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52 Main

Drinks: The Solar-Powered Sundog Cider Carameltini

Ra took the glass. The smell of fresh cider rose to his nose, the light bubbles played across his lips, his tongue tasted the fresh crisp taste. He swallowed the sweet amber liquid and was pleased.

So goes the legend of Sundog Cider. If you’ll lift your suspension of disbelief for just a moment, we will tell you that Sundog Cider was founded in 2013 in Chatham, NY as a product of Sundog Solar, which installs solar electric and solar thermal systems. Many of Sundog Solar’s clients are local farms, and a lot of those are apple farms. You can put the rest together, but it’s more fun if you stick with the storybook legend so colorfully told and illustrated here.

We need some of that sun, and that Sun Ra, and we’ll be needing it right through Thanksgiving. So we asked Sundog Cider’s owner, Jody Rael, to bring us some apple-y sunshine with a cocktail made from aromatic hard cider fermented from a blend of Hudson Valley apples. (And it’s hand crafted in a 100% solar-powered mill, so you can drink responsibly in more ways than one.)

He and his staff whipped up this specialty cocktail to kick off Thanksgiving in a festive way. The crispness of Sundog Cider pairs perfectly with the buttery caramel vodka. 

As the legend concludes, From that day on, Anubis would meet Ra at the end of each day with a glass of hard cider and the sun would set and all was right with the world.

Sundog Cider Cocktail

3 oz. Sundog Cider
2 oz. caramel vodka
Caramel candies
Apple (for garnish)

Put a few high-quality caramel candies in a shallow microwave-safe dish and use a microwave to warm the caramels until just melted (take care when melting caramels – they can burn easily). Dip the rims of the martini glasses into the melted caramel so the edges are coated (it will drip a little – that’s okay!). Pour 3 oz. of cold Sundog Cider into a 6 oz. martini glass, add 2 oz. of caramel vodka and stir gently with a swizzle stickto incorporate. Garnish glass with a slice of apple.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 11/17/14 at 04:00 PM • Permalink

Drinks: We’ve Got A Crush On This Lavender Libation

Our small but mighty Rural Intelligence staff may attend a lot of cocktail parties, but when we’re there, it’s no drinks for us — we’re working. Perhaps soon we’ll have our own little cocktail hour. So, given a tip that Terrapin in Rhinebeck is known for its specialty cocktails, we went right to the source and asked if the restaurant might share a particularly refreshing choice, which we’re happy to share with our readers.

Lavender Crush: the name alone is like a calming, cooling breeze. Credit for the recipe, a blend of fresh lavender and strawberries muddled with lemon and vodka, goes to one of Terrapin’s longtime servers, Caitie Mallory, a CIA-trained pastry chef.

“She brought the idea for this drink to us last spring, and after a little tweaking by Bar Manager Matt Johnston and Beverage Director Dian Paunovic, it became a hit,” says Terrapin’s Marketing Coordinator, Christen Wagner. “We like to use locally produced vodka; our favorite in this drink is Catskill Distilling Company’s Peace Vodka.”

Care to join us?

Lavender Crush

Muddle 4 to 5 fresh lavender leaves with a slice of lemon, two (smaller) fresh strawberries, and just a touch of simple syrup (sugar dissolved in equal parts water). Add 1.75 oz. of vodka, serve over ice, top with soda water, and garnish with a lemon twist and strawberry.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 07/08/14 at 08:20 PM • Permalink

A Day Of Beer, Bourbon & Bacon In Rhinebeck

By Andrea Pyros

Just the words “Beer, Bourbon & Bacon Festival” is enough to have us plunking down our credit cards as we ask, “Where and when?” The answer to that, by the way, is Saturday, June 21 at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds in Rhinebeck. After all, is there anything else you need to know before you’re all in? 

Admittedly, the mouth-watering name is going to be tough to live up to, but this one-day event, presented by the Hudson Valley Craft Brew Festival, is shaping up to be as cool as it sounds. Attendees will have the opportunity to sample top-notch craft beers, both from local brewing companies as well as those further afield, along with bourbons and other spirits from independent distilleries. Food vendors interested in setting up shop for the day were only okay’d to do so if they worked bacon into their menus, so you’ll be able to seriously overdo it on snacks, main courses and desserts, all featuring the beloved meat.

Don’t worry if you’re not a “beer geek,” says Paul Lloyd, the festival’s event organizer. “This event is for anyone who is a beer enthusiast and wants to try something new in a different setting.” “It’s not a frat party,” he adds. “It’s for people of all ages interested in sampling and having a good time.”

Once you’re past the general admission gate, you’ll receive a tasting glass and beer and bourbon samples. It won’t be possible to sample it all, though. There are 90 breweries scheduled, and each brewery will offer at least two of their beers to visitors. Lloyd expects about 10 or so regional distilleries offering up their own spirits—bourbon, of course, but also whiskey, moonshine (!) and more. The beers and bourbons are included in the admission price, but plan to bring money for food, which isn’t included, as well as for crafts and other items from vendors.

Rhinebeck’s beloved Grand Cru Beer & Cheese Market is sponsoring the sold-out V.I.P. experience at the event. Grand Cru, co-owned by the husband and wife team of Rod Johnson and Alicia Lenhart, is excited to be a part of the day, says Lenhart, who adds that there’s been a great deal of thought put into selecting a range of beers and breweries, so that regardless of your experience with drinking craft beer, “everyone will find something they love” at the festival.

