Category Archives: Adventures

NY Craft Beer Lunch at Birreria

Coincidentally, my vacation to New York City fell on the same week as Craft Beer Week. Huzzah! I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I was when I found. It was a moment better embodied in victory dance than words.

I purchased the “Passport” application for my iPhone and had a list of bars, events, and discounts for the week conveniently at my fingertips. The best part: $3 pints at most beer bars. Umm… yes, please!

Perhaps the best event that we attended: lunch at Birreria with Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head.

Birreria is a restaurant and brewery on the rooftop of Eataly, an Italian market/grocery store, in the Flatiron District. It’s a collaboration project between Dogfish HeadBaladin and Del Borgo and it is simply amazing. Their brew system is, simply put, gorgeous and filled the rooftop restaurant with the sweet smells of boiling wort.

All of their beers are unfiltered, unpasteurized, and naturally carbonated and served through traditional hand pumps at the ‘perfect’ temperature.

The lunch started with a tour by Sam Calagione and the head brewer, Sam Brookes. Of course, no brewery tour is complete without a pint and so we started with the Sophia, a traditionally brewed Belgian Wit with long black peppercorns selected by Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich & Birreria Brothers.

One of the great components of the restaurant is the retractable glass roof. Outside the rain came down in sheets, but provided a welcome background to a very hearty lunch.

The lunch kicked off with a few platters of salumi and glasses (?) of pretzel sticks.

A few minutes later the cheese followed.

And then came the wonder that is the beer battered fried shiitake mushrooms.

The Antipasti was paired with Birra Del Borgo Genziana, a saison spiced with gentian root (which is known for its earthy bitterness and coriander notes). The beer had something to offer for the entire first course. It was dry, crisp, and stepped up from the wheat beer we started with. There was no shortage of pours, either… a half full glass meant a top off was on its way.

Before the second course, Sam stood up and let us know that the glasses were limited and they only had enough for one per person. Then came my favorite quote of the day: Beer drinkers spit and wine drinkers swallow, so let’s all drink at a beer drinker’s pace. I guzzled my fourth pour to empty my glass for the next beer. It was hardly the end of the first course and I was drinking the equivalent of a third beer…

The second course: MEAT. And lots of it. First came the grilled quail, beef short ribs, fried pork ribs, and smoked lamb sausages.

These were paired with a Dogfish Head 2010 Bitches Brew, a bold, dark beer that’s a fusion of three threads of imperial stout and one thread honey beer with gesho root. 

About ten minutes into the second course they brought out a few small bowls roasted root vegetables. We all had a good laugh at how the healthy portion of the lunch was more of an afterthought and left the buttered carrots alone.

Before the last course, Sam introduced Christian DeBenedetti, author of The Great American Beer Trail and the beer ‘curator’ whose name escapes me, but both shared their passion of beer and how they have turned it into a career.

The last course was a forgettable tiramisu that was paired with a not-so-forgettable Italian Beer, Baladin Super, an amber strong ale with hints of cinnamon.

To end the meal: an absolutely unforgettable beer. Sam introduced a new Dogfish Head collaboration, Urkontinent. He let us know we were the first after an initial group of 8 to try it. Over a week has passed and I’m still thinking about this beer… it’s an interesting dark ale that’s relatively light in body with unique floral and spice notes from the Australian waddleseed, myrica gale, and African Rooibos tea that are added to the brew.

After the lunch, Sam walked around and introduced himself to everyone. His excitement for the beers and food never wavered and he seemed genuinely interested every time someone would ask him about something. I’m not going to lie – I was impressed. When he stopped by our table, ee talked about different Texas brewers he knew, the Alamo Drafthouse, and the explosion of the Austin beer scene. Very cool.

I had high expectations for the lunch and the experience surpassed those expectations. If you ever find yourself in Manhatten and you enjoy really good craft beer – go to Birreria and order a flight.

Above is our table, which included @OneHopAtATime – a fellow homebrewer. I love meeting fellow craft beer enthusiasts. As Hunter S. Thompson wrote in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, “Good people drink good beer.” All in all, it was a pretty f’ing fantastic way to spend the afternoon.


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A tweet on Friday from Kocurek Family Charcuterie, @KFAcharcuterie, read: Pig butchery class this weekend on for just a donation. location to be giving out two hours before demo…be in south austin…space limited

Pig butchering class? Yes, please! I cleared my night and anxiously awaited the location. It was announced at 5:30pm – a small kitchen in one hour. Traffic was at its worst, the first UT home game of the season, and I live on the other side of town. How could I forget? We fought traffic and arrived at 6:30pm on the nose. Once there we were promptly greeted by the fairly large fellow pictured below and a solid handshake from the man who raised him, Lawrence Kocurek.

