Sunday, May 27, 2012

Dinner and Beer...

So as we have had a lull in blogging over the last couple weeks. Things have been quite busy with work, getting the gardens up and running as well a little spring cleaning... thinking of having a big yard sale this summer...stay tuned. While planting my first hop rhizomes out on our rooftop deck today, I decided Id check in and share some of my latest beer finds and reviews as well as highlight a couple of great meals we have cooked in the last couple weeks.  I planted 4 varieties (Zeus/Centennial/Galena/Nugget) and hope maybe to get enough hops the first year to at least brew a couple batches of IPA's for the fall/winter season.  Ill keep you posted when the bines start popping... but first I wanted to share my favorite beers from Hill Farmstead. Not to say they all weren't amazing but if I take a picture then that means it was extremely enjoyable....

750 ML from brewery. Pours a hazy dull golden color.... with a snappy aroma of fresh hops a touch of tropical fruit and grass. The flavors are spot on crisp and direct. Great flavors of grapefruit, pine and a slight floral woody bouquet lead into a classic bitter hop finish. 
Clean easy drinker for an 8% Double IPA.

750 ML from brewery. Pours a thick black color with a one finger mocha head... the aromas are subtle fresh hops, chocolate and a little burnt malt as well. The flavors however are not so subtle ! Rich citrus hop flavors balanced with dark chocolate malty base that creates room for alot of complex subtleties to roll along from beginning to end. Grapefruit, pine, bitter chocolate, black coffee, figs..... bordering on a hoppy stout this beer was great company on a rainy cool spring day ! 

Along with these great beers Ive had the pleasure of getting my hands on a few other gems this spring:

the elusive...  

Opened with the pull of the tab... nice silver can with cool little label. Drinkin it from the can the way it tells you too ! (Ive dumped it in the glass a few times as well) Anyhow... rich aromas of pineapple and a touch of pine...fresh tropical hops....mmmm Flavors are rich full and heady... Pineapple sweetness at the start that rolls into a crisp bitterness of citrus and pine... it starts to get a little sappy but the finish brings out a whole heap of tropical flavors again that make this beer a big WINNER !

Pours a hazy golden color with a two finger head. Fresh aromas of bosc pears and green banana and a touch of citrus. The flavors are so defined its almost sublime... just as they describe on the bottle; Ripe fruit and sweet malts balanced by tight cedar, hints of citrus and a slew of earthy hop flavors. Crisp dry finish that lingers and begs you to take another sip.... Dangerous brew ! 

Okay okay TIME OUT !  These are some pretty special beers and if your reading this and you live in Maine none of these are available in our state... but give me a minute Ill get there... but first organic Maine Asparagus has touched down via Moaar Farm, Mt. Vernon ME.

To celebrate the arrival in classic style I tossed the fresh asparagus in sunflower oil with a dash of maine sea salt and a twist of fresh crack pepper...

and of course a dollop of hollandaise sauce made with organic raw butter from Palmer Hill and fresh pastured eggs from Frith Farm !

Paired beautifully with a gorgeous bottle of Bonny Doon Ca' del solo Muscat.
A ripe wine that is certified biodynamic and full of great flavors that cut the richness and earth flavors of the asparagus perfectly.  

Bonny Doon Vineyard
Ca' del solo Muscat 2009
Ripe peach, a hint of apple and touches of citrus acidity bring this wine right to the front of your palate.  Great balance between fruit and acidity.
 Cost is about $15 a bottle and its available through National Distributors and I found it on the shelf at Lois' Natural in Scarborough!

Another recent meal that really hit the spot was a quick and easy duck dinner we made just the other night after stopping at Rosemont Market on Brighton Ave to carouse their splendid butcher case... Commonwealth duck fresh and ready... SOUNDS GOOD !
 Rubbed with salt and pepper and pan seared with a side of cauliflower and a quick stir fry of local Frith Farm Spinach, wild foraged Ramps and a little red pepper... YUM !

Okay back to some beer... a couple of these you can actually get in Maine if your LUCKY !

