A Massachusetts mill town keeps coming back

The once downtrodden mill town of North Adams, MA, keeps attracting interest as former factory space is repurposed.

The biggest rejuvenation project has been MassMOCA, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (seen above). But small steps are in the works as well. For example, the Berkshire Mountains region is getting another microbrewery in the form of the Cold River Brewing Co.

The facility will only make beer, unlike the nearby Barrington Brewery and Pittsfield Brew Works which also operate restaurants on site. Cold River will produce craft beers, made with 100% barley or wheat malt. Plans call for initial production two days a week during its first year, with a 7,500-barrel output.

Christopher Post, of Becket, MA, and partners Allan Duvall, Chris Cuzme and Alex Hall, all of New York City, submitted the application for a 15-barrel microbrewery to be located in a 4,000-square-foot space once occupied by the Delftree Mushroom Factory's sanitation and packaging facility. Their proposal is scheduled to go before the city planning board on March 12.

Post, a native of the United Kingdom who was an investment banker, became a brewmaster in 2005 and worked at the Chelsea Brewing Co. in Manhattan and the Greenpoint Beer Works in Brooklyn, where Duvall was the brewmaster.

MassMOCA bills itself as "one of the largest cultural institutions in the country" with more than 300,000 square feet of developed space and another 300,000 of "mothballed" space, in 26 buildings on 13 acres. It mounts five exhibitions a year and presents morew than 80 major performing arts events.

North Adams, which was the birthplace of famous suffragette Susan B. Anthony (when the neighborhood in which she was born was called simply Adams), is a hilly city that still boasts stately Greek Revival, Second Empire and Italianate mansions that once were home to wealthy owners of textile mills and shoe factories that boomed during the Civil War. A good example of Second Empire architecture, The Blackinton Mansion, now is the city library.

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A guide for the solo female traveler

Travel is tricky enough for groups or couples, but for women traveling abroad the problems are multiplied.

There's a new downloadable 16-page guide called "What You Should Know Before Traveling Abroad: Cultural, Health and Safety Advice for Women."

The guide, developed MEDEX Assistance Corp., a provider of emergency and security assistance to travelers, covers such topics as cultural and traditional customs and taboos, the current political and social climate of their destinations, appropriate modes of dress and body language.

"Western norms for women that tend towards gender neutrality are not commonly accepted in some other cultures and, in fact, can be the root of misunderstanding, harassment and even physical threats," said Somaia Abdelrahim, MEDEX's senior client relations manager.

Virginia gets new natural history museum

Sometimes what goes on behind the scenes at museums is as interesting as what the public sees.

Workmen have been laboring to complete the exhibits and finishing touches on the Virginia Museum of Natural History (VMNH) in Martinsville scheduled to make its debut in March.

The first specimen was installed on Jan. 23. It's a 14-million-year-old Eobalaenoptera, a whale fossil slightly over 30 feet long. It was discovered by VMNH curators in Caroline County, VA.

The facility is scheduled to host a "100 Hour Celebration" for the opening, with a dedication ceremony on March 30. The museum opens to the public the following day when visitors will get their initial look at the new structure as well as state-of-the-art permanent exhibit galleries, "Uncovering Virginia," "How Nature Works: Rocks," and "How Nature Works: Life."

The special exhibits "Feathered Dinosaurs of China," featuring one of the most important fossils ever discovered, and "Chinasaurs: The Great Dinosaurs of China" will be at the new museum from April 6 through June 17.

From June 30 through Jan. 18, 2008, the exhibit "Beyond Jamestown: Virginia Indians Yesterday and Today" will highlight the history, culture and contributions of Virginia's eight Indian tribes. The "Beyond Jamestown" exhibit at the new VMNH facility is part of the America's 400th Anniversary celebration.
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On Sept. 14-15, VMNH will hold its 23rd Annual Indian Festival, celebrating the heritage of Native Americans living in Virginia today, with drumming, dancing, demonstrations, games, crafts and refreshments.

