Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Craft Beer Cultural Exchange: East Meets West

Not long ago, So Cal Craft Beer traveled to the New England Seashore, with stops in Connecticut, Cape Cod, New Hampshire, and Maine.

Sipping a Sam Adams Oktoberfest
in October with friends at Sundancers
in West Dennis, Cape Cod
Part of our mission was to share the good news of California Craft Beer with those who may not yet have seen the light. The other part of our mission was to discover what New England has to offer in the way of craft beer.

The mission was not without its flaws: almost all of our California offerings had to be made in the form of bottled beer, which favors breweries of a certain size and scale to pull off. We couldn't share esoteric casks or firkins from Ladyface, but we were VERY happy to be able to share some of our favorites from Firestone-Walker, Bear Republic, Ballast Point, Sierra Nevada, and Lagunitas (see photo, above).

I'd like to make a special mention of Philadelphia-based distributor Origlio Beverage, who makes these beers and others, like Russian River and Great Divide, available all over the Eastern Seaboard.

New England Standouts
Ipswitch and Clown Shoes (links to a great interview with the Head Brewer, Dan Lipke) appear to be separate brands under the umbrella of Mercury Brewing in Ipswitch, Massachusetts. A current favorite from Clown Shoes is Muffin Top, a 10% ABV Belgian-style Tripel IPA hybrid -- just the right balance of fizz, hops, and rich flavor.

Cisco from Nantucket has room for improvement, Smuttynose from New Hampshire can do no wrong, and Magic Hat from Vermont is a contender. We were introduced to Shipyard from Maine at a beer tasting on the West Coast back in 2010 -- they've got pretty good distribution througout the country. Their Pugsley's XXXX IPA is over the top (and we're fans of BIG IPAs, like Ballast Point's Sculpin), but their milder beers, such as Old Thumper, are eminently worthy -- and because Maine and blueberries are as synonymous as Maine and lobster, it's good to see they've got a Pugsley's Smashed Blueberry, which is on the Porter/Scotch Ale end of the spectrum -- delicious as a dessert beer on a cool night.

Thanks to Tim and Brucie Wright (New Hampshire), Peter Wright, Lee Stivers, and Missy Engelhard (Maine), Don and Julie Macnary (Cape Cod), and Tom and Madora Koehne and Andrew and Macgregor Onderdonk (Connecticut) for hosting and participating in numerous tastings, which were all a lot of fun.

Reel Inn at Malibu: A Piece of Heaven, with Beer and Seafood

(originally posted at Ventura Craft Beer Examiner on April 29, 2010)

The Reel Inn is just what you want a seaside fish and beer shack to be: "a rustic, casual place to grab some fresh fish and a brew after a day at the beach." It's almost a miracle that such places still exist. The Inn is located at the southern end of Malibu, where Topanga Canyon empties out onto the Pacific Coast Highway.

Courtesy of the Reel Inn Facebook Page
The menu is extensive, featuring fresh-caught fare such as ahi tuna, mahi-mahi, salmon, tilapia, red snapper, and halibut, all of which are on display while you wait in line. You place your order, they throw it on the grill, and then it's yours, with two sides and some coleslaw. There's also fish and chips, fried shrimp and scallops, and the dish that made the Reel Inn famous 28 years ago: "epic" fish tacos.

An assortment of popular bottled beers and five draught beers are available, the best of which is Newcastle Ale. Brewed in the north of England, where the Tyne meets the sea, Newcastle is a brown ale, made with a combination of light and dark malts. Because fewer hops are used in the brewing process, the taste is less bitter and more creamy-smooth. Hops are the bright green, cone-shaped female flowers from a climbing herb called humulus lupulus in Latin.

While the Reel Inn is a cozy mellow place in the winter -- Herman Melville might have felt at home here -- it's crazy and busy on the weekends when the sun is out and the crowds are getting their tan on. Luckily, the Inn provides weekend valet parking, so if you don't mind a bit of a wait, parking's not a problem.

And it's worth the wait. The view from the outdoor dining patio is magical. As a hawk lifts off the cliffs of Topanga Canyon, one is transported back to the days of the condor, when the Hokan-speaking people of Malibu met their Shoshone-speaking pals from the Valley to trade fish stories and crafts, and enjoy the sound of the surf. Coincidentally, that's what humaliwo (shortened by Spanish and English speakers to Malibu) means in the local dialect. Topanga translates as "close to heaven" in the Valley dialect, and that's where you'll be, with a pint on the patio of the Reel Inn.