MORE BLOGS: Off Message (News & Politics) | Live Culture (Arts) | Stuck in Vermont (Videos)

Bite Club: Vermont's Food & Drink Blog

« February 2013 | Main | April 2013 »

March 2013

March 15, 2013

Vermont Brew Bracket Is Back! Voting Now Open for Round 1

BrewbracketadLadies and gentlemen, start your tap handles. The 2013 Vermont Brew Bracket presented by Three Penny Taproom is here.

Once again we selected 32 of the finest craft beers in Vermont and seeded them based on popularity and ratings on sites like BeerAdvocate, RateBeer and Untappd. Defending champion Heady Topper is here, of course; so are the usual suspects in Vermont beer like Long Trail and Rock Art, plus some new faces from the likes of Drop-In Brewing, 14th Star and others.

And once again it's up to you, dear reader, to decide Vermont's favorite brew. Pick your favorite in each of a series of head-to-head matchups. We'll pair up the winners for the next round, and we'll keep going until there's one beer left standing. And if you want to buy each and every beer and taste test for yourself, that's OK — just be sure to drink responsibly and designate a driver.

Voting is now open for the first two of the four brackets, aka the left side of the big bracket. Voting will close on Sunday night; on Monday, we'll open the polls for the second half of Round 1.

Click here to see the full bracket and cast your votes.

Grazing: It's Alive! The Sour Ale From Backacre Beermakers

Backacre_2Erin Donovan started home brewing while she was still in grad school in Colorado, but back then she wasn't sold on sour beer, even after trying some at that state's Great American Beer Festival. "Your mouth was puckering; your eyes were watering," she recalls.

A few more tastes and visits to Belgium later, sour beer's "unique flavors" hooked Donovan, and she and her husband, Matt Baumgart, began brewing it, too. Eventually the pair moved to Belgium for two years, where they tasted scores of gueuzes and lambics and became even more enamored of the style.

Now back in Vermont, Donovan and Baumgart — with the help of Donovan's dad, John Donovan — have taken their crush to a new level. For the past three years, they've been socking away wort — or unfermented beer— in oak barrels inside their Weston barn. There, they added wild yeasts, let the mixture ferment and planned to blend a commercial sour ale once their first batch tasted ready.

Continue reading "Grazing: It's Alive! The Sour Ale From Backacre Beermakers" »

March 14, 2013

Barn Fire Devastates Springfield's Cavendish Game Birds

A quick-moving, early-morning barn fire at Springfield's Cavendish Game Birds has killed 20,000 quail and 30 pigs.

Co-owner Rick Thompson says he was awakened about 5:30 a.m. Wednesday by an alarm indicating a power failure in the hatchery. When he opened the door of the barn to investigate, "There wasn't sound so much as smoke," he says. "Shortly after I got out, the barn just went."

Though the barn — one of three — and silo burned to the ground in an hour, Thompson reckons that it was thick smoke that killed most of the animals, which represented about half of Cavendish's stock and all of its breeding birds.

Several surrounding fire departments responded to the fire, and its cause is still unknown. Thompson says there was propane heat in the barn to keep the animals warm, as well as some shavings on the second floor of the barn that may have exacerbated the flames.

Thompson and his brother, Bill, are lifelong poultry farmers, and it was Bill Thompson who began seriously farming and selling quail from his backyard more than 20 years ago. In 1988, the brothers bought the 75-acre farm that became home to Cavendish Game Farms; they supply thousands of Coturnix quail and their eggs each year to restaurants, food service operators and distributors throughout the Northeast, incuding Black River Produce. The farm's birds have been ubiquitous on Vermont restaurant menus. 

The Berkshire pigs that died in the fire represented a new venture for the company, says Rick Thompson. "Maybe it was a mid-life crisis. We'd been in the bird and quail business for so long that we planned on starting a pasture pork operation to try new things." 

The farm has about a month's supply of birds left, he adds, after which the Thompsons will shut down production to concentrate on rebuilding their breeding stock, egg operation and a new barn. They may be selling birds again by late summer.