750 ML. Pours a light blonde straw color with big gaseous head that sits on top like a well made bubble bath. Crisp aromas of noble hops, touch of lemon and some funky earthy barn hay coming through. On the sip it delivers a highly carbonated light body with bright lemon flavors up front... that slowly lay down for a nice bitter hop mid palate and a touch peppery funk on the dry finish. Well balanced easy drinker but complex enough that I want to try it again.... 
Purchased @ LOIS' NATURAL (not sure how much is left in state)

Pours a nice hazy blond/ light copper color with minimal head but lots of white noise and bottom rising bubbles... Aromas are tart apricot, wheat bread and a touch of citrus and cool ocean breeze. On the palate its very lively with the tiny bubbles sending this thirst quenchers flavors right to the front. Starts off wheaty but quickly sends a tart slightly sourness into the mix. Alot of minerality coming out in the finish probably from the salt... which is not detectable in the beer until the lingering finish which has a bit of sea water salinity. This would be great with fresh ceviche or some guacamole ! 

Pours a peachy gold with two finger white head that sticks to the glass... Bright aromas of dusty funk and sour fruit; oranges and stonefruit. On the palate its solid carbomation delivers a complex barrage of flavors ranging from light soft peach to a sour funky basement...starting out very fruit heavy then tangy then dry funk. Solid Gueuze ! 
 WOW on shelf @ LOIS' NATURAL (Limited Release) 

Pours a rich orange copper color with a two finger white head... Bright hop aromas of grass, citrus and grapefruit with a hint of mellow mint. On the palate this thing explodes with refreshing hop goodness. Great flavors of citrus peel, pine, and a touch of minty sage that balances out the sweet caramel malts that round out the belly of this wonderful beer. Nice bitterness comes though in the lingering finish and I keep wanting more and more... YUM ! 

Pours a thick black with a tan film that settles around the rim. Aromas are all chocolate roasted malts with hints of oak,licorice and vanilla. The palate follows the nose but imparts a bit more of the bourbon and vanilla flavor then I had expected by smell alone. Its rich and creamy but more towards the medium body with the hint of effervescence... defining it better as a porter than a full fledged stout. 

That wraps up some of my latest and greatest beers of May 2012... if your interested in many many more beer reviews check me out over on Rate Beer !

Let me know what beer you like and what you dont like in the comments section !

STAY TUNED for another brewery post about local rockstar brewers OXBOW !

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Trip to Hill Farmstead Brewery

So Montreal was a blast... but it was time to head back to Portland, ME.  However I told my wife, Cassi, that we needed to make a quick stop in Vermont.  Why?  To get my hands on some of this Hill Farmstead Beer that I had heard so many good things about and hopefully get a tour of the facilities. Unfortunately after a quick email explaining our blog and a upcoming painting series Im working on based on beer and brewing,  I was informed that they do not yet give tours but would be open for a tasting and to purchase beer from 12-5. They also told us that we could take as many pictures as we wanted. OK, Greensboro, VT... here we come.  The brewery is located about  20 minutes off rt 91 and it wasn't too hard to find with a little help from my parents GPS that we borrowed for the road trip, just in case.  However, I will say the first turn off route 16 that the GPS told me to take was an old logging road... I slowed down looked at it briefly and after all this rain decided to keep going and see where the GPS recalculated us.... luckily it took us up a couple miles farther to a much better graded dirt road which I gingerly proceeded onto... Im not a city boy, I know better than to drive carelessly through the backwoods of New England without using my head !  Anyhow more on that in a minute.... after a few miles up the dirt hill we came to this quaint little sign and I let out a nice sigh of relief. We were on the right track....
and a few moments later the relief turned into excitement as we rolled into the gravel driveway of 
 We were not alone... probably had about 10 cars in the lot, a couple of other Mainers, some locals and a muddy car from NH.... apparently we learned later that the car from NH had taken that first turn onto the sketchy logging route and he had to get towed out from Shaun the owner of the brewery and his dad... there is a lot lot more to that story... turns out this same guy was selling some of the Hill Farmstead Bottle releases on ebay for a HUGE profit...

These are from Hill Farmstead's Twitter
  @thecarstuckinthemudguy "Please don't sell our beer on EBAY ever again. My dad and I pulled you out of the mud and then you sold Damon for 145$? Nice."

then jokingly the next day  
@anotherbrewer "An all ebay beer release... I told my dad that he should start selling our beers on ebay to pay for his retirement..."

