If Food Waste Were a Country It Would Be the World’s 3rd Largest Polluter

 

via Just Hospitality

via Just Hospitality

 

Only China and the United States spew out more greenhouse gases than those coming from the conjectural land of food waste.
If it were a country, the value of all the food would put it in in the top 20 of the world’s economic powers.
If the populations of China, India, and Europe all lived there, they could be easily sustained by the squandered nutrition.

The planet’s top food wasters are right here in the U.S.
In a single month, the average American household tosses out 20 pounds of perfectly good food for each family member. While food waste in the developing world tends to occur in the supply chain (from issues like inadequate refrigeration or transportation) most of America’s food waste takes place at the consumer level. Last year we threw out about $180 billion worth of food—nearly 40% of what we produced and 10 times more per capita than our counterparts in other parts of the world.

Why do we waste so much?
We buy too much. We shop aspirationally and impulsively and buy the wrong things. We want only the most pristine, unblemished vegetables and fruits. We’re arbitrary about freshness, allowing some foods to go bad and discarding others while they’re still sound. And we do it because we can afford to. Over the last 30 years we’ve halved our household expenditures on food from 12% of the total to 6%; in the same period food waste went from 10% to 20% of the nation’s garbage.

The scale of the problem is massive; the fixes are all small steps.
Last week the Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Environmental Protection Agency Deputy Administrator Stan Meiburg announced the nation’s first-ever food waste reduction goal. Together they launched a consumer education campaign, new food donation guidelines, and newly established partnerships within the private and public sectors aimed at a realistically achievable 50% reduction in food waste by 2030.

Food waste reduction can be compared to the national campaign against littering that was tackled through PSAs and other citizen actions back in the 1960’s and ’70s.
Previously, people thought nothing of rolling down a window and tossing trash onto highways. The campaign sparked a national dialogue, shining a light on the problem, stigmatizing the behavior, and eventually created a new national ethic of environmentalism. This time, we need to connect the dots between hunger, sustainability, and waste, sensitizing America and the world to the epic tragedy of food waste.

 

 

 

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Pope Francis and Wine: His Cup Runneth Over

Pope Francis enjoys a taste during communion in St. Peter's Basilica via patheos.com

Pope Francis enjoys a taste during communion in St. Peter’s Basilica via patheos.com

 

Vatican City consumes more wine per capita than anywhere else in the world—and its number one citizen is no slouch.
The Pope’s paternal grandfather was a winemaker near Asti in Piedmont, Italy, and as a child he grew up drinking bottles shipped to Argentina from the family vineyard. As the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church, he loves a good wine metaphor (he compares a heart that isn’t luminous to bad wine, while grandparents are likened to a fine vintage) and extolls its celebratory virtues (“Imagine drinking tea at the end of a celebration. No, it’s not good! There is no party without wine!”).

The meek may inherit the earth but Pope Francis preaches that “The finest of wines will come for every person who stakes everything on love.”
He’s not talking about altar wines used in the celebration of the Eucharist “There’s very little sacramental wine that’s good,” according to the Rev. E. Frank Henriques, an Episcopal priest who is the author of The Signet Encyclopedia of Wine, but there’s no reason it can’t be. Roman Catholic canon law governs the making of sacramental wine, and pretty much the only requirements are that it be unadulterated and naturally fermented from pure, fresh grapes. It can be red or white, dry or sweet, and even fortified. Basically any naturally produced wine fits the bill, but most churches rely on a handful of bulk winemakers who label their product for ceremonial use after its purity has been formally pronounced by a bishop of the vineyard’s diocese.

Châteauneuf-du-Pope 
Pope Francis is known to take pleasure in off-the-altar wines. Earlier this year a Vatican gathering of wine producers, oenologists, wine journalists, sommeliers, and representatives of Italy’s gourmet associations awarded him a diploma as an honorary sommelier, honoring his elevation of wine “not just in relation to its Christian symbolism but also to its hedonistic aspect.” And he so thoroughly enjoyed his namesake Cabernet FRANCis, a gift from Napa Valley’s Trinitas Cellars, that his cardinals had to relinquish their own gift bottles to beef up the Pope’s supply of the limited commemorative bottling.

Wines of the Papal visit
While in Washington, Pope Francis will be served a 1986 Harbor Mission Del Sol made from California Mission grapes that were originally planted in the Sierra foothills by Franciscan friars. America’s oldest (143 years) sacramental winery, upstate New York’s O-Neh-Da Vineyard, is supplying wines for the New York leg. So far there’s no word yet on vintages or varietals to be served when the Pope lands in Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families, but there will be no fewer than 10 specially brewed beer (some made with holy water) to greet the pontiff, Philly style.

 

image via Philadelphia Brewing Company

image via Philadelphia Brewing Company

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A Blessing and a Curse: The Supertaster Gene

supertastergirl

Extra tastebuds on your tongue? You could be a supertaster.

 

Most of us are born with around 10,000 taste buds on our tongues; many more and you’re a supertaster.

Supertasters perceive far more subtle and nuanced flavors than the rest of us. It’s a genetic trait, like being endowed with perfect pitch or 20/20 vision. It’s found in about 15% of the population, and the ranks include countless wine connoisseurs (wine writer Robert Parker famously insured his own supertasting taste buds for a million dollars) and a disproportionate number of chefs. But it’s a mixed blessing. Assertive flavors present more vividly— salt is saltier and sugar is sweeter. A bitter beer can be off-putting. Hot peppers can be punishing. Hardly a garden of gustatory delights

Supertasters tend to prefer orange juice to grapefruit, green beans to broccoli, spinach to kale. They have a penchant for creamy, fatty foods but as a group are thinner than the general population. Supertasting is found in more women than men, and more Asians and African-Americans than Caucasians. Supertasters are likely to be known as picky eaters as children, but many of them will grow up to be good cooks, mastering techniques that will mute unpalatable tastes.

It’s all in the tongue.
There are two genetically determined traits that distinguish supertasters’ tongues. One is the greater number of taste buds densely packed into each square inch of the tongue’s surface. This gives greater sensory capacity, leading to more precise sensing of flavors. The second trait is the perception of a particular chemical compound (6-n-propylthiouracil known as PROP). Vegetables like  brussels sprouts and kale are loaded with it, and most people get a slightly bitter taste from the dark greens. About a quarter of the population sense none of the bitterness, and supertasters are overwhelmed by it.

