Beerded Ladies

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Filtering by Tag: saison

50 States of Beer: Massachusetts (Unedited)

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.


Beer-Battered Fish
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.

Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

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.

'Tis the Saison

Your Guide to Spring Seasonals

imageIt's 48 degrees outside right now and according to my iPhone, tomorrow will get up to 61. While those numbers are far from promising, my fellow New Yorkers and I are banking on a smooth slide in to Spring this week. It just has. to. be. here. already.

The Mets have hit the field for another losing season, we're rounding out another bracket busting NCAA tournament and yesterday I walked from the LES to SoHo without wanting to die. So, it's time to abandon your porters and stouts in favor of my new favorite flavor: the Saison. 

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Historically, saisons weren't brewed to have similar characteristics. They simply referred to a group of beers fermented during the cooler months and stored for Spring enjoyment by hard working Belgian farmers. That's why we also call them farmhouse ales. Today, saisons share a number of qualities -- they're generally fruity, highly carbonated and spicy. That's why they pair so well with a sunny afternoon, Ok, there's your background. On to the drinking.

My Top Five Saisons (in no particular ranking order)

1. Brooklyn Brewery: Sorachi Ace

I love this big bottle/tap release from Brooklyn Brewery. I don't usually love Brooklyn's beers, but I LOVE this saison. Its green apple crispness, bubbly, champagne body and subtle sweetness at the finish make it the perfect companion for oyster happy hour (one of my favorite Spring time activities). It also pairs nicely with a good old New England style crab or lobster boil. If you find yourself in NYC and in need of some seaside-esque happy hour goodness, check out Lobster Joint on Houston St. in the Lower East Side. It's a little bright inside for my drinking-habit-tastes but the happy hour is on point -- $4 Sorachi Aces (all drafts, for that matter), $1 oysters & $4 lobster, crab cake or fried oyster sliders. I'm not sure how they stay in business but I'm sure glad they do. 

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Ain't nothing wrong with watching an adorable girl kiss some lobsters while you enjoy your Sorachi Ace. Nope.

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2. Brewery Ommegang: Hennepin

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Ommegang's Hennepin was one of the first craft beers I laid lips on and it continues to be one of my go-to's for a refreshing warm weather pint. Back in college, I knew a bunch of kids who worked at a cafe in the East Village. Even though they only had two taps, one was always dedicated to Hennepin and we consistently drained it. I'm not ashamed to say it went well with breakfast eggs. Nicely balanced with a mix of coriander, herbal spiciness and sweet orange peel, the mouth feel is smooth and the finish is surprisingly dry. It goes down easy and stands up well next to almost any snack. Careful with that high ABV though -- it's well hidden. 

3. Dogfish Head - Stone - Victory Collaboration: Saison du BUFF

This one took some digging to find when it was first released in 2010. I was living in Northern California and had to drive about two hours to a liquor store in a lonely strip mall east of San Jose to get my hand on a single 12oz bottle. These days, however, the collaborative saison is getting some much deserved added distribution and you can pick one up in most Dogfish Head sanctioned outlets. The beer itself is surprisingly easy going given the punch these three breweries usually pack, a quality I wholeheartedly appreciate in a saison. Not as sweet as many of its brethren, the du Buff garners a mellow, mid-palate very herbal spice kick and crisp, peppery lemongrass finish to dry it out. I'm particularly fond of the beer's limey-ness, as it cuts through my favorite early Summer snack (carne asada tacos, duh) like a shiny knife.

Here's a sweet little video about this craft beer meeting of the minds.

4. 21st Amendment: Sneak Attack

Wild card! This sneaky little can makes its way onto shelves during the coldest months of the year when most American beer nerds are knee deep in bourbon barrel aged stouts and coffee soaked porters. I stumbled upon Sneak Attack's gleaming cream colored face last January and it surely brightened up a cold, blustery Brooklyn night. I cracked the tab, poured it slowly into a semi-clean pint glass and... Coriander! White peppercorn! Clementines! Tangy lemon! Champagne! Bubbly and refreshing but strong enough in spice to hold up against any slow cooked Winter's meal... I can't wait to enjoy this sucker alongside some Summer BBQ, come to think of it. Pork shoulder & a Sneak Attack? Fire up the grill already.

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5. Two Roads Brewing Co: Worker's Comp

 My family lives in Connecticut, so when I visit I try to vet their local "package stores" for any interesting New England-centric releases. That's how I found Two Roads Brewing Co. (Stratford, CT). It happened to be the day after Easter, so I grabbed a six pack of their freshly debuted saison, Worker's Comp, and settled down with some Chinese takeout (Yes, I know I live in spitting distance of the best Chinatown outside of China but there's just something about suburban Chinese food that makes it SO unexplainably amazing -- anyone feel me?). Anyways, this saison only enhanced my General Tso's tangy, spicy deliciousness and stood confidently by me as I destroyed some salty Chow Mein. The young brewery managed to strike a balance between juicy tropical fruit and dry, peppery clove without that all-to-familiar overpowering, palate-takeover sweetness. I especially liked the smooth pear -- subtle but persistant, soft enough to coat the tongue throughout. At a mere 4.8 ABV, I was able to down a few while still saving some room for illicit helpings of my Dad's Moo-Shu Pork and maintaining a decent level of familial conversation.

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So, while this next week attempts to flirt with the 70s, crack open a cold, spicy-sweet Saison and enjoy this Spring weather, friends! It won't be long until we're sweating into our adjunct lagers and yearning for the porter-doused nights of yore.

-MH