Tasting notes from my first Pie and Beer Day

Monday was the first Pioneer Day that I’ve been able to celebrate in Utah for many years. I started the day in a traditional way — by attending the Days of ’47 Parade in Salt Lake City. After a break, I ambled over to Beer Bar for a tradition that sprung up in the years when I was outside of Utah — Pie and Beer Day.

It’s a bit silly but Beer Bar was hosting a fundraiser for the Utah Brewers Guild that featured pairings of pie with local craft beer. The offer was five pairings for $25. It was a little pricy, but it allowed me to try a lot of different pies and beers that I wouldn’t ordinarily seek out.

It was a big draw as the establishment was packed with people, both inside the building and outside on the rear parking lot.

As I fought the crowds, I took notes on the beverages and desserts that I ate.

First — Copper Onion & 2Row Brewing

Lamb sausage pie with goat cheese from Copper Onion & hIPAcryte, an IPA, from 2Row Brewing

Lamb sausage pie with goat cheese from Copper Onion & hIPAcryte, an IPA, from 2Row Brewing

The pie: Lamb sausage pie with goat cheese, pickled peppers, caramelized fennel, herbs and park fat crust.

The beer: HIPAcryte – an IPA

Tasting notes: The beer is relatively light for an IPA. The hops come through, but the pine accent is primary note. The pie is savory as expected, but the herbs and fennel make themselves known. The crest by itself is flaky, and is serviceable as a pie delivery system. It’s a bit greasy (which is understandable given that it’s a pork fat crust) but the crest ultimately holds up. Combining bites with the beer, they go well together – the body of the beer stands up to the boldness of the pie without conflicting with each other.

Second — Garage on Beck & Moab Brewing

Mormon Funeral Potato Pie from Garage on Beck & amber steam lager from Moab Brewing.

The pie: Mormon Funeral Potato Pie

The beer: Steam lager

Tasting notes: Despite spending a few years in Utah, I really don’t have much experience with “funeral potatoes” — a common fare for gatherings around funerals. I am more familiar with the steam lager style of beer — an older brewing style kept alive in part because Anchor Brewing of San Francisco continued brewing it during the dark ages between the Prohibition and the beginning of the craft brewing era.

The beer is a bit sweet with a tinge of bitter hoppiness. It’s got an amber color and definitely tastes like an amber (actually, it may be an amber — I’ll have to double check [Edited to add: It was amber and a steam lager.]).

The top of the pie doesn’t look like I would expect it to — it’s got a dry, crumbly look with bread crumbs and what looks and sort of tastes like dried shredded cheese. The inner part of the pie looks more like a potato casserole should. The crust is very crisp and has good flavor, although it’s not as golden brown as it could be.

The pie is spicy, which compliments the creaminess of the potatoes. Digging into the pie is a bit of an ordeal because the dry toppings go flying to and fro but there’s some sort of chewy middle layer that doesn’t let go easily.

As far as a pairing, it’s another winner in my book.

Third — Tulie Bakery & Epic Brewing

Blueberry Lemon Hand Pie from Tulie Bakery & Tart and Juicy from Epic Brewing.

The pie: Blueberry Lemon Hand Pie

The beer: Tart and Juicy

Tasting notes: There are a lot of cute little pies at this event. I skipped all of them and went for the monster hand pie by Tulie. It looks like a triangle of folded puff pastry topped with sugar and toasted golden brown. Given the size, I’m a little worried that the balance between pastry and filling may be off, but we’ll have to see.

The beer isn’t one that I would seek out on my own, except to maybe try once or twice. It’s got a ruddy orange look and definitely has a tart scent. On tasting, it’s lighter than my first two samples. It starts off with a bitter fruit taste but then it opens to a more balanced sweet and tartness.

The pasty is slightly overbaked, with an overly dark underside but it isn’t burnt. The crust is flaky, buttery and falls all over the place (likely because it’s dry). The fruit is there, but the flavor of the pasty is dominant (especially on the edges and this hand pie has a lot of edge). The blueberries are present, but I’m not getting much lemon. There’s also a flowery accent which is pleasant.

