America’s 100 Best Beer Bars 2014

Ah, another Draft Mag Top 100 list, another reminder to do more traveling outside the East Coast. Didn’t make much headway this year, as some of the bars I’ve hit in past (Bier Markt, Sunset Tap and Grill) are off this year’s list, so while I have hit four new places since last year, I’m only up to nine total.

I’m hoping to add ChurchKey to this list next month, Monk’s Cafe during Philly Beer Week, and surely Torst is in my sights later this year. How many of America’s Best Beer Bars have you been to?

EDIT: For clarity, I just want to reiterate, this is not my top list of bars, this is a personal recollection of the places I’ve visited that were featured on Draft Mag’s America’s Best Beer Bars for 2014. Please click through the link at the top or bottom of this post to see their full list.

Source: Draft Mag

Armsby Abbey 5th Anniversary Dinner with Tree House Brewing Co.

Tree House Brewing Family

It’s incredible to see just how far Tree House has come in the past year. It feels like just yesterday I was asking the only person I knew in MA at the time, Alec of Armsby Abbey, what Tree House’s story was (thanks to Jeff for reminding me of this).

Thankfully Paul and Jeff (neither of whom I knew at the time but thanks to Tree House I now consider good friends) pushed me over the edge and I made my first visit to what has now become one of my favorite breweries. Fast forward to today and Tree House has gained national recognition in the beer community, their beer is traded all over the world, and here they are being featured in a world class beer dinner at one of the top bars in the country, Armsby Abbey.

Continue reading

America’s 100 best beer bars: 2012

Only seven for me, plus the World of Beer chain mentioned in the notes for the South. Pretty weak. Gotta step it up in 2013!

  • MCNULTY’S BIER MARKT | Cleveland, Ohio (Went here before I started fuj on tap but I might get around to doing an archive post at some point)
  • THE ARMSBY ABBEY | Worcester, Mass. (StoutFest, Hill Farmstead Dinner)
  • BLIND TIGER | New York (Post-Grad Boozin’)
  • DEEP ELLUM | Allston, Mass. (still need to do full posts on Boston, but here’s the teaser shot)
  • RATTLE N HUM | New York (Post Grad Boozin’)
  • SUNSET GRILL & TAP | Allston, Mass. (Also pre-fuj on tap)
  • REDLIGHT, REDLIGHT | Orlando, Fla. (East Coast Road Trip)

How many have you been to?

Source: Draft Magazine

Hill Farmstead Dinner at Armsby Abbey

- We arrived at Armsby Abbey about 45 minutes early (due to my superb driving skills, obv) so we had some time to kill before the dinner started. Given that it was the Armby’s 4th Anniversary, they had some killer beers on tap that I wouldn’t have gotten my hands on otherwise, and while we were there for the Hill Farmstead Dinner, I couldn’t help but grab some Cantillon Single Barrel Lambic #1, 2009 Lou Pepe Kriek, and Cambridge Brewing Company Ozymandias. It goes without saying, but they would not have sat on these kegs and waited to open them for their Anniversary unless they were absolutely fantastic, which they all were.

Cantillon Single Barrel Lambic #1, 2009 Lou Pepe Kriek

Hill Farmstead Tap List at Armsby Abbey

I was allowed in a few minutes early to take a few pictures of the plates for reception. Dishes lined the center of the restaurant filled with Willoughby, Clothbound Cheddar, Landaff & Weybridge cheeses all aged at the Cellars of Jasper Hill (whom I’ve recently just discovered and want to check out on our next trip to Greensboro) and Fruits from Fresh Tougas Farm paired with the Hill Farmstead and The Alchemist collaboration Walden. The cheeses were perfect to get my palate back into gear after the super sweet and tartness from the pre-dinner libations. I missed out on Walden due to my lack of attendance at the Vermont Brewers Festival so I was glad to get my hands on some at the Armsby. Crisp, light, refreshing, extremely sessionable blonde ale with a lot of hop character. This an easy sippin’-on-all-day kinda beer.