Does this sound like you? There are a few tests to determine if you possess either of the attributes of a supertaster.

Bland, vile, or somewhere in between? Test your sensitivity to the bitterness compound. The Supertaster Test Kit contains two sets of PROP-infused strips and a detailed test guide.

For an easy home test, swab a little food coloring on your tongue and check the number and concentration of taste buds.

Take this quick and easy quiz about food preferences to see if you could be a supertaster.

 

 

 

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Tofu: A Textural Conundrum

vegan caketopper via Zazzle

vegan caketopper via Zazzle

 

Has anyone ever said I wish this tasted more like tofu?
Tofu is basically a waterlogged sponge of nothingness that has always had an uphill battle to win favor with flavor-driven American palates. We appreciate texture, but in a secondary role, balancing and completing a dish. When we are wowed by a texture, it tends to be crispy-crunchy or fat-based and creamy — the textures associated with European-style luxury foods.

Tofu originated in China where texture plays a more significant role, even trumping flavor in certain delicacies.
Some of the most prized ingredients in Chinese cooking are texturally challenging to Western palates. There’s the mucousy, jelly-like texture of dried sharks’ fin and bird’s nest soup, and the gelatinous crunch of ingredients like sea cucumber, beef tendon, and jellyfish. These foods are all basically flavor-neutral, but the unfamiliar (and thus objectionable) consistency can be a turn-off.

Don’t make the mistake of lumping tofu in with that group.
Share your true feelings with some tofu-loving friends and they’ll tsk tsk poor you who has never prepared it properly. They’ll insist that you just haven’t had the one magical dish that will open your eyes and taste buds to tofu’s glories. In fact there’s some truth to that. Tofu is a shape-shifting chameleon that can be silken and custardy in one form and firmly meaty in another. If you don’t care for one consistency there’s plenty more to try. It can be spooned like pudding, cooked in crumbles like ground beef, or fried up creamy and crunchy like eggplant. It can be dried into leathery skins or puffed up crisply like a tater tot.

There are good reasons to learn to love tofu.
Tofu is gluten-free, sugar-free, and low in fat and calories. It’s a complete source of protein and essential amino acids and is loaded with iron, calcium, and B-vitamins. It’s cheap, long-lasting, and can make your Meatless Mondays a heartier affair. Which brings us back to poor you who has never had it properly prepared. Know that you’re not alone. There are resources dedicated to bringing palatability to the tofu-averse:
Serious Eats has A Guide to Tofu Types and What to Do With Them.
May’s Machete offers the pragmatically titled How To Make Tofu (So It Doesn’t Suck).
The food scientists at Food Hacks teach you How to Prep Tofu Properly: A Beginner’s Guide for Tofu Haters.
Changing the Texture of Tofu from Vegan Cooking with Love will teach you just that. 

 

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Who’s Eating Supermarket Sushi? Apparently Everyone.

fujifood

 

Supermarket sushi is a $750 million industry.
It’s a third of all sushi sales in dollars, but since it’s the cheap stuff, it’s more like half of all the sushi we eat. There’s another $75 million in sales at drug stores, dollar stores, convenience markets, and gas stations (that’s right, gas station sushi is a thing), and it all adds up to a pre-made, pre-packaged sushi majority.

At the more rarified end of sushi, there’s attention to every detail of taste, temperature, texture, and timing. A good chef even plates the sushi precisely to accommodate right- or left-handed chopstick users. At a more relaxed and informal operation, the chef may not bow to every tradition of authentic sushi, but there should still be artful construction and a passion for freshness.

A supermarket, even the most well-intentioned, just can’t compete. There are too few qualified sushi chefs, too many health code restrictions, and endless compromises to the demands of scale and convenience. Even when it’s pretty good, supermarket sushi always falls way short of the mark. Here’s why:

It sits in a refrigerated case.
Nothing ruins more sushi than cold rice. Proper sushi rice should be just shy of body temperature when it meets up with a cool piece of fish. At a legally mandated 41°, each distinct, gently-warmed grain cools and congeals into a single. solid mass.

It’s not the same fish.
A supermarket might carry quality fish, but it won’t have the kind of relationship with its wholesalers that a decent sushi bar has with its suppliers who specialize in sushi grade. Supermarkets also have pressure to maintain inventory so that it’s always yellowtail season in the sushi case, regardless of the seasonal variations in origins and condition.

Condiments matter too.
Any place that’s serious about its sushi is serious about the condiments. Ideally, the wasabi is grated from a fresh root, the ginger is pickled in-house, and the soy sauce is specifically paired, if not custom blended, to complement the fish. Along with generic foil packets of soy sauce, most supermarkets use sweetened and artificially-colored ginger that mimics the petal pink of a true slow-cure, and the wasabi is a mass-produced paste that’s typically concocted from a powdered blend of horseradish, mustard, tapioca starch, and something to color it wasabi green.

Still, you could do a lot worse than supermarket sushi.
It’s a relatively healthy choice, especially if you steer clear of tempura and mayo squiggles. It’s also a relatively safe choice, responsible for less food-borne illness than most other prepared foods. And it can be pretty good, even if it’s not the real deal.

 

 

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Just Try Paying a Bank in Crème Brûlée

image via Saveur

image via Saveur

 

2015 is the year that crowdfunding will eclipse venture capital as a funding source for entrepreneurs.
Crowdfunding was once a space dominated by technology startups, do-gooders, and indie filmmakers, but food trucks and small artisan food producers quickly moved in. It’s been steadily climbing up the industry ladder and is now a dominant funding source for every kind of enterprise from the scruffiest popup to the loftiest end of fine dining.

Restaurants have always been an iffy proposition with a 60% failure rate in the first three years of business, and banks and other traditional lenders have generally steered clear. Would-be restaurateurs often turn to friends and family members to help with seed money or else resort to raiding retirement savings and home equity, and maxing out credit cards. But in the crowdfunded world of startups, with an overall failure rate of 90%, restaurants look like a good bet.

