Soul Food

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Fall and winter remind me of my Grandmother’s cooking; the food I grew up on. Soul food.

I grew up in a Portuguese-Canadian household and the kitchen — like many homes — was the axis on which our household turned.

These seasons brought all sorts of fare to our table: wild game like turkey, rabbit, pheasant and moose; off cuts like pig tails and ears, cows tripe; salt cod in many forms; collard green and potato soup (called Caldo Verde, in Portuguese); fried pumpkin cake (pictured above).

Making something delicious when you have nothing is a common theme across all of the worlds great cuisines. Indeed, many great dishes come from peasant roots.

I believe human beings are hard-wired to have an emotional connection to food. The world over, food is a celebration of mankind overcoming adversity. Even in the first world, where many of us are fortunate enough to be far removed from the struggle to find enough to eat, we have in us the DNA of our ancestors who scratched and clawed their way to their next meal.

What I remember most about the earliest meals of my life is that they were made by people who loved me, there was hard work and long hours in the kitchen to make them and, of course, that they were delicious. During my apprenticeship at Eigensinn Farm, I rediscovered the correlation between effort and taste of a dish. Food just tastes better when it’s grown and prepared made by the hands of someone who cares.

If you’re like me, you’ll be spending much of your free time over the holiday season at the grocery store, market, in the field hunting and foraging and, of course, in the kitchen. Remember, all those hours of effort mean something to the quality of your dishes. More importantly, they mean something to the people who eat them.

 

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Brewery Visit: The Rare Barrel (Berkeley, CA)

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Based out of Berkeley, California, The Rare Barrel is an exclusively-sour beer brewery at the forefront of the sour beer renaissance (currently the hottest trend in craft beer). In a pool of heavyweight breweries– think de Garde, Jolly Pumpkin, Lost Abbey, Almanac, Jester King, Wicked Weed — The Rare Barrel is, arguably, the best in the world right now at what they do.

Sour beer is complex, expensive and still largely misunderstood by the majority of beer drinkers. While almost always fermented with tart fruits, it is, in fact, the unique bacteria strains and barrel aging process that give sour beer their unique tart and funky taste. If you’ve never tried one, the best description is like drinking a cross between white wine and lemonade, with varying degrees of tartness. Sour beer is on the opposite spectrum of the bitter hop-bomb IPAs that have dominated the craft beer landscape over the five years. In that respect, they are refreshing, in more ways than one.

Situated in an industrial neighborhood, The Rare Barrel’s facility looks more like a warehouse than a brewery. It’s 20+ foot ceilings are stacked to the brim with rows of barrel racks, each filled with beers that need time (some, several years) to mature. Each barrel is like a fingerprint, imparting it’s own unique flavor profile to the batch as it ferments.

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And there really is a search for that rare barrel amongst their collection. Each year, beer sommeliers and enthusiasts alike sample from each of the barrels in the warehouse, until they’ve come to a consensus on the best batch. That barrel is deemed the Rare Barrel.

I’ve visited The Rare Barrel a half dozen times, and each time they have an array of blends on tap, several bottles for purchase and a delicious sourdough grilled cheese to pair with your beer (and pair you should!). Unlike most other breweries today, The Rare Barrel does not offer growler fills to the general public. Given the rarity of what they’re producing, they simply can’t keep up with demand. If you want a growler filled, you need to be one of the lucky few who lands a membership in their Ambassador of Sour club. If I l lived in NoCal, no doubt, I’d want to join that club!

Tip: Finding The Rare Barrel’s bottles outside of the brewery is legendarily difficult. On my last trip, I was led to a local grocery store down the block from the brewery called Berkeley Bowl West. Here, you’ll find several bottles that you can’t get in the brewery, along with bottles from many other fantastic breweries. The grocery store is also a great spot for hard to find cheeses and delicious ethnic treats.