What We’re Reading (and Watching): Eric Alperin mixes a Scotch Breakfast (video), cold-fermented lagers, top-shelf vodka, house gin and more
A Bartender’s Scotch Breakfast – Wall Street Journal
Bacon, lemon, and whisky for breakfast anyone? Bartender Eric Alperin mixes the perfect morning fix for WSJ’s Deborah Kan — a Scotch Breakfast.
In From The Cold; Once an afterthought, cold-fermented-lagers are making a comeback – Imbibe Magazine
Portland, Maine is the Promised Land for beer lovers in the Northeast. In the seafaring city of 64,000, British-beer enthusiasts can sip malty brews from Shipyard and D.L. Geary, and fans of Belgian-style and barrel-aged ales can opt for Allagash. Hop heads have Maine Beer’s fragrant pale ales and IPAs, while Rising Tide’s inventive hybrids, such as a lightly smoky black ale, satisfy adventurous imbibers. Toss in Peak Organic’s flavorful eco-conscious ales and the farmhouse-style suds of nearby Oxbow Brewing, and most every major beer category is covered.
Despite the embarrassment of brewed riches, veteran brewer Tom Bull noticed one style was strikingly absent. “No one was doing lagers,” says Bull, 40, who previously brewed at Portland’s Gritty McDuff’s and now-defunct Stone Coast Brewing. “I saw the gaping hole in the market.”
He hoped to fill it with a recipe for a rounded, golden-hued Munich Helles lager (helles means “bright” in German), which he spent 15 years refining on his homebrew rig. This is somewhat unusual for homebrewers, as lagers’ bottom-fermenting yeasts require a lengthy cold fermentation in a stable environment. “I have one of the most tolerant wives in the world,” Bull says, laughing.
Of their three refrigerators at home before starting the brewery, “one was dedicated to food, one was dedicated to primary fermentation and another was dedicated to lagering.” Confident in his recipe, Bull partnered with local businessman Allen Jagger to found the Bull Jagger Brewing Company and, last October, debut half-liter bottles of Portland Lager. “The time is right for a craft-brewed lager,” Bull says.
The last decade has seen brewers venture to the far fringes of flavor, crafting increasingly bitter, brawny ales. Tradition played second fiddle to innovation, as craft brewers distanced themselves from the dominant American beer style, the lager. Done properly, a crisp, nuanced lager is an easy-drinking thing of beauty. But in the brew kettles of beer behemoths the American lager lost its way, and lager became synonymous with lowbrow. “We want to show people that not all lagers are PBRs,” Bull says, a rallying cry echoing among brewers crafting complex lagers that can stand head-to-head with ales. “I believe lagers can have as much flavor as ales,” says Matt Brophy, the brewmaster at Maryland’s Flying Dog Brewery, which recently released UnderDog Atlantic Lager. It’s a notion catching on nationwide, as New Belgium’s newest year-round release is the aromatic lager Shift, while Oregon’s Full Sail offers a range of year-round lagers, and the IPA mavericks at San Diego’s Ballast Point regularly feature seven lagers in rotation. Even more committed is Chicago’s Metropolitan Brewing, which exclusively focuses on lagers and German-style brews, as does McMinnville, Oregon’s Heater/Allen Brewing.
Don’t Be Bitter
For much of the 20th century, lagers defined American beer. If you were sipping a beer, then you were likely drinking a lager. So when the craft-brewing movement started percolating in the ’80s and ’90s, brewers did not mimic the mainstream. “In the early days of craft brewing, there was a predisposition toward ales,” says Bryan Simpson of Fort Collins, Colorado’s New Belgium, which launched with the fruity Abbey and the biscuity amber ale Fat Tire. “Brewers wanted to get back to bigger, fuller-bodied beers.” Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Deschutes Black Butte Porter and Stone IPA were drastic departures from the status quo, demonstrating that beer and flavor were not mutually exclusive concepts.
This is not to say that breweries completely shunned lagers. Many trot out robust, full-bodied märzens for Oktoberfest.Samuel Adams Boston Lager and Brooklyn Brewery’s namesake lager are iconic. And the pale lager known as pilsner is a common offering, though the intense aromatics are more in line with pale ales (and the word lager is conspicuously absent from most packaging). However, these are exceptions to the ale rule. That’s largely because lagers are time-consuming to brew. From grain to glass, it can take six or seven weeks for a lager to finish fermenting, and the style leaves little margin for error. Defects can’t hide behind heaps of hops or dark malts. By comparison, warmer- and faster-fermenting ales can be ready to consume in as little as 10 days, and the fruity flavors are more forgiving. For a start-up brewery desperate to pay down debt, focusing on lagers makes little economic sense. “If you have a choice between doing a lager or doing two batches of an ale and selling it, the choice is simple,” says Rick Allen, 59, the founder and brewmaster of Heater/Allen Brewing.
Allen did not take the easy route. After more than two decades as a homebrewer, he founded Heater/Allen in May 2007 with a focus rarely found on the hop-mad West Coast: German- and Czech-style beers, such as the roasty, subtly smoky Schwarz, dark and complex Dunkel and the lively, grassy Pils. “People often say, ‘This is a lager?’ ” Allen says. “I tell them they can come in all shapes, sizes and colors.”
Whereas Allen’s beers were once curiosities in an IPA-packed marketplace, he now sees the pendulum swinging away from palate-wrecking flavors. “People’s tastes are changing,” Allen says. “You’re getting a backlash to the IPA. People want something that’s crisp, refreshing and not heavy on the palate, and lagers fit the bill.”
Those were the same guidelines that Flying Dog brewmaster Brophy followed when designing the UnderDog Atlantic Lager, which is a departure from the company’s lineup. Flying Dog is known for full-throttle brews like the Gonzo Imperial Porter and Raging Bitch Belgian-Style IPA. While delicious, these are not beers suited for all-night imbibing—“and we like to have more than one beer,” Brophy says. “Pretty much everybody in the brewery felt that we needed to have a crisp, flavorful lager.”
Clocking in at just 4.7%, the golden UnderDog drinks brisk, with a soft and appealing fruitiness that leaves you craving another sip. “You could argue that you could have two of these beers for every double IPA,” Brophy says. “People have gone to the extreme and are now coming back.”
Loyal readers will know that while I cover sprits regularly, I rarely drink or endorse vodka, which I consider the lowest common denominator in the spirits world. Since the basic idea behind making vodka is to erase all flavor – the opposite of just about everything else we eat or drink – it seems kind of pointless. Most great spirits have history and strict rules of production – good rum is made from sugarcane, Scotch from malted barley, Bourbon from corn – whereas vodka can be made from virtually anything containing sugar or starch, from potatoes and wheat to beets, grass or soy beans, even maple syrup. Most vodkas are more science project than craft, the result being clear, tasteless, diluted alcohol.
But it does not have to be that way. While vodka can (and usually is) made from inferior ingredients in a highly processed commercial fashion to produce a pedestrian product, there are a handful of producers who take just as much care in every stop of the process as the distillers of other fine spirits, it’s just that they are a lot fewer and farther between. I just found one I am really impressed with, and not merely because it tastes really good. I like everything about Double Cross vodka, from its story to production to ingredients to the bottle. I like the passion, and as vodkas go, Double Cross hit it out of the ballpark.
Your House Gin – Liquor.com
While vodka and gin drinkers can be as contentious as Democrats and Republicans, the two spirits themselves aren’t all that different. In fact, one could argue that gin was really the first flavored vodka.
There’s no shame in that: Infusing alcohol with herbs, spices and other botanicals creates a wonderfully complex liquor that’s at home in cocktails as diverse as the Martini and the Singapore Sling.
It also means that you can brew a batch yourself very easily (and legally) in your kitchen. Juniper berries (which you can find in many supermarkets) are a must, as their sweet and piney taste defines gin, but beyond that, the choices—from citrus peels and cucumber to black pepper and ginger root—are pretty much endless.
Inspired by the possibilities, we turned to three gin-making mixologists around the country and got three unique formulas for you to try.
At the Swann Lounge in Philadelphia’s Four Seasons Hotel, you can sample Michael Haggerty’s gin, which is bold and assertive, with grapefruit and clove holding center stage. He even uses it to replace whiskey in Old Fashioneds.
Keri Levens, wine director at New York’s famed Aquavit restaurant, is no stranger to infusions: Her menu offers a seasonally rotating assortment of 10 to 12 different house-made elixirs. And her three-ingredient Juniper and Lemon Aquavit is like gin reduced to its barest essence. She suggests featuring the concoction in a Negroni.
Fresh lemon verbena leaves from his establishment’s own herb garden are the secret to the G-Funk Gin (pictured above) dreamed up by Paul Sanguinetti at Ray’s and Stark Bar, the stylish restaurant at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The verbena gives the finished product a gentle vegetal note that’s best highlighted in a simple Gin & Tonic.
No matter which gin recipe you make, you just might never buy a regular old bottle again.
“Niche” has been the name of our drinking game for the last few years.
We delighted as watering holes with established and focused agendas opened. Some were devoted to a single spirit, others to reconstructing a forgotten cocktail style.
That trend is certainly not abating: Check out Chicago’s new gin bar, for example. But on the trend’s heels is an equally exciting counter movement: the bar with a multiple personality disorder.
Take Tradition, the brand-new bar in San Francisco. Dedicated to the United States’ drinking traditions, the bar has menu sections–and physical areas called “snugs”–that are dedicated to a variety of bar types, such as the dive bar and the Big Easy. Here, myriad cocktail styles coexist under one roof.
In New York, the months-old Daily eschews a menu in lieu of a roll-the-dice method in which five different cocktail recipes are picked daily from a weathered Rolodex. The bar might channel island vibes one night only to embody the pre-Prohibition spirit the next.
And the just opened Barwares in Portland, Oregon, dodges pigeonholes with vaguely named cocktails–The Sake, The Gin, The Tequila, for instance. One version of The Whiskey takes shape as a garam-masala spiked old-fashioned.
Time to widen those horizons.