From the greater Rural Intelligence area, keep an eye out for beers and spirits from the popular Sloop Brewing (Poughkeepsie), Hyde Park Brewery (Hyde Park), Mill House Brewing Co. (Poughkeepsie), Rushing Duck Brewing Co. (Chester), Last Stop Brewing (Poughkeepsie), Keegan Ales (Kingston) and Onyx Moonshine (East Hartford), along with an array of beers from across America and a few all the way from Europe.

The event has been set up to make sure people have a good time without it turning in to a keg party, explains Lloyd. You’ll be given a card allowing you to sample a dozen beers (in 3-oz. pours). After that, you’re welcome to get another card for extra samples at no additional charge, but note that legally the organizers have to evaluate attendees to be sure no one is, as they delicately put it, “overserved.” There will also be plenty of non-alcoholic beverages and complimentary water stations set up. Not a drinker but want to go for the food, friends and live music? There’s a heavily discounted “designated driver” ticket for teetotalers. 

Though the months of planning for this first-time event have been intense, Lloyd is expecting a laid-back and enjoyable day. “People are coming for a good time. It’s not a snooty crowd at all. It’s just beer and good food.” 

Beer, Bourbon & Bacon Festival
Saturday, June 21 from 2—6 p.m.
Dutchess County Fairgrounds, Rhinebeck, NY
A 21+ event.
Purchase tickets here.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 06/09/14 at 10:43 AM • Permalink

Drinks: A Spring Green Margarita

If patio furniture is popping up in all the stores now, can cocktails al fresco (or at least inside with the windows open) be far behind?  Looking for a libation to welcome in spring, we went to Paula Boyajian, bar manager at The Gateways Inn in Lenox, who seems always to be concocting delightful seasonal drinks that complement the jazz in the piano bar. With the Gateways Inn just reopening after a short winter hibernation, Paula had been mixing up her magic, and was ready to share her latest creation, Michele’s Margarita, named in honor of the inn’s chef and owner, Michele Gazit. A blend of tequila, Hypnotiq, lime juice, pineapple juice and a splash of dry vermouth, its seafoam green hints of green grass and fresh breezes. And not a moment too soon.


Michele’s Margarita

1 part white tequila
2 parts Hypnotiq Liqueur
½ part Rose’s Lime Juice
½ part pineapple juice
Splash of dry vermouth

Fill shaker with ice and pour in all ingredients. Shake well until cold and pour into a martini glass. Garnish with a fresh pineapple spear.


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Posted by Lisa Green on 04/02/14 at 10:49 PM • Permalink

New Hudson Business Mixes Up A Better Brand Of Bitters

By Jamie Larson

thsposedAbove the Hudson Wine Merchants, co-owner Marianne Courville stands behind a heavy farmhouse table topped with an assortment of bottles and jars, a serious mortar and pestle beside her, and a container of juniper berries and vinegar. She pours a splash of recently brewed pear, honey and ginger mixture called a shrub into a glass of seltzer. After that revelation is sipped, she offers a thimbleful of her hand-crafted ginger bitters.

Strong, flavorful, clean and correct, her new brand of regionally sourced bitters and shrubs, The Hudson Standard, is set to officially launch in the spring, and each offering tastes like the beginning of something big.

“Isn’t that nice?” Courville says, with a knowing smile. “We want our flavors to be as pure as possible, but there’s a complexity to it when you use such good ingredients.”

ths bottle1But let’s back up. Any barfly knows the versatile bite of bitters, whether the paper-wrapped standby or a trendy new infusion, but shrubs? Dating back to American Colonial times, a shrub is a blend of vinegar, fruit, herbs and a sweetener. The Hudson Standard’s shrub makes for an ethereal and versatile mixer for cocktails and stands alone boldly in seltzer as a sophisticated non-alcoholic beverage with significantly less sugar than soda.

“A lot of bars are making their own shrubs right now,” Courville says. “I tend to go for a little more vinegar flavor in ours. It’s really great with gin but without alcohol it’s a very adult soda. I’ve gotten so much positive feedback from pregnant women who can’t drink but still want to have something sophisticated.” 

ths shelvesThe Hudson Standard debuted late last year at Basilica Hudson’s Farm and Flea event, and sold small amounts at Olde Hudson and Rubiner’s. Everything sold out quickly and received nothing but raves. Ironically, due to the capriciousness of New York’s alcohol distribution laws, Hudson Wine Merchants can’t sell The Hudson Standard bitters (around $22 per 100 ml. bottle) or the shrub (around $14 per 250 ml. bottle) but they’ll be more than happy to tell you all about it and how to get your eager hands on it. Courville says she’s aiming for a release date in May, when her concoctions will once again be available at Olde Hudson, Rubiners and online at She’s currently scouting for more shops that want to sell the brand and intends on visiting farmers’ markets throughout the season.

This first year, with greatly appreciated business assistance from the Hudson Valley Agribusiness Development Corporation, and a Kickstarter coming soon, Courville anticipates they’ll be able to deliver 4,000 to 5,000 bottles total, staggered throughout the summer as the ingredients come in from local farms.

