Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Anthony Bourdain Comes to Portland

Chef, author, and TV personality Anthony Bourdain is coming to Portland, Maine on his "The Hunger" tour this fall, to hold forth on his travels and the food he encounters while filming his show Parts Unknown in what's sure to be an entertaining show. Bourdain has been through Maine before, for an event at Merrill Auditorium with chef Eric Ripert and to film an episode of No Reservations, where he further proves the maxim that it's impossible to say anything about the state of Maine without offending someone.

But that's sort of Bourdain's bit—he has lots of opinions and doesn't hold back. It's pretty amazing that he's been able to remain relevant in his career that has spanned almost 20 years as an author and a TV show host. His popular blend of humor and criticism makes him a knowledgeable insider to the food scene, but one that's not afraid to slaughter any sacred cows. (See that dust-up over his reaction to Street & Co. recapped by Meredith Goad in the Press Herald).

So with a new cookbook in the works (Appetites, due out October 25th), Bourdain is back on tour with his stand-up routine and a Q&A session with the audience. He'll be stopping in Portland October 9th at the Cross Insurance Arena.

Tickets go on sale May 6th at 10am, but readers of the Blueberry Files can access presale tickets with the code HUNGER. And whatever you do, come up with a good question for the man—he reportedly hates "where are you going to eat after this," although, honestly, I want to know.

Disclosure: I received tickets to this show in exchange for helping to promote the event.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Ladies' Barr Hill Spirits Tasting at Eventide Oyster Co.

The ladies of the Portland Spirits Society had another great time on Monday night at Eventide Oyster Co. where we slurped oysters and enjoyed learning about and sampling Vermont's Caledonia Spirits. I may or may not have spilled vodka on the floor right out of the gate, before I'd even had enough/any to justify such a thing. 

We learned about the process of making the vodka and gin, both made from honey (which must be so expensive). The vodka is distilled until it has a neutral flavor, while the gin has some honey added back into it, giving it a lovely floral characteristic. The Tom Cat gin is "rested" gin that is aged in charred oak barrels, giving it a most delicious smoky sweetness. It's one of my new favorite craft spirits. 

Here's Jeff from Barr Hill, looking a little bit like he didn't know I was taking his picture (that's exactly what's going on here). After a brief spiel from him, we tucked into oysters on the half shell, fried fish, and some of those amazing chickpea fries (aka fried panisse)—seriously don't overlook them the next time you're at Eventide. 

Lastly, we enjoyed two cocktails with the spirits: a negroni with the gin and a gin and tonic with the Tom Cat and Eventide's housemade tonic. Negronis are not for me, I must finally admit, but the G&T with the aged gin was fantastic. It tasted almost like an Arnold Palmer. 

Many thanks to Eventide Oyster Co. and Jeff Cole for the hospitality!! Ladies, stay tuned for info about our next Portland Spirits Society event (even better, sign up for the e-mail newsletter to be the first to hear about it) and in the meantime, get your ticket to Splashed Bash, Dispatch mag's friendly competition celebrating local bartenders and craft spirits on May 13th. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

BBF Travels: Wine and Eats in Napa, Mendocino

Of course no trip to California would be complete without exploring its wine—while I'm not a big wine person (wino?), I do at least know that other people say there's good wine there. On my recent vacation to the San Francisco Bay area, I had some time to explore the northern regions of the state, heading to Napa and Mendocino for a night each. And that means...wine country! 

On our first day in Napa, we stayed at the gorgeous White House Inn, a bed and breakfast downtown. We intended to just stop in and ask for some winery recommendations, but that turned into an early check-in, so we dropped our stuff and headed back out with a Napa Valley winery map in hand. 

For the Napa Valley newbie, the road north of town (Silverado Trail) heads right through all the federally-recognized grape growing regions, dubbed American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). And with a winery map, you can see which ones require advance reservations and which ones have tasting available on a walk-in basis. I didn't want to commit to reservations, so we limited our visits to the tasting rooms with more flexible policies. 

