Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Road Less Traveled (in the Summer)

My latest absence has been due to general maladies et. al. I had a doctor's appointment yesterday with my surgeon who said that, yes, I am doing significantly better and, yes, I may be cured for a significantly long time. Thus, beer (Pork Slap out of a can) and wings (Max's Memphis BBQ wings, a dozen and the hot wings, a dozen) were in short order to celebrate my victory against the gods that are trying to keep me down and out. The morning before was a magical tour of my favorite portion of the east coast. Now, I've been up and down this fucker a good many times, but my favorite place is, and probably always will be, The Berkshires in western Massachusettes. Normally, we typically head to Stockbridge, MA in the winter for a Christmas stroll and feast at the Red Lion Inn. We decided to head out to Great Barrington, MA (close by) but this time we did it in the summer; a new experience for me as I have only seen the journey in its snow-robed glory. Great Barrington is a quaint town with an excellent selection of eclectic shops, such as professional cookingware and used vinyl (hell yes), as well as a crowning achievement of all civilization, a brewery. Really, a brewery (or at least a local beer) is a mark of a quality region. It was once said by Frank Zappa (a personal hero that I would have gladly taken a bullet for) that:

"You can't be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline - it helps if you have some sort of football team or some nuclear weapons - but at the very least, you need a beer."

I am inclined to agree with the masterful lyrical poet that came up with the likes of Muffin Man, Joe's Garage, Titties and Beer, and all of the Apostrophe album. Seriously, St. Alfonzo's Pancake Breakfast is amazing. However, I digress.

Our trek lead us to the Great Barrington brewery, a bastion of fine beverages and GIGANTIC GODDAMN MEALS. These weren't just "healthy" portions, they were of the "hungry lumberjack" variety. We started off with the ever-popular mozzerella sticks, which were beer battered (probably in the pale ale). They rocked, even though the marinara sauce was a little too thin. My friends ordered burgers, which seemed pretty good, although they didn't ask how you wanted it. I crave my burger barely cooked, somewhere in the rare to medium-rare stage, so when they got something about medium-well, I was glad I went with the NY Grill. A huge slab of seeded rye bread, topped with a generous portion of both corned beef AND roast beef, slathered in russian dressing and coleslaw, with a frosty-peak like coating of melted swiss. This thing looked like half a damn cow coated in cheese and it tasted awesome. This, of course, was paired with this beauty:

Yeah, sweet huh? The Brewer's Choice, clocking in at $4.50 for 5, count 'em, 5 3oz. tastings of beer brewed in the pub. From left to right we have the hefeweissen, the stout, the brown ale, the pale ale, and the pilsner. The top favorites for the others were the stout, but we all agreed on the excellent pale ale. It was a standard pale ale, hoppy and crisp, but it had a remarkable aftertaste of beautifully clean and fresh malt. It was first hoppy, then it was like biting into a fresh baked piece of bread. I couldn't get enough of it, so I brought home a bomber (22 oz. bottle). The pilsner was excellent as well, very clean, crisp, and damn easy to drink. The brown was too similar to a stout for me, all deep roasted malts and not enough hops. The stout was like an Old Rasputin, but without the alcohol, and not as good of a balance between the coffee and chocolate flavors. The wheat was not bad, with prominent clove and banana, but it was rather sweet, almost toffee-like. The mention of toffee brings us to the latter part of the meal: dessert. We opted for two desserts to share: a slice of chocolate stout cake and a bowl of cobbler. Here they are in their half-eaten glory:

That piece of cake is only 2/3rds of the slice we got. The cake was actually drooping slightly over the sides of the plate, as referenced by the gigantic chocolate smears all over the plate that make it look rather unpresentable. The purple tinted bowl was the bowl of blueberry-rhubarb cobbler which was fucking amazing as hell. I'd never really gotten into the "fruit + rhubarb" combination as a dessert before but that bowl of sweet, sweet fruity justice rescued the mix in my mind.

At this point in time, I'd like to reflect that you should probably go and get a drink, maybe a snack, take a bathroom break, or just avert your eyes for a few minutes to avoid strain. This was a long-ass day, and I'm not fucking stopping now. Oh no, this is going to be a whopper of a post. So, take your intermission and rejoin the Drinking Train.



Choo chooooo, all aboard!

Ok, so. After our run to the brewery, we had to run a few errands (one of my comrades had a doctor's appointment). We decided to hang out in the waiting room, as it was about 90F out with probably the same percentage in humidity. I browsed through a copy of Food and Wine that I enjoyed so much, I snuck it into my back pocket. It was from October '08, so I don't think it'll be missed. But yeah, score-a-palooza on that one.

With the remaining hours of the day burning themselves out like a fading lightbulb, we decided to bring civility, class, and respect to our generally slovenly selves. I am, and always have been, not JUST a big fan of alcoholic beverages. I typically drink my weight in tea in a year. No joke either. So we decided to go to Harney and Sons, a world-famous tea shoppe. Yeah, shoppe. It's that fancy. And they let us in! This isn't your ordinary tea place though. This is an amazing wonderland of fragrant teas. And the best part is? You can try them. There is a wall of teas that you can choose to try from. Don't believe me? Here:


And that's not the entire room. There's about 6-8 feet on each side of what I caught with my camera. I couldn't fit it all into a 10 megapixel camera. Let that sink in.

Each of those tins is filled with tea that they pour out into the lid, scoop some into one of their Harney and Sons Brewing Apparati and Hearty Quaffing Bowl setups. That little spigot in the middle (one of several), contains the correct temperature water for the tea. This is poured into the brewcup, a timer is set and the tea is ready when you hear the beep. Like...Supermarket Sweep? Here's a pic:We did a mini-flight of Assam teas (some of my favorites due to their intrinsic honey-like sweetness) as well as mini-flight of Darjeelings, both first and second flush. That's the Gunpowder Green that my friend Pat tried, which is excellently smoky yet vegetal at the same time. It was an exciting time for all and I walked away with a new tin of Genmaicha Matcha, a Matcha form of Genmaicha, or Japanese green with puffed rice.

Pat made a comment back to the car that I should start adding tea into the blog, so I probably will. I drink far more tea than I do whisky and beer (which should tell you something), so I'll probably throw some reviews of my current stashes up soon. All in all, however, an excellent day. And I got a sunburn on my arm for the first time in years. I don't leave my room much. all. Pretty much just to go get more tea, whisk(e)y, and cigars. Also, I'll have a formal review of the Balvenie DoubleWood up by the weekend, hopefully. Its been an interesting nosing session, but the tasting is fucking me up hard. I think I need to water it a bit, because I'm really having trouble distinguishing flavors through the alcohol. If anyone has any ideas on that, let me know. Email is, as always, in the profile thing on the side.

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