A Beer Pilgrim in Brewtopia [Ale Trails]

[The following was originally published in Food & Wine Magazine, June, 2009. Enjoy]

Stone Brewing
Stone Founder/CEO Greg Koch (left) and a bistro patron talk beer.

Fanatically innovative brewers around the globe are creating new beers with unorthodox ingredients and techniques. Beer geek Christian DeBenedetti makes a pilgrimage to a newly famous scene close to home: California’s San Diego County. By Christian DeBenedetti

My mission is simple: Skip the bland international lagers sold everywhere on earth, seek out small-batch, artisan-made beers in their native habitats and drink them.

It’s early spring, and I am exploring San Diego County, one of the most dynamic beer scenes in America and arguably the world. Avant-garde pro brewers from all over the planet, ambitious home brewers and even plain old beer geeks have made this pilgrimage before me. And like me, they have driven Route 78, a near-mystical road through San Diego County’s brewery-dotted landscape, then returned home with cases of rare beers (and even yeast samples), inspired and ready to experiment.

For me, this is the latest stop on a beer journey that began more than a decade ago. The year was 1996, and I was a beer scholar on a post-graduate grant that allowed me to spend 12 months researching ancient brewing techniques in Europe and Africa.

As a fledgling beer pilgrim, my ultimate destination was Belgium. Continue reading “A Beer Pilgrim in Brewtopia [Ale Trails]”

Summer is Another Word for Beer [Down-Time]

Here's an idea: let's bottle this stuff.

Here, two quick recent hits of mine on summer beers from the latest edition of Men’s Journal.

Rare Brews: Two exquisite craft beers, made only once a year

Firestone: Walker Solace

Hybrids of odd styles are popping up across the country, but this California beer is a brew marriage that actually works. The cross of wheat-enhanced Belgian saison and German hefeweizen intensifies flavor and spice in a lighter beer (firestonewalker.com).

Dogfish Head: Festina Peche

Sour beers are all the rage in craft brewing, but too many taste like pickle juice. Not so with brewer Sam Calagione’s summer-only offering, which is based on an acidic German style and made with peaches. It pops with the tart zing of good lemonade, with an added kick (dogfish.com). —Christian DeBenedetti

The Lion, The Witches, and the Wardrobes [Books + Media]

Would you like white truffles with that?

On occasion I’m invited to profile prominent NYU alumni for the school’s magazine. Here, the latest, on John Delucie of The Waverly Inn, who opened his you-probably-can’t-get-there-either pleasure dome The Lion last week. I’ve toured both, so you don’t have to. Enjoy, and may your dreams be of a gigantic highball and a Flatiron steak.

The Waverly Inn is the kind of place that doesn’t list its phone number because it doesn’t need to. A place that counts models, moguls, and movie stars as regulars. A place where even the mac and cheese costs $95 because it’s flavored with white truffles flown in from Alba, Italy. To those who want to get in, it can seem impenetrable. To those who do get in, it’s the modern epitome of “see and be seen.”

Back in the early 1990s, when John DeLucie was stuck in a cubicle at a Midtown employment agency, he had no idea that he’d someday be the executive chef and co-owner of such an establishment. His humble past is still evident on the menu, where patrons will find dressed-up comfort food—a simple yet stylish alternative to haute cuisine. And unlike chefs at some exclusive restaurants, DeLucie, who recently launched his second Village venture, The Lion, warmly greets guests as though they’re family coming over to dinner.

In his recent memoir, The Hunger: A Story of Food, Desire, and Ambition (Ecco), DeLucie offers readers an intimate look inside one of the hottest restaurants to hit New York in decades and tells the tale of his unlikely rise to culinary fame.

