Apollo Wine and Spirits

About apollonorth@live.com

Apollo Liquor has been owned by a single family and has been serving SE Minnesota since 1967. We pride ourselves on excellent customer service and will bend over backwards to help a customer out. We are part of the Rochester community and hope to continue to serve our customers and the region for generations to come.

Holiday White Wine Guide

Nationally red wine is a bigger seller than white wines. Red wine and a big steak is always my favorite meal. However– there is always a time and place for beautiful white wines. Sometimes we get the idea that white wines are sugary sweet, fizzy pop wines that cannot be seriously enjoyed or discussed. Our home state of Minnesota is one of the biggest markets per capita for Moscato. We love our sweet stuff!

However there are plenty of great white wines in the world that have tons of character. Believe it or not—I think that the world of white wine has more flavors and types to explore than red. White wine can be fun and frivolous or deep, sexy and serious. Whatever you want you can find in the world of White wine.

Montinore BorealisMontinore Borealis white:
This is a great white wine from Oregon. Oregon wines are getting more and more positive press for their unique take on European style wines. Oregon wine is typically a little more nuanced and delicate than California wines. California wines love to hit you in the face with big bold flavors that overwhelm the senses. Oregon teases your taste buds with lively flavors that leave you wanting more! The Borealis is a blend of Muller-Thurgau, Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Gris. It will have flavors of honeydew and guava. Try it with your next salad or even ham or turkey. Drink it at about 45 degrees to accent the great balance. About $14

Louis Laurent Vouvray:
Vouvray is probably my favorite white wine. Vouvray is in the Loire region of France east of Tours. Wines from Vouvray are almost always hundred percent Chenin Blanc. Chenin blanc can range from Sweeter to off dry. I prefer the slightly off dry wines. The Laurent has a nice bit of acidity. The acidity gives it a great mouth feel and viscous tones. It is great with food especially white meats and hard cheeses. This should be the go to wine for your Thanksgiving turkey!! About $16

Ca Lojera Lugana:
We know they have been making wine in Italy for thousands of years. They always make the wine to go with food. This beautiful white wine comes from the small family vineyards of Franco Tiraboschi and his daughter Alessandra. The Wolf on the labels is a reminder that black wolves used to protect the bandits who hid away in the houses along the lakes of the region. Ca Lojera uses hundred year old facilities but still use the most modern techniques in concert with the old ways to create a cool wine. The Lugana is the perfect wine for any appetizers and even salads!! ABOUT $16

Caricature ChardonnayCaricature Chardonnay
You cannot write a wine article with our talking about chardonnay. Chard is the number one selling varietal in the world. It is versatile and can go with food or just sitting around drinking with your friends. Caricature is a product of the Lange family. It got 93 out of 100 points from Beverage tasting institute. The labels are fun and the wine is even more fun. It has flavors of green apple and light tropical fruits. It will come across your tongue as slightly sweet—but it isn’t. It is the explosion of fruit flavors that hit you first to give the impression of sweet. It is actually voluptuous and full flavored. It will stand up to just about all foods! ABOUT $16

By |November 11th, 2017|Wine Blogs|0 Comments

Oregon Pinot Noir

Only two days left of the big wine sale at Apollo.  In my endeavor to recommend great wines to you during the sale, I was trying to think of a wine that is very versatile in food pairings and has broad appeal to red wine lovers.  It didn’t take long before it hit me that Pinot Noir fits the bill.  Only Pinot Noir has the grace, finesse and complexity to go with the finest seafood meals and still be able to hold up to a hearty steak.  When thinking of great Pinot Noir regions in the world, the list is short.  Pinot Noir is a finicky grape that needs a cooler region than most red grapes.  It can test the patience of even the best grower.  Burgundy is always first to my mind when it comes to great Pinot Noir, but for me a close second and more affordable is Oregon.  I have enjoyed Pinot Noir from all over the world but only Burgundy and Oregon seem to be consistently great.  The only turn off I have about Burgundy is to get a good to great Pinot from there, your price point will start around $100.  In Oregon, a good to great wine will start around $20.

