Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Black Hog Brewing at Spotted Horse Tavern: Drink Local and Eat Well!

Connecticut is delightfully awash with breweries, some new and some more established, and I am always thrilled to try the output of any of them. I recently had the pleasure of receiving an invitation from George O'Connell, owner of Spotted Horse Tavern in Westport, CT, to attend a beer dinner with Black Hog Brewing. Co-owners and brothers Jason and Tom Sobocinski, who also own two great spots in New Haven, Ordinary and Caseus, were in attendance (head brewer Tyler Jones was not, but it's clear from his beers that he's quite the talented guy) and offered a great education about each of their featured brews for the evening. 

With my fitness blogging, beer appreciating friend Courtney in tow, I headed to Westport ready for a great meal and new beer experiences. Our first beer of the evening was Strawberry Gose, a German style wheat beer with pink Himalayan salt, coriander and over 100 lbs of fresh organic strawberries from Massaro Farm (Woodbridge, CT) added during secondary fermentation. It was light (4% abv.), drinkable, and delicious.

Next, we headed out to Spotted Horse's cozy covered patio and began the dinner portion of the evening. More beer arrived, "Easy Rye'Da" session IPA. Jason Sobocinski is a motorcycle enthusiast, and a percentage of the proceeds from the sale of Easy Rye'Da goes to the national motorcycle safety foundation. This easy drinking hoppy brew was paired with warm soft pretzels and a bacon cheddar dipping sauce. Yum. They were so well received that George decided to add them to the regular menu!

Oktoberfest Pretzels

We then enjoyed a fresh, light kale salad with cranberries and roasted squash. I liked the use of baby kale instead of full grown kale, which can sometimes be overwhelming. So much chewing! This course was accompanied by "Autumn Nugget," a wet hopped ale with vanilla pean, pink peppercorns, nutmeg, and cinnamon. I was surprised by how intensely it smelled of vanilla, but I couldn't taste it once I took a sip - instead, the spices really came through. This is a complex beer, and great for the winter.

Tuscan Kale Salad
We were offered a choice of either smoked and grilled pork chop with apple chutney, red cabbage, and potato pancake or seared scallops with wine and caper reduction, julienned vegetables and sweet potato mash. Luckily, Courtney wanted the pork and I wanted both, so I got to steal some of hers. Both dishes really were excellent, and everyone turned their full attention to their plates, creating a silence punctuated only by occasional comments on how delicious everything was. This course was paired with my favorite beer of the night, "Ginja Ninja," a red ipa brewed with 6 lbs of fresh ginger in every batch and hopped with centennial, cascade & bravo hops. This beer was originally created for head brewer Tyler's wedding! 

Grilled Smoked Pork Chop
Seared Diver Scallops

Stuffed to the brim, our final beer arrived alongside an indulgent warm brownie with ice cream. It was torture being too full to finish it, but the bites I managed to take were happy ones. The beer, "Nitro Coffee Milk Stout" made with brewed Organic Columbian Supremo and Espresso Roasted coffee, was rich and creamy, and if it wasn't socially inappropriate, you could drink it in the morning instead of coffee, I swear. So so good. 

Black Hog Brewing may be new to the scene, but they hold their own against more established breweries. I look forward to seeing them continue to grow! Their brews are inventive and delicious. Spotted Horse Tavern was already one of my favorite spots in Westport to grab a drink, as their bar is cozy and unpretentious, but now that I have had an opportunity to try the food, I'll be going there for dinner too. Many thanks to Jason, Tom, and George for a wonderful evening. 

The Aftermath

Spotted Horse Tavern is located at 26 Church Lane, Westport, CT
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Black Hog Brewing is located at 115 Hurley Road, Building 9A, Oxford, CT
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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Spiked Seltzer 30 Day Challenge

Connecticut is awash with fantastic craft breweries, and I'm always ready to try a new brew. Thanks to food blogging, covering food festivals, and enjoying checking out new restaurants and drinks in general, I end up drinking a fair amount, and it's 90% beer. Then I saw a post on Spiked Seltzer's facebook wall about a challenge: they were looking for a beer drinker willing to switch to their product for 30 days.

I had experienced Spiked Seltzer a few times already; the company was offering samples at The Greenwich Wine and Food Fest, Moffly Media's Best of the Gold Coast Party, and is always one of the drink choices at The Aldrich Museum's First Friday Cocktail Parties. It's light and refreshing, very different from my usual strong IPAs, but I really like it. It's also much lower in calories than the average IPA, gluten free, and still pulls off a 6% abv, the same as my usual brews. I was intrigued to give this challenge a try, and was pleased when the company told me I had been chosen to take it on. 

I try to stay active, go to the gym (though I don't go nearly as often as I should), and eat healthy, but it's pretty difficult when there are so many fun events based primarily around food and drink. In the year and a half since I began really getting involved with food blogging, I've gained about 8 pounds, which on my small frame is enough for me to notice. I've done the math, and if I drink Spiked Seltzer instead of beer (I'll use the calorie content in a Dogfish 60 Minute IPA, as that's what I drink most often at bars), I should save about 4,000 calories over the course of 30 days.

I'm 12 days into the challenge, and it's turned out to be a great experience so far. I have only had one hangover, and it was the morning after I cheated and drank beer. Otherwise, I've felt great, and that means I've been healthier in more ways than just cutting calories: waking up with no trace of a hangover means I don't eat junk food in the morning and I don't feel as sluggish and therefore unwilling to work out. 

So far, I'm a big fan. I won't give up beer forever, and there's nothing like a glass of red wine with a steak, but I absolutely will replace some of those drinks with Spiked Seltzer after the challenge ends. It also makes a nice mixer, and I'm going to start experimenting with some cocktail recipes. 

Stay tuned!