With everything sourced as close to home as possible, the first full line of The Hudson Standard’s offerings will be dictated by the seasons. While that is in part a function of still being in development mode, it’s also how Courville and her partners, husband Michael Albin and journalist Michael Maness, want it.

ths bottle 2For the roll-out in the spring, she’s planning a spruce or pine shoot bitters, with the ginger bitters and pear-honey-ginger shrub available, as well. Next will be a strawberry-rhubarb shrub with the potential for an apple and maple syrup shrub in the fall.

“We want to be a complement to all the great distilleries that have been popping up all around us,” Courville says, noting how well the shrub goes with Harvest Spirits’ Applejack.

It’s evident from the way Courville talks about her creations, and the infusion jars all over the spacious test kitchen (in Hudson Wine Merchants’ elegant third-floor tasting room and gallery), that this not just a serious business venture but also a whole lot of fun for her and her two friends, Dan Scarnecchia and Dave Paynter—who are helping with research and development just for the thrill of it.

ths glassCourville loves meeting farmers and thinking up new flavor combinations for a new batch. Behind a curtain, she has shelves of jars where she’s testing everything from a surprisingly soothing juniper and rose hip bitters to a curry leaf bitters that is the darkest and most mesmerizing shade of green one can imagine but admittedly needs some tweaking before the flavor is right.

“It needs a little sweetness to bring out the curry flavor I think, and, actually, I was thinking a pinch of salt,” Courville says. “I’m excited about this one.”

Courville’s enthusiasm for the process of making shrubs and bitters, from the farm to the bottle, foretells that this is the seed of a future local legacy. And, as if we didn’t already yearn for spring, The Hudson Standard’s debut will have us crossing off the days until shrub season is here. 

Cocktail Recipe:
The Root and Branch by Darren Norris
1¾ oz. Ransom Gin
¾ oz. Hudson Standard Pear Honey Ginger Shrub
¼ oz. Dolin Dry Vermouth
2 dashes Orange Bitters
Shake vigorously over ice, then pour into a chilled coupe. Serve with a lemon twist.

Hudson Wine Merchants
341-1/2 Warren Street, Hudson
(518) 828-6411


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Posted by Jamie Larson on 02/17/14 at 04:48 PM • Permalink

Summer Wines in the Berkshires

by Timothy Eustis

summer winesSummer is a time to relax, and the Berkshires is the place to do it, both with culture and style. And what better way to complement a night on the lawn at Tanglewood, say, than with a charming bottle of wine? The job of The Wine Tasting Panel of the Berkshires is to help you select a great wine for just such an occasion.

The Tasting Panel was convened by Kollin Kozlowski CSW, wine director at Kelly’s Package Store in Dalton, Mass, as a way of culling from the literally hundreds of good wines in the marketplace to find the best summer white and red wine (for less than $20) in the region. Kozlowski had the idea of finding the perfect summer wines to showcase at his store as well as at local restaurants around the county. So he brought in a few of his compatriots in the wine business to help him select from the 160+ wines. And from the two blind tastings, held at the Red Lion Inn and Blantyre last month, we selected a “Best Of” white and red wine.

Kozlowski asked Massachusetts distributors to provide a number of their best suggestions for this category, as well as wines that will be readily available. “We are searching for wines that have authenticity, and are seeking to show some terroir, that is to say, a sense of place and vision,” he told us. What they aren’t searching for is an ordinary wine, one with too much fruit, or too much oak, or too little flavor. Additionally, “it has to reflect the season:  on the lawn and on a picnic cloth… That’s the image this wine should give you. And why we went with a $20 maximum bottle price; for a night on the lawn, maybe you will splurge a little.”

tasting panelJoining Kozlowski was Dan Thomas, the sommelier at The Red Lion Inn; Christelle Cotar, wine director at Blantyre; Caitlin Harrison, sommelier at Mezze in Williamstown; and yours truly, the wine director at The Stagecoach Tavern, in Sheffield. (Pic, left to right, Kollin Kozlowski, Christelle Cotar, Dan Thomas, and Caitlin Harrison.) “We were all quite impressed with the quality of wines that went into our glasses,” said Thomas. The distributors took their work seriously, providing us with such good wines, that it was surprising that we could even agree on a best-in-show.

Our panel spoke about their favorite wines, and it was interesting to note how many (actually, all save for one) came from Spain. Harrison found one of her preferred white wines, a 2011 Albariño from Licia in Rias Baixas, Spain, to be full of a “limey citrus quality, balanced with smoky minerality and an overall freshness and balance that demands a hot afternoon at Tanglewood. Drink it now and drink it often,” she said.

Cotar chose another white, the 2011 Godello

from Bodegas Rafael Palacios in Valdeorras, Spain. She noted that it had “complex notes of pear, quince and spice. Light on its feet, but it has rich flavors of pear, crisp apple. For me this wine showed all the terroir of a Grand Cru white Burgundy!”

panel2Moving to the reds, Thomas chose a 2010 Garnacha (the Spanish name for the Grenache grape) by Castillo de Monseran from Carinena, Spain. He described its “light strawberry and kirsch notes with pepper and earth notes. A light (12.5% alcohol content) red wine with no apparent oak to mask the fruit. I can see enjoying this with a lot of grilled foods this summer.”

Kollin’s red choice was the 2011 Malbec Classico by Durigutti from Mendoza Argentina. Malbecs, especially those from Argentina, are known to be full-bodied, perhaps more for autumnal or winter fare, but, he said, “this red wine is so impeccably balanced it doesn’t matter how rich and textured it is. It has refined black cherry fruit with a hint of blueberry, spicy oak and vanilla notes that highlight but don’t overpower. BBQ…whether you’re serving teriyaki tuna or New York strip steak this Malbec will suit it all.”

The top white vote-getter is the 2012 Getariako Txakolina from Ameztoi in Gipuzkos, Spain. (Yes, we know there is no way to pronounce this correctly. But it sure tastes good!) In the north of Spain, at the foot of the Pyrenees, is the Basque Country, a cool, windy, and sparse region that produces an obscure white wine, Txakoli. This low alcohol white is super intense with crisp acidity and pure lime. We thought the thirst-quenching, spritzy quality to this wine would match best with lightly grilled fresh oysters and it would cut through fatty charred red meats.

Finally, our number one red is the 2009 Cannonau (another name for Grenache) Riserva from Sella & Mosca in Sardinia, Italy. This wine shows all the expected flavors of raspberry and kirsch with a solid acidic structure, with a bit more complexity than we were expecting. This Cannonau epitomizes a summer red because of its versatility: soft and light enough to match with cedar-planked salmon but with structure to stand up to a richer grilled tenderloin.

You can find these wines at Kelly’s. As well, The Red Lion Inn and Mezze will be showcasing their particular selections. And you should be able to find any of the above wines at your local retailer.

2011 Albariño from Licia; Rias Baixas, Spain
2011 Godello

,  Bodegas Rafael Palacios; Valdeorras, Spain
* 2012 Getariako Txakolina,  Ameztoi; Gipuzkos, Spain

2010 Garnacha, Castillo de Monseran; Carinena, Spain
2011 Malbec Classico, Durigutti; Mendoza, Argentina
* 2009 Cannonau Riserva, Sella & Mosca; Sardinia, Italy

* denotes “Best of” Tasting

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Posted by Scott Baldinger on 05/20/13 at 11:48 AM • Permalink

The Berkshire Wine Hunt

Rural Intelligence Food The wine-buying landscape in Berkshire, Columbia, Dutchess, and Litchfield counties is growing and evolving, with an ever- increasing number of well-edited wine stores with passionate proprietors making the search for that perfect bottle both an adventure and a pleasure. For this, the first of a series on the area’s vino venues, we focus on Berkshire County, with the spotlight on two well-known stores with solid reputations, as well as one promising newcomer to the scene.

We started at Domaney’s Liquors & Fine Wines, located in Great Barrington just before the bridge over the Housatonic River. The Domaney family has owned the store since the 1930s, when it was a country market supplying groceries, dry goods, and sundries. When Eddie Domaney’s father bought it from his uncle in 1973, he realized that, with the increase in weekend crowds coming in from Boston and New York, he needed to specialize.  The Berkshires, he says, were being populated by “actors, musicians, artists, historians, and retired world travelers. As all that was happening, we realized we needed to change the product line.”  And the transformation into a wine and spirits haven began.

Domaney’s is a welcoming store with a democratic selection that takes the stress out of wine buying. Customer service, too, is paramount. Eddie has since passed the buying to his son, Joe, and another employee, Andy. “They attend all the tastings, read all the wine literature,” says Eddie. But, he says, “everybody knows wine: We have to make sure our employees are versatile and can talk intelligently. I’ll help the customer find the right bottle. If I can’t get that wine, I’ll know what the wine is, I can research it, and I can find a wine that works for them, at a lower price.”

Rural Intelligence FoodDomaney’s selection has something for every palate and budget. Small bottles of affordable Merlot are available, as well as a solid selection from across the world, such as obscure finds like a pop-top liter of Zweigelt from Austria. “People love it once they try it,” Eddie says. For a good winter red, he steers us to the Breca Breca 2010, an all-Garnacha (or Grenache) Spanish wine about which critic Robert Parker, giving it 94 points, said, “It may be the most amazing wine I have ever tasted at this price in over three decades.” One of the more elegant and thoughtful collections in the area can be found in Domaney’s cold room, where the higher end selections are kept. Some of the stars that caught our eye: A Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 for $165; a Groffier, Chambertin Clos de Beze, 2004 for $200; and the latest release of Muga’s Prado Enea ‘05, an excellent, traditionally made Rioja for $65.

The Nejaime family opened their first eponymous store on Elm Street in Stockbridge in 1970, followed by the Lenox location in 1982. An amicable splitting up of stores between the brothers gave the recently renamed moniker Spirited to Jim Nejaime for the Pittsfield branch, with Joe keeping the Stockbridge and Lenox locations. French wine is a specialty of Nejaime’s, Lenox, not surprisingly, given that their wine buyers are both French; Franck Seguin and Xavier Letteron. We spoke to Letteron, who brings that continental perspective to the shop, with the appropriately charming French accent. Xavier, who moved to the Berkshires with his wife, Elena, in 1998, says, “When a customer comes in looking for a bottle for a dinner party, I will ask,” he says, “’What do you want to bring? [The wine you bring] is part of your personality, even if you don’t know wine.’”

Rural Intelligence FoodIt has often been noted, while party-going in Manhattan, that it seems as if everyone arrives with a bottle of Veuve Cliquot. But Xavier prefers the Champagne Ployez-Jacquemart ($49.99). “It has such a great expression,” he tells us. Xavier tells us that it’s important for their regular customers to find what they’re looking for. So they have well-known brands, but it’s fun to show them new things. He says he likes to “expand their horizons…Customers ask us to show them some French wine, because French wine has an aura of being intimidating. When you have friendly French people in the store, this is a perfect way to be introduced to that country. Customers then feel taken care of.” While Nejaime’s has a diverse and thorough selection that spans the globe, if you wish to stay in France, Xavier recommends the J.L. Chave, Mon Coeur, a Côtes du Rhône ($24.99). He described it as a step up from a basic Côtes du Rhône. “It has a nice balance and some spiciness. A beautiful red wine. If you appreciate a Rhône wine, this is a special treat,” he tells us.

The final stop on our local tour takes us to Queensboro Wines & Spirits in West Stockbridge. Steve Dixon, formerly the regional salesman for the well-known distributor MS Walker, took over this shop two years ago. Before that, he’d been the wine director and sommelier at Wheatleigh. Although his true love is for Burgundy wines, he says that his “palate doesn’t matter. I try to identify the customer and find the best example of what it is they’re looking for. That’s the first half of my job; second half is to get them to explore new things.”

Rural Intelligence FoodHe works hard to provide the right service and the right recommendations for his customers. Recounting his time at Wheatleigh, Dixon says “There’s always that ‘aha’ moment for the customers when you hook them up with the correct wine. And they say ‘Wow, that really worked, I get that.’ “That’s the rush, that’s the adrenaline, that’s what makes you go home and think ‘I did my job.’”

It’s clear from the well-edited selection at Queensboro and Steve’s passion for the wines that this is a store for a true wine lover. His winter red recommendation is the Rio Madre Rioja, 2011, made entirely from the grape Graciano. (Most Rioja comes from Tempranillo.) It has a beautiful nose, and is a well-structured wine that would go well with dinner or as an aperitif. At $12, this is a lovely wine for the season.

For a broad selection with great service, you can’t go wrong at either Domaney’s or Nejaime’s. For the carefully edited selection that will always succeed, take yourself to Queensboro. All the stores provide tastings frequently: Check their websites for the latest information, and remember, to learn about wines, you have to pull corks! —Tim Eustis

Domaney’s Liquors and Fine Wines
66 Main Street
Great Barrington, MA 01230
(413) 528-0024    

Nejaime’s Wine Cellars
60 Main Street
Lenox, MA 01240
(413) 637-2221    

Queensboro Wine & Spirits

26 Main Street

West Stockbridge, MA 01266
(413) 232-8522

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Posted by Scott Baldinger on 01/28/13 at 08:29 AM • Permalink

In Sheffield, Big Elm Brewing Branches Out

Rural Intelligence Food

Christine and Bill Heaton

For hundreds of years, Sheffield’s festivals and town meetings were held at an elm tree so large that 300 people could fit beneath its boughs. Now there’s a new gathering spot where the tree once thrived. Big Elm Brewing, which opened in October on the corner of Route 7 and Silver Street, aims to bring beer enthusiasts together.

Each Saturday from noon to 4 p.m., owners Christine and Bill Heaton and their partners Jen and Russell Jaehnig open the airy warehouse to the public, offering free tastings and tours. On a recent afternoon, a steady stream of passersby sallied up to a small wooden bar to purchase growlers and sample more than a half-dozen microbrews. Among the day’s offerings were hickory-smoked Route 7 Rauschbier and the springy 413 Farmhouse Ale, flavored with lemon zest, chamomile, Bear Meadow Apiary’s honey, and pink peppercorns from Himala Salt.

When the assembly reached a critical mass, Russell led the crowd to the 30-barrel metal vats in the back room, detailing the process that transforms humble grains of barley into hearty ales. Barrels of recently brewed Gerry Dog Stout, currently soaking up flavors of oak and bourbon, drew plenty of yearning looks.

Rural Intelligence Food All this is just the beginning of the community-oriented endeavor that the Big Elm crew envisions for their brewery. “I’d love to have a vegetable garden,” Christine says, her eyes gleaming with enthusiasm. “We could grow our own hops, and have rows of carrots by some picnic tables.” She imagines clearing out the brewery’s three acres of land to host beer festivals, town gatherings, and private parties. And when Big Elm starts running its canning machinery next month, they’ll be able to expand their reach even further.

Christine’s excitement is contagious. That’s because Big Elm’s story is about people following their passion — and figuring out where their passions lay in the first place.

Neither Christine nor Bill planned on a career in beer. After graduating from Millersville University with a degree in chemistry, Christine tried out life in laboratories and in Niger as a Peace Corps volunteer. When she returned stateside, she set her sights on working at a brewpub. But it wasn’t until she got a scholarship to train at the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago and Doemens Academy in Munich that she got her big break. “As a female brewer it’s sometimes harder,” she says. “It’s a very male-dominated industry, although that’s changing now.”

