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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Buy grapes, crush & press them with our equipment

To all winemakers interested this year in making wine from fresh grapes--starting September 24th, 2011, Siciliano's will be providing access to our grape crusher/de-stemmer and presses. For more on this as well as information regarding the procurement of your own fresh wine grapes, please see below.

By Steve Siciliano

If you’re a winemaker you know how gratifying it is when the cork is pulled from one of your nicely aged, home-made creations. Whether that wine was produced from a Winexpert ingredient kit, a can of Vintner's Harvest fruit base, or from raw materials procured from backyard gardens and fruit stands, there is wonderful sense of fulfillment when you’re finally able to enjoy the fermented fruits of a labor that inherently involves a degree of delayed gratification. While drinking a hand-crafted product from the aforementioned sources can be extremely rewarding, it seems to me that the reward factor is intensified when the cork is popped from a bottle of wine that was produced from fresh grapes.

Unfortunately getting your hands on fresh grapes is not as easy as procuring ingredients and raw materials from winemaking supply stores, farmers markets or home gardens, and in response to this we are passing along two wine-grape order forms sent to us by separate yet trusted sources. The first is from our friends at Taylor Ridge down in Allegan who are now taking orders for this year’s harvest. The second is for grapes from the Lodi region of California. In the case of Taylor Ridge please note that you will have to place orders with them directly and they will notify you when the grapes are ready for pickup. You will also have to contact the folks for the Lodi grapes and arrange prepayment with them. However, as a service to our customers, you can arrange to have your prepaid orders of the California grapes delivered directly to our store.

Order forms are available for download 
by clicking here.

We will be offering the free use of our crusher/de-stemmer and presses from 9am to 4pm on the five consecutive Saturdays beginning with the 24th of September and ending with October 22nd. On these particular Saturdays, we will be showing folks how to use the equipment and how to adjust their juice for sugar and acidity. Also, if so desired (and for a nominal fee), the equipment can be rented on-premise on days other than the specified Saturdays. All crushing, de-stemming, and pressing will take place in the parking lot behind Siciliano's. Please contact us for more details.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Plant garlic now, thank yourself next year

Oh the possibilites
By Wes Eaton

The time has come to plant garlic. Don’t waste your time planting cloves you buy at the grocery store, however--according to Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening, these may have been sprayed with an anti-sprouting chemical. Instead, buy a few extra of those precious heads the next time you’re at the Fulton Street Farmers Market. But beware! Just because it’s on a farm stand does not mean it was grown in Michigan. Not to say non-Michigan produce is bad in itself, it’s just that, in this case, you definitely want to buy the local kind. Local garlic is of the "hardneck" variety. Also known as seedstem, it's different from the tepid, "softneck" garlic we have been eating most of our lives. Why should you care? Softneck garlic comes from Chile or California, and while there might be some good-sized cloves in the head, there are also too many smaller ones, which are pesky to peel and basically filler. Though hardnecks can be more difficult to grow, they taste better and the clove size is more uniform.

Not so long ago I felt what many of you must be feeling right now. My friends would tell me about hardneck garlic and I’d complain about the price, availability and overall elitism of preferring one garlic variety to another. I was content peeling ever-smaller Californian or Chilean cloves. If I got irritated, I’d just pour another glass of wine. Things changed when I finally took some local garlic home and witnessed the difference for myself: full, off-white, robin-egg-sized cloves, pungent fresh juices concentrated homogeneously throughout the moist and snappy lobe. The outer skin was white and beneath it the hues turned purple then white again where the root was bared. Already I had feelings for this garlic like I’ve never had for any member of the onion family. I chopped softly, finely, gently sautéed in yellow, fatty butter and spread on a fresh warm, crusty baguette. No woody, stem like flavors. No acidic overtones. No spongy chew near my molars. Just a baked-Macintosh-apple-like consistency with a rich, heated acidic sugar flavor. I hid the remaining cloves in the crock and out-of-sight.

Garlic, it plays well with others

I went back to the farmers market to tell the farmer how good his garlic was. His tight-lipped smile and precise nod signaled to me that we had an understanding. The garlic spoke for itself; he need not explain. Just then an older Italian woman asked the price for a gorgeous bunch hanging between us. She was not going to pay $15 for a dozen heads, forget the culinary ecstasy that awaited her. Good news for me because the garlic supply runs low about this time of year, precisely when you wish you had a few extra heads to roast while you’re planting a couple of rows beside the garage.

According to my sources, now is the time to plant. Prepare your soil--get rid of weeds, loosen up the top few inches and mix in some compost (four dollars for 50 pounds of organic from Lubbers Family Farm). Plant in full sun, about an inch or two deep with the root end down, keeping cloves three to a foot and rows at least a foot apart. Cover with dried grass or other mulch. Getting them in the ground now will give them time to develop a root, keeping them in place during the freeze. When the snow tapers off and the maple sap begins to run, look for the first shoots. Eventually these will curl over into scapes, a delicate, seasonal morsel. Snip them off and eat to encourage bulb growth. Harvest when you begin to see new garlic on the tables at the farmers market.

By the way, there are several health benefits to eating garlic raw. It lowers cholesterol, warms the body, improves circulation, and has fungicidal and antimicrobial properties. Eating fruit or fresh parsley afterward will mitigate (what some consider) the "offensive" aromatic effects. 

The editors suggest saving a large portion of the garlic harvest for use in many loaves of roasted garlic no-knead bread. For the recipe, click here!

Former Siciliano's staffer Weston Eaton is currently pursuing a PhD in Sociology at Michigan State University. He lives with his wife and dogs in Grand Rapids, MI, where it's only a matter of time before someone invents a garlic-flavored beer.  

Friday, August 26, 2011

New Beer Friday - August 26 Edition

A good week this week at Siciliano's. Tomatoes are peaking, the boss is acclimating well to his new titanium robo-hip, and (most important) several new beers found their way onto the shelves, many of which exhibit qualities indicative of the greatest Michigan season, Fall. Sure is a good time to be a beer fan. Take it from Larry Bell, who contends: "Fall is my favorite time to drink beer. The weather turns cooler, there's a bounty of foods, and beer just seems to taste better". That's a quote from the back label of Bell's Octoberfest, which just happens to be one of the excellent beers on this week's list. To steal another quote from Larry, "Prosit!"

New (and Returning) Beer

  • New Holland Ichabod Pumpkin Ale, $1.79/12oz - "Ichabod combines malted barley and real pumpkin with cinnamon and nutmeg in a delicious and inviting brew. A rewarding complement to many dishes, [this beer] pairs well with autumnal foods such as poultry and root vegetables. After dinner, try it with your favorite dessert" (source). 
  • Arcadia Jaw-Jacker, $1.79/12oz - Lest those of you with exaggerated pumpkin affinities feel left out: "Although no pumpkins [were harmed in the brewing of this beer], a blend of nutmeg, allspice, and cinnamon work with malty flavors to create a bold flavor reminiscent of pumpkin pie" (source).
  • Heavy Seas "Red Sky at Night" Saison, $1.89/12oz - A beer highly recommended by Siciliano's staffer Doug 'the Chug' Dorda, who calls this the "candy-like, swan song of summer". What more do you need to know? Maybe this.
  • Bell's The Oracle DIPA, $2.99/12oz - Sorry folks, this one is sold out already. Oh if only it were New Beer Tuesday and not New Beer Friday.
  • Founders Breakfast Stout, $2.59/12oz - "You can't drink all day if you don't start in the morning." The simplest truths are often the most profound.
  • Bell's Octoberfest, $1.69/12oz - This editor has a new go-to fall beer. 'Nough said.
  • Arbor Brewing Mackinac Island Fudge Stout, $2.29 - The official beer of old-timey war re-enactors everywhere. Okay, I made that up. Just try the beer already.
  • Spaten Oktoberfest, $1.79/12oz - A true classic.
  • Brooklyn Post Road Pumpkin Ale, $1.59/12oz - "Hundreds of pounds of pumpkins are blended into the mash of each batch, creating a beer with an orange-amber color, warm pumpkin aroma, biscuity malt center, and crisp finish" (source).
  • Brooklyn Octoberfest, $1.59/12oz - Another excellent example of the style. Brooklyn says this beer pairs well with steaks and roasted meats.
  • Harpoon Octoberfest, $1.59/12oz - Pair this one with pork or sausages. 
  • Reunion Ale '11, $7.19/22oz - A collaboration beer from Schmaltz Brewing and Terrapin, a dark ale brewed with cocoa nibs, vanilla and chili peppers.
  • Coney Island Freaktoberfest, $2.59/12oz - Gives new meaning to the term "red ale". You'll have to try one to find out why.
  • Short's Ale la Reverend Wedding Session IPA, $1.99/12oz - "A distinctively dry, light-bodied IPA with an appealing golden hue, thirst-quenching crispness, and laden with pungent hop aromas of citrus and spruce" (source).
Mysterious Link of the Week

