The Village Voice’s Holiday Spirits Tasting Event

Outside of bourbon, I’m a neophyte when it comes to the world of distilled spirits. With that in mind, I jumped at the opportunity to attend this Thursday’s Village Voice Holiday Spirits tasting event. This event is a great opportunity to try a spectrum of spirits (31 at last count), listen to some live music, and nosh on a sampling of hors d’oeuvres. The tasting will be held December 5th from 7:30-10:30pm at Studio Square in Long Island City. Tickets are still available and can be purchased here. Make sure to enter the coupon code THANKS for 50% off general admission prices.


NYC Craft Beer Fest – Winter Edition Preview

Winter Harvest

Winter Harvest – December 1

I love winter beer. I love beer festivals. When you combine the two, magical things happen. December 1st is the NYC Craft Beer Festival – Winter Edition which fulfills the festival half of the equation, but seems a bit light on the ‘winter’ half of the equation.

Gauging from the beer list that has been published, it looks to be pretty similar in size and scope to The Brooklyn Pour I attended in early October. I count 109 different beers or ciders from 64 different breweries. Frankly, for a festival billing itself as ‘featuring winter seasonal beers’, the list is very light on winter warmers or other body-warming styles of beer. The list is dominated by flagship brands with relatively few options to try things out of the ordinary or not readily available. Judging from the brands represented it seems that most are being brought by distributors and not the actual breweries themselves; a lost opportunity for breweries to win over the types of rabid beer lovers that attend these events. Mediocre list aside, there are a handful of gems on the list:

  • Dark Horse – Reserve Special Black Ale
  • Founders – Breakfast Stout – Commonly available, but oh, so delicious.
  • Heavy Seas – Loose Cannon – Not a Winter beer, but still outstanding.
  • Great Divide – Hibernation – One of the best winter warmers out there.
  • Maine Beer Co. – Peeper Ale – Not a Winter beer, but a great American Pale Ale.
  • Sly Fox – Christmas Ale – Solid winter beer.
  • Victory – Storm King – Classic Russian Imperial Stout

Originally scheduled for early November, Hurricane Sandy forced a change of date and venue. The organizers will be holding a supply drive for those in the Breezy Point neighborhood of Queens.

I’ll be there with a full review after the event has come and gone.


Fall 2012 Brooklyn Wort Recap

The Fall 2012 edition of the bi-annual The Brooklyn Wort was held this past Saturday, October 27th at Public Assembly, a venue in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Wort is an attempt to combine two of my favorite things: a homebrew competition and a beer festival. Local homebrewers sign up and pay an entry fee to serve 5-gallons of their beer to the public and have it judged by both professional brewers and industry insiders. There is a $1000 purse at stake, with a portion awarded by a professional judging panel and a portion awarded based on the popular vote of festival attendees.

Tacos From Cemita's

Ticket prices include pretty good tacos from Cemita’s.

From the general public’s perspective, this event looks like a lot of other beer festivals. You choose one of two sessions to attend and pay a $35 entry fee to sample twenty-five different homebrews and eat a light meal (two tacos from Cemita’s Mexican Sandwiches and Tacos). You are given a tear sheet of tickets to give to each brewer in exchange for a sample as well as an empty slip to register your personal vote for the best beer.



First impressions are important. Unfortunately, upon arriving at the venue there was a large slow moving line that took nearly 20 minutes to get through. Within the venue, homebrewers were set up in two different rooms, both of which were way too small to accommodate the crowds on hand. Getting to the actual tables in order to receive a sample required quite a bit of maneuvering through the oversold crowd. Do not attend this event if you are claustrophobic or short on patience. When I showed up for the second tasting of the day, there was still a considerable number of people lingering from the first session, which significantly exasperated the problem.

Overcrowding and comfort aside, the most important part of a beer festival is the quality of the beer. In many ways I think the quality of the homebrew being served very much echoes the quality of homebrew in general. Homebrewing is still very much in its nascent stages with the quality improving every year, which means events like this are often a mixed bag. Of course, in a lot of ways you could say the same thing about a commercial craft beer festival. I managed to taste 22 of the 25 beers being served. Of these 22 I rated:

  • 5 Great – Would drink well next to solid commercial beers.
  • 5 Good – Comparable to an average commercial beer.
  • 7 Below average. Some technical flaws or balance problems. Comparable to a handful of bad commercial beers.
  • 5 had serious infections or off-flavors. I ran into some seriously phenolic beers, beers tasting like DMS (rotten cabbage), unintentionally sour beers, and beers with big diacetyl problems.

I had a great time chatting with the actual brewers and hearing their reasoning behind recipe formulation. I loved that many brewers were looking for genuine, unabashed feedback on their beers, and that many brought in their recipe sheets. When people ask my opinion (we all have one), it is difficult to tell whether they really want to hear what you are perceiving or simply want a pat on the back. I try to read people, but tend to give my opinion when asked (good or bad). Carefully articulated, honest feedback is the only way to become a better brewer. If you ask for my opinion, you should be willing to take it–good or bad. I expect the same treatment for every beer I make.

My top five brewers and beers:

  1. Rye Rye My Darling (Rye IPA) – Steve Hanson
  2. Trois PA (Pale Ale, 100% Brett) – Jonathan Moxey
  3. Judie Tuzke (Best Bitter) – M. Messenie & T. Lee
  4. Prunus Maximus (Porter w/ Plum & Chili) – Marco Trauzzi
  5. The Blushing Goddess (Saison w/ Hibiscus) – Peter Durning

Applepalooza at Astor Center Recap

2012 Applepalooza

Christian Drouin Calvados was the highlight of the night.

Cider is an enigma to me. I’ve never really understood its appeal and have typically written it off as something designed for those who enjoy sweeter beverages or those whose tastes are more inclined towards fruity drinks. I know there is more to it than that, but I’ve always tended to gravitate towards beverages I know I’ll enjoy and limit my explorations to the beer and spirit worlds.

With this in mind, I reviewed the events of New York Cider Week and came across Applepalooza, which could be just the thing to push me into the world of fermented apples in its various forms.

Applepalooza featured 13 different makers of either cider or Calvados (a spirit created from distilled hard cider). All of this was held at Astor Center, an events center of sorts above Astor Wines and Spirts, a fine bottle shop in its own right (no beer there, but we can forgive that).

Working my way from table to table, one thing became remarkably clear; I hadn’t given cider the respect it deserves as a complex and varied beverage. Were there big sweet cloying messes? Yes. Were there ciders that tasted like tannic, watered down Motts? Yes. Putting those aside, I found some very nice ciders that fit my tastes. The biggest surprise for me was the number of ciders that featured the unmistakable wild kiss of brettanomyces in their profiles. Some of these ciders were phenomenal, while others unfortunately had a huge plastic / burnt rubber phenolic that made them dumpers. Without further adieu, my top 3 and bottom 3 ciders of Applepalooza.

Top 3 Ciders:

Doc’s Draft Hard Apple Cider – The perfect touch of brett in a hard cider. It put off a distinct barnyard character that blended well with a nice full fruit flavor, touch of skin tannin, and medium sweetness that rounded out the mouthfeel and was cleaned up by the cider’s effervescence.

West County Cider Redfield – Nice complex apple flavor with a good round mouthfeel. Semi-dry but not watery (like a lot of the dry, low alcohol ciders). Quite tart, which helped cut some of the residual sweetness. Light hint of funk.

Eden Vermont Ice Cider, Heirloom Blend – Yes, I said I don’t like sweet ciders. The sweetness in this ice cider teetered on the edge of cloying. To me, this was quite reminiscent of a Sauternes and exhibited a very nice honey character. I couldn’t drink a ton of this, but it’d make a very nice dessert drink.

Bottom 3 Ciders:

Valveran / Villacubera Ciders – All of these Spanish ciders exhibited an overwhelming smokey, burnt plastic, peaty, phenolic. Not pleasant.

Trabanco / Isategi Ciders – I wanted to like these. They had a great funky barnyard nose that was almost Gueuze-like to me. Unfortunately, after drinking them, they also had a big band-aid note similar to the Valveran ciders.

Eden Ice Cider Orleans Apertif – Way too much basil in this one. Completely clashed with the apple character and was all I could taste.

Let’s Talk Calvados

There were three purveyors of Calvados at the event: Clear Creek Distillery (Oregon, USA), Roger Groult Calvados (France), and Christian Drouin Calvados (France). Of these three, Christian Drouin stood head and shoulders above the other two. Clear Creek and Roger Groult were both quite harsh and solventy (especially Clear Creek’s non-barrel aged spirits).

Christian Drouin was pouring their Selection, 1992 Vintage, and 25 Year Calvados. The Selection–quite young compared to the 1992 and 25 Year–exhibits a really nice fruit character. The oak is subdued, but has a hint of vanilla and butterscotch. It is a steal at less than $23; and I was happy to take one home with me. The 1992 vintage had much more oak, exhibited a big butterscotch nose, and had just a hint of fruit. The 25 Year was beautiful. It had layers of aroma including tobacco, butterscotch, vanilla, toasted bread, and on and on. To me, its only detractor was the lack of any fruit character. I would have loved to bring home either the 1992 Vintage ($134.99) or the 25 Year ($143.99), but the cost is simply a little rich for my blood, especially when I can spend 1/3 of the cost on a good single malt or bourbon of equal complexity.