Where the bartenders meet

Is a cocktail convention for getting drunk or professional development? I’ve attended many events in the beer, wine and spirits category that focus solely on serving people copious amounts of alcohol. I spoke with a few industry insiders that are offering professional bartenders, servers and restaurant owners a different cocktail convention model.

You can read the full PDF version of my piece, “Tapping the Local Network” featured in the September 2016 issue of Market Watch: mw0916_bartalk


A frose by any other name

I’ve been pretty lucky this year in that I’ve had a chance to write more than a few stories on fun and interesting subjects. This piece for the July/August 2016 issue of Market Watch magazine was no exception. After a long, dark New England winter, getting an assignment to write about highly crafted frozen cocktails was like a boozy, slushy dream come true. This piece taught me that the key to a successful frozen drink is fresh out of the blender (hence the giant blending machines at these establishments), just in case you were thinking of trying any of these at home.

Read a PDF version of the article here: mw0716_bartalk-frose



Brewery Hood

I’ve been pretty excited by what I’ve been seeing in my neighborhood lately. Down the street from my house is the new home of Great Rhythm Brewing Company. In fact, I can see their new HQ from the window of my office as I write this. I’m a big fan of pale ales, and Great Rhythm’s Resonation Pale Ale has been a solid go-to beer in our house for a while now. The tasting room is opening “Summer 2016,” and I expect I’ll be there quite a bit.

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A short flight at Liar’s Bench Beer Co.

Flying a little more under the radar is Liar’s Bench Beer Co., a nano-brewery based in an old plumbing parts warehouse on Islington Street — and just a quick jog from my house. I happened to be around the day it opened, working hard to repaint practically every surface in my home. What goes great after a hard day or working around the house? A beer.

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We sampled all four taps. I liked the John Grady Kolsch (5% ABV, 21 BU), a smooth, light brew that efficiently took the edge off of my post-painting sore muscles. My husband and I were also fond of the Bitter Lad, a “New English ESB” (5% ABV, 30 BU), a traditional British beer with an infusion of American hops — a perfect mix of malty and bitter. We took a growler home of that one.

I also have to give props to Topanga (6.5% ABV, 50 BU). Yes, it’s named after the “Boy Meets World” character and yes, it’s an IPA. Creative beer names can get tiresome, but it’s hard not to love this reference, or this beer.

Liar's Bench 1

The space is open, hip and re-purposes the industrial space well. Think Oxbow in Portland, Maine, only much smaller and more natural light. Confirmation from the owner the tasting room is kid-friendly was happy news, as the mother of a 3-year-old. “Come on, sweety. Let’s walk down to the brewery for a visit.”


The Ups and Downs of Vegas

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I love the heat. I’m happiest when I’m enveloped in a blanket of hot air and beaming sunshine. Since I moved back to New England from Florida many years ago, I’ve never once complained about the heat here. It may get hot, and in some cases make me uncomfortable, but it’s a happy warmth I prefer 1,000 times over to the bitter cold of winter. When I heard my husband’s annual work conference was in Las Vegas…in July…I was very eager to go and experience a new and extreme level of heat.

For a thick-blooded New Englander like myself, the July heat of Las Vegas is absolutely wonderful at night, pleasantly toasty in the morning, and down-right mean in the afternoon. Hot sidewalks left my sandaled feet scorched and the sun from a few hours by the pool made me feel like every ounce of liquid from my body had evaporating into the desert air.

There was plenty to hate about Las Vegas: The mall-like atmosphere, cheesy Broadway knock-off shows, the constant casino gaming assault on your senses, the massive crunch of people everywhere you go at all hours of the day. But the heat was something I loved.

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I also loved the Neon Museum, an off-the-beaten-path gallery of retired Las Vegas signs preserved by a group of locals looking to keep alive the memory of what the city was before the mega-casino complexes ate everything up.

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Our tour guide was a wonderful old Las Vegas native who wore a T-shirt adorned with kittens and had dirt on all the old casinos, how they came up, and when they were torn down.

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I’m not usually one for selfies, but I couldn’t help myself.