(Names have been changed... this guy got enough flack on all the beer rating sites and his own blog in the following days)

Hill Farmstead has only been up and running for a little under two years and in that small amount of time they have acquired an almost legendary status on sites like ratebeer, beeradvocate and in conversations among local beer geeks!  The farm on which the brewery sits has been in the Hill family for over 220 years and the scenic green hills of Vermont are the perfect backdrop for this rustic Belgian style brewery.  The owner and head brewmaster Shaun Hill has past experience brewing at Trout River and the Shed before embarking on a journey to Denmark.  While there, he honed his brewing skills while pitching in at Nørrebro Bryghus and eventually starting his own label called Grassroots.... the first Shaun Hill beer I ever tried.  Anyhow after returning to his ancestral homeland of Vermont, he went to work creating the brewery that now exists today !  The Hill Farmstead logo, I learned from their website, is based off of an old sign that once hung in Aaron Hill's (Shaun's great x3 grandfather) tavern just up the hill from the current brewery in the early 1800's !  I can really appreciate the fact that this brewery respects the history of its surroundings as well as the surrounding farms and other artisanal producers in the area.  It is not uncommon for the brewery to use many local ingredients in their recipes... in fact one of the beers we got a chance to try as well as purchase was called Anna. Named after Shaun's grandfathers sister.  Its a Honey Saison crafted with American malts, European & American Hops, lots of Vermont Wildflower Honey and the most important ingredient... Hill Farmstead Well Water !  It is amazing how important of a role water plays in making good beer and I have seen Shaun quoted that the water is what makes these amazing well crafted beers so damn GOOD !
Anyhow, the brewery was rustic... Typar isn't the best look, and the grounds were littered with kegs just waiting to be washed rinsed and refilled.... and then we stepped through the door. 
There are no bells and whistles at this brewery... just straight forward good beer.  If I remember correctly a tasting was $5 for 4 small beer pours (I believe the 4 tasting limit is a VT state law).  They currently had 6 beers on tap... do the math !  Luckily I was there with my wonderful wife so we were able to both partake in the tasting and share a few sips resulting in us being able to sample all the beers they had on tap.  Unfortunately they were currently out of any of their bottle releases so the only option for us to purchase beer was straight off the tap... into either a 750ml swingtop or a 2 Liter growler.  Not that I was complaining... the one problem with draft fills is they need to be consumed fairly quickly.  Ive learned the trick is to keep them very cold, which is why I had a cooler full of ice ready to go.... and then you should consume the hoppier beers first and leave the darker less hoppy beers for later because they will sit a little longer... however that being said, I try to only grab as much as I can consume in a couple days to a week at the absolute MAX... anymore than that and the beers flavors will be somewhat compromised... that being said, I just happen to know a few other people that enjoy drinking beer as much as me so I knew whatever I fit in the car would not last very long at all !
Along with the 6 taps they had running, they also had a license to sell other beer selections out of the brewery so there was a handful of craft beers also available to purchase from brewers such as Fantom, Mikkeller, Haandbryggeriet among others.  The staff was very friendly and they were very busy filling orders that ranged from the guy down the street passing through for a growler fill to people like me who needed to write our large orders down on a piece of paper in order to keep it straight.  Everybody was happy to be standing around drinking great beer and waxing poetics about beer and brewing processes.  Im kinda a wall flower in situations like those but I overheard the guy pouring growlers talking about how Shaun said he thought the Oude Gueuze Tilquin was the beer of the year for 2011 and I must say I completely agree.  Anyhow, I did have to hop into the conversation when I heard that and then proceeded to inquire if anyone in the place knew of a nearby place to find the somewhat elusive and highly sought after Alchemist Heady Topper.  I was in luck... the man pictured above who will remain nameless on this blogosphere  (so funny because he ended up being the guy from NH who was stuck in the mud and was selling the bottle releases on Ebay)* said he happened to have a couple of cases in his trunk and offered me a fourpack at retail.  SCORE !  I was also informed that the closet shop to purchase some more would be the Buffalo Mountain Food Co-Op just down the road in Hardwick!  Perfect... being a manager at a small natural food store here in southern Maine, I was excited to stop in a local VT food co-op and check out the local food selections as well as pick up some VT cheeses and a snack for the 3 hour roadtrip we had left!   So we finished up our purchase, tossed in a Hill Farmstead glass, passed by Shaun Hill walking through the yard... Thanked him for making some great beer and went bouncing down the dirt road with a full cooler headed toward downtown Hardwick... the town known to us because of the book The Town that Food Saved ! I reminded Cassi on the way that we saw the author of that book speak at a slow food writers night we went to @ Space Gallery a few years prior... It is a small world after all.  Speaking of small worlds... they had a great selection of local foods, some of which we carry at Lois' Natural, the store I work at.  The Co-Op and a nice little cafe up stairs... and a great selection of Cabot and Jasper Hill Cheeses.  We stocked up and grabbed the last four pack of Heady Toppers they had on their shelf.  The cashier was so sweet... she said that someone told her this beer taste like pineapples!  I told her how sought after this beer was becoming around New England and the US and she didn't seem to believe me... turns out she has know Shaun Hill since he was a little boy as well !  What a finish to an amazing day in Vermont... off we went over the rolling hills anxious to get back to our little apartment in the west end of Portland and snuggle with our beer and lonely kitties !

* As a side note, I had no idea who this now infamous fella was when he went out of his way to sell me some Heady Toppers... I happened to slip him my business card and told him to give me a shout if he ever came to Portland... that invitation stands! Why because I judge people based on how they treat me and not on what other people think of them.  Do I agree with him making money off of limited edition beers inevitably pushing their prices up and out of the reach of working stiffs like me... of course not but I blame the people who are willing to purchase these beers at such inflated prices just as much as I do the people selling them. 

Stay tuned for a rundown and description of the beers I grabbed in Vermont and exactly what I thought of them !

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Montreal or Bust... (Day THREE)

So Saturday morning was here and it was time to check out from our hotel.  Outside it was a rainy rainy day so we filled the cooler with ice and hit up the Marche Jean Talon in our car and stocked up on some more great products.  We also wanted to hit up a few spots for lunch so we shared two meals so we could fit more madness into our vacation.  First up after the trip to the market was Schwartz's for there famous smoked meat sandwich. They have been doing this for over 80 years and are known as one of the top stops for tourist and locals alike.  In fact there is usually a large line out front but since it was only 12:30 we got a table right away and proceeded to order one sandwich to split.  6 bucks for this pile of smoked meat with mustard on fresh bread.  Pretty damn tasty if I do say so myself....

 after part one of lunch we made a pit stop at a lil bottle shop in between Schwarz's and Canards... they had a great selection of Canadian brews and we selected a handful to bring back to the states.
Then it was a short walk up to Canards du Lac Brome, the all things duck store that is a modern artisanal shop where you can shop for things like foie gras jelly, duck prosciutto, duck salami, duck sausage, whole duck, duck confit.... well you get the idea anything duck you can imagine.  But before selecting some great items for the cooler we had to order some food from the deli
 the counter people were hip and we decided we couldn't leave Montreal without eating a lil poutine so we ordered their classic duck poutine.  French fries fried in duck fat, foie gras gravy, cheese curds and duck confit. Damn this was so good on a rainy raw day... I want some NOW !
We washed it down with this interesting maple beer... so tasty !
and the trip to Montreal had come to a close just like that... we headed out of town mid afternoon en route to a few beer stops in Vermont !  Till next time Montreal...

The Vacation Goodies...

 More on a visit to Hill Farmstead Brewery in Vermont in my next post.. Stay Tuned !

So many great items from the whole trip including some choice brews and cheese from Vermont !
(Organic Charcuterie, Foie Gras, Whole Duck, Pickled Quail Eggs, Wild Leeks, Day Lily Shoots, Wild Ginger Root, Foraged Mushroom Mustard, Pickled Wild Ginger, Jasper Hill Cheeses, Wild Bluefoot and Woodear mushrooms, Duck salami, Wild Herb Vinaigrette, Fresh Porcini Raviolis , Canadian brews, Heady Toppers, Hill Farmstead Brews etc....)

Here is what we did with them when we got back to our kitchen :

 Mmmmm a gorgeous meal made with all fresh ingredients from Montreal
 Porcini Raviolis with sauteed wild mushrooms and day lily shoots.
Paired beautifully with this full round
 Sans Liege Cotes du Coast 

A truly elegant bottle of wine.

