The week is lagging, so we’re firing off a quick late week coffee post to jumpstart these last two days.  The Sapbucket household has been trying to ease back on the number of cups of joe consumed each morning.  But the Black River Roasters French Roast was so good that it lasted just over a week.  Great for the tastebuds, not some much for our overall caffeine intake.  Oh well, it was worth it.  We brewed this a variety of ways (strong and stronger), drinking it black, with half and half, and milk.  It never lost the essential french roast flavor.  Sometimes the phrasing on coffee packaging is misleading at best, but with this coffee what you read is what you get: A full bodied blend with a smooth, rich finish.  The coffee wasn’t bitter or overly roasted, just dark and smooth.

Verdict: Black River Roasters delivers a go-to French Roast

Roasted on Flynn Ave in Burlington (and also in NJ for the New York City area) we purchased this bag of beans at City Market.  Check out Black River Roaster’s story (name changes, expansion and offerings), like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter @BR_Roasters


Given the chance, what would you name as Vermont’s state treat?  We’ve got a pie (it’s apple) but seem to lack a true state dessert.  It seems that most folks don’t realize that pie is not dessert, but a course onto itself.  Our neighbors to the South have an official donut (Boston Crème), New Hampshirites are too cranky to have anything but a state vegetable (Pumpkin) and the folks to the west have copied our state fruit (Apple) and have a totally lame state muffin (Again, apple).  Only our friends over in Maine seem to really get it, and have dubbed the Whoopie Pie as the state treat.

If the Vermont legislature thinks that it should spend time establishing Skiing and Snowboarding Vermont’s official outdoor sports and adding Walleye as another official fish, it is past high time that we get a state treat.  Therefore the Sapbucket officially calls on the Legislature in its next biennium to formalize an official treat for the state of Vermont.  Since it seems that election season has already started, we further declare that this will be the litmus test by which the Sapbucket judges every candidate for office.  Will you take a strong position in favor of an official dessert for all Vermonters?  (We’ll be taking suggestions for what that treat should be during the rest of the year.)

In the meantime, we’re discus Maine’s official treat the Whoopie Pie.  I’m not vested enough in the history of the dessert to take a side in whether Mainers or the Pennsylvania Amish invented it.  Heck, I had never even had a Whoopie Pie before trying the Nomadic Oven’s devilish creation last year.  It recently caught my eye in the City Market dessert case and I figured the time was right for a Sapbucket review.  The pie is a large size, comparable to a hamburger from Al’s French Fries with a second patty between the bun, and comes wrapped in plastic.  That seems to help the outer chocolate cakes stay fresh and moist.  The cakes are soft (bordering on sticky) and fantastically chocolately.  Not a crazy rich brownie chocolate, just simple chocolate cake goodness.  The icing is sweet and marshmallow like in texture and flavor while binding the two cakes together so you consistently have both chocolate and icing bites.  As noted, I’m a Whoopie Pie novice, but I thought this was an excellent treat and a great dessert.

Verdict: Maine’s official treat will always be welcome here in Vermont. 

Baked in Burlington, we picked up a Nomadic Oven Whoopie Pie from City Market.  A few years ago Seven Days did a small piece on the story behind the Nomadic Oven’s creator, Jen Smith.  After reading that, like the Nomadic Oven on Facebook and follow them on twitter @TheNomadicOven.

Ben and Jerry’s is probably the most commonly sited feel good entrepreneurial story about a Vermont business.  That’s understandable, it’s a great story and one that has done a tremendous amount for the Vermont brand.  (Some will debate whether there’s any value to branding products as Made in Vermont, but that’s an argument for another time.) While Ben and Jerry’s is the story everyone knows, there are hundreds of other Vermont products out there with the potential to be next big thing and certainly dozens that will achieve national standing and recognition.

