Hops & Props 2015

by A.J. Coltrane

We’ve never missed a Hops & Props. [2012 post here.] Our group has evolved as some younger members hit drinking age, and the event itself has changed over the years too.

The first year, it felt like nobody really knew about it. It was mostly a beer-snob crowd. The next couple of years saw a lot more “beer tourists” come to the event — the crowd got younger, more attractive, and sloppier.

The tickets aren’t cheap:  $85 for non-museum members. I think that’s driving what we saw this year. The event had almost a hybrid beer-event/wine-event feel. As compared to a typical beer event the crowd was wealthier, more female, and by far better dressed. There were more than a few really expensive Cougars of the type you’d usually see at a wine thing.

It was dark and therefore blurry.
It was dark and therefore blurry.

It seems to me that the food has gone vaguely downhill annually since the first year. As an example, the 2012 post linked above shows full sized corn dogs. This year, one offering was a mini fringe-average corn dog. On the flip side, I think they had a broader variety of foods, from egg rolls to clam chowder to buffalo wings.

Still, a fun event, and highly recommended. Just make sure to buy tickets immediately when they’re available. This year it sold out in less than a week.

———-

Last night I had a dream in which I invented a revolutionary new instrument. It was a sealed yellow plastic box, maybe 2′ long by 1.5′ wide by 1′ deep, with about 20 closely spaced plastic strings strung in parallel along the top. It also had around 20 buttons that when depressed would select a chord, the chord would be voiced when the strings were strummed.

The box was shaped like this:

trapezoid

You may have already seen one of these in real life:

autoharp

The only real difference was that in the dream I had the chord-selecting buttons off to the side of the strings, rather than on top of them.

Dammit.

Cooking for Ferran Adria

By Iron Chef Leftovers

Could you imagine having to cook a meal for a man who many consider the best chef on the planet? How about one involving 50 courses? That is what the folks over at Modernist Cuisine did earlier this month when Ferran Adria came for a visit. The video montage looks amazing, I just wish I knew exactly what everything in it was. There is just some of the most beautiful food you will ever see here.

For your viewing pleasure:

A Culinary Challenge

By Iron Chef Leftovers

Here’s the challenge: cook an omelet. Sounds easy, right?

How about having to prepare a French omelet the same way Jacques Pepin does in a video which you get to screen? Still not too bad.

How about doing it in 7 ½ minutes? Ok, getting a little tougher.

With a culinary scholarship and the opportunity to stage at the best restaurants in the world, Noma, for one month? Pressure…mounting….

On a demonstration stage at the largest food gathering in Latin America, Mesamerica? Starting…to…crack…

With some of the best chefs in the world – Alice Waters, Danny Bowien, Enrique Olvera and Rene Redzepi, and a huge crowd watching you?    Mommy….

That is exactly what happened recently at Mesamerica in Mexico City. Redzepi announced that the 2 winners out of 6 culinary student contestants would win a scholarship and get to stage at Noma in Copenhagen for a month. Only three of the students completed the dish in the allotted time and it was the first time that all 6 of them had ever made an omelet.

Then the amazing part of this whole thing happened:

When Redzepi re-took the stage, he had another announcement: As planned, two students would come stage at Noma. But Waters had offered to take on two more at Chez Panisse. Bowien would bring one to Mission Cantina. And Olvera would bring the last of the six students to his soon-to-open Cosme in New York City. It was a move that surprised even Mesamérica director Sasha Correa, who told Eater that this was not part of the plan.

I applaud the chefs for all dropping a surprise on these poor students who were so stressed out by the entire event that 3 of them were in tears. Celebrity chefs sometimes get a bad reputation for being self-centered asses, but there are times when they remember where they came from and give someone else the chance of a lifetime.

You can read the full recap here on eater.com.

