Categorized: Food and Beverage

Introducing Empire Rye

When it comes to whiskey, there’s a common misconception that bourbon must come from Kentucky in order to be called bourbon. But that’s not true. Bourbon whiskey is basically American whiskey, with a few other conditions:

  1. it must be made in the United States of America
  2. the mash bill must contain at least 51% corn
  3. it must be aged at least two years in a newly charred oak barrel
  4. it must be distilled to less than 160 proof and bottled at more than 80 proof

The last two decades has seen a rise in the status and the demand of bourbon whiskey, which may have caught a few distilleries by surprise.

Bourbon whiskey’s close but spicier cousin is rye whiskey, and it too has enjoyed a renaissance over the last two decades. To both capitalize on its resurgence and to differentiate it from other rye whiskies, distillers in New York State have banded together and devised the label “Empire Rye.”

This regional variety of rye whiskey must meet four criteria:

  1. its mash bill must contain at least 75% New York State–grown rye
  2. It must be aged at least two years in a newly charred oak barrel
  3. It must be distilled to no more than 160 proof
  4. It must be put in a barrel at no more than 115 proof

As luck would have it and by designation of the New York State Assembly, this week—between October 16 and 22—is New York Rye Week. Eight distilleries throughout the state, including three from Brooklyn, will be introducing their own versions of Empire Rye whiskey for sale on Saturday, October 21, at the New York Distilling Company in Williamsburg. There are a bunch of other events as well, including a pig roast and a walk-around tasting.

The great thing about distilling now is that it has been around long enough so that we can get properly aged rye whiskey, not just the harsh “unoaked” moonshine that a new distillery was forced to offer while their whiskey aged.

Are Craft Beer Sales Really “Tapping Out?”

Earlier this week, a Wall Street Journal article reported on a significant decline in the sale of craft beers—a $143 million drop, resulting in sales of $2.7 billion for the first half of 2017.

Implied in this story is that craft beer bubble, which I have discussed earlier on this site, may finally be bursting:

After years of strong gains, American craft brewers are now bracing for a shakeout. Shipments are falling for many independent brewers stuck in the middle between local niche brands and competitors that were bought by heavyweights such as Anheuser-Busch InBev and Molson Coors.

Earlier this winter, I wrote that we’re experiencing a golden age of craft beers in the United States and that some day, this golden age—as all others must—will end. But the decline reported in this article does not portend the end of the current craft beer golden age.

Craft beers are kind of like coffee in that there are three tiers, if not necessarily three waves as there is with coffee. The tiers of craft breweries are:

  1. The big, legacy players that emerged during the “micro brewing” era, such as Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada that have national distribution. They have been around long enough to have a place at just about every taproom in the US and are well-position to stave off acquisition.
  2. The newer breweries that have either been acquired by a big conglomerate, such as Ballast Point, Lagunitas, and Goose Island, or those that are still independent but around in many regions throughout the country. Some examples of the latter include Dogfish Head, Brooklyn, and New Belgium.
  3. The local nanobreweries that emerged since the end of the last decade—coincidentally around the same time as the last financial crisis—remain available only at the brewery’s taproom and at a few bars and grocery stores in their home region. These are also the breweries that release cans to much celebration. There are too many examples to name, but it seems that just about every town in America has an Irish pub, a Chinese takeout restaurant, and a brewery of this sort. The quality of their beer can vary greatly.

The article’s discussion about the decline in craft beer sales seem to be concentrated in the second tier I named above. Those big names in craft beer have fallen out of favor, either because they were acquired by a conglomerate and have lost their “street cred” or because their beers have lost their edge compared to what the newer, more experimental nanobreweries are producing today.

Personally, I am certainly more interested in trying out new offerings by breweries that might seem more experimental. To return to my comparison of the coffee market, I’m more attracted to what a local coffee shop or well-known roaster has to offer than what I can get at a Starbucks or Peet’s location.

