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February 2011

DC Beer Week 2011: It's Going To Be A Busy Week

DCBeerWeek Break out your calendars folks, the dates of DC Beer Week have been announced. And if Teddy Folkman is to be believed, it's going to be a busy week ... a very busy week.

Folkman, executive chef at Dr. Granville Moore's, leads the coordination of the seven-day beer celebration he helped put together two years ago. Every year since it's inception, the event has grown bigger with more bars, breweries and restaurants taking part. This year looks to be no different.

In the sweaty days of Aug. 14 to 20, Folkman is expecting more than 200 events spread across the District (I don't think he expects you to attend all of them). In addition to beer dinners and bar events, this year's DC Beer Week will focus on retail shops, include a homebrewing competition and may feature special one-off beers made for the event by participating breweries. 

Folkman is also reaching out to the area's upstart breweries, such as Black Squirrel Brewing Company, DC Brau Brewing Company, Chocolate City Beer and 3 Stars Brewing Company. Breweries to our north and south - including Flying Dog, Heavy Seas, Port City and Starr Hill - will also be welcome, but will have to do events in conjunction with District bars and restaurants, Folkman said. Other outsiders will include Great Lakes and Goose Island (which happens to have a hometown connection with the family at 1600 Penn. Ave.)

Although the dates have been announced, there is still a lot of planning going on. Folkman has designated a number of the city's craft beer bigwigs as "captains" to handle recruiting and coordinating in their neighborhoods. So you can expect ChurchKey to hold a number of events for DC Beer Week because Beverage Director Greg Engert volunteered to be a captain. Engert will also be responsible for coordinating events with the bars and restaurants near ChurchKey, as well as the two Rustico restaurants in Virginia. Other captains include Greg Jasgur, bar manager for Pizzeria Paradiso, and Dave Coleman, general manager and beer director for The Big Hunt.

At Granville Moore's, Folkman expects to hold at least one event every day of DC Beer Week. Many of those events will include beer from Allagash. The brewery may be based in Portland, Maine, but Folkman noted that D.C. is its biggest market.

More details about DC Beer Week 2011 should be out in mid to late June. 

Barrel Aging Whiskey At Home (Because You Have Too Much Time On Your Hands)

This post isn't for you. No, you're a right-thinking person with things to do. When you're hungry you eat. When you're thirsty you drink.

And when you want a cocktail, you don't wait four months for it. But that's what I'm doing. On my kitchen counter is a 2 liter wooden barrel that I filled with an equal mixture of corn liquor (think moonshine) from Finger Lakes Distilling and an equally un-aged Wasmund's Rye Spirit from Copper Fox. With any luck, the clear alcohol that went in the white oak vessel will - in time - exit it much more tan and much more flavorful. 

In other words, I hope I have whiskey.

DSCN5891 Sure, I could just go buy a couple bottles of whiskey and be done with it. It would cost me about the same (or less). But why do that when I can go through the trouble of preparing a barrel and waiting until June?

So I can say it's mine.

It's not the best reason in the world, but it's the best I've got. I'm also fascinated by the process of barrel aging - how the wood breathes, allowing the alcohol to leach into its charred interior and extract those beautiful caramel and vanilla flavors that make whiskey what it is.

Besides, as hobbies go, this is a pretty low key one. Once the barrel is prepped and filled there's not much to do other than wait. And when the whiskey is ready, you'll look like Jack Daniels pouring liquor out of your very own barrel (by your fourth high ball, you'll be telling people you're Jack Daniels).

Oddly enough, this isn't my first whiskey barrel.

Last year, I bought a 10 liter barrel for a homebrewing project and filled it with a finished whiskey, Early Times. The Kentucky whiskey is aged at least three years in oak barrels before it's bottled and sold. I gave it another seven and a half months in a new white oak barrel I got from Copper Fox (the smaller the barrel the less time the spirit needs to spend in it). The difference is dramatic.

DSCN5911 In the photo, the glass on the left is regular Early Times, the glass on the right is the Early Times I aged. Now, I like Early Times. It may not be as well regarded as Buffalo Trace or Pappy Van Winkle, but it's a smooth, easy drinking whiskey. My 8 liters of extra aged Early Times, though, can give the big guys a run for their money. It's as complex and rich as any of them. The Brown-Forman Corporation may have made the whiskey that went into my barrel, but I take credit for the whiskey that came out.

By the way, did you notice 10 liters went in the barrel, but only 8 liters came out? That's typical. Distillers call that the "angel's share" and it's the result of evaporation and absorption by the wood (and the occasional quality control sample). That's much of the reason why a bottle of 20-year-old Scotch whisky costs so much more than a 12-year-old bottle - by the time that Scotch reaches its 20th year, there's a lot less of it in the barrel.

