Saturday, July 25, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--More Fruit Hybrids

     Recently I was in a Hannaford's grocery store in Rutland, Vermont, and came upon a couple more fruit hybrids.  (For more about hybrids in general, see the March 30, 2013 post.)  I of course snatched them right up.  The two I found were the pluot and the peacherine.
     I'll back up now and delve a little into these fruits' backgrounds.  The former's is well known.  Fruit geneticist Floyd Zeiger developed the pluot in the late 20th century (I couldn't find an exact date) at his farm in Modesto, California.  Zeiger is apparently a big name in fruit breeding.  In fact, he's known in some circles as "The most prolific stone fruit breeder in the modern era," which I must admit would look cool on a business card, or a tombstone.  He has over 280 fruit patents of hybrids, including the pluot (whose most famous versions are the Flavor Supreme and the Daddy Dandy), the aprium, the white peach, and the "subacid" peach.  He's old school, in that each hybrid is hand pollinated.  Evidently it's tiring work, as he estimates only 1 out of every 10,000 attempts become a viable, tasty hybrid.  Pluots are hybrids of a hybrid.  A plumcot (aka apriplum) is a 50/50 cross between a plum and an apricot.  Pluots, on the other hand, are 25% apricot, 75% plum.  The reverse, an aprium, is 25% plum, 75% apricot.
     The ancestry of the peacherine isn't as well documented.  I saw a reference to a J.W. Phillippi of Acampo, California being given credit in a 1909 publication, but apparently that's not undisputed.  The peacherine is a 50/50 cross between a peach and a nectarine (and not a tangerine, as is sometimes thought).  And I guess "necteach" didn't sound appetizing, as I haven't seen an alternate name in this vein.  I saw over 10 variants listed, but alas, the one I bought didn't have its name included.
     But on to the fruits themselves.  The peacherine looks like an orange/yellow/red peach from the outside.  The interior was yellowish and it had the characteristic stone in the center, as both of its parents do.  And the taste was....underwhelming.  Not bad, but so mild as to be kind of boring.  I don't think I'll have this one again.  It was kind of the light beer of fruits.
     The pluot (mine was called a "sweet pluot") had a greenish red rind, with a pinkish-red interior.  As advertised, it had a mostly sweet flavor, with a little tartness to it.  You could tell it was more plum than apricot, as that fruit's taste dominated.  But it was a winning combination.  I think I like it better than a plain plum or apricot.  Good--I would buy this again.
     Finally, I have to say I was sort of disappointed that the cashier didn't react at all when I told her the names of the hybrids I was buying.  I've come to rather enjoy the surprised looks or even disbelieving comments when I buy some of the exotics for a blog post.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Good and Bad News

     I'll mention the bad news first.  As regular readers know, for the past three years I've been participating in the Coffin Blog Hop at the end of October.  This Halloween-themed Hop was for horror authors and artists to both entertain readers and promote their creative ventures.  Alas, the co-creator and current organizer, Axel Howerton, announced yesterday that he's cancelling it.  I understand his reasons, but I'm obviously disappointed.  I always looked forward to checking out other authors' works, and the fun contests and interesting articles about horror and Halloween-related things.  So thanks to Axel and company for developing and running a worthwhile event, and it will be missed.  RIP Coffin Hop.  I think I still will do some Coffin Hop-esque posts in late October, but it won't be the usual volume, and participation, of course.
     The good news is I recently got another acceptance.  My story, "Sheol," will be part of the Creepy Campfire Stories (for Grownups) Quarterly, from EMP Publishing.  Originally the Stories were part of an anthology, but due to the volume of manuscripts they received, EMP has expanded the theme into a Quarterly publication.  As the parenthetical subtitle suggests, this one isn't for the kiddies--expect lots of bloody, disturbing pieces about adult issues.  My story concerns a vision of the afterlife which is weird and terrifying.  Anyway, it's due out January 20, 2016.  EMP's address is:   Obviously I will post any more details, such as the cover, when I get them.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Buying Rare Beers in Vermont

     Normally, of course, buying beer couldn't be simpler:  You walk into the store or bar/restaurant, order or pick up the one you want, pay, and enjoy.  But here in Vermont, home to several of the most sought after ones, it's a little more complicated.  It's not quite like trying to purchase California condor eggs or anything, but it's still a little tricky.
