Thursday, December 22, 2011

Beer Me, Sommelier

Why beer deserves the same kind of expertise as wine.

"Cicerones" and other beer experts are helping diners discover more sophisticated beers               
Photograph by Mario Pusic/Thinkstock.
It’s a busy night at the D.C. restaurant Birch & Barley, as well as its casual upstairs sister joint, ChurchKey. Greg Engert is guiding me through his beverage list with all the knowledge, talent, and grace one would expect from an award-winning sommelier. With a couple crisp queries, he learned enough to make some intriguing recommendations. He didn’t flaunt his knowledge about food and drink, but when I had questions, he gave precise answers about the flavor, aroma, producer, pairing potential, and even the history of the available beverages. Fortunately, there was no attempt at upselling, the odious sin far too many sommeliers commit, a big reason why many diners are suspicious of the entire profession.
The drink he led me to was a perfect choice in that it was not only delicious, but also previously unknown to me. In one recommendation, he delivered the basic services I want from a sommelier: excellent advice and teaching without pedantry. And in my glass? Not wine, but rather an Arcobraeu Zwicklbier, an unfiltered lager from southern Germany.
Engert knows wine, but he specializes in beer. He’s a leading light of a new generation of beer professionals that are working to raise the art and science of selecting and serving beer to the level of wine service. Engert and his peers are rapidly gaining notice from the fine dining establishment. Last year, he was the first ever beer professional to make Food & Wine’s list of top sommeliers. For craft beer to continue growing and improving, there will need to be many more like him.
Well, maybe not quite like him, since he’s got an inimitable manner. He left a Georgetown graduate literature program to dive into the beer world full-time, and he approaches it partly as a humanities professor might, if such professors were young, unpretentious, boundlessly energetic, fast-talking, and decked out in quietly stylish clothes. Get him going and out come elaborate, colorful tales about the evolution and history of a particular beer. It’s beer as narrative, and he’s an entertaining, passionate storyteller. Engert also displays a scientist’s pride as he shows off the elaborate system of climate control and piping, custom-built to guarantee every drop is served through clean lines at the temperature appropriate for each style.
Engert is a character one rarely finds in the wine landscape. One of the joys of good beer is that it’s far more accessible than the sometimes elitist and expensive wine world. Before I explored the new movement in beer service, I was a bit worried that it might be taking the beverage in the direction of wine’s worst excesses. But I don’t worry about that any longer. The people who are working on upgrading service knowledge do want beer to be as respected as fine wine and spirits are. But they are also deeply committed to preserving the affordability and unpretentiousness that set beer apart and to celebrating the breathtaking range of flavors and styles that make it special.
There may be agreement in the industry that great beer deserves top-notch service, but there’s not yet a consensus on what that means. In fact, there’s not even agreement on what to call a well-trained beer server. Engert’s job title is beer director, but he doesn’t mind being called a beer sommelier. (He has put some thought into this.) Some in the beer community find this term problematic, since "sommelier" is tied to the wine world and may imply a professional certification that doesn’t exist.
No one is working harder to coin a new title, and certification, than beer author and educator Ray Daniels. His ideal beer server is called a Cicerone (sis-uh-ROHN), a term he trademarked for the beer training program he started in 2007. The name comes from the word that can mean guide or mentor.
The program’s website states the claim that wine sommeliers might have known enough to choose a good beer for you a few decades ago, but now “the world of beer is just as diverse and complicated as wine. As a result, developing true expertise in beer takes years of focused study and requires constant attention to stay on top of new brands and special beers.” So Daniels set out to build a testing and certification program to create a standard level of knowledge and titles that would signify superior beer knowledge to consumers, similar to the way a Court of Master Sommeliers credential does for wine.
The industry has responded positively. A growing number of brewers, bartenders, and servers have signed up and tested to earn the ascending titles of Certified Beer Server, Certified Cicerone, and Master Cicerone.
There are thousands qualified at the lowest level, who must pass a detailed multiple-choice test of beer styles, service, storage, and science. (Try to answer some sample test questions here.) Then they’re eligible to try the test for Certified Cicerone designation. Here the exam includes tougher short-answer and essay questions, and naturally, taste tests. There are 300 Certified Cicerones and counting. Less than half of those who take that exam pass. Those who make it can attempt the toughest test, and so far only three people have ever passed the Master Cicerone exam. (The elite three are Rich Higgins, brewmaster at San Francisco’s Social Kitchen & Brewery, Dave Kahle, a Chicago beer consultant and judge, and Andrew Van Til, who works for a Michigan beer distributor. You can find Cicerones in your area online.)
The capitalized names make it all sound awfully precious and formal, but Daniels says that’s not what he’s going for. “The intent of this program is to improve the quality of beer available to consumers in every respect, without changing the accessibility of it,” he explains. “We want Cicerones to be guides, not gods.” The Cicerone program is well respected by many beer professionals, but has a weakness in its singular focus on beer. This approach is enough for beer establishments, but a server working in a restaurant with good beer and wine should be knowledgeable enough to offer smart selections from both.
This is especially important for expanding the audience for excellent beer. If a server is to steer a beer skeptic away from wine to a surprising new experience, that server needs a strong grasp of wine to make the case. I remain grateful to the Roman waiter who pointed my wife and me away from the wine list toward a special bottle from Italy’s excellent brewer Baladin. The beer was a far better match than wine for our spicy dishes, raising the dinner from good to fantastic.
There are new signs all the time of beer’s increasing quality and culinary esteem. With the recent publication of the weighty Oxford Companion to Beer, it finally gets the same encyclopedic treatment Oxford has long afforded wine. A restaurant festooned with Michelin stars now looks outmoded if it doesn’t have substantial beer selections on its wine list. And even average bars and restaurants without a craft beer focus will typically offer at least a couple interesting beers. But all this is of little use to drinkers if the beer isn’t carefully stored, chosen, and served.
Like great wine, great beer deserves well-trained people who can build a strong collection of barrels and bottles, and know how pair them well. Many restaurants and bars have a long way to go, but the example of people like Engert and Daniels points the way to an auspicious future. A well-chosen and expertly-paired beer can be a revelation, so it’s time for more establishments to get their people in the revealing business.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Grand opening Merry Monk