Picture of the Week

If ever you find yourself in Conklin, MI, stop in for pint of Old Speckled Hen

Cheers, everyone!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Like a duck to water, Steve to his cane

In which the Bossman updates us on the status of his new bionic hip.

By Steve Siciliano

I was sitting at my desk working on a liquor order when the phone rang.

“Do you have a 20-gallon Blichmann in stock?”

I told the caller I thought we did but would have to check to make sure. “Would you mind holding?” I asked him.

“Not at all.”

Sarah and Greg were working that day but Sarah, I knew, was helping a homebrewer in the west wing and when I bellowed out for Greg there was no answer. After mumbling an expletive under my breath, unfairly directed at the missing-in-action Greg, I grabbed my four-pronged metal walking cane, hoisted myself to my feet and began hobbling towards the warehouse.

Halfway there I realized that the sensible thing would have been to take the caller’s phone number; I should have told him that I would get back to him, perhaps even explaining that at that particular moment rapidly walking the two hundred or so steps to the warehouse seemed as difficult a task as walking the stairs to the top of the Grand Plaza. It had been two weeks since my hip surgery.

Thankfully Greg emerged at that moment from the back room carrying a clipboard.

“Drop what you’re doing,” I said. “Check to see if we have a 20 gallon boiling pot. There’s someone waiting on the phone.”

“Okay, boss.”

“And apologize to him that it took so long.”

“No problem.”

Despite the occasional burst of frustration brought on by decreased mobility, my recuperation from hip replacement surgery has, for the most part, been going well. The employees are doing a great job, and I’m starting to believe that Barb might be right to insist that we take an extended vacation--this crew is obviously capable of running the store in my absence. [Editor's note: Just go already!] Barb has been a combination of Florence Nightingale and Nurse Ratchet throughout my convalescence. She has been a fine caretaker, but she won't hesitate to issue a strong reprimand when she feels that her patient is not following protocol.

There have been a few bumps on the road to recovery. A hematoma developed beneath my incision which necessitated a trip to emergency. There was a false alarm of a staph infection and strained ligaments in a foot because I foolishly rushed the transition to the four-pronged cane from a walker.

Because I don’t like the looks of that four-pronged cane—too sterile in my opinion—Barb and I went to Walgreen’s one day to procure another. I found a nice wooden one for fourteen bucks, not as functional but certainly more stylish. On the way to the checkout I passed a young clerk stocking shelves, waved the cane at him, grumbled “out of my way, boy,” then smiled and explained that I was practicing being a curmudgeon. “Looks like you got it down pat,” he said. I use the four-pronger when I’m at the store and the wooden one—my “stepping out” cane as I call it—when we go out to dinner or to Founders.

Hopefully in a couple of weeks I won’t be using either.

A delivery man bears the brunt of Steve's frustration

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Recipe: The Boss' fresh tomato sauce, breaded chicken

This not-so-secret family recipe will pair well with Wes' tomato/cucumber salad and a loaf of crusty no-knead bread. Serve to company with rustic homemade wine or see below for the Boss' commercial wine suggestions. 

Sauce, simmering
By Steve Sicilliano

Mid-August is a bittersweet time for me. There is the poignancy from realizing that the bulk of the summer is in the rearview mirror and the baseball season is three quarters over. I know it won’t be long before the deck furniture will have to be stowed, the leaves on the big maples surrounding our house will begin falling, and that lurking in the weeks ahead are hours of tedious raking. But the slight sadness surrounding the awareness of a fading summer is balanced by the sweet anticipation of the boons of autumn. Before those leaves turn brown they’ll provide a few weeks of high-branching, multi-colored artwork that rival any made-made creation. Football is right around the corner, and we’ll soon be crushing, de-stemming and pressing grapes in the store’s back parking lot. And helping to ease the annual transition from summer to fall is the appearance this time of year of the highly anticipated bounty of vine-ripened tomatoes.

A favorite dish I make when those fresh tomatoes become available is a quick and easy pasta sauce that features a healthy dose of fresh basil. I cook by feel and instinct, something I call Zen cooking, so I’m afraid I won’t be providing exact measurements of the basic ingredients. But this dish is so easy to make even the most inexperienced chef will have incredible results.

Tomatoes, chunked
I like using the biggest, ripest tomatoes I can find. Six to eight large ones will make more than enough sauce for one pound of pasta. Start by slicing a big sweet onion in quarters and gently sautéing it in some good extra-virgin olive oil in a deep frying pan. Chunk the tomatoes and toss them in the pan when the onion turns soft. Season with garlic salt, some crushed black pepper, and a couple of spoonful’s of sugar. When the tomatoes have been reduced into a sauce, toss in a big handful of the basil that, preferably, has just been plucked from the herb garden. Sugar is a key element here. It will balance the acidity of the tomatoes and help accentuate the flavor and aroma of the sweet basil. [Perch's note: a pinch or two of red pepper flakes will add a welcome kick, if you're into that kind of thing.]

I often accompany this dish with thin slices of chicken breasts that I cover in seasoned Italian breadcrumbs and broil on the grill. Look for boned breast filets that have already been thinly sliced. Dip the filets in olive oil, coat generously in the bread crumbs and then broil on high heat. It won’t take long for the filets to cook so be vigilant and turn them often so they don’t burn. The filets will be ready when the breading turns a nice golden brown.

Dinner, served
This meal is further enhanced by thick slices of garlic bread. I like using a loaf of crusty bread that I slice lengthwise then brush with lots of olive oil and season with garlic salt and oregano. Broil the lengths of bread on the grill, again over high heat, and watch closely so they don’t burn. Remove and slice into thick, sauce-mopping chunks.

I think the perfect wine to accompany this meal is a bottle or two of good Pinot Noir. Pinots have enough acidity and bright fruit to enhance but not overpower the delicate flavors of the fresh tomatoes, basil and breaded chicken. A bottle that comes highly recommended is Sileni Pinot Noir from Hawkes Bay in New Zealand ($13.59/750ml). Bon Appetit.

"Berry & cherry flavors with a soft dry finish"

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Making salsa from the garden

By Wes Eaton

I just made three quarts of scrumptious fresh salsa and before I even begin cleaning up the kitchen, I want to share my recipes, reasonings and experience with you all. What made it so good? There’s many ways to answer that question, but of course a reasonable explanation would take into account the ingredients.

Enter the tomato. Few vegetables equally capture the passion and obsession of gardeners. Just awhile earlier, before the sun set, I was harvesting from my backyard raised-beds and holding up a fat Brandywine, irregularly lobed, deep fissures with an animated belly-button on the blossom end, hefting its girth with surprise and satisfaction, recognizing the absolute handiness of its being, and looking around, half expecting someone to holler, “Hey! That’s a handsome tomato!” I put this in my basket and added a couple dozen Rome and Roma, a handful of jalapenos, habanero and wax peppers and some cilantro, went to the garage to clip some garlic from the drying rack, and then to the cellar for white onions, apple and red wine vinegar. Add a little salt and lime from the kitchen and I had all the makings for a fresh salsa.

As I didn’t have a particular recipe in mind I went to my essential sources. First I looked up Tomatoes in Harold McGee’s indelible On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. McGee lets us know tomatoes are actually fruits we use as vegetables. He links their popularity to their unique flavor, due to their unusually large amount of glutamic acid and sulfur compounds--food components more often found in meat, and thereby highly complementary to hearty dishes such as rich salsa.

Next I looked to Madison CSA coalition’s From Asparagus to Zucchini, the guidebook on storing and using fresh vegetables to find that tomatoes, originally from the warm climates of South America but later domesticated in Mexico, are best stored warm as opposed to in the fridge. Additionally, tomatoes continue to ripen once picked, advisably done out of the sun.

Finally I dug out Bollin’s Salsa Lovers Cookbook, a Southwest-published, spiral-bound treasure with hundreds of recipes as well as techniques for blanching tomatoes as well as preparing and storing chiles. Bollin tells us chile (not chili) is the common name for hot peppers, such as Anaheim, jalapeno and serrano commonly used in Southwestern and Mexican cooking. Additionally I noticed two trends and therefore decided on two different recipes, one using tomatoes and chiles with skins removed through blanching and roasting, respectively, and the other with untampered ingredients.

According to Bollin as well as Madison CSA’s volume, blanching is simple: dunk whole tomatoes in boiling water for 15-30 seconds, lift out with slotted spoon, and remove skins. Before doing so, I shallowly cored my Romes, cut a slight “X” on the blossom end and finished the fruits in a bowl of ice water. The skins actually fell off by themselves. Roasting chile peppers, however, was a bit more challenging. The goal is to heat “the chile to enable the tough transparent skin to separate from the pod so that the skin can be removed”. So while I grasped the chiles with tongs and roasted them over fire until blistered, and rested them in a plastic bag for ten minutes, I still needed finally to scrape the skin from the pod with a butchers knife. Eventually preparations were done and it was time to put things together. After consulting these and other sources, including a friend well known for his cutting edge salsa, I settled on these two recipes I’m calling Traditional and Garden Salsa. They represent inspiration from all three sources above.

Wes’ Traditional Salsa (for one quart) 

    • 8 large, ripe Rome, Roma or other ‘paste’ variety tomatoes that have been blanched
    • 6 roasted, skinned and seeded chiles (I used two each of Anaheim, jalapeno and cayennes)
    • 1/4 bunch of cilantro
    • 1 medium white onion
    • Juice from 1/2 lime
    • Splash of both red wine vinegar and apple cider vinegar
    • Salt to taste 
Wes’ Garden Salsa (for two quarts) 

    • 12 large, ripe Rome, Roma or other ‘paste’ variety tomatoes
    • 4 large wax peppers
    • 1 habanero
    • 5 cloves garlic (preferably hard-neck)
    • 1/2 bunch of cilantro
    • 1 medium white onion
    • 1 medium red onion
    • 2 splashes of both red wine vinegar and apple cider vinegar
    • Salt to taste 
Actually making the salsa is a simple affair. Add all ingredients minus the tomatoes to the blender and quickly blend. Once things have begun to chop up, add the juicy tomatoes and blend just a moment longer. While tomatoes are naturally high in acid (low pH), the vinegars and salt help further preserve the salsa you don’t finish tonight for days in jars in your fridge.

Former Siciliano's staffer Weston Eaton is currently pursuing a PhD in Sociology at Michigan State University. He lives with his wife and dogs in Grand Rapids, MI, where tomato, or not tomato--that is the question.  

Monday, August 22, 2011

Recipe: The mighty bread & butter pickle

By Wes Eaton

The bread & butter pickle is a tangy, crisp fall favorite, yellow from turmeric, with a nuanced tang from vinegar and mustard seed. Cured in the jar, these sandwich toppers will add a touch of rustic homeyness to your usual fare. I’m putting up a double batch right now and encourage you all to do the same. Keep reading to learn how!

Here's a list of things you'll need:

    • Canning supplies (canning jars, bands, lids, canner)
    • 4-6 pounds pickling cucumbers
    • 2 pounds medium white onions
    • 1/3 cup canning salt
    • 2 cups sugar
    • 2 tablespoons mustard seed
    • 2 teaspoons Tumeric
    • 2 teaspoons celery seed
    • 1 teaspoon peppercorns
    • 3 cups vinegar
    • 1 bag ice 
Start by planting a garden. Okay, a little late now, so start at the farmers market, or even the grocery store’s produce section. We're at the tail end of August, so fresh pickles will only be around a few more weeks. Ask for and choose firm, dark green, ‘box’ shaped pickles, no longer than six inches. Slice chips to a width of less than a quarter inch with a serrated tomato knife for authentic ridging. Peel and slice the onions thin and mix all together in a large bowl with canning salt. Cover the veggies with ice. This quick cold brine extracts excess water from the pickle chips and contributes to lasting firmness and crunch. Place in the fridge for an hour at least and then drain and rinse.

Driving out excess water with salt

Meanwhile, wash your canning jars in hot sudsy water while bringing your canner bath to a subtle boil. As the time nears, place remaining ingredients in another large pot and bring to a boil. Add the rinsed pickle chips and onions and return to a boil. With everything heated up, its time to carefully pack your jars, wipe the lips, screw on the lids and process in the boiling canning bath for ten minutes.

A medley of flavors

Let your jars cool somewhere away from cool late summer breezes. Patiently listen for the lids to pop in, indicating a good seal; it may happen quick, but could take an hour or so. Those that don’t seal can be stored in the fridge. This should give you plenty of time to reflect on your efforts--good food you carefully prepared yourself, with ingredients of your own selecting and choosing. Satisfaction is what I’m talking about, with product to show for your efforts. Laying down preserved food, much like laying down wine or beer, affords you a sense of participation in the creation of your daily surroundings--the stuff that makes up your reality. An existential leap? I’ll leave that up to you. As for the flavor and snap, it's a no brainer for fans of the mighty bread and butter pickle.

Sealing the time capsules

Former Siciliano's staffer Weston Eaton is currently pursuing a PhD in Sociology at Michigan State University. He lives with his wife and dogs in Grand Rapids, MI, where pickles aren't his bread & butter, but bread & butter are among his favorite pickles.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

On the problem of disappearing dive bars

By Harry Winston

Last week while driving up Michigan Street hill on the way to visit Steve after his hip surgery, I admired the impressive cluster of medical buildings that in recent years have become part of the city’s downtown skyline. But after I parked my car and was walking down the street in the shadow of those gleaming high-rises, I felt a twinge of nostalgia as I recalled that at one time about a half-dozen or so watering holes had been tucked into the stretch of Michigan Street that is now known as the Medical Mile. I’m not opposed to change, especially when the departure of the old translates into so much beneficial new. But I still felt kind of bad about the disappearance of those taverns.

A lot of the old bars are disappearing all over the city and for some reason I find that a little disturbing. Some have been bought by new owners who have done a fine job of cleaning them up, renovating them, and making them attractive to a much younger clientele. But whenever that happens it seems something gets lost in transition. Steve [the boss] and I used to love going to those old bars in our younger days. We drank a lot of beer from long neck bottles. We played countless games of pool, got in a fight or two, and enjoyed taking to the older, world-weary waitresses. Maybe the wisp of nostalgia surfaced that day because I was already in a melancholy mood. My old friend and bar-hopping buddy, a man my age, was in the hospital because his hip joint had worn out, and if it could happened to Steve it could happen to me. Maybe my sometimes throbbing right knee is arthritic too. Maybe the inability to sometimes remember my own phone number is the first stages of Alzheimer’s. As you age you begin considering those things. “Every discoloration of the stone/Every accidental crack or dent/Seems a water-course or an avalanche." Yeats wrote in Lapis Lazuli.