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For anyone who loves mid-century modern style, the glitz of Old Hollywood or just the outrageously gaudy, there’s something for you in this small, but thorough museum.

The Other Portland

Winter in Portland, just as nice.

Winter in Portland, just as nice.

I’ve loved Portland, Maine for a long time. It’s where I got engaged and where I’ve spent nearly every birthday since. It’s a city I visit with friends and go to visit friends. I walk the waterfront and the Eastern Promenade. I eat and drink and repeat. It’s almost criminal how many great places there are to get a beer, a cocktail you’ve never tried before or a dish that will leave you licking the plate. When my friend and editor of Market Watch magazine asked if I wanted to write a profile about the city’s beer, wine and cocktail scene, I didn’t have to think about it for long.

I contacted dozens of restaurants, bars, distilleries and breweries. The ones featured are places I love, but I easily could have included more. It’s a story that helped me make some great contacts in Portland and one I hope leads to more profiles of the city.

“The Other Portland” is only available in PDF form, so please click through if you’d like to read the rest.

The Other Portland

Craft beer and an emerging cocktail culture define Maine’s largest city

Walk into Pai Men Miyake, a noodle bar in Portland, Maine’s Longfellow Square, and one of the first things you see is the craft beer list. On a prominently displayed chalkboard adjacent to the front door, guests can scan the list of 12 draft beers when they walk in. Half of the venue’s taps and six of its 12 bottles are reserved for regional craft beers, which are regularly rotated, offering patrons an opportunity to try the latest local expressions.

Steaming bowls of ramen, such as the Kimchee Beef with braised short rib ($13), are commonly ordered with a Mainebrewed draft like Bissell Brothers’ The Substance ale ($7 a 16-ounce pour) or Oxbow Farmhouse pale ale ($6 a 12-ounce pour), says bar manager Jack Van Paepeghem. The menu also includes Japanese beers, such as Sapporo, which is $3 a 16-ounce pour during happy hour.

A casual Japanese restaurant may not be the first place Portland visitors look to find a robust craft beer program, but Pai Men Miyake is considered a top spot for sampling local beer and was on Eater.com’s 2013 list of “14 Essential Maine Craft Beer Bars.” Van Paepeghem says customers usually look for locally made beers, whether it’s a Pilsner or a darker brew. “My responsibility is to keep a balance,” he says. “I could have 10 IPAs if I wanted, but that’s not my style.”

Heather Sanborn, co-owner of Rising Tide Brewing Co. and president of the Maine Brewers’ Guild, says Portland residents expect a well-curated craft beer menu stocked with Maine products at local bars and restaurants. “New places in the Portland area need to have a significant beer program,” Sanborn says. “They’re not so much putting Bud Light on tap, but instead building a strong regional craft beer plan. It’s become as important as having a good wine list—or maybe more important.”

To read more, go to: Market Watch, “The Other Portland”

Summer Holiday

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I was barely a teenage when I fell in love with the White Mountains. It was my first time at camp, the last summer before liking boys and caring what other people thought about me. We did a lot of hiking and the trail almost always ended with a spectacular view of those rocky peaks and the tiny towns in the valley below. My memories of this place and time are hazy, like the blue-hued ridge line in the final hours of  the day. I can’t remember the trails I took or the people I met, but I’ll always remember how at peace these mountains made me feel.

This summer, I got painfully homesick for the mountains. It had been a few years since I’d visited. After the birth of our daughter we stayed pretty close to home. Knowing my husband shares my fondness for the hills and peaks just a few hours north of us, I booked a quick Labor Day vacation for the family at the Mountain View Grand Resort & Spa. It looked beautiful on website and the reviews screamed family friendly, but because this is the White Mountains and you never know what you’re going to get up there, I worried it wouldn’t meet our expectations.

I vastly underestimated this place.

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The yellow clapboards pop from behind the trees as you round the final twist in the road to the hotel. Pulling up for check-in, a bell hop grabs your bags and helps you up the tall staircase to the Veranda. Don’t worry about them again. Staff whisks them of to your room in good time. This is old-school hotel service for a very old hotel.

The Sunday evening we arrived was rainy and miserable. The expansive porch and lobby bustled with families wrapping up their trip. We took a seat by a picture window, looking at only fog. My husband and I sipped cocktails while my daughter danced to jazz standards and Disney ballads played by an older gentleman at a baby grand piano. For a wash-out kind of night, it was pretty fantastic.

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Plenty to look at at Santas Village.

I envisioned Santa’s Village as one-part fun, one-part scary and two-parts depressing. I was happy to find it’s a clean, well-run, quirky and creative place to take young children for the day. We went on Labor Day and had plenty of elbow room; we waited in line for a ride twice. The food was surprisingly good, with plenty of kid favorites and healthy options. Admission includes the new water park, which we didn’t try but looked like a blast.

I rode the carousel with my daughter for the last ride of the day. She waved to my husband as we rode round and round, and I realized this was one of those moments parents of grown children talk about – you just never want to forget it.

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The dining options at the Mountain View are somewhat limited in the off-season, but largely good. Our first night, my daughter enjoyed chicken fingers, fruit and French fries from the free kid’s buffet. I had a seafood-stuffed baked haddock that was that good. Breakfast dishes included the regular favorites, and all that we tried was fresh and tasty. On a breakfast menu, fare like oatmeal can be tasteless afterthoughts, but my oatmeal was topped with nuts and fruit and real maple syrup. The table service overall was a little lacking, mostly just slow really, but we were on vacation. I sipped my coffee, looked out as the sun crossed over the mountains and was patient.

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Relaxing before dinner

The rooms are neat and clean, but the standard king we booked felt a little cramped. They were not designed for hanging out, but for crashing after a fun-filled day. This wasn’t really a problem for us. My daughter wanted to run around the grounds and my husband and I were drawing all we could from the last days of summer.

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The Mountain View’s onsite farm has a large barn with hens, rabbits, llamas, goats and cows. You can visit most days and the farmers welcome kids to pet animals when appropriate. My two-year-old showed no fear, walking right into the goat pen. The farmer guiding the tour said the goats must like her. They usually aren’t that nice to kids, she said.

Turning 37 isn’t one of those birthdays you’re texting friends about. It’s not a milestone. It’s just one day closer to 40. I could tell my husband wasn’t feeling the one-year-older thing, so when I saw there was an ax-throwing class the morning of his birthday, I pushed him to try it. He landed one. Not quite a bulls-eye, but close.

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Taking in the view

The Veranda is by far the Mountain View Grand’s best asset and where we spent the bulk of our time each afternoon. The long, wide porch has rocking chairs and sitting areas for taking in the expansive view of the White Mountains. In the summer, they serve drinks and small snacks on the Veranda, but in the off-season you must grab your own drinks at the tavern.

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Looking down the Veranda

When it came time to pack up the car, I took my daughter to the playground. A little exercise and distraction would help with the ride home. As I pushed her on the swing, I reminded her we would be leaving soon. “I don’t want to go,” she cried.

“I don’t want to go either,” I said.

Sunset behind the White Mountains

Sunset behind the White Mountains


Family Friendly Brewery

Four-beer flight at Tributary Brewing

Four-beer flight at Tributary Brewing

October in Maine is a bittersweet time of year. The sun is still warm, the trees are at their peak color, but the days are so short you feel like you’re going to cry when you think of the dark winter soon to come. I was feeling a little bittersweet on recent — and perfect — October Maine day when I visited Tributary Brewing for the first time. Sun crashed through the large storefront windows, brightening up the deep, steely blue that covered the place from floor to ceiling. People had told me the room was supposed to feel like you were underwater, but the atmosphere that Saturday was more airy than under-the-sea. It was like sitting lake side, sipping from a fresh beer, flanked by my friends on one side and my daughter on the other. The brew, the room, the band playing jazz standards were slowly curing what ailed me.

I’m not sure how it happened, but I’ve been writing a lot about beer lately. A few freelance assignments headed my way, and a few pitches about craft beer were picked up. The money was good and beer makes a good subject. I was thirsty for more assignments. I just needed to do a little research.

