Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Dinner On The Side Of A Mountain - #TasteCamp

Dinner on the side of a mountain in Fayston, Vermont 
was the scene for the final night of TasteCamp in June 2016.

What is TasteCamp?

The concept for TasteCamp, created in 2009 by Lenn Thompson, executive editor of the New York Cork Report, is a simple one: getting enthusiastic journalists and bloggers together in a region that is new to them, to taste as much of the region’s offerings as possible and speak to as many winemakers, cider makers, brewers, distillers and other producers as possible over the course of a weekend.

Most emerging regions in the world would love to get their products in front of new audiences, but it can be a challenge. With TasteCamp, the new audience comes to them.

This is not a junket — attendees pay their own travel expenses, including their hotel rooms and meals. Through generous sponsors, some meals may be discounted.

The 2016 location for TasteCamp was Vermont, including stops in Bethel, South Royalton, Waterbury, Shelburne, New Haven, and Fayston.

Vermont and I have a long history (35+ years of trips) and the bounty of its food and drink is well known to me. Having said that I would be remiss to not make the point up front that after spending a couple days in Vermont in early June for TasteCamp, I came home having learned and discovered plenty. It was well organized and extremely educational.

Over the course of two days I had the pleasure to enjoy wines, ciders, beers, meads and spirits crafted by a number of different producers, with all of it paired with or nearby to local foods also carefully prepared by passionate artisans.

In a follow-up post I will run down my beverage highlights, and for the balance of this post I will share some pictures of sights along the trip, the good times associated with them, as well as something more about that awesome side-of-the-mountain setting for the Saturday night dinner.

Sing it loud brother! Todd Trzaskos got us kicked off at La garigista

La Crescent vines at La garigista and Marquette at Shelburne Vineyards.

Winery dogs. Not a violent movie. ;) La Garagista and Fable Farm.

Wines, ciders and beers, oh my! (Stowe Cider in the center)

A motley group of beverage explorers! La garagista vineyard. 

The producer markets were fabulous. Whetstone Ciderworks shared this beautiful display.

Lots of interaction with producers. 

Shelburne Vineyards
Eden Ciders & Windfall Orchards (Saturday producer market)

Agriculture everywhere. Just like home!

BBQ dinner at The Prohibition Pig. Cheeses, bread, olives, pulled pork and potato salad. 

Wise words, and portents of things to come the next day. ;)

This is the view from the edge of one of the fields at Ploughgate Creamery. Magnificent!

Setting up for the BYO dinner. No explanation needed. The cooler on the trip out was 
unkind to cheap the Ancient Fire labels, but they were consumed nonetheless. 

The location for the dinner on the final night was excellent, but so was the food, which over the weekend was prepared by Fresh Tracks Farm, Cabot, Vermont Smoke & Cure, Thistle Hill Farm Cheese, Prohibition Pig, Costello's Market, Ploughgate Creamery, Jasper Hill Farm, Fat Toad Caramels, The Mad Taco Company and The Hen of the Wood. The company was also unmatched and the socialization generated many laughs and smiles. Everyone in the group has their unique take on the food and beverage world, and getting the chance to interact with everyone I did was both enjoyable and inspiring. 

Telling the Ancient Fire story, including where I am going next is always a pleasure, and I am always grateful for the kind feedback I get. I look forward to sharing more of that story soon.

I'd like to share special thanks to Lenn Thompson, Todd Trzaskos, Remy Charest, all the producers, and everyone else who helped put on this event. I really enjoyed it, and I look forward to a few new stops on my upcoming trips to the state. Much love Vermont!



Monday, April 18, 2016

News of Ancient Fire

Honey bees around the mash tun on a recent brewday. Very Ancient Fire!

For my some of my long time blog readers the name Ancient Fire is known as my "brand" of homemade fermentations. Using that name I've written lots of blog posts and traveled myriad roads learning about food, beverage and culture. Along the way I've always met a lot of great people, many I still know, and some I hope to reconnect with real soon. Good times!

Ancient Fire (story about the name) is stronger today than ever before, but just not nearly as public. 

That's going to change.

Not long before I stopped my blog writing (in 2013) I reflected on the goals I had for myself early on.
I had been searching for the thing that made sense for me. Luckily, I had found it. Sensory training and competition judging. After a couple years of volunteering at local competitions I decided to really dig in and make something of that instead of writing. That was a solid choice. 

WineMaker Magazine Competition, 2016

In the time away I've gotten BJCP Certified as both a Beer and Mead judge. I've logged many hours of competition judging, judge coordination, judge training, individual and panel sensory training, hosting workshops, attending faults training sessions, reading (lots!) and many, many, many hours fermenting beers, meads, wines and ciders from a ridiculous list of ingredients that hasn't stopped growing steadily since 2005! 

I continue to make a lot of different beverages, as well as participate in industry-wide activities promoting beverage production by both amateurs/enthusiasts and professionals. I judge in a lot of competitions, and I am learning, developing my palate; and getting better at it every time I get the chance. It is amazingly rewarding as a brewer and judge to help others get recognized for the great stuff they make, as well as help them learn to judge to grow the community supporting the local homebrew scene. 