Our first stop was Stag's Leap, and while it wasn't my favorite, I'm glad we went as it showed us a different style of Napa Valley wineries. We sampled 4 wines for $40 each, with bottle prices ranging from $70 to $245. The wine was good and the view was gorgeous, but I thought at this rate, we'll be broke fast. 

Fortunately, the next recommendation on our list was more up our alley, with a relaxed vibe in the tasting room. We visited Robert Sinskey Vineyards, where we sampled one white and four reds for $45. This tasting came with a cute sampler of housemade treats: delicious gougeres, savory shortbread, Marcona almonds, and some Vermont cheese. Our friendly tasting room guide of course had a connection to Maine, as I tend to find a lot of when I travel. 

We liked the POV pinot here, and the prices were much more reasonable here than the first winery, so we left with a bottle. (Note: typically the tasting fee is waived if you buy a bottle of wine.) After our two winery visits, we headed back to the hotel to take a dip in the chilly pool and get ready for dinner. 

Earlier in the day we'd spent some time in Napa's Oxbow Public Market, where I was thrilled to find a local distillery's tasting room. Napa Valley Distillery makes a lot of fruit-based spirits like brandy and eau de vie. We explored the twee shop, full of bitters, mixers, garnishes, and their spirits, then tried the full line of drinks. 

The vodka is technically a neutral brandy and is only twice distilled to retain some of that grapey character. We also tried their Hollywood Ginn, pear brandy, Sidecar cocktail, Grand California (their take on Grand Marnier), and an Ancho chili liqueur. 

Several of the spirits we tried were bundled together in their Bar Club boxes, an ingenious idea I hope some of our local distilleries adopt. For $75 a quarter, the distillery sends you a box of their goodies, including spirits, liqueurs, pre-mixed cocktails (like the Sidecar), as well as mixers and garnishes like bitters, cherries, and pickles. I admittedly didn't love their line of spirits, but I'm still considering signing up anyway just for the idea. Does anyone have any good spirit subscription boxes recommendations? 

Before we went out to dinner in Napa, we had a drink at Cadet, an adorable beer and wine bar I fell a little bit in love with. We tried several other places before we stumbled upon this one, but eschewed them because of the cheesy vibe, so when we found a chill place with a good local beer and wine list, we were happy. After all the wine that day, I wanted a sour beer, so I ordered a Flanders red ale from Cismontane Brewing Co. in Santa Ana. We also shared a charcuterie plate with cheese and olives. 

Cadet seemed hip and cool, with its vinyl collection and mid-century modern light fixtures. Basically I was in heaven. But I couldn't tell if this was a spot that just ordered the "hip lounge" decor from a catalog or was legit. When A.'s friends from high school showed up—East Coasters who moved west to run a winery—they asked how we knew to come to Cadet, confirming that it's a spot for those looking to enjoy some local wine in a low-key spot. 

The next day, we packed up and hit the road for more wine en route to Mendocino. On the way (I think where 128 runs into the 101), we drove past a food truck in a really random-seeming spot. Nothing else around, just a freeway ramp and an intersection. Since we were hungry, we pulled over and joined the fair number of cars stopped for this truck. It had no name, no cutesy branding, just a menu of tacos, burritos, and tostadas. I ordered up chorizo and pastor tacos, and we ate standing by the car, leaning over so the red grease dripped onto the ground. Those were some delicious tacos.

After our night in Mendocino, we made our way back to the Bay area, but with plenty of time to explore, we went stopped in Healdsburg for lunch and a beer. My friend recommended Shed to me, and I now recommend it to you—assuming you have a high tolerance for all things bougie or at least a sense of humor. The sleek market/café is a bit over the top. Very Martha-meets-Kinfolk. Lots of bakers' twine and preposterously expensive candles.

But the food was very good! We loved both the white pizza with nettles, asparagus, Meyer lemon and ricotta and the farro salad with beets, wild mustard, bread crumbs, and sprouting broccoli. 

