So I took a trip up to Connecticut with my girlfriend this month. Not only did I get to introduce her to my family but I also was afforded the chance to introduce her to some of the rather impressive food and beer that the state I grew up in currently has to offer.
The first morning after we arrived, my parents took a special trip to Gaetano’s Deli and brought back some stuffed breads. Here we have both their pepperoni and their eggplant. Biting into these is like a warm hug from an Italian grandmother.
Dinner that night with my family was at Ralph-n-Rich’s and I couldn’t resist getting the Zuppa di Pesce; it’s a rarity in Tampa, so if I see it on a menu I will almost always order it. I finished the entire plate.
Day two was one I’d been looking forward to for quite a while. Until I was three years old we grew up five minutes away from Zuppardi’s Apizza and eating their pies for the first time was a seminal experience. I wanted my girlfriend to be able to experience that for herself. And she did.
We started with the Plain Cheese…
Then moved onto the “Special” – Meatball and Onion…
And then a White Tomato…
And finally we finished it all off with my absolute favorite, the White Clam. Sweet fancy Moses, do I miss Zuppardi’s…
Day three was something special. We’ve had a long standing debate on what constitutes a “real” Lobster Roll. I maintained that if it’s hot lobster on a roll with just butter, it’s a Lobster Roll. If it’s cold with mayonnaise and lots of crunchy vegetables, that’s a Lobster Salad Sandwich. As my girlfriend had never experienced the former, we headed to Lenny & Joe’s so she could try one.
Hot lobster, on a roll, with just butter. Ladies and gentlemen, I present you with a “real” Lobster Roll.
And of course, I couldn’t have stopped at Lenny & Joe’s without also getting an order of another New England seafood staple, the Fried Clam Strips.
That evening we met some very old friends for a few drinks and a couple of apps at the Hub and Spoke. First up was the Burrata, which, interestingly enough, I had never tried before.
Second was the Bang-Bang Shrimp. This is not like the stuff you can get at a Bonefish Grill. This was pure fire. In a good way.
On our final day of the trip, my family headed to La Zingara in Bethel, which I maintain is one of the best Italian restaurants in the entire state of Connecticut. Their Lobster Risotto has to be the best version of Risotto I’ve ever tasted.
And of course Connecticut produces some dynamite craft beer. After years of never being up there during the fall, I was ecstatic that I had the opportunity to finally try Two Roads’ fall offerings. I really enjoyed their Ok2berfest Marzen and even though it was a little hoppier than I was expecting, I still found it topping my all-time lists.
My girlfriend opted for the Hanging Hills Brewing Company Dechtoberfest Lager which she really enjoyed.
Washed down that pizza at Zuppardi’s with a Festbier from Counterweight Brewing. This went really well with the pies, especially the White Clam.
While we were at Lenny & Joe’s we ordered the Thimble Island American Ale. This traditional Amber Ale was so off-the-charts amazing that we endevoured to do two things:
First, we made a point of finding Thimble Island’s Brewery which was only a short drive away from the restaurant so we could go in and try a flight. Every beer on the palate was incredible.
Second, we made a point of coming home with at least a sixer of the American Ale so we could enjoy it during the rest of our trip. The sweetness and the malt are just so perfectly balanced, I’m not joking when I say it’s one of the best beers I’ve ever had.
A quick lunch at Southport Brewing Company (which interestingly enough doesn’t brew its own beer) afforded me the change to try to Back East Brewery’s Octoberfest. This was a solid Marzen, and I dug the sweeter notes.
Next on our list was Tribus Beer Company. The offerings from this newer brewery were still summerish in nature but my girlfriend still enjoyed the smoked porter while I was impressed with the cherry sour.
For my final brew, I circled back to Two Roads with their Roadsmary’s Baby Pumpkin Ale. This one also tops my list of as one of the better pumpkin ales I’ve tried. Two Roads is the real deal.
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Ultimately it was a great trip and all the food and beer offerings made a simple trip to see my family really feel like a vacation. My girlfriend is already looking forward to the next trip and consequently I’ve started planning some more Connecticut food and beer-ventures in my head.
Been to any of the restaurants or tried any of the beers listed above? Leave a message in the comments section!
And remember… beer is freedom… and the food abides…
Part 1 generated a lot of buzz so I know you’re all waiting with bated breath. Well wait no more! We’re on to Part 2 of the Great Pumpkin Beer Round-Up!
This round’s selections:
– Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale – Pours a light orange color. Gives off an unusually flowery bouquet. Smuttynose’s pumpkin offering is another one of those that comes off more like an IPA and less as a Pumpkin Ale. It’s very crisp but it tastes more like something you’d drink during the summer with just a hint of and spice added rather than something brewed from the ground up to showcase those flavors. Not a bad beer at all but it doesn’t scream “autumn” to me like a pumpkin beer should.
–Dogfish Head’s Punkin Ale – Pours a deep amber color. Dogfish Head’s Punkin Ale is lighter on the pumpkin but heavier on the spice. There’s a very predominant brown sugar note with an underlying nutmeg flavor. There is somewhat of a sharp aftertaste on the first couple of pulls, but it mellows a little as the beer warms up a bit.
– Southern Tier’s Imperial Pumking – Pours a bright orange color. The bouquet this gives off is reminiscent of sweet baked goods; you actually get a whiff of cookies and pies as you smell this beer. Southern Tier always does a great job with their seasonal offerings and Pumking is no exception. I’ve had this both on draft and in bottle and they both set a very high bar. Every aspect of the pumpkin pie flavor is here. There are notes of vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove on the first pull which mellow into a buttery graham cracker flavor (like a pie crust!), before a final creamy pumpkin finish.
–Terrapin’s Pumpkinfest – Pours a cloudy amber-red color. Terrapin’s Pumpkinfest is somewhat unique in that it comes across as a hybrid of a marzen and a pumpkin ale. This could be dangerous but Terrapin pulls it off rather well. There’s a sweet and smokey caramel flavor characteristic of an Oktoberfest brew on one side and the pumpkin and spice notes of a pumpkin ale on the other side. The flavors are preciscely balanced and compliment each other perfectly. If you also like marzens or you’re looking for something a little different in your fall beer, this would be a great pumpkin offering to start with.
– Shipyard’s Pumpkinhead Ale – Pours a golden-yellow. I know I prefer my pumpkin beers darker and thicker but for one on the lighter side of the spectrum, this one isn’t too bad. Apparently Shipyard has some consistency issues with this particular brew as I’ve talked to folks who barely tasted any pumpkin at all. However the bottle I poured was very heavy on the pumpkin. There are underlying notes of cinnamon with a little bit of nutmeg and it eventually mellows into a grassy flavor typical of a lighter ale.
– Blue Moon’s Harvest Pumpkin Ale – Pours a perfect reddish-orange color. Gives off a very spicy bouquet. For a brewery whose standard ale I dislike so much, Blue Moon continues to do a much better job with their seasonal offerings. They continue to tinker with their recipe and every year this pumpkin offering gets better and better. Blue Moon always works with a lot of wheat and which gives a very pie crust-like flavor on the initial pull which then rounds out to present the pumpkin and spice notes that remain strong through to the finish.
So who came out on top for Round 2?
I’m going to call this one a tie. The Blue Moon Harverst Pumpkin with its bready start and the Southern Tier Imperial Pumking with its creamy finish, both nail the pumpkin pie in a bottle flavor, albeit in slightly different ways. I have to give this one to them. Either of these offerings are perfect for sitting outside on a cool autumn evening and taking in the sights and smells of the season.
Honorable mention goes to the Terrapin Pumpkinfest. While not quite unique enough to bring it to the top like the Tommyknocker Small Patch Pumpkin did last week, it’s still a rather creative twist that was executed rather well.
I’ve still got quite a few more pumpkin beers to sample so stay tuned for round 3!
Tried any of this week’s pumpkin beers? Leave your thoughts in the comments section!
And remember… the food abides.
Some friends and I were discussing pumpkin beers the other night and one of them suggested that since I drink them almost exclusively this time of year I should write about one for my next New Beer Friday. Then another jokingly insisted I write about all of them for my next New Beer Friday.
For the next couple of weeks I’m going to spend some time sampling and comparing every pumpkin beer I can get my hands on. So without further adieu, I give you the Great Pumpkin Beer Round-Up!
This weekend I did a pick a-six at my local ABC liquor and grabbed a bomber of Fat Jack for good measure. Here’s the breakdown of how they fared:
– Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale – Pours a golden orange. A smooth ale; very mellow with layers of cinnamon and a hint of allspice and clove. A little bland on the first pull but the flavors come out after a few sips.
– Harpoon’s Pumpkin Unfiltered Offering – Pours a hazy orange. Tastes almost like a pumpkin IPA if that makes any sense. It’s crisp and dry and has a very heavy vanilla and spice note with a full pumpkin flavor. I paired this with a Scallop Chowder once before and was surprised by how well this went with seafood.
– Weyerbacher’s Imperial Pumpkin Ale – Pours a deep reddish-amber color. Has a nice toasted nutmeg note upon the first pull and a little bit of cardamom on the back end. It mellows into a smooth, slightly breadish pumpkin flavor with virtually no aftertaste. The overall experience is very close to pumpkin pie.
– Samuel Adams’ Fat Jack Double Pumpkin Ale – Pours a dark red, almost ruby brown color. Similar to their Harvest Pumpkin Ale only with a heavier pumpkin flavor exactly as expected. There’s a very pleasant and unique fruit note on the back end with hints of cherry and honey laced with what tastes like sweet potatoes.
– Tommyknocker Small Patch Pumpkin Harvest Ale – Pours a deep reddish-amber color. Brewed with molasses, the Pumpkin Harvest Ale has to be one of the most unusual pumpkin ales I’ve ever sampled. Because of the molasses it had almost a touch of a spiced rum flavor which went perfectly with the pumpkin. I’ve heard from others that this overpowers the pumpkin but I didn’t find that to be the case at all.
– Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat – Pours a brownish-copper color. To be honest this one tasted more like a marzen. I found it to be quite mild and completely lacking in pumpkin flavor. Not necessarily a bad beer, just not a great pumpkin beer. Comes as no surprise however, as this is an Anheiser-Busch label.
– Blue Point Pumpkin Ale – Pours a clear orange color. Blue Point puts out a really good blueberry beer so I had high hopes for this one. Sadly it didn’t deliver. Had a very harsh pull with a rather bitter aftertaste and very little notes of spice at all.
So which beer comes out on top?
I’d have to say that Tommyknocker Small Patch Pumpkin Harvest is the clear winner this week. It’s solid pumpkin offering with such a unique flavor that I have to give it the round.
Samuel Adams’ Fat Jack comes in a close second as far as unique flavors go and the Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale does the same for getting the closest to that “pumpkin pie in a bottle” flavor I desire from my pumpkin beers.
Stay tuned for part 2 of the Round-Up!
Tried any of this week’s pumpkin beers? Leave your thoughts in the comments section!
And remember… the food abides…
Ah… it’s that time of year again. My favorite beer season is upon us! Looking forward to trying some new fall brews this year but still happy to see these show up at the local grocery store.
Tomorrow is Halloween which means that October is drawing to a close. No other month has so many of my favorite seasonal flavors available all at once.
Nothing beats a good Octoberfest or Pumpkin Ale on a Friday night just as the weather is starting to get a little cool out. Followed closely of course, by a big bowl of Monster Cereal on Saturday morning (or afternoon depending on how many pumpkin ales were consumed the night before).
I also really dig those little mellocreme pumpkins. Yes, I realize they’re essentially the same things as candy corn, but the pumpkin shape just adds to the festivity of the season I guess.
Farewell October… I hardly knew ye…
Happiness is a big-ass palette of spiced pumpkin ale arriving a couple of weeks before it’s typically supposed to. Shipyard Pumpkinhead is one of my favorites.