Sunday, July 21, 2019

Indio Brewing Co - Sugar Hill Georgia

Indio Brewing Co Temporary Sign
 You can find Indio Brewing at 5019 W Broad St NE Ste M145, Sugar Hill, GA 30518 on the main drag by what looks like local city government.  Parking is in a shared lot or in a basement parking deck if you prefer. You walk from the lot or across a bridge to the building, which has multiple businesses and you'll initially see a Tavern - if you walk around the patio you'll eventually see the door for Indio Brewing.


Indio Brewing Co Folding Sign

Indio Brewing Co Exterior from Patio

I attended Indio Brewing on it's grand opening Saturday 2019.07.21 with Michelle T. and am writing this review the Sunday following. The place is pretty small with a bar that extends from the entry to the back until it hits the brights - seems to be a 5-7 barrel system. There's seating on the right and appears to handle about 25 or so people comfortably with all kinds of space outside on the patio - entering the place was pretty full. On this day it was fairly hot and I was confronted by a menu with 7 beer option and 3 new tapped options to be made available at intervals during the day. We each got a 3/4 pour (the options was 3/4 or full pint pour) and headed outside looking for a shady spot. The patio is fantastic with views of the water feature down below and a pretty amazing amphitheater - kudos to the City of Sugar Hill for providing such a beautiful space.


Indio Brewing Co Interior Bar

Indio Brewing Co Beer Menu

Indio Brewing Co Beer Special Releases

Indio Brewing Co Bright Tank


Indio Brewing Co Sugar Hill Amphitheater

For this initial visit we tried four beers:

* Sunrise Mango and Guava Sour - had a touch of salt so I suspect this is a fruited gose. Very easy drinking for a sour - in the Berliner or gose range with good balance of sugars to bitterness (hardly non). Dry body and finish.

* Tropical Thunder American IPA - Hazy with tropical notes mostly citrus, mango and guava - still a bit green with the typical throat burn, dry body and finish.

* Indio Sweet City New England IPA - Very solid NEIPA with great tropical notes, mostly citrus and juicy body. Dry slightly hoppy finish. This ended up being my favorite of the 4.

* Sour Patch Fruited Sour - Easy drinking sour, warm fruit flavors of pear, apple and citrus, quite good.


Indio Brewing Co Sunrise Mango and Guava Sour

Indio Brewing Co Tropical Thunder American IPA
 
Indio Brewing Co Indio Sweet City New England IPA

Indio Brewing Co Sour Patch Fruited Sour
I also had a chance to speak with the proprietor, Jonathan who was quite excited and eager to speak with us - seems he really likes the Torched Hop concept and eventually wants to do food too as a Brewpub (on this day there was a small Empanada popup Frita Kale-O which will be familiar to many of you who frequent the breweries) so of course we partook of a pair of empanadas too.


Empanadas from Frita Kale-O Pop-up

I thought this was a very find grand opening indeed with friendly service, relatively short lines and a good initial lineup - I'll be coming back and hope for great things from this brewery!

(review also posted to Yelp)

Saturday, July 20, 2019

My Favorite Knives for Cooking and Meal Prep


I've been asked quite a few times for my opinion on kitchen knives - basically what I like to use and why, so I thought I would put these in a page so I can reference my thoughts without having to repeat myself. As some of my readers know, I was a professional classically trained chef for more than 10 years having started as a pot washer and prep cook, working my way through various production lines and ultimately become a sous-chef at my last place of employment before giving it up and eventually getting into Software Development (I know that sounds strange but you should hear some of the stories from others who end up doing Software Product Management). In any case, the knives you see above are my regular stable - the knives I use in day-to-day cooking (I do 95% of the cooking at home which is why you see the occasion post on food preparation). To understand how I got to the knives above, I need to walk you through the process of how I got there - I'll explain the various knife types as I go and why they are good or bad.

The first kitchen knives I owned were some hand-me-downs and for the most part were pretty bad - they had stainless blades, were hard to sharpen and had slippery varnished wooden handles. Worse, they were quick to dull - part of this was due to a lack of care-knowledge and partly due to the poor quality, especially of materials. When you're younger you just don't know and you tend to take things for granted. At some point, if you start as a lowly prep-cook and start to get on the line you realize that you need your own knives - those provided by a restaurant tend to be for institutional use and are pretty beat up - not that they're all bad. The set below are some of the first I ever purchased - usually there's a knife sharpener who comes around and besides putting an edge on your knives he would also sell blades from the commercial suppliers - that's what these three knives are.