As a pairing, the sourness of the beer doesn’t fully match up with the pie as the beer underscores the pie’s lack of sour or tart bite. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to score this as a miss.

Fourth – Beltex Meats & Bohemian Brewery

Apocalypse Now Pie from Beltex Meats & “mystery beer” from Bohemian Brewery.

The pie: Apocalypse Now Pie (with wagyu beef, hash browns, American cheese, pork confit and kimchee)

The beer: Mystery beer (some sort of lager – must double check. LATER: It’s a kolsch)

Tasting notes: This entry had the most intrigue, given that the pie had a vague description and the beer was unspecified. However, Beltex has garnered a reputation for being good with meat, so I had high hopes — something that was borne out by others who had previously sampled the establishment’s offering. Many had high praise, although one noted that it was a little dry.

The beer is slightly sweet with just a hint of a hop profile. It tastes like a competent lager, but I worry about it being overwhelmed by the pie, which features rich beef, pork confit, kimchee and cheese — all savory elements.

The pie is a round handpie, with fork-crimp edges and a shiny golden brown finish. There’s no indication of what’s inside, but the initial appearance makes you want to dive in. Working in the from the tough edges, my first impression was mostly American cheese, which was just OK.

The second and third bites were better. The pork confit is definitely present as there was a hunk of shredded meat in my pie. I don’t think the kimchee entirely worked — it adds a bit of color and spice, but it gets lost in everything else. The hashbrowns are stringy, but that’s probably for the best because it allows it to spread through the pie without being overwhelming.

The cheese was odd — part of it backed to the upper crest and turned an unpleasantly dark brown. The crust itself is dry when it’s thick — which may have prompted the comment about dryness. When the crust is acting as the envelope for the pie filling, it seems to be just right.

Overall, I would say this is a solid hit, but not a home run. The beer actually works with the pie, to my surprise, as the lager lost none of its flavor potency.

I joked with one of the Beltex people about what they’re going to do next year. I suggested Apocalypse Now Redux or Heart of Darkness. Now, that I’ve had time to think, I would be in favor of Tart of Darkness.

Bonus tasting – Stein Eriksen Lodge & Park City Brew

Pecan pie made with Breakthrough wort from Stein Eriksen Lodge.

I had saved the pecan pie from Stein Eriksen Lodge for last, which turned out to be a bittersweet decision. The pie was supposed to be paired with Park City Brew’s Breaking Trail Pale Ale, but they ran out. The good news is that the pie didn’t count as a pairing (essentially a bonus). As an aside, Beltex also appeared to be out of beer and their pies weren’t visible, so it was good when I grabbed the pie when I did.

The pie: Pecan pie made with Breakthrough wort.

The beer: None 🙁 (although the pie people noted that the sweet barley wort created as part of the brewing process was used in the pie).

Tasting notes: The pie looks great, with chopped pecans throughout the filling. Some pecan pies have just a handful of nuts. This is the total opposite. The crust looks like it’s in good balance to the rest of the pie — not overly thick, with a light golden touch.

On first bite, the flavor of the pecans comes to the fore. There’s a little sweetness to it, but it’s not overwhelming as some pecan pies can be. The pie is a little on the drier side, without as much of the cohesive filling but it holds up well. I’m not getting much crust on my bites, but that’s not the worst thing in the world (and it may be balancing out the nuttiness of the pecans).

This is definitely a good pie.

Fifth – Pat’s BBQ & Squatters Beers

Rhubarb pie from Pat’s BBQ & Blueberry Hefeweizen from Squatters Beers.

The pie: Rhubarb pie

The beer: Blueberry Hefeweizen

Tasting notes: My phone battery is dying, so I’ll keep this one short. The hefe has the blueberry notes. It smells fairly tart but the delivery is entirely smooth and sweet. There’s almost a cream taste to it.

The rhubarb is a mix of rhubarb and blueberries. They go great together — tart and sweet. The crust has absorbed some of the moisture of the filling, but that’s not bad for pie. The crust is still firm.

Tasted together, the pie and beer are fruit whammy. Not a bad way to finish my first Pie and Beer Day.

