Craft Beer Lightens Up

The Wall Street Journal: “While mega breweries flaunt puny carb counts, microbrew fans tend to assume that ‘lite’ means flavorless. Lately, however, craft brewing has been quietly losing weight, squeezing into macro-brew territory with beers as low in alcohol and calories as mass-made lagers—only deceptively, defiantly flavorful. Small-scale breweries have, historically, produced big, bold brews … But a strange thing happened in 2007 when Dogfish Head Brewery released Festina Peche, a slightly sour, peach-infused wheat that barely tipped the scales at 4.5% ABV and 8 IBUs (International Bittering Units): It sold.”

“While Dogfish still sells truckloads of crushers such as 120 Minute IPA, the brewery’s SeaQuench Ale, a 4.9% gose released in 2016, has been the fastest-growing beer in the company’s history … Lagunitas and other breweries like them are retooling accordingly. Yes, Lagunitas, makers of boozy bruisers like aptly named Maximus (8.1% ABV) and Hop Stoopid (8% ABV) is releasing light beer … Tuning down their brews shifted Dogfish Head‘s source of inspiration, too, from American hop fields to the European grain belt.”

For “Dogfish Head’s latest light beer, Grisette About It! (3.5% ABV and under 100 calories) … the brewers chose grisette, an old-timey French wheat-beer style. To emphasize its grainy character without carb-loading, they used a low-sugar, 17th-century oat variety from Columbia, S.C., granary Anson Mills, along with malted wheat and a little honey.”

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Yes, The Cow Had a Name: Dinner

The Wall Street Journal: “The menu at chef José Andrés’s Bazaar Meat in Las Vegas notes that its Vaca Vieja steak is made from a “hand-selected working cow.” The beef comes from a meat company called Mindful Meats, where, on the cow’s ‘final day,’ employees ‘look each cow in the eye and say thank you as they load onto the trailer,’ its website explains. Welcome to the final frontier in the discussion about transparency in food: meat … The challenge for restaurants and food providers is to give information without turning stomachs.”

“It’s a fine line between transparency and oversharing. At Blackbelly Restaurant in Boulder, Colo., servers are coached to let customers take the lead in discussing the provenance of the meat, says chef and owner Hosea Rosenberg. On a typical evening, about one-third of customers will want to order without much discussion, says Mr. Rosenberg. Another third is interested in more specifics—like cuts of meat, or particular breeds of animals—before their eyes glaze over, he says. The last third is interested in even more details, such as types of grasses or grains the cow was fed, what it weighed, and what farm it was from. Sometimes they ask if it had a name. (‘We named it Dinner,’ he says).”

“Randy Golding, a retired chemical engineer in Cedar City, Utah, orders steaks, chicken and ground beef every three months from Firefly Farms in North Stonington, Conn. He says he has spoken directly with the farm manager, Dugan Tillman-Brown, for at least an hour, asking questions such as how the animals were treated (‘They have names. They have personalities,’ says Mr. Tillman-Brown) to how they are slaughtered (a quick shot to the head with a steel bolt) … Mr. Golding says those details help him and his wife, Lisa, feel better about eating meat knowing the animal wasn’t mistreated. “

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Canada Dry: A Promise Uprooted

The Washington Post: “Julie Fletcher filed a federal lawsuit against the owners of Canada Dry ginger ale alleging the beverage does not contain ginger, the Buffalo News reports. Canada Dry’s listed ingredients are carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, sodium benzoate, natural flavors and caramel colors … It’s not the first lawsuit to hold the ginger ale company to task for its ingredient list.”

“Law 360 reported that a similar suit in Missouri against Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc., which produces Canada Dry, was dismissed in June. In that suit, lab tests revealed that the beverage did not contain ginger. But the company argued that ginger is used to make the ‘natural flavoring’ in the drink and contested the methodology of the lab test.”

“As for Fletcher, the Buffalo News says that one factor in her confusion about the product was a 2011 commercial where a hunky ‘ginger farmer’ pulled a root out of the ground — and was pulled up through a woman’s cooler of Canada Dry. Which, to clear up any confusion for future litigation, is physically impossible.”

