Category Archives: American beer

Craft beer penetration in the USA, and the question of temperatures

Speakeasy beers at Embarcadero Center cinema

Nothing saucy, I’m just amazed and impressed at the ubiquity of real beers and craft beer in the US. It seems to penetrate every corner of booze retailing: I’ve seen it in a stinky, deeply unprepossessing neighbourhood general store in Bed-Stuy, in posh-ish restaurants in Manhattan’s West Village, in a decidedly not posh barbecue joint in smalltown Kansas, and in another general store in the sparsely populated Big Sur, California, which had maybe 100 different beers.

Never mind the Downtown San Francisco cinema we went to yesterday where the bar included 11 craft beers. (Though it fell down on a few more salient cinema practicalities: an obvious, tangible place to buy, you know, tickets, and clear signage to the actual, you know, auditoriums.) We drank local SF ales from Speakeasy brewery. The design is great; the beer was good too; and it was especially pleasant to be able to take it into the auditorium. (Despite then being told by an old biddy that I was “harassing” her, even though I was just sitting quietly minding my own business, supping ale and watching Dallas Buyers Club. I suspect she was riled by my tallness; but hey, I didn’t design the place and I had tried to sit right at the back.)

Embarcadero Center cinema bar menu - 11 craft beers!

Small and wide
I’ve seen small breweries all across the country, from Brooklyn, to Weston, Missouri, to Estes Park in the Rockies, to SF. I knew brewing was a thriving scene in places like SF, but this ubiquity and massive market penetration, this embrace of an artisan foodstuff in the country that sold the world the model of the worst industrialised pseudo-food (in the form of junk food chains, massive supermarkets etc) is enormously gratifyingly. And it puts the UK to shame.

Considering Britain is one of the spiritual homes of brewing we’re seriously lagging behind. The past 10 years have seen a massive resurgence in non-corporate, non-industrial brewing in the UK, with the number of breweries in London alone rising from a shocking two in 2006 to around 50 now, but the situation is still comparably dire. Even the classiest UK cinemas with bars could maybe only muster a few real beers, while our corner shops and general stores rarely have much beyond cans of Fosters and Stella. Or at least they do in the images that keep flashing through my mind’s eye from my memories of living in Blighty until we moved to Rome a few years ago. It might be marginally better now; I’ll find out when we settle back in home around Christmastime.

Board at the Magnolia, Haight

Fridge vs cellar
Having said all that, there’s one thing that the US seems to largely get wrong when it comes to real beer: the serving temperatures. The old joke goes that Brits like flat warm beer, but traditionally it’s not warm: it’s just not refrigerated. The proper temperature for a real beer is cellar temperature: not fridge temperature.

British brewers talk about this, Italian craft brewers talk about this; and in Italy, the craft beer (itself very inspired by US craft beer) in bottles almost always comes with temperature info on the label: it should be drunk at 8-14C (46-57F), depending on type. Cellar temperature. (Room temperature, meanwhile, may be around 20C (68C); that’d be a warm beer.)

Why you may ask? Well, it’s not just about tradition and ye olde temperature of ye olde cellars in ye olde British pubs. It’s about taste. When a beer, or a wine, is the wrong temperature, you don’t experience the taste to the full. When a beer is too cold, its scents will be quashed, so you want get the full preliminary smell, and your tongue’s receptors won’t be fully activated, so you won’t get the full taste experience.

Beers at Magnolia: Proving Ground IPA and Sara's Ruby Mild (right)

Yet all across the US I’ve been served really well made craft beers straight from the fridge, quashing their qualities. The whole “enjoy an ice cold beer” thing the big industrial brewers have promoted for their crappy lagers has taken over the entire spectrum of beer-drinking, it would seem, undermining the qualities of so many brews.

Of course, this is a generalisation. Different types of beers can be served at different temperatures. This piece (from California) on Ratebeer talks about how, generally, lighter beers can and should be served colder, and darker ales (eg Imperial stout) warmer (that is 14-16C, or 57-61F).

