Review: NYC Craft Beer Festival Mar. 24, 2017

NYC Craft Beer Fest

Cover image: Courtesy of NYC Craft Beer Festival

Complementary shot sipping glasses © Tatsuya Aoki for WhereNYC

With nearly 1,200 alcohol enthusiasts descending upon the Metropolitan Pavilion to sample 150 craft beers and ciders from 75 distilleries from the US, this year’s NYC Craft Beer Festival included an expanded spirits tasting area along the usual offerings of an assortment of food vendors and beer garden games. Despite a feeble intent of keeping a professional manner, I had to let loose and just enjoy myself.

The Festival featured some delicious food options. © Tatsuya Aoki for WhereNYC

Upon entry, each guest received a commemorative 2oz  CBF shot glass, our official universal sippy-cup. Before any marathon session of drinking, I began with a bite to eat at the food stalls.

The presentation of tasty at each booth was mouthwatering but it was a toss-up between Hanna’s Meatballs or Table 87’s Pizza. Although I prefered Hanna’s, I opted for Table 87’s Margarita Pizza. The assumption being that carbs would serve better than Protein in this situation.

Blue Nectar Tequila

Blue Nectar Tequila @ Tatsuya Aoki for WhereNYC

With a belly full of dough and mozzarella, it was time for the main event.  Following the old college mantra, “Liquor before Beer…” I sauntered over to the spirits aisle where I was introduced to Blue Nectar Tequila. A Single Estate Tequila where the Agave is grown, processed, packaged and shipped from a single farm and distillery in Amatitán, Mexico. The flavor profile is described as drier, earthy and peppery than other tequilas I have tasted. In industry terms, this is referred to as Valley Style. The favorite of the three was the Silver. Mostly because it had a clean finish with a hint of jalapeno on the tongue that opens up to a grapefruit zest. For those on the fence about Tequila or looking to expand your stock, Blue Nectar Silver is the best starting option.

Michter's Whiskey

Michter’s Whiskey © Tatsuya Aoki for WhereNYC

Tequila aside, there were other spirits to sample before the craft beers. Michter’s Whiskey, founded in 1753 by John Shenk, is America’s oldest distillery, located in Blue Valley, Pennsylvania. Having set the benchmark for Rye Whiskey in America, anyone that makes Rye today is emulating the Michter’s style. Its flavor is somewhat peppery, with some deeper complexity of a mineral taste with thyme and oregano.

Part of the joy of tasting artisanal craft beers is meeting the brewmasters and hearing their stories of how they got in the business. After approaching several vendors to inquire about their selections, however, I realized that most of them were volunteers who knew as much about the beer and brand as I could ascertain by reading the place cards.

Fortunately, there was plenty of delicious beer to sample, with some that stood out for the right reasons.

First there was the unexpected that leapt with bold flavors and aromas. South Carolinian Westbrook Siberian Magic Panther had a burst of roasted malt with a dark caramel taste that was complex yet smooth on the palette.

Coney Island Honey Stout, made from locally sourced honey from Upstate New York in the Finger Lakes area, delighted my taste buds with sweet notes at the tip of the tongue, followed by roasted flavor from the toasted barley.

Westbrook Brewing’s Black Magic Panther IPA © Tatsuya Aoki for WhereNYC

On the lighter, crisp side of beer, Coney Island’s Mermaid Pilsner cleverly used dry malt to give it notes of spiciness with west coast hops to give it a little kick at the end but drops off into a clean, refreshing finish, which would a perfect match with sushi, tucking into an Indian curry or enjoying during a summer barbecue.

For hoppy beer lovers, there were several IPA choices including Yonkers West Coast- style IPA, containing five different types of hops. At times, some breweries tend to go overboard with the level of hoppiness. Yonkers’, however, was easy drinking thanks to a balanced blend of different types of hops to achieve a mellow sessional IPA.

Craft brewing has even made a footing in New York, where several small breweries have set up shop and begun to create a following. Established in 2011, Bronx Brewery from the Port Morris area, has become a part of the community with its tasting room along with a 5000 square-foot lot for live music and food truck events. Rather than go for the extreme sour varieties, Bronx Brewery beers are more accessible to reach a wider audience, including its easy-drinking Banner and No Resolutions IPA with six different kinds of hops. Its Spring Seasonal pale ale has gone a bit left field with the infusion of two black teas and  chamomile; however, it was nicely balanced with a subtle floral note from the tea.

Others are made to support local brewing communities. Kings County Brewers out of Bushwick operates almost like a collective helping small-time beer producers get their products out. Currently in collaboration with three local breweries who create their own recipes, which Kings County eventually produces, its repertoire includes quirky yet menacing sci-fi names such as Robot Fish and Marble of Doom, which is a pomegranate and blackberry sour.

With so many craft beers made with knowledge, passion and creativity, it is a wonder why anyone would prefer a mass-produced glass of suds with little taste. Fortunately the 2017 NYC Craft Beer Festival was an excellent area to show off America’s growing generation of talent, expert brewers who turned their desire to make great beer into a craft.

For upcoming events please visit NYC Craft Beer Fest.

Review: How Curry, Soy Sauce and Sriracha Became American, MOFAD Mar. 9, 2017

Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine

Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine © Tatsuya Aoki for WhereNYC

Cover image: Courtesy of Sarah Lohman

Sarah Lohman’s book: Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine reveals the rich history behind black pepper, M.S.G., curry powder, soy sauce, chilli powder, garlic, vanilla and sriracha and how they became America’s pantry staples. Ms. Lohman began her talk at MOFAD with a brief synopsis on the eight ingredients, diving deeper into their origins.

Why choose to focus on these particular eight flavors? With the help of a Googles Ngram Viewer, she compiled and graphed a list of commonly used ingredients. After analyzing the results, she filtered out the best candidates according to their popularity over a span of 300 years. Of the remaining eight flavors, according to Ms. Lohman,  each have defined the contemporary American palette.

One of the most interesting finds was the introduction of curry powder in the U.S.. Having had originated some 4000 years ago in East Asia, it was through the East India Company and eventually the British empire that brought Indian cooking to the West. According to Lohman, curry’s arrival in the U.S. came via Great Britain through a Punjabi-Indian chef Ranji Smile who, while working at a London hotel in the 1890s, mesmerized a top New York restaurateur with his curry dish. A deal was made and shortly thereafter, Smile began serving his curry dishes to New York’s social elite.

Prince/Chef Ranji Smile

Prince of Curry, Chef Ranji Smile. Image courtesy of Sarah Lohman

As one of America’s first celebrity chefs, he led a rockstar lifestyle, touring the States, hosting cooking demonstrations amidst elaborate stage acts that included sword swallowers and dancing girls. His fate took, however, a cruel twist when after living in America for 30 years, his application for U.S. citizenship was denied, as it extended only to Anglo-Saxon whites and black Americans. His story ends there with speculation that he left the U.S. out of sheer frustration and faded into obscurity.

Lohman talks soy sauce © Tatsuya Aoki for WhereNYC

Introduced to the America in 1760, soy sauce was produced in Thunderbolt, Georgia by English sailor and entrepreneur Samuel Bowen. By the 1800s it was available along the east coast. It’s popularity helped spawn derivatives such as Worcestershire Sauce and Ketchup. In 1973, the Japanese soy sauce company, Kikkoman opened its first American factory in Wisconsin. The following year, it published a cookbook of both traditional Japanese dishes and American classics incorporating Kikkoman soy sauce. The 1974-cover also daringly featured a modern, mixed family consisting of a white-American dad, Japanese mom, and their two kids enjoying a barbecue.

David Tran

David Tran, founder of Huy Fong Foods inc. Image courtesy of Sarah Lohman.

While curry and soy sauce also came from abroad, the Sriracha we know and love originated here with Southeast Asian flavors. Sriracha, or more specifically, Huy Fong Foods Sriracha was developed in southern California by Vietnamese immigrant David Tran. He adapted the traditional Sriracha recipe to use California’s red jalapeño peppers. In the 1980s it was a small family run operation that distributed locally. Ever since the first batch was sold he struggled to keep up with the demand. Within several years, the operation had scaled to the size of a corporate manufacturing facility. Today, Huy Fong Foods outsources their red jalapeño peppers to Underwood Farms, located just north of Los Angeles. Huy Fong Foods Sriracha meteoric rise in the culinary world is rather impressive, considering the lack of marketing the company has done to promote its products.

Sarah Lohman © Tatsuya Aoki for WhereNYC

It is a common but very poignant story of immigrants and Americans traveling abroad who brought new flavors and ideas of cuisine. As new communities arrive, mix and evolve, the flavors change and so does the American palate. With each new inspiration, the notion of traditional cuisine evolves molds with other cultures. Like a melting pot of many ingredients, the eight flavors featured Sarah Lohman’s book fit like a mosaic of different cultures blending into one identity.