American Craft Beer Fest – New England Brewers Are Hopping

American Craft Beer FestOK, full disclosure (in case you haven’t read our story): The Two Palaverers was the name of a tavern in colonial Boston. Though The Two Palaverers is no longer with us, more than a few colonial taverns still dot the New England landscape. Many of the remaining ones are tastefully preserved, but their taps have run dry.

Fortunately, the contemporary New England brew scene is far from running dry. Recently, we had a chance to visit the American Craft Beer Fest at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston. Our intent was to taste every New England brew we could find.  Though we’ve been hunting down craft beers for years, we had the pleasure of being chaperoned by our brother-in-law from Vermont, one of the most passionate craft beer guys we know. We used to think he came down to visit us because he enjoyed Massachusetts, but soon realized it was all a front as he was really just looking for an excuse to get to Andover Liquors, one of the better craft beer retailers in New England.

Cape Ann Brewing Co.
Tom Ryan - Cape Ann Brewing

Here’s the summary: all six New England states are brewing – and brewing well. There is, fortunately, no uniform style. We found IPAs, porters, stouts, lagers, wheat beers, summer ales, etc. If you like your hops beyond the level of an IPA, you’ll have choices there, too. New England beer is like New England herself: historic, diverse, and never boring.

We’d also like to call-out and thank fellow New Englanders Jason and Todd Alström, founders of BeerAdvocate. These brothers, in our opinion, are doing great things not just for New England brewing but for beer in general. In addition to running an informative web site, BeerAdvocate hosted the American Craft Brew Fest. They also wrote one of the best pieces on New England beer that we’ve read. Thanks guys.

-The Two Palaverers

Here is a sampling of New England brewers at the Craft American Brew Fest:

Connecticut

New England Brewing Company (Woodbridge)
Olde Burnside Brewing Company (East Hartford)
Thomas Hooker Brewing Company (Bloomfield)

Maine

Allagash Brewing Company (Portland)
Geary Brewing Company (Portland)
Gritty McDuff’s Brewing Company (Portland)
Kennebec River Brewery (The Forks)
Peak Organic Brewing Company (Portland)
Sebago Brewing Company (Gorham)
Shipyard Brewing Company (Portland)

Massachusetts

Berkshire Brewing Company (South Deerfield)
Blue Hills Brewery (Canton)
Boston Beer Company (Boston)
Cambridge Brewing Company (Cambridge)
Cape Ann Brewing Company (Gloucester)
Cape Cod Beer (Hyannis)
Cisco Brewers (Nantucket)
Clown Shoes Beer (Ipswich)
Cody Brewing Company (Amesbury)
Element Brewing Company (Millers Falls)
Gardner Ale House (Gardner)
Harpoon Brewery (Boston)
Haverhill Brewery (Haverhill)
High & Mighty Beer Company (Holyoke)
John Harvard’s Brew House (Cambridge & Framingham)
Just Beer Brewing Company (Westport)
Mayflower Brewing Company (Plymouth)
New Century Brewing Company (Boston)
Offshore Ale Company (Oak Bluffs)
Opa-Opa Steakhouse & Brewery (Southampton)
Paper City Brewing Company (Holyoke)
Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project (Cambridge)
Rapscallion Brewery (Bedford)
Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery (Boston)
Wachusett Brewing Company (Westminster)
Wormtown Brewing Company (Worcester)

New Hampshire

Flying Goose Brew Pub & Grille (New London)
Martha’s Exchange (Nashua)
Redhook Ale Brewery (Portsmouth)
Smuttynose Brewing Company (Portsmouth)
Tuckerman Brewing Company (Conway)
White Birch Brewing (Hooksett)
Woostock Inn Brewery (North Woodstock)

Rhode Island

Coastal Extreme Brewing Company (Newport)
Narragansett Brewing Company (Providence)
Trinity Beer Company (Providence)

Vermont

Hill Farmstead Brewery (Greensboro Bend)
Long Trail Brewing Company (Bridgewater Corners)
Magic Hat Brewing Company (South Burlington)
McNeill’s Brewery (Brattleboro)
Otter Creek Brewing / Wolaver’s (Middlebury)

Please note that some local brewers were not there, but many other excellent non-New England brewers were.

Photos credit: The Two Palaverers

Highway Raw-Bar-y

We love oysters. Even better, we’re spoiled by some great offerings from five of our six New England states. (Sorry Vermont.) What’s so interesting is that even though most of our oysters share a common ancestry, they truly take on the characteristics of where they grow. Call it “bivalve terroir.” For us, it provides a different dining experience, as we taste offerings all the way from Damariscotta in Maine to Ned’s Island in Connecticut.  We find that mignonette sauce, rather than cocktail sauce, amplifies these regional characteristics and brings the oyster experience to a new level.

New England Oysters
New England Oysters and Local Brew

Because we can reach the coast of all five New England oysters states in less than 90 minutes, getting fresh shellfish is never an issue. Having children who know how to shuck makes it even better because we can relax on the deck with a bottle of Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine or a local craft brew such as a Harpoon Brewery UFO Hefeweizen. Not surprisingly, our children love oysters too, so our “shuck tax” is about 50 percent. (Note: (1) we only buy from trusted sources and (2) our children were held off until they were older.)

This all sounds great, right? We can end our little oyster tale now on a positive note, but we’re not going to do that. Why? Because we also like going out for oysters. Here’s the rub: we are seeing escalating prices – $3.50 per oyster – at many venues that have raw bars. Let’s do some math. We pay $0.99 retail per oyster, which means wholesale price is likely around $0.50. Even with labor and reasonable discard, how can establishments justify a 600% markup? Restaurant wines don’t command this premium. We’ve been paying about $2.50 per oyster in New York City.

