Hanging in Portland With the Beer Bloggers

20130725_220031For only the second time in my life, I find myself in Maine.

My first trip here was at least two lifetimes ago, like, back when my husband still loved me. We barely knew each other, but I “rescued” him from the demise of the Soviet Union. My sister was living somewhere in Maine, and it was a few days before the end of 1991. I remember little about the trip (without going in to the whirlwind of my Russian romance, it was a harrowing journey getting from Kazan by way of Moscow and Germany to JFK to Maine… all while not knowing if my intended would make it out of a country that was faIling apart). I was here for a couple of days and then crammed into the back seat of my parents’ car for a long journey back to their home.

I don’t think there was beer involved… and the Internet didn’t exist.

So here, in 2013, at the Beer Bloggers pre-conference, I will begin with a few observations.

  1. As with so many “writing” events these days, it’s hard to know the professionals from the amateurs to those who blog with a mission. I met Craig Hendry last night, one of those guys I didn’t know that I knew. I knew Craig was from Mississippi, and I joked we had him to thank for getting the recent homebrew law passed in one of the last states to proscribe homebrewing. Turns out, it wasn’t a joke! Craig is the guy!!! I had written about him when he was on Beer Sessions Radio a few months back. Craig admits that he’s no writer, but what he has accomplished in his home state goes far beyond recommending the next great IPA. That’s the power of a “free and open press.” It is a democratizing thing, and I’m embracing meeting people whose agenda may be different than mine vis a vis being a “beer blogger.”
  2. You might judge a book by its cover, but don’t judge a town by its bus depot. When I landed in Portland at the bus depot, I admit it: My first thought was, “What a dump.”The hotel we’re booked in is perfectly adequate (and by that, I mean, I’ve barely been in the room, and I’m forgoing a swim in their pool to write this!), but it’s conveniently situated next to the bus depot. I walked across a parking lot to get here. However, it’s far from what I had hoped considering I really did come for more than the beer and lobster (more on that shortly). Then we moved into the town, which is a quintessential old New England village: stone streets, old buildings beautifully kept, sea salt hanging in the air. Perhaps it’s the fact that I’m currently reading Moby Dick with The Long Hard Book Club, but I wanted to linger here. Highest compliment I can pay? I’d like to come back for a week, tarry awhile, as they say.20130725_194719
  3. The sponsors know how to have a party! I hate to be blatant, and this is not an across the board reproach, but some people always want to look a gift horse in the mouth. When you attend an event such as this, the sponsors are key to bringing you here. They donate hundreds, even thousands, of dollars worth of product. I’ve done craft beer festivals that were underwritten by Corona/Modelo! I’ll toss back some skunk beer and say, thank you so very much. I don’t care that Cabot is in Vermont; the Cabot Annex team led by Candace Karu was gracious and welcoming. It was a perfect start for me (I got here late and missed the Allagash trip; my only regret thus far). I was doubly pleased to see all the cheeses carefully paired with Geary Brewing beers, because I really like Dave. Then—whoa!!!—I turned around and there was Dave! It made me happy to see him again, this time in his backyard instead of mine. And you know what? The London Porter paired with basil and tomato Cabot was excellent. As was the Sebago Brewing Citra Saaz Down paired with a lobster roll; the lobster brought out the hop notes while toning down the peachy-ness of the ale. Which leads me to this…
  4. I’m from Brooklyn, so I’m not drinking what you’re drinking. “I’m from Brooklyn” was a recurring theme for me last night. I approach beer from a metro/cosmopolitan point of view. When I’m out of the City, I want to drink one of two ways: something I cannot find in NYC (or online) and something local. I don’t want to drink your Goose Island, even if it’s the better, rarer stuff (a huge shout out to Patriot Craft Alliance for bringing in the GI and picking up the tab at The Thirsty Pig). I want to drink the Maine Beer Co.’s Peeper from a keg, fresh as it can be. I want to drink a local beer I never heard of, such as Marshall Wharf Brewing Co. And, yes, the Yakuza was the best (and my last) beer of the night! Try not to be a beer snob, and I’ll try not to remind you every other conversation that “I’m from Brooklyn!”
  5. Finally, Beer Peeps are the Best Peeps. Whatever our mission, and for whatever reason we are here together, drinking with like minds is the best. So, hat’s off to the organizers. Can’t wait to get down to Boston (I’ll be back, Portland!) and get into the meaty part of the conference.

Pony Up For Savor: Tickets And Salons Still Available

TorstOh, New Yorkers, hear my plea. The fact that there remain tickets for Savor: An American Craft Beer + Food Experience is a travesty and a blemish on our fine beer-drinking city.

I know, I know… With all the beer events in NYC—not to mention the proliferation of craft beer bars and new breweries opening in and around the city—it can be hard to decide which forays into the beer wilderness are worth your time (not to mention cost). We residents of the world’s most dynamic city sometimes forget that tourists bring more to our hometown than clogged walkways: they come with an attitude of gratitude because they can see and do more in NYC than they ever could in their own hometowns. And they pay a premium to be here.

So here are the top 10 reasons why you need to get it together and plunk down the $170+ today and get with the Savor Experience.

  1. This is the first, and perhaps only, time that Savor will be in NYC. There are craft beer drinkers from all over the world (not to mention Westchester) who will be driving/flying/busing and training in to get here. All you have to do is walk or swipe your metro card. No expensive hotel or transportation bills to pay.
  2. If Savor doesn’t sell out, the “perhaps only” in #1 above will be come “definitely only.” While it’s not cheap to travel to NYC to attend an event of this caliber, it’s even more expensive to host it. Savor returns to D.C. next year and then it’s uncertain where they’ll be in 2015. In 2010, the D.C. Savor sold out in 10 minutes! What is wrong with NYC that there are tickets remaining this close to the date? Come on! Wouldn’t it be great to have this as a bi-annual event in NYC? The only way that will happen is if the Brewers Association at least breaks even.
  3. A ticket to Savor costs less than one meal at Per Se or a Broadway ticket. Yep, NYC is expensive. Dining out is expensive. For less than you’d pay for most premium events/venues, you can be at Savor.
  4. Are NYC craft beer drinkers less sophisticated than the country at large? New Yorkers can get a bit arrogant sometimes. I think this stems in part from justifying (to ourselves and others) why we pay so much in rent! We’re stronger, better, faster and more tenacious than the rest of the country (and fughettabout Europe). But we have a long way to go as a “beer destination” city. Our noses are constantly being rubbed in the Portlands (both of them) of the world. Hell, Atlanta seems to have a more rarefied beer community than we do. I’m not saying we should be beer snobs, but when a one-of-a-kind event comes to our city, shame on us if we don’t come out in droves to support it.
  5. Savor is not a beer festival. Savor is all about pairing food with beer, which is—in many ways—a key differentiation between drinking craft and drinking swill (or—worse in The Bitch’s opinion—pseudo-craft… I have no issues with a cold lime-stuffed Corona on a sweat-soaked day, but spare me the Shocktop). Beer is ideal for food pairing, and it’s what keeps us from being frat boys and drunks. Savor features 153 beers paired with 46 menu items created by some of this country’s most renown chefs. Plus, there are cheese and oyster stands for DIY pairings. Thus, for example, you will finally be able to answer the question: Which pairs better with Duck Rillette with Peach Hoisin on Black Brioche? Is it Choc Beer Co.’s Signature Dubbel or Blackberry Farm Brewery’s Screaming Cock?
  6. Savor brings the brewers themselves to the table. Ever been to GABF? Literally thousands of beers. It’s great. Until you want to ask the brewer or owner about his (sometimes her) beer. Not only is the person who made the beer probably not around, the person pouring the beer knows nothing about craft. Here’s a chance to get up close and personal with the beer makers themselves, even if it’s only to praise them for their libations.
  7. Everyone who’s anyone will be there. Your favorite beer writer will be there. Your favorite brewer will be there. Hell, chances are your favorite bartender will be there. This is an insiders’ event, for sure, but it’s not exclusive. You can talk beer with the likes of John Hall or Sam Calagione or Laura Bell, among many other beer celebs.
  8. You’ll remember this event for years to come. Depending on your age (over 21, obviously), you may not be aware that very few experiences in life really stick with you. Even the birth of your kids can be a little fuzzy (especially if you’re on the delivering side of the equation). I remember a handful of truly exquisite dining adventures. Savor is sure to be among those stored in my memory banks until Alzheimer’s or death wrenches it from me.
  9. Forget the beer; come for the food. Beer and Food Pairing Chef Consultant Adam Dulye has painstakingly put together a heavenly menu that puts the “u” in gourmet. Chances are you’ve probably paid upwards of $50 for so-so offerings at a food festival in the city that brings you dumplings and lobster rolls served out of a truck. You may have dropped $75 for an outdoor grilling event (such as the pop-up BBQ offerings that appear every summer in NYC). But where on earth can you get a buffet of Roasted Peach on Brioche with Fried Pancetta and Dandelion Greens; Green Pea Tapioca garnished with Smoked Salmon and Mint; Crispy Pork Belly in Kimchee Rice Balls with Green Garlic Aioli; and Pigeon Crudo with Olive Oil, Juniper Ice Cream and Smoked Grapes (among dozens of other offerings) all included in one ticket price? A sampling menu of this quality would easily set you back $250 (before drinks) and you’d get, perhaps, all of 15 courses. $170 for Savor is a steal by those standards.
  10. Back to the beer: A ticket to Savor will cost you less than a trip to Tampa Bay or—Bacchus forbid—Munster, Indiana. There are 76 different craft brewers that will be at Savor, and among them are many “cult” beers you cannot find in NYC. Bell’s Brewery? Check! Cigar City? Double Check. And, of course, there is the little matter of (and, yes, I know I’ve surpassed the 10 reasons limit, but most of all, you should attend Savor because)…
  11. 3Floyds will be in attendance. And they’re bringing Zombie Dust.

Any questions? Tickets for Savor are available here.

Food and beer. They're meant to go together.

Food and beer. They’re meant to go together.

NYC Hot Sauce Expo: Feeling the Heat Despite the Chill

hotsauce2You had to be pretty damn brave this weekend to venture out and partake of the 1st Annual NYC Hot Sauce Expo (it was amazing, so I’m pretty sure that “1st Annual” is not just wishful thinking). First off, it was eff-ing freezing! Stationed along the banks of the East River in Williamsburg, the Expo offered no cover from the elements (including intense sun; memo to self: don’t forget the sunscreen even when it’s 37 degrees). The only respite from the windchill on Saturday and the plummeting temps on Sunday was for VIP ticket holders who were able to access the indoor amenities of 110 Kent Avenue, a super cool space adjacent to East River State Park.

Second, you had to be prepared to be scorched and burned by the end of the eight-hour event. More than 40 hot sauce vendors from Portland (Oregon) to Chicago to Dallas to Vermont and everywhere in between were there to seer you with Scoville levels that were off the charts for guyanka casual hot sauce eater.

I tried to pace myself on the spicy. When I want to be in pain, well, let’s just say I have a different avenue over ingesting hot sauce. And there were plenty of mild, medium and hot options to please. Among my favorites were the offerings of NW Elixirs  (Andrew—who is as hot as his sauces—won four Screamin’ MiMi Awards, including first place in the Jalapeno Hot Sauce category), Guyank (who only had to drive down from Queens), and Defcon Sauces, although there were so many great and varied offerings, it’s almost impossible to pick among them.

doughThere was a lot of food to sample from. In addition to brisket and sausage for sale, samples of cookies (yes, hot sauce laced macarons!), taffy (the spicy peanut butter from Peppers was my favorite, along with the colorful Chip Hearn, who kept changing hats as the day progressed; at one point he wore what looked like a stuffed chicken on his head), jalapeno chips dusted with ranch, the seasoning of NYC Hot Sauce Company (Jon Bratton was sprinkling cucumber with a dried out pepper pulp spice that soon may be replacing Old Bay in many a cupboard), pepper jams and jellies, and peanut brittle, which apparently was so spicy it made at least one writer covering the event physically ill.

When it came tMicheladao the beer, there was a nice, albeit small, variety of craft from which to choose, including a recent addition to the NYC market from Texas, Shiner Beer. New York was represented well by Captain Lawrence and Empire, with the Coney Island Pilsner rounding out the Brooklyn vibe. Other cool Brooklyn offerings came courtesy of the VIP area, where Widow Jane Rye was being served. Bartenders competed for title of best beer cocktail in a  Corona/Modelo Michelada (beer Bloody Mary) Competition, while the real thing was served up courtesy of Tito’s Vodka. In the latter category, bragging rights go to Tony of Bushwick’s Pine Box Rock Shop. At one point I took my scorpion sauce (rated 1,000,000 on the Scoville Scale) and added an artisanal vodka from Berkshire Mountain Distillers (expect to hear more from them in the news soon – the Bitch has the scoop, so stay tuned!).

EvilSeedAll the capsaicin aside, the coolest part of the Expo was the personalities. I’m not a hot sauce insider, but these people really know their stuff. Some of them were rock stars of the hot sauce scene (literally in the case of the heavy metal guys out in force, autographing their bottles). And when Tom of Tom’s Roid Rippin hot sauce won first place in the Novelty category, he literally had tears in his eyes, having for the first time been officially acknowledged by his peers (the hot sauce judging had taken place several weeks in advance of the Expo). And these guys and gals really seem to have a good time and are characters in and of themselves. It was not for nothing that one of the Screamin MiMi Awards went for Best Label Artwork.

These hot sauces are culinary works of art, and I look forward to enjoying the products I bought at the Expo. Just as soon as my tastebuds get back to normal. The Bitch is orgasmic about the 1st Annual NYC Hot Sauce Expo. I give it five ghost peppers!