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Monday, August 29, 2011

Farmhouse Ales

Those astute readers who recently noticed our list of upcoming Brewer's Choice beer styles knows that the next one up is a Saison (French for "season"), also known as a Farmhouse Ale. Your first reaction might have been, "Cool!" shortly followed by "What's a saison?" Saison's originated in France and Belgium, and were made popular in the Flemmish region. They were the origianl working class beer - made on farms so that the workers would have beer to drink after long days of toiling in the fields. Every farm brewed it's own and it was made from seasonally available ingredients (hence the name). While saisons were originated in Europe, their popularity there has waned over the years as stronger Abbey style ales have become the popular drink of the region. It's the American craft brewer that has been instrumental in reviving the styles. It's becoming more common, especially on the East Coast, to have a couple of these beers in your lineup, whether seasonal or year round.

So how is the style best described? This is one of the hardest styles to nail down. Perhaps you've had one before, but just because you've had a couple doesn't mean you're close to having a grasp of what to expect. When Farmhouse ales were small batch brewed with what was on hand at the farm the beer itself would run a gamut of flavors with each batch being different than ones before it based on what was available. Typically they were lower alcohol beer as they were meant as a good thirst quencher after a hard day of labor in the fields. The beer tends towards a dry crispness that gives a palate cleansing finish. The flavor can sometimes have a peppery, or coriander spiciness to it. A lot of that character comes from the yeasts that are used to ferment the saison. Since the original style was brewed before there was an understanding of yeast, the yeast was a wild strain that would be fermented at the ambient temperature which would go fairly high in the summer, much higher than one would traditionally ferment even most style of ales. These higher fermentation tempatures led to the production of lots of phenols which is where the spicy character comes from. Some modern brewery will add their own blend of spices to compliment the dryness of the beer. Some Saisons tend towards a golden straw color while others might be an amber or light brown. It will depend on the malts that the brewer used. Some of the darker malts can add a subtle sweetness, or very light caramel flavor to give a balance to the dryness. Some of paler styles of this beer will finish out bone dry and can give a bitter perception that some describe as crisp, or tart.

Here at Rogues Harbor we've been inspired by a Belgian-esque style of Saison. We selected Belgian malts and European hops along with a Belgian strain of yeast to makes ours. The fermentation will be uncontrolled; unlike with our other beers we're just fermenting this one at whatever the natural temperature of the brewhouse. These elevated temperatures along with a bit of fluctuation will help create the unique spicy character. The yeast will ferment out nearly all the sugars in the beer leaving it very dry, and lighter body. This beer will be very easy drinking, but have a depth of complexity to it that will keep you examining each and every sip. Look for this beer to arrive early in September.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Eat Dessert First!

I drove past Purity ice cream not too long ago and their sign read, "Eat dessert first, life is short." I couldn't agree with them more. Many folks, including myself, plan ahead and have half of their dinner boxed to take home in order to save room for dessert. Planning ahead a little is wise, especially here at Rogues' Harbor where the portions are generous and the desserts are made right here.
One of the hall marks of Finger Lakes cooking is fresh, local, gardeny ingredients like herbs, greens, berries, apples... We love it all and a couple of our country inn desserts feature wild berries, apples and local ice cream. Our wild berry cobbler is a big summer seller. It has strawberries, black berries & blueberries with a shortbread biscuit. In the fall, our apple crisp takes over as the most popular dessert. It has a touch of maple and a brown sugar crumbled topping. A scoop of vanilla bean ice cream melting over the top is too wonderful to resist. Our richer desserts are crowd pleasers too, chocolate peanut butter pie and triple chocolate cheesecake. They're perfect to share.
Every good dessert menu, especially in the Ithaca area, should offer a sundae.  Of course, Rogues' does. Ithaca is the birth place & home of the old fashioned favorite ice cream Sundae. It's true. We make ours in an edible waffle bowl with hot fudge or caramel, whipped cream & a cherry. We call it the Ithaca Sundae...
There are several cities claiming to have invented the sundae, but Ithaca actually has written documentation from 1892 discovered by Ithaca High School students, Meredith Buchberg and Laura Willemsen. They spent 6 months working as Corson Fellow interns at The History Center in Tompkins County in 2007, researching online data bases and physical archives to discover the "Sundae Truth." They researched and uncovered the below information to back up Ithaca's claim as "The Birthplace of the Sundae."
Michael Turback, Ithaca resident, restaurant guru & gifted writer, published a book, "A Month of Sundaes, Ithaca's Gift to the World." Sundaes truly are a gift to the world & there are few desserts that could not be improved by adding a big scoop of ice cream. We even serve a Blond Bombshell which is a pint of our own Cayuga Cream Ale with a big scoop of vanilla bean ice cream!
So, Live it up, life is short- Eat Dessert First.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Finger Lakes Fresh Breakfasts at the Rogues' Harbor Inn