As a parting shot, some ceviche we made the weekend before at A's brother's house. We picked up rock shrimp at the farmers' market and tossed it with lime juice, diced red onion, mango, cilantro, and some chile flake. After an hour or so in the fridge, the shrimp had turned opaque as they were "cooked" by the acidic lime juice. We devoured it with corn tortilla chips. It'd make a nice snack here in Maine the next time you see some local shrimp for sale. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Drizly Alcohol Delivery Service Comes to Portland

I've got the most exciting news for you, just in time for the weekend. If you live in Portland or South Portland, you can now have alcohol delivered to your house. That's right, only a few minutes after you tap a few times in an app on your phone, some nice man will knock on your door, scan your ID, and in exchange, hand you a bag full of booze. No trip to the store, no lugging cases of beer up the stairs, no pants required (OK, put on pants when for you open the door). This is revolutionary, people. 

I received a press release about Drizly the Boston-based service's expansion into the Portland area, and I laughed out loud. A shitty thing had happened to me that morning (car vandalism) and then someone offered to send me a gift so I could try out the service. Champagne delivery? Yes please. 

I also thought back to the time that I wanted to enjoy a bloody mary during a football game. Problem was I didn't have any vodka and it was only a short while until kickoff. I went to several stores in the West End looking for one that sold spirits (now I know better and know exactly where the hard stuff is sold), wasting precious minutes before the game started. You know what would have been a lot better? If I'd just been able to pick up my phone, order a bottle, and then gone back to frying up shrimp or whatever. No frantic race around town, more time for relaxing. 

Drizly works by partnering with a local retailer (in Portland the Craft Beer Cellar and Old Port Spirits) and charging the retailer a membership fee. So users pay only $5 delivery fee, plus the optional driver tip (but tip your driver). The alcohol is the same price as in the store and you've got the great selection that's available at CBC and Old Port Spirits. 

To try the service out, the Drizly rep offered to send me a gift (you can send gifts too!) of some bubbly. I was able to schedule when I'd be home to receive my gift and then received a text when the driver was at my door. I went down to meet him, he scanned my ID, and cheerfully handed me off my bottles of wine. I'm sold.

Drizly is available for Android and Apple phones, but you can also order through the website.

Disclosure: I received the wine free of charge from Drizly, but the opinions and words in this post are my own.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

BBF Travels: Hog Island Oyster Co. Marshall, CA

Two weeks ago, I jetted off to San Francisco to spend a week with my boyfriend, his brother, and his brother's family. It was the perfect antidote to Maine winters, something I've realized that I need after 8 winters in this lovely, but at-times frigid state. Spring (break) fever is real and contagious. Since spring in Maine (or should I say "spring") is lacking to this somewhat-southerner, heading south where there's green grass, sunny days with warm breezes, and loads and loads of flowers helps me retain my sanity until Maine spring fully kicks into gear...in like June. 

We arrived on a Wednesday night, and after generously taking the next day off to entertain us, everyone had to go back to work on Friday, which left A. and I to our own devices. We hopped in the convertible (yesssss) Saab and headed for the coast. My mission: oysters al fresco. 

My friend Tessa had recommended checking out Hog Island Oysters near Point Reyes, where you can have oyster picnics right by the water. As soon as I'd heard even those limited details, I'd put that activity on our agenda. 

The odds were in our favor that day, since while a picnic requires advanced reservation, the oyster "boat" bar was open that day and did not. (Note: if you plan to visit the farm, they have since started a new reservation-only policy for the bar as well.) 

Both the bar and the picnic tables are located on a slice of land between Route 1 and Tomales Bay, where the oysters are grown. You eat and relax next to the oyster processing facilities, where men in Grundens and sea boots toss around giant bags filled with shells, hoisting them, emptying them into a sorter, and at times even whacking the bags with baseball bats. It's definitely a working farm and the workers serve as "edu-tainment" while you're eating. 

The oyster bar serves the Hog Island Sweetwaters on the half shell and broiled, as well as some non-shellfish offerings like charcuterie and some salads. We had a friendly server offer to take our order while we stood at our communal high top table, but you can order at the bar as well. A. and I ordered both the raw and broiled oysters and a charcuterie plate to make it a substantial lunch. Some bottles of IPA from local Drake's Brewing Company rounded out our meal. 