C’mon folks, why such a “raw” deal on one of our regional specialties? You’re doing those of us who love oysters a disservice. Thank goodness there are still plenty of places with raw bars that offer a fair price and give us some great New England oysters.

-The Two Palaverers

Photos credits: The Two Palaverers

New England Artisan & Farmstead Cheese Makers are Crafting Up Some Classics

In the early 1980’s, a wave of small independent cheese shops sprung up in the suburbs around New York City. It worked out well for those of us not in the city because traveling into Manhattan was often challenging and – as it is today – very time-consuming. Until then, we were limited to the choices at our local grocery stores, which consisted mostly of the processed, pre-packaged or generic uninspired varieties.

Formaggio Kitchen, Cambridge MA
Formaggio Kitchen, Cambridge MA

I had the privilege of working at The Better Cheddar Cheese Shop, one of those new, avant-garde purveyors in northern New Jersey. Located at the historic Tice Farm in Woodcliff Lake, the small shop carried cheeses that were exotic and sophisticated to our unseasoned and unrefined palates of the time.

Over time, we became rather busy and our clientele grew. We had both regular local customers as well as those from the city who were escaping for a day in the “country.” (It always seemed more like suburbia and less like “country” to me.) Richard Nixon was a frequent visitor to the farm, having settled in the area after leaving Washington, D.C.

With great enthusiasm, I learned all that I could about cheese, albeit the hard way – by tasting and talking with wholesalers. We didn’t have the books, training or internet so prevalent today. We were excited by our “large” number of imported cheeses, now paltry compared with contemporary cheese counters. On the domestic side, I remember cheddars (Wisconsin, New York and Vermont), some fresh mozzarella, feta, and assorted spreads with cheddar and cream cheese bases.

Sadly, the farm and many like it were replaced by large corporate buildings and homogeneous mini malls. Though I saw many of the small local cheese shops quietly close their doors, I never lost interest in cheese.  It is always a thrilling sight and a culinary pleasure for me, whether home or abroad, to walk in to a well-stocked, knowledgeable and friendly cheese shop. It feels like home to me. When I moved to New England decades ago, I was immediately impressed by the regional, budding cheese culture. Surprisingly, it dates back to the English and Dutch settling of North America.

Today, I am especially pleased to see so many more New England cheese artisans practicing this wonderful art, which is a true labor of love. Increasing numbers of these cheese makers travel the globe learning from world renowned cheese masters and incorporating classic styles while leveraging their own unique terroir and indigenous fare. Many are winning national awards. Comparing this growing specialty cheese industry to the evolution of the US wine industry, I think we have much to look forward to as these artisans develop and refine their craft.

Hannahbells Cheese
Hannahbells Cheeses, Shy Brothers Farm, Westport MA

New England artisan and farmstead cheeses come from all six states; some producers have been doing this for years, while many are new. I applaud their efforts. Though I haven’t yet tried all the New England cheeses, I am determined to do so. Perhaps it is the locavore in me, but I feel a strong connection, an inherent sense of pride and a good deal pleasure from enjoying cheese produced in my own region of the world.

I encourage cheese lovers to sample and enjoy these creations from New England. Serve them along side your old standbys and international favorites. Ask your cheesemonger to point you toward the local and regional varieties. The more we seek out New England cheeses, the more readily available they will be.

Be sure to take advantage of local cheese offerings when you see them on restaurant menus. Remember that many of the farmstead cheeses are produced from the farm’s own herd and yields are justifiably low. Some are sold exclusively to local restaurants, but many are available retail to the general public.

Though my cheese shop in New Jersey is a fond memory, I am fortunate to benefit from the cheese purveyors and cheese artisans of New England.

-Laura Ciampa, Palaverer Too

Some favorites thus far:

Alys’s EclipseCarlisle Farmstead Cheese– Carlisle, MA
Ascutney MountainCobb Hill Cheese– Hartland, VT
Bridgid’s Abbey, Bloomsday & Drunken Hooligan- Cato Corner Farm– Colchester, CT
Burrata with Roasted Garlic and Onion – Fiore di Nonno– Somerville, MA
Cabot Clothbound Cheddar – Cabot Creamery & Jasper Hill Farms– Greensboro, VT
ChevreThe Farmstead At Mine Brook– Charlemont, MA
ChevreHillman Farm– Colrain, MA
Chevre Roulé with Nutmeg & Green PeppercornsYork Hill Farm– New Sharon, ME
Classic Chevre- Seal Cove Farm– LaMoine, ME
Cremont- Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery– Websterville, VT
Crottina- Blue Ledge Farm– Salisbury, VT
Divine Providence and Atwells GoldNarragansett Creamery, RI
Downeast Derby- State of Maine Cheese Company– Rockport, ME
Fiddlehead Tomme & Baby SwissBoggy Meadow Farm– Walpole, NH
Full Circle Goat TommeWest River Creamery– Londonderry, VT
Fuzzy WheelTwig Farm– West Cornwall, VT
Great Hill BlueGreat Hill Dairy– Marion, MA
Green Mountain Gruyere- Blythedale Farm– Corinth, VT
HannahbellsShy Brothers Farm– Westport, MA
Landaff Cheese- Landaff Creamery– Landaff, NH
Maggie’s Round- Cricket Creek Farm– Williamstown, MA
MozzarellaMozzarella House– Everett, MA
Oma- von Trapp Farmstead– Waitsfield, VT
Organic Champlain TripleChamplain Valley Creamery– Vergennes, VT
Salsa JackPineland Farms– New Gloucester, ME
TarentaiseThistle Hill Farm– North Pomfret, VT
TAVA Chevre with Chive & GarlicSangha Farm– Ashfield, MA
Topnotch TommeMt. Mansfield Creamery– Morrisville, VT