Bear & Bramble: Brewing Beer, By the Batch

By Jordana Starr
Photos by Matt Burkhartt

Tym McDowell has been homebrewing since he was 20, about a year before he could legally sit down at a bar and order a beer. Though he knew he wanted to brew for a living, his parents encouraged him to pursue a more academic career path. He chose to study medicine, but brewing remained a passion. Today, he splits his time as a physician assistant in neurosurgery at Mercy Medical Center and co-owner of Bear & Bramble Brewery in Florence.

McDowell met his business partner, John Wanner, at work in 2010. Wanner, a nurse anesthetist, had been homebrewing for a year, and the two soon developed a friendship that grew out of their love for beer. By 2011, they were brewing together regularly at McDowell’s home in Easthampton. A year later, they moved the brewing system to Wanner’s garage in Florence, and soon expanded the system to accommodate up to 22 gallons of beer per batch. “It was a natural transition from hanging out, talking about beer, to hanging out and starting a business,” McDowell says. Their new venture, Bear & Bramble Brewery, received its federal and state licensing late last year, which meant they could finally sell their beer to the public.

A 22-gallon batch is tiny for a commercial brewery. But there are advantages to brewing on such a small system. McDowell and Wanner can take more risks and produce experimental beers. They are also able to remain self-funded and avoid taking on debt. “At some point, we’ll be happy to take money,” Wanner says, “but not yet!” Their brew system is still in a constant state of development and redesign as Bear & Bramble grows and evolves.

Family support has been crucial to their brewery. Cousins have fabricated sheet metal and installed ductwork, while wives meticulously hand-label each bottle. The brewery’s electric control system is housed in an old ammo box that once belonged to McDowell’s uncle, the first homebrewer in his family. As their young children grow, they hope to see them become a part of the business as well.

McDowell and Wanner source most of their base grains from Valley Malt in Hadley and look forward to building relationships with local farmers. After brewing, they feed the spent grains to Wanner’s chickens. They are also aging some beer in whiskey barrels, increasing the beer’s complexity and, for many fans, its appeal. When the beer is ready, they bottle it and self-distribute to a handful of retailers, including Provisions, Cooper’s Corner, State Street, and River Valley Co-Op.

As for the future, the duo hopes to move into an industrial space or buy some land. McDowell envisions having a little farm, offering a welcoming tasting experience with fresh bread and fine cheese and a place for kids to play. But for right now, their focus is on the beer.

“Brewing is a great blend of art and science,” McDowell says. And, compared to neurosurgery, “you’re less likely to maim people.”

www.facebook.com/pages/Bear-and-Bramble-Brewing-Co

Wallow in the Blues

A truly fresh fish yields a happier tune

by Sanford D’Amato
photo by Kevin Miyazaki

There is a solid rap at the back kitchen screen door of the restaurant. I look over and see that the bright morning sun is completely eclipsed by the husky outline of a local fishmonger, self-named Chubby. 

“I’ve got a surprise for you today!” he calls out as he wedges himself through the doorway, each of his large paws grasping a three-foot fish. As he points one of the fish, as rigid as a board, toward my face, he proclaims, “They’re still in rigor mortis!”

Chubby was a local legend in the East Quogue area of Long Island where I worked in the late ’70s. He would arrive daily with bags of the most pristine Peconic Bay scallops that, because of their inherent sweetness, you could pop straight into your mouth like lush, briny candy.

But today, he has caught a beautiful 12-pound striped bass and a slightly smaller bluefish. They are so fresh that I expect them to start flipping. “Well, do you want them both?” he asks. The striped bass is for sure but, as blue things go—I love blueberries, I’m a huge blues music fan, and I’m a true-blue friend. But I hate bluefish.

All my experiences with bluefish up to this point were from my time at the Culinary Institute of America. Students were responsible for receiving fish (steward class), prepping fish (butchery), preparing fish (kitchen class), and serving it (service class). We also had to eat whatever we made.

Bluefish has high oil content and is very perishable. Slow and inexperienced student handling, slightly improper trimming and cooking, and delayed serving made this fish the scourge of lunch and dinner classes. The mere mention of bluefish was enough to send student diners scurrying for the exits to escape the funkiness.

I relate my misgivings to Chubby. “I’ll give you this one for free,” he says, “because I know after you have a really fresh bluefish, you’ll be buying all I can get you in the future.” 