Rich luscious full body white that had great balance.
Aromas of rustic oak, lavender and orange blossoms lead the senses.... the flavors were packed full of rich wildflower honey, ginger, nutmeg which get balanced with a slight citrus, ocean air acidity that falls into a beeswax floral herbaceousness in the finish ! A little too much heat and petrol in the finish but overall a pretty solid California wine made in a Rhone style.

Montreal or Bust... (Day TWO)

So after a late night we got a somewhat slow start to our Saturday in Montreal and we had a lot of ground to cover !  I awoke early and after having a nice discussion with a local at the club the night before we decided the farmers market to hit up, should be Marche Jean Talon.  It was an easy trip via the Metro and the cost was like $3 for each of us and it took us within a block of the market and saved us a 7 mile walk and alot of time !

the market was bustlin with locals and everyone seemed to know one another...
 It was kind of split into three sections... but after talking with a few farmers and shop owners we found out that it grows into a market that is three times the size come summer... they even remove the walls and turn the whole place into and HUGE open air market.

 there was lots to look at an sample... it was hard to pull Cassi away from the fruit trays so we could explore the whole market !
 as we moved from the fruits and veggies segment we were greeted with loads of local honeys and maple syrups...
 maple syrup in a can... never seen that in the states !
 spattered throughout the market there was some wonderful egg stands that sold every kind of egg from quail to duck to chicken to ostrich !
 We did manage to grab some lovely little pickled quail eggs from this nice guy...
From there we decided we were pretty hungry after speeding out of the hotel without eating anything since dinner last night....
thats when we ran into this lovely worldly inspired pastry stand... everything was so delicate and made with love we had to grab a little sampler along with a couple of warm samosas that really hit the spot !
Everything was so tasty and spiced with some very exotic flavors that really made them sing more than any pastries we have eaten before.  We had some little sticky pistachio pastries and filbert puffs that were out of this world... the only thing I could compare the floral exotic flavors too was the holiday Greek loaf that Dean made back when Mother Oven bread was in business.  I remember him telling me about a ancient greek spice in that holiday bread called mistika that his grandmother had taught him about and I definitely got a wave of that in one of the pastries...mmmm Im getting hungry!
Speaking of spices there was a spice boutique that was out of this world as well...

so many spices in so many different forms... they also had a wall of oils and vinegars, spice grinders, mortars and pestles... and having everything in french, I was a little out of my element ! One thing we really thought was a great idea was they put together these little boxes of spices that complemented each other... regional spice kits,  kits specified towards certain foods; chicken, fish, teas etc....
 this was their curry kit... and right across the way from the spice place was a fresh pasta shop ! 
Piles and piles of fresh pastas, homemade sauces and a very friendly staff, we ended up picking up a few sheets of fresh porcini ravioli !
 then it was on to the meat shops... starting with this lovely little sandwich stand with two options
duck confit with onions or a classic smoked meat sandwich !  We didnt grab one but we did try a duck sample after she noticed a little drool coming out of my mouth !
 So much fresh meats of all types... lamb, duck, chicken, guinea hens, horse...
So much foie gras....
we had so much fun just checking out all the local goods !
and charcuterie !
 but the absolute highlight of the Marche Jean Talon had to be the discovery of Jardins Sauvages stand !  You see the first place we thought of when we started planning our trip to Montreal was this restaurant located 45 minutes north of the city called Jardin Sauvages. We first learned about this restaurant and its highly esteemed owner/forager Francois Brouillard by reading the book American Terrior by Rowan Jacobsen. The whole menu is based solely on what Francois can find in the nearby ecosystem... it does not get more local or sustainable than this place.  However with very limited time in Montreal we decided to hold off on taking the trek north and decided to choose a dinner location that was within the confines of the city... more on that later in the post.  So as we approached the stand and took notice of the piles of locally foraged offerings, we were very excited to be able to experience a small slice of what the to expect when we do make the trip up there for dinner some day!
 the stand was so quaint on the outskirts of the market... it had piles of foraged goodness; mushrooms, wild ginger, fiddleheads, day lilies, ramps, a completely foraged salad mix....

