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5.  Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Chico, California

Founded:  1979

Production: approx 680,000 barrels

(website)

sierra-nevada-pale-ale

No god-fearing microbrewer could ever not bow down in worship to Sierra Nevada.  It would be an outrage.  I would have to throw my shoes at you.  (I still think it would have been off the chain if Mr Bush caught one of the shoes, centered in on the thrower with his beady eyes, and threw it back like a Chinese throwing star…but no…instead, he flinched.  Anyway, back to Sierra).   Sierra Nevada is a forerunner in the field of microbrewing.  Practically THE forerunner in the field.

Along with Anchor Steam brewery in San Francisco, they broke new ground and shined a beacon of light into the dark night of “American Lagers” that had become ubiquitous since America’s post-Prohibition days.  They shook people up.  An underground following began, and people started to want more out of their grog.  They wanted an experience.  So, through a combination of renegade thinking and the tried-and-true techniques of the past, Sierra influenced a new wave of American brewing.

Starting from nothing, Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi cobbled a brewery together from dairy tanks, a soft-drink bottler, and equipment salvaged from defunct breweries before the term “microbrew” even existed.  And now, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is a three-time gold medal winner at the Great American Beer Festival (an annual gathering composed of louts and connoisseurs alike who descend on Denver in staggering numbers every year to guzzle or swirl their way through a ridiculous number of beers). It represents for me the solid choice you’ll find on A LOT of beer lists around the country.  When in doubt, you’ll oft hear a chirpy waitress list Sierra’s name in amongst the long list of mostly domestic swill you’ll find the country swimming in.

Their use of hops and ability to capture their essences in a myriad of styles give their beers a refreshing, vibrant undercurrent.  Sierra Nevada’s journey was hard-fought, but its insistence on quality ingredients and experimental craftsmanship paid off; their beers now enjoy a large, devoted following.  And rightfully so.

Favorite brews:  Pale Ale, Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale, Harvest Wet Hop Ale

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marlies

On a brisk November day, after a two-hour selection gala, Marlies Dumbsky, the 22-year-old winemaker from Volkach, rose victorious and placed the tiara upon her head as she was deemed the 60th German Wine Queen.  And now, her world tour begins…

For one night only, we at Terroir wine bar found ourselves in the blessed position to welcome this year’s German Wine Queen on her official visit to New York City.  Looking to send her on her way with fond memories of our fair city and our wee wine chapel in the East Village, we attacked our mailing list with the facts about our beloved and pleas to greet her in style.  And show up they did.  By the time Marlies…pardon me, Queen Marlies, walked up to the front door, the place was packed with revelers–some wishing to see what the hype was about, others wishing to be swept up into her glass carriage and hauled off to the steep vineyards of the Mosel to live among the Riesling fairies (hell, I know which camp I was in.  Do I look best in silk or velvet?).

She poured white wines from her home region of Franken (a Riesling and a killer Schaurabe that bit back with an acid zip) with grace and the studied ease of a geisha.  She had obviously done this before…making appearances at wine shops large and small or tiny nooks and crannies stuffed with vinophiles across the globe.

“How many stops for you in the next year?”, I asked.  “300”, she replied.  Gulp.  I was dumbfounded.  That’s a shitload of Scheurebe to pour and a frighteningly unimaginable amount of smiles to paste on, I thought.  Wow.  How could you do that night after night?  But she did it.  And did it with class.  Through and through.  And did I mention she likes motorcycles?  Old ones.

And then, just like that, after appearing like an ephemeral vapor of honeysuckle on a misty walk through the heather, she was off.  Off to Japan in the morning.  Good night, my fair Queen.  And God speed.

If you’re anything like me, the onset of fall means leaves crunching below your feet (or was that a dried profelactic washed into the gutter?), the smell of chimney smoke in the air, and the spicier beers in my Tiffany’s crystal mug.  So fire up the Oompah band, Heinrich, it’s time to strap on the suspenders and raise a glass to our German comrades…but I guess the real question is:  what the devil are we celebrating?  October?  Fall?  The end of sweat marks in our armpits?

Well, nobility actually.  And german nobility at that.  First held in Munich on October 12, 1810 to commemorate the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig and his buxom bride Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen (try to remember THAT name while playing a game of Asshole at the Epsilon house), the festival honored the merry couple with the finest grub and grog, finally culminating in an elaborate horse race on October 17th.  And thus, the party was born:

Oktoberfest is now a sixteen-day, suds-heavy affair held each year in Munich, Bavaria, Germany in late September and early October.  “Oktoberfestbiers” are the beers that have been served at the event in Munich since 1818, and are supplied by 6 breweries known as the Big Six:  Spaten, Lowenbrau, Augustiner, Hofbrau, Polaner and Hacker-Pschorr.  Tourists the world over flock to this village for a Mardi-Gras like party atmosphere to nosh on rich and hearty traditional fare like white sausage (weisswurst), knuckle of pork (haxn), potato dumplings (knodeln), roast pork (schweinsbraten) and grilled fish on a stick (steckerlfisch).  And to further rush the fat and oodles of butter through their systems, they drink the beer…and lots of it.  In 2007, the 174th Oktoberfest hosted 6.2 million visitors who drank 6.7 million liters (equivalent of 11 million pints) and ate 104 oxen.

So just what are the beers being enjoyed by the swinging beauties above?

Traditionally, Oktoberfestbiers were lagers of around 5.5 to 6% abv called “Marzen”; lager beers brewed in March and allowed to ferment slowly during the summer months.  (To “lager” a beer is to cellar it at cooler temperatures and use a bottom-fermenting yeast, leading to a lighter, milder beer.  But this is a generalization as the flavors and colors of lagers can vary greatly).  Originally done to circumvent strict German laws that did not allow brewing during the summer months, these beers are most often characterized by a medium to full body, a malty flavor balance, a wide range of colors, and a clean dry finish.  Common names for Märzen include Märzenbier, Wiener Märzen, Festbier, and Oktoberfestbier.

So, the next time you sink your teeth into a steaming pretzel from a cart across from Central Park, or pop the top on the Lowenbrau in front of the boob tube, give a wink to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen and her good man Ludwig…they’ll be watching down on you.  While noshing on a knuckle…

Beer rules

Beer rules.  Fuck it.  I’ll say it: beer rules.  I came to that decision about ten, fifteen minutes ago.  If I was forced, and i mean ‘forced’ cause this would suck, to choose only beer or wine (an oft-asked question), i would choose beer.  Maybe its just because i happened to have just taken a swig of it before asking myself the question, but the feeling of the cold glass in my hand, the perfect amount of liquid flow out of the bottle….its near primitive, that feeling.  Walking around with only a swath of animal skin around your midsection, and a cool beer in your hand.  Does it get any better?  And the more beer i drink, the more my eyes are opened to the myriad of flavors that beer can offer.  Damn…seriously, we all seem to hold this fact up about wine, and for darn good reason, but the beer is IN us.   Before the pyramids, baby.

What do YOU think?

    Foamy delights on the pier

The line was thirty deep and two people wide. A throng of revelers and beer fans who had come from every nook and corner of the city were there to taste the latest offerings from the mainly East Coast represented brewers.  And what a perfect day for it.

A nip in the air, so a coat was required.  But the crowd was totally hopped up on fresh undertakings in the small kegs that filled the south end of Chelsea Brewing company at Chelsea piers.  What a location…nestled on the edge of the dock in plain sight of the million dollar, gas-guzzling, euro-crew ridden yachts tied up nearby.  

Chelsea Brewing has a strange niche.  It’s survived on the extreme west edge of Manhattan and now finds itself embraced by the microbrew loving fans who flock devotedly to the latest offerings from the master brewing team.  

Cask ale, sometimes called “real ale” by the die-hard british caskhounds, is an unpasteurized, unfiltered brew that sees its final conditioning in the same barrel in which it is served.  And served without pressurization.  This it folks, as ‘real’ as it gets.  Beautiful.  The complexity is stunning and the venue was abuzz with rabid fans swirling about the room, as the “86” list began to gain more and more names of cashed offerings with each passing minute.

Kudos to Alex Hall, the Gotham Imbiber, and organizer of the event.  May it become a mainstay on the circuit.

The Beginning

german_beer_girls-big

“What is this?” “Beer, my friend.  Beer”

Yes, its been known for ages. Just how long beermaking has been known is staggering to comprehend. Thousands of years. Where we are today, as brewers, is astonishing. Ancient styles, long-lost techniques, are being brushed-off and being thrust into the limelight. Microbrewers and craft specialists are a-flourish with all things Belgian, German, British, and Czech…oh, and don’t forget the Yankees. We, as Americans, have found our niche of brewing; a rag-tag group of upstarts gone wild has turned into big saga, with our country being filled with artisans and shrewd businessmen alike. Aflame with passion and a wealth of information, we are off and running. So, where did it all start? What is this beer in front of me, and what is its story?

empty-wine-glass-jj-001.jpgA connection to the past. A taste of civilizations up and gone. Wine, beer and spirits connect us. To culture. To tradition. To identity, place, and geography. We are swept up by them on a daily basis, yet many of us have no idea the true lineage that sits in front of us in that glass (oft a weird shaped one, at that). By starting one beer at a time, one bottle of wine at a time, one can draw the connections made from grape to glass or barley to beer. It’s eye-opening bits of knowledge that sometimes sound of dribble, but can be great little nuggets that enhance our experience of the moment.