I fillet the glistening fish and remove the skin and its red outside bloodline to yield thick filets that look like slightly darker-hued striped bass. I grill up a piece with just a bit of salt and pepper. The oil content of the fish helps it grill up with a golden, crunchy exterior and a moist, flavorful interior. This bluefish has zero relationship to my previous frightening experiences. As usual, Chubby didn’t disappoint. 

Thirty-plus years later, Angie and I are luxuriating in our first visit to the Pioneer Valley. Our friend David, the self-appointed guide for the day, takes us on his personal “Best of the Valley” tour. We start on River Road for blueberries, cross Christian Lane and go down to Golanka’s for corn and tomatoes, then into Northampton to Northshore Seafood for fish. As we enter the corner fish market, I am immediately smitten with the concise repertoire of the East Coast’s greatest piscatorial hits: sword, cod, hake, stripers, sea scallops, cherrystones, and mussels. David, with the excitement of a lottery winner, looks past them all and exclaims, “Yes! Bluefish!” 

Within an hour, we are scarfing down succulent, crusty bluefish between bites of sweet corn and a perfectly balanced tomato salad. It’s hard to seal a deal in one meal, but it is the start of the journey that brings us from Wisconsin to our current home on the banks of the Connecticut River in Hatfield. 

 

PEPPERED BLUEFISH WITH GLAZED TURNIPS AND TURNIP GREEN BROTH

This preparation makes full use of the Valley’s vibrant farmers’ markets. Find a nice bunch of just-dug early turnips with really fresh green tops to use when enhancing the broth. (If you can’t find turnips, radishes with tops will do.) The key, as Cubby taught me: It’s all about the freshest blue.

Serves 4

1 cup unsalted chicken stock

4 small (about 4 ounces each) turnips with fresh green tops, greens removed and reserved. Turnips peeled and cut in 1-inch wedges.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

Zest of ½ lemon and juice of 1 lemon (need 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon juice)

2 tablespoons crushed peppercorns, strained in a fine strainer to remove any pepper dust

4 (6- to 7-ounce, about 1-inch thick) skinless bluefish filets (can substitute striped bass)

2 shallots (1½ ounces), peeled and thinly sliced 

2 garlic cloves (½ ounce), peeled and finely chopped

½ cup dry white wine

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cover the turnip wedges with stock, add a pinch of salt, and bring up to a simmer for about 4–5 minutes, until just tender. Strain and reserve the turnip stock. Place a 12-inch sauté pan over high heat. When hot, add 1 tablespoon of the oil. When oil is hot, add the turnips, season lightly with salt and pepper, and sauté for about 4 minutes, until golden brown. Add the sugar and lemon zest and toss together. Add ½ teaspoon of the lemon juice, glaze, remove from pan, and reserve warm. Clean the pan and put back over medium-high heat. Divide the pepper evenly over tops of the bluefish and press in. Season all lightly with salt. Add the remaining oil to the pan and sauté the fish until golden brown on both sides, about 3 minutes per side. Remove the fish to a plate. 

Add the shallots and garlic to the pan and sauté for 1 minute. Add the wine and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and reduce by half. Add the reserved turnip stock and reduce to ⅓ to ½ cup. Place the reserved stock and reserved greens in a blender and purée until fine. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Divide the fish and turnips between 4 plates and divide the turnip green broth around and serve. 

Summer on a Stick

Farm to Freezer with Crooked Stick Pops

By Marykate Smith Despres
Photos by Dominic Perri

Julie Tuman loves heat and humidity. She grew up in the South, where summer stretched from March to November, eagerly awaiting the Memorial Day opening of the neighborhood swimming pool. The North Carolina native “got sucked into” the Pioneer Valley when she came north for graduate school 15 years ago and never left. But she brought a little bit of that long summer with her and turned it into Crooked Stick Pops.

Tuman started making and selling the frozen treats just last May, hawking handheld relief from the heat at farmers’ markets and community events around the Valley. At the end of each market, Tuman buys whatever fruits and veggies farmers can’t sell. “I just clear ’em out.”

In turn, she gets new ingredients to play with, and advice along the way. The folks from Crabapple Farm noticed her use of basil and turned her on to tulsi. Now, they grow a few rows of herbs just for her.

Those herbs and fruits are processed in the 800-square-foot commercial kitchen Tuman built in Easthampton’s Keystone building. Making 500 pops a day with 150 flavors “in solid rotation,” she spends three 12-hour days a week during peak season processing, freezing, and bagging “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pounds of beautiful local fruit.”

