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Monday, May 30, 2011

Ithaca College & Cornell University Graduation Dinners

The month of May is a busy one for all the restaurants in the Ithaca area. It is a month that is looked forward to with high expectations and some trepidation. It's a profitable time, but not without stress. The transition from a sleepy Ithaca winter slow season to the busiest month of year is more than a little challenging. Hiring & training new staff, ordering extra dishes and silverware, developing new spring menu offerings, servicing equipment, email confirming hundreds of reservations, ordering enough produce & beef...not that we are complaining. We love to be busy. Busy is good. Busy, busy, busy. Staff wise, the seasoned veterans help out the newbies and management plugs away at their endless list of tasks to be completed before kick off.
Mother's Day is the kick off for the month of May restaurant super bowl. Hundreds of friends & neighbors bring Mom out for dinner. Everyone in the restaurant seems to know each other; it feels like home. Then the last two weekends of May are dedicated to our college graduations. The locals seem to get squeezed out by thousands of families from all over world visiting the heart of the Finger Lakes, Ithaca, NY, to see their loved ones graduate from Ithaca College or Cornell University.
The scale of a graduation weekend is awe inspiring- we reserve all of our overnight guests rooms at the Inn two years in advance (guaranteed by a deposit). The dinners are reserved from January of that year until a week or two prior when there isn't a single seat left to be had (again all seats guaranteed by a deposit). This past weekend we served over 620 dinners- that's 120 pounds of prime rib, 40 pounds of Filet Mignon, 120 pounds of haddock, 50 pounds of carrots, 40 pounds of mushrooms, 600 desserts... you get the idea. That's a lot of business for a little place like Rogues' Harbor Inn with 9 overnight guest rooms in the bed and breakfast and a 90 seat restaurant with 30 staff members.
The entire staff  is working; no rest for the weary till the weekends are behind us. Every chef is on duty- ordering, prepping, chopping, roasting, organizing, plating from mid morning till late in the evening. Every server and bartender is scheduled to set up, greet, seat, serve and repeat... We answer the phone in shifts because it rings endlessly. I even had to head out Sunday morning to Maine's Source for more provisions. I noticed several other restaurateurs there loading up as well. Competition was stiff, but a man is no match for a woman with a cart in a shopping survival scenario. I prevailed and returned safely to the Inn with cases of strawberries, all the mushrooms that existed in Ithaca and 100 pounds of potatoes.
Busy is good, but it takes it's toll. We are grateful for the business and we are now ready for a rest. Towards the end of dinner service Sunday night Jerry, a veteran server, and I were standing side by side quietly observing the well ordered chaos surrounding us. He said, "Well, it's almost over for this year,"  I replied, "It's not over till the fat lady sings." Jerry whispered back without the slightest smirk, "She doesn't need all that make up, just get her out there."
Well said Jerry, well said...till next year.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Typical Brew Day

We've loved the warm reception that both Cayuga Cream Ale and Rt. 34 Red hace received. We appreciate all the wonderful feedback that has been given, and of course it brings a big smile to our faces to see you coming back to enjoy more. Many people have asked about the process of making the beer, and exactly what goes in to it. It seems for all the beer that people enjoy they actually don't have much of an idea what goes on behind the scenes. Well today we're going to lay it out for you, dispel any myths about the brewing process, and give you a glimpse in to what the typical brew day looks like at Rogue's Harbor.

First off there is the plan. The plan covers the setup, the brewing, and the clean up at the end of the brew. Before we get underway the first thing we need to do is get hot water ready as it's used not only for brewing, but for cleaning as well so we like to make sure that we have plenty on hand. We fill up our hot liquor tank (simply a large vessel where the water is heated and stored in preparation for the brewing) and set the temperature so that it can start heating up. Bringing that much water up to temperature can take awhile so that gives us plenty of time to start getting everything else ready. During this time we start by setting up the pumps and various hoses. We also use this time to weigh out and measure the grain that we're going to use for the particular style of beer that we happen to be making that day. The major portion of the grain bill (which types, and how much of each type of grain we'll be using) is made up of a base malt. The base malt provides the major portion of fermentable that the yeast will eventually consume and create alcohol from. Speciality malts help to provide coloring, body, and contribute to the flavor of the beer. Once all the grain needed is measured out we mill it on site, cracking open the husks to expose the inner part of the grain kernel. By the time all of this is done and the water is up to temperature we're ready to move on to the next step.