Utah’s state liquor stores — An outsider’s look at a unique booze wonderland

Over the summer, I spent my vacation in Salt Lake City. During a walk through the Sugar House neighborhood, I entered one of Utah’s State Liquor Stores for the first time.

Outside the state liquor store in Sugar House

Outside the state liquor store in the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake City, Utah in July 2011.

I honestly didn’t know what I was expecting, but it was mildly interesting. While it appeared to be better stocked than a typical supermarket (minus beers modified for sale in regular grocery stores), it was considerably less than a Beverages and More. Call them a “BevLess.”

Although I’ve lived and visited Salt Lake off and on for my entire life, I never really noticed the nondescript stores until after turning 21. It’s kind of an odd oversight because there was one about two blocks from my great-grandparents house (it’s now closed in a cost-cutting move that may or may not be working).

On the other hand, the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control says its mission is to make liquor available, but not to promote sales. Mission accomplished, based on my experience. The store’s red brick exterior is devoid of advertising and there are notices on the door saying no one under 21 allowed without a parent or guardian.

I was actually looking for an old bowling alley when I found the Sugar House liquor store tucked next to the roaring interstate. I was scouting some beer for a friend so I decided to go in.

Since I was looking for brews, I spent most of the time in the beer section and I was surprised by the relatively decent selection. There was a selection of Sierra Nevada (including Bigfoot!) and even the more rare Anchor Steam. I also saw the most variety of Molson outside of Canada.

Inside the store

A look inside the State Liquor Store in the Sugar House neighborhood on Sept. 16, 2011.

One thing I didn’t find was the specific brand of beer I was looking for. Fortunately, I later found it was widely available at many fine grocery stores, like the nearby Whole Foods or Dan’s.

The prices weren’t horrible as far as I could tell, but maybe that was by design. In another quirk, beer in the store is sold on a per-bottle basis. Based on the empty six-pack cases, I guess it opens up the possibility of mixing and matching your selection.

The pricing can be deceiving. A single bottle of Anchor Steam was $1.99, making a six-pack about $11.94 in Utah. That’s about $3 more than in Chico.

The staff and customers also appear to be nice considering that I pestered them with questions of Salt Lake of yore — namely that pesky bowling alley. I first asked the clerk if he remembered if there was a bowling alley where a 24 Hour Fitness is now. As a relative newcomer, he didn’t know. I turned to a slightly older woman who I (perhaps wrongly) assumed she would know. She didn’t, but they were both seemed nice about my slightly off-key questions.

Visiting the store with family

My sister poses outside the State Liquor Store during a return visit on Sept. 16.

Follow-up: I returned to the store in September. My family was buying some items for an impromptu memorial and stopped by, looking for wine. (BTW, my dad remembered the bowling alley.)

We settled on a bottle of wine and some Pimm’s liquor. My mother and sister appeared to be impressed at the selection available. In addition to Pimm’s, which I had never heard of before, there was also a wine that my sister’s friend distributes.

Although I’ve lived in places where the state strictly controls the sale of alcohol, Utah’s state-owned stores are something else — almost otherworldly. In a way, going into these heavily regulated spaces reminded me of going to a bar for the first time after turning 21.

We were impressed by the store’s variety, but we also joked at some aspects that seemed “off” — like an oddly constructed wireframe wine rack where a bottle tilted up for examination could slip through the frame and fall to the ground. That caused a bit of a surprise, but thankfully the bottle didn’t break.

I also thought it’s faintly absurd that the state government is selling alcohol. On my way out of the store, I joked that the cashiers should end transactions by saying “The state of Utah thanks you for your purchase.”

I don’t think the cashiers were very amused.

Top image: Outside the state liquor store in the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake City, Utah in July 2011.

Submerging in the city of Salt Lake

In the spring, I went back to my hometown of Salt Lake City for a grandparent’s 80th birthday party. It was too short of a visit, and I left with a desire to return soon.

Part of the visit included updating my memory banks and comparing the SLC-That-Was to the SLC-That-Is.

I suppose noticing changes is a fairly common thing when people return to their old towns after being away. I can imagine people comparing how San Francisco or Oakland has changed in the past 10-15 years. In fact, I remember my high school history teacher bemoaning the changes to his small town of Roswell, Ga. after its population exploded during the 1980s.

I kidded with my family that I was catching up with what’s new so I could hold my own in a conversation. In reality, my family and friends have been quite generous in sharing information about what has changed over the years.

There were all these little details — oh, they opened up a new highway to Ogden; they shut down a historic building with a prominent nightspot; they’re still working on that replacement for the old downtown malls; the city has a soccer team and it has a new stadium; etc.

Amid the changes, I also tried to remember items that had gone missing in the past few years (and before that). During my trip last summer, I noticed that there was only one Union Pacific shield on the old UP depot (which has been integrated into a mall). The other shield had been on the opposite side facing the freeway — the holes for the mounting brackets seem to still be there.

Because I’m a huge dork who wants to recall as many of these little details as possible — here is a not-inclusive list of some of the changes to landmarks I’ve noticed in the past eight years:

  • Three shopping malls have been demolished. Two of them were standouts in my memories of downtown — the Crossroads Mall and the ZCMI Center. The other one, Cottonwood, was OK at the then-outskirts of town, but had a nice comic book store.
  • The Gateway Center opened (which appears to have prompted the other closures/re-envisionings of shopping).
  • The Hansen Planetarium relocated from a great old house across from ZCMI Center to the Gateway (and is now the Clark Planetarium)
  • The large pale blue map of the Earth at the airport’s Terminal One is still there, but now a TSA security line runs over it (no more rushing to mark where Salt Lake is and where our family is going).
  • Rancho Bowl was torn down (I suspected, but my uncle confirmed it when we were driving on North Temple).
  • Another bowling alley off of Redwood Road was torn down.
  • Japantown looks so small among the other downtown developments (I also learned it’s called Japantown).
  • The communities of Bountiful and Centerville have changed a lot as well. Old landmarks are torn down (like Five Points) or completely renovated (like Slim Olsen’s). New shopping centers too.
  • Of course, the drinking laws have changed somewhat over the years.

Here are some things that changed before 2000 (when I still visited often):

  • Derks Field was rebuilt into Franklin Quest/Franklin Covey/Spring Mobile Ballpark.
  • The miniature golf course at Ritz Bowl was removed.
  • The swimming pool building where my mom took me for water lessons in 1982 closed and apparently cleared to make way for the LDS Conference Center.
  • The light-rail system, TRAX, opened (although I didn’t use it until 2008).
  • Man, I didn’t realize how close the Delta Center was to the old Buddhist temple. I also didn’t realize that the Salt Palace was also across the street.

Then, there are some things that I seem to remember, but can’t verify:

  • The skating rink/ice company in Sugar House burned down.
  • Wasn’t there an outdoor skating rink outside the KSL broadcasting center? I know it’s now at Gallivan Center.

While I’m trying to compare the new city versus the old city, I realize that my efforts will inevitably come up short. My memories of the past have begun to fade (mom had to correct me about where the swimming pool was) and my recent surveys have been brief.

There are past and current realities, but I guess they will be different from the SLC of my mind.

Photo: I don’t have a lot of digital photos of Salt Lake City, so this July 2008 photo of me in front of a giant poster of American Idol contestant David Archuleta at Murray High School in Murray, Utah will have to suffice.

Farewell, Utah liquor law that never directly affected me

The "Lost" spike and the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad

The “Lost” spike and the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad

This is going to be a weird post because it’s about a liquor law from my homestate of Utah that I never really ran into, but I could have — before today. In the past, bars were “private clubs” where customers had to buy a “membership” before you could enter and buy a drink (or else be a guest of a member). It was an interesting hurdle for people who are used to something different (or normal).

The private club memberships went away at midnight MDT, and with them went my last chance to become a “member” under this unusual law.

In the end, I kinda wanted to get a private membership. Yes, it’s weird that I would want to get a private membership for the sake of getting one. Did I ever mention to you that I wanted to visit a Quizno’s in Seattle?

Don’t get me wrong, being a member of a private club in Utah was probably less cool than becoming a member of the National Geographic Society or Consumers Union, or wearing a Members Only jacket. It never came up when I was growing up (because I was obviously a minor). I’ve only been back a few times since turning 21.

When I visited Salt Lake City in July 2008, I thought I might need to buy a membership when tagging along with a friend who now lives in the city. Alas, the opportunity never came up in three chances.

  1. An evening concert in the park had a beer garden. They checked ID, but there was no membership requirement.
  2. On a separate day, we went to a brewery in Trolley Square. No membership was needed — apparently breweries could sell their wares without them.
  3. The last chance came when we went to get brunch on a Sunday. It’s a nice restaurant with a bar area. Surely, I would need to pay for a membership here. No dice, my friend knew a member on staff and we were admitted as guests.

While I may have missed my chance to become a “member,” it’s still not too late for me to become utterly confused by Utah’s new liquor laws. The private clubs are essentially gone, but will be replaced with “social clubs” and “dining clubs,” each with different, yet similar rules. On top of that are full-service restaurants and beer taverns which can serve alcohol but follow another set of rules. A short rundown is here.

These changes only address clubs. If you wanted to buy a six-pack of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale to enjoy in the comfort of your home, you still need to go to a state liquor store.

Photo: The photo behind the “Lost Spike” at the California State Railroad Museum shows the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah in 1869. Here’s a better look. I saw the workers holding up champagne and was intrigued that alcohol was used to commemorate this landmark event that happened in Utah.

Winners and losers in the digital TV conversion

Digital TV converter boxI want to check out some winners and losers with the recent switch to digital TV over-the-air signals. Depending on where you live or what you like to watch, the switch had some pretty interesting outcomes.

Here’s a quick look at the scorecard:

Winner — The National Football League. The original conversion date was set in mid-February. Lawmakers took pains to avoid making the switch around the Super Bowl. Even the summer switch doesn’t affect the NFL.
Losers — The National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League. It’s pretty clear that Congress _didn’t_ consider these two when setting the new date of June 12. Both the NBA and NHL were the midst of their league finals. For the NHL, a pivotal Game 7 took place on the day itself.

Winners — Big cities. When I visited Salt Lake City in March, I checked the DTV set-up at several relatives’ houses. Not only was the set-up fairly easy with indoor antennas and strong local signals, the number of channels available was amazing — upwards of 20+. Of course, SLC has 3 public TV stations so it’s not a huge surprise (those three stations are responsible for about 12 channels alone).
Losers — Small cities. It’s more of a crapshoot pulling in DTV signals from more distant locations (such as trying to view Redding stations from Chico). My neighbor has been on the roof at least four times adjusting an antenna to pull in Redding’s PBS station, KIXE 9.

When you do manage to pull in a signal, the station offerings aren’t as robust, although there are some additional channels. In many areas, some viewers may give up over-the-air viewing and opt for satellite. This isn’t necessarily an option in the smallest of markets which currently don’t have local channels on satellite.

Winners — People with good converter boxes. Having a good converter box can greatly add to a viewer’s DTV experience. Look out for the ability to change the viewing options (such as zooming in on the image) and having a reliable on-screen program guide.
Losers — People with bad converter boxes. I tested a couple of boxes that stunk out loud. It was next-to-impossible to change some of the viewing options. Some of the boxes had a clunky interface, requiring scrolling through several on-screen menus.

Draw — People watching TV over-the-air. Assuming you can pull in DTV signals on your antenna, the viewing
experience is much better than before — clearer pictures, more
offerings, etc. It’s free, but you don’t necessarily get all the channels that other systems offer.
Draw — People watching over cable/satellite. Clearer pictures and tons of channels are something that cable/satellite viewers have enjoyed for years … at a cost. Also, the new DTV subchannels are just now being added to cable systems, but they’re often require a digital cable box (at additional cost) to view.

Undecided — The people who didn’t make the switch. In the lead-up to the switchover, there were concerns that some groups of people, including the elderly, indigent and non-English speakers, wouldn’t make the switch. The number of people who weren’t prepared for DTV was shrinking, but I don’t know if it shrunk enough.

So, how do you think the DTV switchover game played out?

Photo: A Digital Stream converter box used during a May 2008 E-R test.