Note the bottom two have plastic, basically indestructible grips that are textured so they don't slip in a sweaty commercial kitchen environment. The top is a chef-knife from The Clyde Cutlery Co - still made in Ohio and popular as a starter blade at many chef schools. The second is a basic Forechner Victorinox-bladed commercial serrated with a Fibrox grip and the bottom is a classic Dexter-Russell Sani-Safe slicer with a no-slip grip. The plastic handle knives in a commercial kitchen are frequently thrown into the Hobart dishwasher for cleaning and are usually beat-up all to crap - that's just the way things are. I recommend that knives are never cleaned this way as over-time it seems to destroy the temper and make them lose their sharpness even quicker. Of these three knives the only one I still occasionally use is the serrated AKA bread knife, especially when there are others helping in the kitchen, as it's still fairly sharp, has 14 inches of blade length and rarely needs sharpening.



 

 
Since I mention sharpening let me get into that a bit as it's really more important than the knives themselves - the secret to fast, efficient and enjoyable cooking is to have sharp knives. That's not to say that you HAVE to have a sharp knife - it just makes things better, like ice cream - you don't have to have ice cream on the plate next to your pie, but it sure makes things better.

It's been my experience that in most commercial kitchens the knives are unusually dull - it has more to do with the almost haphazard day-to-day extremes faced by line cooks, as an example, I've used a chef knife to open a gallon can of tomatoes because the can-opener is broken and speed is of the essence - it's that use plus constant dicing/etc that dulls knives. To fix this the better kitchens engage in professional knife sharpening - either they're taken up periodically and taken to a sharpener for a charge (the chefs usually pay the fee - used to be a buck for a knife and 3 dollars for a serrated but I'm sure it's way more now) which means you can only send at most half your knives at a time - it also means you need extra knives as backups which means more sharpening,ext (see where this is going?).

Or you can engage one of the local mobile sharpeners - in Atlanta there was this guy named Jeff Edges (no, really that's his name) who would come around with his van and he would pick up knives, take them outside to sharpen and be back, sometimes for a second pass. Great guy and quite a character and to prove how small the world is, lives in my neighborhood (found this out by accident) and has a shop nearby. Jeff could do some amazing things with knives - for instance, I had an expensive serrated break a took as it took a fall - he dressed it up and sharpened the beast using a narrow band sander - not something everyone carries around.

People in the commercial kitchens that really care about their knives bring them to work every day, either in a wrap or in a tool box (which is what I did). They also keep guard on the blades, not so much to avoid cutting things accidentally, but to avoid dulling or damaging the blades - I still have those as well. But let's get back to the knives.

The next set I got into was during my tenure at Kanpai of Tokyo as a hibachi chef (the technique is actually called Teppanyaki which refers to the flat griddle but Americans are dumb and hibachi, the term popularized by Beni Hana, remains to this day - fyi hibachi actually refers to a small wood-charcoal grill). You basically have two knives during the show in teppanyaki - a paring knife and a chef knife - both need to be well balanced as you spin them over your fingers. They also become really dull, as you can imagine, cutting meats on the stainless steel griddle. I was lucky in that one of the Japanese chefs I trained under (Ura) left me his old chef knife - that's the one on the bottom - so that's what I used when cooking table-side. It's hard to tell but that's an old Japanese made carbon steel knife that's had about half it's blade lost due to sharpening. I love carbon-steel as it sharpens super easily, however it also dulls quickly and rusts. The Seki Yahagiba above it is a more modern high carbon stainless steel knife for cutting sushi and maintains an edge longer and doesn't have to be oiled. I learned to sharpen these on water stones that we kept under the sink - the technique is totally different that what I learned previously.



A bit later I was back in an American kitchen - there was a period back in the 90's when everyone was raving about and had to own a Chinese cleaver - these are broad, thin bladed cleavers that you can really do some miraculous things with (I still have mine - below). The cleaver required some different techniques to get used to - mostly because the grip height if a further distance from the cutting board - difficult for many Americans to learn to use on a commercial counter but there were many benefits - later cooking shows like Yan Can Cook provided some useful tips in their use - for instance using the back of the blade instead of the tip (since it has no point and they're basically the same cut from each edge, why not cut closer to your hand for more control?) example below with similar Clyde chef knife from above to provide some sizing context:




Which brings me to the set I used at my last cooking job at Indigo Coastal Grill. The top knife is my favorite - I think these days they're called Santoku blades (that's the shape) but back in the day we called them hybrid chef-knives. It has many of the qualities of a chef knife with the grip closer to the cutting board, but a wider thin blade so you can still use the techniques garnered from using the Chinese cleaver. The Forschner Victorinox  paring knife was relatively cheap and keeps a good edge so I picked it up too. I ended up with an extra of the Santoku (found it at a flea market of all places, for $8) so have two that I swap out.



This is the set I use day-to-day:


Note that besides the Spiderco Santoku and the Wustof serrated, it's mostly a bunch of paring knives. I use those quite a bit - the "tournee" at the bottom is for cutting round things (like artichoke hearts) - I like having several as it keeps me from having to wash them all the time - I can swap out different knives and put them in the sink and wash them all together.

I also have a bunch of other knives and who doesn't? But for the most part they don't get used. These are all slicers but the scimitars (the curved knives 2nd and third from the bottom) I occasionally use - they're for cutting round things - originally I got those for cutting big fish - if you've ever tried to cut a whole swordfish you'll know what I mean.

As I already wrote, I also like my paring knives. The small serrated (two on the left) are particular useful but can be a bit dangerous to use (since we all tend to get closer to what we're cutting with paring knives, those tiny beast shave off skin like no ones business).
 Various serrated knives
I really don't use these knives at all - I basically just collect them. They're all Case-XX from back-in-the-day. When I was a kid you would go into hardware stores and there was always a Case-XX display, mostly of hunting knives but also these for cooking. They were considered some of the finest made in the US at one time so when I see them cheap I pick them up - nostalgia is a bitch!
 I also find these useful to have - the top is an oyster knife and the bottom is a nice set of kitchen shears - I use those to cut out the spine when I'm spatch-cocking fowl.

 For steels - and yes they are important, I like these two for different reasons - the one on the left is a diamond-impregnated steel and is useful for truly dull knives - they'll put an actual edge on a knife that's past being improved by the steel on the right - which is a traditional magnetized steel. The way a steel works is that it creates a magnetic field on the blade which makes things slide away while cutting (it also smooths out micro-nicks so it improves the straightness of the edge) - for the most part it doesn't really sharpen as that requires removal of material.


So that's about it really. If you're wanting to get into series cooking I would avoid those fancy sets and super expensive knives. They're rarely worth it in my experience. And one other thing, as I've mentioned how you store your knives can have a big impact on their sharpness. I recommend a dedicated drawer in the kitchen for knives only - this will make them much safer (and is good Feng Shui) and it will keep them sharper, longer, but you do also need blade protectors. I also DO NOT recommend those counter top knife blocks - they take up room on the counter and really, how do you clean them? Have you ever shined a light down one of those slits in a wooden knife block? Disgusting!

-- John

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Cherry Street Brewing Cooperative - Cumming Georgia



You can find Cherry Street Brewing in Cumming (and yeah I can hear you snicker) Georgia at 5813 S Vickery St, Cumming, GA 30040. Having spent some time there, I can say that there's currently not much to see in the area. Parking is plentiful out front, to the side (it's on a corner, sort of) or down the other areas in front of shops but you may have to walk a bit, as this brewery is very popular.





I first came across Cherry Street having sampled a Chief Sawnee's Coconut Porter many years ago - I really didn't know anything about the brewery but knew right away that this porter was special and would frequently claim it to be the best beer brewed locally, at least at the time. Since then are are many, many contenders but as of around 2015 this was still true - I think of it as the start of the "real" craft brew scene in Atlanta (and yes I know of several that have been around much longer, but in thinking about relatively small batches being made for keg distribution only Cherry Street was (unconfirmed) probably still in that Nano-to-Craft transition category. I next saw the same beer with one other at a Beer Festival (don't remember which one) being poured from a tapped job box (I still have the stickers they were handing out) and then it started showing up at the various bars I frequently visited.

The first time I visited the brewery, I decided to drive up from my then job near 400 and perimeter - I think it took about 45 minutes with some traffic. Two things I remember: 1. ) Driving into the middle of nowhere - really, you come off 400 and go through big expanses of nothing then finally hit a few elementary schools before coming to Vickery St (which leads you into the shopping center - I kept thinking that I was lost or that Maps was directing me wrong or something. 2.) The taproom was closed - this was pretty early and they had limited days/hours. Luckily I was able to go to Tanner's next door and enjoy a couple of flights (The Tanner's own both the Brewery and Pub). I found out later that this was the same Tanner's that used to be closer in as a rotisserie chicken place - from what I remember, I've visited one of those locations back in the day and liked the chicken quite a bit.

In any case, the taproom is something special, with a space that runs into a long room and a bar to the left. There's a newly opened (at least for me) area to the right full of barrels and extra seating plus a decent patio for drinking and watching the the locals shop. There's a well trained and knowledgeable crew pouring beers and providing advise on what to drink next. There's a clipboard available with 25 or so things on draft with a bottle list and maybe a guest tap or two. The beers here are extremely tasty, have great variety and a bit of experimentation - overall I can't think of one that I didn't at least find palatable, with most being exceptional. According to Untapped, I've had 25 different beers from this brewery so I won't bother to list them all - you'll need to come by and sample them yourself. You'll be glad you did - just make sure you have time to do a couple of flights and grab a bite next door before leaving - oh even better, have a designated driver - it really is in the middle of nowhere.


