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Bite Club: Vermont's Food & Drink Blog

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September 2013

September 27, 2013

Grazing: The Sparkling Cider Boom, and Why the CIDER Act Matters


It doesn't take a brain surgeon, or even a food writer, to know that we're in the midst of a hard-cider boom. In Vermont alone, the field has grown from a scant handful of producers a few years ago to more than a dozen today, and the number is growing. A few new companies are set to launch, and established ones — such as Citizen Cider and Eden Ice Cider — keep introducing new, creative products (such as Citizen Cider's Dry-Hopped Cider, shown above).

What's less known is that some of these ciders are taxed at a higher rate than beer and sometimes even wine  — that is, when their ciders reach a certain level of alcohol or carbonation. When cider's abv (alcohol by volume) hits 7 percent or higher, cider is taxed as wine; and when its carbonation levels rise above a certain level, it can be slapped with a Champagne-like “luxury” tax of $3.30 per gallon. (Since alcohol levels stem from the sugar levels of a particular year's harvest, keeping those levels low can entail extra work).

Earlier this year, New York Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) designed the CIDER Act, a bill that aims to “modernize the definition for hard apple and pear cider,” as Schumer’s office puts it, and increase the permitted alcohol and carbonation levels in cider without the attendant rise in tax.

Continue reading "Grazing: The Sparkling Cider Boom, and Why the CIDER Act Matters" »

September 25, 2013

'The Great Chicken Wing Hunt' Hits Burlington on Friday

Food-wing3If you're much of a drinker (or eater) you probably have a favorite place for wings.

Filmmaker Matt Reynolds left a successful career in the Czech Republic to find his. And his movie chronicling the saucy quest, The Great Chicken Wing Hunt, has been making this year's festival rounds, earning the description "The Big Lebowski of docs."

But like "the Dude," Reynolds apparently isn't great with deadlines. He missed the one for submissions to the Vermont International Film Festival, but according to festival executive director, Orly Yadin, the film was so good, she decided not just to show it but to build an event around it.

Continue reading "'The Great Chicken Wing Hunt' Hits Burlington on Friday" »

Heady Topper Runs Out At The Emmy Awards

Backstage_1At Sunday evening's Emmy Awards, the celebrity-studded audience in LA's Nokia Theater watched Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney take home golden statues and Elton John perform a tribute to Liberace. Backstage, another drama was unfolding — there wasn't enough Heady Topper to go around.

Alchemist co-owner Jen Kimmich says that two cases of their signature brew made it to the Emmys, but halfway through the show, supply was running thin. "We had multiple requests for more," wrote Mark Gonzalez, dressing room coordinator for the awards show. "Neil Patrick Harris, the host of the show, put in a request almost every hour."

Despite what was probably mad prep for the show, Gonzalez managed to treat his cargo properly. "The Heady Topper was placed in refrigerators the second we received them and were not placed in talent rooms until requested to ensure they stayed cold," he wrote.

It's been a high-flying few days for the double IPA. Last week, The Atlantic's James Fallows praised Heady Topper in a blog post on that magazine's site, before carting home a case for himself.

September 24, 2013

Alice Eats: Global Burlington International Dinner Series

IMG_6270Community dinners don't have to mean fish fries or chicken pie suppers. At North End Studio's Global Burlington International Dinner Series, they could mean tah chin, momos or, in the case of last Sunday's dinner, nafaqo.

The monthly dinners are a joint venture between North End Studios, the Vermont Council on World Affairs and the Vermont International Festival. And for $15, I got my money's worth last Sunday.

Abukar Mohamed of the African Safari Store and Deli at 78 North Street brought a feast from the market's tiny kitchen to feed the appropriately international group of diners. I sat between guests from Holland, England and the Congo and talked to fellow attendees who work regularly in Norway and South America.

But Somali cuisine was new to nearly everyone.

Continue reading "Alice Eats: Global Burlington International Dinner Series" »

September 20, 2013

Grazing: Fried Green Tomatoes

They're the stragglers. The slow pokes. The tomatoes that couldn't bother to turn red and sweet before fall arrives. Yet rather than cave to the unripe fruit of our short growing season, you can triumph over climate and subjugate these hard, tart orbs into something crisp and delicious: Fried green tomatoes.

Yes, a movie was named for this tried-and-true Southern specialty, and with good reason: Green tomatoes are firmer and eminently more fry-able than ripe ones, and their tartness softens slightly during frying — yet but still retains enough tang for a satisfying salty-tart-crunch. They take less than 15 minutes to make, and when you bite into one, you'll be amazed by the alchemy that frying performs on their hard little bodies.

Continue reading "Grazing: Fried Green Tomatoes" »

September 19, 2013

'The Atlantic' Tastes the Alchemist

HeadyMost of us know James Fallows as a longtime national correspondent at the Atlantic. But when not pursuing hard-hitting stories, Fallows identifies himself as "a beer guy."

Fallows is in Vermont for his blog series on small cities, which feature positive stories of economic and cultural growth. Last week Fallows tasted his first Heady Topper over dinner at the Bluebird Tavern.

Given the Alchemist's small supply of the beer (two-thirds of it is sold at the Waterbury factory), Fallows had never had a chance to try the beer. "They had it and I thought, Yes!," he told Seven Days today.

When plans fell through yesterday for an interview on "a more worthy topic," Fallows headed to Waterbury, where injured co-owner Jen Kimmich took the journalist on a tour of the factory. Read his post about it here.

Following his hourlong deviation, Fallows was back to reporting on environmental sustainability and public works. But after touring America, the journalist says that despite an encroaching box-store takeover, one thing the country seems to be getting very right is beer.

"There are ways in which America looks more and more the same in a bad way," he reflected. "But what's more and more the same in a good way is every place has a brew pub culture now. America is getting better in that way."

But Vermont is still the only place that has Heady Topper.

September 17, 2013

Alice Eats: Rí Rá Irish Pub

581903123 Church St., Burlington, 860-9401

Thursday's Trivia Mania has made Nectar's my regular haunt for eight years now. But before the locally grown pub quiz sprouted up, my Tuesdays belonged to trivia at Rí Rá Irish Pub.

Back in the day, I had to hurry and eat before or get stuck having chicken nachos for dinner (pretty good), an Irish boxty (unpredictable) or burger (blah and overpriced).

But last May, the game changed when Rí Rá's menu underwent a major overhaul, complete with membership to the Vermont Fresh Network.

Now, the options are both more authentically Irish (see the photo at right) and more authentically Vermont. I recently passed by the restaurant and was drawn to the new bill of fare. Would the reality match up to the descriptions? I braved a Sunday night football crowd to find out.

I was hidden in a front corner away from the game, which was evocative of an Irish bar filled with nooks and crannies, but very dark to photograph.

IMG_6255A range of creative salads and mini sausage rolls would have to wait. I needed some belly for my belly.

Pork belly, that is. And the potato cakes had it. This Jewish girl was envisioning shredded potato like latkes, but these were like meatballs made of creamy mashed potato, with a panko crust to hold them together.

Cheddar-mustard sauce, in pools below the cakes and blobbed on top, sounded like potential overkill, but added a tangy edge of sharp flavor without too much extra glop.

Continue reading "Alice Eats: Rí Rá Irish Pub" »

Penny Cluse's New Venture, Lucky Next Door, To Open Next Week

Fifteen years after creating what would become a Burlington landmark, the owners of Penny Cluse Café will open an adjacent new spot called Lucky Next Door next Tuesday.