So if you've got too much time on your hands and not enough sense to just go buy a drink, I have a project for you. Here's what you need and what you need to do to barrel age your own liquor:

1 barrel
1 tub or sink large enough to accommodate the barrel
1 large pot of boiling water
1 funnel
1 spray bottle, filled with very warm water

New white oak barrels can be purchased from a number of sources, including Copper Fox Distillery, Thousand Oaks Barrel Company, or homebrew supply stores. Sizes range from 1 liter up to a full-sized 194 liter barrel (that's a lot of whiskey).

You can fill the barrel with either un-aged spirit, or add more flavor to a finished whiskey (or rum for that matter). The brand is up to you, but I've found Copper Fox's un-aged rye and whiskey locally at Central Liquor in Penn Quarter and Schneider's of Capitol Hill.

DSCN5895 To prep the barrel, set it in a tub or sink, because it's going to get wet. Bring a pot of water to boil (boil more water than you need to fill the barrel), and then reduce to a simmer. You want to keep the water between 155 and 180 degrees. This will help the wood swell, closing off any leaks, and kill any bacteria that may be in the wood.

The barrel should come with a spout, bung and stand. Attach the spout and make sure it's opened. Insert the funnel into the bunghole (I know, I know) and, using a glass Pyrex measuring cup or similar heat-safe cup, carefully fill the barrel with the hot water. After a bit of the water has run through the spout, close it and finish filling. Once the barrel is full, insert the bung and spray the entire exterior of the barrel with the warm water.

For the next four hours, periodically spray the barrel with water (basically if it's dry, spray it down) and look for leaks. If you don't find any, drain the water and fill with booze.

The rule of thumb with aging is the smaller the barrel the less time you need to age the spirit. It has to do with the amount of contact the liquid has with the wood: smaller barrel equals more contact; bigger barrel equals less contact. So, if you buy the 194 liter barrel, you shouldn't bother checking the contents for a few years. But if you go with the 2 liter barrel, your newly aged beverage could be ready in a few months.

Must Haves: Red Hook Lobster Pound's Lobster Rolls (but you knew that already)

IMG_0981 Must Haves focuses on some of D.C.'s best dishes.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. Last year, I sat down and put together a list of favorite dishes for this Must Haves series.

There was the burger, the pork sandwich and the french fries covered in gravy. There was also a lobster roll. It's served at a great little restaurant in Dupont. Having grown up in Florida, I wasn't exposed to this New England staple until I moved to the area, so the one in Dupont was my first. I've had others since, but this one remained the favorite.

And then a new lobster roll rolled into town, literally.

If you know anything about the recent food truck trend, you know about its brightest star: the Red Hook Lobster Pound truck. These guys need more publicity like I need a hole in the head.

The Washington Post, the City Paper and The Washingtonian have all praised the four-wheeled seafood shack. So why am I focusing on it? I'm late to the game and the big boys have already filled you in on how wonderful the food is, in particular the $15 lobster roll.

The thing is, they're right. In fact, they might not be stressing the point enough: for $15, you can buy the best damn four bite sandwich in Washington, D.C. (unless lobster's not your thing, in which case they're selling fondue in Penn Quarter).

Every time I order one of Red Hook's lobster rolls, I'm disappointed in how small they are. We're talking about a $15 sandwich that's served on a hotdog bun that's probably not six inches long. But man, do they stuff that tiny bun. Try as I might (and I try), I can't wrap my mouth around the lobster roll. There's just too much lobster meat. It's a buttery cornucopia of lobster plenty. 

The rolls come in two styles: Maine and Connecticut. The lobster meat in the Maine-style roll is lightly dressed with mayo, celery and seasoning (I guess Maine invented mayonnaise). The Connecticut is nothing more than lobster and warm butter in a bun.

Both versions are outstanding, but the Connecticut is absolutely amazing. It's just you, butter and a pile of sweet lobster meat (which is how I'd like to be buried one day). Quite simply, it's the very embodiment of the lobster roll. It makes the long lines worth it and the price perfectly acceptable.

It is the best lobster roll in D.C.

IMG_0971 Now, there is one other reason I wanted to feature Red Hook Lobster Pound's lobster rolls. I have a feeling this food truck thing might be more fleeting than the great cupcake craze of 2010. I hope I'm wrong. I do. But I like sitting down when I eat and maybe having an adult beverage. And when you're eating off a food truck, those options aren't available.

Besides, D.C. can be a fickle town and once the novelty of the trucks wears off, I'm afraid their legions of supporters will head back to traditional sit-down restaurants and turn their attention to the next big thing (I hear it's pie).

If that happens, it'll be a shame. Good food is good food, regardless of whether you buy it in a restaurant or from a food truck. And when it comes to lobster rolls, the best you can buy may be rolling through a neighborhood near you.