The Next Big Thing in Chocolate

By Iron Chef Leftovers

If you like chocolate, you should really pay attention to where your chocolate is being sourced. Most of it is poor quality, purchased in bulk and is produced with unethical labor practices. Fortunately, there has been an alternative that is catching on (finally) in the chocolate world called bean-to-bar. It isn’t a new concept, but one that is finally becoming more mainstream. Here is how it works in an overly simplistic way:

A chocolate company decides it wants to make a bar with beans sourced from say Ecuador. The chocolate maker goes to Ecuador and talks to farmers and selects some that they would like to work with. The chocolate maker and the farmers collaborate on producing the best quality crop (over quantity) they can produce. The chocolate maker purchases the higher quality product at a significantly higher price than the going bulk rate (as much as 8 times the going bulk rate for the best quality beans) and makes their bars from that cacao.

Basically bean-to-bar is a direct trade between the farmer and the chocolate maker. It has become hugely popular in the U.S. thanks to Theo Chocolates, but there are now dozens of chocolate makers doing the same thing, many of them very small producers. One of my favorites is Mindo out of Dexter, Michigan. The owners spend part of their year working directly with the farmers in Ecuador (all of their chocolate is sourced from there), so they have a truly personal relationship with the process.

The trend seems to be catching on elsewhere, as evidenced by a recent article in the UK paper The Telegraph:

No longer is it sufficient for a smart bar to proclaim – as Green & Black’s do – that its contents are merely organic. Nor will it raise much interest among the chocolati to declare that your bar is artisanal or hand-wrapped, or that the cocoa within comes from a single estate. Worthy though all these considerations are, they are being swept aside by the latest trend in chocolate: bean to bar.

Let there be no mistake. Organic is good, and compared to the sugary slop mass-produced by Cadbury and Hershey, Green & Black’s (owned by the multinational Mondelez) is decent stuff.

Single origin bars, whose beans come from a particular location, are now becoming hugely popular, and supermarkets are making their own. So long as the farmers producing the beans are fairly rewarded and decent labour standards are maintained in production, there is nothing sinister about this either. But as it becomes easier to buy “good” chocolate, so the search for the best becomes more refined. True connoisseurs now like to pursue products that are not concocted from bought-in-bulk chocolate, but in which the whole process, from the grinding of the bean to the moulding of the bar, has occurred in one spot, under the care of one group of people: “bean-to-bar” chocolate.

I have had many conversations with small chocolate producers over the years and they all believe their biggest challenge is trying to convince consumers that paying $6 for a 2 oz. bar of chocolate is something they should be doing. Their product is infinitely better than the mass produced crap, but the price point is a tough sell. How tough? Well take a look at what I found last year when looking at dark chocolate prices:

Type Producer Cost Per Bar Bar Size Cost Per Pound
Mass Produced Hershey’s $1.19 1.55 oz $12.28
Fair Trade/Organic Endangered Species $3.25 3.00 oz $17.33
Bean to Bar Mindo $2.75 1.05 oz $41.90
Bean to Bar Theo $4.00 3.00 oz $21.33
Farmer Owned Kallari $5.99 2.46 oz $38.96

 

Theo is large for an artisanal producer and gains a great deal in economy of scale when shipping cacao from its source back to the US. The transportation cost is actually the biggest cost to a chocolate maker and even with the scale, Theo costs twice what Hershey’s does.  There are other advantages that offset price – bean-to-bar producers are making chocolate that is infinitely better tasting (better taste means you eat less in one sitting) and they are improving the quality of life for the farmers that they work with. If you doubt me, come with me to the NW Chocolate Festival in September. I will introduce you to the people who are on the ground working directly with the farmers. They tell their story much better than I ever could.

If you really want to be on the cutting edge of chocolate, purchase it from a Farmer Owned Co-op, like Kallari or Grenada Chocolate Company. The farmers control the entire process from the bean to bar and all of the profits are invested directly back into the local communities where cacao is grown.

Taking a Chance on Wild Game

By Iron Chef Leftovers

I have to give some props to the Quebecois government. The French speaking part of Canada has the right mindset when it comes to food – they allow the production of unpasteurized milk cheese and allow the import of it (making it the only place that I know that you can legally get it in North America, although you still can’t transport it back across the border), it is about the only place in North America where you can find horse and seal on the menu and now they are allowing a trial period to let chefs serve wild game (critters actually hunted in the forest, not their farm raised cousins) in their restaurants.

From the Montreal Gazette:

…the plan will evolve gradually and under strict supervision by the wildlife and agriculture departments to ensure that no animal species is endangered and that food safety is assured. For now, only white-tailed deer from Anticosti Island in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence, home to more than 160,000 of the animals, will be allowed for sale. The squirrel, hare, muskrat and beaver, will come from all over the province, but will be available only for a short period during the fall hunting season. Blanchet said only species whose numbers were not endangered and which are known to be free of bacteria or illnesses harmful to humans were chosen for the pilot project.

There are a small number of restaurants that are participating in the trial period, most notably Toque, Au Pied de Cochon and Joe Beef. For those of you who are not familiar with the Montreal restaurant scene, those are arguably the 3 best restaurants in the city and the chef/owners of all 3 of those places are avid hunters/raging alcoholics/complete nut jobs. They have also long been on the leading edge of localvorism, nose to tail eating and sustainable food raising practices, so why not be on the bleeding edge when it comes to wild game?

You want a good reason for this:

Laprise (ed. Note: chef/owner of Toque) said allowing restaurants, and eventually specialty grocers and butchers, to sell wild game will also reduce waste. He cited figures indicating that only as little as 40 per cent of all meat from the 26,000 to 28,000 wild deer killed during the annual hunt is butchered and cooked. The rest is left in the woods or by the roadside and goes to waste.

Of course, Martin Picard of the absolutely amazing Au Pied de Cochon and head psychopath of the Montreal food scene was already ahead of the game game when he published a recipe for squirrel sushi in his Sugar Shack cookbook:

The sushi dish, he wrote in the introduction to the squirrel recipe, was his way of getting even with the little rodents for all the damage they inflicted at his sugar shack.

It looks something like this:

squirrel-sushi

 

Mark Your Calendars, Hop Heads of Seattle

By Iron Chef Leftovers

Twelve Breweries, all doing triple IPA’s, all being served at once.

The breweries:

The venues:

I will most likely make at least one of them, you know, just because I don’t do enough to support my local breweries.

More info here.

Hyperbole Much?

By Iron Chef Leftovers

There was recently a bad, but very humorous review of Tao Downtown, which list located in NYC, on Bloomberg.com. The reviewer does not like the place at all, and has some wonderfully colorful descriptions of what he did not like. My favorite:

“Looks like a graveyard,” my friend remarked, when the “snapper in the sand” appeared, a preparation wherein patrons hunt for chunks of crispy fish buried in a tomb of garlic crumbs. The flavor is akin to that of overcooked McDonald’s chicken nuggets. The cost is $42.

In case you are unaware, Tao is part of a series of very high grossing restaurants in NY and Las Vegas.

He really didn’t like much of anything about the place, including the atmosphere:

So kudos to the owners, the people behind Lavo and Arlington Club, for turning the Siddhartha, one of history’s great proponents of self-deprivation, into Paris Hilton.

Imagine what these guys could do with a Kosher joint? Until then, I’m happy to say Tao is one of New York’s most important new restaurants. Not for the food, rather for finding taxis.

If you have ever spent any time in NYC, you understand how nice it is to be able to find a taxi here.

I am hoping that this gets the kitten treatment from eater.com. You probably remember the last time they did this for Guy Fieri’s shithole place in NYC:

2012_critical_cat_review_12

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wrote this on Thursday morning. I go onto Eater.com in the afternoon and what do I see? Kittens!

Brew Dog in Australia

By Iron Chef Leftovers

Maybe I should just sell my remaining stash of Sink the Bismark and Tactical Nuclear Penguin. They did only cost me about $75 per bottle…

BrewDog Beers Commanding Stupid Money in Oz (Sydney, Australia) – Although hardly a phenomenon unique to Australia, BrewDog beers are commanding big bucks “down under.” The Australian is reporting that a Dan Murphy liquor store “sold out of $169 BrewDog Tactical Nuclear Penguin, a Scottish tipple that is double-barrel-aged for 14 months and has a 32% alcohol content.” The liquor store chain is also sold out of BrewDog’s Sink The Bismarck India Pale Ale, which sells for $200 a bottle!