 along with these fresh tasty treats and an extremely helpful and kind shopkeeper, they also had a smorgasbord of pickled and jarred products made from the seasonal treasures they find. 
Pickled wild mushrooms, day lily buds, wild ginger root, mustards, jellies, oils, vinaigrettes... WOW, we were in heaven... NEW INGREDIENTS !!!
Milkweed flower syrup, Labordor Tea Syrup, Crystallized Wild Ginger Sugar

We chatted with them for quite a while and picked up alot of great stuff... they had also just sauteed up a mixture of wild leeks and mushrooms and gave us some samples of a few things we had never tried... needless to say with so many strange things making it into our cooler for the trip back to Maine we were a little nervous about the upcoming border crossing back into the states !
Next time we make the trip we will be sure to visit this market again as well as to make reservations for one of the prized dinners at Jardin Sauvages ! Stay Tuned ...

Anyway having explored the marche to the fullest and had a lil bite to eat we were ready to hit the pavement and explore the sites Montreal had to offer.  We had about a 5 mile walk back to our hotel and I had circled some choice destinations on the way... so off we went down Boulevard Saint-Laurent !

on our journey we encountered a couple nice galleries and some pretty dope street art...

 Wait thats a sign for records... nice lil shop, was able to grab a handful of reggae 45's to add to the crates ! As we marched forward we came upon a handful of lil boutiques and quickly realized we were in the part of town we wanted to be in.  After an couple hours of shopping and browsing we were up for a break and I had two spots within a block to do so at.  

First up was another quick bite at the famous Fairmount Bagel

It was a tiny little walk-in walk-out spot with bagels stacked from floor to ceiling.  They were super friendly and we picked up an extra dozen to bring home to our freezer in Maine.  
With a little more substance in our belly we headed just around the corner to visit one of my BIG destinations in the city Dieu de Ciel Brewery and Brewpub!

What a cozy lil place that started out empty but by the time we tasted our way through their 17 in house brews on tap the place was getting pretty packed.  Our waitress was very friendly and spoke enough English to get by... the beers were great !  You can find some of these gems in the states but with the amount on tap there was certainly quite a few I had never gotten my hands on and was in heaven trying them one after the next.  So many styes and flavors and their liberal use of creative ingredients including fruits and herbs made tasting through them a pure pleasure that ate away the afternoon fairly quickly.... so much so that we realized we need to boogie back to our hotel so we could get a few moments to shower, change and relax before our diner reservations that we had made through Open Table  at DNA !

Time for some DINNER...
 As I said we made reservations week or so before our trip after seeing a little about this restaurant on bizarre foods and by a recommendation from a friend who is a cook in Montreal.

We jumped right into the night by ordering a couple starters and a bottle of Canadian wine from Ravine Vineyard.  The first taste we got after a small foie gras amuse bouche was a lovely mouth watering pork belly with daikon... yum.  Our waitress was so friendly and the somellier was also very kind and informative.  She actually stopped in a moment after serving us our bottle of Red Coat and said she was excited that we ordered the charcuterie plate because it will pair perfectly with the wine we selected !  I like when the employees seem excited about the food they are serving and that was certainly the case here.  The service was above and beyond, we never had less than a half glass of water and never poured any of our wine it was all taken care of by the courteous staff !  

So next up was the charcuterie plate which we were told is a must when dining here and here is the reason why...
Its all made and cured in house by the head chef Derek Dammann. 
In fact we saw him quite few times scanning the room and walking around the dining room making sure everything was running smoothly.
So in comes our second dish...
 We experienced alot of "firsts" in Montreal and this was no exception... our first taste of speck, wild boar salami, head terrine, and more... served with an array of acidic pickled veggies and a can of bread sticks.  We took our time with this dish and it was amazing.  I really believe if we are going to eat an animal that no part should go to waste and this plate reassured us that we were doing the right thing, WOW !
After a lil break we shared a light pasta dish that was a simple yet delicious wild mushroom tagliatelle that was all house made and cooked el dente.... we forgot a picture of this one but it was earthy and dreamy.  A great break in the action before the main course.
 We finished with some simple yet delicious cuts prepared to perfection.  I took the plunge into the Canadian tradition and ordered the horse with apples, radish and juniper berries... and Cassi had the veal served with baby spring onions and braised spinach.
Wow what meal, no dessert for us in fact after this 2 and a half hour dinner we made our way back to our hotel to kick up our feet and call it a day ! And what a day it was...

Thanks DNA !

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