The VMNH is an agency of the Secretary of Natural Resources for the Commonwealth of Virginia, the museum has over 22 million objects in its collections, and reaches nearly 1 million people annually through on-site and traveling exhibitions, classroom outreach programs, Web site, public events and award- winning publications.

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Live and let dine

ATLANTIC CITY, NJ -- If you're planning to be in the Atlantic City area on March 7, you may want to forego the casino scene for a while to take part in an investment that has a guaranteed return.

It's the date of the 24th annual "The Press of Atlantic City Restaurant Gala," the annual black-tie fundraiser for the Atlantic Cape Community College Foundation. The event has raised in excess of $1.7 million for student scholarships at the college’s Academy of Culinary Arts since 1984.

So, visitors not only get to help college students pay for theior education, they get to sample creations from Academy students as well as 40 area restaurants, including a "desert extravaganza" by Master Chef Eugen Ess of the Trump Taj Mahal.

Tickets for the event, to be held at the Atlantic City Convention Center, are $190 per person.Tables of 12 are available at $2,280. Details: (609) 343-5674.

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Shrinking the world via cognac

William M. Dowd photos

LAS VEGAS, NV -- As we were assembling for a private dinner over the weekend, I was chatting with Frank Du, a Chinese-American journalist who works for a Chinese-language newspaper in Los Angeles.

Seine Kim, a Korean-American representative of The Thomas Collective, a New York public relations firm, walked into the room. Du smoothly switched to Korean to greet her, explaining to me that although Mandarin is his native tongue, he had lived in Korea and picked up the language there.

The marketing lady -- whose name was taken from the French river her parents had seen before her birth -- exchanged a few pleasantries in Korean with Du, then switched into perfect English with me. Although raised in Seoul, she explained, she had been born in Ithaca, N.Y., and wanted to move back to the U.S., so she studied English. In Beijing, China. Her time as a Manhattan resident has buffed away any residual accent.

The sound of French and French-accented English also wafted through the room as our hosts from the Martell House of Cognac arrived.

The mix emphasized the human interplay in a global economy that is continually erasing borders and making producers think beyond historic boundaries.

Martell is known for a long line of cognacs, but producers cannot rest on their laurels in the highly competitive field. Thus, the company was timing the U.S. debut of its Creation Grand Extra Cognac for the Lunar New Year (the Year of the Pig on the Chinese calendar, although celebrated all across Asia) to try enhancing its already strong image in Asian communities throughout the U.S.

A little background. Cognac is a brandy, a grape-based product -- an "eaux-de-vie'' fermented like wine then twice distilled. By French law, supported by the World Trade Organization, the spirit can originate only in the town of Cognac and six surrounding viticultural areas.

There is more than one kind of cognac due to the variety of soils in the region. The grapes used are from several white wine varieties, principally the Ugni Blanc, known elsewhere as the Trebbiano grape. Cognacs must be aged in wood at least two years. Most producers use Limousin oak; Martell prefers the more aromatic Troncais oak.

Any number of cognac labels may be familiar to Americans, such as Hennessey, Remy Martin, Courvoisier, Camus and Delamaine, but Martell is the oldest existing one, founded in 1715 by Jean Martell.

Jacques Menier (seen here), Asia Pacific sales director, was the main presenter of the new Creation Grand Extra, representing cellar master Bruno Lemoine. He guided participants through a special menu prepared at the Wing Lei restaurant in the Wynn Las Vegas hotel to describe how various cognacs can be paired with foods just as is done with wines. Not a bad direction to take since the U.S. is the world's largest consumer of cognac.

For our light starters -- lobster wonton soup, pork pot stickers and spring rolls -- the Martell Noblige worked well, with its light consistency and notes of pear, citrus and definite vanilla from a younger wood. The very popular Cordon Bleu -- perfumey from a flowery soil that speaks of violets and bits of citrus and walnut -- worked nicely with a wider variety, a diver scallop with jalapeno, cilantro and ponzu vinaigrette, Pacific cod with a fricassee of mussels, clams and Chinese sausage, and even a Sichuan beef filet with corn, bell pepper, water chestnut and rice noodle. X-O worked well with a dessert sampler tray ranging from light fruit sorbets to ganache-stuffed chocolate cake, once I was able to coax out its reluctant dried-fruit hints of apricot and plum.

