer centric restaurant and beer bar called Birch and Barley/Church Key. For a beer lover, this place is beer paradise offering over 50 beers on draught and cask, as well has 500 bottled beer selections. The Beer Director asks in the blog :

"What's in a Name? Of Beer Directors, Sommeliers, and Cicerones."

Visit to link to the Young and Hungry Section dated 08/10/2010. I have addressed this very issue on two separate occasions on this blog, and in light of this recent article, I believe it needs to be addressed a third time.

As it stands now, his official title at B&B/Churchkey is Beer Director, and he states he is often being referred to or asked if he is a "beer" sommelier. He goes on to state that he sees the title of sommelier which is synonymous with wine, evolving to include beer and spirits. He sites recognition from Food and Wine Magazine that lists him as one of the "best new sommeliers" as giving credence to this. We will have to part ways here. I don't believe that because a trade publication recognized him as a sommelier, it makes him one, or that it is not a misnomer. I don't believe because a trade publication, that no doubt gets advertising dollars from the restaurant/food/beverage business makes those who are not certified necessarily credible. We all know how easy wine and beer writers can be bought and paid for, especially the latter.

He gives credit to the Beer Cicerone Program on one hand, then on the other, does not see that the title is necessary. There are other ways it can be done. Hands on training and experience in the field is where you really lean, and cut your teeth. I can agree with this logic to a point, but ultimately, I would have to disagree, as a sound foundation needs to be in place, and then built upon. His reasoning seems a bit disingenuous as well, seeing that after completion of his undergraduate degree, he went on to pursue a master's degree but beer came a calling. It indicates to me, that he must believe on some level that formal education has some merit. What really undermines his argument and that of the other "beer" sommeliers is the fact that none of them have the certification. If they had the certification, the training, the education, a real sommelier or real cicerone had, and then said "its not worth it."? It might lend a little more credibility to the argument against formal education and experience vs on the job experience alone.

The Beer Director makes some points as to why this title of "beer sommelier" may or may not fit what he does for a living. The Beer Director is responsible for training the staff, making the selections, and working with the chef for beer and food pairings. Sounds like what a wine steward or sommelier does right? He is doing this, but with beer. That is what a cicerone does, and there is a program out there, that educates, trains, and certifies a cicerone, the beer world's equivalent to a sommelier.

The fact that the Cicerone Certification Program has only been in existence since 2007 is a non sequitur in my opinion. I can not understand how anyone who is in the food/beverage business, and wants to be taken seriously when it comes to "beer expertise" including the promotion of craft beer, how to serve it, and match it with food, would not want education, training, and certification from this program. Especially so, when you see the people behind this certification program. It is an earnest effort to put beer on the same level as wine, and specialization matters here. The Beer Director seems to want it both ways. The respect of a sommelier or cicerone who has the formal training and certification vs "doing time in the trenches" IE on the job experiences is good enough.

In the last two cases this blog has addressed, the title of beer sommelier has been self proclaimed. In this case it has not, and I have a lot more respect for this guy because of that. That being said, I will have to say this guy is not a real sommelier. A sommelier is an accredited, trained, wine steward. If you do not have the accreditation, you are not a sommelier in my opinion. You are just a well informed "cork dork" or "beer geek".

I fully understand that sommeliers in fine dining establishments are doing more than training staff, procuring wine, and working with chefs to do food and wine pairings. Beer and spirits are coming more and more into the mix. I get it. That being said, I think it says a lot to be specialized, and I truly believe that if you want to claim the title of a sommelier, or a cicerone for that matter, you should have some sort of formal education and certification.

Working for a beer centric restaurant/beer bar one would think the owners would embrace the title of cicerone here. Is it not craft beer choices and pairing said choices with food their selling point? It this not what is setting this place apart? Why would you not want your Beer Director to have attended a program that has given him some formal education and certification, like a real sommelier? It would give him a bit more authority and credibility in my opinion. I have read his resume and his beer "credentials". While not lacking, they are a bit dubious at best. He liked to drink craft beer in college? He tried good beer in Germany and Ireland? He worked as a waiter, and then manager at a beer bar, then as the beer director for a restaurant group that is beer centric pizza place and the place he now works? I'm sorry, but being a beer lover for over 20 years, I'm just not in awe of this.

I'm in no way attempting to diminishing what he has done, or the selections he makes for his restaurant/beer bar. Nor am I with his food and beer parings. I've see what he has done, and he is doing great work. What I am suggesting is, if he wants to claim a title, would not the title of cicerone be appropriate for what he does, and give him a little more "teeth" if you will? I just find it too easy for any informed beer geek who gets a job a beer bar and or restaurant to now start calling themselves "beer" sommeliers. The verdict for me? Not as egregious as the other two "beer" sommeliers, but still beer douche. The douches have it.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Island Life in a bottle: Applachian Ginger Beer

With the summer in full force, the heat is on here in the Mid-Atlantic. A recent heat wave with four days of 100 degrees or more. Temperatures are up in the high 80's and 90's with lots of sun and humidity. Beer is always a great choice as a summer refresher, but I always enjoy another type of beer as well, and that is ginger beer. Ginger beer at one time was fermented and brewed but much like ginger ale is now a soft drink. Gourmet examples of ginger beer and ginger ale exist, and many brewpubs and breweries actually produce gourmet sodas, with either a ginger ale or ginger beer in their line up. Ginger beer has much stronger and bolder ginger aromas and flavors than most ginger ales.

The Appalachian Brewing Company of Harrisburg, PA brews up an outstanding Ginger Beer. This gourmet soda is made with crystal clear Appalachian water, pure cane sugar, and fresh ginger. I can not stress enough how use of fresh ginger makes all the difference in the world. You really get the pungent and spicy ginger aromas and flavors, and it makes for a spicy, delicious, refreshing drink. People who have not had fresh ginger are often shocked how spicy and hot fresh ginger can taste.

ABC Ginger Beer pours to an opaque pale color with lots of big spicy ginger aromas and flavors. This is a wonderful, refreshing drink to slake the thirst in hot summer months, and is the perfect soft drink to mix with rum. One of my all time favorite drinks is a Dark N' Stormy which became popular in the sailing communities up and down the East Coast of the U.S. from Portland, ME to Annapolis, MD. I have been drinking them for years, and the key to a good Dark 'N Stormy is not only a good quality rum, but a quality ginger beer.

When I lived in RI, I could always get a good Dark N' Stormy. I'm happy to say I can make my own. ABC Ginger Beer is a fantastic ginger beer to mix with a good quality dark rum to make a great Dark 'N Stormy. So simple, yet so good:

1.5 oz of a good quality dark rum

8 oz ginger beer
1 lime wedge

In a high ball glass with ice pour 1.5 oz of dark rum. Top with ginger beer. Squeeze in lime and drop in glass.

Enjoy one of the most delicious, refreshing, summer drinks you will ever taste! I would always go with Gosling's Black Seal a phenomenal rum from Bermuda. A great quality domestic micro distilled rum like Thomas Tews or Rogue Dark Rum would be a great choice as well.

For more information about getting some ABC Ginger Beer visit the brewery's site at:

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

You never seen the sun on the old black rum: Thomas Tew Rum

A very interesting, and wonderful thing has happened as the result of the craft beer movement. With the rise of the brewpub and micro brewery, some craft brewers have got into the business of micro distilling and have actually set up small distilleries more often than not in the brewery itself. One such micro brewer/micro distiller is the Newport Distilling Company of Middletown, RI. This tiny micro distillery is also the home of the Coastal Extreme Brewing Company, brewers of the Newport Storm line of beers.

In 2007, Newport Distilling became the first distiller in the state of Rhode Island since the 1842. They are distilling one product at the moment, a rum called Thomas Tew Rum. Thomas Tew also known as the Rhode Island Pirate, was a privateer and pirate who made Newport, RI his home. In colonial times the port city of Newport, RI was home to twenty two rum distilleries. Newport Distilling has brought back that tradition with the production of a rum from Newport's past.

This rum uses black strap molasses and water which is fermented at the brewery which is next to the distillery. The "wash" is fermented with brewer's yeast, and distilled in a pot still 150 gallons at a time. The rum is then aged in American oak barrels, and is "chipped" with American and French oak chips in the barrel. Thomas Tew is then proofed, filtered, and hand bottled. The end result is a very special American made rum.

Thomas Tew Rum pours to a brilliant, deep amber color. The nose on this rum is wonderful, with very fragrant aromas of vanilla, molasses, and light oaky aromas. Those classic "rum" aromas are unmistakable here. The palate opens up with wonderful rummy flavors of molasses, toffee, vanilla, and light oak. It ends with more of those flavors and a warming, alcohol heat that lingers with those wonderful flavors.