Continue reading “The Lion, The Witches, and the Wardrobes [Books + Media]”

Going Full Beard [Blowouts]

Is every member of your party here and ready to be seated?
Here’s my coverage from EATER Portland on the James Beard Foundation Awards, the swanky affair held each year at Lincoln Center requiring journalists to wear uncharacteristically formal clothing and chefs to get very, very drunk. First, an interview with Seattle chef Jason Wilson of Crush on defeating three Portland, Oregon contenders in the category of Best New Chef, Pacific Northwest.
On the Portland food scene:
“We love going to Portland. We have family there in Camas and in Portland and in Clackamas, and we think the food scene there is so dynamic. And it’s really put a lot of pressure on what Seattle’s doing as well. We often look to see, ‘O.K., what are they up to, what are they doing?’ It’s a dynamic scene there [in Portland] for sure.”
On Portland vs. Seattle — who has an edge? “If you think about products, Portland has better accessibility to products — lamb, beef, meat products, sustainably raised — than we do in Seattle and in Washington. It may be that Seattle is just a more established city. But obviously with the number of nominees, it’s like ‘Portland Rising’ right now. Look at what Seattle’s taken from Portland. And Portland has, what, two blocks of food carts? And we have four in Seattle, expressing the authenticity of the food.”
But what about coffee? “An article on NPR or Seattle Business Journal came out about Seattle not really having excellent coffee anymore [Ed note: Read the NPR piece here], and [saying that] they look at that places like Stumptown in Portland for it, but personally — and I’m biased — but I think Fonte is one of the best. We’ve used their coffee for like 10 years. But Portland is really coming at our heels.”
On beating the Portland crew: “I definitely think it’s not defeat. This is a chance to enjoy your successes, and the fruits of your labor. The people who are working at this level, who are getting nominated — not to mention the award, the people who won the award — this is really an accreditation to the level they work at, and the time and devotion they sacrifice and experience in their life. So by no means is there a loser.”
“The third time for us is a charm, but it’s really just a wonderful thing to be nominated and be here.”
SEE ALSO: Assorted glam shots of Portland chefs and party pics from the night.
· Clyde Common Chef Chris Dimmino on his killer party food
· Pre-awards interviews with Portland nominees Gabriel Rucker, Naomi Pomeroy, and Cathy Whims
· Press room interview from PDX’s Naomi Pomeroy
Also! The complete list of winners (PDF).

Remember “Dow Ten Thou”? [Gross National Happiness]

All the recent chatter about the Dow reaching 11,000 points made me recall a piece I wrote (but never published) about another American economic highwater mark, attained in December, 2003. Bon apps.

Bling Ipsa Loquitor

“The Dow Jones industrial average closed above 10,000 yesterday for the first time in more than 18 months, adding its own ratification to this year’s economic rebound.” — The New York Times, Dec. 12, 2003

Precisely five hours after the closing bell on Wall Street on Thursday the 12th, a formerly desolate block 28th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues made its case for a rebound, too. Here the leading economic indicator wasn’t the evanescent “Dow Ten Thou,” but the opening of Crobar, New York’s most opulent nightspot in decades — a massive, self-described “over-the-top megaclub”, a pleasure coliseum for the new era. In all, some 2,500 Chelsea clubbers, transvestites, dancers, wispy models—and an alarming number of bluehair Jersey matrons and Goombahs in dark glasses—were invited to cram into a wedding-tent covered line at 9pm, awaiting a peek at the new 25,000 square foot club, proof positive that The Good Times Are Back.

And back they were this night, or so it seemed, but there would be a few more minutes to wait. No one seemed to mind, because this, after all, was It. Measured in pure bang per square inch, Crobar promised an opening nothing short of Titanic, with traditional Japanese Butoh dancers, aerial ballerinas, famous DJ’s, original art, and a turgid list of celebrities (De Niro, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, The Donald…) The line buzzed and lurched; cell phones and cigars lit up. After about an hour, the line trundled ahead, berated by security: “Slowly, people! Slowly!” Each person in line held a black glossy ticket which read, on opposite sides, “Let me in, I’m fabulous!” and “Let me in, I’m hot!” Continue reading “Remember “Dow Ten Thou”? [Gross National Happiness]”

He’s Got Game [Self Reliance]

Here, my first feature (with original photos!) for Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn, on newsstands now. It’s a story that easily could have become a chapter for The Accidental Extremist: two men with virtually no experience and hearty thirsts for whisky load up a bunch of  guns and go game shooting in Scotland. One, a world class chef, was a natural. The other, not even close, merely lived to tell. Enjoy!