The finale was the Creation Grand Extra. It's a soft, almost buttery, open distillation with an instant "montant,'' the first fragrance released from cognac. Definite notes of cedar and spice make this an immediately pleasing product.

However, my preference in the Martel line remains the Cordon Bleu, a "gouleyant'' cognac, meaning its body is fresh and light despite aging and, thus, easily enjoyed.

For what it's worth, cellar master Lemoine says his favorite drink is Cordon Bleu on the rocks.

Creation Grand Extra, with a suggested retail price of $299 for a 750-milliliter bottle, will be on the American market in May.

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An Alpine treat for visitors or consumers

A fleet of bicycles and bunches of sambucas nigra, a dainty white flower that blossoms for only a few days in early spring, seem an unlikely combination to bring something truly new to the adult beverage universe.

The blossom, more commonly known as the elderflower, has long been a European staple of herbal remedies as well as a component of a non-alcoholic syrup that in recent years has become a hip ingredient in creating cocktails at trendy bars.

The difference with the new product from Maison St. Germain of France is that its Delice de Sureau (sureau is French for elderflower, delice for delight) is a 40-proof artisanal liqueur, the first such use of elderflowers that anyone is aware of.

St. Germain, the shorthand market name for the liqueur, is produced from elderflowers harvested from the foothills of the French Alps by pickers known as bohemiens who then trundle them by bicycle down to local depots from where they are quickly shipped to the distillery. There, the flowers are put through a maceration process then married with grape spirits, known as eau de vie, plus a bit of citrus and cane sugar to create the pale golden finished product.

As the St. Germain copywriters say, "To put this in context, we can safely say that no men, bohemien or otherwise, will be wandering the hillsides of Poland this spring gathering wild potatoes for your vodka."

The major difference between the non-alcoholic elderflower syrup and the alcoholic elderflower liqueur -- other than the obvious of alcohol -- is in the level of sweetness. The former, usually made with frozen or freeze-dried blossoms, is quite sweet because it usually is one of a number of ingredients in a concoction. The latter is toned down in sweetness to allow it to be enjoyed straight without any cloying properties. In addition, its creators say the liqueur has a shelf life of one to two years compared to the stability of the syrups which runs more like a week or two.

In a sampling of St. Germain we were struck by the comparatively full-bodied flavor despite the very gentle nose. The notes of citrus and stone fruit, mostly peach, were apparent but we also caught a teasing flavor that took a moment to identify.

Aha, lilac.

I might have been unable to put my finger on it had I not experienced the same persistent, pleasant nuance in a Martell Cordon Bleu sampled at a recent cognac tasting dinner in Las Vegas.

Since, like part of the St. Germain recipe, cognac is a French eau de vie, that may account for the lilac presence that one can coax out along with the gentle elderflower.

William M. Dowd photo

As with so many new products, design is important. St. Germain certainly will attract attention on store shelves with its elegant octagonal bottle, each side gently indented and narrowing toward the bottom, the bottle topped with an antiqued brass-effect cap.

The liqueur's creators suggest, in addition to drinking it straight or over ice, coupling the new liqueur with the likes of champagne or a sauvignon blanc or even a green apple vodka in cocktails.

St. Germain, which initially has been made in a limited volume, will go on sale nationally March 1 in 50, 375 and 750ml sized bottles, with a suggested retail price of $32.99 for the largest bottle.
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Washington's Distillery open to public March 31

RICHMOND, VA -- Elected officials don't often have their act together in time to do as much good as they can. But, when it comes to something connected to our first president, they did OK.

The Virginia House of Delegates today passed a bill approved earlier in the state senate to allow Historic Mount Vernon to sell small amounts of commemorative spirits as part of the reconstructed George Washington's Distillery.

The action means the whiskey, made at the rebuilt still on the grounds of Washington's home in Virginia, will be legally available in time for his birthday, Feb. 22, if signed into law by Gov. Tim Kaine who already has said he will do so.