If you’re a fan of industrial lagers, meanwhile, knock yourself out with drinking them “ice cold” – it’ll suppress any flavour. In that respect, drinking ice cold lager is more like drinking bland soda pop: it’s refreshing because it’s cold (and I understand this appeal if it’s a really hot day), but it won’t provide any sort of interesting taste experience, it won’t provide a full organoleptic experience, if you want the fancy term.

This issue is one of the reasons I regret not having got onto a brewery tour during this journey across the US (they were booked up months ahead; we arrived at the wrong time; we just weren’t organised enough, etc). I really wanted to discuss it with some brewers. I suspect a lot of them would agree with me, but they can’t control how people store their products, and it’s hard to counter decades of “ice cold” marketing.

Fish and chips and ale at the Magnolia

Our last night, last night
Still, last night, our final night in the US, I at least had a nice chat with a guy in Magnolia on Haight. He was your standard craft beer hipster with a big beard and tattoos, but was informative and told us about how this brewgastropub uses “high end ingredients” (the menu talks about their enthusiasm for English bitter styles and Marris Otter malts) and how they’re “one of the few places that do” have a cellar, for storing their casks at the appropriate temperatures.

None of us knew what “aphotic” meant though, when Fran had an Aphotic Baltic Porter. Reading now, it’s the portion of a lake or ocean without sunlight, which is a great name for this inky black, blackcurranty beer.

We also drank two of Magnolia’s three own brews: Sara’s Ruby Mild, a 3.9% ale in a low carbonation English bitter style, deep red in colour, with a smell “like Bolognaise sauce” (Fran) and a maltiness that was more milky (like Ovaltine) than caramelly; and Proving Ground IPA, a fairly strong (7%), fairly acridly bitter, slightly salty hopped ale.

Like the Spotted Pig, where we went in the West Village in New York, Magnolia is one of those places that does the pub + food combo so much better than many gastropubs I’ve been too in the UK. They even did some great fish and chips. And did beer themed desserts.

Beer-themed desserts at the Magnolia

It was a great end to my beer odyssey across the States. I’m trying not to have any booze at lunchtime, as tonight we’re getting on a 13 hour/two day (date line, innit) flight and want to be feeling as fresh as possible before this dehydrating, discomforting, dehumanising aero-schlep.

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Seafood guilt

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A lot of things make me feel guilty about my personal contribution to the end of the world (by which I mean the end of human civilisation in its current form, not the literal destruction of the planet).

Flying, using a car, badly insulated houses with the heating on, having pets, not eating everything on my plate, using single-use food packaging, engaging with the industrial food chain, throwing away plastic, leaving lights on, my own methane etc etc etc (or ecc, ecc ecc in Italian), but my desire to eat seafood is right up there.

I could (and can) live without the meat of mammal and fowl, but do so crave cephalopod, crustacean and piscine flesh. Having gone without across the entire width of the USA – that is, about 3000 miles – I was keen to find some in SF. Luckily, one of Cameron’s friends was Sean, who not only introduced me to several good beers, but he also works at the renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium, which runs the Seafood Watch programme, to encourage sustainable seafood production and consumption.

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One of the places in SF that carries their badge is Hog Island Oyster Co in the Ferry Building. Yesterday, while on a mission to replicate a photo of Fran’s mum in SF in 1971, we stopped in to eat. Not that either of us actively likes oysters but hey, when in Rome. I had a very tasty stew – well, more of a creamy soup with five oysters in it. It was good and helped me overcome my mundane issues about this particular mollusc (raw oysters = marine mucous). I also had a
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Go west, middle-aged man!

Done so much, seen so much, eaten so much, drunk so much since last post, hard to know where to start.

How about some of the amazing wildlife we’ve seen?

So, in vaguely chronological order: mule deer and a bald eagle, from the window of the California Zephyr, the train that took us on an amazing 25 hour journey from Denver, through the snowy Rockies and mud deserts of Utah, to Truckee; en route I enjoyed Pale Ale from Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, the Californian operation that’s one of the US’s biggest craft brewers.