When I got up to Steve’s room he was in a sour mood because a nurse had just removed his catheter.

“How did that go?” I asked him.

“You don’t want to know.”

“How’s the food in this joint?”


“How’s your roommate?”

“I’m ready to kill him.”

I tried to cheer him up by talking about the fact that it was August and the Tigers were in first place, that the nurses were calling him a rockstar because he was already moving around so well, that the store was running smoothly without him. I finally got a wisp of a smile when I mentioned the old bars on Michigan Street.

“Those were some great joints,” he said. “Too bad that there’s not many like them around anymore.”

“There are plenty of bars in the city, my friend.”

“You know what I mean.”

I did. And I promised him that when he was ready and able, we would go out and find a few of them.

Buzz Contributor Harry Winston lives and writes in Grand Rapids, MI, where, in days of yore, he and Steve were regulars at the best dives around. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

New Beer Friday - August 19 Edition

There's no sense in fighting it, Fall is on its way. What began two weeks ago as a trickle of Autumn seasonals has become this week a deluge of Oktoberfests, pumpkin ales, and harvest beers.

So rejoice those of you who look forward each year to the crisp days and hearty beers of September and October--your wait is almost over. For those of you less willing to go gentle into that good night, take heart, it wasn't just harvest beers arriving new to the shelves this week. Two beers in particular recall the steamy days of summer (which are still here, by the way)--Sierra Nevada Ovila Saison and Short's Key Lime Pie. For more on these and other interesting brews, please keep reading!

New (and Returning) Beers

  • Sierra Nevada Ovila Saison, $11.49/750ml - "With earthy and spicy aromas this Saison has notes of green grass and a faint citrus tang." For more info on the Ovila project, follow this link.
  • Sierra Nevada Tumbler, $1.59/12oz - A solid brown ale from one of the country's most respectable breweries. 
  • Short's Key Lime Pie, $2.19/12oz - Made with fresh limes, milk sugar, graham cracker, and marshmallow fluff. Yes, you read that right, marshmallow fluff.
  • Stoudts Oktoberfest, $2.09/12oz - A traditional German-style Oktoberfest beer. According to Stoudts, this beer pairs well with sausage, pork, pizza, and pretzels. A pork-sausage pretzel pizza? Yes, please.
  • Abita Harvest Pecan, $1.69/12oz - Made with real Louisiana pecans. It's true.
  • Erdinger Oktoberfest, $1.99/12oz - A rare wheat-based Oktoberfest. Solid scoring beer. Definitely worth a try.
  • Left Hand Warrior IPA, $6.69/12oz - "Brewed only once a year using fresh whole flower Colorado-grown hops flown in from Rising Sun Farms in Paonia, CO" (source).
  • Southern Tier Creme Brulee Stout, $9.29/22oz - An imperial stout brewed with vanilla beans and milk sugar. Rated very good (B+) on Beer Advocate.  
  • Sam Adams Oktoberfest, $1.49/12oz - "Samuel Adams Octoberfest blends together five roasts of malt to create a delicious harmony of sweet flavors including caramel and toffee" (source).
  • O'Fallon Pumpkin Ale, $1.79/12oz - O'Fallon adds "136 pounds of real pumpkin to the three-barley mash and then [they] season the finished beer with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves" (source).
  • Unertl Weissbier & Weissbock, $4.49/500ml - Two new offerings from Germany, both with solid ratings on BA (here and here).
  • Napa Smith Brewing, Napa, California - Brand new to Siciliano's, we now carry three styles from this West Coat brewery, including:
      • Crush Beer, $4.39/22oz - An amber lager made with traditional malts and a small amount of of California grapes.
      • Organic IPA, $2.19/12oz - Certified Organic by CCOF.
      • Lost Dog Red Ale, $2.19oz - If found, call...
Cigar of the Week

HOPZ - "The Craft Beer Cigar" - $11.89/stick

"These premium Craft Beer Cigars are handmade in the Dominican Republic using only the finest long-leaf tobacco. The cigar is aromatically seasoned with Centennial Hops using a proprietary process. Each cigar is then carefully sealed in a glass tube, preserving the flavor and freshness indefinitely. We suggest pairing this cigar with one of your favorite IPA craft beers" (from the box). To learn more, click here.

Picture of the Week

Siciliano's staffer Ren Hanselman enjoys a beer at Founders.
Sources tell us it was a Dirty Oatmeal,
a fifty/fifty mix of Dirty Bastard and Oatmeal Stout.

*All prices subject to change.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

2011 Homebrew Sale, Deep Discount List

Attention Homebrewers, Winemakers:

During this year's sale (Sept 12-18), and with certain key exceptions*, all homebrew/winemaking equipment & supplies will be at least 15% off regular retail price. Please click this link (here!) for more details on the sale. For a list of products discounted more than 15%, please see below.

    • BEER EQUIPMENT KIT/GLASS: Reg. $105.00, Sale $85.00
    • 90 BOTTLE TREE: Reg. $39.89, Sale $30.00
    • 45 BOTTLE TREE: Reg. $25.39, Sale $19.00
    • BAYOU BURNER: Reg. $126.00, Sale $100.00
    • MASH/LAUTER TUN: Reg $125.00, Sale $102.00
    • REFRIGERATOR THERMOSTAT: Reg. $79.00, Sale $59.00
    • BUON VINO MINI JET: Reg. $249.00, Sale $199.00
    • BUON VINO SUPER JET: Reg. $505.00, Sale $399.00
    • 20 QT STAINLESS STEEL POT: Reg $52.00, Sale $40.00
    • WINEMAKING EQUIP KIT/GLASS: Reg. $95.00, Sale $79.00
    • 30 QT STAINLESS STEEL POT: Reg. $95.00, Sale $76.00
    • PORTUGUESE FLOOR CORKER: Reg. $63.00, Sale $50.00
    • MIX STIR: Reg. $17.39, Sale $14.79
    • ACIDOMETER: Reg. $22.69, Sale $18.19
    • CHAMPAGNE FLOOR CORKER: Reg. $152.00, Sale $119.00
    • ITALIAN FLOOR CORKER: Reg. $142.00, Sale $109.00
    • ELECTRIC BREW HEATER: Reg. $179.69, Sale $125.00
    • MILWAUKEE PH METER: Reg. $85.00, Sale $64.00
    • REFRACTOMETER: Reg. $91.00, Sale $70.00
*Items that are always already discounted--carboys, 50/55 lb. bags of grain, Blichmann Engineering products--will not be eligible for additional discount nor will the 15% be combined with other existing discounts (like the club discount). We will honor either one discount or the other, whichever is the greater.

2011 Customer Appreciation Homebrew Sale, Sept 12-18

By Steve Siciliano

The expansion is done and the store has been put back together. We now have more space which means we have more racks bursting with more beer and more wine-making supplies. The grape harvest will soon be here and cooler brewing weather is right around the corner. I think it’s time to have a sale.

This year’s annual Customer Appreciation Week Sale will be held from Monday, September 12th through Sunday, September 18th. We’re holding the sale a little early this year for two reasons: first, we thought this would be a good time to celebrate our grand re-opening; and secondly, it appears that it’s going to be a good year for grapes and holding the sale a few weeks earlier will give folks the opportunity to take stock of their inventory and bulk up on necessary equipment and supplies.

A few key points:

    • Most equipment, supplies, and ingredients will be 15% off the retail price.
    • Items that are always already discounted--carboys, 50/55 lb. bags of grain, Blichmann Engineering products--will not be eligible for additional discount nor will the 15% be combined with other existing discounts (like the club discount). We will honor either one discount or the other, whichever is the greater.
    • Equipment and supplies on this list will have discounts deeper than 15%.
    • Free German wieners from Frank’s Market, Grandpa Sam’s home-made sauerkraut, and draft root beer on Saturday, September 17th. 
Mark your calendars, folks. The staff and I are looking forward to showing you, our loyal customers, how much you’re appreciated.

For more information on the Customer Appreciate Week Sale, please contact us directly or else ask your question via the comment feature below.

All this product needs a new home

Monday, August 15, 2011

Four recipes for the summer bounty, with beer pairings

By Wes Eaton

August begins to reveal the full possibility of fresh Michigan produce. Early summer’s kale, swiss chard, lettuce and collard greens are making way for tomatoes, carrots, beets, cucumbers, garlic and squash--a welcome transition, especially for seasonal eaters. Here I’ve put together four of my favorite summer recipes, complete with beverage partners. These recipes are simple and delicious, and most (if not all) of the ingredients can be found at your favorite farmers market. When seeking out these seasonal items, don't be shy, ask the farmer when they were harvested. We’re in the midst of the bounty here--if the veggies were picked over two days ago head to the next booth.


Homemade salsa recipes are often complex, but when you start with Romas ripened on the vine and cilantro clipped from the planter, little else is needed. Try this recipe as-is before doctoring it up.


    • 8 Roma tomatoes
    • two medium white or candy onions
    • one bunch cilantro
    • one lime
    • kosher salt to taste. 
Core and cube tomatoes in a large bowl. Chop cilantro, stem and all, leaving only the ends of the stems out of the bowl. Add along with chopped onion and juice from one lime, add salt to taste, chill and serve with lime-garnished Vienna Lagers--Great Lakes Elliot Ness, for example ($1.79/12oz at Siciliano's).


Like salsa, pesto too can be made complex, but start here. Complements to Stephen Gasteyer for this easy yet rich and decadent recipe. Use as a sauce for pastured chicken or make a summer lunch by serving over chilled angel hair with a simple lettuce, balsamic, oil, sea salt and black pepper salad. You’ll plant an entire row of basil next year.

Basil, and lots of it

    • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
    • 1 garlic clove
    • 1/3 cup olive oil
    • 1/4 cup pine nuts
    • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. 
If raw, toast the pine nuts ever so gently in a cast iron skillet. Layer ingredients into a food processor or blender and blend to desired consistency. Amazing how the individual parts become an entirely new whole. Freeze in baggies with air removed and amaze yourself in late March. This sauce pairs well with European-style pilsner, which cuts the richness of the pesto. Try Victory Prima Pils ($1.89/12oz), Lagunitas Pils ($1.69/12oz) or Pinkus Organic Ur Pils ($3.79/500ml).

Tomato Salad

The simplest recipe here, inspired by my pal the Perch, this dish is the perfect way to feature the wealth of tomatoes and cukes on farm stands everywhere this month.

Ingredients: Roma tomatoes cut into large cubes, same portion of fresh picked cucumbers, halved and sliced, half as much coarse chopped basil, olive oil, sea salt, fresh cracked black pepper. Mix in a large bowl and serve with a draft cider, homebrewed if possible, but Magners Irish Cider ($3.59/19.2oz) or Michigan-made J.K.'s Scrumpy Cider ($7.79/22oz) will both do in a pinch.

Perch's note: for an acidic kick, try adding balsamic or red wine vinegar to taste; also, if you can't find Romas, any tomato will do, even heirloom tomatoes (pictured below).

Fermented Dill Pickles

Why fermented and not canned? Pickling cucumbers are at their peak in high summer, but through the process of fermentation--in this case with lactobacillus bacteria--you can inhibit spoilage and enjoy them all year. Once a staple farm food, fermented dills were usually a messy affair cellared in frothy crocks and barrels. Much easier is to simply ferment pickles in the quart jars you would later store them in anyway, which is how I recommend you make these delicacies.

Taste is another reason to go the fermentation route--these are the best pickles I’ve ever had. I admit, it's taken me more than a couple seasons to perfect this process. But like all forms of fermentation, producing these pickles yourself is as much an art as it is a science. What this means is that practice and patience play key roles in achieving success, much like in making beer and wine.

To introduce yourself to the science, first read up on fermentation here. (The art part you’ll have to find on your own.) Next, decide how many pickles you want to eat and hand out later this fall and over the holidays. Keep in mind that you can fit 3-4 large and 5-8 smaller pickling cukes in a one-quart jar.

For each quart of pickles you’ll need approximately two cups of brine. Here’s a good formula for about one quart of brine: 3 cups water, boiled and cooled, 3/4 cups white vinegar, 1/4 cup canning salt.

The other ingredients you need include fresh-picked and washed pickling cucumbers, fresh heads of dill, sliced hot peppers, fresh garlic cloves and pickling spice. The key to a good pickle is buying or picking them fresh and using them the same day. If you’re reading this in Grand Rapids, you’ve got about two weeks left of pickle season. I suggest getting over to the Fuller St. Farmers Market and talking with the folks at Visser Farms. A good pickle is firm and boxy. Avoid bloated pickles--they were picked too late. Pickling spice is widely available; however, Global Infusion in the East Hills neighborhood sells organic pickling spice in bulk for $0.95 an ounce, which is a great deal.

To get your pickles going, start by mixing the brine. Stuff everything else into the clean jar and top up with brine. For each jar, use at least three heads of dill, some dill greens, two cloves of sliced garlic and one tablespoon of pickling spice. Loosely seal the lid and store out of the light around 70F. In a few days the clear brine will turn cloudy as the fermentation process begins. In a couple weeks CO2 bubbles will cease. A finished pickle has a slight translucent color when sliced. The white sediment is the healthy bacteria. If the brine is still clear or the pickles turn to mush, compost them and try again next year. Either refrigerate or process in a gentle boiling bath for 15 minutes. Share with special people and serve with French- and Belgian-style farmhouse ales, like Vivant Farmhand ($2.69/16oz), New Holland Golden Cap ($1.79), or the classic Sasion Dupont ($4.89/11.2oz).

Former Siciliano's staffer Weston Eaton is currently pursuing a PhD in Sociology at Michigan State University. He lives with his wife and dogs in Grand Rapids, MI, where pickling season is as much a state of mind as it is a time of year.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Proof that God loves beer, baseball

Apparently Siciliano's still has friends in high places. Very high places.

Dear readers of the Buzz,

Those who have read my previous posts (here and here) know that the section of heaven I’m in charge of guarding (fourth hall, seventh) is reserved for professional baseball players, but I don’t want you to get the impression that everyone who makes a buck playing The Great American Pastime automatically gets to spend eternity here. The rules for admittance are quite complicated. For example, if a player’s lifetime batting average is below the Mendoza Line, he won’t be roaming the Elysian Fields of these friendly confines unless the patron saint of baseball, Santa Rita, intercedes mightily for him. A minor leaguer who never gets called up to the Show usually is flat out of luck, and if the only time a minor leaguer gets called up is in September (when the rosters are expanded), generally he’s a no go too. There are exceptions of course. All the players from the old Negro Leagues are here as are those players, regardless of stats, etc., who happened to hit a grand slam on a Sunday, had the name Jesus, or were practicing Irish Catholics.

Then there are the guys who had fine careers in the Majors but were denied a locker in this exclusive clubhouse because they dishonored the game. With the exception of Shoeless Joe Jackson, the guys involved in the Black Sox Scandal are hanging out with politicians who had extra-marital affairs. I’m guessing Pete Rose will end up in that section too even though Santa Rita seems to have taken a liking to him. (Got to hand it to old Charlie Hustle. The last time I checked he had belted out 4,256 prayers to Santa Rita, an all-time record.) Rumor has it that when the guys who used steroids begin croaking they’re going to be sent to fifth, twelfth, the section of heaven reserved for television evangelists and professional ping pong players.