The Hog Island Sweetwaters were instantly my new favorite oyster, offering all of the things you love about oysters and avoiding the flavors that can turn people off of them. They were clean, well-shucked, and incredibly sweet with very little briney or funky seaweed flavors. 

The broiled oysters were amazing as well, slightly larger than those served on the half shell and topped with a BBQ bourbon chipotle butter. They disappeared quickly, all warm and buttery, but we stopped by the oyster window on our way out to order a few dozen to take home with us for a Saturday afternoon grill out. 

The next day, we shared our newfound love of grilled oysters with A.'s family - of course, being hip to all things hedonistic, they were already experts at home-grilled oysters for a crowd. After exhausting our enthusiasm for shucking, we decided to grill up the remainders, recreating the spicy garlic butter ones we'd had the day before. 

Although it may seem more complicated, preparing grilled oysters can be easier than shucking raw ones, at least for those among us who aren't expert shuckers. By heating the oysters for a while, they steam and soften (ok, ok, die) and are much easier to open than when they're alive. Lacking a barbecue grill, we improvised with the broiler and it worked great. Later we moved on to topping the oysters with garlic butter, arugula, and Parmesan cheese, all of which went superbly with local sparkling rosé and ample amounts of sunshine. 

Grilled BBQ Bourbon Chipotle Oysters
Adapted from Hog Island Oyster Co.

One stick unsalted butter, softened to room temp 
1/4 cup brown sugar 
1/4 cup bourbon 
6 cloves finely chopped garlic 
Several chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, chopped
2 dozen raw oysters

To make BBQ bourbon butter:
Combine all ingredients in a bowl, mix well. To save for future use, scrape butter onto wax paper, close wax paper around butter, and shape into a log. Freeze for up to 6 months for best quality.

To make barbecued oysters: 
Preheat oven's broiler or grill to very hot (500*F). Spread oysters on a broiling pan and place in oven (or directly on grill surface) for 5-10 minutes or until several have popped open. The oysters should be very easy to shuck; if not, heat until they are. 

Shuck oysters, leaving meat in cupped half of oyster shell. Add 1-2 tablespoons compound butter and return to heat source. Grill for several more minutes, until butter has melted and is bubbling. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Brunch at Terlingua

It's no secret that I love Terlingua, the new-ish barbecue restaurant on Washington Ave. in Portland. The owners are friends of mine, for one, but their restaurant is the whole package--a relaxed environment, friendly service, tasty food, and great cocktails and draft beer. Plus it's within walking distance of my house. 

So while I've been for drinks and dinner many times (I even hosted a tequila tasting there, one of the best Portland Spirits Society events to date), I hadn't been to brunch. And the buzz about brunch was building, so A. and I made a post-spin class date to check it out. 

The dish I'd been hearing the most about was the pulled pork benedict ($13), so clearly that was on the agenda. The other menu choices that sounded tempting were the chilaquiles, or strips of corn tortillas served with beans and eggs ($10) and the burger with its bacon-jalapeno jam ($14). But I've been on a french toast kick lately (well, specifically the Palace Diner's version), so Terlingua's with caramelized bananas, berries, whipped honey butter, and almonds ($10) sounded really appealing. 

A. ordered a mimosa, and while there's an extensive list of breakfast cocktails, I went with the lime Topo Chico (Mexican sparkling water). 

A. and I shared both dishes and the server was very accommodating in getting us extra plates and quickly clearing away dishes when we were finished with them, as the small two-top table was filled by the large plates. 

The french toast transcended a lot of other versions that are just egg-coated bread. This was custardy on the inside and as you can see, it came covered in fruit, which helped to add interest and keep the dish light. 

After moving quickly through a few slices of toast each, we turned our attention to the long-awaited, much-heralded benedict. The poached eggs and pulled pork are served on a green chile biscuit and then topped with a jalapeno hollandaise sauce. The dish avoided all the common pitfalls: the biscuits were light, the hollandaise actually had some flavor, and the pulled pork wasn't too salty or heavy. It was as delicious as everyone has said. 

