Two years ago, after logging hundreds of trail hours in the parks and nature reserves scattered across Long Island, Eastern New Jersey, Southern Connecticut, and the Hudson Valley, my first book appeared in print. As any author will tell you, writing is a book is a lot of work, and Best Hikes Near New York City involved plenty of it. From trip planning and hiking (and in some cases re-hiking) each route, to mapping, photographing, and researching local history, I devoted a tremendous amount of time to that guidebook. Flipping through its pages now, I see little things I wish I'd changed and wonder if I could've added another hike or two. Overall I'm happy with it though, which is probably why, when my editor asked if I wanted to author a title in Globe Pequot's Where to Camp series, I said yes.
And so, once again, I consulted my New York State road map, charged my camera batteries, and rummaged around for the trusty Garmin GPS in the back of my closet. Then, armed with an Empire Passport and a new sleeping bag, I set out to write Camping New York, my second book for FalconGuides. It took me longer than expected, but it's out now in paperback and will soon be available as a Kindle eBook, too. In roughly 150 pages I concisely cover 130 campsites from easternmost Long Island to the top of Adirondack Park and west to Lake Erie. Hopefully the tour region maps, photos, and quick reference tables will make it easy to decide where you want to go, whether it's your first camping trip, or your fifty-first. Finally, for those who might be curious, the site pictured on the cover is at Mongaup Pond in the Catskills, the one place last summer where I actually spotted a black bear near the campground.
On Saturday, April 20th, I'll be moderating a panel discussion on beer travel at the inaugural New York Travel Festival (NYTF). Covering recent trends, brewery tours, and ale trails in New York and New Jersey, my session is one of dozens taking place at the Bohemian National Hall on East 73rd Street and will run from 11:20am until noon, with a beer tasting to follow. Panelists include:
- Josh Bernstein, author of Brewed Awakening and the app Craft Beer New York
- Jeremy Cowan, founder of Schmaltz Brewing (NY) and president of the New York City Brewers Guild
- Gene Muller, founder of Flying Fish Brewing (NJ) and vice president of the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild
- David Naczycz, co-founder of Urban Oyster
To most people, Frankfurt is known as a center of business and banking. Rarely is this city on the Main River thought of as a place with a distinctive beer culture. Yet Germany’s “Mainhattan” as it is referred to on occasion, doesn’t lack for a culinary history of its own. Nor does it try to rival the nation’s great capitals of brewing: Bamberg, Munich, and Köln. Instead, the Frankfurt region simply devotes itself to cider, a beverage its residents call apfelwein, äbbelwoi, or stöffche in the local dialect.
Mentioned in the eighth century Capitulare de Villis and known to be a popular drink since the time of Charlemagne, it wasn’t until the eighteenth century that the first apple wine taverns began to appear, advertising their blends of this low-alcohol beverage by displaying a green wreath outside. Entrepreneurs like Wilheim Höhl and Philipp Possmann eventually capitalized on the popularity of apfelwein, expanded to meet a growing demand, and are now two of the biggest producers in the country. In the last decade though, a number of smaller artisanal cidermakers have emerged, aspiring to reconnect with the region’s agricultural heritage by working with native apple varieties such as Bohnapfel, Anhalter, and Winterrambour.
“Cider is culture,” Andreas Schneider told me during a visit last summer. “We are now growing more than 70 varieties of apples and more than 25 varieties of pears.” About eight miles north of Frankfurt—close enough to still see the skyline—Schneider concentrates on nurturing the orchard his parents planted in Nieder-Erlenbach in 1965. Today he’s the only cider maker in the immediate area that still grows, presses, and bottles his own fruits. Granted, his dry, single variety ciders lack the malted barley and Noble hops used in the beers brewed throughout Germany, but in other ways his cold fermented, small batch creations aren’t so different from the hand crafted ales and lagers found in German brewpubs and beer gardens.