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16 Handles: Frozen Yogurt Gone Wild

The Wall Street Journal: “At the New York-based frozen-yogurt chain 16 Handles, the main draw has always been the self-serve aspect: Customers are free to mix and match flavors and toppings at will, paying a per-ounce price, varying by store, for their creations. But this summer, patrons at the 10-year-old chain’s East Village location may be surprised to find a soft-serve machine positioned behind the counter. It is reserved for a special new line of frozen treats, dubbed Sugalips, that employees are charged with making.”

“Included in the offerings: an outer space-inspired Galaxy Cone, priced at $8.95, that combines frozen yogurt, cotton candy and rock candy, a colorful dessert designed with the food-on-social-media era in mind … it comes as 16 Handles has seen its same-store sales decline in each of the past three years, following an initial period of consistent growth.”

“For starters, the concept of self-serve frozen yogurt is no longer seen as novel. But even more important: Frozen yogurt isn’t the trendy dessert it once was. Artisan ice-cream companies, offering a wave of creative and even vegan flavors, are commanding increased attention. So, too, are makers of multicultural frozen treats, such as Thai-style rolled ice cream … While such changes might help bring frozen-yogurt chains a broader clientele, experts warn there is a risk of alienating the regular customer base if a company goes too far.”

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Meal Kits: The Complexity of Simplicity

The Wall Street Journal: “Meal kits may make cooking easier, but getting a box of pre-portioned ingredients and instructions to a customer’s door is one of the most complicated logistics riddles in the food business. Companies have poured millions of dollars into solving such questions as how to stack fish and fennel in boxes. They’re also investing in systems to reroute shipments during snowstorms and algorithms to predict what customers want to eat during the summer months.”

“Meal-kit spending by consumers has grown three times as fast as spending in established food sectors such as restaurants and grocery stores since 2015, according to Nielsen … But companies that sprang up in garages or test kitchens are getting a close look at just how expensive and complicated it can be to deliver millions of boxes a month to customers’ homes or to supermarkets. Startups have had to devise workarounds for everything from heavy weather to diverting trucks around highway accidents, and company founders have lots of war stories, especially from the early days of their operations.”

“To help keep a lid on costs, Sun Basket, whose meal kits target health-conscious consumers, has gone so far as to set up a Midwestern distribution center in a converted limestone cave—a cheaper way to keep its products cold than spending millions to convert a conventional warehouse in the region for refrigeration. The temperature inside the underground facility remains stable regardless of whether it’s hot or cold outside, so the company spends less on electricity.”

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Store Check: Kitchen Arts and Letters

The New York Times: “Kitchen Arts and Letters doesn’t present as one of the world’s great bookshops. It has no library ladders or espresso bar, no smell of bookworm or brass polish, and nowhere to sit. It has only slightly more bookish allure than the nail salons and hardware stores that surround it on a commercial block of Manhattan’s Upper East Side … What the small storefront does house is a very deep knowledge of a very narrow subject: books about food. And that knowledge is rewarded by the kind of loyalty that induces customers to drop thousands of dollars at a clip, mostly based on the recommendations of Nach Waxman, its founder, and Matt Sartwell, the managing partner.”

“Rarely crowded, the store sees a constant stream of seasoned home cooks who know what they want … Curious culinary novices find their way in, and are tenderly guided through a series of diagnostic questions to a suitable starter book … those who have simple taste and want to cook for sustenance; those who already love to eat but never learned to cook; and those who are recipe-resistant but believe in mastering the kitchen through science.”

“But most of the store’s customers, though not present in the flesh, are the professional and aspiring chefs who routinely order whatever new volumes the owners are stocking, whether from Catalonia or the Carolinas. If they actually use the books, or even read them, is not pertinent; they act as a window into how the world’s most influential chefs are thinking, dreaming and plating … By determining which cookbooks to pull from the torrent of global publishing and send into our kitchens, they might be the most quietly influential figures in American cuisine.”

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Late & Great: Jonathan Gold

The New York Times: “In more than a thousand reviews published since the 1980s, Jonathan Gold chronicled his city’s pupuserias, bistros, diners, nomadic taco trucks, soot-caked outdoor rib and brisket smokers, sweaty indoor xiao long bao steamers, postmodern pizzerias, vintage delicatessens, strictly omakase sushi-yas, Roman gelaterias, Korean porridge parlors, Lanzhou hand-pulled noodle vendors, Iranian tongue-sandwich shops, vegan hot dog griddles, cloistered French-leaning hyper-seasonal tasting counters and wood-paneled Hollywood grills with chicken potpie and martinis on every other table.”