This is an outstanding, hand crafted rum with fantastic aromas and flavors. Retailing for $32 a bottle, this is a very fair price for such a quality product. I love the fact that this rum is produced in my home state of Rhode Island, and is a tribute to Newport's rum producing past. This rum of course will work with any number of rum based drinks. That being said, with a rum of this quality, you really want to taste the rum. I enjoy Thomas Tew Rum neat, or on the rocks. It works very well in a Dark 'N Stormy (giner beer and rum) and the ubiquitous Rum and coke. The rum is the real star here, so if you are going to mix Thomas Tew, make it a drink where you can let the rum flavor really come though. If you find yourself in RI, you really should make the effort to find a bottle or two of Thomas Tew Rum, a welcome addition to any liquor cabinet. For more information visit the distillery's site at:

666 The Number of the Beer: Appalachian Batch No. 666

If you ever find yourself in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and you love great beer? You are in luck. Pennsylvania has a number of brewpubs and breweries from one end of PA to the other. The Appalachian Brewing Company of Harrisburg, PA is an outstanding brewpub/breweries with three PA locations; Harrisburg, Gettysburg, and Camp Hill, PA. I recently paid their Gettysburg, PA location and enjoyed some fantastic beers. Beer is available to go as well, and I was able to pick up a limited release 22 oz bottle of Batch No. 666 Ale.
Only 600 bottles of this beer was released in June of 2010, and can be purchased at the brewery's three locations for $6.66 a bottle. Stylistically this beer is an interesting one. It is a sub style of porter known as Scotch porter. This delicious, flavorful beer style can be found more on the brewpub level, but I have had some excellent bottled examples. Scotch porter takes the best of a robust, roasty porter and a sweet, malty, scotch ale. The end result is a beer just packed with big aromas, and flavors.
Batch No. 666 Ale pours to a deep brown, to black color, with a thick, creamy, tan head, and a moderate amount of carbonation. The nose on this beer is jam packed with big aromas. Sweet malt, caramel, light roast, coffee, dark chocolate, estery fruit, and piney hops. The palate is rich and full on the tongue, with lots of big flavors of sweet malt, butterscotch, coffee, light roasty, dark chocolate, with estery flavors of raisin and prune. This beer finishes with more big flavors of sweet malt, dark chocolate, roast, and estery fruit. Batch No. 666 Ale ends with some piney hop bitterness and some peppery alcohol that warms.
This is a wonderful beer to sip and savor. At 7.7% abv this is a great beer to relax with after work or a big meal. It would pair well with a number of deserts, and would go well with cigars as well. I find this type of beer more suited for the winter months, but would make a nice night cap beer in the summer months. Very limited release, this one can be purchased at Appalachian brewery locations, with a 3 bottle limit per customer. For more information visit the brewery's site at:

Friday, August 6, 2010

Virginia Whiskey: Wasmund's Single Malt Whisky

I have always been a big believer in supporting local businesses, and trying to buy as many local products as I can. When it comes to beer, I always drink local, as well as global, and I try to do the same when it comes to drinking spirits. The Commonwealth of Virginia is fortunate to have hundreds of vineyards and wineries with plenty of local choices. Virginia has plenty of microbreweries as well and even a a meadery or two. What many people don't know, even those who live in VA, is the fact Virginia is home to a handful of excellent distilleries as well. If it makes sense to drink local beers and wines, why not local spirits?

