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Being Brewer for a Day at Empire Brewpub in Syracuse!

19 Apr


Last month (yes it’s been awhile since I’ve updated my blog!) I wrote about Empire Brewery’s “12 Pack Challenge,” that my bf and I completed during New York City Craft Beer Week back at the end of February.   So it turns out, we won! (Ok so he technically won but I’m sharing the credit since it was definitely a joint effort!).

Next thing I know, we’re being whisked off to Syracuse (in an Amtrak train) and put up in a sweet hotel so that we can spend the day brewing with Empire at their brewpub located in Armory Square, a trendy neighborhood in downtown Syracuse. 

Being at the brewpub is like hanging out with your family: the cooks, servers, and bartenders, and the staff in general are all just a great group of people who seem to really enjoy their work.  The pub serves up great grub as well as their signature beers and is definitely worth a visit (or 2) if you happen to be in the area. 

While Empire brews their beer both on premise at the brewpub (where we brewed) and on contract at Greenpoint Beer Works in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn (a brewery where Kelso and the Heartland chain also brew their beer), they are about to break ground for their own farm-house brewery in Cazenovia, New York, a town about 30 minutes southeast of the city of Syracuse.

David Katleski, owner of Empire Brewing Co., and president of the New York State Brewers Association, has been super-busy with this project but was still able to spend some time with us during our upstate visit.

 He was most recently awarded the F.X. Matt “Defender of the Industry,” award at this year’s Craft Brewers Conference and it is a well-deserved title for this pioneer who has had a heavy hand in aiding with the passing of some new brewer-friendly laws that were recently approved in New York state.  Plus, he’s just a really nice guy who acted as a gracious host during our brief visit up there last week.  I can’t wait to follow the progress of this new brewery, sure to be a state-of-art facility with an emphasis on local ingredients and resources. 

So what was it like to brew at Syracuse’s Empire Brewpub?  Amazing, of course.  After a hearty Monday dinner at Dinosaur Barbeque (you can not visit Syracuse without eating here—it’s a definite must!) and a few beers afterward at the brewpub, Brewmaster Tim Butler reminded us to get a good night’s rest (aka don’t be too hung-over tomorrow) since we would meet him bright and early the next morning to start the brewing process.

Thank goodness for the hearty breakfast served up at our hotel, The Jefferson Clinton, conveniently located a stone’s throw away from the Empire Brewpub.

We entered the brewery (a pretty small space) and were greeted by Tim as he searched for the recipe we’d be making that day.  He had a special surprise in store for us and while some home-brewers and brewmasters may scoff at the idea of brewing a simple pale ale, I believe it’s a benchmark brew that every great brewer should master.  Empire does not currently have a Pale Ale on tap and brews the style seasonally (at harvest time using fresh hops from local Central New York farmers).

Nat, the assistant brewer, showed us to their storage room (where they keep their grain), requiring a walk through the kitchen.  We helped him left 10 bags of malt, each weighing in at 55 lbs. (those bags were heavy!) and wheeled them back to the brewing room. 

The brewing room is located behind the bar and adjacent to the dining room, so if you are having lunch or an afternoon beer at the pub, you can watch the brewers at work. 

We (kind of) helped Nat empty the grain bags into the mill where a long black pipe carried the grains into the mash tun.  Tim stood above the tun making sure the mash temperature was correct and stirring in the grains.  While we were there to brew, I have never worked on commercial equipment before (just a stove in my kitchen) so Nat and Tim pulled the levers and set the temps while explaining the process to us.

Next we helped empty one of the fermenters, which was full of their delicious coffee Scotch Ale, Local Grind, and was probably the last of the batch for this year, since the beer is more of a winter seasonal.  The fermenter yields about 12 barrels which are then stored into the cooler or driven down to NYC.  The brewpub serves 10-12 of their house-made beers at any given time, but they only brew about twice a week on a regular basis. 

Throughout the hours-long brewing process we watched Nat work his butt off, making sure everything stays clean and sanitized at each step along the way.  The brewing room felt like a sauna, and we were told it becomes unbearably hot in the summer time. 

Brewing beer is tedious and physically challenging as I discovered that day, and although the process is essentially the same as it is home-brewing in our kitchen, it is of course on a much larger scale.  Time for a beer break (because we were there to drink as well as brew): I went for their seasonal maibock, Empire Strikes Bock, which seemed an appropriate beer to drink during a long day of brewing. 

After mashing, the wort is piped into the brew kettle where it has to reach a boiling point.  This is the fun part: adding the hops!  We added a series of hops every 15 minutes or so, finishing off with Chinook (for aroma) and after 60 minutes, the brew is cooled before being blasted off into the fermenter where the hungry yeasties lie dormant, waiting for their meal. 

Overall, it was a simple process, and we did a lot more watching than brewing but we enjoyed the experience fully.  Nat talked us through the entire process, letting us know exactly what he was doing with every pull of the lever and every hose that he hooked up. 

In a few weeks, we hope to drink our beer with the Empire crew on their next visit down to New York City! 

After lunch and brewing, we went across the street to the Blue Tusk, which seems to be the spot the Empire crew hangs out at while not working at the pub and it’s easy to see why!  The “Tusk,” as it is fondly referred to by the natives, has an amazing tap selection that ranges from local to rare to imports.  Certainly a well-curated collection, as the owner, Mike, truly knows his beer. 

Knowledgeable Brewmaster, Tim Butler, gave us a mini-tour of the surrounding area, describing a scene on the Armory’s grassy lawn where he revived a man during his days former to being a brewer. A native of Syracuse, Tim told us about the history and the architecture in the neighborhood and made a great tour guide.

After a nap (completely necessary after a day of brewing and imbibing some brews), we were treated to a lovely dinner at the brewpub and plenty of Empire schwag to take home with us, including a couple of growlers filled with their well-balanced and easily quaffable IPA and one of my personal favorites, Deep Purple.

I can’t wait until their new brewery is up and running, and the building of it is a process I will be following closely.  Thanks to Tim, Dave, Nat and all the crew at Empire for showing us a good time and letting us brew at their facility!  I can’t wait to try our beer…


The Empire Challenge: A NYC Beer Week Adventure

5 Mar


NYC Beer Week is now officially over and I hope that you enjoyed the events (and of course, the amazing beer) as much as I did.  While I do have a full-time job (which I should take vacation from next year during this week), I still managed to attend a few events and best of all, complete the Empire Brewing Company’s 12 Pack Challenge.

The task was to visit 12 (and a bonus 13) bars listed and order an Empire beer at each location.  After ordering the beer, one received a stamp on a postcard indicating your purchase.  Completed entries will have the chance to win a slew of prizes including being “Brewer for a Day,” up at Empire’s Syracuse location or a Grand Prize of “Beer for a Year,” a growler full of an Empire beer for each month of the year plus other fun stuff.

If you know me, you know I like a challenge.  I also really like beer.  And Empire is one of my favorite breweries.  So, naturally, I had to do this, no matter how intimidating the task seemed.

The first day of Beer Week I was browsing through the events: I had my handy “Voice” guide in hand and a desire to not miss anything this year’s beer week had to offer.

While it may be the 5th year this city has held a beer week, it’s the first year that it was organized by the New York City Brewer’s Guild (NYCBG)—basically a conglomerate of our city’s brewers, who joined forces to become even more awesome and share their craft with the city and beyond.  It’s like “The Fellowship of the Ring,” but even better because it involves drinking great beer, not trying to rid ourselves of some evil force (unless of course, that evil force is bad beer, which if that’s the case then it’s a very honorable mission).

Anyway, after reading about this challenge (thanks to Brew York, New York for the head’s up), I decided it was on, and no matter what happened this week, I would collect all 13 stamps!

First, I had to figure out where to start.  This was fairly simple, because I live on the North Shore of Staten Island, lower Manhattan is a cinch to get to.  Taking the 6 train to Spring Lounge was easy enough.  It was here we picked up our postcards and had our first Empire beer: the awesome Nitro-fueled Cream Ale (Yes I said “we” because I dragged my bf through the whole thing with me—two entries is better than one!  And if he wins, I hope he takes me up to Syracuse with him).

Spring Lounge has always had a solid craft beer selection—I attribute it as one of the first places I ever had craft beer back in college.  Unfortunately, on this particular Saturday afternoon, the bar was packed full of bachelorette parties and bros hugging each other.  Needless to say after we collected our first stamp, the challenge was on and it was also time to move on.

To Puck Fair, another great NoLita bar with a decent craft selection (Brooklyn Blast!, anyone?) and Irish bartenders.  Empire Cream Ale again—and also confused bartenders with no stamp in sight.  Ok, well, a signature validates our visit and its on to the next—no time to linger with 11 more bars to go.

After a pizza pit stop (one can’t forget to eat in drinking challenges like this) we visited Randolph Beer, a bar I had never been to.  Their prices were a bit steeper than the other places we visited (this place is FANCY) but our bartender, Surendra, was gracious and excited to help us complete our journey.  Here, we had both the Deep Purple (one if not my favorite from Empire) and Empire’s newest brew, Local Grind: A Scotch Ale brewed with coffee beans.  So good!  We had a great time here and will definitely be back.  But it was time to travel on.

While we could’ve (should’ve) walked to our next stop, it would have been a long stroll through the East Village and we were desperate to get to our next stop, Upstate.  This is a destination I’ve been dying to get to and I thank this challenge in forcing me to visit for that elusive 13th stamp, which would enter us into the “Baker’s Dozen” portion of the contest: a chance to be “Brewer for a Day” at Empire’s home brewery in Syracuse.  Sure, we’ve been up there before, but the winner also gets a farm-to-table-dinner with Brewwmaster Tim Butler and Founder David Katleski.  I want that!

Upstate is more of a restaurant than a bar with a focus on local seafood and local (New York State) beer.  I don’t eat really seafood (deathly allergic to shellfish—could be worse—I could be allergic to beer) so we asked the guy at the door (who happened to be one of the owners) if we could just grab a beer.  Problem with a place like this on a Saturday is that it’s tiny and it was PACKED.  The small bar is more of a place to hang out while  waiting to be seated at a table, but they were able to and kind enough to seat us at a table even though we didn’t plan to eat.  Awesome.

Well, one beer turned into an order of ceviche (beautiful) and a nice little dessert of their famous whiskey cake (so tasty!).  Our server was a sweetheart and we were able to drink the There Will be Bock, a delicious bock beer that one doesn’t see often in the Empire line up.  We were happy—happy enough to trek to our next spot: Taproom 307.

Another place I was excited to visit—Beer Sommelier Hayley Jensen and chef (and husband) Stephen Durley have created a “Beer Emporium,” at this Gramercy tavern, and again, being Saturday night, the place was packed.  We ordered up our Empire brews and received our stamps but didn’t linger too long.  We’ll have to go back to this place soon and when it’s a little easier to move around.  Their beer list is impressive and they hold numerous beer events weekly.  A more ideal time to visit would’ve been this past Saturday, March 2nd, when they held an Empire Brewery brunch and New York State beer tap takeover!

Our next and last stop on February 23rd was The Pony Bar, again one of Manhattan’s premier craft destinations (with a tap list that sticks to American craft beers).  After an Empire here it was time to throw in the towel for the night and figure out how (and when) we’d finish this adventure.


Our Newest Two Girls One Pint Video featuring the guys from Bitter and Esters

25 Feb

Szoke from Two Girls One Pint brews an English Style IPA with the guys from Bitter and Esters

Homebrew Alley VII…

21 Jan


Maybe you’ve been home-brewing for a while or just started recently.  Either way, here’s your chance to enter your first local competition of the new year!

Beginning this weekend (January 18th) and up until February 1st, you can drop off your entries at Brooklyn Homebrew or Bitter & Esters (both in Brooklyn) or Jimmy’s No. 43 in Manhattan, as well as two locations on Long Island.  If you would like to enter this competition, you have 2 weeks to do so!

The competition is open to anyone (you do not have to be a Guild member) and will be held on February 9th at the Alewife Queens

There will also be some great prizes, including gift certificates to Brooklyn Homebrew and Bitter & Esters, and a “Brewmaster’s Choice Award,” chosen and presented by the Head Brewer (Pete Dickson) and Brewmaster (Jan Matysiak) of Sixpoint Brewery in Brooklyn.  The winner of this award will be invited to brew 15 bbls of their award-winning recipe at Sixpoint’s facility in Redhook. 

Of course, the beer must be made at home and will be judged as per the 2008 BJCP style guidelines.  For each entry submitted, there is a $7 fee and for every beer you enter, two twelve to twenty-two ounce brown or green glass bottles must be submitted together and dropped off (or mailed in) to the appropriate locations. For more detailed information and entry requirements, check out www.homebrewalley.org

So what is the benefit of entering a home-brew competition?  While I’ve only ever entered one (“The Queen of Hops” last November in New Jersey), I think there are many advantages to entering, whether you are a novice or experienced homebrewer. 

First off, there’s the feedback you receive from the judges, usually BJCP certified ones.  This way, you can find out what you did right, or perhaps, wrong, so you can fix it in the future.  Brewing is a learning process and while you may think you’re beer tastes amazing, there may be off-flavors you aren’t detecting or you may have strayed too much from the style.  Things like color, aroma, and mouthfeel are all important when judging a beer, whether it is your own or someone else’s.    

In addition, there’s great commraderie behind the homebrewers participating in the competition.  The New York City Homebrewers Guild is a great organization that meets monthly and has been around for long time.  If you started home-brewing recently, perhaps consider joining a local home-brewing club in your area. 

While here at “Two Girls One Pint,” we are unsure whether we’ll be entering, we definitely will be attending the Homebrew Alley VII awards ceremony at the Alewife Queens.  This is just the first of many home-brewing events we hope to attend and participate in this coming year!      

Welcoming the New Year with Great Beer

3 Jan



What a year 2012 has been!  It was a great year for craft beer, as more breweries have opened up, making 2751 breweries operating in the United States according to data released by the Beer Institute (an industry research group) last month.  This means there are more craft breweries in existence now than there has ever been in American history (since before Prohibition).  There seems to be a new American craft brewery opening up every day!    

This data is not absolutely shocking to me judging by the new breweries that spring up at every beer festival I’ve attended in the past year and new taps popping up in my favorite craft beer bars in the city.  This is truly an exciting time for craft beer!

And along with this trend, there also seems to be more craft beer bars opening up in this great city of ours.  While I wish I had time to visit every one, this year one of my “resolutions,” is to visit as many as I can and share my experiences with you so you can check them out and judge for yourself.  Here are just two craft beer bars that I want to highlight that have opened up in the past year or so and are worth checking out if happen to be anywhere in the downtown area.  While they aren’t necessarily brand new, both are unique and offer up some great beers in an alternative environment to just the typical beer bar.


The Growler Bites & Brews —15 South William Street/55 Stone Street, New York, NY 10004


While almost every neighborhood in NYC across the five boroughs seems to have some kind of craft beer bar (and some ‘hoods, like Park Slope, have one on every block), whether it be a bar that existed before and has began offering more craft taps or it’s a brand new establishment built around the burgeoning craft beer scene, the Financial District (FiDi for you real estate people) seems to have quite a lack. 

The Growler amended this problem when it opened early last year.  Offering growlers to either take home or enjoy at the bar, this is just one aspect of this tavern that makes it unique. 

Another highlight is the house brews, the “Brrright” and the “Darrrk,” which are brewed specifically for this establishment respectively by Stoudt’s (of Pennsylvania) and Sixpoint. Both are meant to be solid, session-able beers: The Brrright is a blonde colored, German style lager, while the Darrrk is a chocolate-y colored, but surprisingly light-bodied English mild.  While saying their names may make one feel like “Tony the Tiger”(both are grrreat), the availability of these beers reminds me of going to McSorley’s and having to pick between their light or dark beer (I like both) and offer a nice option for those guests who may want to hang out and throw back a couple of brews. 

Although drinking a few beers here can get quite expensive as all their beers are $7 or $8, and no happy hour option.  I guess it’s what one can expect for the neighborhood but it still seems a bit on the pricey side to me.

In addition to the house brews, the bar offers about twelve other taps and on my frequent visits to this place, the selection is always pretty good.  Try the Jolly Pumpkin Oro de Calabaza, a sour, funky beer from Michigan that is considered to be a Biere de Garde and is brewed in the Franco-Belgian tradition with wild yeasts. 

If Belgians aren’t your thing, they usually have a few decent IPA’s on tap including on a recent visit, Ballast Point’s Sculpin and Green Flash’s Imperial IPA. 

Growler also offers some great cocktails, including batched options, as well as food, the most enticing of which is their hot dogs, imported from across the bridge from Brooklyn’s Mile End.  These gourmet dogs come in a Hawaiian style (with pineapple relish and papaya mustard), Chicago-style, or a style you come up with on your own from a list of their gourmet toppings like apple slaw.  All dogs can be made vegetarian for those of you who would rather be petting dogs than eating them. 

Speaking of dogs, it’s obvious the place has a canine theme, with portraits of different breeds covering the dining room walls.  Despite this, your pooch is not allowed inside thanks to NYC health codes, so Fido will have to wait outside while you drink your beer!  Still, this pub offers up some solid grub and great craft beers, so it’s worth checking out if you happen to work or live near the area.    


Idle Hands –25 Avenue B (between 2nd and 3rd street) New York, NY 10009


I’ve been dying to check this place out since it opened (about a year and a half now) and made me think of the late ‘90’s Devon Sawa movie (I had such a bad grade school crush), and this week, it finally happened. 

Idle Hands has already established itself as a mecca of cool encompassing everything I could possibly want in one place: Beer, bourbon, and rock ‘n’ roll.  Oh how I wish I lived in the East Village!  I’d probably be here everyday. 

Or at least every Wednesday night, where they host tastings and for $10 you can get yourself a sample of the night’s featured whiskey, 3 tastes of the featured brewery of the night along with 2 full pours of the beer.  Oh, and tater tots.  How can you beat that?  The tasting session runs from 7-9 p.m. and reservations are encouraged.

I plan to visit this bar much more in the future, especially nights where they have DJ’s playing alternative tracks from the’90’s or maybe the first Thursday of every month when they have a an Emo/Post-Hardcore party. 

And this is a perfect spot to try pairing some good ‘ole American whiskey with your beer.  On my visit I sipped a Four Roses Yellow Label bourbon while chasing it with a Founder’s Porter.  Mmmmmmm a perfect winter night treat. 

They open at 5 p.m. everyday except for Sundays when they open at noon and also have a sweet happy hour (M-Sat.) that lasts from 5-8 p.m., when all their draft beers are $5.


January is a good month to stay indoors and try some great new beers.  This month, “Two Girls One Pint,” plans on visiting even more beer bars and maybe a brewery or two.  Oh 2013, I love you already!   



Harpoon Brewery Part II

18 Dec

Sorry to leave our readers in suspense—it’s just when you have such an extra ordinary experience, it’s hard to put it all into words.

Most of you have probably visited a brewery before—you are taken on a tour, get samples in the tasting room, learned more about the brand and its history—you leave a little more informed and a little more drunk than when you came in.  Every brewery seems to have its own nuances.  Our visit to Harpoon was especially unique because Al Marzi, Chief of Brewing Operations and a guy who’s been with the company for 21 years (almost since its inception), was our own personal tour guide.

He started in the company lunchroom, a modest place with an admirable collection of random hot sauces (why do beer and hot sauce always seem to go together?).  From there he walked us through the “factory”–visiting a brewery always seems to be a Willy Wonka-type experience.  You see where they mill the grains, mash them, sparge and then add hops and other spices to the wort.  If you’re lucky, you’ll be entertained by the bottling line (always even more fascinating when you’ve already tasted a few brews)—this particular bottling line applies a label on both the front and back of the bottle—oooooooo.

Al also pointed out where they will soon be installing a canning line.  While they currently can their signature IPA, UFO, and their summer seasonal at upstate FX Matt Brewing Co. in Utica, NY, you can anticipate a bigger canned selection soon due to this new addition.

He also showed us where they’re working on experimental, 400-gallon batches.  Well, some of them work out and some don’t!  You’re next favorite beer may be brewing there now…

So now for the biggest news of all—Harpoon is opening a large beer garden-type hall where future tastings will take place and tours will take off.  You bet we’ll be there for the Grand Opening!

A few days before our visit, the Harpoon staff had a company holiday party where they celebrated the end of “Movember,” in the not-yet-opened beer hall, at their “Stache-bash” all while giving back to some local charities.  Moustaches for a great cause?  Yeah, we love that!  Al himself earned special recognition with his “checkerboard” beard, a signature pattern on all of Harpoon’s beers (it was unfortunately absent upon our visit—we bet Al couldn’t wait to get rid of it!).  For photo evidence, check out their Facebook page.    

The conclusion of our tour took us right back to that lunchroom—much more enlightened after our journey we inquired about the “staff taps”—there seemed to be a few unavailable-to-the-public beers there.  Al let us sample a sour—so delicious!  Although, it will probably never become a 100 Barrel Series beer due to the threat of infestation from Brettanomyces…what a shame!! (But understandable).  And not everybody enjoys the sour beers.  And as Al pointed out, they don’t exist to chase trends.  I’d add that Harpoon sets them!  Either way, it’s a great way to decide what’s coming up next for their 100 Barrel Series, having the staff sample and offer feedback from the lunchroom while even visitors to the brewery have the opportunity to try some rarities that may or may not make it into full production!  Just another great excuse (if you need one) to visit the brewery…   

Our visit to Harpoon was certainly a highlight on our trip to Boston.  But even if you can’t make it up to the brewery, you can still drink their beer locally.  If you visit Harpoon’s Web site, you can use their “Beer Finder” tool to seek out the beers near you—whether it be a case of their Wintry Mix, their Chocolate Stout on tap, or their latest 100 Barrel Series.  For more about their beers (and what we tried and thought), check out my last blog post.  We can’t wait to go back early next year and check out the new beer hall for ourselves…but until then, we’ll just have to drink a Winter Warmer…or two.           


The most memorable of forgotten weekends!…

6 Dec

With a focus on Sandy, this past Saturday’s NYC Craft Beer Festival: Winter Harvest was fun-filled and festive—a great way to start off the holiday (beer) season.

While I was able to sneak out and sample a few great brews, I spent most of my time hanging out at our Two Girls One Pint table, chatting with folks that love beer just as much as we do.  As one passerby noted: “Aren’t you guys just a bunch of female beer geeks?”  Well, yes sir, thanks for noticing.

I was impressed by the depth and quality of beers represented—I actually didn’t expect it to be that big! (Shameless “That’s what she said” line follows here).  Upstairs in the Connoisseur lounge, those lucky enough to have access were treated to such fine brews as Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout, always a treat for the tongue, and Dogfish Head’s Theobrama as well as comfy couches where they noshed on cheese from Murray’s and listened to talented singer/songwriter Willy Gantrim.

Downstairs in the common tasting area, local breweries like Brooklyn, Sixpoint, and ACBC (Alphabet City Brewing Company) with their “Easy Blonde” poured recognizable brews next to West Coast Lagunitas and Speakeasy.

One standout was Pennsylvania Brewing Company’s (out of Pittsburgh, PA) Nut Roll Ale, a sweet, festive winter-spiced beer that is perfect for the season.  The Founder’s Breakfast Stout seemed to be a festival favorite.  Another was the “Wookey Jack,” from Firestone Walker Brewing Co., always a producer of solid beers, many of which seem to be popping up a lot more often in our area.

I personally enjoyed sipping on Lagunitas’ Cappuccino Stout—I felt like I was drinking some delicious coffee to keep me going in the long hours spent behind the table at both sessions…but then I reminded myself that the buzz I was getting was from beer!

Unfortunately I was unable to attend any of the seminars, as us girls had work to do!  But I’d love to hear from those who did how they were.  You really can’t go wrong with eating cheese from Murray’s or learning food and beer pairing secrets from beer sommelier Hayley Jensen and Chef Stephen Durley.

The location was great and easily accessible from lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, albeit a bit tricky to navigate with a buzz on.  No matter how many “Watch Your Step” signs and yellow Caution tape outlined the path ways, I still managed to trip more than once.  I blame Sandy for this one.

But as far as music goes, my personal favorite was the selection of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” telling people their session was over and it was time to get the F out, inspiring some pretty sloppy kick-lines that The Rockettes would surely shake their head’s at.

So Sandy may have delayed the fun, but the festival was able to happen anyway, and I think this event reflected the adaptation and perseverance that so many strong-willed New Yorkers have displayed following this devastating storm.  The residents of Breezy Point who have been suffering this past month from Sandy’s effects will have a little bit of a happier holiday thanks to the generosity of festival attendees.

So, “Start Spreading the News,” the NYC Craft Beer Festival was a great time and I can only look forward to their spring event.  Look for our newscast, coming soon to Two Girls One Pint.

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There’s no omitting taste with this gluten-free brew!

4 Nov

If my doctor told me I had to stop drinking beer due to a medical condition, I’d probably cry.  I would most likely throw a hissy-fit and it would definitely have an enormous impact on my lifestyle in addition to forcing me to adapt to an entirely new diet.  And that’s really no fun. 

Luckily, I do not have an allergy that would force me to stop drinking beer.  But millions of Americans do, and gluten-free diets are becoming more commonplace as celiac sufferers and those with a gluten-intolerance or sensitivity have to adapt to a whole new diet—one that omits any product that contains wheat, barely and rye.  For those with this restriction, that often means giving up some of their favorite foods—pasta, pizza, cupcakes…and of course, for many, beer. 

The selection of gluten-free beers on the market has grown immensely over the past few years and craft brewers across the country have been offering some gluten-free options, usually using sorghum, buckwheat, quinoa and even rice, as a substitute for malted barley or wheat.  The movement is so popular that even Anhueser-Busch InBev has a beer option for the celiac-sufferers—Redbridge.  There are also many more craft options out there created by microbreweries. 

But commercially, nobody has created a beer using the traditional four ingredients—malted barley, water, yeast and hops—that is, until Widmer Brothers Brewing based out of Portland, Ore., released their option earlier this year, a brand appropriately named “Omission.”

Sure, those avoiding gluten can always opt to drink hard cider—I know many of my regulars at the bar that live gluten-free often opt for this—but that doesn’t satiate the craving for a hoppy, delicious, well-crafted brew.    

Until now.  And for those who have tasted the gluten-free beers out there, whether out of curiosity or because of dietary restrictions know that there’s just something missing.  Most don’t really taste like beer.    

The people over at Widmer Bros have recognized this lack of a satisfying gluten-free beer and made it their mission (pun intended) to create a brew that tasted, well, like a “regular” beer.  And they even went out of their way to create two different but recognizable and satisfying styles—a sessionable, light blonde, almost German (Helles)-style lager and a hoppy, amber-colored American pale ale, an essential west-coast style, brewed with the distinctive aroma of Cascade and Citra hops.  We were lucky enough to taste both last week at Swine in the West VIllage, where representatives of the brewery were present. 

 Both options are highly approachable.  And just like choosing a candidate to vote for in this upcoming election, some of us prefer a light, easy drinking lager while some of us may prefer a more bold, classic-style pale ale—we live in America and we have the freedom to choose!  Even if we can’t have gluten!  Yeah!

And they’re both really good.  Coming from a person who is blessed to not have celiac or any sensitivity to gluten, both styles satisfied my need for a well-crafted, easy drinking beer.  If handed one blindly without the knowledge of its “secret,” I would still think, “Hey…yeah…this is a great beer.”

So how did Widmer Bros create a gluten-free beer using barley?  Isn’t barley the celiac’s enemy?  Well, that answer is purely scientific—they extracted the protein from their beer using a handy little enzyme called Brewer’s Clarex that breweries have been using for years in order to clarify their beer.  It seems that this handy enzyme also has the ability to extract that nasty gluten protein that celiacs and those with a sensitivity have come to loathe so much.  Both brews actually contain both Caramel and Pale malts—no gluten-free substitutes here.    

And to prove that it’s not a farce, Widmer Brothers tests every batch: Both at the brewery, with their own staff of scientists, and through the aid of an independent lab, using the R5 Competitive ELISA test.  This specific test insures that the detectable presence of gluten measures below the standard of 20 ppm (parts per million) or less so that it can be called “gluten-free.”  Still not convinced?  Every bottle of Omission beer contains a date on the label that when entered on Omissiontest.com reveals a photocopied result of the beer’s test with ELISA.  There’s your revelation, right there—this beer you’re drinking has an almost untraceable amount of gluten.

The best is the explanation for the creation of this beer–not just because of the basic lack of decent and drinkable gluten-free brews—that’s self-explanatory.  But for Widmer Brothers the reason was much more personal—Both the CEO of the Craft Brew Alliance, Terry Michaelson, and the wife of Widmer Bros’ brewmaster, Joe Casey, have been unable to drink beer for many years due to their own gluten-intolerance:  This made the quest to create a GF beer brewed with traditional ingredients even more of an important issue and a project that took years to perfect.      

And as more and more people are living gluten-free, the quest for a decent brew that meets their dietary restrictions will grow.  My regular at the bar who shuns beer festivals and jealously eyes beer-drinkers at the bar?  She can now drink this.  No longer restricted to ciders, now everyone (of age) can enjoy a decent brew thanks to Widmer Brothers.  Look for Omission at your favorite craft beer bar or store.  Mission complete.       




Looking for something to spice up your weekend? Go to the Staten Island Yankee Craft Beer fest! Not in NYC? Why not host your own tasting party?

15 Oct

I’m sure you’ve been to a beer-tasting event, whether held at your local beer shop or bar or at a beer festival, where hundreds of different beers are at your fingertips, and you most likely don’t have the time (or physical endurance) to taste them all.

But what about hosting your own?  Maybe you’ve acquired unique bottles on your summer travels and haven’t had the opportunity to try them.  Or you pick up a rare bottle one day because you are feeling adventurous and are “saving it for a special occasion” (like my bottle of ‘Hops N’ Roses’ from Captain Lawrence that I haven’t gotten around to opening yet).

Trying new beers is always exciting, especially for us beer geeks, but sharing them with other craft beer connoisseurs is even better.

Recently we were invited to our friends’ apartments to put a dent in their pretty impressive beer selection.  What was even better: Many of these beers (or rather, most) aren’t even available for purchase in the NYC area.

So how do find a community of fellow craft beer lovers to share your beer with?  If you’re as lucky as me, then all your friends have good taste (in beer at least) and it’s not hard, but joining a local craft beer appreciation society (like my local Richmond County Beer Club) or joining your local craft beer bar’s beer club is a good start.

Also, in past years, I’ve turned birthday parties into beer tastings.  Put some records on (yes I have a vinyl player) and put some snacks out—along with a bunch of your favorite brews.  Give your guests a glass and taste away.  Sure beats pizza, soda and cake (ok, well don’t skip the cake if it’s a birthday party).

And cheese pairs beautifully with beers—pick up some stilton and some brie from a local dairy and you’ve got yourself a party.  Crusty bread and crackers are necessary too.  Use some of your beer to whip up some beer cheese or mustard and serve with pretzels.

At this recent tasting I was lucky enough to sample Kentucky Dark Star, an Imperial, bourbon-barrel aged oatmeal stout from Fremont Brewing Co. in Seattle (where my friends hail from).  It was an impressive bourbon barrel aged beer, creamy and oaky, with hints of vanilla, chocolate balancing with a roasted bitterness.

We compared this to an Imperial Schwarzbier also aged in bourbon barrels, from restaurant/brewery Flossmoor station outside of Chicago.

The nice thing about hosting your own tasting party as you can try any beer you want at any time, but to really enjoy all flavors you’re experiencing, it’s good to start with lighter styles (we started with some sours) and move from there.  Save the palate-wrecking IPAs for last.

Or maybe you just want to stick with one style: Everyone seems to be really into sours these days but perhaps have not tasted a lot or even found one they like.  Have everyone bring one or two examples of their favorite sour beer and drink away.

You can make your upcoming Halloween party a pumpkin beer party.  Have your guests bring their favorite pumpkin beer (you could even include some ciders in here since its cider season and drinking it is more fun than bobbing for apples).  Offer some sweet treats and pair them with your pumpkin beers—even better than trick-or-treating.