Named in part for the former owner of 163 Cherry Street — whom Penny Cluse co-owner Charles Reeves used to call “Heather next door” — and in part for a beloved dog, the sunny space has been transformed into a 25-seat café with terracotta walls, sleek pine counters and funky pendants from Conant Metal & Light that use "old canned lights we found when we were demolishing the ceiling," says Reeves. Those lights so closely resembled flying saucers that he and Holly Cluse commissioned Burlington artist Abby Manock to paint colorful UFOs around the place, including all over the bathroom walls.

Continue reading "Penny Cluse's New Venture, Lucky Next Door, To Open Next Week" »

September 14, 2013

From Bhutan to Burlington: New Americans Harvest Rice in the Intervale

Contributing writer Kevin J. Kelley wrote this post.

Paddies — and the rice they produce — are ubiquitous in warm, wet parts of the world. But apart from small crops produced by a few artisanal pioneers, rice remains a rarity in Vermont.

Bhutan 009That could change, though, as suggested by the scene in Burlington's Intervale on Saturday. About 30 immigrants from Bhutan were bending and squatting in drained paddies as they chopped rice plants with machetes and threshed the grain by beating bunches of it against boards. It was the first rice harvest of New Farms for New Americans, a program sponsored by the Association of Africans Living in Vermont.

The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan may be a long way — culturally as well as geographically — from the People's Republic of Burlington, but rice cultivation here is actually a lot like it is there, says Laxmi Dahal, a smiling 60-year-old father of six adult children. His son-in-law, Yam Mishra, offered an even more positive appraisal. He declares Burlington "a perfect place for growing rice."

Continue reading "From Bhutan to Burlington: New Americans Harvest Rice in the Intervale" »

September 13, 2013

Grazing: Spiked Maple Mocha

The propane guy showed up yesterday in his grumbling truck to pump gallons of liquid gas into the tank behind the house. The air was muggy, the leaves were still green, and a thunderstorm was brewing in the distance. But we both know what's coming — and it ain't more summer.

The season of autumn things is upon us: Fuzzy sweaters. Pumpkin beers. Early fires. Propane guys (!). And deep, dark mocha, the precursor to the hot chocolates of winter.

This summer, Christian Stromberg, the Saxtons River producer of Sapling Liqueur, came out with a bracing new spirit: a coffee liqueur called Perc. Stromberg cold-brews Arabica beans, then infuses the result into 60-proof liquor, sweetening it at the end. The result taste like sugared-up black coffee with a kick.

Vermont also gained two new maple creme liqueurs this year: Metcalfe's Vermont Maple Cream Liqueur — which sells briskly at the store where I pick up spirits — and Vermont Ice Maple Crème, from Boyden Valley. Metcalfe's version is light-bodied and nutty, but also slightly higher in alcohol than Boyden's version, which has more of a complex, Calvados-like note from the apples used in the blend. Together, the two products will likely dent in-state sales of Bailey's Irish Cream — both are far superior.

So how to marry these spirits together? In a mug of mocha. Coffee liqueur in coffee might seem like overkill, but Perc helps sweeten an otherwise astringent cup of java, while a dose of maple creme liquor adds silkiness. Make sure the coffee you start with is really, really hot, as the liquor and milk will rapidly bring down its temperature. I used Tonewood maple flakes instead of sugar to make my whipped cream — but a spoonful of maple syrup will do the same trick.

Spiked Maple Mocha

1 tbsp. cocoa powder
1/2 to 1 cup of strong coffee
1 teaspoon light cream or milk
1 ounce Perc coffee liquor (Kahlua is a passable substitute — barely)
1 ounce maple creme liqueur, such as Metcalfe's or Vermont Ice (Alternatively, use 1 ounce Bailey's plus 1 teaspoon maple syrup.)
Hand-whipped maple cream (or Cabot preprepared whipped cream)

Dump chocolate powder into a mug, then fill it three-quarters of the way full with strong coffee. Stir to dissolve. Add teaspoon of milk and spirits, and stir again. Spoon fresh whipped cream onto the top, sprinkle with cocoa powder, and serve.

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