Awhile back I posted about the Whole Hog Class with Dai Due. This was nothing like that. This was last minute, minimally planned, and free of any charge. This was a very small class for people who were genuinely interested taught by a man who truly wanted to share his craft. To paraphrase Lawrence, we would be butchering him anyway, so why not invite people to join?

The class consisted of Lawrence, another Kacurek Family Charcuterie employee, and five other people (myself included). The evening began with no introductions, they were unnecessary; instead, it began with removing the head from a 256 pound pig and not one person batted an eye.

Someone asked a question about rendering fat for lard. Lawrence stopped to show us the line between the soft and hard fat. He waited until we each had a chance to see for ourselves. He talked about modern breeds and how most don’t have much fat at all, how it has been bred out in favor of leaner meats. He took the time to explain why the pig they have for breeding is an old world breed, how they want to keep some of that fat on their animals. When he talked about his pigs his eyes lit up. These pigs aren’t just pigs that are raised somewhere for production – they are his pigs – his family – his livelihood – and it showed.

From that point forward the class went quickly. Lawrence explained each cut, each section of the pig, and what each part would be used for. Not one piece would go to waste. Questions were welcomed and he would stop to answer each one in detail.

We learned about processing plants, hanging weight versus regular weight, how to tell if the kidneys are healthy, and more. Topics varied, but no discussion strayed far from the noble beast at hand.

What began as an incredibly large animal was now nothing more than bones.

What surprised me the most was size of the hog’s frame. The bone structure supports 300+ pounds, but is tiny in comparison to the hog’s overall size.

An hour and a half later and it was over. There were no hand-out’s, no suggested reading material. The class was impromptu and somehow it worked. Lawrence shared his craft in a setting best described as casual; the five of us watched with wide eyes and learned everything we wanted to know because our questions helped guide the night and he had an answer to every one. It was an experience I will not soon forget.

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Southern California – Mini Brewery Tour

San Diego is my home. I regularly kick myself for taking the city for granted when I lived there. In my defense, I left when I was 18, but that really isn’t an excuse when it comes just how marvelous of a place it really is.

And then there’s the beer. Good gosh, there’s the beer. I could rave for hours about how amazing it is. Hell, you’ve probably heard that rave countless times. I don’t need to repeat it, so I won’t. Instead, this post is going to be relatively quick because my visit was quick (and I was too distracted to remember to take many pictures…) and I’ll try not to stray from the breweries visited and an overview of beers tasted that stood out.

First on the list: Alpine Beer Company

I grew up in Alpine, CA. It’s a small town in East County San Diego which, when I lived there, had a population of barely 13,000 people. Those 13,000 people shared one grocery store and one fast food joint, Carl’s Jr. Nowadays the population has increased and there are several stop lights instead of the lonely two that existed in the days I was learning to drive.. What else do they now have? A brewery! I won’t lie, my hopes were not high when I first visited. I was expecting mediocre at best. What I found was something my wet dreams are made of: a varied selection of incredibly well crafted and balanced beers.

Their Ned Flanders Red is easily my favorite. It’s almost perfect, which is difficult to achieve with such a complex and sour beer, but they attempted it and they nailed it. Then there’s the Alpine Pale Ale.. I drink one and find myself wishing it would never end. It’s sessionable, dangerously sessionable, because it offers everything you want in a pale ale: slightly bitter, slightly hoppy, slightly malty, and a finish that’s clean and crisp and heaven sent.

Is the brewery worth the 45 minute drive from the Coast? For the food.. absolutely not. For the beer? Absolutely.

Second stop was AleSmith Brewing Company.

It’s quietly nestled in the design district in Mira Mesa, CA between furniture distribution centers and light fixture show rooms. The crowd picked up around 5pm and was predominately men in business casual who were all in good cheer as they drank away the previous 8 hours. My favorite thing about AleSmith: $1 tasters and their chipper service never wavered even when I bombarded them with questions and pictures.

Was their selection really that great, though? For a brewery without a pub, it really was. All of their year-round beers were on tap, as well as their current seasonal releases and a few ‘you won’t find it anywhere else anymore’ beers such as the Barrel Aged 2006 Decadence, an Imperial Red Ale that was a tangy, boozy, lush of a beer that stood out against the rest. The rest, however, were quite good. I have yet to meet an AleSmith beer that I don’t like.

The third stop: Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits

There was no missing this joint, even though it was hidden in a business park not far from AleSmith. The crowd, while slightly older, was exponentially louder. People spilled from the tasting room onto the front entry, despite the rule against it. No one seemed to mind. Their walls were lined with ribbons, memorabilia, and signs. While ordering a pint, it’s easy to be distracted by the brewery that lies directly behind the bar showing you exactly where the beer you’re drinking comes from.

Their selection consisted primarily of popular and easily marketed styles (IPA, Wheat, Amber..)

My favorite was the Habanero Sculpin IPA. Rarely do chiles provide more than heat when used in a beer. In this case, the heat from the habanero was certainly there, but it was much more subdued than one would expect from a pepper with such potency. Instead, the heat lingered in the background and added another layer to an already delicious beer.

Would I go back? Probably, but it’s not at the top of my list. It’s easier to pick up a bottle or two of their best from BevMo! or just about any other well stocked corner store in San Diego County.

And last, but certainly not least: The Bruery.

I don’t even know where to start when it comes to this one. This brewery caused me to regress: little kid in a candy store after opening Christmas presents and there’s a rainbow overhead and a unicorn is my best friend style. My expectations were sky high when I arrived, but there was no concern that they may not meet those expectations. The beer later validated just that; it lives up to the hype. I was lucky enough to visit on Sour Sunday with two friends. We tried every beer, with the exception of two (Saison Rue and Hottenroth).

I don’t even know that I can choose a favorite. They were all pretty extraordinary. My top three? The Marron Acidifie was out of this world in an I can die happy knowing I’ve tried this beer kind of way. The Barrel Aged Cuir was thick and strong and full of bourbon notes that made me wish I could hibernate in a bottle all winter. And the Kriek, oh the Kriek, it made my lips pucker and want to kiss the bartender to say thank you for providing me with such amazing brews.

I didn’t even touch on the amazing beer bars! Maybe next time I’ll remember to take more photographs & notes.. Beer and good company can be entirely too distracting in the best possible way.

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Birthday Brewery Tour

I’m not one to celebrate birthdays. I’d much rather have people owe me a pint the next time we hang out than have people buying me an excess of pints in one night that I’ll likely not remember. That being said, I still can’t celebrate a birthday without beer, so… what better way to spend a birthday than a brewery tour! Apologies in advance for the lack of pictures. I was distracted by beer..

First stop: Ranger Creek Brewery & Distillery in San Antonio. If you haven’t been to one of their open houses, well, I highly recommend making the drive out there (that’s assuming you’re also in the great land of Texas). It’s a fun way to spend a couple of hours on a sunny afternoon. And what’s better than beer from the source? Not much.

$5 for 3 full pints and I’m well on my way to having a great day. There was live music (a guy and a gal singing Irish rock music with lyrics about cheating on each other and drinking lots of beer), a hot dog stand, and three types of beer: Oatmeal Pale Ale, La Bestia Aimable, and Mesquite Smoked Porter. The sun was shining overhead and we found a comfortable place to lay in the grass. It wasn’t long before everyone congregated in the front of the brewery, which also happened to be near this barrel of fermenting beer with the most creative airlock ever…

From there, we were led through their brewhouse. Check out the gorgeous distiller:

And their shipping container turned bourbon store house:

Supposedly, the smaller barrels increase the wood to liquid ratio and will thereby shorten the barrel aging time. Needless to say, I can’t wait to try some when it’s finally released. (next summer?) They’re also in the process of allowing people to ‘reserve’ their own barrel of the Texas bourbon whiskey goodness (pending TABC approval). In the meantime, sign up for more information on this nifty concept.

We left Ranger Creek in the late afternoon and found ourselves at Freetail Brewing Co. The casual brewpub wasn’t anything like I expected. The beers were plentiful and offered unique flavor combinations. The ones that stood out the most – the two variations of their Figgy Pudding. It was well rounded without being too “figgy” in taste, but bordered on syrupy.. Not unexpected in a beer with “pudding” in the name, but not something I could drink more than a few sips of. The HB660 was tasty, as was the wheat beer brewed with rye.

Alas, the sun set and we were on our way to the third and final stop: Root Cellar Cafe + Darkside Fermentation. At this point, I won’t lie, I was feeling the buzz and in need of more than a few glasses of water. We ordered dinner. The beer bread was malty and delicious. The pecan crusted chicken was moist and delicious. And their Belgian Blonde.. Oh my. That was definitely one of the stand out pints of the day. Small batch Belgian beers = happiness.