Nah. Those are both getting opened in a forthcoming beer tasting. I just need to figure out when to have it.

My precious. You won't be going to no hobbitsis lands.
My precious. You won’t be going to no hobbitsis lands.

Son of a….

By Iron Chef Leftovers

Rene Redzepi is coming to Seattle on November 18th and will be hosted at a meal cooked by Matt Dillon and Blaine Wetzel.

In case you aren’t aware – Redzepi is the chef at the #1 restaurant in the world Noma in Copenhagen.

Dillon is one of the best chefs in the Northwest and is a James Beard Award winner.

Wetzel cooks at the Willow’s Inn on Lummi Island, used to cook at Noma and is considered by many to be one of the most underrated chefs in North America.

Details aren’t available, but the info is here if you want it.

A Beer Afternoon on the Kitsap Peninsula

By Iron Chef Leftovers

A few of us recently went on a brewery tour of the Bainbridge/Poulsbo area to celebrate loyal blog reader Annie’s birthday. We hopped the ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge and left the driving to the guys from the Peninsula Brewery Tour company (more on them later) and hit 4 breweries – Bainbridge Island Brewing, Sound Brewery, Slippery Pig Brewing and Valhalla Brewing.  We did have a dog on the trip (except for at Bainbridge and I forgot to ask about their 4 legged friend policy), so I can rate the breweries on that also.

Bainbridge Island Brewing – They have a very nice looking brew pub a few miles from the ferry terminal in a strip mall/industrial park. Their next door neighbor is a winery and there is a distillery across the parking lot, so you could possibly make a destination out of just this one location. Bainbridge has a nice selection of beers, both light and heavy that will keep just about any beer drinker happy, and offer 2 tasting flights – one with their light beers and one with their darks. The light beer drinkers in the group gravitated toward a very nice Kolsh (although I personally thought their Saison was the best of the lights) while the hop-heads seemed to enjoy the Hoptopus double IPA. I personally thought that the best beer in their lineup was their Battle Point Stout – which had great malt character and a pleasant smoky/chocolate finish with notes of coffee.  The pub itself is large, with seating on both the first and second floors, a rolling garage door that opens up the brewery and a small patio out front with additional seating.  Oh – they also have a barrel aging project going on.

Ratings:

The Beer – 4 ferries out of 5. I didn’t have anything that I didn’t think was at least drinkable and most were very enjoyable beers

The Atmosphere – 5 gentle breezes out of 5. Beautiful building and an interesting brewing system. Nice place to hang out and have a few beers.  They have a few snack items, but no food to speak of.

Dog Friendliness – No Rating. Not sure if you can bring the pooch inside, but you can probably grab a seat on the patio and have Fido there.

*Updated from Annie S: when I called them prior to the trip they said “bring the pooch they are allowed and you don’t have to be outside and she was super nice about it.

 

Sound Brewery – The brewery I was most looking forward to seeing based on what I said on this article. Located in a warehouse off a main road in Poulsbo, it isn’t the prettiest building you have ever seen, but they do have a small tasting room and patio with the brewery taking up most of the space. Their beers tend to gravitate more toward Belgian styles and/or hops, so you won’t have a ton of choices if you are looking for something that is in the kolsh vein. If you like hops, the Humulo Nimbus is an outstanding double IPA, their Endendre beers are fantastic beers using Chimay yeast and if you want to go to the dark side, their Ursus beers are incredibly good.  We also got to try a sample of their Belgian Quad aging in a whiskey barrel – it was amazing and I would make a trip back just for that. My one disappointment was that they did not have Mayan Cave Bear on tap – I have wanted to try that and we missed it by about a week.

Ratings:

The Beer – 5 foghorns out of 5. I didn’t call them one of the 5 best in the state for nothing.