Grand opening at the Merry Monk Good turn out. Free Ommegang until 6:00 and wild boar ribs.  Did anyone about this?

Landman eats Boar Ribs

So how about that, after all the scheming I turn out to be the only one that goes to the Monk yesterday.  I mean that pretty literally, when we got there at around 7:00 they were closing up the shop due to the total lack of customers.  Jeremy agreed to stay open for us though and we had the place to ourselves.  I had a fleeting worry before we got there that we might need to struggle for a table, I sure got that wrong.  Anyway, they treated us great.  The chef had just taken a rack of boar ribs from the oven and man were they good.  They were slathered in some kind of beer glaze, crispy and tender, just awesome.  I had mussels in blue cheese and bacon, a healthy and light snack.  The kids both had steak and frites.  The steaks have some sort of beer based sauce that the kids loved – maybe I ought to worry about that.  We mentioned that we enjoyed the waffles from our last visit and the next thing we knew a plate of steaming waffles, one row spread with a beer and pear reduction and the other a beer and raspberry reduction appeared at our table.  Of course there were some damn fine beers along with all that gluttony.

We rolled out of there and all we could say was Wow.  Hope no one else finds out about Sunday nights at the Monk

Thursday, December 15, 2011

City Beer Hall

Table Hopping

Table Hopping

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By Steve Barnes | E-mail | About Table Hopping

Search for: city beer hall

Brooklyn, Wandering Star beer events at City Beer Hall

The City Beer Hall in Albany is hosting two upcoming brewery events:
  • Thursday (12/15): Brooklyn Bonfire Party, featuring $4 per pint of six Brooklyn Brewery beers, chili, s’mores, roasted wienies and a bonfire. From 9 p.m.
  • Thursday, Dec. 22: Wild Game Dinner, featuring four beers from Wandering Star Brewery in Pittsfield, Mass., paired with a wild-game tasting menu (details TBA). $50 per person; advance reservations required and available at City Beer Hall or online.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Lunch at the City Beer Hall

The City Beer Hall has a small but very nice menu.  No pub grub here. There are only 8
items with 2 specials.  The Turducken sandwich with cider bacon mayo is
just great.  When 7 out of a table of  8 order the turducken its enough to get the
chef to your table.  Chef said the turdcken is made in their kitchen.
He pounds the breasts of each bird flat and seasons each one and rolls
them up and puts the duck skin on the outside of the roll.  Then the
whole roll is poached.  He then slices the turducken, puts it on a roll
with cider bacon mayo and serves a side of fries for under $10.00.

