EATERS DIGEST: A dynamic local beer for the new year, some outstanding mushroom gnocchi & more
Fruition Brewery paired up with Birichino winery to create an exquisite mixed-fermentation saison. And mark your calendars for next month’s return of one of Santa Cruz’s most beloved culinary events, back in its original form at the Boardwalk after a drive-thru event last year.
I hope everyone is starting 2022 safe and healthy. For those of you participating in Dry January, you might want to avert your eyes: A Watsonville brewery and Santa Cruz-based winery released a collaborative, mixed-fermentation saison that’s one of the best local beers I’ve ever had.
I’m also excited to start composting this spring as new organic waste collection and recycling programs roll out in Santa Cruz County. Read on to see how the new statewide mandate will affect you.
And mark your calendars next month for one of Santa Cruz’s most beloved culinary events, which will return in its original form to the Boardwalk after a drive-thru event last year.
Every Californian is about to start composting. A statewide mandate went into effect on Jan. 1, and we will all begin to see changes as our waste service providers move into compliance. The goal of this effort is to fight global warming by reducing the amount of food waste statewide by a lofty 75%.
Organic waste produces methane gas, one of the most toxic greenhouse gases, as it rots. Our local landfills contain 25 to 40% food waste, so reducing this amount could have a significant effect. The legislation also set goals to rescue at least 20% of edible food and redistribute it to food-insecure residents.
How this will be implemented in Santa Cruz County depends on where you live and who your service provider is. Here’s what you need to know as the rollout begins.
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Big Basin Vineyard has postponed the opening of its new downtown tasting room until the spring. In an email, tasting room manager Emily Choinski tells me they hope to wrap up the build-out in February and go from there. I can’t wait to taste Big Basin’s wines in what is sure to be a beautiful space. The address for the new tasting room is 525 Pacific Ave. in Santa Cruz, and the retail space will be on the left, if you’d like to press your nose up against the glass.
Local chocolate company Yes Cacao has quietly opened a storefront inside the Santa Cruz Art Center on Center Street, next to the Food Lounge. While the shop doesn’t have regular hours yet, you can make an appointment by sending a message via Instagram to stop in and taste its delicious, vegan, botanically driven chocolate. Word on the street is that it will release a fourth flavor soon …
“THIS IS THE BEST,” a late-night text from a friend reads. “I chugged it, it’s so good.” The picture she sends is of a beer I recently gushed to her about at a party — Beila, a mixed-fermentation collaboration between David Purgason and Tallula Preston of Fruition Brewing and Alex Krause and John Locke of Birichino winery.
It’s truly the best local beer I’ve had in recent memory. A blend of malvasia bianca juice, which Birichino uses to make its flagship white wine, and Fruition saison was aged in neutral oak barrels for over a year.
The result is a juicy, perfectly balanced, pleasantly tart brew that’s just a bit funky. Aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle, the calling cards of malvasia bianca, shine through. Each sip is like biting into a perfectly ripe piece of summer fruit.
The inspiration for Beila came while the four of them shared a bottle of beer from Krause and Locke’s homebrewing days. The beer was almost a decade old, but Purgason says it was still “probably the greatest homebrew I’ve ever had.” Inspired, they set out to try to recreate it.
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Although they cultured and pitched the yeast from the bottle and followed the recipe as well as Krause and Locke could remember, Purgason admits their beer bears little resemblance to the original. “It was definitely not the same beer they had made, so we got to blend it and tame it a bit, give it some nuance,” says Purgason. “We enjoyed seeing how they think about beer, acidity, bitterness and structure in a beverage, and working to try to create something beautiful and balanced was fun.”
Beila is named after a Norse goddess of brewing. A medieval woodcut of mead or beer brewers decorates the bottle — a nod to the labeling style Krause and Locke use frequently at their winery. Five-hundred-milliliter bottles are available at Fruition Brewing in Watsonville for $15, and at Staff of Life, Lupulo Craft Beer House, AJ’s Market, and on the bottle list at Mentone. Fruitionbrewing.com.
I enjoyed the most delicious plate of gnocchi at Bad Animal the other night. The plump housemade pasta was tossed with buttery chanterelles and crispy Brussels sprouts — perfect, Santa Cruz-y comfort food. This dish is chef Katherine Stern’s offering for Mushroom Month in downtown Santa Cruz, so stop in before the end of January to enjoy it. I had mine with a spicy, medium-bodied Sicilian cala cala that paired perfectly with the gnocchi and the chilly winter evening.
Mentone is hosting a Tiki Weekend this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with Spam musubi, pulled pork sliders, poke and an extensive tropical cocktail list. As of Thursday afternoon, the Aptos restaurant still had some reservations open, and it also has room for walk-ins at the bar and a few spots in the dining room.
You also might want to snag a seat for one of its Spade & Plow organic farm dinners next week on Wednesday or Thursday. The four-course prix fixe dinner will feature seasonal produce from Spade & Plow Organics, with dishes like root-vegetable carpaccio and cioppino. Seats are $115 per person and $45 for wine pairings.
Heads up, chowder heads — it’s time to register for the 41st annual Santa Cruz Clam Chowder Cook-Off. This year marks a return to the original format for this popular fundraiser after a drive-thru event in 2021. Amateur chefs will compete outside on Saturday, Feb. 26, and professional chefs on Sunday, Feb. 27, at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
The early bird registration deadline is Feb. 4, and the final day to register is Feb. 11. Entry free is $75 for teams of two. More information is available at beachboardwalk.com/clamchowder.
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