With Brazil coming into dominance on a world scale in preparation for its 2012 Olympics and World Cup hosting job, it only makes sense that some Carnival culture would find its way into our borders. But cachaça? What is exactly is that stuff? In short, it’s Brazil’s most popular distilled alcoholic beverage, a cousin of rum made from fermented sugarcane juice rather than molasses. Leblon’s Maison Leblon Reserva Especial ($28) refines the liquor’s raw power through a two-year aging process in Limousin French Oak Barrels.
The Going Gets Tough, The Suds Get Going
Ah, the round of sixteen. Narrowed down to a quarter of our original beers, the Malted Madness field (see the whole bracket here) has been cleared of those excellent beers with even a muted set of flaws. What remains is a clash of subtle differences, muddied everywhere by the trouble of putting slightly different (sometimes, vastly different) styles head-to-head. The process wasn’t pretty — but how can tasting 16 of the best beers we’ve ever imbibed not be beautiful?
Mind you, we still didn’t know which beers were moving on. What was abundantly clear, however, was that the “As” and “Bs” we had given the nod so far were damn good. Decision depression was at an all-time high, and we all defaulted to our overarching rule, beyond judgement of appearance, smell, taste and mouthfeel: Which beer would you rather drink?
This Bud's For You
Editor’s Note: Malted Madness is a celebration of America’s craft beer. But what about the rest? Brandon Chuang feels… strongly about the everyman beer. We haven’t forgotten the good ole’ standbys either, so we let him vent.
By now, just a few short days into Malted Madness, you’ve taken in about as much as you can when it comes to beer. You’ve studied the bracket — our curated list of 64 of the best craft beers in the country — and you’re drunk with emotion. Why isn’t my beer in the tournament? How could that beer make it past the first round? Nothing brings out our passions more than competition, and nothing clouds our judgment more than the wants and desires of our own hearts. And in this boozy, passion-soaked attempt to find the best of the best, we’ve forgotten what “the best” truly means.
We’ve begun a coronation while the king still lives.
The Hoppy Mayhem Continues
The second round of any 64-team single elimination tournament is always clearer. The chaos is winnowed down in scale but magnified in intensity. Dark horses that dazzled against top-ranked teams return to earth (ahem, Harvard). Under-performers face heavier competition, and some of the best battles of the tourney ensue.
The second round of Malted Madness brought a whole new level of great matchups and tough calls for tasters. The first round’s head-to-heads had been largely decided on gut reactions. In this round, the tasters began showing signs of “decision depression” — i.e. not wanting to make a selection — and there was far more frowning going on than should be in a room loaded with excellent brews. Still, we had known the risks going into the tournament (though we forgot to include alcohol poisoning waivers). Furrowing brows and downing saltless crackers to revive our palates, we forged on.
Take off eh!
Not content to be contained, Malted Madness is spreading across the 49th parallel. Lucky for us, our neighbors to the North hold the same passion for cranking out (and drinking) mouth-watering microbrews as American brewers. And lucky for you, the GP team has a Canadian correspondent to help guide your sudsy stumblings beyond the world’s longest international border. The goal was the same: finding category contenders worthy of each of our style brackets (lagers, light ales, dark ales, and Et Al.). But instead of crowning winners, we’re presenting four Provincial picks (plus a personal favorite) to whet your palate. You might even be tempted to hop the border and find out what excellent Canuck craft brew is all aboot, eh?
Mr Hasemeyer tests gear, tries not to die
Scrambled eggs, Canadian bacon, homestyle potatoes, a bowl of oatmeal and two cups of coffee: when preparing to take on Squaw Valley with Chris Davenport, simply a two-time World Champion skier who recently scaled and skied Mt. Everest, one must fuel up. So I did.
Sitting on 3,600 acres northwest of Lake Tahoe near the California and Nevada border, Squaw Valley offers skiers the chance to take on wide open runs (groomed and not) of greens, blues and blacks, most of which are clean of trees (death sticks), allowing the average skier to be more daring with less severe consequences. This range in terrain, altitude and weather presented the perfect setting to test my new gear — a Bern helmet, Gordini gloves, and Obermeyer jacket and pants — while being guided by this veteran pro.