On a gusty wet morning in January, chef Terrance Brennan stood in a sodden field with mud streaming down his boots and a loaded gun in his hands. This was Scotland’s Earn Valley, in Perthshire, not far from the town of Auchterarder, and the day—two winters back—wasn’t starting well.

The A7 Quattro had gotten mired in the mud; everyone had drained more than a few whiskies the night before; the driving wind and rain had soaked us to the bone. The plan—for Brennan; Andrew Hamilton, a Scottish-born, East Coast–based game supplier; and me—was for a traditional “rough shoot,” meaning, loosely, this: a stomp in the fields, dogs, plenty of ammo and, with a bit of luck, some quarry—pheasants, duck, maybe a woodcock or two.

We’d arrived for the last week of shooting season in Scotland, where all of the game birds Brennan has served at Picholine for the last 12 autumns are shot in the wild on sprawling estates, but so far, the fields were silent. Then Mark Wilson, a local farmer’s blue eyed, red-haired son showing us around, led us into a boggy field.

Suddenly Clyde and Rosie—Wilson’s dogs, a spry cocker spaniel and an ancient black lab—flushed a noisy whorl of teal ducks from a pond into the sky. Terrance raised his shotgun and blasted, unloading both barrels. They were his first-ever shots at birds, and, in that instant, the day improved considerably: two ducks froze in mid-air, shot through, and dropped like stones. Continue reading “He’s Got Game [Self Reliance]”

Dying to Get Some Sleep [Breaking]

Strange Brew in the Executive Branch [Now We’re Talking]

 

You may ask yourself, why such a short table?
You may ask yourself, why such a short table?

Let posterity show that the last week of July, 2009, beer and its mythical powers to unite the irreconcilable became the number one conversation in America. Earlier this week I got an email I won’t soon forget, from NIGHTLINE, offering me a chance to comment on the so-called Beer Summit at the White House, which, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will recall was convened by President Obama to diffuse the tension following his comments on the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. by Cambridge, Mass., Police Officer Sergeant Jim Crowley. Phew. So how could I resist? In the end, the three guys and Vice President Biden joined each other for an awkward exchange on a ridiculously small picnic table for beers, the brands of which threatened to overshadow the Very Important Reason for their little brew down in Obamatown. Here’s the result. Blink and you’ll miss me, right after Barbara Walters and Barack himself raise their eyebrows at all the considerable fuss.

Introducing The Accidental Extremist

The best kind of travel is the least-expected. Even if it means narrowly escaping disaster. Especially if it means narrowly escaping disaster. Ever think to yourself, “I shoulda stayed home”? Tell your story over on my new blog, The Accidental Extremist

Think of it as the online home for misadventure. Stories about the wheels coming off and what happened next. Cultural gaffes. Cautionary Tales. Submit them, especially if they’re funny. Make them compelling. (And yes, make them true, or risk the lash of karmic whips). This is the place for off-the-road tales of the outlandish, the ridiculous, and the embarrassing. Basically everything that daily life is not. Snapshots, videos, links, cartoons, postcards all welcome. We can use your name, or not. Your call. And Happy Trails! 

An Untimely Death [Remembrance]

12climber_1901Last month I had the pleasure of meeting Rob Gauntlett, a young British explorer with a long list of feats to his name and many more on the drawing board. He was a guest of honor at the National Geographic Society‘s Best of Adventure Awards, on hand with his expedition partner James Hooper.

Amid the all the attention, Gauntlett was refreshingly self-effacing for someone of his considerable achievements. In 2006, at 19, he’d become the youngest Briton to scale Mt. Everest, and last year, with Hooper, completed a 26,000 mile geomatic-pole-to-geomagnetic-pole expedition that was chronicled in the December/January edition of National Geographic Adventure. During that trip, the longtime friends came close to dying more than once. But they weathered the ordeals with grit and a goodnatured commitment. 

Last week Gauntlett—only 21—was killed while ice-climbing a couloir on the east face of 13,937 Tacul peak, in the Mont Blanc range, French Alps. It was, to say the least, an untimely accident that took the life of an extraordinary young person. Here’s more on the story from the NGA Web site’s blog, the NY Times, and The Independent. My condolences to his family and friends.