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October 2009

Recession Refreshment: Anciano Gran Reserva 1999

Anciano1 Spain has been a hotbed for value priced wines for several years now, long enough that the wine magazines' calling it the "next big thing" is getting a bit old. It makes sense, though, that the Spanish should make lots of good cheap stuff, having more acres under vine than anyone else, and hundreds of years of winemaking heritage under their belts.

Most of the great values coming out of Spain are thoroughly modern -- light bodied and fruity, but concentrated, high in alcohol, and ready to drink on day one. Contemporary winemaking technology has made this style surprisingly easy to do well, and thanks to modern taste and a bit of promotional encouragement, the fruit bomb style is now the height of fashion.

It is nice, and indeed, a necessity for apartment dwellers, to have wine that is ready to drink without cellaring -- hell, with my tiny wine fridge, if I had nothing at hand but heavy, tannic Bordeaux, I'd be relegated to about a half case a year, which just would not due. Before clonal selection, carbonic maceration and other fancy-schmancy new techniques, the Spaniards came up with their own method of smoothing out their tannic-ass tintos: age 'em well and good.

Traditionally, in Spain's most storied wine regions, no wine was released before it was ready to drink. In poor vintages, this was no problema, as the washed-out juice was about as good as it was gonna be right off the bat. For better years, a complex system of aging designations was established and encoded into law. After six, twelve, twenty-four or more months in barrel, even the tightest wine would reveal itself, after which time it would rest in bottle at the winery for some time before release. The big daddy of the Spanish system is the Gran Reserva. In Rioja, a Gran Reserva must have spent at least two years in oak, followed by another three in bottle, before release -- these criteria vary by region, but are generally pretty stringent, though many producers choose to go above and beyond.

As you might expect, all that aging ain't cheap, so Gran Reservas often fetch a hefty price, most now selling for $100 or more! Thus, when I stumbled on the Bodegas Navalon Anciano Gran Reserva 1999 for $11.99 at Schneider's of Capitol Hill, I was nonplussed. Though I figured it for dubious, over the hill plonk, I let my curiosity get the best of me and picked one up, and was later very pleasantly surprised.

Anciano2 The Anciano Gran Reserva 1999 is a Tempranillo based wine from Valdepenas region of southern Spain; beyond that, I haven't been able to find much credible information. But that's okay, because the wine rocks! The Anciano pours a deep garnet, with brick-red highlights around the edge. Musty leather mingles with prunes, licorice and a hint of woodsy oak on the nose. On the attack the wine is soft, with most of its bitter tannins smoothed away; despite this, the flavors remain amazingly lively considering the wine's age, with tons of blueberry and strawberry leaping to the front. More woodsy and purple fruit flavors shine on in the middle, hung on a full, slightly chewy body, leading to a lengthy earth and rhubarb pie flavored finish.

The balance and fruit flavor on this wine would make it a steal for $25; being 10 years old, and having real, old wine flavor, at half that price, makes it unbelievable. I was told at Schneider's that this was a closeout from a now defunct distributor, but that they'd bought a "good amount," and should have it for awhile. Don't wait till it's gone, as the Anciano is the perfect autumn wine, and I've found it to be a great compliment to lamb, sweet potatoes, and roasted squash. And, as if that weren't enough, you can use the gold wire net to make yourself a sweet glass decoration like mine pictured above!



Weekly Blog Roundup

Window box Heard around the DC Foodies blogosphere this week... The Humble Gourmand noted various Halloween-inspired events are scheduled at area Kimpton hotels. Included in the festivities are Poste's Ghost Roast, featuring a special menu by Chef Robert Weland. Included are baby goat with local Anson Mills polenta, pumpkin soup and concord grape sorbet.

If champagne is more your style, you'll be happy to know that Veuve Clicquot will be pouring freely at Topaz Bar. Sip away as you get a Tarot card reading at their Yelloween Celebration.

For more on Kimpton dates and events, check out THG's post here.

The District Domestic's Chef of the Week is Rachel Harriman, Chef de Cuisine at Sou'wester. Harriman noted that when she does get to cook at home, she prefers to make a pasta dish and believes a rubber spatula is a "must have" kitchen gadget. She's not a fan of the anti-griddle, which aligns with the Chicago Tribune's take on "10 Worst Dining Trends".

Young & Hungry gave readers a peak inside Birch & Barley this week. Beer lovers take note; there are 50 taps, 5 casks and 500 bottled beers from which to choose. Where to begin? A Troeg's Hopback Amber or a Weyerbacher Imperial Pumkin Ale perhaps.

Onto the food at Birch & Barley, ReadysetDC reported that the menu offers homemade flatbreads, and dishes such as Honey Glazed Duck Breast. Upstairs at ChurchKey, a separate menu includes fresh, pressed, roasted and fried plates describes as "American Fare".

Have POTUS's aides been smuggling Pete's Apizza into the White House? DCist reported that President Obama highly recommended Pete's, in fact, he believes "that everybody go there". Obama mentioned this in a speech he gave which highlighted lending initiatives for small business, which Pete's co-owner, Joel Mehr, is a benefactor. Also noted by DCist is a plan to open a second Pete's location, perhaps in Clarendon.

For fall food ideas, check out Hungry Yet?'s Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with an Apple Cider Vinaigrette and Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls. Flour Girl's Ciderrific Donuts are a terrific way to start the weekend with a cup of coffee, while The Bitten Word's Steak au Poivre with Balsamic Reduction is a hearty and satisfying option for dinner.


Foodie To-Do List: Weeks of Bacon, Pumpkin and Belgian Celebration

TodoAs part of an ongoing effort to alert you, the readers of DC Foodies, to all of the really cool food-related events, classes and opportunities throughout the Washington Metropolitan area, we give you this week's edition of the Foodie To-Do List.

Each Wednesday, we give you a heads-up on a few of the upcoming events that we think look particularly interesting.  This week, we've got:


Week o' Bacon at Restaurant 3 in Clarendon:

What: 
Starting tonight, enjoy daily bacon happy hours and a three-course bacon tasting menu to celebrate the smoky, salty taste that makes everything better.  A week's worth of celebration should be just enough to make you (and your cardiologist) very happy.

When: 
Wednesday, October 21 - Tuesday, October 27
Happy Hour 4-8 PM; Tasting menu during normal dinner hours

Where: 
Restaurant 3
2950 Clarendon Blvd.
Arlington, VA

Why: 
Executive Chef Brian Robinson cures his own bacon in-house, and this is his way of sharing his love of cured pork belly with his guests.  Do we really need to sell you on this one?

Cost:
Bacon appetizers (bacon on a stick, bacon-wrapped shrimp) are $5 each during happy hour.  The tasting menu is $30 per person for a meal including a bacon and egg salad, bacon crusted mahi mahi, and a bacon-studded waffle with maple bacon ice cream.


Asian Inspired Pumpkin Dishes for Halloween at Asia Nine:

What:
Pumpkin is the true taste of the season, and Asia Nine is going all out to serve up dishes that show off the gourd with Asian flavors.  From Friday until November 1, check out offerings like Halloween Chinese Dumplings with Pan-Fried Squash and Thai Pumpkin Custard.

When: 
Friday, October 23 through Sunday, November 1

Where:
Asia Nine
915 E Street, NW
Washington, DC

Why: 
Dishes like Twilight give a whole new meaning to the Great Pumpkin.  Stop in to see how Asian flavors blend with one of the most traditional American vegetables (fruits?).  They're even offering a Pumpkin Ale to accompany the pumpkin-focused recipes.  Just don't expect roasted pumpkin seeds...those are strictly do-it-yourself at home.

Cost:
Pumpkin items are available alongside the regular menu and run from $6 to $12.  Check the menu for pricing.


Celebrate Five Years with Belga Cafe:

What:
It's hard to believe, but Belga Cafe is celebrating its fifth anniversary this month.  In honor of this milestone, Executive Chef Bart Vandaele is holding a series of special events.  They begin with a four-course, seven wine dinner tonight, move on to a three-course, five-beer dinner tomorrow night, and culminating with a tasting of Belgium's Straffe Hendrik beer on Monday night.

When: 
Wednesday, October 21 - Monday, October 26
Times vary

Where:
Belga Cafe
514 8th Street, SE
Washington, DC

Why:
Five years is no mean feat, and it bears celebrating with this bastion of Belgian brews and bites on Barracks Row.  Maybe the most exciting of all the deals is on Friday and Saturday, when they'll be serving up the original menu from October of 2004 - complete with 2004 prices!  Stop by and wish them a happy anniversary.

Cost: 
Costs vary by event.  Tonight's wine dinner is $125 per person inclusive of gratuity and tax.  The beer dinner tomorrow is $59 per person not inclusive of tax and tip.  The rest of the week you'll be ordering off the menu.  Reservations are recommended, so call 202-544-0100 to lock yours in today.

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If you would like your events posted here, please email help@dcfoodies.com with the event info.