     I'm mostly talking about Heady Topper, of course.  This beer, made by The Alchemist brewery in Waterbury, Vermont, is considered by Beer Advocate ( to be the very best beer in the world.  It's a robust double/imperial India Pale Ale, with an 8% alcohol content.  But, unfortunately for beer aficionados, it's a small brewery that doesn't ship its product more than about 20-25 miles from where it's made.  The Alchemist is particularly concerned with Heady's freshness, so they always keep it refridgerated, and in cans (which block light better than bottles) or kegs.
     All of this causes some zaniness and shenanigans.  The Alchemist has caught people trying to steal and resell their beers by secretly pouring it into other bottles on site, for example.  And, although it's illegal, people have attempted/succeeded in reselling Heady on ebay or Craigslist, with incredible markup.  A case that costs about $70-80 in Vermont may go for $250 elsewhere.  A 16 ounce can that goes for $3 at the brewery has been marked up to $18 in Washington, D.C.  People have even successfully sold empty Heady cans!  Which, frankly, amazes me. Is there also a black market for rare Cuban cigar stubs?
     Anyway, as you can understand by now, finding Heady Topper usually takes some research.  You have to go to the brewery website, which lists which stores or restaurants in the Waterbury, VT area are licensed to stock it.  And you have to know the day, or even the time they're delivered.  There's almost zero chance that a store that gets some in Thursday morning will have any left Friday, or even Thursday evening.  The first time I bought it, a couple of winters ago, I just got lucky.  The tiny minimart across the street from the hotel I was staying in had a surprisingly good selection, and got Heady on Thursdays at 2 p.m.  We happened to get back a little early from work that day, so I was able to get the penultimate four pack at about 3 p.m.
     I was away from VT for a while, but I just returned recently.  So last week I thought I'd try again.  This time I had my sights on another rare "whale"--Lawson's Finest Liquids.  Like The Alchemist, they don't currently sell to the public from their brewery, and they're well respected but don't ship very far.  Happily The Beverage Warehouse in Winooski, VT advertised getting both types on Saturday.  They opened at 10 a.m.  I thought I was being clever and/or ridiculous by getting there at about 9:25.  My embarrassment quickly turned to concern, as there was already a line of probably 50-60 people.  A woman in front of me walked up to the front of the line, and learned that those people (who brought camping chairs) had arrived at 7:30 a.m.!  At 10, the line finally moved, as we all filed in and snaked our way through the aisles of the store.  After another ten minutes or so, I finally reached a door near the back of the store.  A man handed me two 4 packs (16 ounce cans) of Heady Topper, and one 4 pack (also 16 ounce cans) of Lawson's Sip of Sunshine IPA (8% alcohol), which was #28 overall at Beer Advocate at the time.  Also, I just made it, as the supply ran out maybe 5-6 people behind me.  The Heady was $13.19 per 4 pack, and the Lawson's $13.99 (not including tax).  (Incidentally, I now realize I was kind of gouged the first time I bought Heady, since I paid $16-17 that time.  Overall I felt a little strange.  I'd gotten up early on a weekend, waited in line for like 45 minutes, all to buy some beer.  The cashier even remarked that she couldn't believe that people did what we had.