The Copper Fox Distillery was established in Sperryville, VA in 2000. This tiny distillery is what has become know in the trade as a microdistillery. Rick Wasmund has a true passion for whiskey, and in the whiskey world is a pioneer of sorts. He is doing a truly amazing thing with his Copper Fox Distillery, and his whiskey is like no other. Rick began his venture into the whiskey world with a six week apprenticeship at the Bowmore Distillery in Islay, Scotland. He returned with what he had learned in Scotland, and Copper Fox was born. Rick has taken the tradition of old world Scotch whisky distilling, and merged that knowledge with new and innovative methods of flavoring and barrel aging his whiskey. Taking a page from Bowmore, Copper Fox is the only distillery in the United States that actually malts its own barley, as well as apple and cherry wood smoking portions of it. The end product of merging the old and new is a truly unique whiskey.
Wasmund's Single Malt Whisky is a singular drinking experience. Pot stilled is small batches one barrel at a time, this whiskey is non-chill filtered retaining the true character of the grain. Barrels are then aged in the warehouse, and numbered bottlings will be a blend of a number of different barrels, with different aging and "chipping" ages used. One of Rick's new innovations is to let apple, cherry, or oak chips steep and and infuse in the barrel bringing their own unique aromas and flavors to the whiskey.
I have had bottlings from batch#6 and batch#26, both have been outstanding whiskeys to drink. Batch#6 is deep golden to light amber in color with peppery alcohol and light smoky aroma, a creamy mouth feel. Flavors of sweet malt roll on the tongue with hints of cinnamon, oak, light smoke, and grain. Sweet malt, cinnamon, and peppery alcohol heat linger as you sip this one. This is a wonderful sipping whiskey to drink neat or with just a few ounces of spring water. The flavor and aromas will open up, making it a wonderful spirit to relax with after a good meal.
Batch#26 is deep copper in color. The nose is bold on this one, with lots of peppery alcohol, aromas of sweet grain, aromas of oak, cinnamon, honey, and grain. Silky smooth on the palate, big sweet malt, light smoke, oak and grain glide over the tongue. This whiskey ends hot, with more sweet malt, honey, and oak flavors, making it very bourbon like.
This is but two examples of what to expect in a bottle of Wasmund's Single Malt Whisky. Retailing for $36-$40 a bottle depending what market you are in, this is a whiskey anyone should add to their liquor cabinet. I was actually purchased a bottle of batch#6 in Rhode Island for a steal at $20 a bottle! I would not recommend mixing this whiskey anymore I would with a fine single malt Scotch whiskey. This is the type of whisky you will want to sip and savor, and enjoy a very unique Virginia whiskey that takes the best of both old and new. For more information visit the distillery's site at:

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Flower Power: Willimantic Flower Infusion

The Willimantic Brewing Company and Main Street Cafe, of Willimantic, CT is one of the nation's best brewpubs in my opinion. It is my favorite brewpub of all time, and there are plenty of good reasons for that. I have visited this place literally dozens upon dozens of times, and each and every time I have come away happy. The atmosphere, the service, the food, are all fantastic, but beer is the true star here. Willimantic's house brewed beers are tremendous. Name a beer style and Willimantic has brewed it, and they have brewed it very well. This place is small enough that they can be innovative and creative, and that is a wonderful thing for an adventurous beer lover.

A great example of this is a beer I tried on draught last week on a recent visit to Willimantic. That beer is their Flower Infusion. This beer is billed as a Curvee de Fluers style Farmhouse Ale. It is brewed with European malts, wild flower honey, hopped with Marynka, and infused with Lavender, Caendula, Chamomile, Rose buds, and Hibiscus. Coming in at 6.7% abv, this is a beer to be sipped and savored.

This is a very complex, delicious, bold, flavorful beer with lots of interesting aromas and flavors. It came on draught at the brewpub on July 13th, 2010 so get on over to Willimantic before this one runs dry, as it is not your typical beer, and one well worth the time and effort to try.

Flower Infusion pours to a hazy, light amber color, with a tight, white head that slowly fades, and a moderate to soft carbonation. The nose on this beer is really fragrant and wonderful. Marynka is a Polish hop variety that has very "rooty" licorice aroma. You get those aromas in this beer and it marries well with the sweet and herbal aromas for the flowers used in this beer. It is amazing how well the flower aromas come though in the nose. It is literally like sticking your nose in a fresh bouquet of flowers and getting those sweet, fresh cut flowers aromas of lavender, caendula, chamomile, rose buds, and hibiscus. Sweet, herbal, and very pleasing this beer awakes your senses. The palate is just fanatic with a nice, soft malty base, with a wonderful back drop of honey sweetness ,that is slightly vicious as it rolls over the tongue. Flower Infusion finishes with more really great malt flavor and honey sweetness, then ends with a wonderful herbal flavor, a touch of licorice, and some hop bitterness that cuts the sweetness of this beer.

Amazing, unique, complex, interesting beer. It is the kind of beer you really have to taste for yourself. 1/2 gallon growlers are available to take this one home with you if you like. Willimantic Brewing continues to impress the hell out of me. For more information about this fantastic beer and the brewpub, visit their site at: