A California​n Belgian Beer

American craft brewers are increasingly looking abroad for brewing inspiration, knowledge, and experience.  Sierra Nevada, the nation’s second largest microbrewery, recently released its Ovila Dubbel, brewed in collaboration with the monks of the Abbey of New Clairveaux.

This joint effort between brewery and monastery – both located in central California roughly 20 miles from each other – will produce three Belgian style beers that will partly contribute to restoring the abbey’s Ovila Chapter House, which stood in Spain between the 12th Century and 1931, when it was purchased by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, who dismantled parts of the House with the intention of using them for his estate at Wyntoon, located in north-central California’s woodlands.  Traditionally, the Chapter House “was the place where the monks came to encounter God by listening to the Word that came through the Rule, talks, conferences, and sermons.” 

Each of the three beers will be released in 2011 by season: the Dubbel, recently available, for springtime; the Saison for summer; and their Quad for autumn.  In the spirit of true collaboration, a portion of the sales of this series will be used to reconstruct the Chapter House as it originally stood in Spain.

Domestic craft brewers have drawn inspiration from European brewers before.  In 2009 Sam Adams and Germany’s Weihenstephan Brewery jointly produced Infinium, a champagne-like beer produced according to Germany’s centuries-old Reinheitsgebot.  I treated myself to a bottle last summer and wasn’t too impressed.  The beer was indeed refreshing but far too carbonated and bitter for my taste.

Likewise, the Ovila Dubbel disappointed.  True to its name, the beer was thick and strong, which was to be expected.  Yet its flavors – malty, toasty, and a bit bready – were contrasting rather than complimentary, producing a sharp, harsh, and overly heavy taste.  The disappointing taste made it difficult to finish the large 750 milliliter bottle, another nod to the beer’s Belgian aspirations.

I haven’t given up hope in Sierra Nevada’s Ovila project and am still looking forward to their two additional beers.  Hopefully my disappointment with the dubbel will be forgotten when the Saison and Quad are released.  I’ll remain optimistic American microbrewers can eventually replicate the quality Europeans have taken hundreds of years to achieve.  I’m sure they will have figured it out by summer.

Published in: on April 29, 2011 at 11:21 pm  Comments (3)  
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Havana Calling

I’ve been visiting the Caribbean for vacation on a near-annual basis for close to a decade now.  From various cities in the Dominican Republic to several stops on a cruise along Mexico’s east coast and even to Florida’s Key West.  Its proximity and comforting familiarity have, at times, dissuaded me from venturing to less convenient travel destinations.  But thankfully, the gentle Caribbean breezes and soothing ocean sounds have not completely eliminated my desire to travel elsewhere; I’ve still managed to see much of Europe and the Middle East, as well as Australia, since I first ventured south to the Caribbean’s relaxing environs.

But there is one destination I have yet to see:  Cuba.  This is, of course, because most Americans cannot legally travel to Cuba.  The short history: following the 1959 Cuban revolution, the new government – led by Fidel Castro – began nationalizing American assets and property in the early 1960s.  The Kennedy Administration responded by imposing a severely restrictive trade embargo on the communist outpost less than 100 miles from Florida’s coast.  Of those sanctions, most relevant to our discussion is the U.S. Treasury Department’s Cuban Assets Control Regulations, which still remains in force and prohibits conducting any commercial activities with Cuba.  This “commercial activities” prohibition amounts to a de facto travel ban because it’s impossible to travel, eat, or sleep without spending some amount of money.

The embargo, however, is not absolute and several exceptions have been carved out over the years.  One of the lesser-known exceptions permits limited and sanctioned educational exchanges; it was through one such exchange trip that my wife was able to visit the tiny communist nation several years ago.  Yet I only have second-hand experience.  I have only seen pictures of the ancient 1950s automobiles, of the bat sitting atop the original Bacardi factory, of the billboard espousing diesel gasoline as “The Fuel of the Future.”  I have only heard of Varadaro’s pristine white sand, of Havana Club’s delicious, smooth, and sweet taste.

While I can’t yet legally see these sights with my own eyes, a quick duck into the Duty Free Shop on the way home from a recent trip to the Dominican Republic put a bottle of Havana Club, the rare Cuban rum, in my hands.  Havana Club is rare because the Cuban rum – produced in Havana – is banned from being imported into the states under the trade embargo.  Thankfully U.S. Customs and Immigrations officials weren’t too concerned when I declared my bottle after landing from the return flight; apparently a bottle or two doesn’t raise any red flags.