Crowdfunding takes one of two structures:
Early crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter adopted a rewards-based model. Participants aren’t lenders or investors but patrons. They pool money in increments as small as a few dollars and hand it over with no expectation of a financial payback. Instead, patronage is usually rewarded in the form of project mementos or perks— a $10 pledge to an organic nut roaster might net you a snack bag, or $200 to a pickle maker could get you a weekend brining workshop. Restaurants tend to reward patrons with fringe benefits like priority reservations, an invitation to the opening night party, or a year of free desserts.no collateral, no interest, and no financial payback
The newer crowdfunding model uses a more conventional equity-based mechanism in which investors receive ownership shares (or debt instruments) in the enterprise. It’s been slower to get off the ground because early offerings were in breach of various securities laws. It’s since been sorted out with new federal legislation, certain regulatory exemptions, and SEC oversight, and the space is evolving rapidly with about $2.5 billion under management in equity crowdfunding portals.

Crowdfunding is more than just an injection of capital.
It creates a pre-opening base of customers that largely self-identifies as ‘foodies’ and has a vested interest in the success of the restaurant. They tend to mobilize as brand evangelists, sharing on social media and bringing friends in to dine at ‘their’ restaurant. Crowdfunding has found some of its most enthusiastic investors and loyal customers in smaller cities where diners can be looking to fill a specific need in the community like a vegan option or a gluten-free bakery.

Put your money where your mouth is.
Crowdmapped  lists 12 of the best crowdfunding platforms that specialize in food enterprises.
The National Restaurant Association’s Trendmapper reports on the health of and outlook for the restaurant industry.
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I Coulda Been a Contender — The Catchphrase of the ‘Next Chipotle’

The hunt for the ‘next Chipotle’ is well documented (I got 21,500,000 results from a Google search). 
And why shouldn’t restaurants aspire to attain that status? Chipotle tapped into the zeitgeist with a fast-casual model emphasizing freshness, quality, customizability, and the mantra ‘food with integrity.’ It’s a company that does good with enlightened employment practices and a commitment to sourcing humanely and sustainably-raised products. And it’s a company that does well–$1,000 invested in the company 10 years ago would now be worth more than $15 million. Crazy but true.

Thanks to Starbucks and Chipotle, customization is the new standard.  
Today’s restaurant customers expect to control portion size and toppings, bowl or bun. They need gluten-free and vegan choices, optional toppings and drizzles, and a specific number of pumps of caramel in their lattés. Even old line fast food is jumping on the customization bandwagon as McDonald’s experiments with a build-your-own-burger menu and Pizza Hut rolls out a pizza builder. The ‘next Chipotle’ will undoubtedly follow suit.

It can’t just be about the food.  
A meal at Chipotle is solid but unspectacular. What’s truly masterful is the way the company combines an unremarkable product with a socially conscious business model to forge a connection between the brand and its audience. The ‘next Chipotle’ would be well advised to seek a similarly integrated approach to cause marketing.

Here are the contenders, the startups, and the up-and-comers. Industry watchers believe that the ‘next Chipotle’ could be lurking in this list. 

BuffaloBowl
The healthier options:
Protein Bar is all about being the healthy alternative. The menu is paleo-friendly and has never met a superfood that it couldn’t wrap in a whole wheat and flax seed tortilla. Kale, quinoa, Greek yogurt, and agave all appear in the signature Protein Bar-ritos; add an avocado and green tea smoothie and you’re still safely below the typical Chipotle calorie count. Even more austere is the meat-, dairy, egg-free Veggie Grill. They call it a ‘veggie positive’ experience. The company is on an expansion tear but has yet to prove that the format can succeed away from the west coast.

lyfe-kitchen-officeThe pedigree:
LYFE Kitchen covers all the bases with its ambitions. It was founded by an alumni group of McDonald’s senior executives with a menu created by a pair of celebrity chefs. Their motto is ‘Something for everyone, from carnivores to vegans’, and indeed every contemporary food trend is represented: there’s pizza, pasta, barbecue, fish tacos, a grass-fed burger, Thai curry, and a quinoa bowl. There’s a genuine commitment to mindful, principled business practices that comes through in every choice from sourcing local ingredients to LEED certified restaurant construction and living herb walls.

Piada

The buzz:

Piada is getting a lot of love from insiders winning a slew of industry awards for its concept and branding. It’s also caught the eye of an investment partner with a history of picking winners like PF Changs and Restoration Hardware. The menu looks like an Italian-accented Chipotle with flatbread wraps standing in for burritos and follows the same formula of a simple menu with a few, freshly-made-to-order entreés.

1682164-poster-1280-sweetgreen

The lifestyle brand:

If the secret sauce is building a connection with the public, then Sweetgreen will rise to the top of the fast casual heap. The chain sells make-your-own bowls of grains and salads, and while the food gets high marks, nothing’s on the menu that doesn’t align with the founders’ values and forward their agenda. That means every element is hip and wholesome; it has to be sustainable, healthy, based in authentic relationships, and it has to make a positive difference in the community. They’ve already won the hearts of Silicon Valley tech investors who are facilitating coast-to-coast expansion.

The heir apparent:

ShopHouse is Chipotle’s Asian spin-off. It’s got the familiar production line with fresh, local, mostly organic ingredients, and naturally raised meats, but this time they’re going into noodle bowls and Vietnamese sandwiches. ShopHouse also gets to rub shoulders with the parent company’s brand equity and ‘food with integrity’ ethos, and to piggyback on existing supplier relations and cross-promotional marketing. Could Chipotle be the ‘next Chipotle’? Who better to duplicate its success?

shophouse-logo

 

Posted in food business, restaurants, trends | 1 Comment

Paid Placeholders, Virtual Queues, and Other Ways to Hack a Restaurant Line

 

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cronut-lineup3-1

Just another day outside of Dominique Ansel Bakery, home of the cronut.

 

 

 

 

 

Yep, they’re still lining up for cronuts.
The line is out there every morning snaking down the Soho sidewalk before the 8am bakery opening. It’s not just New York and it’s not just a mania for pastry hybrids. They’re lining up for old school barbecue in Austin, Korean fried chicken in D.C., and the latest ramen bar in Chicago.

The problem is, it’s not just hype and tourists clogging our sidewalks. Restaurants of every stripe are happily embracing the queue. It keeps down the administrative costs of doing business—there’s no salaried reservationist, reservation no-shows, or cut off the top going to a service like OpenTable. Plus a line out front is good for business. It’s like a flesh and blood Yelp review signaling quality and popularity.

You hate waiting in line (and who doesn’t?).
You can stick to restaurants that take reservations, at the risk of missing out on transcendent sushi and the best pizza in town. You can go out before the lines form and force feed yourself a Florida-style 5:30 dinner. You can brave prime time but eat before you go to keep your blood sugar from plummeting before you’re seated. Or you can avail yourself of one of these solutions to the frustrating time suck of restaurant lines.

Pay someone else to wait, so you don’t have to.
CFxlvYdUkAEb_hd13 year-old Desmond (left) is heading back to junior high so his Austin-based business BBQ Fast Pass will be on hiatus til the next school vacation. He spent his summer as a line-sitter for hire in a folding chair outside of Franklin Barbecue, a local legend known for its succulent brisket and 5 hour waits. Taskrabbit, in Austin and more than a dozen other cities, connects you with locals that you can contract with to do your waiting for a negotiable fee. Rent a Friend claims to have more than 530,000 registered service providers worldwide. The company specializes in fake wedding dates and other stand-ins, but line waiting is among the service options. Los Angeles’ Line Angels enables ‘influencers, doers, and go-getters to make the most of their time’. New York City has the similarly pitched Same Old Line Dudes with two fee schedules—one for cronuts and one for all other lines.

Take a virtual number.
According to QLess (company motto: Queue less. Live more) we spend two years of our lives waiting in lines. The mobile wait management system is making a dent in all that lost time. It allows you to take your place in line, online, merging your spot with the in-person waiting list at the hostess stand. While others are cooling their heels at the restaurant, you’re going about your business while QLess gives real time estimates and alerts. If your table is ready before you are, just give someone a virtual ‘cut.’ A running tab on the website tallies the total time savings restored to QLess users; at last check it was 1,185 years, 304 days, 18 hours, 9 minutes.

Go off-peak.
Google recently added a new feature to its search bar. Tap on the restaurant’s name in the search result and the tool displays its busiest times.

fdfdb007a5ab3d6c2c71f065a250b126Get it to go.
Hangry was just added to the Oxford Dictionary, a clear sign that waiting for a table is incompatible with contemporary culture where gratification is supposed to be just a few keystrokes away. Impatience and tech savvy join forces in the many ordering, takeout, delivery, and payment apps that let you breeze by all the analog suckers standing in line. Users appreciate the streamlined process, and the restaurants like them too. According to a MasterCard survey, customers will spend as much as 30% more when they order dinner using a cash-free mobile app. It’s a crowded field with hundreds of apps vying for different market segments. There’s Tapingo, a campus food app for college studentsthe no-smartphone-required, all-text Zinglethe coast-to-coast 600-city coverage of Seamless; and Caviar, with its stable of Michelin-starred restaurant partners.

Is it worth the wait?
Yahoo Travel
lists the top ten longest restaurant lines around the country. Huffington Post shares 19 Cult Food Destinations Worth Enduring An Insanely Long Wait In Line.

 

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In the inimitable words of Oliver Wendall Douglas: Keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside.

There really is an Agritopia® . It's outside of Phoenix and it really is trademarked.

There really is an Agritopia® . It’s outside of Phoenix and it really is trademarked.

 

Golf course condos are passé. The new status symbol is a farm view.
A new kind of residential development is bringing 24/7 farm-to-table living to the suburbs. Called agrihoods, they’re suburban subdivisions built with a working farm as the central feature, in the same way that other developments are clustered around a golf course, or pool, or clubhouse. A few dozen of these planned suburban communities are up and running, and the Urban Land Institute is currently tracking the progress of hundreds more in various stages of development.

The agrihood concept isn’t new but we’re seeing a new breed.
They’re not the hippie-dippy back-to-the-land communes of earlier eras, and they’re more than just a handful of lots being sold off so that a family can keeps its farm. What’s different this time around is the arrival of large corporate developers who are creating massive projects with thousands of housing units on a single tract. They’re anchored by professionally managed, for-profit farms that engage in large scale food production. They’re rich in amenities that give residents the benefits of farm living with none of the chores. And they are a mixed bag. Some are committed to responsible development practices and the preservation of open land; others are sprinkling a little fairy dust of sustainability to push just so much suburban sprawl through local zoning authorities.

The logo'ed plastic cups and bottled water of a Willowsford gathering

The logo’ed plastic cups and bottled water of a Willowsford gathering

More style than substance: Willowsford
300 acres are farmed inside the walls of this gated community in Loudon County, Virginia. Residents of the 2,130 homes can join a CSA or visit their own farm stand, and according to the developer’s brochure, they can also enjoy home grown produce in “The Grange… a gracious gathering space designed in the fashion of an elegant countryside manor… with periodic visits by local and celebrity chefs who use ingredients picked fresh from Willowsford Farm to create pop-up restaurant menus.”

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SaveOrangeCounty.org responds to the proposed construction of 5,000 new homes.


Green-washing’ the billion dollar agrihood: Lake Pickett South
The Florida developer’s website describes the development as “an idyllic setting that is steeped in nostalgia and mindful of nature…inspired by the rural lifestyle of yesteryear, enabling people to forge a relationship with the land and each other…” That’s some high-fallutin’ language for a plan to create the region’s largest cluster of car-dependent residents on environmentally sensitive land.

 

The Cannery connects to one of the nation's most well-developed biking infrastructures

The Cannery connects to one of the nation’s most well-developed biking infrastructures

 

Big isn’t necessarily bad: The Cannery.
You can’t plunk down just any project in Davis, California, a college town that’s known for leading environmental stewardship. The Cannery began with low-impact land use by reclaiming an abandoned tomato packing plant. Each of its almost 600 residences will be electric car-ready, generate its own solar energy, and be planted with fruit and nut trees. All will be within 300 feet of the city’s network of bicycle paths, and the campus and downtown can both be reached within five minutes. The developer deeded the farmland to the city, which will run it with an educational focus.

 

Open space, bucolic views, and farm fresh food. You might not save the planet, but it’s a beautiful day in the agrihood.

 

 

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Saving the Dive Bars: Give them landmark status

Charles Bukowski, patron saint of dive bars

Charles Bukowski, patron saint of dive bars

 

Does the bathroom have a working lock? Is it stocked with toilet paper?
Are there more wine options than red or white? Are there growlers? More than one kind of bitters? Is anyone wearing a bow tie?
If you could answer ‘yes’ to any of those questions, it’s not a dive bar.

A dive bar doesn’t serve drinks with fresh herbs, it doesn’t have free wifi, and it definitely doesn’t have the words ‘dive bar’ in its name. What it does have are flinty bartenders and cheap drinks. Its walls exude the decades-old vestiges of smoke and beer; so do the seedy midday regulars who slide down the bar to make way for an after-work cross section of construction workers and executives. It’s also a dying breed.

The death of the dive bar is a familiar story to residents of our increasingly gentrified cities.
Dive bars are neighborhood relics occupying shabby spaces that scream ‘deferred maintenance,’ while commercial rents climb and shiny condo towers rise around them. Eventually they fall victim to a hot real estate market and the disappearance of gritty and grizzled neighborhood denizens, the daily daytime drinkers who are a bar’s purest expression of its divey-ness.

Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
No gastropub, cocktail lounge, or new-fangled speakeasy can take its place. A dive bar is part of a city’s unsanitized, unhomogenized past. The new urbanism tends to erase and eliminate the very things that give a city its character. When a dive bar closes, a neighborhood loses a little piece of its soul.

In rapidly gentrifying cities like San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles, local preservationists hope to safeguard dive bars through landmark designations.
They argue that a city’s legacy businesses should be seen as the metaphorical cousins of architectural landmarks, equally worthy of preservation because of their cultural and historical significance. A landmark designation will usually entitle the businesses and their landlords to preservation funds, special financing, and favorable tax status, which is a tough sell to cash-strapped city governments.

Some residents, city officials, and landmark commissions look at a dive bar and see a sketchy, rundown watering hole that stands in the way of change and progress. Others see a living, breathing emblem of a city’s heritage, and one that can continue to contribute to the intangible but invaluable character of its cultural fabric.

Posted in beer + wine + spirits, community | Leave a comment

Why We Like a Fizzy Drink on a Hot Day

geyser-generic

Eepy Bird- the hobby scientist team famous for successfully harnessing the explosive power of carbonation to create the world’s first Diet Coke-powered car.

 

By all accounts, we shouldn’t like carbonation.
The defining sensation is pain. It’s what we call the ‘bite’ that’s felt when the carbon dioxide bubbles dissolve into acid in the mouth and tweak pain centers in the brain. Scientists believe that this reaction is a gift of evolution that’s meant to keep us from drinking carbonated beverages because carbonation in nature is associated with the toxicity of rotten food. It’s meant to repel us for our own safety and animals will almost never touch the stuff.

But the bubbles do refresh.
Carbonation diminishes our ability to taste sweetness (that’s one reason why sodas are loaded with sugar), and that enhances the astringent clean-mouth feeling of fizzy drinks. Carbonated beverages also seem colder than they really are. The bubbles don’t lower the temperature but they increase our perception of coldness.

Carbonated soft drinks are traced back to the publication of an 18th century scientific paper titled Impregnating Water with Fixed Air.
Beer and sparkling wine, which carbonate naturally during fermentation, had been enjoyed for a century when an Englishman figured out how to infuse water with gas. The first fizzy drinks were made by dripping sulfuric acid onto chalk to produce carbon dioxide gas, and then dissolving the gas in a bowl of distilled water. Early commercial uses for the discovery were medicinal, but within a few decades effervescent waters were being sweetened and flavored with fruit and herbal extracts, and by the 1830’s the general public was bellying up to soda fountains.

Soda is the past, club soda is the future.
Sugar-sweetened soft drinks are associated with obesity, tooth decay, low nutrient levels, and a long list of weight-related diseases including diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and elevated blood pressure. They’re linked to kidney stones, skeletal weakness, and troubling levels of caffeine, benzene, and alcohol. Diet soda cuts the sugar but not the health risks. There’s little evidence that removing the sugar helps with weight loss, and the artificial sweeteners are themselves problematic. That’s why more and more consumers are reaching for carbonated water—sales are up by nearly 60% in just the last five years. No sugar, no alcohol, no caffeine, it’s just water with bubbles. It won’t put cellulite on your thighs, leach calcium from your bones, or rot the enamel on your teeth. Sparkling water hydrates and refreshes with the characteristic ‘bite’ of effervescence that you’re looking for on a hot day. Barring a medical condition that precludes carbonated beverages, there’s no reason not to drink up.

All fizzy water is not created equal. 

Seltzer is just plain water with added carbonation.

Club soda is seltzer with added minerals like potassium bicarbonate, potassium sulfate, sodium bicarbonate, and sodium citrate. It’s got the slightest hint of salt and mineral flavor.

Sparkling mineral water contains naturally occurring minerals because the water comes from a well or underground spring. Depending on the source, the carbonation can also occur naturally from gases in the water or be added at the time of bottling. Minerals like sodium and sulphur tend to give the water a weighty feel and distinctive taste.

Tonic water has added carbonation and quinine, a powdered substance that comes from South American tree bark, and usually a sweetener and citrus flavoring. Tonic water started life as a medicine due to to anti-malarial qualities of quinine. It was widely prescribed in the 19th and 20th centuries in Britain’s tropical colonies where gin was used to mask its bitter and medicinal taste.

 

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Has the High Price of Eggs Got You Down? Rent a Chicken.

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Egg prices have more than doubled in most of the country and there are more increases to come.
An avian flu outbreak that struck farms in egg-producing mid-western states has led to the deaths of more than 48 million chickens causing wholesale prices to skyrocket—a record-breaking 85% jump in May alone. Because most of the affected birds were egg-laying or breeding chickens as opposed to those raised for meat, it’s wreaked havoc on chicken economics. For the first time ever, eggs are a more expensive form of protein than chicken breasts.