Hosting (or attending) a beer tasting party can make your usual weekend plans a little more exciting.  Watching the alumni football game with the guys this weekend?  Bring a six-pack or a growler of your current favorite session beer.  Sure beats choking down “The King of Beers,” in the back of your buddy’s fridge.

And if you want to get fancy, you can make your next dinner party revolve around beer and food pairings.  Your guests will be impressed.




Cooperstown Brewing

23 Jul

Just down the road from Ommegang is a brewery that takes Cooperstown’s baseball legend seriously—and uses it to inspire their beers.  Cooperstown Brewery is much smaller than Ommegang, in both scale and production, but plans to expand and grow are in the works due to its recent purchase by Butternuts Brewery owner, Chuck Williamson.

Unfortunately we were unable to visit Butternuts this time around due to poor planning and lack of time (attempting to visit 3 breweries in one day is a quite a feat).  But, I am a big fan of this brewery—its four flagship beers are available in cans locally as well as in 14 other states, and with names like “Porkslap,” with an image of two pigs bouncing bellies, and “Moo Thunder,” a delicious milk stout with a cow on the can, the beers are both sessionable and fun.

While I was familiar with Butternuts because of its wide distribution in New York City (Williamson is Queens native), Cooperstown Brewing was new to me.  That’s because the brewery has remained strictly local all these years, run by a father/son team since 1995—Stan and Brian Hall—until its purchase by Williamson in September of last year.  It’s unfortunate that the beer is not more widely known, because they produce some fine English-style ales, the most popular and widely available being “Old Slugger,” a pale ale.

Finding this little brewery seemed a bit of a challenge, with a small sign indicating its location off the main road in Milford, NY, a quaint town 10 miles south of Cooperstown.  Sprawling hop vines lining the entrance and silhouettes of baseball players indicated our arrival at the brewery.

While the tasting room is open all day, every day (at least in the summer), tours are only offered once daily: at 5 p.m.  Aside from Old Slugger, a malty, caramel-y tasting pale ale that is brewed with four different barley malts and hopped with Mt. Hood, Cascade and Fuggle hops, their five other beers include Nine Man AleBackyard IPA, Pride of Milford, and their Benchwarmer Porter. 

During the tour we learned that all their ales are brewed with their signature Ringwood Yeast, an aggressive top fermenting yeast that imparts all of these British-style ales with a distinctive flavor.  They also use the hops that they grow outside as well as imported hops to add both aroma and bitterness.

The Nine Man Ale is a nice golden ale that was refreshing and light.  A portrait of baseball’s American founding father (debatable and according to legend), Abner Doubleday, adorns the pinstriped label.  Who knew that baseball bats and barley went so well together?

Cooperstown’s Backyard IPA is perfect for a summer barbecue (or baseball game).  Our tour guide, Chelsea, explained that this beer is brewed in a traditional English style of brewing an I.P.A., not like the extremely hoppy American I.P.A.’s we’ve become so accustomed to.  This beer is dry hopped with a “hop-percolator,” filled with locally grown Fuggle hops (grown right outside).

The “Pride of Milford,” is a strong (7.7% ABV), malty ale, reddish in color and rich in flavor, and described as a “specialty ale.”  While the title is a bit ambiguous, the name comes from a unique brewing process in which the beer is fermented at a higher temperature.  Because of this, the ale is higher in alcohol and has a richer, maltier character than the signature pale ale.

Last but not least was the “Benchwarmer Porter,” a great example of a traditionally brewed porter—with chocolate and roasted coffee flavors in abundance.  This one stood out as a favorite for me, especially since I often find porters to be more like a watered-down stout, and I often miss out on how great this style can be when done well.

Currently the brewery also contract brews for other breweries (which is what we witnessed during our visit—the smell of the wort strongly wafting through the air) and hosts a 40- year-old bottling line that was previously owned by Samuel Adams Brewing Company.  The six English-style, baseball-themed ales are available for purchase at the brewery, and all are adorned with baseball bottle caps—a nice touch.

Cooperstown Brewing Company may be only one stop on the six-stop Cooperstown beverage trail (which includes the three breweries, two wineries and a cider mill), but is surely one worth checking out.  The baseball theme ties in with the overall Cooperstown tourist attractions, and the beer is highly quaffable, offering a different beer-drinking experience than the nearby Ommegang.  I expect to see a lot more from this brewery in the future, given the new ownership and opportunity for expansion–with a bottling line, it seems Butternuts can start offering their already popular canned beers in bottles.  Hopefully the already well-known and established Butternuts name can aid in Cooperstown Brewing Company’s own notoriety.

While Cooperstown may be a baseball-lover’s mecca, one can also add beer to that list.  Ahhhhhh–summer really doesn’t get much better than baseball and beer! (Don’t forget the hot dog…)