State Senator Linda T. "Toddy" Puller, the bill's original sponsor, said, "I'm pleased to play a role in revitalizing a piece of Washington's legacy. We recognize the importance of keeping Washington's spirit alive -- in all respects."

In Virginia, only stores operated by Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control (VABC) may sell distilled spirits. Senate Bill 807 enables Mount Vernon to receive a special VABC store designation allowing visitors to purchase samples of George Washington's Straight Rye Whiskey and other special historic products when the distillery opens to the public on Saturday, March 31.

"By allowing us to sell George Washington's rye whiskey, our visitors will be able to taste an authentic flavor of the 18th Century, while learning more about Washington's entrepreneurial spirit," said Dennis Pogue, chief historian at Historic Mount Vernon.

According to Mount Vernon historic records, Washington had the 2,250 square foot distillery built in 1797. In 1799, it produced 11,000 gallons of whiskey. In 2003, Washington's own whiskey recipe was distilled by a team of master distillers, representing America's most celebrated spirits brands, in collaboration with Mount Vernon's historian, under special license from the federal government and the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) and its member companies, with the support of the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America, have been the major donors to Mount Vernon for the $2.1 million project to excavate and reconstruct the historic distillery.

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A voice in your head

We've all heard a little voice telling us to be careful not to drink too much. Most of the time we didn't know where it was coming from. If you're a guy and find it happening in New Mexico, there's a simple explanation.

The state has shelled out $10,500 for 500 talking deodorizer cakes to be used in men's room urinals in bars and restaurants.

Recorded messages embedded in the sanitary supply tell the patron, in a woman's voice, "Hey, big guy. Having a few drinks? Think you had one too many? Then it's time to call a cab or call a sober friend for a ride home. Remember, your future is in your hand."

The program is an offshoot of the sort of thing used in anti-drug capaigns in various parts of New York, Colorado, Pennsylvania and in Australia.

New Mexico had 143 alcohol-related deaths in 2005, the country's eighth-highest rate, and men have 78% of all drunk-driving related convictions in the state.

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Wineries, 'dineries' team up in Pa. Dutch country

A "sneak preview" of sorts will be offered during March at the 11 wineries of Pennsylvania's UnCork York Wine Trail as part of their 2nd annual Tour de Tanks.

Visitors will be able to sample wines taken straight from the barrel or tank at the wineries in the Pennsylvania Dutch Country.
Tickets are available online or at participating wineries for the event, scheduled for each Saturday-Sunday in March, are $15 with one ticket good at all participating wineries for all five weekends. Ticketholders get a 10% discount on wine purchases.

One difficulty with touring any wine country with which you're not familiar is finding decent dining. The Tour de Tanks has set up 11 "dineries" to go with the 11 wineries, offering all-inclusive menus every Friday through Sunday in March for $30 per person. The full list is available online. It looks like a fairly convenient way to visit what is a rambling tour area covering parts of three contiguous counties -- Adams, York and Dauphin -- in the Harrisburg/Lancaster/York/Getysburg region of south central Pennsylvania.

Participating wineries are, aplhabetically, Adams County Winery, Allegro Vineyards, Four Springs Winery, Fox Ridge Vineyard & Winery, Glen Mere Winery, Marburg Estate Winery, Moon Dancer Vineyards & Winery, Naylor Wine Cellars, Nissley Vineyards, Seven Valleys Vineyard & Winery and West Hanover Winery.

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Women's Hall of Fame spurring development

SENECA FALLS, NY -- The new National Women's Hall of Fame scheduled to be completed in 2008 in a former knitting mill is an idea that has the region's tourism industry excited. One problem associated with such development, however, has been a scarcity of lodging.

That will be taken care of with the announcement this week that a 70-room hotel is expected to open on the south side of the Cayuga-Seneca Canal at about the same time as the Hall of Fame. Details are being worked out and a concept plan is expected to be unveiled next month, according to the Finger Lakes Times.

"The hotel is being classified as mid-scale," the newspaper said. "It will be built on a 2.5-acre parcel with about 780 feet of water frontage and will offer breakfast services, a meeting room, an exercise room and an indoor pool.