The other four days, April through October, Tuman is outside, selling from her cart or her pop trike, which can hold up to 800 pops. Crooked Stick Pops are “what you see is what you get,” with flavors like Cantaloupe Mint and Kiwi Ginger—names and complete ingredient lists in one.

Tuman likes savory pops, like Maple Pear and Vanilla Lemon Basil, best. (She lovingly refers to the latter as her “bourbon pop” because, at the end of a long day, “It has the same effect on my shoulders.”) She’s not attached to, or even particularly a fan of, sweet treats. “If it grows, I will try to throw it in a blender and put it on a stick.”

After just one year, Crooked Stick Pops is expanding. Tuman hired a few “pop slingers” so the treats can be offered in three places at once, including a new brick-and-mortar location in Eastworks, opening in June. The pop shop will be open year round as the flavors “get heavier and richer, moving from herbs to spices.” Tuman says people love fresh-from-the-freezer pops in winter to soothe sore throats and perk up a flu. And who among us hasn’t wished, in the bitter days of winter, for a bit of summer on a stick?

crookedstickpops.com

Pen in the Hand, Hands in the Soil

Farmers Speak Out Against Immigration Policy

By Marykate Smith Despres

We’ve protected some of the most precious farmland,” said Linda Kingsley of Twin Oaks Farm in Hadley. “What are we gonna do to harvest it?” 

Kingsley, who has been farming for over 40 years, was one of about 100 people gathered at Wally Czajkowski’s Plainville Farm in Hadley on April 8. Czajkowski and Michael Docter of Winter Moon Roots invited farmers and other small-business owners to discuss concerns, according to their press release, “about the impact of current immigration policies on their livelihoods.” 

“We have a population we need to protect,” said Kingsley. “It’s only fair to them.”

Eric Stocker, co-owner of local distributor Squash, Inc., opened and moderated the forum, calling out “inhumane” policies and political rhetoric that “ignore the basic facts about who does the work” and leave those workers “living in uncertainty and fear.”

Heads nodded and applause rang out in recognition, again and again, as people spoke of the the web of bureaucratic red tape created by the H2A program, the misclassification of farming as unskilled labor, and the ignored integrity of the local immigrant workforce.

“Nobody in their right mind wakes up and says, ‘I’m going to leave my home,’” said chef and food justice advocate Neftali Duran. “That desperation comes from policies.”

Organizers and many attendees hoped to help change those policies by signing letters to the State House, urging Governor Baker to support the Safe Communities Act, and to the Senate, asking for implementation of immigration reform that ensures: 

  • Current experienced workers can obtain legal work authorization.
  • Their businesses can access new authorized workers when needed in the future.
  • The workers on whom the local economy depends have a pathway to citizenship.
  • State resources are not used to enforce federal immigration policies that harm local businesses and workers.

Postcards were penned and marks were made, but there was still an overwhelming unrest at the meeting’s end. Some left with both more clarity and concern than they had come with. Julie Pottier-Brown, operations manager of the Farm Direct Co-op in Salem, Massachusetts, who has bought food from growers in the Valley for 24 years, was “struck by the level of fear being reported by the immigrant community.” 

“We are an interdependent community,” said Pottier-Brown. “Take away one part, and there will be collapse.”

There are some programs that have consistently offered services and support to the migrant and immigrant farm worker community. Gloria Penagos, a migrant enrollment specialist at Holyoke, Chicopee, Springfield (HCS) Head Start, encouraged farmers to spread the word about a migrant/seasonal program specifically designed to meet the needs of farmworkers with young children. The program offers free extended day care, beginning as early as 5am, for children as young as four weeks. She also urged business owners to consider offering transportation to workers in the Springfield area who would normally be commuting to farms around the Valley, but are afraid to leave home in the current political climate.

Migrant and seasonal farmworkers can also find support through the Connecticut River Valley Farmworker Health Program (CRVFHP), which, in conjunction with health centers in Franklin, Hampshire, and Hampden counties, offers free and reduced-cost health care services for both workers and their families. Moreover, CRVFHP makes its services accessible by providing transportation to and from appointments as well as on-farm and in-field intake and primary care services. 

Whether farmworkers from within immigrant and migrant communities will feel safe enough to access these services as often as they did in previous seasons is yet to be seen. 

www.hcsheadstart.org
www.massleague.org/Programs/CRVFarmWorkerHealthProgram/AboutCRVFHP-English.php