Winter VT BeerAdvocate Meet Up


Another trip to Vermont, another great bottle share with the Vermont BAs. Awesome seeing everyone again yesterday as per usual. It wasn’t nearly as nice weather as we had for the one over the summer, so this winter’s meet was held at Drop-In Brewing Company (if you haven’t seen the pictures from the Summer Meet Up at Mount Philo, check them out at this tag here).   Continue reading

Incredible Dining at Hen of the Wood

 

This one is going to be a doozy. I’ve been holding off writing this post because of the sheer volume it would entail to write. It’s a little daunting, honestly. Up until this dinner the most complicated and involving meal I’ve had was the Hill Farmstead Dinner at Armsby Abbey, and this one is even more lengthy, at an addition 7 more dishes. The overall stats of the meal totalled 18 different dishes, 2 carafes and one bottle of wine and a bottle of lambic. Let’s dive into it.

When I first made our reservation it was early in the evening, but as we worked out some kinks for an extra couple of tickets to the Harvest Festival at Hill Farmstead, Dave and Jill were able to head up with Elise and I the night before and join us for Blackback Pub, Prohibition Pig, and Hen of the Wood. To include the extra couple, our reservation was pushed back to 8:30, which admittedly was a little late for dinner but it gave us time for pre-dinner drinks, and it was no matter, our service was still impeccable even though we were the last table seated (and to leave).

If you’re going to be in Waterbury, have a reasonable amount of notice, and can get a group of three or four people, make a reservation a Hen of the Wood. With four people, you can easily split the four entrees, get a handful of dishes from each section of the menu, and really explore everything they have to offer. We grabbed three to four dishes from each course and kept the libations flowing all night long. By the end of the meal we were absolutely stuffed, but this is without a doubt the best way to experience the meal.

Our meal began with three “Bites”: Sweet corn fritters with dragonfly sugarworks maple syrup, Chioggia beets with basil, pine nuts and Bonnieview feta, Cucumbers and baby fennel with crème fraîche. All of the dishes were superb, but the corn fritters were too good to not get a second order.

We followed up the bites with some starters, including Vermont rabbit liver pate with red onion jam, grilled bread and whole grain mustard, Hen of the Woods mushroom toast with poached farm egg and grilled house bacon, whole day-boat calamari with zucchini, tarragon and smoked chili vinaigrette, and lastly duck sausage and local cornmeal polenta with sunny-side-up duck egg. Let me just say that anything with “liver” or “duck” in the name I’m going to be all over. Surprisingly, the Hen of the Woods mushrooms were great, and I’m not even a mushroom fan. The calamari was a first for me. I was a little taken aback, as I’ve never seen a whole squid presented on a dish like that and calamari really isn’t my thing, but at this point in the meal you just learn to trust that the chefs at Hen of the Wood can do no wrong and whatever ends up on the plate in front of you is going to be amazing.

There were a few sides available so naturally we got all three: Local cornmeal polenta with clothbound cheddar, crispy brussel sprouts with prosciutto and pine nuts, broccoli gratin with herb breadcrumb. At the risk of sounding like a broken record here, I don’t really go out of of my way to eat brussel sprouts but Hen of the Wood does it again, they were extremely flavourful and I would not have hesitated ordering them next time.

By the time we got to dinner, we were loosening our belts and we were running out of space on the table. We made way for plates of goat’s milk dumplings with chanterelles and sweet corn, pine nuts and sage, hook and line haddock with heirloom beans, braised fennel, and hazelnuts, smoked hanger steak with grilled carmen peppers and creme fraiche, and Vermont heritage pork with sweet corn, delicata squash and mustard jus. I can’t stress enough how skilled the Hen of the Wood kitchen staff is. Everything was absolutely perfect.

At this point of the night, we really couldn’t eat any more. There was maybe one or two other tables occupied but otherwise the majority of the restaurant was empty. I asked when we’re expected to clear out and the staff graciously replied we could stay as long as we’d like, and they’d be there as long as we were. Though full, we couldn’t help but try some of the dishes they have on the dessert menu, and after a short break, we ended our meal with vanilla-date pudding, butterscotch and walnut crumble, chocolate brownie cake with mint ice cream, and apple galette with honey-ginger ice cream. And of course I can’t see a bottle of Cantillon on the menu without ordering it, so I grabbed a Vigneronne Lambic with Italian muscat grapes to go with dessert as well. Do I really need to say again that everything was perfect? Can I even say that enough?

Hen of the Wood came highly recommended by several of my Vermont BA friends and even Shaun Hill himself. And of course I did my research before heading up there, and there isn’t a single bad thing out there written about the place. Often times in the reviews it’s referred to as being the finest dining in Vermont and one of the must-visit places before you die, so needless to say it had some lofty expectations to live up to. I’ll admit, it lived up to the hype. The entire experience was absolutely incredible. The food was perfect, the service was outstanding, and the ambiance was extremely well thought out.

This was without a doubt the best meal I’ve ever had. I’ve called Waterbury the beer Mecca of the Northeast before, and have suggested the trip to many of my beer nerd friends. But for those of you that can appreciate fine dining as well, I can’t recommend a visit to Hen of the Wood enough.

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Hen of the Wood (link) | 92 Stowe Street, Waterbury, VT (map) | All Hen of the Wood Posts

The Southern Vermont Garlic & Herb Festival

Garlic Fest, for me, is not just about the garlic. Sure we get some to take home (probably too much), but it’s a genuinely nice food festival that has a lot less of the carnie-ish vendors that most of the food festivals in the Capital District have. And it’s not just garlic, either. We always end up with something for the pooch, some veggies, something to make a sauce or a dip from, a few tastings of wine and liquor, some fresh-squeezed lemonade and usually some really decent cheese (although this year cheese options were pretty slim, possibly due to the oppressive heat that day).

I spent a good part of the day trying to find something hot and spicy enough to make me cry. Even the hot sauce they make from these ghost chili peppers wasn’t hot enough for me. The hottest thing I had all day was a taste of a Turkish Red garlic. It was one of the most potent types of garlic I’ve ever had. Naturally we went home with some.

This is actually my favorite shot of the day. Regardless of how tasty it is, garlic doesn’t make for good photography. Sunflowers and other vibrantly colored fruits and veggies do however. The only thing that would make this better is if there wasn’t someone’s crotch in the background.

I can’t go on without mentioned the vendors themselves. Always lively and full of energy, they move so fast it’s tough to capture some of them in action.

By lunch it was time to head back home to the pooch and get prepped for the first big bottle share I was hosting myself. More on that to come…

Quick Swim at Niquette Bay

– The cool thing about the day passes at Vermont parks is that they’re good for every park in the state. Since we were staying the week, and there wasn’t any swimming at Mt. Philo, we made our way over to Niquette Bay. There’s a little bit of a walk through the forest to get to the beach itself but it’s worth it. The perfect place to take the pooch for a swim since it’s relatively shallow pretty far out into the water. This reminded me a lot of Log Bay on lake George.

A few brews and a few hours of sun later and we were heading back to our campsite at Mt. Philo.

Marble Works District in Middlebury, VT

Within walking distance of Two Brother’s Tavern is the Marble Works, a historic district featuring some pretty amazing architecture, shops, restaurants and great views of the Middlebury falls. We walked through here after our dinner at Two Brother’s Tavern and it was well worth the trip over the historic footbridge.

Ice Cream Sandwiches at Vermont Cookie Love

This topic is really heating up in the Capital District this week so I figured now would be a good time to post this.

We found this gem not too far away from Mt. Philo. This was, no lie, the best ice cream sandwich I’ve ever had. And that includes the ones I’ve made from scratch: cookie, ice cream and all. If featured their First Love Chocolate Chip Cookie and Wilcox Family Farm hard ice cream. The only thing I would have done differently was warm up the cookie just a smidge. Luckily for me, I can order these cookies online and make them at home, perhaps with some homemade Southern Tier Choklat or Creme Brulee ice cream.  <— (This is happening. ASAP.)

Quick Heady Topper Pit Stop

It wouldn’t be a Hill Farmstead trip without a stop for some fresh Heady on the way back. Good thing I picked it up then, too since they ran out on the day we planned on heading home from camping.

Snapped a couple of pics of their kickass delivery truck and the guys doin’ their damn thing. I some how resisted drinking some fresh from the tap, but I just had some the day before at our dinner at Prohibition Pig so I managed.

Growler Fills at Hill Farmstead

Wow, finally. I’ve been waiting with anticipation to make the pilgrimage to Hill Farmstead ever since I started hearing about them BeerAdvocate. It’s a little too far out of the way for a day trip so it was a perfect opportunity to go there while we were staying at Mt. Philo. I’ve heard some pretty mixed reviews about the brewery experience, but luckily our visit was pretty eventful.

The drive from Waterbury to Hill Farmstead is long and winding. Mostly two-lane roads that take you through Stowe, and if you don’t mind a little detour you can visit Trapp Family Lodge on the way by like we did. (The place is beautiful, by the way, but reminds me of the place they stay at in Dirty Dancing.)

Further down the road houses and stores become less and less frequent until you turn on to a road that no shit reminded me of someplace Schrute Farms might be on. It’s a dirt/gravel road that my car nor my passengers (Elise, Kuma) loved. A couple of turns later and you see this beautiful bastard in the distance and you know the entire trip was worth it:

Like I said, I’ve heard mixed things about visiting Hill Farmstead from people on BA and even the Vermont folks I met that week. Going into it, I was expecting it to be a mostly in and out affair:  get in, get my growlers, no bullshit, and get out of there. Fifteen, twenty minutes tops. Luckily, that wasn’t the case.

Obviously we got the tasting flight (and then another when the first flight was drying up). There were about 6 beers on tap that day so we tried them all. While that was going on, Abner was brewing and I got to chat with Shaun Hill about it and Double Galaxy and even got to try some of the Abner wort (that was fucking badass). There was no Abner that day, but there was Nor so I settled on a growler of that (in retrospect, I’m extremely glad I did).

I also grabbed a growler of Double Galaxy I promised for Jon, and a bomber of Everett for Elise, the only bottled beer they had that day. While they were pouring my Nor, they mentioned it was on the way out. The growler of Nor after mine actually kicked their last keg of the stuff, so a new beer had to be chosen: Society and Solitude #4.

This beer was kegged just two days before. It was so new that Shawn hadn’t actually had a taste of it. I couldn’t NOT get a growler of this beer. After filling up a 750ml bottle, mine was the first half gallon growler of the brew. Ever. Pretty cool. After snagging a couple of glasses (necessary to bring for any of the festivals they have there) and a shirt for Elise, we were on our way to dinner with friends.

Actually making it to Hill Farmstead is a little bittersweet for me. I feel like each of my Vermont trips has gotten bigger and bigger and bigger, and now there’s not much else for me to do there but catch up on some of the “lesser” breweries I haven’t hit yet, and a festival or bottle release here and there. With any luck (hopefully) that’s not the case.