"Also under consideration are the reconstruction of the historic clock tower behind the Seneca Falls Historical Society off Cayuga Street, green space, walkways, parking and public access to the canal."

The small upstate town is part of a tourist loop that includes the rolling countryside of the Finger Lakes wine region.

State Sen. Michael Nozzolio, who has been instrumental in directing state funds to local redevelopment, said in a statement, “The continued development of the canal is great news for the Seneca Falls community and continues our efforts to revitalize the Seneca Falls Harbor, enhance tourism and bring jobs to our region.”

The current Hall of Fame, established in 1969, moved into its present location, a former bank building, in 1979.

Seneca Falls is regarded as the "The Birthplace of Women's Rights." Local resident Elizabeth Cady Stanton (shown above), Lucretia Mott and 300 other women and men held the first Women's Rights Convention, in 1848. "The Declaration of Sentiments," which among other things demanded the right to vote for women, was passed by the assemblage.

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Mmmm, border beer

If you like trying new twists on old drinks and you're heading for a border state on business or pleasure, keep an eye out for Miller Chill.

Miller Brewing Co. is scheduled to put this new beer in test markets next month in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Florida and the San Diego, CA, area.

The 110-calorie brew will be marketed as an upscale light beer, cheaper than most imports but costlier than most domestic beers. It is a chelada-style beer, infused with salt and lime.

Although the advertising campaign will have a tagline of "Se habla Chill," Miller insists its target audience is not just Hispanics despite the concentration of Hispanic people in the test markets.

Pete Marino, a Miller spokesman, said in a statement, "We're trying to court the market in general, not just Hispanics. ... We are going after mainstream domestic brands. This will be a more refreshing light beer experience. It's a very different type of product."

Last month, it began importing Aguila, Colombia's top-selling lager which is brewed by parent company SABMiller Inc. The company is also importing two SABMiller beers from Peru -- Cristal and Cusqueña.

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Cape Breton an island to drive for

The Cabot Trail scenic highway meanders along the coast.

Up in the wilds of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, there's a company named the Glenora Distillery. It is located in a glen, its address is Glenville, and it is near Glenora Falls.

However, the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) is trying to force Glenora to stop calling its single malt whisky, Canada's sole such beverage, Glen Breton. This comes on the heels of the Canadian Trade-Marks Opposition Board's ruling that Glenora can continue using the word Glen despite oposition from the Scotland-based SWA.

The SWA plans to appeal the ruling to the federal court in Canada. Its stance is that using the word "glen" makes consumers think the whisky is made in Scotland.

The Trade-Marks Board said, in part, "The essence of the opponent’s argument is that Canadian users and purchasers of whisky have been educated to associate the word Glen solely with scotch whisky."

However, if the association "truly believed that the word Glen merits special protection for producers of scotch whisky, it should have long ago taken steps to protect that word as a geographical indication of Scottish origin, much as it did for the words ‘scotch whisky'."

This whole dustup is rather uncharacteristic of Cape Breton, an island connected to mainland Nova Scotia by the Canso Causeway which spans the Strait of Canso.

It's a comparatively quiet place known for its coal mines, steel manufacturing, fishing fleet and musical style, with a population hovering around 145,000 and a range of scenic vistas that make it driving heaven for tourists.

In the 18th Century, the island was home to a French military garrison that guarded the entrance to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and to defend the fishing fleet. The French, who called the island Île Royale, turned it over to the British in 1763 under the Treaty of Paris.

Approximately 50,000 Scots moved to Cape Breton during the first half of the 19th Century, blending their heritage with those of French and Irish settlers before them. Gaelic traditions, which covered both the Irish and the Scots, dominated the culture. Alexander Graham Bell, a native of Scotland, settled on Cape Breton in 1885 after he made his fortune with the invention of the telephone.

The island is mainly a rocky coastline, rolling farmland, glacial valleys, barren headlands, mountains and woods. The northern portion is the Highlands, an extension of the Appalachian mountain chain and home to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The Cabot Trail scenic highway encircles the coastal perimeter of the plateau.