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A red-tailed hawk skimming low over our heads in a frosty meadow in south Tahoe; we saw bear prints in the woods nearby, before arriving back at our friend Cameron’s street to see a black bear and her cub just over the street. In Tahoe, I drank Moose Drool from Montana.
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Then Great Basin’s Icky IPA, named after Nevada’s official state fossil the ichthyosaur (delicious, but served too cold as usual, so I had to warm it in the sun); “Distinct not extinct”.
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We also visited The Brewery at Lake Tahoe brewpub and sampling all nine of their delicious wares.
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I also ate a serious cinnamon bun from Sugar Pine Bakery to give me a sugary-carb hit before we went and lost money on the blackjack (aka 21) tables in a casino over the Nevada state line and got our money’s worth from a House of the Dead III machine.

Lake to sea
After a few fabulous days in Tahoe, we continued our westward journey, towards the California coast. As Cameron drove us towards her hometown of Carmel, we saw our first coyotes. I know these are pretty common in the western US, and considered a nuisance by many, but Brits like me get excited about such large fauna as we killed off such impressive animals as bears, wolves and lynx centuries ago. Plus, well, I love foxes, and coyotes are their big canine cousins: real survivors.

In Carmel we saw hundreds of cormorants and pelicans (again, common there but pretty exotic for us), as well as my first ever (sea) otters, all during a walk on the glorious Point Lobos. The latter were especially engaging – six or so, all snoozing in the kelp beds, floating on their backs and holding hands.

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In Carmel, I drank sundry beers, including Laguinitas Little Sumpin’ Wild Ale, which was strong (8.8%) and pleasingly, crisply bitter; Brother Thelonius from North Coast Brewing, a strong (9.4%) dark ale, reminiscent of slightly charred toffee apples; and Devotion Ale from The Lost Abbey, a sweet blonde; amongst others.
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We also tried to visit Post No Bills in Sand City, but were too early. Phooey, thwarted!

Big Surring
Somewhere we did visit, however, was Big Sur. This is a really special area that reminded me a bit of one of my fave places: the north of New Zealand’s South Island. Both have a rugged beauty, partially shaped by humanity but mostly defined by ocean and forest. On a hike in Andrew Molera State Park we saw more red-tailed hawks as well as another iconic American raptor, the turkey vulture.

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Beforehand, I’d fuelled up with the biggest, most amorphous almond croissant ever, from Big Sur Bakery. It was mighty good with a filling that was more crunchy than the usual almond paste.

Afterwards we had lunch at Nepenthe, a restaurant in a location once fleetingly owned by Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth that has incredible views but food that needs a bit of an injection of energy.

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They had some great beers though, including the wonderfully named Eye of the Hawk from Mendocino brewing, another strong (8%) ale, this time coppery and warmly malty.

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Later on, we even fitted in a quick visit to Big Sur Taphouse, in the same stretch as the bakery.
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Pictures on the walls and a flag were Italian, but we drank local beers before buying some bottles from the amazing selection in the general store next door. Jeez, I wish British corner shops had such enthusiasm with their beer stock.

Oh, and I know I’m straying even further from my remit, but an honorable mention to Lula’s Chocolates for their Dark California Toffee: toffee, coated in dark choc, sprinkled with almonds. Best chocolate we had, and we we’ve been sampling a lot.

A bigger city
We’re now back in the big city, San Francisco, having said goodbye to Cameron, our ever-generous California host, on Wednesday night. We drove up via Santa Cruz, having a quick stop at the likeable Companion Bakeshop (handsome piles of breads, cookie far too earnest and 1980s-Cranks, tomato and onion tartlet underseasoned and soggy bottomed).

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As Cameron and I met at the kitchens of the American Academy in Rome, it was fitting that our final dinner together was at Chez Panisse, the restaurant founded by Alice Waters, who also set up the Rome Sustainable Food Project at the Academy.

I must admit the food couldn’t quite live up to the hype (things rarely do), but I did have an excellent beer as an aperitivo: Proportional Response from The Rare Barrel. This brewery – also in Berkeley, like the restaurant – specialises in oak-aged sour beers. I usually loathe oakiness in wine, but this stuff was great – smoothly sharp, acidly mellow.