The Atmosphere – 3 mechanics out of 5. It is a neat tasting room, but it feels like it is in a warehouse (maybe because it is in a warehouse). It is pretty small space for drinking but the patio is a nice touch.

Dog Friendliness – 5 squeaky toys out of 5. No issues bringing the pooch inside.

 

Slippery Pig Brewery – Perhaps the oddest place on the trip for many reasons. It is located (literally) on a farm at the end of a dirt road, just minutes from Sound. Their brewing space was probably about the size of the bus we were on and their “taproom” wasn’t so much a room as a covered shelter. Then you have the beers. While most breweries will brew an occasional “off the wall” beer, Slippery Pig doesn’t do anything mainstream. Leave your preconceived notions at the door and order up a sampler of their beers. I really liked the White Chocolate Sour Cherry Stout (lots of subtle white chocolate with hits of cherries), the Blueberry Saison (not overpowering like most blueberry beers) and the Porkapolypse – a pale brewed with spices and hot peppers, this was the first time that I had a pepper beer that the pepper really played a background role without overpowering everything else. It is easy to see why these guys win at Strange Brew every year. There were a few misses, but you have to expect that when you are dealing with beers this off the wall. They are definitely worth the trip to visit.

Ratings:

The Beer – 4 Gonzos out of 5. Strange combinations that mostly work, so there is nothing wrong with that.

The Atmosphere – 4 sties out of 5. A great outdoor space on a nice day with a nice farm setting around you and a good spot to have a picnic as we did. Probably not a great place to hang out in the winter. The only thing that kept them from getting a perfect score was their lack of bathroom facilities – they have porta potties.

Dog Friendliness – 5 fetches out of 5. A big open space to hang out with Fluffy.

 

Valholl Brewing – Valholl is a beautiful location on top of a hill overlooking the water in downtown Poulsbo. The tap room is gorgeous, open with lots of wood (and tables made from driftwood) and a sizable brewery in the back. There is a small patio out front, but overall this place is pretty small. The beers were solid, with a wide range of styles to make just about any beer drinker happy. While there was nothing that was undrinkable, there was also nothing that stood out above the rest of the beers – not that this is a bad thing – the beers are solid and you could easily spend all day drinking in this place without a complaint. My favorite of their lineup was the IPA, but I don’t think that there was a beer I tried that I wouldn’t recommend. They don’t have any food (like all of the other places we visited), but you are close to town center, so there are options.

Ratings:

The Beer – 3 longboats out of 5. A solid lineup but the lack of anything truly outstanding keeps them from making it from the very good to the great category.

The Atmosphere – 5 Valkyries out of 5. I am pretty sure that this is what a drinking hall in Valhalla would look like. I kept expecting to see a Viking walk through the door the entire time we were there.

Dog Friendliness – 3 belly rubs out of 5. Not a ton of space and Fido needs to be outside to enjoy a brew with you.

 

A word about Peninsula Brew Tours – These guys were great, especially putting up with 12 fun loving beer drinkers like our group. They have a comfortable bus that seats 14 and will pick folks up at either the Bainbridge or Bremerton Ferry terminals. The two owners, who also act as your tour guides, know their beers, know the breweries and were fun to hang out with for an afternoon. Since we had most of the seats on the bus, we were able to dictate the stops, but they do have a tour of both the Poulsbo and Bremerton areas they run for $35 a person, which is a steal considering  you don’t have to slog a car onto the ferry from Seattle (or drive around to the Kitsap Peninsula), you don’t have to worry about driving brewery to brewery, their bus is much more comfortable than your car, they know the brewers/breweries so they can get you a tour that you wouldn’t otherwise get on your own and you can load up a growler and drink on the bus between stops.

If you are planning a brewery tour (or even a winery tour) to the Kitsap Peninsula, give these guys a call. They are located on the web at http://peninsulabrewtours.com/ or can be reached by phone at 360-275-8200. These guys will give you a better experience than you will probably have putting it together on your own. For that, I rate them with 5 Huge Thanks for a Great Afternoon out of 5.