Salad dressing certainly isn’t on the same plane as ice cream, but the arc Drew’s products have an impressive reach nationwide.  The Sapbucket recently uncorked a bottle of Drew’s Lemon Goddess Dressing for a salad of baby greens.  Despite coming from a professional looking bottle, the dressing has a taste of being homemade and is a  perfect choice for pairing with fish, quiche or other lighter fare.  There’s a lightness to the dressing that belies it’s a creamy (but not too heavy) texture.  A nicely blended flavor of  soy, lemon and tahini makes the dressing a nice addition to a variety of salads and we’ll be curious to see how it works as a dressing for noodles (as suggested by Drew’s).  Drew’s doesn’t rely on it’s Vermont roots for branding purposes, but is one the growing number of nationally recognized products made here.  If we’re truly going to be a leader in eating local, we need more products like Drew’s to be made and consumed in Vermont.

Verdict: A fresh tasting dressing perfect for foods you might cook up in summer Vermont weather. 

Made in Chester, Drew’s dressings are currently on sale at most Co-Ops and natural food stores for $2.19 a bottle (regularly $3.89).  Check out Drew’s full line of “all-natural” dressings and where you can find them from coast to coast

Make new friends but keep the old ones is how the saying goes.  It seems not a day goes by without a new brewery opening or a new beer coming on the market.  It’s been a bit overplayed, but it does occasionally feel as though this is a golden age for beer drinkers.  With all these new offerings and excitement generated by “extreme” beers, it is important to remember your true friends.  The ones that have been a bed rock of the craft beer movement for decades.  Otter Creek was my first craft beer.  And while it hasn’t been cranking out beers that people line up for hours to get a taste of, it has produced reliably great craft beer while showing it can master new styles as well.

For my money, the Otter Creek Vermont Sampler 12-pack is one of the best bargains in craft beer.  Selling for $12-$13, the mixed 12-pack gives you Copper Ale, Stovepipe Porter, Black IPA (now year-round) and the current seasonal. To break down this bargain box in a little more idepth: you get Otter Creek’s flagship beer (Copper), a flat out exceptional porter (ranked by the NYTimes as #2 in their porter tasting), a wonderful rendition of the Black IPA style created by VT Pub & Brewery founder Greg Noonan, and a one off like Roasted Red, Spring Bock, Otter Summer, or Oktoberfest.  In some cases the Copper might be the weakest of the bunch.  Which is a hard thing to type since it was easily my favorite beer the first few years after I turned 21.  But you get the enjoyment of that old friend while tasting the new offerings like Black IPA.  There’s a little something for everyone here and if you’re stocking up for a summer weekend with friends, you can’t go wrong with Otter Creek’s Vermont Sampler.

Verdict: A box of beer that’s both a bargain and a bounty.

Brewed in Middlebury, Otter Creek’s Vermont Sampler is available at most grocery stores, gas stations and beer stores throughout Vermont for $12.99.  Like Otter Creek Brewing on Facebook and follow them on Twitter @OtterCreekBrew

Pancakes have a way of slowing down a Saturday morning.  It feels that all too often, the morning gets rolling and you head outside.  Before you know it you’ve eaten lunch and are turning the corner towards the evening.  Start the day with some pancakes and you’ve got an instant slow motion button for the morning.   You’ll find time to read the paper, savor rather than mainline your coffee and even talk to your breakfast companions.

If you’re the type to only reach for a box of premixed pancake batters such as Bisquick for a camping trip or vacation, I understand.  I’d encourage you to revisit that stance the next time you are in the store on a Friday and thinking about taking it easy on Saturday.  Grab a bag of Stewart’s Pancake Mix and start your day off right.  The mix is as easy as any other, with a basic recipe and “Stewart’s” recipe that calls for yogurt and apple sauce.  We’ve made it both ways (including subbing kefir for the yogurt) and you can’t go wrong.  Stewart’s version did produce the lighter, fluffier pancake, but then again the Sapbucket household generally favors that type of thicker-fluffy pancake.  The distinguishing factor about Stewart’s mix is the blend of poppy, sunflower and flax seeds.  The seeds add just a hint of crunch and nuttiness, a really nice hearty flavor that conveys a true sense of being homemade.