Jasper Hill Cheeses

Jasper Hill Cheeses

Hill Farmstead and Alchemist collaboration Walden

The next course was a Charcuterie slate served family style with Smoked Beef Tongue, Rabbit Terrine, Chicken Liver Pate, and Head Cheese with Caraway-Bacon Braised Cabbage, Nectarine Mostarda, Pickled Shallots, and Crostini accoutrements paired with Hill Farmstead Vera Mae. The real standout on this plate was the Smoke Beef Tongue. Honestly if you didn’t know it was tongue you would have just thought it was oddly small slices of pastrami. Absolutely delicious. Vera Mae was the first of the many saisons we were going to have through the night. Made with some local Vermont ingredients including dandelions gathered on the farmstead (I’m not sure who Shaun gets to volunteer to harvest local dandelions but I would kill for the opportunity to help out with the making of this beer). Light, herbal and citrusy: a perfect summer beer.

Smoked Beef Tongue, Rabbit Terrine, Chicken Liver Pâté, Pork Head Cheese

We moved on to the Watermelon Carpaccio which was made with Compressed Watermelon, Queso Fresco, Shaved Jalapeño, Cumin Oil, Lime Salt, and Cilantro paired with Hill Farmstead Edward. This was really interesting because the watermelon took on the appearance of thinly sliced ahi tuna. It was packed with watermelon flavor, but what stole the show for me on this plate was the jalapenos (I’ve told you guys before I’m a little of a chili head). While the jalapeno was present the spice was missing and it was a little confusing to my taste buds and I believe that’s exactly what the chef intended. The jalapeno flavor stood out, but none of the heat. Very interesting indeed. The way Edward (named after Shaun’s grandfather) was presented is a perfect example of how the night was not just about the food and not just about the beer, but was also filled with great story telling from both Shaun Hill and Alec Lopez, both of whom got up before each course to tell the guests a little bit about what they were about to partake in. Edward was much more hopped up than the previous two beers, with just slight hints of citrus and pine, but still just as sessionable. Shaun described this as a “desert island” beer that could be drank all day. I tend to agree.

Watermelon Carpaccio

Alec Lopez of Armsby Abbey

Shaun E. Hill of Hill Farmstead

The next course was Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho made with Heirloom Tomato, Charred Octopus, Fried Pig Ear, Serrano Oil, and Chervil paired with Hill Farmstead E. Like I’ve said on Beer Advocate, any of the “weird” foods that were on the menu were all presented in a way that was very approachable for all of those leery in trying it. The octopus went down extremely easy, and the fried pig ear was like a tasty, crispy pork rind with a soft center. Nothing too scary here. E. is the farmhouse version of Edward and it adds a really nice refreshing tartness and funk from the Brett. It’s not in your face, Sour Patch Kid tartness but just enough for you know it’s there with some hop notes still present and some very nice lacing. The combination works extremely well. Very drinkable like all of Hill Farmstead’s beer.

Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho Heirloom Tomato, Charred Octopus, Fried Pig Ear, Serrano Oil, Chervil

Hill Farmstead E.

Crazy Lacing on hill Farmstead E.

The Crispy Veal Sweetbreads were served with Squash Puree, Sweet Corn, Foraged Mushrooms, Cultured Goat Butter, Parmigiano Reggiano, Lemon, and Espelette paired with Hill Farmstead Art. They were absolutely the highlight of the dinner for me. Just thinking about them as I write this is making my mouth water. Again, some might be unsettled by the thought of sweetbreads but the crunchy fry of the breading and the pungent parm worked perfectly for the first-timer. I was stealing some off of Elise’s plate by the time mine were gone. Amazing. Art is without a doubt one of the best saisons I’ve ever had. Tart and citrusy, a bit of pepper with the wine barrel aging adding a bit of sweetness.

Crispy Veal Sweetbreads, Squash Purée, Sweet Corn, Foraged Mushrooms, Cultured Butter, Parmigiano Reggiano, Lemon, Espelette

Hill Farmstead Art

Intermezzo consisted of Woodbury Wellfleet Oysters with Corn Foam, Creme Fraiche, and Chive served family style. I’ll admit, I’m a little bit of a wiener when it comes to bivalve molluscs. Oysters, clams, and mussels all kinda sketch me out a bit. But recently, especially with the few Belgian beer-focused restaurants opening up in Upstate NY, I’ve been exposed to these more and more. I doubt I’m going to go out of my way to order a big bowl of beer-steamed mussels any time soon, but when offered to me I’m no longer going to run away screaming like a little girl. Progress!

Woodbury Wellfleet Oyster, Corn Foam, Crème Fraîche, Chive

We moved on to one of my absolute favorite ingredients in food: Pork belly. The Pork Rillon was served with Stone Fruit Chutney, Onion Soubise, Preserved Lemon, and Bitter Green paired with Hill Farmstead Society and Solitude #4. I realize that rillon is supposed to be served as a snack or a side, but I would handily eat an entire dinner of these porky morsels. I brought a growler of Society and Solitude #4 home from my visit to Hill Farmstead back in July and later cracked it open with a few other Vermont DIPAs. If you’ve been following the blog at all you know my love of Vermont DIPAs and specifically Hill Farmstead, so there’s not much more to say here other than it was exceptional.

Pork Rillon: Pork Belly, Peach Chutney, Onion Soubise, Preserved Lemon, Bitter Greens

Okay, the next course is the one that’s garnered the most controversy: Lamb Brain Ravioli. There was only one ravioli on the plate and it was kinda hidden under the Confit Lamb Shoulder, Pulled Eggplant, Fire Roasted Peppers, Charred Tomato Puree, and Salsa Verde paired with Hill Farmstead Civil Disobedience #4. So while it was the most intriguing part of the dish (possibly the night) the course was not completely lost if lamb brain wasn’t your thing. Due to lack of brain, some sweetbreads were mixed in so we could all get some. It really wasn’t as big of a deal as everyone was making it out today, and I enjoyed being able to cross “lamb brain” off of my food bucket list. The pulled lamb shoulder was fantastic, albeit this late in the evening we were all starting to feel a bit full. This paired perfectly with the dark Civil Disobedience #4, which while saison, was black with a cream colored head and a bit of a funk reminiscent of a (slight) sour ale.

The night ended with a bonus course of Fois Gras and Peach Gastrique served on Crostini followed by Champagne Poached Peach with Lavender Pound Cake with a Honey-Peach Reduction and Lemon Cream paired with Hill Farmstead Anna. Anna had some honey and citrus notes, with a slight bit of graininess and a bit of farmhouse funk, which paired perfectly with dessert. Sadly, as we were able to bring the Hill Farmstead wine glasses home with us, I saw a few guests pour their glasses of Anna out so they could rinse and get on their way. This was a long night, and those people might have been over full or worried about driving, but man what a fucking shame.

Fois Gras at Armsby Abbey

Champagne Poached Peach, Lavender Poundcake, Honey-Peach Reduction, Lemon Cream

Hill Farmstead Anna

As I’ve said on Facebook and BeerAdvocate, this was without a doubt the best dinning experience I’ve ever had, both from the food and beer perspective. Where else can you get this combination of insanely good beers paired with outstanding dishes that make you eat something just out of your comfort zone? No where. I look forward to Shaun and Alec’s next venture with great anticipation.

Alec Lopez, Shaun Hill and the Rest of the Hill Farmstead and Armsby Abbey Crews 

- From last night’s Hill Farmstead Dinner at Armsby Abbey. Without a doubt the most incredible dining experience I’ve ever had. Full write up and a shit ton of more pictures to come, I just didn’t get home until about 1:30 AM and needed to get my ass into work at 7:30 this morning. Just wanted to get this out there for the guys. Cheers!

3.5 hours to go before I’m drinking this line up…

…at tonight’s Hill Farmstead Dinner at Armsby Abbey.

  • Hill Farmstead Edward
  • Hill Farmstead Abner
  • Hill Farmstead Anna
  • Hill Farmstead Vera Mae
  • Hill Farmstead Everett
  • Hill Farmstead Clara
  • Hill Farmstead James
  • Hill Farmstead Society & Solitude 4
  • Hill Farmstead Life Without Principle
  • Hill Farmstead Civil Disobedience 4
  • Hill Farmstead/Alchemist Collab Walden
  • Hill Farmstead/Grassroots Sankt Hans Amber

EDIT: tap boards just updated.

Freshly extracted lamb brain

- These lil’ guys are gonna be used for the ravioli’s at the Armsby Abbey Hill Farmstead Dinner on Monday night. Can’t wait!

Hey Capital District, wanna see what a real beer dinner looks like?

Just click here. I may have just pooped myself.

Reception

VT Cheeses, Fresh Tougas Farm Fruits, Princeton Honey

HF/Alchemist Collaboration Walden

Course 1

(Family Style)

Charcuterie

Smoked Beef Tongue

Rabbit Terrine

Chicken Liver Pate

Head Cheese

Accoutrements (Caraway-Bacon Braised Cabbage, Stone Fruit Mostarda, Pickled Shallots, Crostini)

Hill Farmstead Life Without Principle

Course 2

Watermelon Carpaccio

Compressed Watermelon, Queso Fresco, Shaved Jalapeño, Cumin Oil, Lime Salt, Cilantro

Hill Farmstead Edward

Course 3

Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho

Heirloom Tomato, Charred Octopus, Fried Pig Ear, Serrano Oil, Chervil

Hill Farmstead E.

Course 4

Crispy Sweetbreads

Veal Sweetbreads, Squash Puree, Sweet Corn, Foraged Mushrooms, Cultured Goat Butter, Parmigiano Reggiano, Lemon, Espelette

Hill Farmstead Art

Intermezzo

Woodbury Wellfleet Oyster, Corn Foam, Creme Fraiche, Chive

Course 5

Pork Rillon

Pork Belly, Stone Fruit Chutney, Onion Soubise, Preserved Lemon, Bitter Green

Hill Farmstead Society and Solitude 4

Course 6

Lamb x2

Lamb Brain Ravioli, Confit Lamb Shoulder, Pulled Eggplant, Fire Roasted Peppers, Charred Tomato Puree, Salsa Verde

Hill Farmstead Civil Disobedience 4

Course 7

Sweet Relief TBD

Stone Fruit focused goodness from our Pastry Chef

Hill Farmstead Anna

They go on sale at noon. This might be a good birthday present to myself.

StoutFest at Armsby Abbey


All I can say is “WOW”. This place really impressed me. Even if Armsby Abbey didn’t have an incredible selection of stouts on tap I would have walked away with the same feeling. The stouts were just icing on the cake.

I couldn’t possible try all of the food and beers they had on tap for StoutFest but what I did try were impeccable. Here’s the skinny:

The Brews:


The Eats:

  • Breakfast Slate – Point and Ryes Blue and House Smoked Chevre from Crystal Brook Farm served with local Wildflower Honey from Honey, Etc., Housemade Breads, Cultured Butter from Vermont, House made Preserves and House Roasted Peanut Butter.
  • Hash – Adams Farm Braised Chuck, Carrots and Spring Ramps, Spring Onion, Soubise, 145 degree Local organic Eggs from Gibson’s Dairy Farm, Currant Gastrique
  • Bacon – Thick slices of our House Cured and Smoked Bacon made with Heritage Pork Belly from Adams Farm

Let’s get the beer out of the way: we didn’t have a bad beer here. I’m pretty sure all of them are rated 90 or above anyway, some creeping up to or at 100. I actually have all three of the Founders Breakfast Stouts in my cellar, I’ve just been waiting for the right day to crack them open and share with friends (need some more FBS and KBS before that happens). Since those beers are sitting in my cellar, I haven’t actually tried any of them and StoutFest was my first time enjoying them.

I’m not going to review every beer we had at StoutFest, but I will talk a little bit about the Founders beers as that was the main draw for me to travel to Worcester for the event. These beers are fantastic. FBS is your typical Imperial Coffee Stout. And by typical I mean awesome. Extremely drinkable with plenty of coffee and chocolate notes. KBS tastes like someone dumped a bottle of bourbon into a keg of FBS (some may think the bourbon flavor is too much, but I loved it). The CBS is very similar to KBS but with the bourbon flavor cut down a bit, a lot more creaminess and some molasses/vanilla sweetness picking up where the bourbon left off. Way more drinkable than the KBS in my opinion and the best beer of the day.

Now let’s talk about the food. We ate breakfast at a place called Mrs. Murphy’s in Southwick, MA as it was right around the corner from my latest Craiglist steal. (The Boston Cream doughnuts are on par with Balla Napoli.) Anyways, we weren’t that hungry but there was no way we weren’t going to grab some food at Armsby Abbey while we were all the way out there.

We waited until after we ordered our second flight to order something. Bacon was a must because seriously the cure and smoke it in house. How could I not order it? Elise wanted the cheese board, which when I saw the description looked pretty skimpy but when it came out I was impressed. Everything on the slate was delicious. The hash was definitely the fancy-pants-iest hash I’ve ever seen, and while I do generally like comfort food like hash un-fucked-with, the chef’s interpretation of this dish was great and it worked extremely well overall.

My experience at Armsby Abbey was pretty amazing. Food rocked. Beers were awesome. Place looks fantastic. Even has some outside dining we didn’t get a chance to take advantage of, but will. Please give me another excuse to drive all the way out to Worcester again and then take all of my money. Thank you.