Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pub Review: Sticks and Stones

Sticks and Stones on East Passyunk near our house has had a neon sign up since almost when we moved in 3 years ago.  They finally opened a month or so ago, and claimed in their press releases that they would be a beer bar but also a neighborhood hangout.  I have been eagerly anticipating this opening with the hope that this bar would straddle the line between hipster beer bar and local place a bit better than some other places around here, though South Philly Taproom comes close it is West of Broad.  Not to be lazy and picky but I was hoping to have a place right around the corner that was my ideal bar.  So maybe I set the "bar" too high.  But Sticks and Stones didn't even come close to it when we visited for the first and probably last time the other week.  

Walking in, I liked the decor.  A big picture behind the bar of what is apparently the owners grandfather or uncle in South Philly circa 1920 or maybe even earlier (just guessing on the year).  The walls are lined with white subway tiles and chalkboards containing the beer lists, and the taps come out of the back wall rather than the bar itself, which was kind of different/interesting.  The beer list was solid, I had a Bells Oatmeal Cream Stout that was quite nice, and Victory Schwarz Pils, a dark pilsner which wasn't my favorite but an interesting style.  The taps and bottles were a nice mix of locals and out of state heavy hitters such as Bells.  Our bartender was friendly enough, if slightly inattentive.  So where did Sticks and Stones go wrong?

The food, mostly.  My wife and I both opted for the burger.  My thinking is, if you are going to have a burger on your menu, it should be solid.  It doesn't necessarily have to be special but cooked to order, well seasoned, and with decent cheese and probably an option for bacon.  I'm not even picky about the roll.  The Sticks and Stones burger comes with a bleu cheese and a fried egg on top.  I ordered it medium rare and it came out well done.  We were the only people in the bar eating, as it was January 2 and most people were home recovering, so in my mind there is no excuse to screw up that order.  I felt like the egg was just a gimmick trying to cover up the fact that I was eating a mediocre patty of under seasoned, overcooked beef.  The fries were a mixture of sweet potato and regular fries with some sort of aioli haphazardly squirted on top of them.  At this point I was disappointed.  And then Elvis walked in.  I thought he was the owner, some commenters have alluded to the fact that he may be just the manager.  It's a small point but I was surprised to see him wearing a Chargers hoodie in South Philly.  He was friendly but he rubbed me the wrong way; he was loud and obnoxious, flirting with these girls at the bar and flinging obscenities like nobody's business.  I understand it's a bar atmosphere but as someone associated with the bar I thought his actions were a bit unprofessional.

The worst part is I saw him at my barber in Cherry Hill the next week.  He asked me how my experience was and I said "Good."  I didn't have the gumption to confront him.  Live and learn. 

Update: I've actually been back to Sticks and Stones and had a better experience.  I didn't order food as I had already eaten, but the service was good and they accomodated our rather large party quite well.  I'm sorry if I offended anyone who is a fan of Elvis or the bar, I should not have made my disappointment personal and I admit that I should have talked through my complaints with Elvis when I had the chance rather than through my blog.  I stand by my review of my experience and my first impression of Elvis was not a good one.  I am not saying he is a bad person I just didn't appreciate the foul language and atmosphere he created when he entered his bar.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Book Review: Tasting Beer

 Tasting Beer: An Insider's Guide to the World's Greatest Drink by Randy Mosher is an excellent overview of the subject of beer.  Randy is a beer expert, having penned several books, taught beer style courses at the Siebel Institute, and been a leader of the both the Chicago Beer Society and the American Homebrewers Association..  At this summer's Philly Beer Week I am hoping to sign up for one of his guided tastings. 

The book takes you through the whole story of beer.  Randy starts you out in ancient times, noting that by 3000 BCE, the Sumerians were producing several beer styles, including a diet beer called "eb-la," which means "lessens the waist."  From the crash history course he moves on to explains the science of sensory evaluation, the brewing process, and how to taste and judge beer.  There is a whole chapter on serving beer, which highlights the importance of temperature and appropriate glassware.  And there is a chapter on beer and food pairing, which serves as an excellent introduction to the subject.  Then he moves on to the tricky nature of style descriptions, providing details, history, and description of all major styles.