“Unlike some critics, Mr. Gold never saw expensive, rarefied restaurants as the peak of the terrain he surveyed, although he reviewed his share of them. Shiki Beverly Hills, Noma and Alinea all took turns under his critical loupe. He was in his element, though, when he championed small, family-run establishments where publicists and wine lists were unheard-of and English was often a second language, if it was spoken at all.”

He explained: “I’m not a cultural anthropologist. I write about taco stands and fancy French restaurants to try to get people less afraid of their neighbors and to live in their entire city instead of sticking to their one part of town.” Jonathan Gold was 57.

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Bowl Food: Comfort in Troubled Times?

The Wall Street Journal: “A good rule for modern eating seems to be: When in doubt, put it in a bowl. Gone are the days when bowls were used only for soup or cereal. These days, we put all manner of things in bowls that once had no place there, from poached eggs to smoothies. Even Prince Harry and Megan Markle chose to offer breakfast food to guests at their wedding in bowls rather than on plates … Capacious bowls feel like the right container for the Asian-oriented dishes that many of us now prefer, not to mention pasta.”

“A ‘wellness bowl,’ also known as a Buddha bowl, reassures the eater that they have all their nutritional bases covered. The ingredients are all visible, one after another, like bullet points on a to-do list: tofu, green vegetables, quinoa, some kind of obscure seeds … Our abandonment of plates for bowls suggests that we are reverting to the simpler times of one-pot cookery, liberating ourselves once and for all from fork anxiety. Today, the thing that we are most short of in the kitchen is not necessarily money but time. Sales of bowls have climbed in tandem with the rise of the Instant Pot and the pressure cooker, time-saving gadgets that produce tasty dishes too sloppy for a plate.”

“Both bowls and spoons have always been associated with children; spoons are the most benign utensils, lacking the sharp edges of a knife or the spikes of a fork. It is from a bowl that most of us take our first gummy mouthfuls of solid food. The rise of the bowl in our lives suggests that many eaters are in a permanently fragile state, treating every meal as comfort food. In a world of alarming news, maybe we all need something to cradle.”

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Slow Sizzle: Raising The Peak Steak

The Wall Street Journal: “There are cows that eat only grass and roam free. There are Kobe cattle, whose muscles are massaged for months to tenderize the meat they eventually produce. And then there are José Gordon’s oxen. An animal lucky enough to be part of the restaurateur/rancher’s herd in northwestern Spain gets to laze about in mountain pastures redolent of thyme and other fragrant herbs. It is stroked with metal brushes. It might even get a pedicure … the cattle in Mr. Gordon’s herd are allowed to live for years, sometimes close to their life spans of nearly two decades, before being turned into steaks for his restaurant.”

“Mr. Gordon, proprietor of Bodega El Capricho in Spain’s Castille-Leon region, believes he knows when an animal in his herd has finally reached its peak condition and is ready for the abattoir. He decides this by the look and feel of the animal. It’s a matter of instinct, Mr. Gordon says. A few weeks too long or too short can mean less-than-perfect meat … The current king of Mr. Gordon’s herd is 16-year-old Divino, a majestic animal of 3,700 pounds, nearly triple the weight at which most beef cattle go to market. Mr. Gordon has nicknamed him El gran jefe—the big boss—for his haughty manner.”

“Such care doesn’t come cheap. Mr. Gordon estimates each animal costs nearly $3,000 a year, in a combination of its feed, hoof care and vet bills, which is at least twice the cost of traditional ranching. A steer like Divino, who will probably go to slaughter this year, will have cost more than $30,000 to raise. Mr. Gordon says he breaks even on most animals, charging €120 a kilo (about $63.50 a pound) for a premium chuleta steak that he says is more delicate than regular beef … Mr. Gordon admits he loses money with some of the animals he keeps longest.” He comments: “I believe that what I do is mystical, magical. It goes beyond profitability. This is my work and my world. I would never change it.”

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