The madness begins
For the past several weeks, we’ve been neck deep in beer organization, planning, spreadsheets and desperate phone calls. We’ve labored, unpacking beers, tweaking final lists, praying that no bottles were dropped or lost or drunk by devious and sly beer-stealing types, and preparing an encoded 64-brew bracket.
Then, suddenly, we were plopped in comfy leather chairs in Alphabet City Beer Co., unsalted crackers unappealingly laid on the table before us, with beer pairs — two pitch-black, two cloudy with wheat and yeast, two reeking of hops and two deep in malted caramel colors — set before their respective tasters.
And so Malted Madness began, finally, in earnest. Zach Mack bravely charged into the Et Al. category, Ben Bowers tackled the apocalyptic Light Ales grouping with modesty and strong focus, David Hitchner hammered out bold decisions in the Lager category like it was second nature, and I tucked into Dark Ales with loudmouthed gusto. We were all buzzing, and we hadn’t even had a sip.
Turning a Dream Into a Sudsy Reality
You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to put on a 64 beer, single elimination, NCAA-style tournament. One minute you’re dreaming of all that hoppy, malty, chocolatey, fruity goodness in one place and the next… well, you’re trying desperately to get all that hoppy, malty chocolately, fruity goodness — in one place.
To be clear, this tournament isn’t about bitching. It’s about gathering 64 of the best beers in America together, matching them up, tasting them blindly (removing the pretense that so often surrounds our entrenched beery beliefs), and crowning a champion. It’s GP’s swing at a new way to enjoy, explore and appreciate damn good beer. It’s about one of the biggest movements in our country. It’s about a shared passion. It’s also about personal taste, the barroom argument you’ve had with your buddies many times: which beer is better?
GP's Guide to the Conch Republic
Some people might wonder: Why would a person go all the way to the southernmost point in the continental United States for a fish sandwich? Well, the short answer is that we didn’t go to Key West just for a fish sandwich — we scoped out a hotel, went fishing, drove scooters and jet skis, and drank beer. The long answer is that the hogfish isn’t any old sea critter you can pick up at Whole Foods, and the place that serves it ranks very high on the list of best waterfront bars in America (just behind the Beachcomber in Wellfleet, MA, in this author’s black book). But we were principally after a filet of fish. Besides, if you get just one good memory in 72 hours, that’s a pretty good one, for a long weekend.
A room for you and the conch-ubine
At the invitation of the Hyatt Key West, we shacked up there for a long weekend to explore the island, the last stop in the Keys. While the other Keys are known for their beaches (Bahia Honda), diving (Key Largo) and fishing (Marathon), Key West is known principally for its eccentricity: it’s the place that values individuality, the arts, fresh seafood, rowdy bars, polydactyl cats and drag shows. The Hyatt is refuge amid the stir.
Far over the misty mountains cold...
Good old Bilbo. In a way, he’s the granddad we all hope to be: pipe-smoking octogenarian, enjoying good food and reminiscing about better times when he ran around with a crazy bunch of dudes who pulled pranks on rubes (trolls) and escaped some tight situations (trolling the Goblin King in the Misty Mountains). Of course, there’s other appeal to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey on Blu-ray 3D ($28).
The story of a fish pickling prodigy
From a fish pickling Polish immigrant to a businessman with a burgeoning national clientele, Mark Russ Federman’s walked an interesting, often difficult path. Russ & Daughters: Reflections and Recipes from the House That Herring Built ($15) spins Federman’s personal reflections and heartwarming anecdotes on the growth of his adored New York City appetizer store.
Making pirates everywhere happy for 310 years
Mount Gay’s Black Barrel Rum is a small batch from the mind of Master Blender Allen Smith that combines previously aged reserves from both pot and column distillates and finishes them with an extended stay in deeply charred Bourbon oak barrels. The end result is a dark coppery-gold liquid with a nose of citrus, complimented by vanilla and charred wood.
Face funny pictures of your fears
Whether it’s celebrating the terror caused by peanut butter (arachibutyrophobia), being watched by a duck (anatidaephobia) or, more timely, the Pope (papaphobia), Phobophobia ($15) is a clever visualization of the broad spectrum of human dread.
