Tuesday, February 8, 2011

City by the bay... with the food and the beer

Some time before the Winterfest, I left the chilly college on the hill with our multiple feet of snow and negative degree fahrenheit temperature. The destination: San Francisco. The excuse: SPIE Photonics West Conference. I had a talk to give there along with a few other people from our institution, so we carpooled to Manchester airport with suits in tow and checked in for what was sure to be a warmer couple of days. At the airport, I discovered this:
Moooooo Bella
It claimed to be an automatic ice cream making machine. I had to try it or live forever in regret for not knowing. I bought the cup for the ice cream at the cafe adjacent to it (would have been cooler if it had supplied its own, though, and I just swiped a credit card) and selected black raspberry flavor with chocolate chips mix in. The cup fit in a small rotatable plastic holder inside, behind which a mess of whurr-ing noises started up. Eventually the cup tilted backwards and a cup-sized scoop of ice cream was extruded into it from behind. The ice cream looked churned and hand-scooped but tasted awful with an over-frozen hard gummy consistency. Someday when I have time I will invent a better automatic ice cream machine.

We arrived in SF and checked in to our hotel around dinnertime; with two full days of conference ahead we were not about to let the night go to waste. S and R split a taxi with me to the Italian area of town within walking distance of Chinatown and also many well-advertised strip clubs. We went to S's usual dining establishment when he comes home to SF, Caffe Sport. The wait, however, was 45 minutes so we wandered around Chinatown and ended up at a Thai place snacking on satay, fish cakes and iced tea before our reservation was up. I hadn't realized until that point how very much I miss good Thai iced tea and good chicken satay living in Hanover. Even the pickled cucumbers tasted magical.
Fish cake with fresh pickled cucumber
By the time we got back to Caffe Sport they had plenty of tables open. We sat down and split a bottle of the house Chianti along with plates of penne con pesto and scampi all' Antonio. The pesto was pretty good and the scampi sauce was a remarkably smooth and stable emulsion for one lacking butter or cream.
The beginning...

Penne con pesto
Scampi all' Antonio. Crazy yellow-green lights.
After dinner and about 3 glasses of wine each, we split a taxi to Toronado which is the place to buy Lost Abbey's Cable Car. At this point, it was well after normal bed time our-coast-time and the day of travel so recently in the past didn't help things. We each powered through a pint nonetheless and I got to savor some Pliny on tap while enjoying the crowded but beer geekish scenery of the bar. I really, really wanted to buy the Cable Car. Unsure of whether R or S liked sours along with travel-induced sickness setting in (not to mention the price tag), I decided against getting a bomber to drink by myself. I bought a bottle of Pliny and a La Folie to take home instead.
Oh Pliny, you were so yummy.
Wall of liters...

...and more of the wall. One of each, please, for the cellar?

Some taps, some funky artwork.
At this point, it would have been wise to go back to the hotel... which we tried to do but for the incredibly sketchy taxi driver we had randomly hailed who refused to take credit cards despite the clearly functional card reader on his dashboard and who drove us around in a circle. Earlier in the night, some colleagues texted that they were at a bar/restaurant called Absinthe and by crazy fortuitous luck we wound up adjacent to it at an intersection. R, who is a New York native, then proceeded to lay the smackdown on our cabby:

R: Our friends are at that bar over there! You can just let us out on this street please.
Cabby: But you said you wanted to go to {hotel name}... *proceeds to pass the bar and continues driving*

Our friends were still sitting when we arrived, so we ordered a sidecar and told them about the cab. J and P wanted to hit up another beer bar and we walked there with the group to sober up in the warm night air. I honestly can't remember the name of the second beer bar but it paled in comparison to Toronado. Exhausted and slightly groggy, we caught our final taxi of the night back to the hotel just before 1am.