A portion of the grain is added to a vessel known as the mash tun. The mash tun is where grain sits on top of a false bottom and hot water is added to the grain to bring it to a specific temperature to begin activating enzymes that convert the starches in the grain in to sugars that can be used for fermentation. We continually stir the grain as it is added to the mash tun to make sure that it is throughly saturated and that no doughy grain balls develop. Once the grain is added along with the desired amount of water, we hold it at the proper temperature (depending on style of beer this can range from about 148 to 155 degrees F) for an hour to allow the the starches to fully convert to sugars. This process is also where the grain contributes both color and flavor to the beer, which at this point is known as wort.

During this hour we begin setting up for the transfer from the mash tun to our boiling kettle. We also take this time to do other odd jobs around the brewhouse such as cleaning up, fixing anything that needs tending to, and making sure any beers in the fermenters are chugging along like they are supposed to. Once the hour has passed we begin to transfer the wort from the mash tun to the boil kettle. We do this through a process known as sparging.  This is where as water is going from one vessel to the next we continually add hot water to not only rinse the grains of all the sugars, but to bring our boil kettle to its full volume. During the mashing process a large portion of the water is absorbed by the grain and lost, so there is a need to run more water through the grain in order to reach the desired amount. Once the boil kettle has reached the desired volume we crank up the heat on it in order to bring it to, yup, you guessed it, a boil.

We boil the wort for sixty minutes, during which time hops are added to the wort. Hops, a cone like flower of the humulus lupus plant, are used in the bittering of the beer. They also can contribute aroma, and flavors to the beer as well. Many popular varieties of American hop tend to have distinct citrusy characteristics. Other hop flavors can be described as fruity, earthy, or herbal. Hops can contribute a wide variety of characteristics to the beer, much like grapes do for wine. Hops that are added at the beginning stages of the boil have much of the flavor and aroma oils boiled off and end up contributing primarily to the bittering of the beer. Hops added near the very end of the boil add little to the bittering, but contribute flavoring and aromatics to the beer. While the beer boils we set up the equipment to cool the hot wort down as well as transfer it to the fermentation tank. We also have to make sure that both the equipment and the fermentation take are not only cleaned, but sanitized as well. The boiling wort will kill off any potential contaminants in the beer, so we have to make sure that anything touching it after it has cooled down has been sterilized.

Once the boil has finished we begin pumping the hot wort through two chillers (hot wort circulates one way, cold water flows the other way creating a heat exchange by which the hot wort is rapidly cooled) and in to the fermentation tank. Once the wort has been transfered the yeast is added to the fermentation tank and it is then sealed up so that no outside elements can get in and infect the fermenting beer. When that is accomplished we then have to begin cleaning the mash tun as well as the boiling kettle. The used grain is scooped out of the mash tun and composted, everything is hosed down, and then soaked with a cleanser that breaks down the organic matter in the stainless steel tanks, and then is rinsed out. Floors are scrubbed, hoses and pumps are flushed out, and things are put away.

That's the plan. However a typical brew day for a small brewer is rarely ever that neat and tidy. There's always something that attempts to throw a monkey wrench in your brew day and as brewers you have to learn to problem solve on the fly. Once the brew begins there is no turning back. Fortunately most problems simply make the day a little longer, but are easily addressed with a little bit of MacGuyver like finess. The process takes about 7 or 8 hours, and once the day is done, everything is put away, and the lights are turned out, it's time to have a cold one and enjoy the fruits of our labor.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Beer to Go at the Rogues' Harbor Inn, Ithaca NY