An hour wasn't enough
What’s big and floral and more hopped up than a GP editor after the Fortnight of Coffee? The continuously-hopped 60 Minute IPA from Dogfish Head, of course. And now the Delaware brewery has combined that beer with syrah grape must to make the first new foamer in its core lineup since 2007: Dogfish Head Sixty-One ($9), available this month.
Know your espresso
By definition, espresso is a relatively simple: 1 oz of coffee beverage made from 7 grams of ground beans, brewed under 9 bar of pressure, at roughly 200 degrees F. Plus or minus. To give you some context, the highest-pressure showerheads top out around 100 psi — not quite enough pound force to make it rain crema. Espresso is both brewing process and beverage invented by the Italians (c. 1884), its name implying speed and singularity of purpose. Our friends at La Colombe Torrefaction were kind enough to meet us one morning during the Fortnight to make the battery of espresso beverages. They were as good as they look. And none of us slept that night.
When Bremont offered to send their newest dive watch, the Supermarine 2000 ($5,900), for a review, I wanted to give this timepiece a fittingly rigorous program. After all, the company’s tagline is “Tested Beyond Endurance”, and some of its watches had accompanied adventurers on polar expeditions and round-the-world motorcycle journeys.
The Supermarine 2000 is arguably Bremont’s most rugged and capable watch to date. Its chronometer-certified movement is surrounded with a patented floating carrier, making it highly resistant to the effects of shock and vibration, a technology proven out in the company’s Martin-Baker watches, which have been tested on equipment used to test fighter jet ejection seat components. The movement is also encased inside an anti-magnetic Faraday cage which protects it against harmful magnetic influence. And while Bremont’s Supermarine 500 already boasted an impressive water resistance of 500 meters, the newest diver is rated to four times as deep. Of course, for a dive watch, all these features, while impressive on paper, are worthless if the watch doesn’t perform well underwater. So it was time to take it diving.
Enlightened java drinkers disdain the typical automatic coffee machine on the shelves of your local big box retailer for one simple reason: it lacks control. It turns out that getting the best possible results from those beans — yea, those ones, which some jittery seed worshiper pressed into your hand while swiping your Amex with the other — requires a lot of precision. Heating water to the proper range, between 195 to 205°F, is the first step in releasing the flavorful oil from the beans, but the average electric drip machine only hovers around 180°F. Carefully regulating the distribution and timing of hot water over the beans is equally important.
Hitting this narrow target has led demanding drinkers to sacrifice convenience for the exacting rituals offered by various pour-over methods — or to blow junior’s tuition on barrista-made alternatives. But thanks to a new breed of re-engineered automatic machines, that trade off is no longer necessary. Learn all about these best-of-both-world-brewers after the break.
How they drink, what they think
Coffee is the 2nd most valuable traded commodity after oil, employing 25 million farmers and coffee workers in over 50 countries according to some sources. The U.S. market is worth 22 billion annually alone by some estimates, with over 79% of the population stating they’ve had a cup in the last 12 months.
Given the global nature of this precious brew, our Fortnight of Coffee has tried to address every aspect of the subject, ranging from its natural origins and the art & culture behind it to the various gear and methodologies that have evolved to make it. But there’s still one gaping hole left to fill: the variety of roles (both major and minor) it plays in peoples’ lives.
Here, we’ve gathered together a series of brief interviews with a 16 leading men, whose ranks include actors, authors, athletes, chefs, designers, editors, and founders. Chances are, you’re already familiar with some of their life’s work. Read on, and learn about their own personal coffee habits and how it compares with yours.
A Sip of Summer
Some like it hot, but for the cold brew enthusiast, there really is no substitute. Steeped for a minimum of 12 hours, cold brew coffee is known for its naturally sweet flavor due to a a cold-water seeping process that results in lower acidity. Not to be confused with iced coffee (brewed hot, then cooled), cold brew has a cleaner flavor, can taste chocolaty with a velvet texture and even tames the boldest of beans. That said, it’s not boring — just different. Some have a difficult time swallowing the two-week shelf life and the fact that the bean per brew ratio makes it expensive, but the it’s the flavor that wins them over, every time.
And so, your loyal bean scouts are once again here, reporting for duty. After numerous taste tests, what some might consider cruel and unusual job hazards and sleepless nights in and out of caffeine delirium, we bring you the five best cold brews around. Each is ready-to-drink poured over ice, or can be diluted with water, cream and sugar, or your favorite other social lubricant. Undergoing the rigors of journalism calls for self-sacrifice, occasionally. But, for you fine folks, we did it. No sweat.