Having seen a few photos recently in which my 40-something-not-getting-enough-exercise-belly is coming along nicely (tall skinny man with a beergut – never a good look), I managed to go a day with our bread, cakes or ale yesterday (almost – had a cookie), but we did have a great walk around the city.

I’m loving California, but I do struggle with a car-oriented lifestyle; I just love to walk around and SF is a perfect place to do that. Cameron’s mum had kindly given us tickets for the de Young Museum’s David Hockney: A Bigger Exhibition. The show was largely about Hockney returning to his native Yorkshire after 25 years living in California and as such provided a perfect connection between dear, soggy, verdant old England and this magnificent state.

http://hockney.famsf.org/sites/default/files/styles/big_preview/public/preview/08A01_cropped.jpg?itok=cfHMSYWU

We’ve got a few more days in SF now, before heading to NZ. I meant to get up early this morning and go to the much-praised Tartine, but I suspect we’re too late now as I’ve been doing this blog, having the usual fight juggling three devices and trying to sort all the pics and links.

We’ll see what the next few days hold. Sadly, I was way too late to get on a tour at Anchor Steam Brewery (thwarted again). Shame really, as I’m really keen to ask a US craft brewer about the whole issue of serving their brews at fridge temperature (4C, or 39F) compared to “cellar temperature” (8-10C, 46-50F).

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Down from the mountain

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We left Estes Park, and the elk, busy rutting by the road and slightly nonplussed when we slowed the enormous Dodge beside them to take photos, yesterday morning. The sun faded away behind a wall of cloud and drizzle as we got back to Boulder – itself still a mile (1600m) above sea level. It was flippin’ cold. Seriously, after two years in Rome we’re totally de-acclimatised to anything even vaguely near freezing.

Another immediately bizzarro comparison with Rome arose when we entered a café – and found everyone sitting in silence, on laptops. In Rome, people, you know, talk to each other in cafés. Still, the beer bars are decidedly more sociable – indeed, we’ve just been to Falling Rock Tap House in Denver and a note on the back of the menus scolds people for being on their phones.

Yesterday’s lunch was sociable too – we were still with Fran’s bro and family, though the Mountain Sun (1535 Pearl Street) was very welcoming to us all, including slumbering Angry Girl (19 months, in giant buggy) and hungry Brisket Boy (aka British Captain America, aged five). It was a really great spot, where the waiters were enamored of Brisket Boy’s accent and eager to please the slightly older beer drinkers among us by providing a superb selection of samples before we chose our pints.

These beer bars all have a serious emphasis on fried food though so we really enjoyed finding Bones in Denver today. This isn’t just an excellent fusionish noodle bar, with some splendid suckling pig steamed buns.

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They even had a few craft beers. Served far too cold (a bit of an issue here in the US methinks), but we still enjoyed our dark ales – especially my Ellie’s Brown Ale. It not only tasted good but it was named after a chocolate Labrador, reminiscent of the in-laws’ dog, Baxter, who we said goodbye to last week.

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After a bit of cultcha at the Denver Art Museum (Impressionism, US landscape art, the generation and consolidation of the myths of the American West, a giant dustpan and brush; not as cool as the giant blue bear though), we went to the Falling Rock. Where the serve beer at the right temperature, have an impressive selection, but slightly undermine the whole “no-phones-they-distract-from-the-beer”- ethos with bloody great screens. Still, at least it was basketball (Miami Heat beating Chicago Bulls), the most fluid, dynamic and engaging of the US’s three major sport obsessions.

Tomorrow may well be a craft beer-free day as we’re re-ascending the Rockies, this time by train, overnighting on the Amtrak California Zephyr before meeting our chum Cameron at Lake Tahoe.

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Thin air, good beer

And a little sunburn.

Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado

We’re currently in Estes Park, on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park, an area just recovering from terrible floods in September. Today we’ve had an icy walk around a lake at 2888m (9475ft), played some crazy golf and stocked up on beer from Estes Park Brewery, which is at an altitude of 2292m (7522ft). This tickled me as Dartmoor Brewery claims to be “England’s highest brewery” – at 1465ft, that is 447 in sensible, modern metre measures.

Baby Bugler 2 pint bottles of Estes Park Porter (left) and Redrum Ale (right), with Rockies sunset

The air is thin for us lowlanders, but the beer is good, especially when drunk on the veranda of our cabin with the sun setting and coyotes howling. (It’s also the elk rut and we’ve had a lot of their eerie bugling. I even cooked dinner on our first night here with these massive deer grazing just outside the window.)

The Shining Ale, Estes Park brewery

Really enjoying the brewery’s amber ale, named Redrum ale. Yep, we’re in The Shining territory. Stephen King was inspired to write his classic story while staying in room 217 at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. The brewery even does a The Shining beer to further milk the connection – especially in this run-up to Halloween, a festival that reaches bonkers proportions in the US, compared to the UK’s more traditional shifting of Samhain/All Souls’ Day/Halloweeny activities to Bonfire Night, 5 November.

Tomorrow we head downhill again, but only to Boulder – a town that’s already a mile high. And has 25 breweries within county limits. I don’t think we’ll be visiting them, as we need more child friendly activities, but maybe I’ll be able to try a few brews in passing.

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Bevvies in the BK lounge

Brooklyn Brewery wallBK as in Brooklyn, not in the De La Soul, junk-food sense.

After a few days in Manhattan we went east to deepest Bed-Stuy to visit Emma, one of my oldest friends, who lives there. She took us on a tour to her old stomping grounds in Williamsburg, which included a stroll by the renowned Brooklyn Brewery, whose wares I was trying my best to sample as much as possible.

Brooklyn Brewery wall 2

I was very pleased to see that something I’ve been saying quite a lot recently was also  painted on there wall of the brewery and attributed to American poet John Ciardi: “Fermentation and civilization are inseparable.” Yep. As mankind began to settle, and leave behind hunter-gathering, and build, it also began to ferment: honey for mead, grapes for wine, and of course grains for bread and beer. (Never mind all the rest: from yogurt to sauerkraut.) Our relationship with yeasts, etc, helps give paramters to our history.

We didn’t try to rush around all the borough’s best beer bars, but we did enjoy some pleasant brews. Well, I did; Emma insists on drinking industrial Pilsner, for her sins.

BK IPA and Saranghina pizza

During a day or so I managed to try several of Brooklyn Brewery’s beers, and very much enjoyed their Brown Ale and IPA. The most interesting beer we had, though, was probably when we went to collect some pizza from Saranghina, a great place in Bed-Stuy (435 Halsey St, NY 11233).

BK lager and German beer at Saraghina

We got talking to Bryan (Brian?), the guy on the bar, and I kinda regretted my dedication to trying to be a Brooklyn beer locavore. All they had was the Brooklyn Lager, which was pleasant as lagers go but no great shakes. Instead, the best beer they had was a fascinating brew from Germany called… I don’t know what. I didn’t have my notepad, didn’t write in the phone and can’t for the life of me read the daffy German font on the bottle’s label.

Bryan explained it was put in the lagering tunnels and left uncovered, allowing further fermentation with wild yeasts. It’s then bottled or casked unfiltered and unpasteurised and is rich in B vitamins (from the yeast).

It really was nothing like any other German beers I’ve ever tried, a little malty, but also sharp, and a tad sour. Even Emma liked it.

Thankfully, with Fran’s patient deduction and the power of Google, we’ve found it again. It’s from Mahrs Bräu in Bamberger and it’s called Kellerbier (which I’m assuming means “cellar beer”) Ungespundet Hefetrüb (which I’m going to ask my German-speaking dad to have a crack at translating).

Late night drinks

So all in all, a great visit to Brooklyn: some good beer, and a great catch-up with an old chum, and a chance to meet her grandly monikered new bairn. Now, however, we’re in Kansas, and today found ourselves walking part of the Lewis & Clark trail in the beauty of the Missouri autumnal leaf fall, then doing some tasting of local Missouri wines, and then beers. In my shocking ignorance, I didn’t even know about Missouri wine, but apparently the state is the US’s second biggest producer after California. Well I never.

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New York City, jetlagged, blind and spotted

Last week we were in Rome, a few days ago in my home town, Winchester, then we had a night in Hounslow, way west London. An unprepossessing area, perhaps, but we had a great curry at a place called Mantra, all enormous chandeliers, mirrored walls and lighting that phased through various colours, disconcertingly changing the pallor of Fran and our friend Nick as we chewed and chatted. I’ve never before experienced this blend of south Asian kitsch and east European mob (the waitresses were intimidating eastern blondes).

Now, however, we’re in New York, one of the greatest cities in the world despite the ennui of the guy in the Saint James stripy Breton shirts shop and the strange sense of synthesis and deadness in parts of Greenwich Village where no one seems to live anymore but you can spend $700 on a Barbour jacket that would cost you half as much in London.

We started the day yesterday with the worst croissant I’ve ever had and coffee Fran said was “vile”, but it got better. Before going to a Swedish shop playing 80s British music (Joy Division and Sisters of Mercy) in Little Italy, I had a good sfogliatella at Cafetal Social Club. This was a nice bit of continuity as I’ve enjoyed these pastries in Naples (their home) and Rome the past month or so.

The rest of the day involved a visit to an excellent produce market in Union Square and walking the length of the High Line, the wonderful linear park that rehabilitates a section of old raised railway, and a younger cousin to Paris’ Promenade Plantée. Along the way, there was even a stall that sold Zuppe and Biscotti, two of the books from the American Academy in Rome’s Rome Sustainable Food Project – another nice bit of continuity from the life I’ve just left behind.

Elsyian Hop Squash, Kuka Pumpkin Porter at the Blind Tiger Ale House

We subsequently got down to the serious business of sampling some US craft beer. The Blind Tiger Ale House in the West Village was having a Pumpkin Fest with Elysian Brewing, in Seattle, celebrating the new season’s pumpkin ales. Pumpkin ales are a big deal in the US, but previously the only one I’d tried was Italian brewery Baladin’s Zucca; I’ve never seen them in the UK, though British craft brewers are also getting in on the act now.

We tried four, and I must say, I found three of them a bit tricky, and one of them borderline disgusting. It was a great bit of cultural learning, but Elysian Night Owl, a 5.9% ABV pumpkin ale was just too nutmeggy for me, too much spice, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice, to the point where both the more typical flavours of beer – hops and malt – along with any sense of pumpkin were obliterated. Fran identified a smell that recalled tea tree but I can’t say this made it any more palatable.

Blind Tiger

Fran tried a couple of the dark pumpkin ales, Elysian Dark Side of the Moon (6.5%) and Kuka Pumpkin Porter (7.6%). The latter was from a lot more nearby, with the Kuka Andean Brewing Company being based in Rockland County, New York state. The former had a lot of the Christmas pudding spice flavours going on, along with liquorice, orange chocolate (like Green & Black’s Maya Gold), ginger cake. The latter meanwhile, she said, smelled “a bit like garbage”, rotting veg, cabbage, but was much more balanced flavour-wise, with some pepper, liquorice and smokyness but not so heavy on the Xmas spices.

A helluva lot nicer was the Elysian Hop Squash, where any Christmas pudding spice overload was replaced instead by a serious floral, crisp hoppiness from Sorachi and Motueka hops. The pumpkin came through in a touch of buttery body. Of the four we tried, this one was much my favourite.

I’m not sure about this whole pumpkin ale lark – if there was more overt vegetably pumpkin flavour, sure, maybe, but they all seem much more like pumpkin pie ales, with a lot of sweetness and some serious heavy-handedness with the nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger etc.