It's true. Beer to go is legal, and alive & well at the 'Harbor. You can take fresh draught beer home with you. A growler is a beautiful thing. In case you don't know about about growlers, here's the Reader's Digest version of their being.
Apparently, drinking on the job preceded the 2 martini business lunch. Long before a can that could withstand the carbonated pressure of beer, beer was transported in covered pails. Prior to WWII kids used to lug these covered pails to their parents at work to have with their lunch. There are a few theories as to how they came to be known as growlers. One, is that their parents growled at them for spillage of their liquid lunch nourishment. Another is that the lid made a growling noise as CO2 escaped from the pail. My favorite is that the awaiting consumer's bellies growled because they were hungry at lunch time.
No matter how the glorious glass container got it's name, it's utility remains the same. In the 1980's a new brew pub in Wyoming re-ignited the growler's popularity by producing custom imprinted, resealable glass cider jugs for their beer. It was a good idea that caught on fast. Today, nearly every micro brewery has their own growler for sale which can be re- used to carry out beer from any micro brewery or brew pub. In fact, the growler is green. The re-use of the growler is estimated to keep over 1 billion cans and bottles out of land fills every year!
The Rogues' Harbor Inn likes being green and keeping tipsy patrons off the road. We sell our own one liter (aka 2 pint) growlers that have the easy seal ceramic flip top. Take some to a friend to try or take your last beers of the night home with you. Anything we sell on draught can be sold to go: Ours, Rogues' Harbor Brewing Company's Cayuga Cream Ale & Route 34 Red Ale, Victory Prima Pils, Harpoon IPA, Ithaca's Apricot Wheat, Sam Adam's Cherry Wheat, Harp, Bass, ... anything. This week is American Craft Brew Week and to celebrate we are going to offer our growlers at half price for one day only, this Wednesday, May 18. So get a growler of your very own and celebrate the diversity of the craft brew revolution- at Rogues' or at home.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

American Craft Brew Week at the Rogues' Harbor Inn, May 16 - 22, 2011

Beer Steamed Mussels
& Cayuga Cream Ale
We might have mentioned (at least 100 times in the past 2 months) that the Rogues' Harbor Inn launched a new venture this year, the Rogues' Harbor Brewing Company. We joined the micro brewing revolution which has been sweeping the nation for the past 10 years and began craft brewing our own beer in March. Apparently, a lot of folks think this revolution is worth celebrating, Rogues' included, and American Craft Brew Week was born.
It is being held next week, May 16 - 22 across the entire U.S. It was organized to celebrate the independence & diversity of the American craft brew scene a few years ago and it's mission is to celebrate the culture and community of craft beer. It's the 4th of July of brewing. Sounds great to me, but our nation has had a bit of a love- hate relationship with alcohol over it's history. We even broke up with beer and all alcohol for 14 years (prohibition). As in most fairy tales, love conquered all and beer was back in 1934.
Happily, Americans hate to be told what to do, civil disobedience is patriotic, we're an independent sort and I think craft brewing embodies that spirit. Craft brewers everywhere are united in their quest for individuality. Some of my favorites are Blue Point's Blueberry Lager, Roosterfish's Strawberry Blond, Rogues' (Washington State, not us) Chocolate Extra Stout, Sam Adams Cherry Wheat, Dog Fish Head's 90 Minute IPA,.... there are so many cool craft brews and what seems like so little time.
In celebration this week we'll be serving our brew inspired spring menu offerings like Beer Steamed Mussels & Beer Braised Bratwurst along with Giant Pretzels & an All American Phillie Cheese Burger. We just couldn't think of anything more American than a cheese burger and fries with a pint of craft brew. The burger will be our 1/2 pound Angus steak burger, grilled and topped with beer braised onions, peppers & melted provolone cheese. Add some fries, a pint of Cayuga Cream Ale and hopefully a little sunshine. That's heaven. Right here, right now, Carpe Diem.