Fortress Louisbourg is Canada's largest National Historic Site. It depicts the 18th-century fortified French harbour town of Louisbourg.

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Perhaps the Hitler Youth menu was over the top

There's no accounting for taste, or the lack of it.

Puneet Sablok wanted to attract attention to his restaurant in Navi Mumbai, India, a suburb of Mumbai (Bombay). He succeeded.

In fact, iIt got so much attention in its first week of operation that he's planning to change the name and the logo -- from Hitler's Cross to something a little less upsetting to most people.

He made the decision after a little sit-down with members of the city's small Jewish community.

"Once they told me how upset they were with the name, I decided to change it," he said. "I don't want to do business by hurting people."

The swastika symbol, which was appropriated by the Nazis, was originally an ancient Hindu symbol and it is displayed all over India to bring luck.

"He realized he made a mistake and listened to reason," said Elijah Jacob, a community leader. "Some people have wrong conceptions of history and he realized it was not appropriate."

If you're planning on dropping in, Hitler's Cross serves pizza, salad and pastries, under whatever name it winds up using.


Beer dinner in the Texas Hill Country

William M. Dowd photos

Lobby of the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort & Spa.

SAN ANTONIO, TX -- After 20 years of moving from one hotel kitchen to another, chef Jeff Foresman thought he'd seen it all.

Foresman trained in the respected Johnson & Wales University culinary program in Providence, R.I., then moved among eight Hyatt Hotels from Florida to Hawaii to California to San Francisco to Washington. D.C.

Things changed when he met Jaime Jurado (seen here), director of brewing operations for The Gambrinus Co. Jurado holds master's and doctoral degrees in engineering but worked his way through college in breweries in Maryland and Florida. When it became clear his career preference didn't involve a drafting table, he went off to study brewing in Munich, Germany.

Beer guru Jaime Jurado

Each man went on to establish credentials as among the best in their field. Both wound up here in San Antonio -- Jurado some years back, Foresman eight months ago -- but their paths didn't cross until a major wine competition in January at the posh Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort & Spa here.

A wine event might seem an odd place for beer to be spotlighted, but those involved in judging large competitions are known to prefer anything but wines after a day swirling, sipping and spitting sometimes hundreds of them.

Thus, the 7th annual San Antonio Express-News Wine Competition that drew an international field was ready for a beer dinner for judges and staff.

Jurado is an erudite and voluble beer advocate who, rather than merely having each course paired with a particular beer, wanted brews used as an essential ingredient in every dish.

"Beer, like wine, has enough different properties to enhance food in the preparation stages, not just in accompanying what you're eating,'' Jurado said.

"For example, you might use an IPA (India Pale Ale), which is hoppier and more bitter than other beers, in an oiler course using a vinaigrette. Or, you can take into account beer's chemical properties and how they'll affect other food ingredients in the cooking process.''

Foresman was a bit gunshy at first, despite Jurado's international credentials as one of the stars of the elite Master Brewers Association of the Americas.

"It took a while to experiment with precisely how to use the beer,'' Foresman said. "For example, for the jumbo prawns hors d'oeuvres, it wasn't difficult to figure out how to use the beer in the basic preparation, but we wanted to stretch what we did and how to go about it.''

Jurado and Foresman collaborated on scripting a five-course dinner that incoporated a line of Shiner brand beers brewed by The Gambrinus Co.

The Texas-based firm also brews Pete's Wicked Ale in Utica, N.Y., Bridgeport Ales in Portland, Ore., and Trumer Pils in Berkeley, Calif., as well as Tappeto Volante of Italy and Moosehead of New Brunswick, Canada, and is the importer for Groupo Modelo's Corona beer for the eastern U.S.

The aforementioned prawns canape was one of two butler-passed hors d'oeuvres.

"We boiled the prawns with their shells in a court boullion of water, Shiner Light Beer, pickling spices, peppercorns and parsley stems, then chilled it overnight in the broth,'' Foresman said. "Then we spread a mixture of cream cheese, whipped at high speed with lemon, salt, pepper and light beer, on toasted bread rounds, put the shrimp atop them and brushed a bit of a beer reduction on top.''

The trick in this dish, Foresman said, was to use only a dot of the reduction "because in the reducing process it became bitter -- almost unpalatable as far as drinking it would be concerned, but just enough body to sink into the shrimp when brushed on.'' A mango chow-chow was the final topping.

The second canape was strips of portabella mushroom, brushed with olive oil, herbs and garlic, seared on a flat-top grill, skewered then drizzled with the light beer as the strips became soft. They were served with a grilled red bell pepper dipping sauce.

The four courses of the plated dinner were nicely balanced among simple and rich offerings. A superb shellfish chowder, presented en croute, relied on Shiner Bock, the company's flagship brew. Bits of Texas lump blue crab, scallops and shrimp were added to a thickened broth of shrimp/lobster stock and beer, topped with a leek and aged cheddar crust.

A simple salad of hydroponically-grown local lettuces served with fried brie croutons and a Shiner Blonde/lemon vinaigrette set up the next course, a hickory grilled ribeye steak.

A thick, succulent piece of aged Texas beef, cooked medium-rare, was served with a compound butter utilizing herbs and Shiner Hefeweizen (German for "yeast wheat beer''). The same beer was used to steam the vegetable accompaniments as well as to help caramelize garlic which was then pureed and added to mashed potatoes.

The dessert course was one Foresman balked at, at first.

"Jaime wanted me to use a seasonal Shiner Dunkelweizen in the batter for a warm flourless chocolate torte,'' the chef said. "I didn't think it would work, but he asked me to indulge him. So, I tried one with beer and one without. The beer version poofed up nicely and became lighter. We're thinking of using it regularly.''

The cake had a liquid chocolate ganache center plus a drizzle of pistachio creme Anglaise, all of which went superbly with the rich, dark wheat beer and its inherent caramel notes created by strong hops mostly from the Mt. Hood, Ore., hop fields.

Foresman's summation: "This was quite an experience, and we all learned a lot. It was our first beer dinner, but it certainly won't be our last.''

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Drop in for a short one

At the risk of making the maddening Disney song echo for hours in your head, it's a small world after all.

Last summer I wrote an item about a 64-square-foot former railroad signal box structure in Cleethorpes, England, that had earned the title of the world's smallest pub.

The other day I received an envelope containing a note, a letter and some photos. The note, from Frances Hynds of Delmar, NY, informed me she and her husband, Given, had met a couple from Cleethorpes while on a cruise and had struck up a continuing correspondence. "I sent your article, and I have enclosed their reply," she wrote.

The reply, from Mary Keeble, said in part: "I couldn't believe it when I read about the small bar in Cleethorpes. We went to look for it and found it. I thought I would take some photographs ... . The pub is a small signal box on the light railway that runs near our promenade. It is very good."

By the way, the Greenwich Meridian passes through Cleethorpes. A signpost in the town shows various distances in miles. Among them: the North Pole 2,517, the South Pole 9,919, London 143, and New York 3,481.

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Omni gets an oil change

Omni Hotels is skimming the fat.

We speak here not of hotel spas. Rather, the chain announced today that all of its hotels will transition to a zero grams trans fat cooking oil by March 1.

The new oil, a combination of cotton seed oil and canola oil, will replace the partially hydrogenated oil now being used.

The change will impact menus in restaurants, in-room dining and banquet service. As always, the biggest hurdle was making good French fries, something fast-food chains have struggled with for years as they moved to non-trans fat oils.

Fernando Salazar, Omni vice president of food and beverage, agreed. "The ultimate test was the French fries. We weren't willing to make a change until we found a replacement that looks and tastes as good -- or better -- than our guests expect.

"We sought a solution for our valued guests that balances their dietary considerations with the high culinary standards they expect from a luxury hotel. We have been testing alternative oils since fall 2006 and are confident we have found the right replacement to meet consumer health needs and taste demands."

Omni Hotels encompasses 40 hotels and resorts in North America and the Caribbean. (The Montreal Omni is shown above.)

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