So add me to the list of people recommending Terlingua for brunch, but really for any meal. The brunch menu is available Sundays from 10am until 3pm, and they do not take reservations. Shortly, you'll even be able to enjoy eating outside at picnic tables on the patio! 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Allagash Saison Dinner at Table, Kennebunk

This past Saturday, March 12th was Saison Day, and unless you're a self-proclaimed beer nerd, you probably didn't notice. Truth is, Allagash Brewing Company made up this holiday three years ago to help promote its 2nd most popular style of beer (Allagash White being the best seller). This year, there were events all around Maine to celebrate: tastings, special releases, and beer dinners. 

I attended the Saison Day tasting dinner at Table in Kennebunk at their new facility in the former home of Abbondante on Western Ave. (which sits just behind Pedro's). The food was prepared by the chef of Ocean at the Cape Arundel Inn and paired with several different saisons from Allagash. Truthfully, when I accepted the invite, I did so a little warily, not being a big fan of either saisons or French-Canadian cooking. The sample menu referenced pork rillettes and cassoulet, so I was expecting a meal of heavy, rich foods. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised by the menu and how much I enjoyed the different varieties of saisons. 

We arrived a little before 6PM, which this time of year still left a little lingering light for us to check out the beautiful exterior of the restaurant as we approached. I never ate at Abbondante before it closed, but I was delighted by the the rustic building and its ample outdoor seating and firepits. 

Inside, it's just as pretty, with a soaring ceiling, a huge stone fireplace, and hanging wagon wheel light fixtures adorned with Edison bulbs. The large communal table in the center of the room was set with plenty of candles and glasses, lending the room a very festive feel. 

We were greeted by Amy of Table and introduced to several Allagash staff members who were on hand to answer questions and chat. A server brought us a glass of the Allagash Saison to kick things off and after a while, we listened to a brief introduction to the beer by Josh Wolf, the sales manager for the area. 

Josh explained what a saison is... kinda -- he said it's more a tradition than a style. The style came from Belgium, where farms would brew beer in the winter when it was cooler and serve it to their farmworkers in the summer (saison means "season" in French). The resurgence of the style in the US has brought us beers that are lower in alcohol content, paler in color, and have fruity, spicy, and malty flavors with a dry finish. That said, Allagash then does all kinds of fun stuff with their saisons that throw a lot of that out the window. So there's usually something for every type of beer preference. 

The Saison went well with our first course of those pork rillettes (also made with Allagash Saison), but the Saison is pretty easy drinking, so it pairs well with most things. The porky spread was nice with the accompanying creamy mustard sauce and the tart pickled vegetables. 

Next, servers delivered wine glasses of the Allagash Century. This one is fermented with Saison and Brettanomyces yeast for a year in stainless steel, so it has a bit of the tart flavor that the Brett brings. That tartness cut through the rich, sweetness of the next dish: mussels ragout with caramelized onions and creme fraiche. I was skeptical of this one before I had it, not being able to envision what mussels ragout was exactly. But the mussels were tender and plump in their broth of sweet onion goop and the potato chips on top delivered a nice crunch. 

The main course, a huge piece of roast cod over sausage cassoulet with root vegetables, was paired with Allagash Interlude. Again, this beer is made with Saison and Brett yeast, but some of it is aged in former red wine barrels, which of course imparts a wine flavor. If you have a wine drinker you're trying to turn on to beer, this one would be a good place to start. 

Over this course Josh from Allagash shared with me the phrase "screwed by the 'lude," as in, "my night was going fine until I was..." Apparently Interlude has been the cause of several of the brewery's employees' crazy nights and wicked hangovers. I laughed, but began drinking my water in earnest. 

Our entree portion was huge, so I didn't make much of a dent, but despite the appearance of that "dreaded" cassoulet, this dish was very light and spring-like. The roasted fennel in particular was lovely. I must revise my opinion about French-Canadian fare prepared by the right hands. 

For dessert, we enjoyed the Allagash Astrid, a nice sour also brewed with Saison and Brett yeast and fermented in stainless for a year. It then ages further in used Aquavit barrels, which is a lovely idea, but I didn't pick up any of the characteristic caraway or anise flavors from the spirit. The herbs I did detect came from the dessert, an apple croustade with a rosemary crumble, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and some blood orange caramel. 