One of the first licks I learned to play on the guitar was the opening riff of "La Bamba". As soon as I got home from the used CD store with a copy of the Ritchie Valens Greatest Hits album, I listened to it over and over until my fingers knew their positions on the fretboard. Which is one of the reasons why I liked what I heard when I tuned in to All Things Considered late last year. On the show a group called Las Cafeteras was about to release their debut album, and by the time their version of the song ("La Bamba Rebelde") ended, I wanted more. More, I learned from NPR, of Son Jarocho, a style of folk music from Veracruz, Mexico. My wish was granted about a month later; the ten track recording is now available on iTunes, eMusic, Amazon, and the band's own website. In my seventh Two Minute Interview, Las Cafeteras made time to share their thoughts on performing live, musical activism, and the cultural diversity of Los Angeles.
- How has travel influenced the music of Las Cafetaras? Do you or other members of the band have an especially poignant travel memory (music-related or not)? Our travel experience has really allowed us to recognize the importance of our musical trajectory. We have been really supported here in East Los Angeles, but we were somewhat nervous about taking our music outside of the Mexican capitol of the United States, Los Angeles. When we visited places like Chicago, northern California, Tejas, New York, or Arizona, we were truly honored by the young folks at our shows, considering us representatives of a newer generation of young people of color. We began to view our role as cultural ambassadors. Folks all over the country, and the world, have an image of what Los Angeles, or East Los Angeles, represents. We want to represent our communities in a more positive light, to remind others of the rich cultural diversity that we represent. And there is great responsibility in that. As Chicanos, we also try to represent an alternative image of cultural pride. We are a unique people, from both sides of the border. We feel we’ve been given a unique opportunity to build bridges.
Fortunately, I had Brewstoria to help me. Founded by Astoria resident Ryan Crook in 2010, this homebrew club has since grown rapidly and had been looking for a chance to involve a bunch of its members in a larger, collaborative brew day. As for the ingredients, I decided to challenge them with spices from Thailand, additives that aren’t commonly found in beer recipes but do appear at many a grocer across Queens—ginger, Thai basil, cilantro, chili pepper, and lemongrass. Theoretically, any one of these adjuncts could work with the right beer, and I was curious to found out just how creative the Brewstoria crew could be. Plus, if this borough really is the most diverse in a city that already represents America as melting pot, it only seemed fitting to add a dash of international flavor to the proverbial brew kettle. To my delight the group didn’t just accept the idea, they embraced it.
Being the industrious, let’s-get-right-to-it, sort of people that homebrewers usually are, they managed to make arrangements to use the kitchen and courtyard at The Foundry, an event space in Long Island City. And by the time I turned up on a sunny Sunday morning last February, things were nearly in full swing. Six teams had set up at indoor and outdoor brew stations, and the air was already thick with promising smells. Fittingly, I also caught a few stanzas from a Red Hot Chili Peppers song floating from a pair of portable speakers.
Founded in 1744, Glaabsbräu grew steadily over time, reaching the point of producing more than one million barrels a year by 1970. And they remained independent into the 80s and 90s, as other nationally-known brands fell victim to mergers and buy-outs. More recently, the company has scaled back, currently kegging and bottling closer to 33,000 barrels annually. Even so, their footprint in this little town of half-timbered houses is considerable, seeming to occupy nearly as much real estate as the former Benedictine monastery on the banks of the Main River.
"The focus now is on quality," Simon explained in thickly-accented English. "And time for maturation is longer these days."
As he led the way back downstairs to the open fermentation cellar and then into the lagering cellar below, he told me that their Pilsener (4.9% ABV) is the top seller overall while Glaabsbräu Radler (2.6% ABV) is "popular with ladies." He also filled me in on Vitamalz, an alcohol-free malt beverage developed in 1930 that Simon described as healthier than Coke. I knew something about the beverage, having washed down boiled sheep's head with a can of Egils Malt in Iceland, so I didn't press him for more information. Besides, I was mostly there for the beer.