     I'm sure readers by now are wondering, "How did they taste?"  Is the punch line that I waited in line, like I was trying to buy concert tickets or something, only to discover that the beer itself was mediocre or even bad?  Are Heady Topper and Sip of Sunshine all hype, all pretentious customers getting off on the fact that they got something rare?  I'm happy to report that this wasn't the case.  (I guess it was at least partially obvious, since I bought Heady Topper again, but anyway.)  Both Heady and Sip are exceptional IPA's.  Well balanced, bitterly hoppy in a tasty way, and both hide their relatively high alcohol contents well.  I would say that Heady is slightly overrated, in that I don't know that it's the absolute best beer ever.  For example, staying in the double/imperial IPA category, I think that Dogfish Head's 90 Minute IPA, Victory's Dirtwolf, Sixpoint's Resin, Lagunitas's Sucks, Stone's Enjoy By, Green Flash's Palate Wrecker, and Great Lake's Erie Monster are all in the same league at least.  And beers in other categories are contenders as well.
     All in all, though, I don't have any regrets.  It was a little obsessive and silly, and a bit expensive, but like I said, the beers were excellent.  So if you're in the Central/Northern Vermont area, I highly recommend a beer tour.  I guess it's one of the beer versions of a Napa Valley wine tour, with lots of choices in a relatively small area.  I also found that Bent Hill, Frost, and Fiddlehead were very good VT microbrews.  Next on the "to get" list is Hill Farmstead's offerings.
     But, if you do actually pay for empty cans just to trick your friends into thinking you had a rare beer (and not for say, a can collection), I'll think you're kind of a weirdo.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--More Mexican Soft Drinks

     Regular readers might recall I did a previous post about Mexican soft drinks (see August 8, 2013 post) which discussed the Jarritos, Sidral Mundet, and Sangria Senorial brands.  (This was also the one time I did a blind taste test to determine if I liked high fructose corn syrup better than cane sugar as a drink sweetener.)  Well, the international aisle in the Food Lion grocery in Newport News, VA (of all places) yielded up another type--Chaparritas.
     Chaparritas are part of the El Naranjo brand, manufactured by Grupo Mezgo, in Mexico.  It's a medium-old soft drink, as it's been sold since 1947.  Like many other Mexican drinks, it uses cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup.  These drinks are also non-carbonated, and contain Vitamin C and calcium.  Each bottle contains 100 calories.
     I was able to locate three flavors--tangerine, pineapple, and grape.  The bottles themselves are very small, being only 8.45 ounces (or 250 milliliters).  This is probably related to the drink's name.  According to The Urban Dictionary, "chaparrita" is Mexican slang for a short female.  In a friendly, family pet name sort of way, and not a nasty slur or anything.
     I regret to say that I wasn't a big fan.  Of the three, I liked the tangerine and the grape the best.  None of them, though, were unpleasant.  They were just bland.  Each did have the advertised fruit flavor, but each was rather boring.  When it comes to Mexican soft drinks these were distinctly inferior to most Jarritos flavors or Sangria Senorial.
     Also, their alleged healthiness is overblown.  It's true that they have some nutrients, but the amounts (5% of the daily requirements for Vitamin C, and 2% for calcium) are extremely low.  Also, their apparently low calorie content is a little misleading, too.  100 calories for 8.45 ounces works out to about 142 calories for a 12 ounce serving.  To compare, 12 ounces of Coke, Sprite, and 7Up are 140 calories, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper are 150, Barq's Root Beer is 160, and Sunkist Orange is 170.  Furthermore, while they don't have high fructose corn syrup, which has a (deserved?) bad reputation, they do have artificial colors and flavors, and have no actual fruit juice.  So, all in all, they're only marginally healthier than most soft drinks, and this is more than offset (to me, anyway) by their weak taste.  I can't recommend Chaparritas.
     There is one thing that Chaparritas are good for, though.  Their tiny bottles are good approximations of the ones used by the Luther character (well played by David Patrick Kelly) in the fun cult gang movie, "The Warriors."  There's a famous scene where he taunts The Warriors gang by clinking several tiny bottles (maybe 7 ounce "pony" beer bottles?) together in his hand while saying, "Warriors.....come out to play--ee--ay!" in an eerie voice.  (One final bit of trivia--the movie, and its novel precursor, are loosely based on the ancient Greek story, "Anabasis" by Socrates' student Xenophon.)
     Oh, and to those in the U.S., Happy Independence Day!