Friday, May 6, 2011

FBD, AKA Wine & Beer Pairings

Rogues' Harbor Brewing Co.'s
Cayuga Cream Ale
FBD= Fermented Beverage of the Day.  A glass of a fermented beverage once a day is good for you - happiness in a glass, medicinal, spiritual, nourishing... It does the body & soul good to relax with a glass that was enjoyed by the ancients in celebration, in treatment, in worship, as a meal, and even exchanged as currency.
We love our Finger Lakes' wine and local craft brewed draughts so much that we decided to suggest wine & beer pairings with our new spring menu offerings. This required a lot of careful research. My husband & I sampled new menu ideas with different glasses of wine & beer nearly every night. I've never had so much fun working. We tried the Herb Crusted Pork Tenderloin with the dry rose by Long Point Winery, Ciera. Loved it. We also tried Ithaca Beer Co.'s Apricot Wheat with the tenderloin, another winner. Mediterranean Chicken was next. It's a fresh chicken breast pan seared in olive oil, fresh herbs & garlic, lemon, tomatoes, black olives, greens, Lively Run feta...Chef Luke suggested we pair it with Goose Watch Pinot Grigio and Victory's Prima Pils. It turned out to be a definite warm weather, on the porch kind of dinner, just what the doctor ordered. We then tried the Beer Steamed Mussels (steamed in our own Cayuga Cream Ale with a touch of curry) with Lamoreaux Landing Chardonnay and of course Rogues' Cayuga Cream Ale, another shiny, happy people pleaser. I think that's my favorite so far. My husband liked the Rosemary Rack of Lamb with the dry & robust Americana Baco Noir or our Rogues' Route 34 Red Ale. It's hard to go wrong with a dry, red fermented beverage and lamb.
Trying new beer and wine at nearly every meal was big fun. Pairing the dry white Finger Lakes' wines & our Cayuga Cream Ale with seafood offerings or the robust red Finger Lakes' wines & our Route 34 Red Ale with beef entrees sort of complies with traditional pairing wisdom. We suggested a few less traditional recommendations as well, but what matters most is that you eat and drink what you like. They'll pair well. You don't have to be a wine or beer expert to choose a great combination. Try something new & order what sounds good to you. It'll work out; I promise.
Just remember FBD.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Mother's Day Dinner at the Rogues' Harbor Inn

The first Sunday in May usually brings sunny warm weather in the Finger Lakes, sometimes not always. We've been serving Mother's Day Dinner at the Rogues' Harbor Inn for the past 15 years. Our first year it actually snowed, disappointing. This year we're feeling optimistic- a sunny, warm day for an outing- dinner, a stop at a nursery for some annuals, dessert outside in the sunshine...
If a nursery is one of your stops next Sunday, there are several really good ones just minutes from the Inn. I like gardening so I visit all of them frequently. I buy all of our herb plants and annuals at Bakers' Acres, ornamental grasses & native perennials at the Plantsmen, and indoor flowering plants and hand painted pots from Michaleen's. Between the three I am always planting something.
We'll be here for dinner all day (noon till eight) serving our new spring menu along with some warm weather Mom's Day specials with wine and beer suggestions. Reservations recommended   (607) 533-3535

Cream of Asparagus Soup
                                       2.50  & 3.50

Crab-tini Appetizer:
crab meat marinated in fresh lemon juice & herbs,
served with cucumber in a martini glass
suggested wine: Treleaven Chardonnay
suggested beer: Rogues’ Cayuga Cream Ale

Filet Mignon with  an herbed Hollandaise:
8 oz center cut tenderloin of beef, grilled & topped with
a fresh herb hollandaise sauce and served with choice
of potato & seasonal vegetable
suggested wine: Palmer Merlot
suggested beer: Bass Ale

Citrus Shrimp Salad:
large shrimp served over mixed baby greens with roasted garlic, lemon, capers & onions topped with a homemade citrus dressing
suggested wine: Treleaven Chardonnay
suggested beer: Rogues’ Cayuga Cream Ale

Rose Cheesecake with Fresh Raspberries:
Our own New York style cheesecake made with  Finger Lakes Rose wine & topped with fresh raspberries
suggested wine: Glenora Blush