Bed and Breakfasts have two components, beds and breakfasts. It seems obvious, but not everyone gets it. It's a simple concept, and simple is good. Inns, B&Bs and smaller lodging establishments specialize in unique decor, cushy beds, personal service and yummy hot breakfasts.
We place comment cards in all our rooms to be sure our guests love everything, see if they have ideas, concerns or God forbid complaints. We read them all. We get high marks generally, especially for decor, room size, comfy beds, nice flat screen TVs, Wifi,... A few comment cards have yielded some needed amenities like: room darkening shades, bath salts, full length mirrors, more hooks in the bathrooms,... We appreciate the ideas. Breakfast, however, doesn't always receive high marks- just good or OK. We aim much higher than that.
So, this week our historic ballroom where we serve breakfast to our B&B guests got a make over. We put in smaller individual tables instead large family style tables (a comment card suggestion- thank you) and decorated them with checked clothes and McKenzie Child's place mats. Each table will be served their own French press Gimme coffee & fresh fruit plate while we prepare the main course breakfast offering. We'll offer a buffet style display or cereals, homemade scones & cinnamon rolls, and juices as well. Then the main course.
Today, Chef Luke and I conjured up a whole new set of breakfast offerings for the lodging guests at the inn. We still love quiche, but we will also be preparing roast beef hash with thinly sliced beef browned with potatoes, peppers, onions, fresh rosemary... and topped with a fried egg. Oh and, Flat breads topped with scrambled eggs, fresh herbs, bacon, & melted cheddar cheese. My personal favorite, French Toast made with whole grain bread, fresh berries & yogurt, not overly sweet and quite good.
Lots of fresh, local Finger Lakes ingredients prepared in new ways. We buy free range, organic eggs from an Amish family, their homemade breads & jams are a must as well, cheeses from Lively Run, Keeley's & Finger Lakes Farmstead, yogurt from Chobani, fresh herbs and vegetables from the Ithaca Farmer's Market.
We're pleased to be offering some fresh & different breakfasts for our guests. It's a great way to start a glorious Finger Lakes day.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Beer 101: Yeast

The third post in our look at the brewing ingredients takes a look at yeast. I saved yeast for last as it is the most important ingredient in the brewing process. It is said as brewers our chief job is making a happy and comfortable environment for the yeast, and that it is the yeast that does all the hard work. That's not all that far off. The process of fermentation does more than just convert sugars in to alcohols. Yeast can contribute to the flavor of the beer, it can make a beer light and dry, or heavy, or even a touch of sweetness. If the environment isn't right for the beer it can cause bad flavors, or even halt the fermentation entirely.

There are many different types of yeast. The yeast used in beer, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, isn't simply the bread yeast that you grab on the shelf of your local grocery store. It's a yeast that is well suited to tolerate continued fermentation in the presence of alcohol, and provides a range of complimentary flavors for the beer. Could you ferment with some other yeast like a cheap bread yeast? Well technically some fermentation will occur, but the yeast will likely halt the fermentation process early on, and one can only imagine the types of flavors this yeast might end up producing while metabolizing the sugars.

Speaking of metabolizing, the main function of the yeast is to consume the sugars in the wort (the proto beer, the liquid we have after extracting the sugars from our grains) and produce the by products of alcohol and CO2. That sounds pretty straight forward, but it's not quite as easy that. If the temperature is too high your yeast can start producing "off flavors", creating types of alcohol with very unpleasant tastes. If your temperatures are too cold your yeast could fall out of the beer before it's finished fermenting leaving you with very little alcohol and a sweet malty flavor. The ideal temperature can very based on the strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae used. That's right, there's more than just one single strain of beer yeasts. There are hundreds that are employed commercially today. Each of these strains has their own ideal fermentation ranges so its important to know about your yeast.