Shoeless Joe is here because the Old Man knows he got a bum rap. “I’ll let The Lord be my judge,” Shoeless Joe once said. Well, when the Old Man examined the facts—twelve hits in the series, a .375 batting average, no errors—He determined that Joe was innocent but obviously that hasn’t meant squat to the Hall of Fame committees. But I have a feeling that Shoeless Joe Jackson will someday be enshrined in Cooperstown. Santa Rita has been tirelessly working the phones so to speak and she’s a damn pit bull when she sets her mind to something.

While we’re on the subject, it is my opinion that you folks should be soliciting the help of patron saints a whole lot more. There are currently 7,274 of these haloed intermediaries up here in heaven and most of them are just lying around waiting for something to do. Do your homework—you’ll find that there are patron saints for just about everything, several for brewers, and even one for hop-pickers. Often all it takes is a well-placed prayer and problems with stuck fermentations, infections, boil overs and carbonation issues will magically disappear.

Until next time and, as always, peace and love,


Friday, August 12, 2011

New Beer Friday - August 12 Edition

With only three new beers arriving this week on Siciliano's shelves--and only one that warrants genuine excitement--we thought we'd include a libation first released a few weeks before the advent of New Beer Friday, but which deserves time in the spotlight nonetheless.

Bardic Wells Clurichaun, a hopped and carbonated mead, is like nothing you've ever tasted--and we mean that in a good way! Made in Montegue, MI, Clurichaun is currently available in four flavors, with a fifth flavor (coffee) expected to drop at any time. For more details, including a definition of the word "Clurichaun", see the write-up below (which is lifted directly from the bottle).

New & Returning Beers

    • North Coast Grand Cru, $16.69/750ml - This beer is brewed "exclusively with Pils malt, with an addition of agave nectar in the kettle. It’s subtle, complex, and lightly hopped with a deceptive 12.5% ABV, and aging it in oak gives this unique beer an extra dimension. The result is really champagne-like" (source).
    • Beck's Oktoberfest, $1.49/12oz - Brewed by David "Becks" Beckham. That's what our sources tell us anyway.
    • Dundee Oktoberfest, $1.19/12oz - Brewed by Crocodile Dundee...we think our sources might be drunk.
Spotlight: Bardic Wells Clurichaun
(carbonated mead with hops)

Like their better known cousin the Leprechaun, Clurichauns are mischievous, Celtic fairies who enjoy playing practical jokes. Clurichauns (Kloo'-ra-kahns) live in wine cellars and are avid drinkers. Treat him well and a Clurichaun will use magical powers to guard your cellar, prevent casks from leaking, and keep the contents from going bad. A favorite Clurichaun pastime is riding sheep bareback on moonlit nights. These wee folk know how to party.

Bardic Wells' Clurichaun is a perfect tribute to its mischievous Celtic namesake. With each lightly carbonated sip the combination of honey and hops mystifies the senses. Its potency is wryly belied and by the bottom of the bottle, Clurichaun has elusively worked its magic.

Remember--while riding sheep under the moonlight is fun, an R.S.U.I (riding sheep under the influence) is another matter. Clurichaun varieties include...

    • Clu 22, $9.29/22oz - carbonated mead with hops
    • Rhu Clu, $10.39/22oz - Honey rhubarb strawberry wine with hops (carbonated)
    • Black Clu, $10.39/22oz - Honey black cherry wine with hops (carbonated)
    • Blue Clu, $10.39/22oz - Honey blueberry wine with hops (carbonated)
Interesting Tidbit of the Week 

The drawing on the Clurichaun label was done by artist and Siciliano's staffer John Barecki.

Happy Friday, everyone!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fresh wet hops for sale, September 17th, one day only

By 'Swig' Johnson

Hey homebrewers! Have you ever wanted to brew a harvest ale but don't grow your own hops? Well fret no more. On Saturday, September 17th*, the Michigan Hop Alliance is coming to Siciliano's to sell their fresh wet hops for that day only.

Five certified organic varieties will be offered for only $0.99 per ounce:

    • Brewer's Gold
    • Cascade
    • Centennial
    • Chinook
    • Nugget 
When brewing with wet hops, freshness is of great importance. Brewing as soon as possible will preserve the flavors and aromas which are unique to fresh wet hops and which come through best in pale ale, IPA, or even Imperial IPA recipes. Keep in mind that when using wet hops brewers will need about three times the amount called for in a typical beer. For example, an IPA that normally uses four ounces of dried leaf or pellet hops will now use twelve ounces of wet hops.

Since these hops are certified organic, a brewer could concoct an all-organic Harvest Ale using the Briess Organic 2-Row Brewers Malt sold here at the store. Or, you can always brew your favorite pale ale or IPA recipe and compare the difference that wet hops make.

*September 17 just happens to be the same Saturday we're giving out free German wieners and root beer to customers who stop by to take advantage of the annual homebrew sale. Mark your calendars now!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Meet the B'owl, Siciliano's handyman extraordinaire

The B'owl
By Steve Siciliano

In this post, Steve introduces readers to his longtime friend and handyman, Rodney Lawrence.

I’m a merchant, not a plumber, carpenter, electrician, painter, roofer or small engine repair guy. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no more adept at unplugging drains than I am at hanging large beer signs. I don’t have the aptitude for putting up ceiling fans or repairing cinder block walls. I don't have a clue how to repack the wheel bearings on my boat trailer or how to evict a family of raccoons from their home inside my front porch. It’s a good thing that I know the B’owl.

We like nicknames here at Siciliano’s. Many of our customers know that Sarah is the “Cheetah” and that Chris, the managing editor of The Buzz, is the “Perch”. I've called Greg the “Bug” ever since the day I playfully attacked him and he defended himself by rolling up in a potato bug-like ball. The guy who makes our wooden racks is the “Goat”, Doug is “Chug” or “Pretty Boy”, and, whenever my wife is working on a project to make the old building look better, we call her “Barb Villa” (a nickname derived from Bob Villa). The aforementioned "B'owl" is our friend Rod Lawrence, maintenance man extraordinaire.

Before Rod’s nickname became the B’owl we called him “Rod the (small g) god” because, to the decidedly non-mechanical mortals around here, it seems that he has a superhuman ability to fix things. I had known Rod a good ten years before I became aware of his proficiencies. I knew that he was a maintenance man for a condominium complex, that he drove an old beat up white van and that, by virtue of our frequent conversations in the store, he could talk intelligently about a vast array of subjects. But it wasn’t until he came in the store one day and saw me dumbly staring at a schematic on my computer screen that we began our working relationship.

The B'owl's famous van

“What are you doing?” he asked me.

“I broke a spindle on the deck of my lawn tractor,” I answered.

“Do you know how to fix it?”

“Trying to figure that out,” I said.

“Do you have the right tools?”

“Beats the hell out of me,” I replied.

There was a brief silence and then an audible sigh. “Let me help you.”

That evening he backed his white van into my driveway. When he opened its back door I glanced inside and instantly decided that it had to contain every tool that is known to man. An hour later the tractor was working again, and as we sat on the back deck drinking a beer I felt a small degree of satisfaction from the fact that I had assisted, albeit slightly, in the repair.

Inside view of the B'owl's famous van

Since that day Rod has become the official maintenance man at the store. When things break around here we put a call out to the B’owl.

We began calling him the B’owl the day a few of us were amusing ourselves by assigning power animals to each member of the staff.

“What about Rod?” somebody asked.

“A bear,” I suggested. “He’s got the body of a bear.”

“But he’s got the wisdom of an owl,” someone else said.

So what do you get when you cross a bear and an owl?

Bear plus owl equals B’owl.