We Don't See Nothin' Wrong With a Little Bump and Grind
You like the line at your favorite coffee shop? Ok, besides the cute barista, you can do better: start by grinding your own beans, then check back with Gear Patrol for other suggestions for stepping up to the big leagues. The journey from coffee hack to ambrosia connoisseur begins with freshly ground java in your French press, drip, or espresso machine. A quick primer first, and then on to our top 10 picks.
Coffee table, meet coffee book
Left unattended, the ubiquitous coffee table quickly becomes a gatekeeper of everything from last October’s cable bill (you paid that, didn’t you?) to the feet of undisciplined friends and family. We know you run a tighter ship than most and appreciate how a well-placed read can stimulate conversations faster than a triple shot. Here’s a crop of coffee-themed books worthy of displacing Ansel Adams or your decades-long dedication to the Maxim Hot 100.
Great outdoors, great coffee
Something about sitting atop an unexplored peak to watch the sunrise while enjoying your favorite coffee just feels right. Maybe it’s the sub-freezing temperatures and obligatory wind chill, or it’s the all night trek catching up with you. With that in mind, we’ve got the best tried and true methods for brewing your favorite coffee for you next adventure, be it a weekend of car camping or a full blown backcountry expedition.
A Coffee Roaster’s Memoir
I was in the back room bagging up some breakfast blend when I heard shouting from the café. At that same moment, I smelled smoke and knew that my batch of Sumatran had caught on fire. I dashed to the roaster, flicked off the gas burners and closed the vent. I knew the routine. This had happened before. The cloth and rubber belt had broken, the drum stopped rotating and the beans ignited inside, fanned by the air being sucked in through the vents. Now my hope was that the flames didn’t make it into the chimney and light up the chaff that had no doubt built up inside. If that happened, we’d have to evacuate the café and call the fire department.
These are a few of our favorite things
One of my favorite things to do on a Saturday is roll out of bed at 5:30 a.m., grab a camera and my jacket and drive 48 miles from LA to a business park in Irvine. There, on any given Saturday, hundreds of cars worth millions of dollars gather for Cars and Coffee, a special event where two common denominators create a mood of friendship, relaxation and shared passion.
Dover, Rock City
The Firefly Music Festival announced its lineup Tuesday morning for the June 21-23 extravaganza, which descends upon Dover, DE this year in only its second iteration. We were lucky enough to experience the event last year, and it was an impressive first showing, indeed. Make sure to get your tickets, on sale today, and read on for our photo essay of Firefly 2012.
Watch closely now
If you need proof of coffee practiced as an obsession, art form and science, this quick video — a “how-to” on making a cup of espresso — is exhibit A. Intellegentsia Coffee in Venice, California can come off as a little pretentious at first; but what you’re really seeing is an unabashed expertise in truly great coffee. “We take every single step in the chain, from seed to cup, as seriously as possible”, Kyle Glanville extols. We believe him.
Coffee for the man on the move
Instant coffee belongs to the category of cultural food relics, the type of product introduced at a World’s Fair, perfected with the help of military research, and eventually relegated to the pantries of grandmothers everywhere. It’s a food item for people at the fringes: too old, too tired, too time-strapped, cookies for breakfast, sweatpants all day. Coffee purists will swat it from your hand. But we’ve all got a little stash just in case, don’t we?
Because the beautiful thing about instant coffee is that it’s cheap, fast and the lowest-volume solution for getting a coffee fix on the move. We surveyed the market to find the best instant coffees readily available in grocery stores. We weren’t looking for something that stacks up to a cup of Zambian Ljulu Lipati from Intelligentsia, but we did want a close approximation to freshly brewed coffee.
We've Bean Reading
Feet up, couch bound with a good book in one hand and a hot cup of coffee in the other is a reader’s rite of passage. Those co-mingling aromas of parchment and fresh grounds are undeniably intoxicating. Any favorite book can be heightened by the pairing, but it being the Fortnight of Coffee and all, we decided to filter some new picks in a sort of meta-coffee vein: five first-rate reads to further your knowledge of one of the world’s most popular drinks.