The decline in the overall craft beer market is certainly significant, but it is entirely plausible to attribute that decline to people switching from Sierra Nevada and Goose Island to something that they got at their local brewery’s taproom. In short, it might still be a great time to be a locally oriented craft brewer, just make sure you don’t get too big or don’t stick with the same offerings forever.

It also might help if you consistently make good beer, too.

Roll of the Die

I never got to go to Cassette in Greenpoint before they abruptly closed. However, since then Purslane Catering took it over as an extended “pop-up” featuring Threes Brewing, and it’s a lot more convenient for me to go there than to trek to Threes’s brewery in Gowanus.

In any case, Threes’s Greenpoint location has some pretty intriguing specials, in addition to the weekday happy-hour specials, including:

  • Teacher Appreciation Day: $35 margarita pitchers, Fridays from 5 to 7 PM
  • Take a Chance: Roll a Die, What You Hit is What You Pay, Sundays from 5 to 8 PM

IMG 7988

What struck me, aside from the $35 margarita pitcher because I know of a similarly classy joint that offers them for $20 at all times, is that, with the right roll of the dice, you can buy a draft beer for as little as $1. (Their drafts are usually around $7 but can sometimes cost more.) But I wasn’t sure if they meant one die or two? What’s the difference between “die” and “dice”? It’s one of those things that I thought I understood, but now that beer is at stake, I really need to know the difference.

I did a little—and I mean, very little—research, and here’s what I found:

  • die is always singular. It’s as simple as that.
  • dice is the plural of “die,” but today, we usually use this term to refer to either one, two, or more die. In fact, it is so common that we don’t use the term “die” to refer to a single die anymore. We use “dice.”

It’s nice to know that they are referring to a single die (or dice) and even use the always-singular “die” for the sake of this “Take a Chance” contest. I would hate to pay $12 for a beer because of an unlucky dice toss.

It Turns Out: Banana Peels Were Actually Dangerous

Don't worry guys, disaster avoided. #banana #bananapeel #sidewalk #lookdown #slippery

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We’re all familiar with the old cartoons or old movies where a character slips on a banana peel and comes crashing down to the ground. But has anyone you know actually slipped on a banana peel and fallen? Probably not.

NewImage

But it turns out that banana peels were in fact dangerous, especially in the large cities of the East Coast at the turn of the twentieth century. Annie Correal, writing for the New York Times, profiles the secret life of the city banana and notes how their popularity over a hundred years ago also made them dangerous.

They were so plentiful that in some cities, peels became a hazard. Yes, seriously. People fell and were injured. At least one man actually died from slipping on a banana peel. A headline in The New York Times in 1896 declared a “War on the Banana Skin.”

The 1896 article recounts how, Theodore Roosevelt, then-president of the city’s police department, “explained the bad habits of the banana skin, dwelling particularly on its tendency to toss people into the air and bring them down with terrific force on the hard pavement.” Roosevelt charged the police precinct supervisors to crack down on fruit and vegetable dealers from dumping “banana peels, apple and potato skins, and similar articles” on the lower eastside streets where many markets were prevalent.

NewImage

Slipping on a banana peel was so common at these markets that it must have made an impression on Jewish immigrants who populated Manhattan’s Lower East Side. According to Correal, “the notion of slipping on a banana peel made its way into American culture, [Dan] Koeppel said, thanks to Yiddish theater, Vaudeville and, eventually, silent films.”1 From there, it was just a matter of time that it became a common trope in TV programs since then.

I knew I hated bananas for a reason.

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  1. Dan Koeppel is author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World (2008). 

Mikkeller to Open Brewery and Restaurant Inside New York Mets’ Citi Field

When Citi Field and Yankee Stadium 2.0 opened in 2009, there were inevitable and exhaustive comparisons between the two. The consensus was, at least among my friends, that the Mets park was much better than what the Yankees had built in that it felt more like a baseball stadium. It seemed that the Yankees didn’t build a baseball stadium as much as they openend an airport shopping mall with a baseball field in the middle of it, peppering it with a few hot dog stands. Also, Citi Field had better food offerings: a pair of Danny Meyer food stands, a beer garden, and vegetarian options.

Many People In Line At The Citi Field Shake Shack - Black & White Version; Flushing, New York

Although both stadiums were built almost exactly where the old parks stood, the two parks were built as centerpieces of urban redevelopment in the South Bronx and at Willets Point in Queens.

The Yankees opened a Hard Rock Cafe that is open year-round, even when the Yankees aren’t playing. I don’t know a single person that would plan a trip to go there.

Hard Rock Cafe Yankee Stadium

At Citi Field, however, there will be a much more compelling reason to schlep to Willets Point during the baseball offseason. Danish brewery Mikkeller is coming to Citi Field:

Mikkeller announced that it’s expanding, and will open its first East Coast Brewery this fall at Citi Field in Flushing, Queens. The forthcoming brewery “Mikkeller Brewing NYC” will be in a non-ticketed part of the stadium, and remain open year-round.

I think the Mets outdid the Yankees here, again. Mikkeller has a sterling reputation among beer nerds with their breweries in Copenhagen, Denmark and in San Diego, California and with two bars—also in California—in San Francisco and Los Angeles. This will be their first foothold in the US East Coast. And although the food options are “safe,” trafficking in established household names of contemporary cuisine, namely David Chang’s fried chicken and Pat LaFrieda’s burgers, it sure beats eating whatever passes for food at a Hard Rock Cafe these days.

Mikkeller NYC is due to open this fall, presumably shortly after the Mets have been eliminated from qualifying for the postseason.

Craft Beer Cans are the New Sneakers, the New Baseball Cards, the New 180-Gram Records

Readers and personal acquaintances know that I’ve generally been supportive of the craft beer movement that has exploded over the years. After all, craft breweries provide an ideal destination after a long bike ride.

One of the more puzzling aspects of this movement is the obsession with cans. Many craft breweries have been canning beer for a while now, and while I certainly appreciate that this allows breweries to offer their beers beyond their own taprooms and a few nearby bars, there’s a bothersome subculture that has emerged to buy cases-upon-cases of these cans to trade them with other beer aficionados. This was on display yesterday at LIC Beer Project, in Long Island City.

Coronation Day!

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The brewery released cans of their Pile of Crowns IPA on a rainy Saturday, beginning at noon, and by one account, they sold out within a half hour.

Although I wasn’t set on buying cans, I was disappointed to find out they were out of Pile of Crowns IPA. Except they weren’t out of this beer at all! They were serving it on tap, for on-premises consumption and for take-home growler fills. You bet that I got a pint.

The taproom at LIC Beer Project has draft beers, even after they sell out of cans.

Having savored the tasty, fruity, juicy beer, I wondered about the hype behind the craft beer cans. No doubt, the can artwork is one of my favorite aspects of these cans. Because they print on a wrap-around label, rather than on the can itself, the artwork adorning the can is more akin to a poster or an album cover than the bland labels or printed cans we’ve seen forever.

LIC Beer Project Coronation Day, May 13, 2016, Pile of Crowns IPA can release day

I really like the artwork on these cans, as you can see in this ad for the Pile of Crowns IPA can release at LIC Beer Project.

However, these can releases and the euphoria surrounding them seem to be a way of introducing scarcity to the craft beer movement. Buying a can of craft beer is getting a precious object that you can trade like a valuable commodity. It reminds of those subcultures that buy and trade sneakers, limited-edition 180-gram vinyl records, or, going back to my youth, baseball cards. While there’s nothing precious about having someone spill some beer into your glass or growler, there’s an authenticity to that exchange. In essence, you’re buying the beer for the beer, as if you’re buying a record for the music or the baseball card because you’re a fan of the player. Being a collector is not necessarily the same as being a fanatic.

I fear that these limited can releases will only hasten the decline of the movement into a consolidated industry with fewer choices than we have now. As I’ve said before, the wonderful thing about craft beer right now is that there’s so much of it. The scarcity of cans suggests that we’re interested in less great beer, not more of it.