The problem is, visiting breweries is not an easy task for me. As the parent of a two-year-old who is also married to a craft beer lover, trips to a tap room can be tricky. Neither one of us wants to be Those Parents — pounding back pints while their toddler ruins everyone’s day drinking. I could ask my husband to stay home with our child while I sample fresh and interesting beers with friends, but that just seems mean. Instead, I scan news clips and beer blogs for  family friendly pubs where our daughter can stretch her legs without disrupting others in the brewery. Thankfully, there are more and more of those in New England these days.

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Tributary Brewing taproom bar

West Coast breweries figured out long ago that parents need a pint just as much as the childless. Even more so, on some days. Breweries in Portland, Oregon now offer kid’s menus and Hopworks Brewery even features a play area for the tots. As the number of tasting rooms has grown in the Portsmouth/Kittery area, I’ve appreciated their welcoming vibe when my daughter is in tow. Neither the bartenders nor the brewers at Earth Eagle Brewings blinked an eye when we brought our daughter in last winter to fill our growler. When Tributary Brewing opened, I heard former Portsmouth Brewery head brewer Tod Mott was doing great things with beer. I also heard that parents of well-behaved children need not fear the stink-eye from the establishment.

Plenty of room to stretch out at Tributary Brewing's picnic tables

Plenty of room to stretch out at Tributary Brewing’s picnic tables

Mott is best known in beer circles as the master behind the highly-rated stout Kate the Great. He owns and runs Tributary with his wife, Galen Mott, out of a storefront in small shopping plaza two doors down from the Kittery Post Office. Tributary Brewing is not located in the booming Foreside neighborhood, where you’ll find the beer-lover’s mecca, The Black Birch, but the little plaza is home to the summer farmers market and, for many, is on the way home from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

I ordered a four-beer flight, which included 4-ounce pours of all that Tributary had on tap that day. It started with a Pumpkin Ale, not a typical choice for launching a flight, but it’s October, so who cares right? At 5.2% ABV, this delicious ale was light on the pumpkin spice, allowing the hops to shine through. You say you’re not into the pumpkin beer thing? Well if any pumpkin ale is going to convert you, this one will.

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Next was the Oatmeal Stout, a smooth, chocolaty, far-too-drinkable beer. I tend to stay clear of stouts and porters before the snow flies, and then only in moderation, but at 6.2% ABV, I could cozy up with a few of these and a cribbage board on a Friday night and be perfectly happy. The odd-man-out in the flight was Tributary’s Bier De Garde, a bright, bubbly and tart light beer that left your mouth smacking after the first sip. Not my favorite of the bunch, it was the strongest at 6.9% ABV. Following two beers that signal the end of the year, the Bier De Garde seemed more fitting for April than October. My final sample was Tributary’s IPA. At 6.5% ABV, this beer was perfectly balanced and a little bittersweet. Overall a completely drinkable beverage for a Saturday with friends.

I was downing my last gulp of IPA around the time the jazz combo started packing up their gear. It was getting dark and my daughter had eaten all the snacks we had brought. As glasses emptied, we brainstormed about finding dinner across the Piscataqua. Tributary Brewing was an easy weekend meet-up for a group of friends both with and without kids, but now we were on to the hard part — dinner for seven in Portsmouth on a Saturday night.

On the edge of the Berkshires

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By the time I had finished my third drink, getting into the hot tub with strangers didn’t seem so weird. It was a perfect summer hot tub night – dry, a little breezy and not to hot. Located just outside the main door of the hotel, there had been a steady flow of people in and out of the thing for about an hour, so when I saw the older couple holding court step out, I made the decision to head in.

A chatty couple sat to my right, my husband and a single man clearly warmed on wine sat to my left. I turned to the chatty couple and asked, “What do you do?” The man was an attorney who split time between New York and Washington, D.C., and the other wrote for the New York Times, mostly about art.

“I’m a writer, too,” I blurted out, wishing almost immediately that I hadn’t. The Times writer looked back at me expectantly, steam circling her head. I opened my mouth but for a few seconds, all you could hear was the low gurgle of the bubbling jets.