Measures for these desperate times.
The egg shortage forced the Whataburger chain to abbreviate its breakfast service, Rita’s franchises substituted eggless soft-serve for its signature frozen custard, and Chinese-American Panda Express tried putting the yellow in its fried rice with corn kernels. But for everyone with a backyard there’s another option: chicken rentals.

People lease cars because it’s less hassle and commitment than ownership; same with chickens.
There’s a slew of poultry leasers out there with regional and even national presence like Rent the Chicken, Rent-a-Chicken, The Easy Chicken, Urban Chicken Rentals, Coop and Caboodle, and Rent a Coop. They all follow pretty much the same formula: For around $150 a month, they deliver two or more hens that are of egg-laying age, a portable chicken coop, food, bedding, and supplies to last the rental period, and an instruction manual. The rental season usually runs from late spring to early fall, the prime laying season with long daylight hours and warmer temperatures when a chicken produces about an egg a day. At the end of the rental period, the leasing company comes to retrieve the whole setup,

Poultry leasers report that about half of their renters have grown so attached to the chickens that they opt to purchase them outright rather than return them for the winter. These are backyard farmers who got hooked on the fresh eggs, the feathered pet-like creatures, and some serious locavore bragging rights. Others are relieved to hand back filthy, shrieking fowl that barely edge out snakes in cuddliness, and are prone to ailments like poultry mites and pasty butt.

For those inclined toward the latter version of avian husbandry, you can always lease your own little piece of the farm while keeping your fingernails clean with Rent Mother Nature. There are no laying hens but you can lay claim to a beehive in the Catskills, an oyster bed on the Puget Sound, a lobster trap off the coast of Maine, or a pistachio tree in the Arizona desert, and for one season the harvest is yours. You can lease a dairy cow and the farmer will ship back wheels of cheese, the sap from your stand of sugar maples comes to you as syrup, and the wheat from your leased acre of farmland is milled into flour. Rent Mother Nature sends out periodic progress reports during the growing season, and many of the farmers welcome personal visits from lease-holders. There’s a minimum guaranteed bounty with a roll-over to the next season if it’s not met, and your larder will overflow if there’s a bumper crop.

 

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Read ’em and Weep: 100 Salads that are Worse than a Big Mac

 

 

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Just a few members of the salad hall of shame

Salad is never going to win a popularity contest against a hamburger.
Or a burrito or a plate of pasta or a waffle. There’s really only one reason to order an entrée salad at a burger chain or a pancake house or a Mexican restaurant—because it’s healthier than the fat and calorie-laden specialties of the house.

Of course salad has its faults. Everyone knows to look out for cheese and croutons and to go easy on the creamy dressings. But worse than a Big Mac in terms of saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and calories? The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine analyzed the nutrition data for salads at popular chain restaurants like Applebee’s, California Pizza Kitchen, Denny’s, and IHOP. The group chose the Big Mac as a nutritional yardstick believing it’s a kind of shorthand for everything that’s wrong with the American diet. They found more than a hundred salads, both side and entrée-sized, that are worse for you than McDonald’s iconic sandwich. You could even top off the burger with a couple of donuts and still not come close to the dietary damage done by some of these seemingly good-for-you choices.

Here are some of the worst offenders according to PCRM data:

Applebee’s Grilled Shrimp ‘N Spinach Salad
Applebee’s describes it as: Tender spinach, crisp bacon, roasted red peppers, red onions, toasted almonds and hot bacon vinaigrette topped with grilled shrimp.
PCRM defines it as a sodium disaster.

California Pizza Kitchen’s Moroccan-Spiced Chicken Salad
CPK says it’s: One of a kind, with roasted butternut squash, dates, avocado, toasted almonds, beets, red peppers, chopped egg and cranberries. Tossed with housemade Champagne vinaigrette.
PCRM says it’s more like three of a kind, if the three are the calories in a Big Mac.

IHOP’s Crispy Chicken Cobb Salad
IHOP dubbed it: The most satisfying salad. With crispy chicken, smoky bacon, hard-boiled egg, juicy tomatoes & tangy blue cheese crumbles all tossed in a tasty buttermilk ranch dressing.
PCRM calls it the most cholesterol—more than eight Big Macs put together.

You’ll find the complete list at the website of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

Maybe you’d like a side salad with that burger? See why salad is just a gateway to french fries.

 

Posted in diet, fast food, food knowledge, restaurants | Leave a comment

Name That Scent: It’s more than just good smells and stinky ones.

image via WikiHow

image via WikiHow

 

Smell is the trickiest of the senses.
Touch is easy— it’s categorized as heat and cold, pressure and pain. Sight and sound are even more obvious; they’re both measurable physical phenomena, described through our perceptions of light and sound waves. Even taste is straightforward; there are countless variations but just five basic categories—sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. Only smell combines extraordinary precision—think of how many things you can identify by smell alone—while at the same time it’s the most subjective of the senses. A smell is impossible to describe to someone who’s never smelled it, and everyone’s perceptions are different, rooted in their own unique memories and associations.

We take more than 23,000 breaths each day, and each one is an opportunity to smell.
The world is awash in olfactory information. There are more than 100,000 smells floating around the globe, and it takes just eight microscopic particles to trigger a reaction in one of the five million receptor cells in our noses. The sensation is processed in the limbic region, the emotional center of the brain, where the sensory data get all tangled up in memories. That’s why a whiff of roasting turkey can flood you with warm and fuzzy memories of family Thanksgivings, or a fragrant bouquet of flowers will have you thinking of your beloved grandmother, even if you never knew that her hand cream was lily-scented.

Even though a smell can be sensed by just a handful of molecules reaching your nose, objects can have hundreds or even thousands of different volatile compounds all throwing off their own molecules. Each compound contributes a single core odor, and just 230 of them are food-related. A simple food like butter contains just three different odor compounds, strawberries have 12, and a complex wine can hit the upper limit with its aroma encoded by a combination of 40 different molecules.

Smell and taste are the sister senses, playing off of the same molecules.
About 80% of what we taste is due to our sense of smell. Without it we are perceiving only the building blocks of flavor– the sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. With it we have the nuance of an infinite universe of sensory combinations.

Fun olfactory facts:

  • Most of what you smell is coming through the left nostril. The reason you never noticed this is because 80% of noses are not in the middle of the face but pitched slightly to the right, so it seems like the smell is coming right up the middle.
  • Marijuana-induced munchies are not a gustatory phenomena so much as an olfactory one; cannabis enhances the sense of smell which leads to increased appetite.
  • Lose your sense of smell and you’ll lose your libido.
  • Your nose grows all-new scent receptors every 30 days.
  • The fatter you are the better the chocolate smells; scientists don’t know if this is cause or effect.

 

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Your Social Media Profile Rendered in Ice Cream

Which Gelato Flavor are You? PSFK is a Cocoa Rambutan Tangelo
You’re Sweet and Cool and Kind of Nutty.
You’ve already been assessed by Myers Briggs, done your colors, read your horoscope, and found your spirit animal. Now you can fine tune your personality typing with your own custom-matched gelato flavor.
Talenti Gelato launched a campaign called Flavorize Me that purports to create a flavor profile based on your social media profile.
It looks at your Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts and analyzes keywords within your profiles and posts to identify compatible tastes. Then it matches those tastes with corresponding ingredients to create a custom flavor.

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Flavorize Me creates a personalized ‘science-ing of your flavor,’ a mathematical breakdown and graphical representation of your results. Are you more sour than sweet? Maybe you’re molasses-sweetened with a balsamic vinegar glaze. Or you could be a well-balanced orange ricotta cinnamon toast. Or a spicy clove muffin peppercorn. Flavorize Me has a 25,000 keyword database and an algorithm that can create 50 million unique flavors.

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The campaign runs until August 2, and in September Talenti will announce which six personal flavors will be going into production, with free pints for the winners. Until then, you can peruse the unique creations shared on Twitter using the hashtag #flavorizeme.

 

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Food Emojis: Look What You Can Do With Them!

Smile, You're Speaking Emoji by Zohar

Smile, You’re Speaking Emoji by Zohar Lazar

 

Emoji is the fastest growing language the world has ever seen.
That’s right, language. It’s syntactic enough that the UK Guardian printed an emoji transcript of President Obama’s last State of the Union Address, and the Library of Congress recently catalogued its first emoji title, Emoji Dicka faithful translation of the Melville classic. Four in ten of us have sent messages entirely made up of emoji, and only 2 in 10 texters can finesse meaning and nuance well enough to completely go without.

Food emoji 101
Emoji is overseen by the same Unicode Consortium that creates worldwide standards for all of the computing industry’s encoding and representation of language. Since emoji originated in Japan, it makes sense that many are emblematic of that country’s culture. Nowhere is this more obvious than with food emojis where symbols include a bento box imgres-3, fish cake imgres, and rice ball imgres-2. New emoji characters are regularly added as part of wider updates to the Unicode Standard, and recent additions reflect the growing influence of American texters.  The last batch included the burrito imgres-4, cheese wedge imgres, hot dog imgres-1, popcorn images, and the taco images-1, which made the cut after Taco Bell advocated for its inclusion, collecting more than 25,000 signatures on a Change.org petition. Never satisfied, food-loving texters and bloggers are constantly sharing their wishlists for the next round of emoji introductions. First We Feast nominates the red Solo cup, the Chinese takeout container, and portraits of notable food celebrities; Thrillist wants to see a waffle, a pretzel, and a shot glass; and everyone’s wondering what, no bacon?
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Emojis are catalogued in the Emojipedia which currently lists 59 in the food and beverage category.
Here’s what you can do with them:

  • You can search the recipe archives of the New York Times by emoji,

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or cook with a Bon Appétit Magazine emoji recipe.

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  • Follow the emoji diet profiled in The Atlantic.

…This diet is essentially the opposite of Atkins. Of the 59 food emoji, eight incorporate rice, and 11 are desserts…

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  • Recreate your favorite food emojis as their real-world correlates,

 b96551f0-0b99-0133-5040-0ec273752cbdb4120aa0-0b99-0133-45a5-0a2ca390b447de5f16b0-0b99-0133-f4ad-0e18518aac2f37e5baf0-0b9c-0133-503f-0ec273752cbd6870e820-0b9d-0133-f4ad-0e18518aac2f37f02a60-0b9c-0133-45a4-0a2ca390b447

           or as Rice Krispie treats.

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  • Wear your favorites as a sweatshirt.

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The Unicode Consortium has named six new food emojis that are being considered by the Unicode Technical Committee for inclusion in the next update scheduled for mid-2016. They are croissant, avocado, cucumber, potato, carrot, and yes, finally, bacon.

 

 

Posted in cyberculture, diversions, food trends | 1 Comment

We’ll Choose a Dirty Restaurant Over a Clean One, as Long as We Think It’s Authentic

image via The Health Inspector's  Notebook

image via The Health Inspector’s Notebook

 

Authenticity is the value of the moment.
Much more than a buzzword, it shapes our attitudes and our ideals. It rolls off the tongue when we speak of everything from politicians to blue jeans.
Why would we let a little thing like hygiene get in the way of the pursuit of authentic dining experiences?

Studies like Dirty, Authentic…Delicious and Conflicting Social Codes and Organizations: On How Hygiene and Authenticity Shape Consumer Evaluations of Restaurants have looked at diners’ Yelp reviews and correlated them to inspection data from local departments of public health. The findings consistently demonstrate that authenticity trumps cleanliness when consumers choose and evaluate their dining experiences.

Some diners even extoll the virtues of shaky sanitation.
When they see line cooks ankle-deep in bok choi trimmings and unrefrigerated ducks strung up by their necks they double down on the Yelp review, lavishly praising the unvarnished authenticity of the meal. In cities where health inspectors assign letter grades, it’s common to joke that ‘A’ is for ‘Americanized;’ a grade that’s only earned by restaurants that pay too much attention to superficial attributes and not enough to the food.

Let’s be clear, for a variety of reasons we are primarily talking about non-European ethnic restaurants.
First, these are the establishments that are most scrutinized for their bona fides by the self-styled urban adventurers who dominate online opinion and ratings sites. These are also the restaurants that are most challenged by differences in language and cultural norms, two significant obstacles to successful health inspections. And finally, the old clichés are borne out by statisticsimmigrant-owned ethnic restaurants, especially small and family-run businesses, fare poorly in health inspections when compared with similar businesses owned by native-born restaurateurs.

Go ahead and try that grubby little hole-in-the-wall.
And don’t worry; authenticity doesn’t correlate to food poisoning. A look at food-borne diseases by the Centers for Disease Control found that the inspection grades of restaurants with verified food poisoning outbreaks were no lower than those without.

 

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Hot Day Hot Drink?

drpepperthermometer

It’s hot out there. How about a nice cold drink?
You hear the clink of ice cubes in a tall glass, see the beads of sweat condensing on the outside, and you just know you’re in for some serious refreshment.

So why does the rest of the world drink hot tea in hot weather?
Can a couple of billion subcontinental residents be wrong?

A hot drink tells the nerve receptors in your mouth that things are getting hot in there and it turns on a cooling response. Basically it makes you sweat, which transfers body heat into the atmosphere as the perspiration evaporates. It works with spicy foods too—the receptors in your tongue read hot peppers in the same way as they read hot tea. Either one triggers a message to the brain telling it to cool things off.

If you’re not much of a sweater, you might want to stick with cold beverages.
You need to produce a fair amount of perspiration; otherwise, a hot drink will just make you feel flushed and even hotter. It needs to really get you sweating so that the cooling effect of perspiration will exceed the heating effect of the beverage.

Hot or iced- which should you choose?
Personally, I still would like a nice iced coffee, but feel free to give a hot one a try.

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More Men Grocery Shop, Few Reports of Testicle Shrinkage

notepad from Guajolote Prints

notepad from Guajolote Prints

 

It’s big news to retailers: men are no longer the hapless dolts of the household.
They can finally be trusted to walk into a supermarket with a list and walk out with more than chips, bacon, and beer.

Just a few years ago stores were rolling out man aisles.
2011 was the year that men first surpassed women as the likely primary shopper of their household and retailers were scrambling for ways to broaden their man appeal. Studies were commissioned and theories were trotted out, and they latched onto the old chestnut of men as hunters and women as gatherers. Shopping was seen as a modern adaptation of our species’ ancestral skills and the theory goes that man has no interest in strolling the aisles. He’s programmed to treat the supermarket like a prehistoric hunter; he should get in and out quickly and stay in safe territory. These days instead of a gazelle one in ten men is on the hunt for a good under-eye cream to reduce puffiness, but the male ego still needs reassurance that they’re not performing ‘women’s work.’ Stores like Target, CVS, and Wal-Mart established their man aisles as safe havens within their stores where men wouldn’t have to encounter troubling lady things like Tampax and mustache bleach, or be led astray by probiotic yogurt and frilly tarragon leaves.

Gone are the days of dopey dads and ‘honey-do’ lists.
Grocery shopping is now evenly shared in most households, and among millennials it’s predominantly a male domain. And except for their resistance to coupons (most men say it makes them feel like a cheapskate), their shopping habits and patterns are nearly indistinguishable from women’s. Men and women grocery shop with the same frequency and spending differences are narrowing. They’re in a virtual lockstep when it comes to engagement and concerns for the role food plays in the household’s well-being. They choose fresh ingredients over processed the same rate, and assign similar values to local foods, nutrition quality, and branded goods.

As the stereotypes fall, so go the man aisles.
When we shop for food for ourselves and our families, we’re driven by needs that transcend gender. It’s nice to see the supermarkets finally got the memo.

 

 

 

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If the Water is American, Can the Beer be German?

image via East Falls House

image via East Falls House

 

We’ve learned through a recent class action lawsuit that Beck’s German pilsner is brewed with water from Missouri.
And it’s not the only American-made import: Foster’s tagline is “Australian for beer, ” but its water is pure Texas; Red Stripe is more Steel City than steel drums, brewing its “Jamaican-style lager” in a suburb of Pittsburgh; and Colorado’s Killian’s Irish Red hasn’t been brewed on the Emerald Isle since the 1950’s.

We’ve been misled, and it sure looks intentional.
These brands trade on their foreign roots (or in the case of Red Stripe, they’re concealing the less-than-exotic birthplace of Galena, Illinois) with foreign-accented spokespeople, kangaroos, and coats of arms. Beck’s was dinged in federal court for deceptive advertising and packaging labeled with phrases like ‘Originated in Bremen’ and ‘German Quality.’ The lawsuit asks the question: Did the beer’s maker violate consumer protection laws? But what consumers really want to know is: Can Beck’s be an authentic German pilsner when it’s brewed in St. Louis?

Water has a profound effect on the character of beer, and not just because it’s 95% of the brew.
Classic brewing cities like Antwerp, Dublin, Burton-on-Trent in England, and Pilsen in what’ s now the Czech Republic are as famous for their local waters as for the iconic beers they produce. The unique composition of each of those city’s water supplies drew early breweries and it was the water’s characteristics that helped define each city’s distinct beer style. The water profiles of the great brewing cities are still revered by today’s beer makers who endlessly analyze and compare their own local water against the standards of the classics.

When it comes to local brewing, nothing is more local than water.
And in our globalized economy, it’s most likely the only local ingredient that’s used. The hops might be from New Zealand, the barley from Canada, and the brewer’s yeast is probably imported from Croatia. The alkilinity, hardness, and mineral composition of the native water is the one ingredient that can give a sense of terroir. Its makeup will impact every ingredient and every brewing stage, defining the ph of the all-important mash, adding ions that flavor the beer, and even determining the color of the beer.

Can Beck’s be an authentic German pilsner when it’s brewed in St. Louis?
If you don’t think so, you can join the class action. Refunds of up to $50 will be offered, and no, they don’t expect you to have saved your beer receipts. A final approval hearing for the settlement is scheduled for October 20th.

 

Posted in beer + wine + spirits, food knowledge | Leave a comment
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