Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Rare Birds And Beers

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Knowing Boston traffic is a fate worse than death and parking is every bit as bad, the early morning hours found me hurtling into town, not away from it.  With parking easily secured by 7:30am, breakfast was casual, and for the first time in my trip, I ordered a coffee.

The Ula Café, if I have my facts straight, gets “it”.  If everybody continues to buy junk, central American people get more poor(if you can believe that), habitat disappears and neo-tropical migrants die.  Is that not enough to quit drinking bad coffee? They have arrangements with a roaster, who in turn, has arrangements with a coffee farm in central America. The farm gets it.  They are pursuing sustainability, habitat preservation, birds, and good wages for coffee growers.  Bird Friendly certification? No. Rainforest  Alliance certification? Yes.  Does that mean shade grown?  No.  Did the Café’s information panel specifically mention birds and the steps they are taking to help preserve them? Yes.  Oh yeah, the eggs were good, too.

Time was spent writing waiting for the 10:00am gig.  And what happens at 10:00am?

The Sam Adams Brewery Tour!!! 

While I have been listing beers for almost a decade now, I have never been on a brewery tour. Never.  So, the Sam Adams Brewery tour was quite an experience for a guy who does not brew. 

First, a simple clarification.  Boston Beer Company is the brewery.  Sam Adams is the line of beer brewed by the BBC.  Think of it like General Motors and Chevrolet.  GM is the main operator while Chevrolet is the product. 

Knowing I like history, it was really cool to walk such historic ground.  Really.  The beer movement that Jim Koch started in 1985 in this very facility is what has allowed me to enjoy beer.  If he did not do what he did in Boston over two decades ago, the countless microbreweries across the country likely would not be here.  Summer barbeques might still be held with garbage like Bud or Bud Light.  Isn’t that a sick thought?

Attending the tour on a weekday was a slick move.  So few people were there.  Ten, maybe?  Ten people in a giant brewery all by ourselves. Heavenly (if heaven existed).  Except it is not a giant brewery.  According to the tour leader (officially called a Beer Ambassador), most people (I am no exception) are stunned at the size of the place.  There might be eight fermenters in there. Estimating sizes here, I bet you could fit most of the equipment in a four-car garage.  That’s all folks.  Some of your larger microbreweries sport that amount of gear.  Basically, this is their research and development building with some keg operations.  Major bottling ops take place in Ohio and Pennsylvania. 

On this particular day, they were actually brewing. Seeing the guy from the commercial measuring and pouring the hop pellets was simply so cool.  The short fellow with the full bear d and shaved head is Bob.  The other fellow is Dean.  That's Dean in the picture.

Speaking of hops, part of the tour included a rundown on the basic ingredients of beer – water, yeast, hops, and barley.  I have never had a chance to grab and handful of hops, rub it in my hands and smell it like Jim does in the commercials.  The aroma is awesome. It was like a powdered IPA in my hand.  Munching on barley (fresh and roasted) was truly an experience knowing how it was going to get used. 

As if all that is not enough for the beer enthusiast, knowing that the Boston Beer Company is a huge supporter of the community makes it very rewarding for the visitor.  The money I donated for the tour is used to maintain a program that helps get inner-city Boston kids outside to go camping or hiking. I saw these neighborhoods driving to the brewery and I’m telling you, in some cases, yards don’t exist.  Where did these kids play baseball?  Have they seen a bird that is not a House Sparrow?  They also help to maintain the Granary Burying Ground (where Paul Revere is buried).  Money well spent, if you ask me. 

The tour winds down with a trip to the tasting room.  With taps that rotate beer over the year, I was able to secure a nice sample of the Boston Brick Red (#885). You will not get it in Detroit.  For that matter, you won’t get it outside of Boston.  Good stuff.  Not the best beer in the Sam Adams line, but still good. I gave it a “3”.  On the subject of rare beer, I bought a special three pack of beer that can only be purchased on site at the Brewery.  You can bet I’ll post notes when I sample them!  (You can see them on the right side of the shelf in the previous picture.)

By the time the tour wrapped up, I had two choices after lunch.  Press on for home (which has to happen at some point) or give the Black-headed Gull one more go.  Two days previous, that bird had been reported on the Cape, right? Being on the southwest side of town, the GPS has me there in 1hour and 15 minutes. Off I went.

Before one gets to Dowses Beach in Osterville, a small causeway has to be crossed.  The right side of the causeway has a small pond. Let’s say it is the size of a football field or so.  On the far side?  A small group of gulls.   They’re worth checking, right?

Mixed in with the Herring Gulls sat a Bonaparte’s Gull-like bird, but a bit bigger.  Red bill.  Bright red legs. Dark spot behind the eye suggesting adult winter plumage. Finally.  Black-headed Gull.  Life bird #640.  After it bopped around the waters a bit, the black underside of the primaries could be seen so well.  Finally.   After days of checking every gull everywhere I went, I scored it  Finally.  The last real bird episode of the trip, a last stab.  I finally scored it.  Standing next to it? A second Black-headed Gull.  I thought one bird was not going to happen but to have two feet from each other was soooooooood damned cool……..

With all six major trip target birds in the bag, a course was set for home.  Driving took me as far as Albany, New York again.  Dinner was, by far, the best of the trip. 

The C.H. Evans Brewing Company at the Albany Pump Station was simply awesome and it needs to be on your “must try” list if you get to Albany.  The Scottish Light, Quakenbush Blonde, Smoked Miloweizen, Bock, Apple Ale, Beverwyck Black, Kick-Ass Brown, and Pump Station Ale (#877-884) were all very good. However, I was distracted by the meal itself.  Butternut squash ravioli with balsamic grilled vegetables, including red peppers, eggplant, broccoli, eggplant, red onion and Portobello mushrooms tossed with olive oil, garlic, and fresh basil topped with a balsamic reduction, toasted pine nuts and goat cheese.  Hands down, this was the best meal of the trip. It was really hard to take detailed beer notes when you eating that!

The location itself made for a super dining experience. The Pump Station is exactly that.  Back in the day, water from the Hudson River was pumped into a nearby reservoir. This building, completed in 1895, still has the original cranes in it used to move machinery and, ultimately, the brewing equipment.  It ceased operation as a pump station in 1932.  

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