The scholarship helped her score a position with Victory Brewing Company in Pennsylvania. There, she met the man she would marry. Bill was a former photographer who’d grown tired of wedding and advertising shoots. Ready for a change, he penned a heartfelt letter about his desire to make beer and sent it out to 16 breweries.  “He started out cleaning kegs and worked his way up to head brewer at Victory,” Christine says. “It’s the quintessential home brewer’s dream.”

Rural Intelligence Food

Russell and Jen Jaehnig

In 2005, the couple moved to the Berkshires and opened the brewpub Pittsfield Brew Works. But the stressful restaurant racket showed them that their hearts were really in brewing. They closed Brew Works in 2010 — and found partners for their new business in friends Jen, a history teacher at Pittsfield’s Herbert Middle School, and Russell, an executive chef at the catering company A Taste of Nantucket.

With four young children between the two couples, it’s no surprise that Big Elm is a family affair. Toy cars are scattered throughout the warehouse, and small children play peekaboo behind metal kegs. Other family members are getting in on the act, too. Jen’s father gathers fallen branches on his hikes, then sands them into one-of-a-kind tap handles. Even Christine and Bill’s beagle mix has a role to play: His furry mug graces the label of Gerry Dog Stout.

Rural Intelligence Food While Big Elm has only been open for a few months, it’s already making big waves in the local culinary scene. Their beers are available at more than 30 distributors, from retail stores like Domaney’s to the Red Lion Inn. They’ve collaborated extensively with Route 7 Grill, using the restaurant’s smoker to create its namesake beer and teaming up for a December dinner menu that offered delicacies like Big Elm stout-braised beef short ribs. And on Saturday, January 26, Elm Street Market in Stockbridge is hosting a tasting from 4:30 to 6 pm.

In the midst of all that hubbub, Christine says the Big Elm team is riding high. “On brew days,” she says, “I’m back to my old self.” It’s a feeling that bears out the mandate emblazoned on each of Big Elm’s bottles: Get back to your roots. —Sarah Todd

Big Elm Brewing
65 Silver Street
Sheffield, MA 01257
(413) 229-2348
Free tastings and tours each Saturday, noon to 4 p.m.

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Posted by Sarah Todd on 01/22/13 at 10:48 AM • Permalink

Fire Cider: The Hot New Mixer for Warming Winter Drinks

Rural Intelligence FoodCold season is here; the wildly vacillating weather, with its regular dips into frigidity, drives the annual search for ways to ward off the inevitable onslaught of coughs, sneezes, and sore throats. There’s a relatively new addition – albeit steeped in tradition – to the all-natural anti-cold arsenal: Fire Cider from Pittsfield-based Shire City Herbals. Also known as “cyclone cider,” fire cider is a pungent potion of apple cider vinegar and honey, with hot peppers, garlic, onions, ginger, and horseradish. Some form of tonic made from varying combinations of these ingredients has long been used to combat colds or prevent them from ever occurring.

The potion’s purported powers are legion: proponents claim it can enhance immunity, aid digestion, break up congestion, soothe sore throats, increase circulation, mitigate migraines, and act as an expectorant, antibiotic, and antimicrobial agent. Now a trio of early-thirty-something Berkshirites are successfully peddling this old-fangled, new-age cure-all to cold-weary acolytes who swear by the stuff.

Rural Intelligence FoodShire City’s Fire Cider began as does many a folkloric remedy. “My grandmother was very German, and very old-school in her approach to health,” recounts Pittsfield native Dana St. Pierre (at left, in photo with his partners Brian and Amy Huebner). “She didn’t put much faith in pills and so forth to keep healthy; she favored lots of brisk outdoor exercise and food-based home remedies for anything short of broken bones. She recommended eating grated horseradish as an allergy remedy, mixed with vinegar and sometimes honey. It’s very effective, but also very difficult to choke down. She also would make a concoction of onions and garlic heated in wine for chest colds.” 

Twelve years ago St. Pierre decided to try a similar approach to combat chronic bronchitis and seasonal allergies. “Using these remedies as a starting point, I tried various folk remedies for allergies and colds over the years, mixing and matching and sometimes gagging on the nasty results. I listened to friends and acquaintances, read a lot of books on herbal medicine, and tinkered with what I liked best. The end result has definitely helped me spend less time being sick.”

Satisfied with his concoction, which uses mostly local and organic ingredients plus citrus fruit for additional Vitamin C and sweetness, St. Pierre teamed up with his holistic-health-coach wife, Amy Huebner, to manufacture and market Fire Cider. Amy’s brother, comic artist Brian Huebner, joined the team, designing the appealingly eccentric Fire Cider labels.

Fire Cider made its public debut at the 2010 Handmade Holiday Festival in Pittsfield. The founders brought 80 bottles to the fair and sold out, doubling the money they had spent creating their wares. The experience convinced them they could make Fire Cider into a profitable venture. Amy and Brian’s father helped them draw up a business plan.

Rural Intelligence FoodToday bottles of Fire Cider can be found in markets and cafés from Maine and Vermont to Ohio and Pennsylvania, with a solid presence in Manhattan and Brooklyn, as well as at local co-ops and natural grocers such as Chatham Real Food Market Co-op, The Berkshire Co-op Market in Great Barrington, Berkshire Organics in Dalton, and Wild Oats in Williamstown. It’s also available by the shot at several Berkshire cafés, such as Dottie’s Coffee Lounge in Pittsfield, Juice ‘N’ Java in Dalton, Haven in Lenox, and Lickety Split at MASS MoCA in North Adams. In addition, you can buy it online in eight-ounce and 16-ounce bottles; the latter comes with its own shot glass. That this pungent potion has caught fire is somewhat surprising, given the nearly universal response elicited by a bracing swig of the zesty elixir: a yelp of “whoah!” or “wow!” accompanied by raised eyebrows and a quick shake of the head. But the warm flush that follows — and even a bit of sweat — indicates that this could be good for what ails you. And, truth be told, Fire Cider is oddly addictive.

It’s said that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. In the case of Fire Cider, a jiggerful of alcohol (or two…) will do the trick. Artisan Warren Barber, a friend of the Fire Cider troika, developed the Fire Cider Hot Toddy while he was a bartender at the late Pittsfield wine bar Brix (recently reborn as Phineas Gage’s Moral High Ground, where his toddy remains on the menu). As it turns out, Fire Cider can spark up a range of cocktails, a few of which are detailed below.

Rural Intelligence Food
The Fire Cider Hot Toddy
Recipe by Warren Barber

Preheat a 12-oz mug or a rocks glass that can handle a hot drink, then add:

6 oz hot water
1 oz Fire Cider
1 oz Barenjager Honey Liqueur; you can substitute with honey to taste.
2 oz Kentucky bourbon/whiskey: Redbreast 12 Year Old Irish Whiskey and Clontarf 1014 are particularly smooth but use your favorite
1/2 a lemon - cut a thin slice for garnish then squeeze the rest into your mug or glass and stir.

Scorched Earth
Recipe by Brian Huebner

Rural Intelligence Food1 oz Fire Cider
2 oz Citron Vodka

Shake with ice and pour into a rocks glass with fresh ice or strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with lemon peel or lemon wedge. Can also be made as a shooter.

Fire on the Mountain
Recipe by Brian Huebner

1 oz Fire Cider
2 oz Mount Gay Rum (or Ragged Mountain Rum from Berkshire Mountain Distillers)

Shake with ice and pour into a rocks glass with fresh ice. Squeeze in a bit of lemon and garnish with a slice of lemon.

Rural Intelligence FoodBrian Huebner has also created a flaming cocktail called the Volunteer Fire Department, in which Fire Cider is stacked with three layers of progressively stronger rum, topped with Bacardi 151, which burns off when lit with a match, but we can’t responsibly advocate drinking while playing with fire.

When you choose your poison from the bar cart, should you expect to reap any health benefits from a cocktail made with this tantalizing tonic? “Well, Fire Cider is healthful and medicinal no matter what you mix it with,” says Amy Heubner. “Alcohol will lower your immune system, no matter what you mix it with. OJ for breakfast is better than a screwdriver, but vodka straight, I would argue, is much less healthy than vodka with OJ or veggie juice… and a shot of Fire Cider. I do not recommend alcohol for breakfast, just to be clear!”

She does, however, recommend that you give Fire Cider a place at your table – not just in a glass, but also on the plate. Try it as an ingredient in salad dressing and marinade, or to add an additional spicy kick to hot wings or baked beans. With inspiration fired up by the recipes on her website, you could soon find yourself cooking with Fire Cider. – Bess Hochstein


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Posted by Bess Hochstein on 12/06/12 at 02:03 PM • Permalink

Pot Of Gold: Ancram Distillery Crafts Field-to-Glass Bourbon

Rural Intelligence FoodWith all the elegance and quality of a Napa Valley winery, Hillrock Estate Distillery in Ancram, NY opened for business on September 15, 2012. Owner Jeffrey Baker is determined to create top-notch bourbons that match the magnificence of his stunning, expansive farm and production facility, where whiskey lovers are invited to taste his wares and learn about the process of distilling spirits. And at Hillrock, the curious can learn about the process from start to finish, because — unlike most spirits producers – Baker and his team are actually growing much of the grain they use to produce the bourbon.

Rural Intelligence FoodWith experience in farming and the restaurant industry, Baker has long had an interest in sustainable agriculture; he owned one of the first rotational grazing dairy farms in the industry some years ago in Saratoga County, NY. Seeking a shorter weekend commute from his “day job” at Savills in Manhattan, he found a 100-acre farm in Ancram, which had been owned by a Revolutionary War Captain, Israel Harris, who also happened to be a grain merchant. Baker says he “was looking for something to do on this land. Something that reflects the terroir.” While making farmstead cheese or growing grapes had appeal, once he learned the history of the land, he decided to pursue a venture more relevant to his farm’s history, one that involved grains.

After doing some research, Baker learned that the Hudson Valley had at one time produced two-thirds of the country’s rye grain. Recognizing that the growing craft distillery movement still had room for new ideas, he came up with the plan for Hillrock Estate Distillery. As Baker notes, we are in the middle of “an explosion in the food business. People are willing to pay more for quality.” This trend led him to set his sights on making “the best whiskey in the world.”