Long story short, Austin definitely isn’t the only place in Texas with some amazing craft beers. I have a feeling I’ll be heading back to San Antonio and San Marcos relatively soon. I also need to venture North towards Fort Worth/Dallas in the near future. Hooray for beer inspired road trips!

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Sweets at Congress

Have you been to David Bull’s trio of fabulousness on 2nd Street and Congress? You need to. Seriously. It’s GOOD.

The first time I simply stopped by the bar with a very specific drink in mind: something refreshing with fernet, but it couldn’t be sweet or pink. I asked our server to have the bartender mix up what he would. The result? One of the most satisfying libations I have had the pleasure of consuming. To my further surprise, he came out from behind the bar to introduce himself and explain the drink. My response: can I hug you???

There have been a couple of other dining tales, but the one that stands out best: a dessert extravaganza! And I’m not even a dessert person! Their Pastry Chef will rock your sweet tooth in ways you didn’t know possible.

And here’s what we had (now if only I could remember the descriptions):

Grapefruit sorbet with campari poprocks and a slew of other goodies.

Sweet potato beignets sprinkled with chicory, served with salted butter ice cream.

A play on a hoho (?) with a surprise cream center. In the back (and not really pictured): a pecan pie filled doughnut served with a whiskey milkshake. Um.. YUM! The plates left fully cleaned and I was ready to fall over into a blissful sugar coma.

Did I mention (or have you heard) Congress received 5 stars from the Stateman Restaurant Critic? Surpassing even Uchi and Uchiko? Yeah, I’d say they’re doing pretty well at this new restaurant gig.

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The Whole Hog

I have only a few end goals in life:

1) run a marathon

2) get a PhD

3) learn the butchering trade

Recently, beer has become a potential fourth goal, but that is neither here, nor there, at least not for this post.

In pursuit of goal #3, I signed up for a whole hog butchering class with Jesse of Dai Due. How could I not? I mean, have you tasted this man’s magnificent meat? It’s like heaven in mouth; deliciously soul stirring meat heaven in mouth. If that description doesn’t make you run to the Farmer’s Market on Guadalupe this Saturday, well, I don’t know what will.

Moving on..

This Whole Hog Butchering class took place some time ago in the yesteryear of November 21, 2010, but still remains vibrant in memory (and notes and pictures).

Here’s the legend and the beast:

This beautiful creature went from whole hog to shoulder, loin, belly, and leg in no time. Such a sight to behold.

My favorite part of the course, however, was the making of head cheese:

I could go on and on and on like the song that never ends about my meat morals and how no other culinary revival warms my heart like the revival of nose to tail eating, but I’ll spare you the verbose side note … for now, at least. In the meantime, here’s a picture of the classic favorite:

Pork belly! Pre-bacon bacon! But wait, there’s more!!

A whole slew of pretty piggy parts. Racks and hocks and loins – oh my! But what about the rest? We rendered leaf fat for luscious lard, prepared neck meat for rillettes, cured shoulder for tasso ham, braised and roasted belly to eat right out of the oven, and more.

But what was the focus? Oh yeah, SAUSAGE. From this class I went home with fresh liverwurst, kielbasa, chorizo, and boudin blanc. Four significantly different styles of sausage and all four of which were crazy good.

Important things I learned about sausage making: it’s not easy. More detailed? Use a mixer and mix until sticky to prevent crumbling; keep everything as cold as possible for better texture (grinder in freezer style); eyeball for 25% fat; etc..

We’re now about two and a half hours (and about a bottle of wine – did I mention it was BYOB, because it totally was) into the class. What does that mean? Break time! And what does break time at Dai Due mean? Lots of delicious food.

Pate, olive oil poached tuna, herbed cream cheese, pork cracklins, and more.

Break time over = headcheese time.

The cheek meat and tongue are, by far, the best part. This is a little picked over as we then pressed most of the meat (ears included) into a loaf pan to make headcheese. It was delicious right off the stove top, but even more delicious after it had time to gelatinize in the bread pan.

Let’s just say that since this class I have purchased a meat grinder, sausage stuffer, and several books on the topic. Although the home sausage making adventure has yet to begin, I have a feeling it will soon, and, rest assured, I will absolutely post about it.

And on a final note, here’s a list of my current reads:

The River Cottage Meat Book – Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery – Jane Grigson

The Whole Beast. Nose to Tail Eating – Fergus Henderson

And a couple sausage making books.

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