Rustico: Best beer bar or church of the hopped and malted? Both, actually.

Rustico1

I am not a man of faith, but I have heard the word. I have gotten religion.

I have spoken with Greg Engert.

If ever there was a revivalist pushing the gospel of quality hops and barley, Brother Greg would be that man. His church would be Rustico.

For the past three years, Greg has been beer director for the Alexandria restaurant. In that time, his passion for beer -- craft and otherwise -- has turned the neighborhood eatery into one of the area's best beer bars.

Rustico5 The day I arrived to talk to Greg, he was getting the restaurant and his staff ready for Rustico's Oktobeerfest and the 3,000 eager beer drinkers who would descend on the place the next day. It looked like they were gearing up for a military campaign. Kegs, many, many kegs, of pumpkin beer and other fall seasonals were double stacked in the walk-in and along the bar's back wall. Out back, tables, coolers, taps and tents were stacked in the parking lot, ready for assembly.

This is the third year Rustico has put on the event and Greg was expecting the masses. He knows these people. So in addition to the Maerzens and harvest beers, Greg set up a couple cask condition ales. He was gilding the lily. The beer geeks and drinkers who'd show up the next day would be more than happy with 14 craft beers, but the two cask ales would put them over the top.

Greg knew this because it would put him over the top, too.

Rustico2 I realize Rustico is a restaurant, but look at the beer menu. Actually, when I sat down with Greg to talk about Rustico's beer program, he popped out of his chair to show me the menu. Rather than organize beers by style (pilsners, stouts, IPAs) or geography (British, German, etc.), Greg organizes them by flavor. Want something crisp? Try a Brooklyn Lager. How about a beer with a roasted flavor? Have a Founder's Breakfast Stout.

In fact, Greg's fingerprints are on all of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group's (NRG) properties. So if you like the beer lineup at Columbia Firehouse, thank Greg. EatBar? Thank Greg. And then there's the much-anticipated Birch & Barley and ChurchKey, an incredibly ambitious beer bar NRG is opening in D.C. Its success or failure will depend mightily on Greg.

Though these outlets, Greg has quietly spread the word about good beer. Beer enthusiasts who trek down to Rustico know there's a lot of craft beer to be had. But the people heading over to Vermillion can opt for craft over cocktails. The guy who'd be just as happy to have a Bud with his burger at Columbia Firehouse can try a better American beer instead.

And soon, all of us will have a lot more access to a lot more quality beer when Birch & Barley and ChurchKey opens on 14th Street. In a way, Birch & Barley and ChurchKey is the result of Rustico's success and Greg's meticulous work as beer director (Speaking of ChurchKey, check out the blog Greg launched. There's 2,000 words on glassware. This guy is into beer).

Talking to Greg about beer is like talking to Baptist minister about sin and Jesus Christ. He wants you to know why he does what he does. He wants people to enjoy the beer and Rustico as much as he does. Birch & Barley and ChurchKey may be the next big thing, but Greg fully intends for Rustico to remain a destination for beer geeks and regulars.

Although Rustico was launched in March 2006 as a restaurant and beer bar, for the first few months there wasn't consideration given to the beer selection. It lacked focus. The NRG folks recognized this and recruited Greg from the Brickskeller to improve the lineup.

He did.

Rustico3 Today, Rustico has 24 American crafts and imports on draft, as well as a beer engine, because they know from good beer. Local beers regularly find their way onto the taps (Clipper City's Big DIPA Double IPA was on the hand pump the last time I was there), but Greg doesn't necessarily emphasize them. Again, it's about the flavor.

In an effort to strike a balance with Rustico's beer line up, Greg maintains a steady rotation of flavors on draft and in the cooler. So the Hop, Roast, Malt, Smoke and other flavor categories may feature Troegs, Flying Dog and Starr Hill one day. And they may feature Samuel Smith, Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier, and Left Hand the next. It all depends.

Speaking of Rustico's cooler, there's a lot of beer in there. More than 200 different beers as a matter of fact. And the cases of beer stacked on an upper shelf near the ceiling in the back? They haven't been forgotten. Rustico rigged the air conditioning system to keep the rare reserve bottles cool.

All this is well and good, but Birch & Barley and ChurchKey will have 50 beers on draft, and four different beer coolers will be kept at different temperatures to ensure that the beer stored inside will be at the optimum temperature, and the draft-line system will look like a great big beer organ. So why the hell would anyone in the District hump down the damn George Washington Parkway when they have all that right there?

Because it won't all be at the ChurchKey.

Sure, there will be a lot of different, very special beers at the new D.C. spot, but some things -- like the beer Greg brewed at the Sierra Nevada brewery -- will only be available at Rustico. And events like Oktobeerfest, brewer's dinners, private beer dinners and launch parties, will continue at Rustico. So will Greg.

Birch & Barley and ChurchKey is a big project, which Greg is personally and professionally invested in, but he plans to continue overseeing the beer lineups at all of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group's properties, including Rustico. And as long as Brother Greg is at the pulpit of the beer bar he made grand, that place is going to be alright.

Rustico4 Now, Rustico might be a great beer bar, but it ain't perfect. First, Rustico is a restaurant. As I've said before, I like my beer bars to be bars. Chef Steve Mannino might be doing some good work in Rustico's kitchen, but I'd prefer more division between the bar and restaurant. As it happens, Greg and Steve work to bring them together. In fact, Greg is quick to acknowledge the fact that Rustico is a restaurant first and a beer bar second.

Then there are the bartenders. This might be where the most work can be done. One night, the bartender is eager and friendly, introducing himself and attentive to our questions and needs. Another night, another bartender meanders behind the bar. When he gets around to taking our orders or to check our drinks, the 1,000 yard stare is locked in place. The guy may be there, but he's definitely not there. If Greg had a cadre of bartenders working as hard as the first guy, he'd have a hell of a team. As it is, he has a pretty mixed group: some mediocre, some outstanding.

Finally, there's the beer. Certainly, Rustico has one of the best selections of taps and bottles in the D.C. area. But I do have a few quibbles. Let's take the beer engine. My love for this machine is a matter of record. It's one of the greatest devices Western Civilization has ever created. However, it does require a skilled hand to operate. That might explain why during one visit when I ordered a cask ale, the bartender poured half my pint from a pitcher in the refrigerator and finished it off with the pump. When I asked why he did that, I was told it was to reduce waste. That didn't make sense to me then and it still doesn't now.

Also, I don't understand why there isn't a more specific focus on local breweries. One of the great things about the craft beer movement is the emphasis that's placed on supporting local brewers. To Greg's credit, I've always found a few local beers on draft, if not in the bottle. However, being local doesn't assure a brewery a spot in Rustico's lineup. I would hope that it would.

Score: 16 of 20 (beer: 7 of 8, atmosphere: 3 of 5, bartenders: 4 of 5, other elements 2 of 2)

The Best Beer Bars so far: Birreria Paradiso (17 of 20), The Galaxy Hut (16 of 20), and Franklin's (14 of 20)

Want to see more photos of Rustico? Check them out here.


Weekly Blog Roundup

Occidental Heard around the DC Foodies blogosphere this week...  Last week, DC Foodies mentioned an up and coming trend in the DC area; wine bar/bistros. This week, Washingtonian's Best Bites Blog presented an early look at Masa 14, a self-styled tequila bar. One hundred nineteen varieties of tequila will be served until 3 AM on the weekends. More on the fusion influences and cuisine at Masa 14 can be found here.

Counter Intelligence compiled a week's eats including dinner at The Occidental and CityZen.  At The Occidental, Chef Scrugg's Fried Chicken Two Ways sounded splendid, with candied orange peel and chamomile tea. A White Pumpkin Soup will be added to his fall menu. You can also read CI's dispatch from Inox, where she unexpectedly enjoyed a rose under the guidance of Wine Director, John Wabeck.

Brightest Young Things had a nice recap of the Taste of Georgetown last Saturday,which, despite the rain, appeared to be a successful event. BYT interviewed local bloggers/writers and judges Amanda McClements (Metrocurean) and Nycci Nellis (The List Are You On It). They were tasked with sampling 50 dishes at the event. McClements picked Morso's octopus as the winner. Clyde's lobster roll and Bourbon Steak's butterscotch pudding rounded out the top 3. For more on Alex Nicholson's report, and mouth-watering photos that will make you mark your calendar for next year, go here.

Kale Fall is really here it seems, with rain, chill and falling leaves cascading gently down from my trees to the browning grass below. That means, it's time for hearty braises, brassicas and root vegetables. Coconut and Lime made Roasted Pork with Caramelized Onions, Roasted Potatoes and Apples. It's got 1/4 cup of bourbon in it- how bad could that be? Seriously. 

Finally, The Arugula Files conquered kale with Molly (Wizenberg, not Stevens) in a dish called Braised Kale with Spaghetti and Chorizo. TAF used Neiman Ranch chorizo for the dish, and recommends a good Parmesan or Grana Padano to finish.


How do you fight a MONSTER?

Twelve years ago, Matt Nadeau started brewing beer in his basement in northern Vermont. With a great deal of hard work, and apparently, some damn fine brewing intuition, Matt and his wife Renee built their brand, Rock Art Brewing, into a regional favorite. Fast-forward to early '09, Matt and Renee are running a thriving business, crafting award-winning beer, and employing seven people in the Morrisville, VT area.

Amongst Rock Art's most popular beers is the Vermonster, a hefty American barleywine created to celebrate RA's 10th anniversary, made with a pound of dried hops in every barrel, and sporting a healthy 10% abv. On September 14th, Matt received an email from a lawyer for Hansen Natural Brands — owners of MONSTER energy drink — commanding him to cease and desist all promotion, marketing and sale of the Vermonster, under threat of litigation.

Matt and Renee hold the Vermont rights to the name Vermonster, so where's the problem? Unfortunately, given the structure of the US legal system, it's in the courts, and it's big. Though several lawyers and other council have told Matt that there is no infringement issue, and that Hansen's claim that the beer will "dilute the distinctive quality of Hansen's MONSTER marks" is ludicrous, they have almost to a man advised him to give in. You see, even if Matt were to fight this in court and win, it is within Hansen's rights and ability to appeal almost ad nauseum, and once Rock Art finally throws in the towel, Hansen wins by default. At an estimated $65,000 per court appearance, the Nadeaus can hardly afford one trial, much less a half dozen.

So what's Matt gonna do? Well, with true New England grit, American pride, and that "Live Free or Die" spirit (yes, I know that's New Hampshire, just go with it), Matt is fighting it. In the man's own words, "It's principles at stake, it's liberty at stake, it's justice that's at stake, and I'm being told it's for sale. I don't buy it." Though his campaign is in its nascency, the story has gotten a good amount of media attention, with the source list growing every day. Many stores have boycotted the MONSTER brand, and with more attention, no doubt many more will follow suit.

So if you are a believer in the little guy (or, at least, a supporter of good beer over bubbly neon crap) and want to help Matt and Renee out, what can you do? First, watch the video at the top of this page, and send it to like-minded friends. Secondly, vote with your dollars; though I assume most of you aren't big fans of the energy drinks, if you are looking for a boost, go for, like, Red Bull, or something, not MONSTER. Lastly, use the powers of the interwebs to spread the word: Follow them @RockArtBrewery on Twitter and RT their messages, friend "Rock Art Brewery" on Facebook, and send letters of support to rockart@pwshift.com.

We lose more and more of our freedom to corporate interests every year, and in the face of such immense power and capital, who's to say how we can resist? Methinks Matt expresses it succinctly at the end of the video: "We run the show people, we run it all. We just need to talk and communicate and work together." That's an empowering message we could all stand to heed just about now.


Foodie To-Do List: Sushi with Trevor Corson, Willow Creek's Farm Festival and Modern Gentlemen with Tesauro

TodoAs part of an ongoing effort to alert you, the readers of DC Foodies, to all of the really cool food-related events, classes and opportunities throughout the Washington Metropolitan area, we give you this week's edition of the Foodie To-Do List.

Each Wednesday, we give you a heads-up on a few of the upcoming events that we think look particularly interesting.  This week, we've got:


Trevor Corson Presents All Things Sushi at CulinAerie:

What: 
Spend your Saturday night learning all the right moves for your next sushi outing.  Trevor Corson, who has literally written the book on sushi, will be on hand to talk about everything from seat selection and omakase to beverage pairings and sushi-making.  Participants will even get to roll and eat their own sushi during the class.

When: 
Saturday, October 17th
6:30 PM

Where: 
CulinAerie
1131 14th Street NW
Washington, DC

Why: 
Trevor Corson knows more about sushi - from its historic roots up through the most recent developments involving the global population of bluefin tuna - than just about anyone else outside of Japan.  After three hours with him, you'll know everything you need to turn your average sushi experience into a Komi-like parade of delectable dishes.  As if that weren't enough, you'll go home with a signed copy of his book, The Story of Sushi.

Cost:
$145 per person.  Sign up via CulinAerie's website (registration required) or call (888) 789-COOK (2665) for more details.


Willow Creek Farm's Third Annual Fall Festival:

What:
Family-friendly fun that's actually friendly to the whole family can be tough to come by.  The folks at the Clyde's restaurant group are putting on their annual weekend of music, food and farm animals (a petting zoo) out at their Willow Creek Farm.  30 minutes from the city, this place is a far cry from Old Ebbitt Grill or your local Clyde's outpost - in addition to being a restaurant, it's a real working farm whose produce travels from farm to table in a matter of minutes.

When: 
Saturday, October 24 and Sunday, October 25
Noon to 5PM

Where:
Clyde's of Willow Creek Farm
42920 Broadlands Boulevard
Broadlands, VA

Why: 
In Washington, the Clyde's Group is best known for shellfish and classic American fare.  But Willow Creek Farm puts a different face on the group, and this weekend represents a great way to experience it for yourself.  Enjoy the live music and everything Clyde's has on offer for the weekend - it's a great getaway just a short drive outside the city.

Cost:
Admission is free and open to the public.  Food is available for sale, with prices ranging from $3 to $5 per item.


"Modern Gentlemen" with Jason Tesauro, a Four-Part Series of Classes at the Morrison House:

What:
Do you know how to carve a turkey?  How to enjoy a good cigar?  Fine, hotshot - how about how to open a bottle of sparkling wine with a saber?  Author Jason Tesauro is leading Washingtonians on a four-part journey covering these and other topics in an effort to help them become true "Modern Gentlemen."  Each two-hour class will cover a different subject area: Sticks & Stones (cigars & whiskey), Brews & Birds (craft beers & carving), Corks & Forks (wine & food), Fizz & Flasks (cocktails).

When: 
Wednesdays - October 28, November 18, December 16, January 27
7:00 PM

Where:
Morrison House
116 South Alfred Street
Alexandria, VA

Why:
This isn't your typical "how to impress ladies" or "style for dummies" type class.  Tesauro will walk participants through his subject matter in a way that highlights the whys and hows.  Ideally, men will leave each class eager to put their new knowledge into practice - becoming true Modern Gentlemen along the way.  And knowing how to knock the top off a bottle of champagne with a sword isn't too shabby, either.

Cost: 
Classes are $80 each, but anyone who signs up for all four receives a complimentary dinner and a night's stay at the Morrison House "to show off their newfound skills."

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If you would like your events posted here, please email help@dcfoodies.com with the event info.


Cigar City Brewing: Tampa's upstart brewery is quality craft out of the gate

CCB1

Joey Redner is a hurried man.

Since the Tampa, Fla., brewer brewed his first batch of Cigar City beer on Jan. 29, he's filled 400 barrels of beer, rolled out 11 different styles of ale (and many, many one-offs), expanded Cigar City's market from Tampa to New York and Pennsylvania, expanded Cigar City's brewing capacity, won a handful of awards -- including a gold at this year's Great American Beer Festival -- opened a tasting room, made plans to produce a collaboration beer with The Bruery, and began talking to D.C. area distributors.

On top of all that, Redner continues to homebrew, write a beer column for the St. Petersburg Times and maintains the Cigar City blog he started to chronicle the experience of starting a brewery from scratch.

Cigar City isn't Tampa's first brewery, but it is the only craft brewery in a city just waking up to the craft beer revolution.

CCB2 When Redner took the first steps two years ago to launch Cigar City, he did so to fill a void. Tampa is the home of Busch Gardens, and for years, the Busch beer plant (which is now owned by Yuengling). Aside from a few small regional breweries, like St. Somewhere, Dunedin Brewery and the Ybor City Brewing Company, there wasn't much in the way of craft beer. Tampa was -- and really still is -- a Bud town.

Times are changing, though. In last few years, beer enthusiasts like Redner have begun taking it upon themselves to change Tampa's beer culture. When I was going to college there in the mid 90s, the closest thing to craft beer was Hops, and the German restaurant in the mall offered two-for-ones on Icehouse. These days, Hops is still around, but it's been joined by the brewpub at Dunedin Brewery, and Mr. Dunderbak's moved out of the mall and replaced the Icehouse with one of the best lineups of German, Belgian and American craft beers in the state.

In the city that brewed Busch, you can now grab a Hercules at World of Beer, find Terrapin Rye on draft at the Oldsmar Tap House, or buy a couple bottles of Cigar City's Jai Alai IPA at Whole Foods.

These things make me happy.

The Tampa area may have some of Florida's prettiest beaches, but it's fundamentally a blue-collar town of work trucks and Cuban lunch counters. So it's fitting that Cigar City is tucked away in an industrial park behind the Home Depot.

CCB4 There's not too much to look at. Within the small warehouse space is everything: a half dozen brewing tanks on the right and a make-shift tasting area and bathroom on the left. In the back are stacks and stacks of kegs waiting to be filled, and machines to fill bottles by hand. The dorm room-sized refrigerator that keeps the beer cold is not half full, but hides a barrel room that is full of potential.

Cigar City is a microbrewery.

Joey Redner is a homer.

The brewery's name pays homage to the Cuban cigar makers who founded Tampa. The beers names are a nod to the city and its tobacco roots, none more so than The Humidor Series (the GABF gold medal winner). Redner soaks cedar planks in the ale to give the beer a tobacco undernote that is oddly alluring and absolutely delicious.

That said, you shouldn't take my word for it. I'm a homer, too. I want my hometown to have a great craft brewery, so I'm inclined to want to like Redner's beer (which I do). So to find out whether Cigar City is as good as I think it is, I took a bottle of Redner's Big Sound Scotch Ale over to Greg Jasgur at Pizzaria Paradiso to find out what he thought of the beer.

Greg poured it around the bar. There wasn't a naysayer in the bunch.

For that, Redner can thank Wayne Wambles. Redner may be an avid homebrewer, but producing quality beers on a commercial scale is a considerably more difficult endeavor. That led him to Wambles, who was brewing in Winston-Salem, N.C., at the award-winning brewery Foothills (Anyone who attended the last two Savor events might have come across the brewery. You're lucky if you did. Foothills is the best brewery in North Carolina and one of the best breweries on the East Coast.)

Despite Foothill's success, joining Cigar City gave Wambles the opportunity to head his own brewery. In eight months, the Redner and Wambles partnership has resulted in an impressive selection of standards (Puppy's Breath Porter, Jai Alai IPA and Maduro Brown Ale) and originals (110K+OT, Improvisacion Oatmeal Rye India Brown Ale and Guava Grove).

CCB8 I got the chance to try five from Cigar City's line up while I was in Tampa. The Jai Alai is a solid IPA, with a beautiful hoppy nose and distinctive bite, thanks to the six different hop varietals used in the beer. The hops are kept in check by the rich, round flavor of the malt. It's a good beer. The Maduro Oatmeal Brown Ale -- a top seller along side the Jai Alai -- is a straight-forward, well-crafted brown ale. I probably would've liked the Maduro more if Redner hadn't given me a taste of a Maduro batch he tinkered with by adding Cuban espresso beans and chocolate. That beer nearly jumped out of the glass.

The Big Sound Scotch Ale is just that: big. The rich, malty, full-bodied Scotch ale is every bit its 8.5 % ABV (true story: a buddy of mine tasted the Big Sound, looked at the bottle and said, "Damn, they make some good beer."). The Imperial strength brown ale, Improvisacion, gets a surprise bite from the addition of rye in the malt. But the real surprise was The Humidor Series ale. The sour bite from the generous use of hops never got in the way of the cedar's surprising tobacco notes. The GABF judges were right about this one.

CCB5 So when are we going to see these beers in the D.C. area? It's going to be a while. Although Redner has talked to a few local distributors, he and Wambles are barely keeping up with their current orders. They're adding two additional tanks, which should keep them on pace to produce a 1,000 barrels by the end of the year (Dogfish Head, by comparison, can produce 100,000 barrels a year). Within the next couple years, Joey hopes to expand the brewery further and ramp up production to about 5,000 barrels. At that point, Cigar City might be ready to ship a few beers our way.

In the meantime, if you want a Cigar City beer, you're going to need a ticket to Tampa.

Check out additional photos of the Cigar City Brewery and beer here.


Weekly Blog Roundup

Ben's Heard around the DC Foodies blogosphere this week...word quickly spread around news outlets, blogs and other websites about the passing of Ben Ali, co-founder of Ben's Chili Bowl. Ali's iconic restaurant and writ large red and yellow sign have been a fixture on U St. since 1957, through riots and revival. "To all young and old, this gentleman who fed us, nurtured us when we were hurt, made it ok to be a Washingtonian", commented EJ Jones on City Desk Blogs. Young and Hungry reported that somber music played from the jukebox at Ben's, as workers went about the business of serving customers, some unaware of the patriarch's passing, others seeking to sooth their sorrow and pay tribute with chili-topped half smokes.  

Barton Seaver, executive chef at Blue Ridge in Glover Park, was interviewed by The District Domestic this week. Seaver disclosed that humility and a good understanding of ingredients tastes better than manipulation, and a microplane is perfect for adding last minute touches to his dishes. After work, you can find Seaver unwinding over a plate of cavatelli with broccoli rabe at Sette restaurant. More on Seaver's interview is here, including his biggest customer pet peeve.

With her fingers on the DC food pulse, Metrocurean has identified a new trend in our area; retail/wine bar combinations. Soon to be joining the ranks will be Twisted Vines Bottleshop & Bistro in Arlington. Metrocurean  reported that the new endeavor will offer 20 wines by the glass along with cheeses and charcuterie, among other items.

Brunch is something you might want to consider over this weekend, especially if you're lucky enough to be off on Monday. iEatDC reported on an enjoyable brunch at Poste Brasserie including an assortment of homemade donuts and Brioche French Toast. While those sound terrific, you've got to read about the Eggs Hussarde and drool over the photo here.

Things got a little frisky at the Blue Duck Tavern the other night, reported Counter Intelligence. Apparently, it's not all that uncommon either. When President and Michelle Obama ate there on Saturday night, diners were frisked at the door. POTUS and FLOTUS enjoyed oysters and crabcakes. CI can't wait until the Blue Duck returns its pumpkin custard to the menu. Until then, she has the recipe on her site.

What could be better than Happy Hour? How about a Bacon Happy Hour! Dining in DC reported that is exactly what Restaurant 3 will be offering during the week of Oct. 21-27. There will also be a 3-course tasting menu with house-cured bacon by Chef Brian Robison.


"Germany's taste in beer is actually getting lighter, you know."

"Germany's taste in beer is actually getting lighter, you know."

6a00d8345244ce69e200e554df57958833-640wi So said a friend of mine recently, by way of explaining the Hofbrau Oktoberfest. Have you had it? I reviewed this one last year, and, having re-tried it this week, I can safely say that little has changed. Though your typical Oktoberfest isn't exactly hefty, these beers are generally Marzens, which are fuller and darker than your usual lager, with higher alcohol and a malty, nutty character. Hofbrau's offering might as well be a Pilsener, and while light and refreshing, my expert friend and I agree that it is not exactly evocative of the season. But that's the way they are going, he claims: while America is just rediscovering its affinity for the mighty stuff, smote by the dark ages of Prohibition, the German's, our nation's forefathers in fermentation, are going the opposite direction.

Not all Oktoberfest beer, German or otherwise, is like the Hofbrau, of course. And, come to that, even the more "traditional" Oktoberfest beers have not always been as they are today. Brewing technology has changed a lot in the last few hundred years, from temperature controlled fermentation to genetic yeast manipulation to the pull-tab can -- these and myriad other advancements great and small have influenced beer's evolution, leading over time to a cleaner, more consistent, and easier to brew product. Spaten, Becks, Paulaner, and all the houses making a more traditional Marzen are still making a thoroughly modern beer; clean, clear, and crisp. Back in the day, they could never have made such a tame, domesticated drink, so close to water but in color and effect. So, did ja ever wonder what the peasants were toasting Prince Ludwig with way back on that first Oktoberfest in 1810? Well, now you can find out!

1810 For the first time Hofstetten Hochzeitsbier von 1810 is available in DC! The beer is a mouthful, in name, flavor, and weight, coming in at a respectable 6.3% ABV. Made by a tiny brewery in western Austria (a brief three-hour drive from Munich, where Oktoberfest was born), the 1810 is an unfiltered Marzen lager, made by traditional means in very small quantities. Until recently, this beer was rarely seen off the continent, but importer B. United has seen fit to bless our fair city with a handful of kegs. I had the pleasure of a pint this past Wednesday at the Georgetown Pizzeria Paradiso ($8.75 / pint). The beer pours a deep, opaque russet brown, as you can see from my crappy cameraphone picture at left. The head is short, due to a naturally low carbonation, and dissipates quickly. While possessed of some of the malty sweetness typical of a Marzen nose, the 1810 has a lot more going on, exhibiting hints of citrus, dark red fruit, and lots of bready yeast. On the palate, it attacks soft (again, thanks to the low carbonation), leading to roasty malt and wheat, and then to a sour, acidic finish, reminiscent of many Belgian beers. 

The Hofstetten 1810 is a fascinating exercise in retro brewing, and sure to be a real treat to Germanophiles and beer geeks alike. The 1810 is currently on draught at the Georgetown Pizzeria Paradiso (and will likely make a brief appearance at their Dupont location), and I am told that Brasserie Beck has also received a keg. Though the actual festival has come and gone, there's still a little time to taste a piece of Bavarian history.