I've also won a few awards for my creations going back over a decade now. I recently won medals numbered #98 and #99, both for Cysers (apple mead). I won the first at a brew club internal competition for a Mesquite Cyser. The most recent was a Second Place for a Buckwheat Cyser at the International Mazer Cup, the most difficult mead-only competition in the world. I still compete here and there, but I tend to not judge in competitions in which I enter anymore. I stress out too much. 

One other recognition from a couple years back is that I have always been more comfortable "doing" in settings of my own choosing, so the events I've decided to get involved in did, and continue to give me the paths and connections I want to follow and make good from. That's just how I am. I channel my time into activities selected in that comfort zone, and really, through them I better understand the "localness"of different endeavors we might choose to take on. The real lesson is that most of what we find great, be it in wine, food or anything else is all about the relationships of the people who do it. I feel that in search of greatness we have to find people and places that resonate with us to help create passion. The company I keep is definitely not settled based on all the crazy ideas I've been kicking around, and that really will be a big part of the next adventure. 

Let's get to business. Here is what I expect I'll be sharing here:
  • Educational development for process and sensory training
  • Hosted training events
  • Helping new producers and products get launched 
  • Collaborations with commercial producers
  • Trip reports
  • Presentations and resources
  • Personal training goals and milestones
  • "How To" content and discussions (active in FB groups for this)
  • Production plans and updates (as our own shop takes shape, more later)

Yes, you did just read that I firmly said I am going to open some type of beverage business. There isn't more to say now, but I will when there is. There is plenty to do. You won't miss me talking about. ;)

I'm signing off as I always did,



Friday, July 12, 2013

A Loss of Words

( A salsa judge at the World Championship
Chili Cook-off in 2010. )

There are fewer words here than there used to be. I'd bet on that continuing. And this is not a surprise to me.

In April of 2010 when I gave my 18 month old winemaker's journal (blog) a shot in the arm I was full of ideas and energy. It was a birthday present to myself. "Go do something", was the idea. And I did. Over three plus years I have achieved some of what I initially set out to do. I tasted, sampled, wrote, took photos, networked, laughed, sighed, sponged up information, provided education to others and did a fair bit of traveling. I changed courses many times and for many different reasons. I still do most of these things and with gusto! The early goals I didn't achieve have been superseded by so many others, some I have nailed, some I haven't; and some just not yet. Some weeks I wrote a lot and some weeks I wrote less. I wrote, shared, read, shared, commented, debated (argued), shared and along the way I have learned so much!

I continue to enjoy all of the experiences this journey affords me, and most of all I genuinely appreciate the many people I continue to "meet" along the way. I have never met some of these people in person (yet), but there are things we have in common so we get each other enough that we have a great dynamic in a networking context. I continue to carry on relationships with some of the people I've met while others are more often a friendly face in the more business-y realm of food & beverage events. All of them are part of the "family" however weird that ends up being in one city or another. I still look forward to these days.

But I just don't write about this stuff anymore and I don't spend much time on social media plugging my work and keeping tabs on the beverage media. Why? Well, it's complicated I guess.

Late last year (2012) I felt my drive to write about and share my experiences waning. I reformulated my approach, a natural and not unexpected reaction given the 2+ prior years, and kept plugging away. But I wasn't digging it. The idea of throwing a bunch of words together, using a euphemism here, and sharing them as a way of expressing my experiences secondhand just wasn't resonating anymore. Things change and I know myself well enough to know that when I lose interest in something there is nothing good in trying to keep it going. So I won't.

From some reflection I came to realize that my goal of "go do something" was never intended solely to mean blog about my life nor that it should necessarily create something new and permanent. So setting aside some of the activities I picked up while out "doing something" when they no longer interest me is not a crime. It isn't even failure. It is quite the opposite actually. Here is what I am keeping:
  • I have more time for dates with friends (yes this is you Margot) where we get to sit around the table eating, drinking and socializing. We all want to do this and we all love it.
  • I still make a shit-ton (I saw a joke this week that in the UK that is shite-tonne, he he!) of beer, mead, cider and wine and I share it with friends, all the time!
  • When I travel I can strike a better balance of food/beverage visits with other things of interest. Some of it is just baked in. Portland, Oregon and the Oregon Brewer's Festival anyone? Week after next.
  • With other aspects of my life (work, family, community) being as dynamic as they are for anyone else my life isn't as harried. I know I can't do everything and I can balance all of what I am doing better now.
  • I am less structured and more open to just exploring things. That is what I get out of bed for.
  • When I see you I'll have stories. They weren't on the blog so we'll have something to talk about for sure!
It is OK to miss the words. I'll miss my words too, but not because I regret changing my priorities but because when blogging was my priority I really had fun sharing my days with all of you. It is good to have memories that make you smile. I have fun doing lots of different things and following my interests is keeping things plenty exciting so I am sure to keep racking up good memories. See you on the trail!