You also get a free 8" pizza with every pint ordered at the bar.  You
might think this a cheapo Sysco frozen pizza but its just a nice little
thin crust with sauce and cheese.

The burger, a smallish grass fed beef burger cooked right w/fries, was
reported as very good.

I will be back to try the Mac & Chesse w/ Truffle oil 

The Beer.
A good draft list of ever changing craft beer.
Where else in Albany can you get a four glass sampler that you can do a
Biggie Smalls vs Tupac IPA challenge?

Merry Monk Closer Look

The Club was able to muster 16 for a visit to the Merry Monk on Friday.  With 16 Belgian or Belgian-style craft beers on draft and not a Coors Lite onsite how can you go wrong?  The room is bright--more of a European-cafe look than the dark, American-speakeasy look. The bar is big with lots of room for the staff to work behind.  There are booths and high top tables. There is also a sitting area with leather chairs and a gas fireplace/stove. We had a nice chat with Jerriam who is one of the owners.  He seemed to be happy with the response so far.  He liked the idea of having a MAS meeting there in the near future. The menu looked good.  Mussels and other Belgian-cafe fare.  We only had the frites. The dipping sauces are good but the fries were a little too much like standard pub fries and not Pommes Frites. Garden Bistro 24 and Ommagang have the real frites.  We ate all of them anyway.  The cheese plate was very nice and of a good size.  In conclusion I want to be a regular.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

First Look Merry Monk by Landman

Couldn’t resist, had to stop by for a quickie.  Mighty awesome beer. Food seemed ok, kind of average.  The surroundings are simple and pleasant.  Not much of a crowd at 8:30 on opening night.   No bad taps, great bottles too.  They’re really going to need support to keep up with the costs of having such high end beers.  The owners are very friendly, but seem a little worried about whether it will work out.  I’ll do my part.  KJo’s are planning to go tomorrow @4:30



Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Barnes Says Merry Monk to Wednesday

Table Hopping

Table Hopping

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By Steve Barnes | E-mail | About Table Hopping

Merry Monk to open Wednesday

The Merry Monk, a Belgian-themed bar and restaurant at the corner of North Pearl Street and Sheridan Avenue in downtown Albany, will open with lunch service on Wednesday (12/7).
Projected hours are 11 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday, until 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon to 10 p.m. Sunday.
Draft beers: Ommegang Abbe, Ommegang Witte, Ommegang Adoration, Ommegang BPA, Ommegang Rare Vos, Liefmans Cuvee Brut, Palm, Maredsous Brune, LaChouffe, Lindemans Frambois, Duvel Single, Unibroue Ephemere Cassis, Chimay triple, Saison Dupont, Monk’s Stout by Dupont and Corsendonk Christmas.
The menu looks good: six kinds of mussels for $8.99 for a pound, $15.99 for 2 pounds, plus frites with a dozen mayo-based dipping sauces, steak frites for $15.99, a few fish and chicken entrées, and a page with apps, salads, sandwiches and burgers.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

More beer we can't have

This from the Hops and Barley Blog


2011 Holiday Ale Fest - Preview

Beer Luvvas,

Tomorrow begins the greatest beer festival of them all: the 2011 Holiday Ale Festival! Here's a look at the beers I'm looking forward to from this year's press release:

  • Alameda Brewing Papa Noel's Moonlight Reserve - one of my favorite Holiday Olde Ales ramped up by aging in 'whiskey soaked French oak barrels.'

  • Bison Brewing Barry White's Voice in a Bottle - the first time Bison's chocolate stout has ever been aged in bourbon barrels!

  • Burnside Brewing Company Barrel Aged Permafrost - I believe this barrel aged winder strong ale is currently on tap at Burnside based on a buddy's report earlier this week.

  • Columbia River Brewing Drunken Elf Stout - infused with Belgian chocolate and Kona coffee!

  • Fearless Brewing Mjolnir Imperial IPA - 100 IBUs and I'm a hop-head. Gotta give that one a go.

  • Firestone Walker Brewing 100% Bourbon Barrel Aged Velvet Merkin - one of my perennial favorites at each HAF.

  • Fort George Kentucky Girl Stout - another great beer from Fort George, last year did not disappoint.

  • Laht Neppur Brewing Laughing Boy Stout - another bourbon barrel aged Russian Imperial Stout, but from a Washington brewer that I don't know much about.....

  • McMenamins Red Nose Rye - an Imperial Rye Ale with only 30 IBUs, but as the annual 'winner' of Mcmenamins' internal brewer competition to choose their offering for HAF, I'm sure it will be great!

  • Seven Brides Brewing Drunkle 2011 Old Ale - 90 IBUs from Hercules hops

  • Stone Ruination IPA DDH w/Apollo Hops and American Oak Chips Added - a suped up version of Ruination! This one goes to 100 IBUs!

Looking forward to sharing a quaf or two with you this Holiday Ale Festival Season!


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Art Fredette believes Bat Shea’s will be more than just an Irish pub, bar

The Troy Record, local news, sports and weather serving Troy and its surrounding communities

Serving Troy and its surrounding communities
TROY — It hasn’t even opened yet but Bat Shea’s Pub owner Art Fredette is buzzing with excitement as he prepares to present his new pub to the Troy Community.

To be clear, it is not just an Irish pub, nor is it just a bar. Fredette’s theme is meant to include the entire Celtic Nation when it comes to its food, which is something he said he really would like to focus on.

“The menu is going to try and have something from every one of the nations,” Fredette said. "We have the symbol of the six Celtic Nations on the wall."

Mike Troidle, the head chef at Bat Shea’s, said focusing on the entire region instead of just one country opens the door to explore various different dishes and provide a wide variety for its customers. He added he will be working with a lot of local and sustainable ingredients when preparing the food.

“It opens up a huge spectrum,” Troidle said. “It gives me so much room to play with. It’s so much more than corn beef and cabbage but it is on there in several different forms.”

Fredette said the area has several Irish bars in Troy and a German bar but not a pure Celtic bar. He is covering areas such as Wales, Isle of Man and Scotland. He refers to it as “an authentic Celtic pub with an old Troy flair.”

The name, Bat Shea, refers to an 1894 murder trial that took place in Troy, which led to the execution of Bartholomew “Bat” Shea, who Fredette holds as his hero, as he believes the man was innocent.

“The whole Bat Shea ties into to the old Troy thing,” Fredette said.

There will also be live entertainment available to patrons that will include Celtic-styled music, which will mostly be acoustic. Fredette said he wants to provide music to people that they will enjoy.

The beer selection will feature drafts such as Kilkenny Irish Cream Ale, McSorley’s Irish Pale Ale, Newcastle Brown Ale, Smithwick’s and Guiness. There will also be large selections of domestic beers as well as craft beers in bottles. A full wine list and liquor list will be available as well.
Fredette said the pub will be open in time for people to come through during the Victorian Stroll on Sunday, Dec. 4. The motivation to be open by then is because the event is one of the biggest the City of Troy puts on and because the people behind it have done a great job with it, he’d like to be a part of it.

“It really puts Troy at the forefront,” Fredette said. "They did it so well that Saratoga stole the idea."

Fredette stressed that Bat Shea’s is not going to be just a nightclub where people only get drunk at. He is aiming to make the bar a family-friendly one. He’s not looking for the Jersey Shore.

“It’s not just a bar,” Fredette said. “You can bring your kids here. You can bring grandma here. It’s a restaurant, first and foremost. The nightlife won’t start here until well after 9 p.m.”

Bat Shea's is located at 95 Ferry St.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Merry Monk

Opening Draft List
Ommegang Abbey
Ommegang BPA
Ommegang Witte
Ommegang Rare Vos
Ommegang Adoration
Duvel Single
La Chouffe
Maredsous Brune
Liefmans Cuvee Brut
Clown Shoes Tramp Stamp
Unibrou Ephemere
Saison Dupont
Delirium Tremens
Chimay Triple
Weyerbacher Merry Monk

Talked to the owner and he says:

"Any Day Now they are just waiting on the SLA"

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What Can I Drink at Thanksgiving Besides Wine?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What Can I Drink at Thanksgiving Besides Wine?

I want beer. Any thoughts on which brews would go with the meal?
Just about any good craft beers will do nicely, if you want to know the truth. But here are some specific suggestions.
It’s going to be a long, filling day, so I would start the party with beers that will energize the taste buds. Good pilsners snap you to attention with a lively, bracing bitterness. Lagunitas, Lakefront, Victory andBrooklynall offer good versions, as do Pilsner Urquell and Jever. An alternative might be a Kölsch, a crisp, clean, refreshing German ale, which I love. American versions are hard to find, but Gaffel and Reissdorf fromGermanyare fairly easy to find.
For the feast itself, you can’t go wrong with mildly hoppy pale ales like Flying Dog or Stoudt’s. I love porters, easy-drinking dark beers with a tangy malt character. Geary’sLondonPorter is terrific, as is Samuel Smith Taddy Porter fromEnglandand Deschutes Black Butte, if you live on the West Coast.

A bolder choice would be a Belgian farmhouse ale like Saison Dupont, an airy, spicy brew that is versatile with foods. Even more intrepid would be sour beers, a somewhat vague category of older styles characterized by great acidity. These would include Belgian lambic beers and especially gueuzes, which are incredibly refreshing and complex, and would go beautifully with the feast, though their unexpectedly pungent flavors can be polarizing. Cantillon Gueuze fromBelgiumepitomizes this style. By the way, I will have a lot to say about sour beers next week.

This fracking thing is going to far.

Water is rather important to beer

rare vos thumbnailBrewery Ommegang, of which 50 percent of its property borders land leased to drilling companies, says in a legal filing that it could be forced to move if fracking starts because of concern for its water supply. Fracking has become a verycontentious issue in the greater Cooperstown area. [Oneonta Daily Star] [NYT]

Wednesday, November 9, 2011



Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times
Birreria, a rooftop beer garden.

Details & Reader Reviews

Birreria, 14 stories above the food emporium Eataly, is no one’s idea of an Italian restaurant. This convivial rooftop beer garden is run by the Batali/Bastianich team from Eataly, but its attention is lavished on cabbage and sausage, not pasta or risotto, and a rowdy bar crowd threatens to take over at prime time.
It is easy to be happy there on a balmy evening, watching the staff work the retractable roof with ropes like sailors reefing the sails of a tall ship. Heat lamps, so far, have kept fall’s chill at bay.
Birreria, “brewery” in Italian, makes some beers, presumably incorporating whatever wild yeasts float down from the Empire State Building a few blocks north. But while the stainless casks draw in a young after-work crowd, they do little for the house-made ales, which can be undrinkable. Fortunately there are other options: refreshing American India Pale Ales and the rarely spotted Moretti Bionda on draft; fresh, young Italian wines poured by the carafe or quartino; crisp bottled beers from the artisanal Baladin brewery in Piedmont, the Northern Italian region that inspires much of the food.
The cured meats and cheeses ($11 to $21 for assorted plates) are impeccably handled; roasted sausages ($21) are served with what is undoubtedly the best sauerkraut in Manhattan, tender and served in large leafy chunks. The kraut also comes with a succulent pork shoulder ($19), braised in beer and glazed with apricot.
Meat is not the only matter. On the mushroom menu, a pile of fried shiitakes ($15 to $17) is the high point; among salads, it’s a jumble of potato, cauliflower, cucumbers and olives that serves as a kind of Tyrolean niçoise ($13). Skirt steak ($24) and roasted fish fillet (market price) were perfectly cooked, a rarity.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Merry Monk

Table Hopping

Table Hopping

Eat, drink and be candid
By Steve Barnes | E-mail | About Table Hopping

Belgian bar coming to coner of North Pearl and Sheridan

A bar and restaurant featuring Belgian beer is being developed at the corner of North Pearl Street and Sheridan Avenue in downtown Albany.
Called The Merry Monk, the business is projected to open “within a couple weeks,” according to its Facebook page.
The name, photos showing beer signs and management comments on Facebook indicate beer will include Belgian and Belgian-style brews such as Duvel, Orval, La Chouffe and Ommegang.
The building is owned by Konstantinos Moutopoulos and his brother Steven but is apparently being operated under a management agreement by someone else. The corner location — in years past an annex of the former Big House and later a deli — was an ill-fated bar called The Assembly that the brothersshuttered after five months last year when it became a rowdy college joint. An even shorter-lived attempt, called Corner Bar, folded after five weeks earlier this year after its managers, who also own Blue 82, walked away because of differences with the Moutopouloses.
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