Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I Don't Want to Wait Another Year!

The 15th arrived quietly, but the serenity of the morning belied the storm on the horizon. The storm that was to be the second annual Pfiff! beer/food fest. It was a perfect San Francisco day to eat tasty food, and drink tasty beverages in a glorious oasis, and all I had to do to earn my keep was labor under a harsh taskmaster. I've said many times that I am far from a beer expert -- My brain can only handle so much information, and I've chosen to spend that capital on spirits, cocktails, and 80's pop culture (with a focus on cartoons, and D&D). Rather than give you a full, blow by blow write-up I'm just going to spew out some random observations. Also, I was a little bit too busy to take notes.

Rob is nothing less than ambitious in the kitchen, and he didn't pull any punches when putting together the menu.

-- The opening salvo was a great way to kick things off. If you've never had peaches with goat cheese, you're missing out. It's a beautiful match that was bolstered by the peppery arugula and matched beautifully with the La Fleurette which was light, and crisp with a nice bit of "earthy" citrus.

-- The Chiostro, which contains wormwood, wasn't quite what I expected. This was a case where I was somewhat sabotaged by my cocktail loving ways. I was expecting a much more bitter punch such as one gets with Absinthe -- While there was certainly a bitterness from the wormwood, and it made a nice addition to the aroma, it wasn't the slap on the tongue I was expecting. Unlike me, it seems brewers know what restraint means.

-- Not only was Nora the home run beer of the homerun beer of the day, it has magical healing abilities. The use of the kamut flour made the batter a bit thinner than I'm used to working with which wasn't a problem except for the flipping. The hot oil was flying my friends, and at one point a hasty flip bathed my forearm in boiling rain. It actually wasn't that bad, but I was feeling the distinct tingling of hot oil action when I popped the top on one of the Nora bottles. The loud pop was followed by a cascade of foam running down my arm. I scrambled for glasses to save the precious beer, and when all was said and done folks were drinking and my arm felt great. Some would say it was just the effect of cold liquid on the burn zone, but it was magic I tell ya, magic!

-- The pairing of the Strada San Felice with the soppressata, polenta, and tomato was one of my favorites of the day. The soppressata (for me anyway) sublimated some of the more dominant flavors in the beer, giving me stronger hits of the more subtle flavors. It was a great way to taste the layers of this complex, tasty beer. Also, I could have bathed in that tomato sauce.

-- The Palanfrina/fig and honey cake was another excellent pairing. The sweetness of the figs and honey really made the chestnut accent in the beer sing.

Everybody who came out deserves a big thanks as this sort of thing can't happen without folks actually, you know, being there, but there are few folks in particular who get a little extra round of applause.

Rob and Des -- The amount of work that goes into these things is tremendous, and I get the pleasure of swooping in for the easy part after Rob and Des have done all the real work. As a bonus I get to learn about beer that I would probably never even think about.

Dave Hauslein -- As the beer manager for Healthy Spirits Dave was instrumental in securing for us the grand array of beers we had on hand. Not only that, but he brought along an amazing post-meal beer that I pretty much missed out on as I was occupied with another conversation elsewhere. He was kind enough to donate to me the rest of his sample. I still feel kind of bad for taking it from him, but not that bad. Because it was amazing.

Erik E. -- After some "enthusiastic encouragement" on my part, Erik was kind enough to bring some punch to the affair. Not just any punch mind you, but a Modernist Punch. One which was an experiment in blending into a punch the essential flavors of beer. Even better it was quite tasty. Even better than that, he gave me a bottle to take home.

Jordan Mackay -- The fritters were the cause of a bit of a slow down, but Jordan came to the rescue risking hot oil to lend a hand in the kitchen. At the end of the day, as we were cleaning up, I was joking asking Rob what we would be doing next month. I was only
half joking in so far as I knew such a thing wasn't going to happen, but sweet gravy I wish they were monthly events.

Comments always welcome or feel free to e-mail us at drinkaweek [at] gmail [dot] com.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Old Fashioned Ode

When I first moved to San Francisco, Rob was one of my roommates for several years (by the way, if you ever have the chance to live with a home-brewing beer nerd I highly suggest you take it). Along with being the primary architect of my move out here, he took it upon himself to show me his favorite local spots. One of the first places he took me to was Spec's. Spec's is a mecca to the age of bohemians and beatniks, full
of old timers, and knick-knacks from by-gone days. I loved the place immediately, but that's not what Rob had brought me there for. Here, he assured me, was where I needed to go to get an Old Fashioned. This was not a terribly popular beverage during my college days, so while I was familiar with the drink, it was one I had not yet had. Fortunately for me, I like booze and I trusted my native guide, so an Old Fashioned it was going to be.

With the 20/20 hindsight I have these days, I must say that in its construction there were many things I think are wrong with the typical Old Fashioned that are found these days. At the time, however, it was a minor revelation -- One that would be another piece in the puzzle of geekery that would come together many years later. Watching the drink being made, I kept thinking that something so bare bones couldn't be that much better than the Whiskey alone. I was quite happy to find myself completely in the wrong, and it wasn't the last time I'd head over to Spec's for an Old Fashioned.

When I started getting serious about cocktails, it's no surprise that the Old Fashioned was one of the first drinks I really dug into. This drink is about as simple as it gets, yet the whole is truly more than the some of its parts. As I experimented with the drink, I eventually settled on the recipe that, for me, is perfection.

(My) Old Fashioned

2 oz. Rittenhouse Rye BIB
1 cube white sugar
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 tsp. water

In an Old Fashioned (surprise!) glass muddle the sugar cube with the water and bitters until the sugar is dissolved. Add the Rye, some ice, give it a stir, and garnish with a flamed orange peel.

There are a couple of things you'll notice missing that are frequently found when ordering this drink these days -- First is the muddled cherry, and orange. This is referred to by purists as "fruit salad", or "garbage", and I am inclined to agree. There are some who insist that a reasonably small slice of orange muddled into the drink is a tasty addition. I bear those folks no ill will, but I've always found it unnecessary. The giant hunks of muddled orange most often found? What the hell people? This not a drink that needs to be diluted with a cup of juice. Ranting not withstanding however, the slightest hint of orange is rather nice. Thank God for garnishes. The second, and far more important, is the slug of seltzer. This "addition" is unequivocally not ok. I would attempt to wax poetically about this, but I'm already getting riled up. This is not a drink that wants or needs to be lengthened.

So what's your Old Fashioned recipe of choice? I'd be especially interested in hearing from folks who disagree with my stance on the muddled orange and/or soda. Am I missing something?

Comments always welcome or feel free to e-mail us at drinkaweek [at] gmail [dot] com.