"One of the hardest things for us is going to be the down time. We have 15 employees, including my brother and myself," says Thompson. "They're all talented and experienced, and we're hoping we can take care of them as much as possible." 

For now, the staff is concentrating on giving its lost quail and pigs a respectful burial. "We'll gather the animals together and bury them," Thompson says.

March 13, 2013

Former Trapp Brewers to Launch Lost Nation Brewing in Morrisville

Beer-5559560-MediumWhen they were brewing at Stowe's Trapp Family Lodge, head brewer Allen Van Anda and his assistant, Jamie Griffith, mastered the delicacies of producing Austrian-style lager, that brewery's specialty.

Van Anda left the brewery last spring, Griffith a few months later. Now, both are resurfacing a few miles north, in Morrisville, and will open their own venture, Lost Nation Brewing, later this spring.

For the last few months, Van Anda and Griffith have been transforming the former Rock Art Brewery space at 254 Wilkins St. into a nimble, 6000-barrel brewery and tasting room — though they're still awaiting some major equipment. 

"Our tanks are on a train in the middle of Canada right now," says Van Anda. He has his fingers crossed that by the end of the month, he and his partner will be producing "honest, good-drinking, session beer."  

Continue reading "Former Trapp Brewers to Launch Lost Nation Brewing in Morrisville" »

March 12, 2013

Alice Eats: Rick's Grill

IMG_536425 Centre Drive, Milton, 893-7425

For competition-quality smoked meats, I know I can head to Bluebird Barbecue in Burlington or hit up the Belted Cow Bistro in Essex on its Tuesday barbecue nights. But there's a new game in Chittenden County.

Barbecue specialist Rick LeBlanc of Rick's Catering quietly opened a restaurant of his own in December. The spot, just off the main road in Milton, is hard to find if you don't know where to look. For years, LeBlanc owned the space as Rick's Pizza, but it has laid dormant for years.

LeBlanc told me last night that he finally decided to open a new restaurant rather than leave the building empty.

IMG_5356The result is a friendly neighborhood restaurant serving food and drinks that are, frankly, better than they need to be. The only local competition at dinnertime is from fast-food joints and diners.

But LeBlanc is clearly an overachiever in his pubby genre, offering a huge menu and well-made comfort food. The restaurant even has a custom ale from Long Trail Brewing Company, along with Fiddlehead and other local and nonlocal brews. Everything I tried at Rick's was well-prepared home cooking that blended the cuisines of Vermont with those of regions farther south.

Our server Ashley was one such Southern "ingredient," sweet as praline and seemingly excited to help make our experience a great one. She recommended that we start with the boneless wings. A fine choice.

The chunky nuggets of breast meat were exceptionally juicy, with a light, crispy coat. LeBlanc said he's not a fan of the honey-garlic sauce, the invention of his manager. The the clumpy sauce wasn't pretty, but I thought the roasted allium tasted unexpectedly delicious combined with thick honey.

Continue reading "Alice Eats: Rick's Grill" »

March 5, 2013

Alice Eats: Positive Pie Tap & Grill

IMG_535165-69 Main Street, Plainfield, 454-0133

Positive Pie was a friendly culinary face in Plainfield for almost as long as I can remember. Last spring, it took over the space that was formerly River Run and, as Positive Pie Tap & Grill, became far more than a pizzeria.

I felt conspicuous as a nonlocal entering the neighborhood spot, but it was worth it.

With my budget, I didn't indulge too much in the restaurant's taps but was impressed by the selection. Nineteen brews included plenty of local faves — including beers from Hill Farmstead and Bobcat Café — as well as national cult concoctions such as Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast. I went for the 20th tap — a big glass of licorice-flavored Rookie's Root Beer.

IMG_5354Food came out quickly, with the rosemary pizza (above) leading the charge. The crust was thin enough to be simultaneously crisp and chewy. A piquant garlic-Parmesan sauce proved an excellent background for a powerful (but not overwhelming) dose of the fresh herb. Chunks of chicken added chewiness, while slices of tomato lent a welcome hit of acid.

I couldn't resist a $4 order of fried Brussels sprouts, referred to on the menu as "little nuggets of love." I would have been more besotted had the sprouts been cooked more before frying — most were underdone in the middle. But their tempura-like jackets were hard to resist, the Sriracha-aioli dipping sauce nigh on impossible.

Continue reading "Alice Eats: Positive Pie Tap & Grill" »

March 1, 2013

Grazing With Jerky

Maybe it was only a matter of time before Vermont got its own jerky shop. Still, when I first drove by the sign a few weeks ago, I had to do a triple take — the shop's name somehow jangled against the sign's polished typography and Stowe's stately shops and houses.

But there it was: Vermont's Amazing House of Jerky. When I tried the door, though, a smaller, handwritten sign revealed that the owner was out getting "more delicious jerky" and would return the next day.

Jerky2A few weeks later, I was in luck. Anthony Capone, the owner, was holding court in a sunsplashed shop so elegant that its product selection seemed out of place. It was time to confront my own preconceptions about jerky, which blanketed the rustic pine shelves Capone built himself.

There were various flavors of beef jerky, of course (chili was sold out), but also turkey, alligator, venison and even trout. As I considered some mushroom jerky in the vegan section (it rubbed shoulders with some granola), Capone called it "beautiful." The turkey was "silky," while another — the venison jerky —  "tastes like red wine," he said.

Capone clearly has a passion for his trade. Though House of Jerky shops appear in dozens of places across the U.S., he insists his is not a franchise nor part of a chain; his stores in Lake Placid, Lake George and now Stowe are his alone.

To explain the makings of jerky here would take too long; this isn't locavore stuff, but to my untrained eye, it looked high quality. Those who can't decide between alligator and turkey could go for a sampler pack, which sells upward of $30. I opted for the benchmark Natural Style Beef Jerky, as well as some black-pepper venison, teriyaki turkey and Pan's Mushroom Jerky. 

Capone was right: The venison jerky, while tougher than the rest, did indeed taste like red wine, maybe even a Cabernet filled with black fruit and charred flavors. The beef jerky was gutsy and umami, while the amber-colored, striated teriyaki turkey had the softest texture and sweetest flavor of the bunch.

The mushroom jerky wasn't as soft as I expected it to be; rather, it was (of course) earthy and tough, and reminded me of a few other mushrooms I'd tried as a teenager, sans bitterness. But I'll leave it to a vegan to decide.

Capone says a jerky store is in the works for Burlington. Watch out, Church Street.

Vermont's Amazing House of Jerky, 100 Mountain Rd., Stowe, 760-6111.


Vermont Brewers Dig Deep for Hops Research

Hopsgrant13 002All of that quaffing you do at the Vermont Brewers Festival every summer? Well, it has some good karma.

Some of the money raised during last July's shindig just provided a boost to the nascent Vermont hops industry when the Vermont Brewers Association gifted UVM's Vermont Hops Project with enough dosh to buy a key piece of new equipment.

At the Winter Hops Conference — which took place at the Essex Resort & Spa last weekend — Vermont Pub & Brewery's Steve Polewacyk handed over a cool $20,000 to Heather Darby, the UVM agronomy professor and researcher who heads the project.

"It really helps us further our research by being able to make [our hops] measurements at UVM," says Darby, who plans to use the money to purchase an ultraviolet spectrophotometer for measuring the quality of UVM-grown hops.

For nearly three years, Darby and her colleagues have raised and studied hundreds of hops plants on their test plot in Alburgh. To assess the acids in the hops they've grown, they have generally sent each sample out of state at $35 a pop — which adds up to thousands of dollars each year, and occasionally a lost sample. Since those plants are entering their third year of growth, says Darby, the 2013 growing season will be high time to see how the 20 or so varietals fare at full maturity.

Continue reading "Vermont Brewers Dig Deep for Hops Research" »

Email Newsletter

Fill out my online form.
All Rights Reserved © Da Capo Publishing Inc. 1995-2012 | PO Box 1164, Burlington, VT 05402-1164 | 802-864-5684