Sunday, March 28, 2010

Craftsman Brewery

There's an odd micro-brew black hole in California centered right on Los Angeles and Orange County. There are dozens of small commercial breweries from Santa Barbara up to the Oregon border and more than a handful south of the Orange Curtain. But in LA? I know of three--Angel City Brewery and Eagle Rock Brewery in Los Angeles and Craftsman Brewing Company in Pasadena. There are no doubt others but none have achieved the market penetration (however modest) of the aforementioned.

I wonder why that is? Is it not a beer town? The rise of beer-loaded gastropubs would suggest otherwise. Maybe it's too expensive? Too much bureaucracy in the county? I would think that there's a ready market for unique local beers and there are empty warehouses waiting to be filled with malt and hops by ambitious entrepreneurs.

Despite Angel City's eye-catching billboard and seeming attempts to position itself as the Anchor Steam of Los Angeles, it's Pasadena's Craftsman Brewing Company that seems to have found its way into the most restaurants and reached the most esteem among the beer cognoscenti.

Some friends were in town from Chicago and had heard of Craftsman. They called ahead for a tour and we met up with owner Mark at the brewery--a couple of roll-up garages in an industrial business park in northern Pasadena. The brewery is not open to the public per se but call ahead and if the schedule's not too packed they're happy to chat about their beers for a bit.

The brewery is small, but it's packed with fermenters and mash tuns which are constantly going to keep up with ever-increasing demand. Craftsman just recently picked up a distributor, prior to that Mark made deliveries himself in his vintage pickup. We had a good chat with the brewery staff: owner Mark, head brewer Todd and his assistant whose name escapes me, alas. All very friendly.

Craftsman makes three beers regularly, all excellent. The 1903 Pre-Prohibition style lager is fantastic, and their top seller. They also make a light, aromatic "Hevenly Hefe" in the Bavarian style and a nice golden English Pale Ale--one of the best of its kind. At any given time they have another six or so seasonal brews or one-offs. We tried two of those, the winter seasonal Cabernale, a lager mixed with juice from Texas Cabernet Sauvignon grapes and a sour Saison-tyle ale that was delicious.

Check out their beers when you have the chance. Nothing in bottles yet but these spots all have several Craftsman beers on draft:

Mission Wines

Lucky Baldwin's

The York


Craftsman Brewing Company
1260 Lincoln Ave, Unit 100
Pasadena, Ca 91103

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Mixology Was Bad Enough

I love beer. Despite my personal and professional obsession with wine, beer is often a more honest and satisfying beverage. It's like Jay-Z said: "Got a project chick, that plays her part / And if it goes down y'all that's my heart." Parades of Burgundies and Bordeaux and Wachaus and Riojas are fine for a hot night at the club, but if the shit hits the fan, man-- a Guinness, Pabst, Hite, Lagunitas IPA--well damn.

But it's still just fucking beer.

I was at a big trade wine tasting the other day and overheard a dumpy white dude in a suit (who wears a suit to a trade tasting in LA?) telling (bragging?) to a not-quite-as-dumpy white chick in jeans and a strappy top that he was a "Certified Beer Educator."

I really wanted to teabag him right then and there. Just unzip, jump up, and ::thwap::

I already have such limited esteem for a "Certified Wine Educator" since, largely, certifying organizations are just self-perpetuating bureaucracies at best and pyramid schemes at worst/in most cases.

But at least with wine there is an enormous breadth of distinct product to cover. There are 2000+ different varietals of wine grapes, plus geometric expansion of those varietals into blends. And there are nearly infinite variations in the soil where the grapes are grown. Then throw in an hour seminar on winemaking. So right there you have at least a semester-long course in the basics.

A beer class would have none of the above, except for maybe a two hour seminar on brewing techniques. All beers have the same ingredients: barley and/or wheat (and in cheaper beers, other cereal grains); one (or several) of about eight major hop varietals; one of a handful of yeasts; water. By virtue of the brewing process, wherein all of the above are cooked together (except for the yeast and sometimes the hops) terroir expressiveness is eliminated.

What you have instead is an expressiveness of a cultural history, which is fantastic and awesome, but it's not something that can be transported, it's something to be experienced on location. If you drink a well-made wine from the Rheingau in Los Angeles you're experiencing a small part of the actual Rheingau. Drinking a Belgian beer in Los Angeles you're not experiencing Belgium. Having a Belgian beer in Bruges you're experiencing Belgium to a higher degree.

Throwing beer up on a pedestal is in the same class of disingenuous foodie douchebaggery as "gourmet" burgers and academic discussions about pizza. Beer, burgers, and pizza are all delicious and can be made really really well. But you can't really fail at beer, burgers and pizza either--I mean really fail. They can be disappointing or mediocre, but they can't fail.

Or, more accurately, beer, burgers and pizza only fail when ambition overshoots their humble purpose. A $16 burger is more likely to fail than a $3 burger. So it is with beer. I've yet to have a cheap beer that was bad. Mostly, cheap beer just tastes like dirty water--often water that tastes better than the Zone 7 shit I grew up with. But sometimes expensive beers served in wine bottles aggro-ed out with four separate hop treatments, a fistful of wormwood, and some cardamom, can fail spectacularly.

Let's all just calm down and like what we like because we like it. It's just food, it's just beer, hell it's just wine. It's meant to make our lives more pleasurable and more interesting. Don't turn that crucial, personal right over to some shlub who shelled out $200 for a few classes so he can get piece of paper. Great! Now he can make $14.75/hr. assistant managing at the Yard House instead of $14.15.

A certified beer expert is about as interesting to me as a certified handjob expert. And just about as hard to become.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Demand the Best

After an unremarkable dinner at a very nice restaurant in a very nice hotel in Huntington Beach, I was reminded that we as consumers have a long way to go.

The restaurant wasn't cheap--it wasn't crazy expensive either--and it wasn't bad. But its ingredients sucked and were inelegantly prepared.

Based on the pleasant smiles on the sea of middle-aged white people eating, though, it didn't matter.

Do you really not realize that the lobster is overcooked and rubbery? The salmon is farmed Atlantic? Most of your produce isn't fresh or in season? Your coffee is sour and your desserts are frozen?

All of the above would be acceptable at Chili's for Chili's prices, but at a restaurant considered one of the OC's best?

Come on!

Oh, and then there was the wine list. With exception of the sparkling wines it was 100% California and the whites listed "chardonnay," "sauvignon blanc" and graciously "other whites." That last group? All of four additional California wines. The reds? "Merlot," "pinot noir," "cabernet sauvignon" and "other reds." That last category had all of five or six wines. It was the most asinine and myopic wine list I've ever seen at a reputable restaurant. Honestly, it was fucking shameful.

But whose responsibility is it? Does the consumer need to demand better? Or do the stewards and gatekeepers need to take the lead and make the effort to expand the palates of their customers?

I would argue the latter. The public palate is a massive oil tanker. It needs tugboats and pilots to get it out of safe harbor and into open waters.

If, as a wine and food professional, you merely respond to what your customers want, you're going to be fucked when that giant ship finally does change course. But if you push your customers, they'll follow you for who you are, not just what you sell.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

An Easy Meal To Get You Laid

They say the quickest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. This is incorrect. As any ninja who keeps up with the trends will tell you, the quickest way to a man’s heart is a quick jab through the sternum.

However, the quickest way into a woman’s pants is through her stomach, because women like to eat. That is also something a ninja will tell you if you get a couple sakes in him.

So in the interest of everybody getting their hands dirty in the kitchen before getting them dirtier in the bedroom, I humbly submit an easy and delicious pre-coital meal:

Oven-Roasted Pork Tenderloin, White Potatoes, and Broccoli.

The oven gets a bad rap since it doesn’t have the immediate gratification of visible flames. But oven cooking rocks. It’s clean and easy and you can cook multiple things at once. It does take a little extra time because indirect heat, like a Frenchman, is inefficient.

0. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

1. Get yourself a roasting pan or Pyrex baking dish. Lube it up with some olive oil.

2. Cut up 6-8 medium sized white potatoes. Halve or quarter them depending on the size. Place them in the roasting pan. Throw some salt, pepper, and a little more oil on the potatoes.

3. Remove the tenderloin from its packaging. Try not to make penis jokes.

4. Rub tenderloin with olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano, basil and rosemary. Or herbs de provence. Or any meat-oriented herb rub. Again, refrain from dick jokes.

5. Place tenderloin in the roasting pan on/around the potatoes.

6. Throw the whole mess in the oven. Set a timer to check on it in 30 minutes.

7. Grab a bowl. Throw in broccoli florets (probably 2 crowns’ worth).

8. Chop 4-5 cloves of garlic. Add to broccoli.

9. Drizzle broccoli and garlic with olive oil. Add a big pinch of salt.

10. Mix it up and evenly coat the broccoli and garlic.

11. Arrange the broccoli evenly on a baking sheet.

12. After 30 minutes have gone by with the pork, put the broccoli sheet in the oven on the top rack. Bake for 10-15 more minutes.

13. By bake 10-15 more minutes I mean “bake until done.” 40-45 minutes should be enough, but go ahead and cut halfway through the tenderloin at the thickest part. If its not pink but still juicy, you’re good to go. Take it out of the oven. Take the broccoli out too.

14. Let the pan sit for 5 minutes or so.

15. Take the pork out of the pan and slice into medallions on a cutting board. For two, you probably only need to cut half of the tenderloin. Save the rest for a special occasion, like Flag Day.

16. Arrange your food on two plates, half the potatoes, half the broccoli and 3-4 pork medallions on each.

17. Enjoy with a medium-bodied red wine. I’d recommend a domestic Pinot Noir, a red blend from Portugal, or a Southern Rhone.

18. Get it on.

19. Wake up the next morning with shame on your face and make the long walk home (but don’t forget your leftover tenderloin).