Monday, August 8, 2011

New hip, same old hippie: The boss' impending surgery

By Steve Siciliano

For the past twenty years or so I’ve dreaded getting physicals. If you’re a man over forty and are seeing your primary care physician on a somewhat regular basis I’m sure you understand why. My most recent physical was in May. After Dr. Bodley went over my blood work he listened to my heart and lungs, he looked into my ears with a hand held device and tapped with a small rubber hammer on my knees and ankles. He had me lay on my back on the examination table and proceeded to poke away at my stomach. He told me to stand, told me to cough, cough again, then instructed me to bend over and place my forehead on the examination table.

“Geez, Doc,” I said. “Haven’t they come up with a better way of doing this?”

“Afraid not.”

A minute later I was sitting again, gingerly. The doctor assured me that, with regard to my prostate, everything was fine.

“Is there anything else you want to talk about? You know, a man your age…”

“No, Doc, I think I’m good.”

“You’re sure?”

“Well.” I paused for a second. “I guess there is something.”


“It’s my legs, Doc. My upper thighs. They’re always hurting.”

Dr. Bodley asked a few question then ordered x-rays. Two days later his nurse called with the results.

“You have severe osteoarthritis in both your hips,” the nurse informed me.


“Yes. Doctor is referring you to a specialist.”

So there it was. Zero cartilage in the hip joints, bone grinding against bone was the source of the constant pain and was the reason I had begun waddling like a drunken sailor. Over the past year or so before I had the physical, as the pain was growing steadily worse, I kept coming up with some possible explanations. Maybe it was because I was working out too much—lactic acid buildup in the thigh muscles. One of the customers suggested herbal supplements and that I drink black tea. Maybe, I thought, it was navigating our congested, maze-like store which was resulting in chronically overworked tendons and ligaments (this was before the expansion). I scoured the internet for home remedies. Maybe it was nothing more than tight muscles. I began stretching those muscles more frequently. I know now that the reason I refused to consider that whatever was wrong could possibly be more serious was the same reason I kept tossing the AARP junk mail applications in the trash. I didn’t want to admit that I was getting old, that perhaps my body was wearing down. There comes a time when we are forced to come to terms with that.

The specialist went over my options. Cortisone shots? Those joints are too far gone for that. Arthritis meds? Probably wouldn’t do any good either. I left with a prescription for a heavy duty pain killer and was advised to begin thinking about replacements.

It wasn’t long before I was forced into making a decision. We were in the midst of the expansion. There were long days of deconstruction, rearranging and heavy lifting. At night I could barely move. It was time.

One of my hips will be replaced on Tuesday, August 9. The tentative plan is to have the other done in November. Everyone tells me that I’ll be laid up for a while.

I’m thinking otherwise.

The Buzz editorial staff joins all Siciliano's employees in wishing the boss a quick recovery. Good luck, Steve, we'll be thinking of you!

Friday, August 5, 2011

New Beer Friday - August 5 Edition

Alright people, brace yourselves. New arrivals this week include two seasonal beers traditionally associated with the cooler autumn months--Buffalo Bills Pumpkin Ale and Hofbrau Octoberfest. Are these arrivals premature? Maybe. We would ask you, though, to think of them not as a sign that summer's almost over, but rather as a sneak preview of the great harvest beers to come. It's only early August after all--there's plenty of time to sip the summer seasonals still stacked on Siciliano's shelves. (Try saying that five times fast.)

New & Returning Beers

    • New Holland Beerhive Tripel, $8.19/22oz - "Little John’s local bees create a spring wildflower-honey that lends a sweet, earthy complexity to a traditional style of beer with a balancing snap of ginger in the finish" (source).
    • New Holland el Mole Ocho, $8.19/22oz - NHBC calls this an "exploration into the flavors of mole, the legendary sauce of central Mexico. Malty aroma and rich, cocoa-laden body laced with an invigorating tinge of dried chilies and coffee" (source).
    • Buffalo Bills Pumpkin Ale, $1.49/12oz - "A true original microbrew that uses baked and roasted pumpkins. Cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg are added to create what has been described as pumpkin pie in a bottle" (source).
    • Hofbrau Octoberfest, $1.79/12oz - According to Hofbrau, this is "a rich, full-bodied beer which goes down ideally with traditional Bavarian cuisine." Weisswurst anyone?
    • O'Fallons Wheach in cans, $1.59/12oz - Though this beer has been available in bottles for several weeks, the cans are a new arrival, and 20 cents cheaper too!
    • Tommyknocker Hop Strike Black Rye-PA, $1.79/12oz - Despite what the name implies, this beer is brewed in Colorado, nowhere near the township of Rye, PA.

Rye, PA locator map

Random Fact of the Week
A group of owls is called a parliament.

*All beer prices subject to change.
*Original "Rye, PA" map located at this source.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Responding to Steve's Fat Tire & Yeungling post

Below are two responses (not objections) to Steve's post "The Mystique of Fat Tire & Yeungling", which appeared on The Buzz on July 28, 2011. A section of the original post is excerpted here. To read the post in its entirety, please follow this link.


"It is a mystery, however, as to why we get so many people [at Siciliano's] looking for two beers that are not distributed in our state, that are not from exotic or foreign lands and that, relatively speaking, are not that highly regarded in the craft beer community—Fat Tire and Yuengling. While these are both solid products from established and successful breweries, they are, in my humble and subjective opinion, no better and perhaps even worse than the beers in the same style that can easily be found on the shelves of any Michigan beer store."

~Steve Siciliano, The Mystique of Fat Tire & Yeungling

A reader responds
(via email, since the comments feature wasn't working)

Yuengling is nothing special beer-wise, just a decent American amber lager. What makes it special is that it's America's oldest brewery, still family owned and making beer in its original Pottsville, PA brewery, six generations after it was founded in 1829 (they also have a brewery in Florida these days). Yuengling has gone through some rough times in the past, but the good people of Pennsylvania have continued to support their regional brew. Since you can get it for about the same price as Bud Light, who can blame them? It's so ubiquitous in PA that you can can walk into any bar and get a Yuengling simply by asking for "a lager." I'm in PA a lot for work and I always have a Yuengling, just to support a historic, regional, and still American-owned brewery.

~Charles Grantier, Kalamazoo

An editor responds

The three years I spent in grad school in Columbia, SC were often marked by nights awash in Yuengling. Back then (and perhaps still) there was no state- or city-mandated last call, and it happened sometimes that my friends and I stopped into a bar around 10 or 11pm, only to emerge hours later, at five or six in the morning, having lost track of time, and having consumed as many Yeunglings as our small teaching stipends would allow.

Why Yeungling?  On some level, it was for those same reasons Charles Grantier expressed above--it's an independent, regional brewery with an impressive history, all of which appealed to us. But we drank it too for more pragmatic reasons: we were poor grad students, Yeungling was a good, relatively inexpensive beer, and you could drink several in a sitting without losing all control.

These days more and more breweries are developing low-alcohol "session" beers, a trend I can get behind. However, as much as I love Founders All Day IPA and beers like it, they are often locked in at the same or comparable price points as other craft beers. While I am both willing and happy to plunk down good money for the quality I get, I believe there still exists an unfilled niche in the Michigan craft beer market: micro-ideology, macro-styles & pricing. It's this niche that Yeungling fills so well in Columbia, SC and probably wherever else Yeungling is sold.

Say what you will, but just as I sometimes hanker for an old ale or flemish red, there are times when an Old Style or PBR is the kind of beer I'm in the mood for--cheap, easy drinking, perfect for a BBQ or Tigers game. But offer me a decent-tasting, low-alcohol, locally or regionally produced alternative at a similar price point, and I will gladly purchase it instead. Whether a beer like this is economically feasible given the financial constraints of running an independent craft brewery, that I don't know. One thing I do know: Yeungling, the oldest operating brewery in the country, seems to be managing just fine.