Verdict: Use this mix to slow down your Saturday with some delicious, creative pancakes.

Made in Williston, we prepped for our Saturday at City Market, picking up this 2lb bag of mix for $5.99.  

I could stand to eat more pickles.  They are delicious, great with a sandwich at lunch, or a quick snack on their own.  The problem is there’s usually a jar of in the fridge somewhere, a partially finished jar that’s probably been in there too long, and I’m afraid to even open it.  So I don’t eat those pickles, and while I’m shopping and about to put a new jar of pickles in my cart I remember those lonely spears. Wasting away into nothing, half hidden behind an unfortunate pumpkin beer and some horseradish.  Such a vicious cycle.

But as of today I’m committing to buy only local pickles.  And to finish what I buy.  Which won’t be a problem if I’m sticking with Vermont Pickle’s Hot Dills.  They say their pickles have that “old fashioned, fresh from the garden taste, just like grandma used to make.”  I’m not sure if their pickles are old fashioned, but they are damned delicious.  Popping open the jar yields a tremendous, sour pickle juice smell.  The spears are a medium length (you might want two if you’re going Chicago Style and sliding them onto a roll with a hot dog) with a great, satisfying crunch.  Just as you finish off the pickle you pick up the heat, not too much, right at the front of your mouth and tip of your tongue.  The hot/sour combo is pretty compelling and I found myself snacking away on the pickles before they made it into the fridge.

One of my other favorite things about this jar was the mix of dill seeds, garlic clove, and pepper still in the pickle juice.  It conveys the homemade angle Vermont Pickle is striving to project, but is also visually appealing to see the seeds and pepper float along in the jar, moving around like sand in a wave.  Plus you can use the remaining juice for all sorts of things like: getting rid of cramps, making Russian Dressing, or any of these “gazillion” ways.

Verdict: Break the pickle cycle in your fridge with some addictive Hot Dills.  

Pickled in Milton or Burlington (website lists Milton, jar has an address in Burlington), we grabbed this jar at Healthy Living in South Burlington for $6.49.  Check out Vermont Pickle’s full array of pickled products, like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter @VermontPickle.

I’m a big believer in trying new things.  If there’s something new on a menu, chances are I’ll order it.  Same for new products on the shelf at the store.  A couple of days ago I saw Does’ Leap Kefir and figured, why not?  I love Does’ Leap’s goat cheeses and never tried Kefir, so I grabbed a big bottle and headed off.  One of my other principles about trying new things is that if you should try something at least five times before you give up on it.  Well I think I’m going to need a few more tries with kefir to make up my mind.

The first sip is familiar.  Kefir is often compared to yogurt, which I’d agree with.  Does’ Leap Kefir tastes like a thin or runny yogurt with a hint of maple.  The creamy texture extends that sense of the familiarity, but the taste then flips mildly sour.  It’s not dramatically unpleasant, just enough to wrinkle the nose or make you smack your lips and pull your tongue across the top of your mouth to figure out what you are tasting.

Downing my glass I figured I needed to come up with some other ways to consume the Kefir as I was unlikely to polish off the whole bottle drinking a glass a day.  The Sapbucket household was looking to make some pancakes later that morning, so we used the kefir as a substitute for milk.  Later that day we we’re starting to marinate some chicken and subbed it in for yogurt.  It both cases it really punched up our recipes.  The pancakes we’re incredibly light and fluffy, the marinade rich and creamy.  So as I continue to try kefir straight before passing judgment, I definitely won’t hesitate to use it as a substitute in any cooking that calls for yogurt.

Verdict: Awesome as an ingredient in recipes, we’re still warming up to kefir as a beverage. 

Does’ Leap is the only Vermont producer of kefir, you can check out all their great goat dairy cheeses and items on their website