The embargo can’t end too soon, in my opinion.  Want to speed up Cuba’s transition to democracy?  Give the Cubans a taste of freedom via McDonald’s, Cap’n Crunch, and Coca Cola;  it worked with the Russians.  But until our policy on Cuba changes, I’ll have to enjoy my single bottle slowly, sipping it only on warm days, when the breeze blows slowly and coolly, just like it does over the Caribbean’s crystal clear waters.

Published in: on April 27, 2011 at 11:32 pm  Comments (2)  
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A Caribbean Retreat

Last week I took a long-needed week off from work and blogging to spend eight wonderfully luxurious days in the Dominican Republic – a favorite vacation destination.  So  I packed up the family for a week of relaxation: to the enjoy the pristine beaches lining the bright blue Caribbean Sea, the endless amounts of delicious food – and more importantly, drink – and some beach reading to flush out the daily grind of documents, spreadsheets, and PowerPoint slides.

The week – our eighth trip to the island of Hispaniola – was perfect: gorgeous, clear, blue skies with temperatures hovering in the low 80s, a light ocean breeze gently blowing through the ubiquitous palm trees.  Bottomless glasses of chilled rum and ice cold Dominican beer were readily available at any time of the day.  All in the midst of bouncy, tropical bachata music, played throughout the resort and its environs.   In all, a paradise without deadlines, schedules, and traffic.

A plethora of choices provided much inspiration for this blog throughout the week: local beer such as Presidente and Brahma, both light and refreshing Dominican lagers; short glasses of local dark rum, poured over ice, which I had not enjoyed with such gusto on previous visits; and Café Diablo, the dark, spiced coffee and liquor concoction I prefer as dessert.

At week’s end, we were of course sad to leave.  Yet I was able to leave the island on a happy note, where inside the airport’s duty free store I bought a bottle of Havana Club rum, the authentic Cuban spirit that is not available in the states.  Even better was the bottle’s incredibly inexpensive price.

I’ll draw upon the memories of this past week’s drinking to write a few posts in the coming weeks.  For now, keep your fingers crossed that spring will truly begin and cold weather will not return again until autumn.

Published in: on April 21, 2011 at 10:16 am  Comments (4)  
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Coffee Shops: The Anti-Bar

The Atlantic published an article today entitled Working Best at Coffee Shops, which postulated that white collar professionals – especially telecommuters – can be “most efficient in noisy public places with lots of distractions.”  To support this proposition, the article quoted two notable authors – novelist Ernest Hemingway and modern social scientist Malcolm Gladwell – who stated they too were highly productive when writing in restaurants and cafes.

This got me thinking: if working remotely in coffee shops via wireless internet connections, smart phones, and laptops is becoming commonplace, does that mean bars will become the opposite?  In other words, will people seek out bars, pubs, and taverns as places of refuge from working life, professional obligations, and especially, technology?  Might bars finally become the one place where we disconnect from our social networks and virtual relationships?

Historically speaking, the coffee house and the public house have always held opposite roles in social life.  Coffee houses were places of rationality, where innovation, speculation, and debate thrived among the clear-headed thinkers, scientists, and academics.  Tom Standage, in his book A History of the World in 6 Glasses, makes this point early in his text.  “Coffee house discussions led to the establishment of scientific societies, the founding of newspapers, the establishment of financial institutions, and provided fertile ground for revolutionary thought, especially in France.  Such is clearly not the case for bars, taverns, or pubs – at least not in my experience.  In fact, such activities – rational thought, innovation, and reasoned debate – are precisely what are absent when a glass of beer, wine, or liquor is poured.  Instead, joyous and noisy revelry is commonplace; disagreements, which are oftentimes completely senseless, are settled with irrationality, physical violence, or more simply, another round.

Yet bars’ lack of productivity is nothing other than absolute fun.  Perhaps coffee shops will become more and more like remote office spaces: cubicles lacking walls but not the tethers of technology.  So maybe when seeking a drink to end the workday – regardless of where you work – we will stow our electronic devices and focus more on those around us and the drink before us.  And rather than “liking” that snarky online comment while at the bar, we’ll choose instead to simply “like” another drink.

Published in: on April 19, 2011 at 10:26 pm  Comments (1)  
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Best Wife Ever

The perfect dessert to end a delicious meal of decadent French cuisine.  I also hope the next 25 years will be as amazing as the first five have been.

Published in: on April 7, 2011 at 10:27 pm  Comments (4)  
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