“I write mostly for trade publications and some regional publications.” I paused. The wine, the steam and the late hour made this exercise seem more exhausting than ever. “Look, I’m not going to do that thing where writers try to impress each other by listing off all the places they write for. I write, but not for any place you’ve ever heard of.”

The attorney smiled. Clearly he had heard others go through the exercise before. The Times writer looked surprised at my bluntness, then relieved. She didn’t want to hear it and I didn’t want to give it. I sat back against a jet and let the bubbles work out a knot in my lower back.

My kind of art.

My kind of art.

My evening in the hot tub and this interaction pretty much sum up my experience at the Porches Inn at Mass MoCa and most of North Adams’ art scene. It’s nice but not overtly friendly. Cool, but in that elite liberal arts college kind of way. It’s a nice mix of odd and cozy — and a little bit awkward. North Adams is for people like me, its got the culture without that Berkshires pretense.

The Porches occupies a stretch of mill worker row houses across from Mass MoCa, housed in the old mill. It was gutted and updated with retro lamps and vintage art; the rooms have large, clean bathrooms outfitted with the little extras (shoe shine kit!). The king sized bed was backed against the wall on one side, which I hate, but the turn-down service and locally made chocolates on the pillow made up for it. Our room had a small porch with a bistro table and chair set. It was a great place to sip wine, play cards and watch the action in the heated pool and hot tub.

2014-06-23 13.43.04Walk over to Mass MoCA and you’ll find a sprawling industrial-era campus of brick stone and wooden buildings. Finding the entrance was not intuitive, nor is the gallery layout. An impressive set of installations by Teresita Fernandez greet visitors as they enter. Metallic pins wind their way along the walls of the first gallery, while in the next room, a wave of plastic, colored tubes floats into the cathedral ceiling. Walk up and down the gallery and you’ll notice a low murmur – the sound of the air movement created as you pass underneath.

Sol LeWitt

Sol LeWitt

There is much to love about Mass MoCA. The Sol LeWitt collection is comprehensive and colorful, including information on how the galleries were constructed. There is much to leave you unsettled, confused and uncomfortable. I don’t know how it’s possible to make someone feel claustrophobic in a space as open and large as these galleries, but somehow Mass MoCA does it.

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Mass MoCA’s success lies in its comprehensiveness. Every room, every walkway, every last vestige of the manufacturing complex it once was is cultivated in a way that impacts and impresses.


We dined primarily in North Adams, a small on-the-rebound town at the northeastern end of the Berkshires. The Italian restaurant recommended by Porches staff was adequate, but had a limited menu. Nearby Public made us much happier. My husband drooled over the craft beer offerings from tiny New York and upper Midwest breweries. I sipped on a Hemingway, a variation of the classic daiquiri, served with fresh squeezed lime in a martini glass. I had spent the early weeks of summer in search of a good rum drink. This was it.

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Driving into North Adam and the Berkshires region is very disorienting. Winding roads and switchbacks challenge your sense of direction. Rolling hills quickly arch into steep mountainsides that threaten to suck your car into the abyss. Abandoned and ramshackle motor inns line the roadways, devoid of hope of every being rehabilitated. The whole place seems like it’s been forgotten, and for many it probably has.

Yet the payoff on this drive is grand. A scary curve next to a dingy mobile home twists into an expansive vista with views of the entire valley. Wind turbines line the ridges, turning slowly, reminding busy city folks to slow down too.


A drive to the top of Mt Greylock revealed great views in this a harsh and blustery place. It has been centuries since settlers first stood on this peak, but the Berkshires still feels like a place of pioneers. It’s hard to scratch out a living, but it seems to have so much promise.

Will Travel for Beer


With the boom in small craft breweries, it seems like every small town has their own tasting room stocked with beer brewed fresh out back. State tourism boards have noticed too, and are trying to boost their appeal by promoting their locally made ales and lagers alongside other attractions, such as skiing, hiking, and even work conferences. It’s not that hard of a sell. Who wouldn’t want to throw in a craft brewery tour on their vacation? For the story, click the link below.

Will Travel for Beer,” Market Watch June 2014