Rural Intelligence FoodHappenstance was on his side. David Pickerell, Master Distiller at Maker’s Mark for over a decade, had recently left the iconic Kentucky distillery and begun consulting on other projects. Bringing him on board was a no-brainer for Baker, who sought him out for “his great experience as a distiller, plus his experience as a chemical engineer, building distilleries all over the world. And he has a great palate… Someone like that wouldn’t be free for long.” Baker rounded out the production team with Tim Welly, formerly the cellarmaster at Millbrook Winery, who also has a great palate, according to Baker.

Farm-to-table is already a mantra in our region. Hillrock Estate extends this concept to the world of spirits – call it field-to-glass. By controlling and owning nearly the entire process — the growing of the grain, the malting, and the distillation — Hillrock can produce spirits that accurately express the terroir.

Rural Intelligence FoodThe making of whiskey begins with grain; Hillrock uses homegrown rye and barley from the estate’s 96 acres of fields, all of which will soon be sown with heirloom organic varieties. Baker sources corn from local organic farmers, but intends to grow his own in the future. While the vast majority of distilleries purchase malted grains — known as malt — from large factories, the Hillrock team, following its vision of complete integration, built its own malthouse, making Hillrock “the first distillery to have built one since prohibition,” Baker notes. This allows them to fine-tune the process as needed, allowing for much more control over the final product. After harvest, the grains are cleaned and steeped, then spread out on a specially built, heated floor to germinate, in a process called “floor malting,” as shown below. (Think of how a Chia Pet grows “hair” and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what malting is.)

Rural Intelligence FoodAt just the right point in the germination process, the grains are dried, and readied for fermentation and distillation, which happens in a gleaming, custom-built 250-gallon copper pot still that was handmade in Louisville, KY. Pickerell points out the bulging part of the pipe leading out of the pot, known as the “onion,” noting that “It was hand-hammered, to a 1/8” thickness.” The still is currently producing Estate Bourbon, a blend of 51% corn and 49% rye – the latter from Hillrock’s own fields – which will be aged in white American oak barrels, in accordance with the strictly regulated Bourbon-making process.

Rural Intelligence FoodThe initial production will be used in Hillrock’s Solera Aged Bourbon — the first and only solera-aged whiskey to be produced in the United States. The solera aging process comes from Jerez, Spain, where Sherry barrels originally filled some hundred years ago are never fully drained in the bottling process, leaving a bit of the original sherry in every bottle produced. Welly explains that his Wine & Spirit Education Trust studies at the International Wine Center in NYC exposed him to Sherry wines and production techniques. “I found out that the solera system does create a consistent product over years, and one with incredible complexity,” he says. He suggested it to Baker, who liked the idea; with Pickerell’s experience and knowledge of the arcane world of alcohol law, the Hillrock team was able to implement this process to produce a bourbon that is unique on many different levels.

Says Pickerell, “No one can out Maker’s Mark Maker’s Mark. And nor should they try.” Hillrock Estate seeks its own flavor profile. The terroir at Hillrock Estates gives its grains a particular essence of both clover and cinnamon, which is pronounced in the distilled product. Beyond this distinctive terroir, the team has been exploring other means to differentiate Hillrock Estate bourbon, including experimenting with various approaches to aging their spirits — in barrels as small as two-liters and as large as 53 gallons — in order to develop more complexity in the finished product. Every distillery works slightly differently, but in general, raw spirits are aged in the larger barrels. Smaller barrels have a higher ratio of surface area of the wood to the spirit, which can produce a stronger and more complex effect, which Pickerell and Welly readily, and effectively, demonstrate in the tasting room.

Rural Intelligence FoodTo be sure, the results of this exacting field-to-glass approach don’t come cheap. Hillrock’s Solera Aged Bourbon will set you back $80 for a 750ml bottle, and $125 for the Single Malt, which will be available later this year. In 2013 Hillrock will release its Estate Bourbon and a 100% Rye Whiskey with prices to be determined. Baker realizes his pricing is aggressive but he says it’s worth every penny given the quality in the glass. In addition, there’s a premium for rarity; Hilllrock will produce only 1,000 – 2,000 cases in its first year, gearing up to an estimated capacity of 6,000 cases per year.

If you’d like to try before you buy, or if you’re ready to dive right in, you can taste, and purchase, Hillrock Estate Solera Aged Bourbon on site at the distillery; the visit to the spectacular farm and production facility is worth the trip. The by-reservation weekend-only tasting and tour costs $20 per person; the fee can be applied toward any spirits purchase.

Rural Intelligence FoodIf you don’t have the time or inclination to visit, Hillrock is now on the menu at a number of nearby restaurants, including as No. 9 and 52 Main in Millerton, and Agriturismo and Stissing House in Pine Plains. You can also pick up a bottle at local liquor stores such as Cascade Spirit Shoppe in Amenia, Little Gates & Co. in Millerton, and Village Wine & Spirits in Millbrook. Availability is growing quickly; check Hillrock Estate’s Facebook page for updates. Or buy it at the distillery, any day of the week; just be sure to call or email first.  – Timothy Eustis

Hillrock Estate Distillery
408 Pooles Hill Road
Ancram, New York

Open by appointment for purchases on weekdays, and for tours and tastings on weekends ($20 fee, applicable toward spirits purchase); please call or email for reservations.

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Posted by Bess Hochstein on 09/26/12 at 07:55 AM • Permalink