Stay tuned for a followup entry on dim sum, sushi and beer hauls!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Hill Farmstead Winter Festival

We've been having quite the winter here in the Upper Valley this year. Snow, snow, snow and more snow. Needless to say, I haven't been venturing out of the area too much, but Jen and I did get away last Saturday to the Hill Farmstead Winter Festival in Greensboro VT. The Hill Farmstead is a quaint little brewery in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, but the brews coming out of this place are anything but. Ranked as the 34th best brewery in the world by Rate Beer and the best new brewery of 2011, the Hill Farmstead has been making quite a name for itself. In addition to the brewery's Rate Beer accolades, the Hill Farmstead currently has 8 beers in the 'Top Buzz Beers' list on Beer Advocate, which is more than any other brewery in the world. So you can see why Jen and I thought it was worth the 1.5 hour drive north to attend the festival.

We arrived at the brewery a few minutes before the fest and gladly took a stroll around the area to take in the beautiful scenic views. The brewery is quite isolated from the rest of world and every time I come I feel like I'm walking into a fairytale, where time moves slower, nothing is rushed and the beer flows freely. It's always worth the trip.

Once the doors opened, the beers started to flow as did the conversation and live jazz music. I don't recall the name of the band, but they did some great John Coltrane covers, including Giant Steps, which is one of my faves.

However, the best part of the fest was the tap list. Hands down, this is one of the best tap lists I've ever seen in one place. Check this out:

Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel
Mikkeller Beer Geek Bacon
Amager Rye Porter
Nogne Ø Imperial Stout
Grassroots/Mikkeller Limoncello
Cantillon Fou' Foune
Hill Farmstead Art (Barrel Aged Arthur)
Hill Farmstead Abner
Hill Farmstead Foster Black Rye
Hill Farmstead Flora
Hill Farmstead Iced Coffee Stout (15ish%)
Lawson's Finest Double Sunshine
The Alchemist Dark and Dank
Half Acre Daisy Cutter
Ballast Point Sculpin
Jolly Pumpkin Maracaibo Especial

Jen and I made our way through quite a few of the draft beers by sharing pours and I think we both agreed that the Hill Farmstead's Iced Coffee Stout, The Alchemist's Dark and Dank and Cantillon's Fou' Foune were the highlights of the day. The Iced Coffee Stout was so smooth and silky with well roasted coffee and chocolate, plus the 15% ABV was hidden so well you would have guessed it was 5% if you didn't know otherwise.

Iced Coffee Stout

Dark and Dank was a new brew from The Alchemist which turned out to be a delicious IPA brewed with dark malts and a large addition of hops. Lots of sweet caramel notes in this one. Hopefully it makes an appearance at the pub sometime in the near future. And of course Cantillon's Fou' Foune was just as tasty on tap, if not more so, than out of the bottle. The nose was filled with the classic Cantillon barnyard funk and the taste was laced with apricot and peach sourness throughout. One other interesting note was that this version on tap had a noticeable increase in grassy bitterness compared to the bottled versions I've had. I'm guessing it's due to the freshness of this keg or potentially batch variability. Either way, it did a really nice job of bringing out some of the earthier aspects of the beer, which I appreciated.

Fou' Foune

In addition to the delicious beers there was also a nice selection of food, including generously sized cheese samples from the cellars at Jasper Hill. One of the cheese samples, Winnimere, was actually washed in Phenomenology of Spirit (one of the Hill Farmstead beers) and paired excellently with a baguette and some dried figs.

To cap off the event, I splurged on a sample of 1998 Drie Fonteinen 50th Anniversary Oude Geuze. At $25 a pour, it was the most I had ever spent on a sample of beer, but was it worth it? Yes. One of the best, if not the best, gueuze I have ever had. Imagine beautiful, floral, citrus funk mixed with hay and oak while maintaining balanced acidity and sourness throughout. Perfect. One image that kept coming to my mind was liquid flower petals. Truly a work of art. Sad that there are so few of these left.

Anyways, Jen and I had a great time at the festival and I can't wait for the next Hill Farmstead event, which should be in June. It sounds like it will be an entire weekend of special beers on tap and possibly the release of Damon, the first Russian Imperial Stout from the Hill Farmstead. Also, I checked out this barrel in the back corner of the brewery before leaving. Not sure if it will ever be released, but a smokey version of Cab barreled Phenomenology with black currants sounds pretty tasty to me.