Before the jetlag totally floored us, we headed further west again and went to The Spotted Pig, a notable location for its coat of plants and trees, potted along the pavement, cascading from the windows. I really liked this place – it successfully combines the feel of a transported, tweaked British pub with a New York restaurant. Whereas when many British pubs get gastrated, the results lose the quintessential pubbiness, this place gets the balance just right. Feels like a pub, but offers you a (not too formal) restaurant experience.

spotted pig bitter

They even have a decent selection of beers, bottled, keg and cask. The latter – served in handles – included their own Spotted Pig Bitter, which Fran said “smells of new shops”. It’s a sweet, malty, fruity brew, with very low carbonation, no head and a medium body. It’s pleasant, but a kind of stereotype-confirming version of flat, warm English bitter, brewed by Brooklyn Brewery. The other cask ale was Snake Dog IPA, from Flying Dog Ales in Maryland. This was much hoppier, with an almost metallic taste and something that made me think of (delicious, nutritious) stinging nettles.

The Spotted Pig also came with another connection to our old life in Rome. The chef and co-owner, April Bloomfield, is English and trained at The River Café in London before also doing a stint at Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, famously founded by Alice Waters – who also set up the Rome Sustainable Food Project.

We continued the local, seasonal food theme with our lunch today, at Cookshop on 10th Avenue, not far from the midpoint of the High Line. I’ve been becoming increasingly passionate about local, seasonal food the past decade and a half, but after my stint at the Academy, and living in Rome generally and trying to buy as much of our food as possible from the farmers’ markets, I feel strangely freaked out now when I encounter out of season produce: it’s just started to feel so profoundly wrong. I can’t quite explain it, but imported out of season, produce has started to repulse me as much as heavily industrially processed food. My mind and body react badly, crying out why, WTF is this? It’s Autumn, why are they offering asparagus (or whatever)? How far has that travelled?!

Really, if you genuinely care about food that’s healthy for you and healthy for the environment, local, seasonal food is the only option. (I’m no saint though, so of course I eat badly sometimes; plus, well, we’re off to the Midwest in a few days, and I get the impression it can be quite hard to find real food there, so I’ll either go hungry or have to eat stuff from the industrial food chain.)

Ales at Cookshop, 10th Avenue

Anyway, the food at Cookshop was excellent, but they also had some great craft beers. I had a Resin from Sixpoint Brewery in Brooklyn. I was slightly disconcerted by the can, being more used to bottle-conditioned real beer, but heck, why not? This was a great beer – a celebration of the hop, and hop resin, at 9.1% ABV and 103 IBU (International bitterness units; broadly, 30 IBU could be considered an average bitterness). It was both intensely floral and warmly earthy, with a very crisp, dry mouthfeel.

Fran, meanwhile, had Scythe & Sickle from Ommegang, based in Cooperstown, upstate New York. If the US Midwest these days is defined by its industrial maize production, the Autumn 2013 seasonal Scythe & Sickle (5.8%) is a celebration of the old world grains traditionally grown in the northeast: it contains not just barley, but wheat, oats and rye too. It’s lightly malty, with a smooth sweetness that… despite the wholesomeness of this endeavour perversely reminded me of 1970s childhood sweeties.

So, all in all, despite not knowing NYC, and being half-dead from the cumulative effects of moving house, flying, London, home, then flying across the pond, never mind being increasingly unequivocally middle-aged, we’ve managed a pretty good few days of food and booze.

Oh, and excuse me if this is even more rambly than usual. My own laptop is too big to take travelling, so I’ve been bodging this copy together trying to get used to a tiny keyboard for my tablet, as well as getting my head around Fran’s infuriating old Mac (seriously Macaholics – iPhoto? Really? Can you really, honestly and genuinely make an argument for that software exemplifying Apple’s purported ease of use and intuitiveness?! And enough Ken Burns already!)

Info
Cafetal Social Club
285 Mott Street, New York, NY 10012
+1 212 966 1259 | cafetalsocialclub@gmail.com | cafetalsocialclub.com

The High Line
West Side Manhattan, New York
+1 212 500-6035 | info@thehighline.org | thehighline.org

Blind Tiger Ale House
281 Bleecker Street, New York, NY 10014
+1 212 462 4682 | blindtigeralehouse@gmail.com | blindtigeralehouse.com

The Spotted Pig
314 W 11th Street, New York, NY 10014
+1 212 620 0393 | info@thespottedpig.com | thespottedpig.com

Cookshop
156 10th Ave, New York, NY 10011
+1 212 924 4440 | cookshopny.com

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