23rd Annual Chocolates, Galore, and More

I know this event is out in Loudon County which is a bit inaccessible for some of our readers, but for those of you that live in Northern Virginia, this is probably something you should check out. 

If you are unfamiliar with the event, the proceeds go to benefit the YMCA Loudon County Building Bridges Program which is a local scholarship and financial assistance program. In total, the program provides nearly $2 million in the form of camps, counciling, social services, and health and wellness programs to children, families, and seniors in need.

Mike Isabella This years event has plenty of reasons to go. But most of all if you are a fan of Top Chef, Mike Isabella, formerly of DC's Zaytinya (and soon to open his own local place), is going to be one of the judges of the Dessert and Hors d’oeuvre Competition, in which restaurants from Northern Virginia compete and showcase their best of show. But of course, the best thing of all is that you get to taste every dessert and hors d’oeuvre and judge your favorites of the evening.

While all the eating is going on, you can participate in silent auctions, dance to music and drink champaigne which is all includes in the price of admission. What better way to work off all the food you just ate?! 

Tickets are $70 for reserved seats and $60 for general admission ($70 at the door). The event is on February 18th from 7 to 11 PM, at the West Belmont Place at the National Conference Center. For the full details of the event, you can visit the events web site here.

Groupon's "Save the Money:" Clever Parody or Offensive Blunder?

So did ya'll catch the big game on Sunday? Of course you did! Two old-guard teams slogging it out to the end; great Super Bowl! And of course, if you don't care for the sport, there were the commercials. The Super Bowl commercial breaks are usually a foodie Sahara, dominated by the likes of Bud Light, Doritos, and Pepsi-Max, hawked by adorable puppies, and idiotic men being smashed in the head and/or crotch. There was one notable exception this year, however, as Groupon made its first foray onto America's premier commercial showcase.

I absolutely love this type of service. For those of you who are not familiar, Groupon (and similar services like LivingSocial) sells a deal-a-day for each of their individual markets, relying on a bulk of coupons sold to cultivate massive deals. One day it might be $25 for $50 worth of dry cleaning in Alexandria; the next, $100 for $225 worth of botox treatments in Dupont. Very often, these deals are for restaurants, and the savings are dramatic. While saving money is awesome, at the same time, the coupons will remind me of places I had want to go for ages, and buying the coupon gives me a financial incentive to go before it expires.

So anyway, back to the ads. Sunday night, over the course of the big game, Groupon aired a series of three ads under the banner "Save the Money." I'd go into detail, but many have you have probably seen them. For those who haven't, here is the one that caused the most hub-bub:

My first response, on seeing this last night, was dumbfounded shock. I mean, damn, it takes some major cajones to use the very well known, very real suppression of a an entire culture by a civil rights quashing Communist dictatorship to sell your product, much less to brush the significance of said oppression away summarily in the process. They used a similar tack twice further in the night, likewise parodying the "Save the Whales" and "Save the Rainforest" causes.

Groupon did not jump into this lightly. For these $3 million spots, not only did they commission the stars involved, but famed "Mockumentary" Director Christopher Guest was tapped to direct. On their blog, Groupon explains the concept as follows:

The gist of the concept is this: When groups of people act together to do something, it’s usually to help a cause. With Groupon, people act together to help themselves by getting great deals. So what if we did a parody of a celebrity-narrated, PSA-style commercial that you think is about some noble cause (such as “Save the Whales”), but then it’s revealed to actually be a passionate call to action to help yourself (as in “Save the Money”)?

"What if," indeed? Is a "passionate call to action to help yourself" using such loaded imagery really a great sales tactic? Nothing Groupon sells is remotely a necessity -- So is it more than just First-World white guilt that has me see these ads and wonder if I shouldn't stop frittering my money away on ephemeral yuppie crap, and instead use it to further some universally good cause? Like, say... human rights, or the environment? Hell, maybe I'll give that $30 I was gonna spend on that $60 spinning class to the Sierra Club, instead...

Mine has not been the only poor reaction to the spots. In response to the negative publicity, Groupon founder Andrew Mason posted on Monday evening that the whole affair was meant to call attention to the very charities they seemed to mock. To be fair, Groupon has put up a site encouraging donations, but I am still left with a bad taste in my mouth. Whatever way you look at it, Groupon was mocking someone -- either the bleeding hearts on the charitable side, or their shallow, facile customers -- and if the campaign was intended as some super-dry post-modern pastiche, it missed its mark, given its total lack of context.

So what do you guys think? Were these ads in very bad taste, or frankly brilliant parody? If you don't use Groupon, will you start? If you already do, will these ads effect how you deal with them in the future?