We finished chatting with our tablemates, thanked our hosts, and went to take a post-dinner stroll around Kennebunkport before getting in the car to Portland. The tide was out in the river and the three dories have yet to make their seasonal appearance in the river. The streets were quiet and many of the boats still sported their winter covers. We were full, slightly buzzed, and had the streets to ourselves, so we wandered around and remembered all the fun we've had on our past KPT adventures. Even though it was only a night out, it felt like we'd captured some of that summer vacation vibe. 

Visit Table's calendar of events for upcoming cooking classes, dinners, and events. 

Braised Pork Rillettes
From Chef Pierre Gignac, Ocean at the Cape Arundel Inn & Resort

3 lbs. boneless pork shoulder cut into 1 inch cubes
8 ounces pork fat or 8 slices of bacon cut into ½ inch pieces
3 Tablespoons kosher salt
1 Tablespoons fresh ground black pepper
1 medium size sweet onion, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, crushed
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed
4 bay leaves
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup Allagash Saison
½ cup brandy or cognac

Preheat your oven to 325°F or a household slow cooker to low temp. Season the meat evenly with salt and pepper and transfer to a heavy pot or the slow cooker. 

Add onions, garlic and spices and stir to blend. Add wine, Saison Ale and brandy. Bring to a simmer, cover with a lid and braise in the oven 4 hours. If using a slow cooker, cover with lid and cook on low heat for 8-10 hours. 

After cooking, remove from oven or turn off the slow cooker. The meat should be very tender. Drain the braised pork mixture in a large sieve over a bowl, careful to remove all herbs and the bay leaves. Reserving the cooking liquid.  

Transfer the pork into a bowl. Shred the meat into very small pieces with a fork. Add the braising liquid cup-by-cup and beat with a wooden spoon (or a hand mixer). Mix until the mixture looks spreadable. Transfer into ramekins and chill for at least 2 hours before serving. 

Serve with toasted baguette, mustard, and your favorite pickled vegetables. 

I attended the Allagash Saison Tasting Dinner free of charge and I have previously worked with Table for promotional events, but the opinions and words in this post are my own.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Donn the Beachcomber's Mai Tai

For last night's cocktail hour, I wanted to finally bust open the bottle of falernum I'd give A. for Christmas (I bought it for him so he could make rum swizzles, but we've yet to make any). Looking for a creative tiki cocktail using falernum and other ingredients I already had in my home bar, I came across Don the Beachcomber's recipe for a mai tai. (Side note: I really wanted a cocktail recipe generator, and I just found a great one in Cocktail Builder.) 

Falernum is a simple syrup flavored with almonds, citrus, and spices like ginger, clove, and allspice (you can make your own) and is used in drinks like the zombie and the aforementioned rum swizzle. 

Now, we're quite happy with our Trader Vic's mai tai, but Don's version appealed to me with the warm spicy notes of the falernum and the tart grapefruit juice. I think next time I'll up the falernum, as the drink was pretty tart and not much of the syrupy sweetness came through. 

Don the Beachcomber's Mai Tai
Adapted from Post Prohibition

1 oz gold rum
1 1/2 oz Myers’s Plantation rum
1 oz grapefruit juice
3/4 oz lime juice
1/2 oz Cointreau
1/4 oz falernum 
6 drops Pernod or Herbsaint (I used Maine-made Tree Spirits absinthe)
Dash of Angostura bitters

Shake well with crushed ice. Pour unstrained into a rocks glass. Garnish with mint sprigs.

Recipe by Don the Beachcomber circa 1933.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Mast Landing Brewing and Black Dinah Chocolatiers, Westbrook

Since I received a record player for Christmas, I've been really into daytrips out of Portland to hunt for records (combined with some good food, natch). So far we've been up to Vinylhaven Records and Vinyl Junky in Brunswick and down to Music Plus in Biddeford -- unfortunately, he was closed that day, but that didn't stop us from filling up at the nearby Palace Diner and having a drink at Round Turn Distilling. We'll just have to come back when neighboring Custom Deluxe is open for dinner.  

