This post originally appeared in an edited form over at American Food Roots, but I liked the lengthy sucker so much, I thought I'd cross-post it over here. Enjoy poetic waxing!
50 States of Beer: Massachusetts
Mystic Brewery's Saison Renaud & Beer-Battered Fish & Chips
I graduated from The New School in New York City in 2007. I was 22, and the whole entire world sprawled out before me. The whole entire (read: frightening and expensive) world. Though I had spent the last few years happily immersed in the city’s riches, those same riches suddenly seemed fleeting, collegiate, inaccessible. By the spring of 2008, I had dropped out of an unpaid internship and taken a job with the Parks Department, driving a Ford F150 pickup truck and tilling the soil in community gardens, housing projects and neglected playgrounds around the Bronx. It was hot, hot, filthy work, and I was drinking my weight in shamefully cheap beer.
That July, I took a trip to visit a high school friend in Western Massachusetts. In Northampton, I went swimming beneath crystal clear, cold waterfalls, sipped coffee slowly in the pin-drop quiet morning, charmed a girl at a bar and ran laughing through endless flower strewn fields. Suddenly that whole entire world didn’t seem so terrifying. Back in New York, I packed up everything I owned, which amounted to several books of poems a few cut off t-shirts, and high tailed it up Interstate 91. Once there, I reveled in my aimless adolescence, taking a job cooking at a local bakery-cafe and, well, drinking even more beer. But this time, freed of Brooklyn rent and with a few extra bucks in my pocket, this beer was anything but cheap and lousy.
I rented a duplex near the fairgrounds, about a 10 minute walk or 4 minute bike ride from the best beer bar in town: The Dirty Truth. The Dirty Truth had 42 beers on draft, selections that represented the best craft brews in the world. While my parents told everyone I was in Massachusetts “taking some time off to apply to graduate school,” the “dirty truth” of it was I was already beginning my advanced education -- in all things good beer. Each evening, the bar’s messy chalkboard taplist was hoisted off the wall and revised, making room for an ever-evolving list of new brews to research, sample and gulp with unbounded joy. I was home.
Massachusetts has long been synonymous with the big boys of the craft sector, flashy national brands like Sam Adams and Harpoon. While those brands account for most of the state’s brewing profits, they’re only two pieces of a very diverse and deeply rooted regional pie. The people of Massachusetts have been brewing beer for centuries. Why did the Mayflower dock in Plymouth Bay instead of continuing on to Virginia as planned? They ran out of beer. True story -- you can’t make this stuff up.
Today, the Bay State is home to at least 60 breweries and brewpubs, with many more in planning. One of the most exciting microbreweries to make the Dirty Truth’s venerable tap list is Mystic Brewing from Chelsea, Mass, a working class Boston suburb. Mystic Brewing was founded in 2011 by Bryan Greenhagen, an MIT grad trained in the art of fermentation science. Greenhagen, already an accomplished homebrewer, was drawn to the “mysticism” of brewing -- how, given the right circumstances, magical little microbes could literally turn water to wine before his eyes. He dedicated his brewery to this phenomenon, celebrating the wonderfully unpredictable ways of complex wild and Belgian yeast strains, many of which derive from airborne cultures.
Mystic’s lineup cycles through a variety of ales, from wheat wines to Saisons to gruits, an herbal, un-hopped German style popular some 1,000 years ago. The Saison Renaud is a stellar example of Mystic’s ethos and Greenhagen’s passion for farmhouse ales. It’s a relatively simple Saison, drawing from just a single malt and single hop variety. The Pilsner malt provides a clean, crisp backbone and frothy, aromatic head, a quiet balance for the earthy noble Saaz hops. The real star of the show, however, is the house-cultivated yeast, which provides all the characteristic spicy, fruity and floral esters Saison drinkers love.
Though I’ve since left bucolic Massachusetts to attend an actual, accredited graduate school and, years later, even moved back to the city that I once fled so irreverently, I still go back to my old stomping ground, stopping, of course, for a brew and a bite at the Dirty Truth. On a recent visit, a Mystic Saison Renaud paired magically with the house special: beer-battered fish and chips. As soon as that malty, beautifully spiced and incredibly comforting duo was placed in front of me, I was immediately ripped from the whole entire world I had come to call home and transplanted back to that one perfectly pastoral Massachusetts summer.
Makes 2 to 3 servings
Beer batter gives fish a crunchy, flavorful coating while keeping the fish moist and tender. Though cod is the traditional favorite, pollock or catfish are more sustainable. For the batter, choose an effervescent and malty beer such as pilsner or crisp amber ale. Serve the fish with thick-cut french fries and malt vinegar. For best results, have a Mystic Saison Renaud at hand. This recipe has been adapted from the National Fisheries Institute, a trade group.
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup beer, preferably a malty ale with good carbonation
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 2 tablepoons olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 pound fresh cod, pollock or tilapia fillets
- Vegetable or peanut oil for fryinG
In wide, shallow bowl, sift together flour, salt and baking powder. Stir in egg yolks and beer, mixing with fork or whisk just until smooth batter forms. Set aside.
In another shallow bowl, combine the lemon juice, parsley, olive oil, salt and pepper.
Cut fillets in half lengthwise and place in the lemon juice mixture.
Pour enough oil into a heavy skillet to reach a depth of at least 1 inch. Heat oil on medium-high heat until it begins to shimmer.
Meanwhile, transfer fish fillets, one by one, from lemon juice mixture to batter and coat thoroughly. Using tongs, add fillets to hot oil, which should sizzle with each addition. Be careful not to crowd the skillet. Fry until golden brown on one side; turn and repeat on other side.
Transfer fried fillet to plate covered with paper towels to drain off excess fat. Serve hot.