Yeast also does more than just simple fermentation. The types of byproducts  that it creates can contribute favorable flavors to your beer. Some yeasts are known as "clean" which simply means that they don't lend characteristics to the flavor of the beer; they let the malt and hops shine through completely. Some yeasts can add a slight fruit like after taste to the beer, some a peppery taste, some a big bready taste. The point is yeast is more than simply the conduit through which beer gets its alcohol. It's the biggest and most important piece of the beer puzzle even though it is the least publicized of beer ingredients.

So that's a look at the third major ingredient in beer, and wraps up nicely a little primer about how the different attributes all work together to make a tasty beverage. Come to Rogues' Harbor Inn in the heart of NY's Finger Lake regions and try our brews for yourself and see if you can pick out all the various flavors and aspects of the beer!

Monday, August 1, 2011

TOP TEN Things I Love about the East Shore of Cayuga

Sunset on the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake, Lansing, NY (on my  iPhone)

 I don't think my Top Ten is in any special order. In fact, the order could change nearly everyday depending on my outlook.

1. Wildly Colorful Sunsets every night

You can drive Route 13/34 North up from Ithaca towards Aurora; East Shore Drive offers some spectacular views or you can stop at Meyers Park or Long Point Park to view the stunning exit of the sun's last rays.

2. The Lake, Cayuga that is

Swim, boat, walk the shore, soak up some sun, go fishing, hunt for fossils... It's all good.

3. Wine

We are right ON the Cayuga Wine Trail. Just 10- 15 minutes from the Rogues' Harbor Inn: King Ferry (Treleaven) Winery, Long Point Winery, Bet the Farm, Heart & Hands Winery... There is never a shortage of Finger Lakes Riesling or any other wine in these parts.

4. Good Food

But not just good food, interesting places to kick back and soak up some atmosphere. From formal to swim trunks casual Cayuga's east shore has some don't miss stops. The restaurant at the Rogues' Harbor Inn is on list, but we send guests out into the wilderness armed with a compass & a credit card (and good directions) to places like The Fargo, Pumpkin Hill Bistro & The Aurora Inn. All different, but really good- and pretty easy to find.

5. Microbreweries & Brew Pubs

We have 3 so far and I feel like a trend has emerged. There will be more, probably soon. So, the three close by right now are: Ithaca Beer Company, Band Wagon Brew Pub, & our own Rogues' Harbor Brewing Company.

6. Proximity to Cornell University, Ithaca College & Wells College

Not all locals would agree, the Universities bring a lot of traffic to the area, but all the good far outweighs the traffic. I love having the world at my finger tips and having them close by really offers a lot. World class art exhibits at the Johnson Museum, well tended gardens at Cornell Plantations, concerts at Bailey Hall, lectures all over the three campuses, dance & theatre...I love it all.

7. Farms & Local Producers

We buy a lot of local wine, beer, cheese, apples, eggs, jams, beef, sauces, all kinds of wonderful ingredients. But my favorite by far is butter and sugar corn from Fedorka Farms just 5 minutes from the inn. Ed just started picking and we'll be serving the best corn on earth until late August or early September. We've been waiting all year for this.

8. Diversity

There are people living here from all over the world. They come because of the Universities, the Temple, the wine, the beauty, the art community, the lack of traffic and big city head aches, or they simply grew up here and were smart enough to stay...whatever the reason, it creates a good vibe.

9. Gorges & Waterfalls

There is something ethereal & soothing about waterfalls. The cool fresh air, the constant sound of the water pounding the rocks below, the lush canopy of trees lazily drooping over the bank...We have so many that some don't even have names. But, Ithaca Falls and Ludlowville Falls are my two close by favorites.

10. Sublime Beauty

Every single day I have a scenic drive to work or wherever I happen to be going. Rolling hills, lake views, lush vegetation, ever changing with the seasons yet somehow remaining the same. Spectacular fall foliage, stark winters with pristine white snow, jubilant flowering fruit trees come spring and glorious summer- green, leafy, fresh smelling sunshine reflecting off the water, they're all gentle reminders to work a little less and enjoy life a little more.