My most recent trip out of town to Westbrook though, had nothing to do with record hunting (although maybe I missed a good music shop out there??), but rather beer and chocolate. A nice consolation prize. 

First, we headed to the newly opened Mast Landing Brewing Company on Main St. to meet some friends for happy hour. Like the other locals filling the brewery, our friends are so excited to have a brewery in their neighborhood. Mast Landing opened last weekend and on tap was their Seavey Island Blonde Ale, Tell Tale Pale Ale, and Mainstay IPA. (Before you ask, yes, Mast Landing is in Freeport, where the owners are from and got their start in homebrewing.)

The brewery itself is in a huge warehouse - one of the owners told me they were lucky to find a space that would allow them to scale up as they grow. When you enter, you walk past the brewing space into the tasting room, where there's plenty of room and tables made from recycled pallets. 

Between the two of us, A. and I ordered the pale ale and the IPA. I got a small glass of the IPA, thinking I'd go back for a small pale ale, but ended up sticking with the IPA on my second round. The pale ale was sweeter, with a candy flavor from the hops, and the IPA had a nice bitterness. 

Mast Landing is open Friday from 3-8pm and Saturday from 12-8pm. The location can be kind of hard to find - it's behind Profenno's Bar & Grill, so turn as if into their parking lot and drive through the back of it. Once you come around the building, you'll see a big warehouse with the brewery's sign. 

Nearly across the street is the new home of Black Dinah Chocolatiers, with a small retail shop for their beautiful chocolates in front of a large facility for making, packing, and shipping their chocolate. I stopped in for a tour and a taste from chocolate makers Kate Shaffer and Caitlin Powell. They're providing the chocolate for the Portland Spirits Society's whiskey and chocolate pairing next week. 

Black Dinah is new to Southern Maine, but they've been making chocolate for seven years on Isle au Haut. They use all fresh ingredients in their flavorings and as many local ingredients as they can source (aside from the chocolate and the sugar, of course). Many of their truffles are decorated with sweet, brightly colored patterns that are so satisfying to bite through. 

I tried a maple caramel covered in dark chocolate and topped with smoked sea salt and a Peruvian dark chocolate vanilla truffle that were both amazing. I won't spoil the pairings for the event by saying too much more about what I tried, but if you haven't had Black Dinah's chocolate, do yourself the favor of seeking some out. The retail shop is open in Westbrook Monday through Saturday, 9am to 5pm. Their chocolate is also sold at LeRoux Kitchen, Browne Trading, and Lisa Marie's Made in Maine (on Exchange St.). 

As is apparently the theme in Westbrook, Black Dinah is also a little hard to find - the address is Main St. but the entrance is off a side street, which also leads conveniently to a public parking lot. (The side street doesn't appear to have a name, but it's right next to Bridge St.) 

As Portland fills up and space continues to become more expensive, don't be surprised to see more and more business opening that make the trip to Westbrook worthwhile. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Smoky Scotch Tasting at The Brunswick Hotel & Tavern

I've always been intrigued by The Brunswick Hotel & Tavern's spirit tastings, but I'd never been able to make it to one. So when I was invited to their smoky Scotch tasting, I lept at the chance - maybe before the reality of the topic set in. 

You see, I'm not a huge Scotch fan. In fact, since starting the Portland Spirits Society, the one Scotch I've found I like is one that's distinctly un-Scotch-like (Edradour 10 year). OK, that's not entirely true, since it is Scotch and therefore by definition Scotch-like, but it's on the sweeter and less smoky end of the spectrum. More American whiskey-like. I didn't quite realize that the event was not just Scotches but smoky ones until I was seated in the cozy tavern staring down six samples of bonfire-scented booze. 

The event was led by Michael Meirs, a personable guy who reps liquor and also gives private tastings like this one. He began by introducing the ritual of tasting Scotch, from a visual inspection to a swirl to a sniff to a taste, and describing what you might encounter and what it might mean. 

I learned that Scotch is aged in ex-Bourbon and sherry barrels and that the color of the final product can help you tell which and therefore what to expect (i.e. yellow shades = aged in rum and reddish-brown hues mean aged in sherry casks). 