~Chris Siciliano, The Buzz

The Buzz staff invites all readers to contribute to the conversation. Please feel free to leave your comment below (providing of course we fixed the issue with the comments feature). 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Bortell's: West Michigan's roadside fish fry

Need an excuse to get out of town for the afternoon? Buzz contributor Tim Chilcote has a good one for you. It involves Vernors and fried fish, which are, as everyone knows, hallmarks of any successful road trip.

If you like seafood, search for the fish-shaped sign on South Lakeshore Drive. From the Oceana Drive exit off US 31 in Pentwater, turn right on Lakeshore Drive and follow the winding lakeside road toward Ludington. Drive past the vacation cabins and beach mansions. When the road comes around a final wooded curve—just before the tree canopy lifts and the asphalt flattens—there, across from a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, is the sign. It reads simply, "Fish."

Thirty yards north of the sign you'll find Bortell’s Fisheries, a square cinder block building that’s home to some of west Michigan’s best seafood. Bortell’s has been in business for six generations, since 1898 when Uriah Bortell first put fish to fryer. Six generations of Germans later, the Bortell family continues to run a tidy, utilitarian ship.

The outside of the building is brightly painted in a modern fish décor, but the inside retains the old-world, rustic feel you might expect from a rural fishmonger. The room is crowded by a glass cooler that takes up half the space. Behind the cooler, a deep fryer and a bare-bones menu on the wall. To the left is a small glass refrigerator for pop, and on the front wall, wood slat paneling adorned with historic photos of the building and its family.

Fish are available fresh or prepared, à la carte or dinners with French fries and coleslaw. Menu items include walleye, whitefish, and a variety of local and imported seafood. I recommend the perch dinner for $13.60: half pound of lake perch, half pound of fries, and a half cup of slaw, plus a Vernors ginger ale for good measure. The perch is some of the finest I’ve ever tasted—lightly breaded and übber fresh. Forget tartar sauce, forget lemon, forget salt; the fish is it—crisp on the outside, buttery and flaky on the inside.

Two dining options: To-go, or at outdoor picnic tables. For cooked food, the tables work just fine, and even in rain they’re covered with sizeable umbrellas. For hours of operation, an approximation of lunch to dusk seems about right. Open through Labor Day. 5528 S. Lakeshore Dr., Ludington, Michigan, 231-843-3337. *A version of this post originally appeared on Tim's blog, Great Lakes Guru, on July 13, 2010.

Tim Chilcote is a writer, editor, teacher, and Michigan enthusiast. Though he lives with his wife and bulldog in Ann Arbor, he is a Muskegon native and frequent visitor to Michigan's more western climes. You can often find him standing near signs and billboards fashioned to resemble his favorite state's tastiest native species.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Taking food from the wild - a reframing of everyday food values

By Weston Eaton

A version of the following post appeared in Recoil Magazine.

I come from a family of trout fishing enthusiasts, not uncommon in Michigan, a state blessed with small, cool streams and an abundance of trout. So for much of my life, packing a cold truck with fishing tackle and lunch coolers in the dark hours before dawn has been a right of Spring. The big day is the last Saturday of April, official season opener, and many of these Saturdays entailed me and my brother riding north with my father to meet his father and brother on a dark, forested two-track somewhere near Paris, MI. Invariably, the mornings were cold. With frozen fingers, we’d thread our hooks in the headlights and make our way over barbed-wire fence rows towards the sound of rushing water, eager to stalk a Brown or a Brookie. With frozen eyelets we’d fish until hunger brought us back to the truck to eat lunch--pickled bologna, cheese sandwiches and venison jerky--exchange fish stories and later look for Morel mushrooms in the afternoon heat. In the evenings we’d clean our catch and feast on the day’s successes. Without realizing it, our days spent out-of-doors, waist deep in streams were as much about enjoying food and finding food as they were about the sport of catching fish.

Over the years I’ve continued to hunt Morels and walk river banks in search of trout, but mostly on streams new to me as our old family haunts have slowly been purchased by new landowners and posted with no-trespassing signs. This Spring, however, after a long absence, my father and I decided to again make our dark voyage to the old stream, hide the truck and head back into the now overgrown brush. As I worked my way downstream to my favorite old spots, keeping my profile below the high clay bank as to not signal the dog at the new neighbor’s camp, I thought about the simple fact that I was out looking for food--wild food, foraged food, food from the woods. In my mind I saw a clear path from the fish in the dark, swirling water under the roots of the cedar tree on the far bank to my cast iron skillet and dinner plate. My stomach growled a little, reminding me of the task at hand, so I added a sinker to keep my crawler under the rapids and worked my line steadily across the gravel bottom towards my hoped for dinner.

Good thing there are other dinner options, because trout can be elusive. The relationship between hunting and eating may sound obvious, but the point of my story here is to show a deliberate, although fleeting connection between the two. Whether bent over, wandering across the forest floor in search of Morels or waist deep in a gushing stream, the purpose of the excursion is to find food--an essential human act. There are of course other reasons to take to the woods in search of game--the thrill of the hunt, the tug on the line, the glimpse of a shriveled, leaf shrouded cap--but ultimately these indicators lead to dinner. When they don’t, trophy hunting results, a sign the fetish of the hunt has eclipsed its greater purpose.

By putting hunting and gathering back together with eating, we can get a glimpse at how far the act of procuring food has become detached from our everyday identities. Fishing, hunting and foraging can lead to a deeper kind of eating experience, one wrought with memory, experience, a sense of place and a story. The food most of us eat on a daily basis also has a story, one shrouded in commerce, technology, and advertising. Most of the time we are not able to decipher where our food comes from and are left relying on the opinions of experts--a confusing prospect since food and nutrition expertise is biased with the values of food scientists but at the same time necessary for making decisions about what and how to eat. Such is the fate of a modern life, one that often leaves us with a nagging sense of uncertainty and inauthenticity. Eating and drinking at the beginning of a food or beverage’s life may prove to be a remedy against this culinary malaise. Like imbibing a glass of homemade wine or a pint of home-brewed ale, a meal taken from the woods, at the expense of your own time and handiwork, can cut through the alienating machinery of the industrial food production system. An old friend of mine used to say gathering wild food from the woods and fields was one of the few remaining ways to fulfill your basic needs outside of the capitalist system. Finding your own food can then be seen as a political act, not to mention spiritual quest. Not bad for a day spent having fun in the woods.

Foraging and eating game you yourself caught is not practical for everyone, doing so is at the extreme end of fulfilling the basic and not-so-basic needs of a living person. But move a little closer to center and you still find a whole range of options before you come to processed foods, options such as locally grown, seasonal and fresh fruits, meats, dairy products and vegetables with histories a little easier to trace. The other extreme is then exposed: the profitable and corporately controlled world of industrial food where the needs of the eater - spiritual, nutritional or otherwise - are conspicuously absent. Thinking in these terms helps us reframe industrial food from mainstream to outlier. When juxtaposed with industrial food, picking mushrooms and taking wild game is a small act of food revolt.

From this we can glean some philosophical insight into industrial food. For starters we might first recognize that it is not necessarily the only or best option for feeding ourselves. As more and more people express increased interests in food pathways, food sources, agriculture and eating in general, its useful to reconsider our hunter-gatherer roots; from there we can perhaps best learn to appreciate the extreme challenges and triumphs once associated with the now everyday task of grocery shopping, cooking and eating. Not that fishing and rooting for Spring fungus can supplement more than a few meals a year, but collecting food from the wild can help forge a connection between ourselves and our ancestral past--a time characterized by a dependency on nature as opposed to an attempt to master it. The idea or action of bringing food out of the wild may just be a way to strike a balance between these two extremes.

Former Siciliano's staffer Weston Eaton is currently pursuing a PhD in Sociology at Michigan State University. He lives with his wife and dogs in Grand Rapids, MI, where the food, like most Buzz contributors, are as wild as it gets.