The book is full of fascinating information, pictures, and tidbits.  Maybe you already realized why wine is the drink of countries such as France and Spain, but for those of us a little behind the 8 ball Randy gives us a nice map of "The Grape Line," above which barley was much more suited to stand up to the cooler climes and therefore beer the drink of choice (Think countries such as Germany, Czech Republic, Great Britain).  His writing style is simple and straightforward, even when getting into scientific jargon such as attenuation and acetaldehyde.  Probably the most important thing I learned from this book is how to properly pour a beer.  I was always told to pour down the side of a glass to minimize the head, but this is incorrect.  You should pour right down the center, letting the bubbles release, even if it takes longer to pour.  This creates a "dense, creamy foam," which not only looks better but also results in a beer that is creamier and more like draft beer. 

Tasting Beer would be a good read for a beer expert or a novice, but it's ideally suited for someone with a bit more than a passing interest.  Someone who enjoys craft beer and wants to learn a bit more about how that Belgian Trippel made in New Jersey found it's way into your glass in the 21st century. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Honey Beer

The Honey Beer is my first cocktail made with beer.  It was created by Jill Schulster, co-owner of JoeDoe in the East Village, NYC.  I read it in the NY Times.  The reviewer said the sweet and salt together was reminiscent of a chocolate covered pretzel.  Here it is:

Rim half of a Pilsner glass in wildflower honey and kosher salt.
Shake 1.5 oz gin (preferably a citrusy gin, try Bluecoat, JoeDoe uses DH Krahn) with 1 oz lemon juice and a teaspoon of lemon zest, then strain into the pilsner glass partway filled with ice.  Top with a full can of Dale's Pale Ale and garnish with lemon peel.

This would probably be a better summer drink, as it's really light and refreshing.  Next time I might try adding a barspoon of honey syrup to get the honey aspect directly into the drink and not just on the rim.  I'm sure you could try another pale ale, just keep in mind that Dale's is probably more like an IPA, it's pretty hoppy which you probably need to stand up to the other ingredients.  Also keep in mind that drinking one is like drinking two drinks.  

Monday, January 17, 2011

One Cocktail, Two Trials

Last summer I read about cocktails using black pepper in Imbibe magazine.  I thought the spice of black pepper would go better with a crisp or cold night and last week finally got around to making the "Rye," which is kind of a lame name.  Shouldn't a cocktail be named something other than its base alchohol?  In any case, the Rye calls for black peppercorn infused rye, Domaine De Canton ginger liqueur, lime juice, and simple syrup.  To infuse the rye, you put 1.5 tablespoons of ground peppercorns in 500 ml of rye and let it stand for 48 hours before straining out the peppercorns.  The resulting drink is very spicy, as you have the spice from the rye, the spice from the peppercorns, and the spice from the ginger. 

An aside on flavor combinations:  In food and drink, putting flavors together can be done by contrast, complement, and/or enhancement.  For example, when pairing beer and cheese, beer expert Randy Mosher recommends complementary flavors, like a toasty, malty ale with a soft cheese like camembert; think grilled cheese sandwich.  If you choose a hoppy beer with spicy food, the hops and carbonation will scrape your palate clean in between bites but you will also be highlighting and enhancing the spice of each; some folks like this effect but not all palates can handle it.  You may want a sweeter, maltier beer with your spicy food to temper it, like a brown ale or abbey dubbel. 

Back to cocktails.  In a Manhattan, the sweet vermouth tempers the spice of the rye by contrasting with it.  With the Rye, the ginger, pepper, and rye are only slightly tamed by the sour from the lime and sweetness from the simple syrup.  It's a bold drink for sure, and not one I would recommend to be enjoyed before dinner or with food.

I got to thinking, what if I switched out the ginger liqueur for fresh ginger juice?  My thinking was, fresher is always better.  So I juiced some ginger and made a ginger syrup, as I have done when making the Penicillin, perhaps my favorite cocktail (I will write it up soon).  Long story short, the ginger juice was too much.  I had to add a couple of barspoons of simple syrup to my drink just to get it down, the spice was overwhelming.  In this case, the spice from the liqueur is more than enough and fresher did not mean better.

The Rye.  My wife liked this cocktail more than I did.  It was a fun process but in the end too much like drinking a hoppy IPA with Indian food; my mouth was on fire.  If you do want to try it, here's the recipe:

1.5 oz black peppercorn infused rye (I used Rittenhouse 100 proof bonded)
.5 oz Domaine De Canton ginger liqueur
.5 oz simple syrup (you may want a rich syrup, 2:1 sugar to water)
.75 oz lime juice