Booze News You Can Use: How to Ease a Hangover

The NY Today morning newsletter, published each weekday by the New York Times, is filled with stories that of interest to readers in the local area. There are bulletins on local events, stories that connect to local history, and some profiles of area people in newsworthy situations, in addition the weather forecast and updated on local mass transit conditions. Yesterday, they published a guide on how to ease a hangover.

The advice they got from a local nutritionist and wellness manager runs counter to various commonsense remedies. When we crave food to soak up the alcohol, our bodies are really asking for carbohydrates to raise our blood sugar. When we go in search of a bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwich, it’s not the grease that is helping us recover but the salt that we’ve lost since taking the first drink. And, to get rid of that debilitating headache, drinking electrolytes, such as those founds in coconut water and energy drinks, should help. And as we’ve all figured out, your best friend when you’re hungover is water.

But conspicuously missing from these remedies is coffee. At no point does caffeine appear to help, other than curbing the headache you get from caffeine withdrawal, a sure sign that you’re an addict.

Counter Culture Teaches You to “Refine Your Grind”

As you know, grinding your coffee right before you brew is critical for doing Good Coffee right. In fact, the common wisdom holds that the most expensive part of your coffee brewing setup should be your grinder.

Your coffee maker determines how fine or coarse your coffee grounds should be. Usually, directions for grinding your coffee have vague descriptions. One such description, “it should be fine as kosher salt,” frustrates me because kosher salt varies in fineness. Believe me, I’ve checked.

Thankfully, the folks at North Carolina’s Counter Culture Coffee posted a video showing you how to grind your coffee. This video clearly shows you how fine your grind should be for the following brewing methods, from finest grind to coarsest:

According to the video, I’ve been grinding my beans too fine for my Chemex (or what they call a “Large Pourover”). Usually, time is short in the morning, and I just bloom for half a minute and then slowly pour the rest of the carefully measured water. Their method says it should take about four to five minutes, while my method results in something closer to three and a half minutes. I wonder whether that is because I don’t “pour and pause” like I probably should. That’s the only way I can account for my brew time being so much shorter than theirs.

And if you need a grinder, here are five that I’ve owned or have wanted to own:

  1. Small manual handheld grinder: Porlex Mini
  2. Larger manual handheld grider: Hario Skerton Ceramic
  3. Budget electric grinder: Capresso Infinity
  4. Entry level electric grinder: Baratza Encore
  5. Premium electric grinder: Baratza Virtuoso

Regardless of your brewing method or coffee grinder, you should experiment until you get the brew you like. There’s no right or wrong way to make your favorite coffee.

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Trademarks, or We Are Saturated with Craft Beer

Earlier this week, Brooklyn’s Other Half Brewing celebrated their third anniversary, on the same week that they were named by Rate Beer as one of the ten best breweries in the world.

To commemorate their anniversary, they released cans of a special 3rd Anniversary IPA.

Other Half Brewing's 3rd Anniversary Ale

“You don’t save Other Half’s 3rd Anniversary IPA for a special occasion. The special occasion is when you drink it.”

I didn’t actually get to buy this beer, nor did I visit Other Half in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, on the occasion of their third anniversary. But I did see that this special brew is available at a local beer establishment down the street from me. And yes, I do plan on getting a can before they run out.

When I first saw the can, I didn’t correctly identify the producers. I didn’t think “Other Half Third Anniversary.” I thought “Threes,” as in Threes Brewing, another brewery located in nearby Gowanus, Brooklyn.

The case of mistaken identity is notable because, about a year ago, Threes Brewing was engaged in a dispute over their name with another brewery in southern New Jersey, named Three 3s. Brooklyn’s Threes even took their case to their Instagram followers, asking whether they should pursue legal action against Jersey’s Three 3s.

I chimed in and thought that the different names and wordmarks—as well as their very different sense of graphic design—were enough to distinguish one brewery from another. Also, the two don’t seem to compete in each other’s markets. Threes is primarily in Brooklyn, and Three 3s is in Hammonton, about halfway between Philadelphia and Atlantic City. But my initial confusion with Other Half’s Third Anniversary commemorative can suggests, at least to me, that there’s so much beer out there that it’s almost impossible to not inadvertently release that might run afoul of someone else’s creation or intellectual property.

As the late Umberto Eco wrote, “books always speak of other books, and every story tells a story that has already been told.”

The purpose of a trademark is to prevent a consumer from confusing one product with another and to protect the reputation of the company that holds the legal right to that trademark. Again, I don’t see anyone reasonably confusing one brewery with another, as with Threes and Three 3s. Furthermore, I certainly don’t think that the fine folks at Threes Brewing would ask Other Half to cease and desist: it’s not a neighborly thing to do, and no one owns a trademark on the number three.

In any case, potential trademark clashes such as these are a sign that the craft beer industry is in really good shape. There’s a lot of beer being brewed right now and some day we’ll look back at this period as a golden age of craft beer. We can drink a lot of different beers, and we have no hope of ever drinking the same beer twice. This is a good problem to have.

But alas, the history of every Golden Age ends in one of two ways: with a spectacular crash or slow withering decline. Either way, Golden Ages don’t last forever, and the craft beer industry will be no exception. I can’t tell exactly why the Golden Age of Craft Beer will end, but here are some theories:

  • People’s taste will change and they will stop drinking beer.
  • There will be too many breweries, and the beer-drinking public will settle in to their choices. The others will die.
  • Breweries begin to merge and consolidation will take hold of yet another industry.
  • There will be a hops crisis like the one in 2008. Never forget!
  • Teetotaling Trump will sign some executive order that will ban all beer that is not the same color of his skin. At least Schofferhofer will remain on the market.

All of this is to say that we should enjoy this period before all we have to drink is something from Goose Island and Ballast Point.

I’ll let you know what I think about that can of Other Half 3rd Anniversary IPA as soon as I get to enjoy one.

Shopping Lists for Holiday Cooking

Sometimes you feel like homemade pizza among all the other holiday fare.

The holidays are upon us, and in the last few years, I’ve been tasked by my family to handle a lot of the cooking. Shopping for a bunch of different recipes at a number of different grocery and specialty stores can be stressful. Preparing a list makes this manageable. I have a two solutions: a sheet of paper with rows and columns, and a recipe manager app.

Low-Tech Solution: Paper

Most shopping lists consist of a series of ingredients that you’ll use for a recipe. That works until you find that you have to go to multiple stores and you can buy at more than one store. I used to have separate sheets for each store and list the ingredients on each sheet where those ingredients are available. However, that led to a lot of flipping between pages and often missing things.

My new solution is to list the ingredients I need in a series of rows, as one usually does. My big breakthrough came when I added a column for each store I planned to visit. I would make a mark, such as an “X,” in each “cell” where that ingredient is available. It looks like this…

Ingredient Store A Store B Store C
Flour x x
Zucchini Squash x x
Poblano Pepper x x x
Soy Chorizo x

When I buy that ingredient, I cross it off my list. That way when I visit other stores, I skip past that ingredient.

High-Tech Solution: Paprika Recipe Manager

I’m not an expert cook, but I can follow a recipe pretty well and can make some effective on-the-fly improvisations.

One tool that has been really helpful with this particular workflow is the Paprika Recipe Manager. The app can very accurately read a recipe from a webpage and parse the ingredients and directions into its own database. When it’s time to cook, you can browse the ingredients list to prepare your ingredients and then read the step-by-step directions. My favorite feature of the latter process is that Paprika detects times. Tap on the time, and your device starts a timer. You can have multiple timers going at once.

Paprika can also help you make a grocery list.

When reviewing a recipe, you can add the ingredients you don’t have to your shopping list.

  • tap the shopping cart icon
  • uncheck the items you already have
  • add it to your list

As you shop, mark ingredients as complete.

No matter which way you chose, it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t rely on your memory. This is a stressful time of year, and you’re going to forget items if you don’t write them down, either on paper or with a digital tool like Paprika.

Happy holidays, everyone.