5 unexpected drink ‘hits’ in New York
Peekskill NY Skills Pils Winter
Is it really a Pilsner? It’s black – and for me there’s the clue. Traditionally brewed in Pilzen it is one of the defining beer styles of the Czech Republic. Pilsners are difficult to do well – a good, clean, fresh and well-made Pilsner is a thing of great joy. Slightly old and oxidised they are horrid, smelling stale at best, and of cat’s pee at worst. On the whole, they don’t travel; I was never a fan of Pilsner Urquell until I went to Prague where you can virtually drink it straight from the brewery. As I was doing here. Peekskill Pilsner is made from a dark malt, and this really defines the liquid. It has the slight bitter coffee note on the nose; the flavour is not as bitter as my eyes would have had me believe, with some hop character and bitter chocolate coming through; it is light and delicate – without any other strong flavours to balance it off, it relies on the alcohol to do the job, and at 4.9% abv there’s just about enough in there to do that.
It was fresh alright, and whilst the unexpected bitterness didn’t seduce me as it would in a hoppy IPA, I did enjoy this right through to the end.
Sarasola (Spanish Cider).
Don’t get me started. Everything that is celebrated about Spanish cider is a technical fault in my opinion b ut as ever, every now and then you have an experience that throws you off balance – shakes up your view of things. And in this instance, mine involved a bottle of Sarasola and a chunk of hard Tronchon ewe’s cheese. These go together as well as any food pairing I have ever tried. With its aroma of wild plants, the cheese has a strong taste with a slightly oily texture that the sharpness of the cider cuts through well; this same acidity balanced with the slight sharpness of the cheese. It was totally unexpected and extremely enjoyable – I kept going back for more of both.
So, whilst Spanish cider remains off my top 10 list of things to drink, I do now understand some of the appeal. And cider making above all should be a brotherhood/sisterhood, so I say “Go, Spanish Cider!”
Thornbridge Beadeca's Well Smoked Porter
I love Thornbridge; they are one of my favourite UK brewers and it was a joy to see them on so many beer lists in New York – I even managed to sneak in a couple of pints of Kipling and Jaipur. I’m not alone; I spent some time with Garrett Oliver – beer guru and owner of Brooklyn Brewery – what a lovely set up he has in Williamsburg.
Anyway, we both had a moment of mutual admiration for Thornbridge. I do not go for smoked beers though, so when I ordered one of these simply because it had the word “Thornbridge” in front of it I felt almost violated when a 12oz barley wine glass turned up with a dark beer inside and a dirty looking creamy head atop it. I’ve tried smoked beers before in Germany and Brazil, and they often smell the same – smokey bacon crisps is now my expectation. So it was with some trepidation that I lifted the glass to my nose. And what a revelation that was – no bacon on this one, and the smoke was delicate and soft, like apple wood embers on a smouldering fire with hints of dates and rich caramel. For a beer so dark, there was very little bitterness; the texture was rich and creamy with a lingering burnt smoky malt finish.
It was a proper wow moment; I would definitely have ordered another if we hadn’t had to move on, and at 5.3% alcohol, that could easily have stretched to a few more.
Barrier Queen of Tarts
A number of citrus beers have come on to the market in recent years; most of my exposure to them has been via the multinational brew co route – Carling Zest, Carlsberg Citrus, Fosters Radler and the like. I get the idea, a citrus aroma and flavour can in some circs be quite similar to hop, but the citrus I like works the other way – hops that give a very citrus aroma and flavour; Jai Ali from Cigar City being the stand out example from this trip.
My intro to the concept American craft style was via Barrier Brewing’s Queen of Tarts. They’re quite a newcomer to the scene – from what I can find of them on the web they have been going since circa 2009; based at Oceanside, and I had certainly not heard of them until my importer friend Alex spotted this on the menu of The Wren in Lower East Side. Brewed for Queens Beer Week, each batch is brewed with 200 limes – not a cheap option since the shortage caused by a poor crop in Mexico and the interest of the drugs cartels there. Still, it was worth the expense. The beer itself is an Extra Pale Ale; the aroma was of lime mousse/lemon curd – quite unusual but very seductive. At 6.8% alcohol it has a very light mouthfeel with notes of not overly tart lime.
Not an overly complex beer but hugely thirst quenching. I would definitely have had another, but the keg had run out. Sadly, this was a one off brew, but it has offered a great incentive to try some others out.
Duchesse De Bourgogne
For my view on sour beer read my view on Spanish Cider. Anything that causes something to sour is “off” by my definition. I know; I’m a hypocrite, I love soured cream. But I have never been able to get past my prejudice for beer that goes sour. I have tasted some horrors; but there are two things I am repeatedly told by sour advocates. Firstly, that I have never tasted a good one; and secondly, that they are something you grow in to. Apparently, the latter camp boasts many a lifelong IPA junkie, of which I am one. So whilst I have remained open to the idea, I have made no plans to dive headlong in.
I didn’t go looking for sours when in New York, one just happened to appear in my friend’s hand which he goaded me in to trying….. My re-introduction to sour was Duchesse De Bourgogne from Verhaeghe Brewery from Vichte in West Flanders. It’s a good place to start with sours by all accounts as it is more sweet than sour. I found the aroma very redolent of balsamic vinegar – which is almost a plus point on its own but still a contradiction I find hard to deal with. The flavour has distinct sour tartness to it, but is balanced pretty well by a background of cherry and mildly sweet caramel. It drinks well at 6.2% and has a medium finish that to me is surprisingly clean.
I imagine it going well with a well-chosen cheese board. If I’m honest I’m still not quite there yet on sours but I did at least get a glimpse of the attraction.