(also published on Yelp)

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Six Bridges Brewing - Johns Creek Atlanta Georgia

You can find Six Bridges Brewing at 11455 Lakefield Dr STE 300, Duluth, GA 30097 at the end of a small industrial park across from the Atlanta State Farm Operations Center - basically the southeast quadrant made up from the intersection of McGinnis Ferry and Hwy 141. I think it's along the northern edge of John's Creek and to the east of Alpharetta, but fairly close to both. Parking is in front next to the patio, along the front edge and wraps around to the left facing the front door - there seems to be plenty but you may need to walk around the building.







I've been aware of the creation of Six Bridges for some time as there have been several posts about it on the Atlanta Beer Community Facebook group - that's a good source for local brewery happenings. The good folks at Six Bridges also have a FB page where they post updates frequently so you may consider following them - also a fairly new website. Tyler is their social media guy and is quite active. They did their soft opening over Christmas 2018 week and have had limited hours since though they seem to be settling in - currently open from 3:00 or 4:00 to about 9:00 with extended hours on Saturday and as with most Atlanta breweries, closed on Monday.

 

The interior of Six Bridges has a in industrial modern vibe with tall ceilings and concrete floors. There's some lounge seating as you enter that opens to long tables, a few tall smaller round tables around the edges and the taproom/bar along the back edge - some windows allow you to see the operational tanks in the room beyond. It's not as noisy as many similar industrial setups so you can still carry a conversation. There's a large mural right when you walk in that shows the locations of John's Creek's 6 bridges (thus the name - some explanation on the website). I immediately liked the vibe of this place and felt quite comfortable there. You can see the large patio with tables out front - so far a bit too cold to enjoy but I'm sure it will be filled to the gills once they get cranked up.




I've since visited twice - the first time about a week after the soft opening and the second time a couple of days ago - they aren't that convenient to me but when traffic is really bad it's sometimes worth it to go east then south from my work in Alpharetta to my home near Doraville. On the first day business was brisk with about 20 customers in the taproom - I ordered two flights, tasting all 8 of their initial offerings. They've since added another IPA with a new sour scheduled for next week. Here are my initial impressions, recorded while drinking into the Untapp app:



* Shelby Golden Ale 4.8%ABV - 3.75/5 Super light, crisp golden ale, more like a session with good mouthfeel and a touch of hops, nice lacing plus a dry finish. 



* Newtown Pale Ale 5%ABV - 4/5 Lightweight, citrus nose and initial, nice lacing. A well rounded pale ale. 



*  Read 'em and Wheap Wheat Beer 5.6% ABV - 4/5 Easy drinking comes to mind - mouthful of wheat, tropical notes and fairly juicy. Well balanced and very slammable. 



*  Sour Continuum with Boysenberry Cream Berliner Weisse 4.3% - 4/5 Delicious, more sour than tart with great mouthfeel. Amazing hazy beer red color with berry throughout and a dry finish. 

* Medlock Chapter 2 (Amarillo, El Dorado, Citra) NEIPA 6.2% ABV - 3.75/5 Fairly classic NEIPA with citrus and some initial hops bitterness. More dry than juicy. Hazy with great lacing, still a bit green. 



* Hardcore Parkour Porter 6.4% ABV - 4/5 Coffee initial, nice smoky malts, full bodied with cocoa and a dry finish. Nice lacing, you’ll be happy. 


*  State Bridge Stout 5.8% ABV - 4/5 Awesome stout with all the best features, creamy, smooth and full of oaty goodness. Opaque with great lacing, be great nitrode. 


* A Silent Accord Imperial Stout 7.8% ABV - 4.5/5 Boozy, almost BA in flavor and consistency. Great mouth feel and raisiny flavor - an instant winner with coconut and vanilla notes. 

* Medlock Chapter 3 (Citra, Mosaic and Simcoe) 5.5% ABV - 3.5/5 Easy drinking tropical with some decent citrus notes. Quite slammable. 

A few notes:
* The above reflect my own personal preferences of stronger, darker beers. I can appreciate beer with lower ABV but since that's not my preference I tend to lose some of the subtlety. 
* When I've noted that the beer is green it means that there needs to be just a bit of aging on the beer to clarify out some of the esthers and produce more mellowing - a bit more conditioning. For an operation like this, once they get into the groove of production the beer will become liquid gold. 
* My favorite was the Imperial Stout - unexpectedly quite good. I also liked the Boysenberry Cream and have had it since the initial tasting - I like it better every time I've had it.

Service here is quite good - they have a good mix of new pourers and a couple of old-hands. I think they'll work into the most efficient mechanics of taking orders and serving beers. Prices range from a couple of bucks for a taster pour to around 6 for a full pour with flights of 4 glasses available - quite reasonable. Both times I was there I recognized several faces in the crowd from other beer or brewery events. 


In closing this is a great addition to John's Creek and the Atlanta beer community - great taproom, service and beer. I'm looking forward to see what they grow up to be.

(also posted to Yelp)
Six Bridges Brewing Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato