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February 29, 2008

Philly Beer 101

On Tuesday, we attended “Philly Beer 101,” a beer-appreciation class taught by Don Russell (aka Joe Sixpack) at the Trolley Car Diner in Mt. Airy. “This thirst-quenching course takes you through the confusing choices with a focus on the best values in the local beer scene. We’ll discuss the people behind the breweries, the styles they make, great beer bars and pairing your favorites with great food.” Herewith some random notes on the evening.

He served us some Miller Lite first, which he used to demonstrate the marked contrast between its feeble flavor and the more-robust beers to follow.

He then continued by explaining the two great branches of beer taxonomy, ales and lagers. The first pair of lagers were Sly Fox’s Pikeland Pils and Troeg’s Troegenator. Here were two lagers that taste vastly different. He noted that the Philly area is rich with great pilsners (Victory and Stoudt’s also make one).

Next were two ales, Yards Philly Pale Ale and Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA (an “Imperial” IPA with 9% ABV, twice as much as the Yards!). These beers were similar in flavor, but at opposite ends of the bitterness/hoppiness scale. I love Dogfish Head’s 60 Minute, but the 90 Minute was a little too much for me.

Moving on to the Belgian styles, Don noted that Philly boasts many places with fine selections of Belgian beers. He served us Flying Fish’s Belgian Abbey Double and Yards Saison. I liked both of these a lot (how can you not like a saison—they are so refreshing), but was surprised that I loved the Abbey Double, which wasn’t too malty and sweet for my taste.

Stoudt’s Winter Ale was next and this was my favorite beer of the evening. Victory’s Baltic Thunder was next. It was introduced recently to some fanfare, and while it wasn’t bad, it was the first Victory brew that I didn’t think was perfect. Something about the balance didn’t seem right, and I think I still prefer Three Floyds Christmas Porter and Fuller’s London Porter.

Don classified Dogfish Head’s Raison D’Etre as a brown ale, but it wasn’t at all what I expected. To me, it tasted “Belgian” i.e., malty. Weyerbacher’s Blithering Idiot is a barleywine with 11% ABV (the highest in this group). This was my first barleywine and for me at this point, I would have to classify it as an acquired taste.

In between the tastings, Don wove a spellbinding (to me, at least) commentary on each beer, embroidering each description with innumerable facts and figures. We also received an excellent handout with 24 recommended bars and a list of about 30 beer styles each with a representative example.

After class, Don was selling copies of his book, Joe Sixpack’s Philly Beer Guide, which was just released. I think the title says it all, although there’s also excellent coverage of the surrounding counties and even two places in New Jersey. I bought a copy, of course.

This class will be held one more time on March 25. It is already sold out, but you can add your name to the waiting list. I had a great time.

Tomorrow, it’s the Philly Craft Beer Festival as Tony’s Beer Month continues. Cheers!


Thanks for the follow-up! Very interesting! I've had a lot of those beers. There are so many good brews in Philly! I think that Dogfish Head and Victory makes some of my favorites. Though I do love that Sly Fox Stout! yum!!

i'm a big fan of the raison d'etre. soooo good especially for a high ABV (i think 8%) beer. i find that many high ABV beers are too alcoholy without enough craft going into the flavor of the beer.

February 25, 2008

Culinary Breakthroughs: Pasta Water

Yes, pasta water—that unappetizing gray soup I’ve been flushing down the drain all these years. Now I am convinced it’s a miracle ingredient. What happened?

When I read Heat (Bill Buford's memoir of learning to cook professionally at Mario Batali’s Babbo), I was intrigued by his description of the restaurant’s pasta water, which, after several hours turned into “a sauce thickener, binding the elements and, in effect, flavoring the pasta with the flavor of itself.” He thought it should be bottled and sold. The starchy water combines with the dish’s sauce and helps it cling to the pasta: “It was no longer linguine, exactly; it had changed color and texture and become something else... This, I thought, is the equivalent of bread soaked in gravy.”

Intriguing, yes, but I didn’t get it until last night when we made shrimp scampi from a recipe in Saveur (recipe). The last step has you adding some reserved pasta water and cooking until “sauce has thickened slightly, 1–2 minutes more.” I can’t say I noticed much thickening, but the linguine was evenly coated with a heavenly blend of butter, wine, seasonings, and shrimp juices, transforming the pasta and producing the same effect Buford described. I have always loved pasta, but now I am looking at it in a whole new way. Try the recipe yourself (it’s easy) and be swept away.


Yes, yes, yes. My magical moment came through the only pasta dish I really cook -- linguine with white clam sauce -- but the revelation was the same. That last step, in which one condenses and concentrates the sauce, is key.

What a brilliant idea. I am gonna have to try that in the near future. I assume this is in place of corn starch/flour.

What a neat idea! I'm not a seafood person, but I'll try this the next time I make a pasta dish (which should be any day now, as I am a legendarily lazy cook and pasta = insta-meal).

Matt, interesting that in the book, Buford’s pasta-water epiphany was linguine with clams.
lcsa99, I don’t really understand the chemistry, but I think the pasta water helps the sauce cling to the pasta as much as thickening it. I mean it does thicken the sauce, but the cool part is the way the sauce coats the entire strand of pasta. Maybe traditional thickeners (corn starch/flour) would do the same thing, but the simplicity of using the pasta water appeals to me.

It was good to know about the pasta water which was a miracle ingredient. Most pasta is made from durum wheat flour and contains protein and carbohydrates. It is a good source of slow-release energy and has the additional advantage of being value for money. It takes little time, but is quite easy and well worth the effort.

I always make carbonara with pasta water, not with cream. Fry lardons, add pasta water. When cooled stir in an egg and grate in parmesan. That;'s it

Rich, I've never made carbonara myself and more importantly never used lardons (although we save our bacon fat). I'll have to try that; it sounds delicious.

How amazing, and it's obvious when you think of it. We'll definitely be trying this. A couple of teaspoons of french mustard also works well in the spag/other pasta sauce - but this is "free".

great idea
a couple of teaspoons of french mustard in pasta / spaghetti sauce also works, but pasta water is "free"

February 21, 2008

Lunar Eclipse

Tried watching the lunar eclipse last night, but my distance vision has really deteriorated in the last two years and that took most of the awe out of the experience. (My new glasses are ready, and I’m picking them up Saturday.) I tried taking a picture of it, but as you can see, that didn’t work out so well either. The effort reminded me how quickly the sky changes as we hurtle through space. Even with a shutter speed as short as 1/2 second, the stars were elongated by the earth’s motion. This was my best compromise: 1/3 second, f/4 at ISO 320.

Lunar Eclipse


I think the problem can be also with the camera. zou need some special kind of camera for that.

Max, You’re probably right, or at least one with a much longer lens and higher ISO.

February 15, 2008

Beer Week Schedule

Philly Beer Week is less than a month away. There are well over 80 events, and I have been struggling to decide which ones will best advance my malty education. Some decisions were easy. For example, I have avoided all the dinners featuring multiple courses and beer pairings. Typically, it’s all I can do to finish my entrée, let alone eat six courses. Even though I listed something on almost every day, there’s no way I have the stamina to attend every event on this list. Since I won’t actually be attending all these events, I attempted to rank them (see number in parentheses). I hope to go to the first four or five, although most of them are already sold out.

The Philly Beer Week site has details on all the events, and the Beeryard has all the events arranged in calendar format. See also Beer Radar (Joe Sixpack/Don Russell), the Brew Lounge, and Seen Through a Glass (Lew Bryson) for more info.

Saturday, March 1
Philadelphia Craft Beer Festival (1)
We went to this last year and had a great time. I concentrated on IPA tastings (I had never liked hoppy beers before), and now that’s my favorite style.
Friday, March 7
Beer and Cheese: A Victorious Combo (3) [SOLD OUT]
Tria’s Fermentation School
1601 Walnut Street
7:30 p.m. $50
Victory Brewing Company's Bill Covaleski and Tria's own Michael McCaulley match artisanal cheese to Victory's brews.
Saturday, March 8
Sunday, March 9
Belgian Beer Basics Class (2) [SOLD OUT]
with Tom Peters
Monk’s Café
264 South 16th St
2 p.m. $25
Not a big Belgian fan. I was hoping this would nudge me out of my comfort zone.
Monday, March 10
Go Yeast, Young Man (9) [SOLD OUT]
Tria’s Fermentation School
1601 Walnut St.
6:30 p.m. $45
“Legendary craft brewer Larry Bell of Michigan's Bell's Brewery explores that important beer ingredient that we can’t see, but can often taste in ales—yeast.” Bell’s beers are a favorite.
Tuesday, March 11
Meet the Brewer Night (8)
“Drop in at taverns throughout the city to meet the craftsmen and who make your favorite ales and lagers!”
Wednesday, March 12
Philly-Area Beer: Yeah, We've Got That (5)
TJ's Everyday
35 Paoli Plaza, Paoli
$25 for food; pay-as-you-go for beer.
“...a wild waltz through the full breadth of beer produced by local brewers”
Thursday, March 13
A Bitter Bite with Joe Sixpack (4)
Jose Pistola’s
263 S. 15th St.
Hop heaven.
Friday, March 14
Saturday, March 15
Michael Jackson: The Man and His Legacy (6)
19th Annual Tutored Tasting at Penn Museum
Chinese Rotunda and Upper Egyptian Gallery
Benefitting the Penn Museum's research programs
Annenberg Box Office - 215-898-3900
$45 per guest; $40 for Museum members
Sunday, March 16
Real Ale Festival (7)
Sponsored by Yards Brewing and Triumph Brewing
Triumph Brewing Company
117 Chestnut St.
1-4 p.m. Tix TBA.


I'm so looking forward to this event! and maybe even shooting video. Beer geeks galore! Maybe a beer death match between Yards and new upstart rival Phila Brewing Company.

John, I'm looking forward to seeing some video from you and eager to compare Yards and new Phila Brewing. STILL trying to get my Beer Week schedule and tickets in some kind of order.

February 1, 2008

CARS on Hiatus

Today is the saddest day in my Mac life since Apple killed HyperCard (and that scar still stings, lemme tell ya). After today, Crazy Apple Rumors will go on hiatus. I will miss John Moltz’ precision-guided satire, pitch-perfect ear for the vernacular, flawless comedic timing (accurate to the femtosecond), not to mention his vivid and delightfully-depraved imagination. I have so many favorite CARS episodes that I’ll just mention the first one that made me laugh so hard tears were streaming down my face: “Michael Dell Receives Industry Wedgie” from way back in December, 2001.

Time to don my mourning weeds and pour a nice tall glass of Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale in his memory. Hey wait, it’s not like he’s dead. He’s just taking a vacation! Lighten up, get a grip, for crying out loud! OK, OK, I’m fine. Still sad, though. I guess I’ll just have to depend on for laughs. Brilliant as that is, it’s just not the same. Here’s to the speedy return of John Moltz.