We began our tasting ritual with the Johnnie Walker Double Black ($39.99 for 750 mL at Maine liquor stores), a blend of 40 different whiskies, including the one we'd taste next, the Caol Ila. We observed the color, took a good sniff (neat trick: to prepare your nose, hold the whiskey to your chin and smell, then your lips and smell, then your nose and smell) and then finally tasted the stuff. 

Our guide didn't present us with any tasting notes, saying that they limit people by guiding them to flavors, so I don't have a lot myself either. The JW Double Black was definitely smoky, leaving the lingering flavor of cigarettes in my mouth (like I said, I'm not a Scotch fan!). It paired nicely with the bison chili, with its big, bold flavors. The chef popped out to explain each course - in general, he said he went with big flavors to stand up to the smoky whiskies, and also worked the spirit into a lot of the dishes themselves. 

Next we tried one of the component parts of the Johnnie Walker, Caol Ila 12 (Maine Spirits doesn't show the 12, but lists the 18 at $79.99). The distillery is the biggest on the Island of Islay, because it's the body of Johnnie Walker, but many aren't familiar with Caol Ila. It's a single malt (meaning it's from one distillery, rather than a blended whisky). I liked this one - it was much sweeter and not as smoky, or at least the finish wasn't as long as the JW. The pairing was fantastic - scallop ceviche with speck ham, nice and light, but smoky to complement the whisky. 

Next was our guide's favorite, Ardbeg 10 year ($49.99). He described this whisky as a "peat monster," which made me nervous. A sniff revealed the unpleasant smoky odor of plastic Band-aids. Very nervous. Sure enough: very peaty, but pleasantly fruity and floral as well. The pairing, Ardbeg-marinated grilled figs with crushed pecans and local honey, really helped to temper the smokiness. 

Fortunately, the smokiness flavor seemed to top out with the Ardbeg - I was genuinely afraid that the whiskies were going to get smokier from here on out. The Talisker Storm ($64.99) was up next, from the Isle of Skye, which is the most remote distillery in Scotland, but the most visited. Due to the differing terroir of the peat on the island, this whisky is less smoky, but more intense. 

The Talisker Storm is also aged in rejuvenated Bourbon barrels, or ones that have the char shaved off and then are recharred. The Bourbon flavor really comes through as an intense pepperiness. I very much enjoyed this one, as I felt like it bridged the gap between Scotch and Bourbon. It also paired well with a spicy Andouille sausage with a Dijon mustard cream sauce and pickled red onions. If I had to pick a favorite pairing, this one would be it. 

Up next was another Ardbeg, this one called Uigeadail ($79.99), named after a nearby lake (I even learned how to pronounce it!), paired with baked beans with espresso and proscuitto. This whisky is a blend of ones aged in Bourbon and sherry casks. We may or may not have cheated on this one and peeked on some tasting notes on our phones - where I learned we could expect espresso and caramel flavors, but also that this was a cask strength whisky. Meaning it was over 100 proof, and so I didn't taste much past the burning from the strong alcohol. 

We ended with the Lagavulin 16 ($79.99) year, which is the the longest aged flagship whisky in the industry. Our guide Mike said he thought I'd like the Lagavulin the best, being a Bourbon drinker, so I was looking forward to this one. It's aged in sherry casks, so it has lots of spice and dark fruit notes, and it paired perfectly well with the warm molasses cookie and cherry compote. 

I'm obviously a sucker for booze tastings, but this event was well run - the speaker was personable, providing a nice mix of information about the distilleries and about Scotch in general, and the food was excellently paired with the drinks. That the chef is a Scotch enthusiast certainly helped. I came away from the event not necessarily a Scotch lover myself, but definitely more educated about the experience and open to learning more about the smoky spirit. 

Check out the Brunswick Hotel & Tavern's next spirits tasting (they're offered periodically, although one is not scheduled now) or check them out during Maine Restaurant Week for lunch or dinner, March 1st-12th. 

I attended this event for free as a guest of the PR firm that represents the hotel, however, the words and opinions expressed in this post are mine.