Oregon Pinot Noir MapOregon’s wine history started around 50 years ago when a small group of pioneering growers decided to give the Williamette Valley a try to grow some grapes.  The conventional wisdom was that these people were nuts!  Why go to Oregon where the weather is usually too cold to ripen grapes, the precipitation is unpredictable, and frost can hit virtually anytime of year.  Why not stay in California, where the sun is seemingly always shining and the weather reliable.  Nevertheless, the adventurous group gave it a try and after several trying years of trial and error, they discovered that when the stars aligned, the Williamette Valley could produce truly great Pinot Noir.  Some even rivaling the great Burgundy!

As far as flavor and style, Oregon can produce a wide range depending on where the grapes grow.  Most have a characteristic raspberry and cranberry note with distinctive earthy tones.  The flavors are powerful but there is still always a beautiful finesse to the finer examples.  The good examples can age for decades and will still show the beautiful terroir from the stunning valley.  This balance is truly hard to achieve anywhere else in the world!

When deciding on food, simpler is better.  The classic pairing is salmon prepared simply.  Poultry also pairs up great.  Fuller bodied Pinot Noir can even pair beautifully with steak.  To me the key is to keep the food simple.  The complexity of Pinot Noir will shine when it doesn’t have to compete with complex dishes.
Great producers are Montinore, Drouhin, Eyrie, Penner Ash and Maysara.  Due to the difficulty of growing great Pinot Noir, most of the producers are small production.  While this makes certain producers hard to find and the wines difficult to keep in stock, it keeps up the great quality.

Pinot Noir, when done right, can be one of the greatest wines you will ever drink!  It is hard to make this wine consistently great, so I would stick with the tried and true regions that have the terroir to pull off great Pinot Noir.  Oregon is one of the select few regions of the world that I can say achieves the feat of great Pinot.

By |February 27th, 2017|Wine Blogs|0 Comments

Explore Spanish Wines

As the Progressive Wine Sale continues, the discounts are getting even better! This is the perfect chance to try some wines you haven’t had before, or you had your eye on and didn’t feel the time is right. Well with the discounts approaching 30% on any bottle of wine in the store, the time is right now!
If you’re a red wine lover and have never tried a wine from Spain, you better march to the store and pick some up! You are seriously missing out on delicious wine! Spain is blessed with near perfect terroir for red wines. To keep things simple, we will discuss two general regions, but keep in mind that Spain has a long tradition and makes a lot of wine. It is definitely worth exploring the regions more deeply.
spanish regionsIn the north, the dry and mountainous terrain offer the ideal combination of long, sunny days coupled with cool nights. This produces intense, fully ripe grapes that have a chance to “rest” during the nights. This rest allows the grapes to build up and retain some acidity. The prevents the ripe grapes from becoming too jammy and raisiny. The acidity offers just enough mouthwatering tartness to enliven the wine and make it a beautiful accompaniment to a variety of foods. Two regions that you must try if you want to experience the brilliance of northern Spanish wines is Rioja and Ribera del Duero. Both areas offer a plethora of great producers making wines at a variety of price points.
Travel further south in Spain you will start experiencing delicious red wines that are usually blended and start to resemble Shiraz and Shiraz Blends. In fact, this area is flooded with many aspiring and established Australian winemakers who want to learn the trade or learn the tools of the trade that the long history of Spanish winemakers has. The wines are a bit lighter and less tannic than the wines from the north. The land isn’t quite as harsh as the northern mountainous regions, but the Mediterranean climate in the south offers plenty of sunshine and cool breezes coming from the sea. In the north, regions such as Rioja are steeped in tradition and have many more rules in place. The southern regions tend to have much more freedom to take advantage of the blessed terroir that Spain provides. This area is where you see much more experimentation and a “new world attitude” to the wines. Wines from southern Spain are often cited as among the best value wines in the world. It is hard to find bad ones. For a real treat, look for Priorats. In my opinion, this region shows off the best of southern Spain.
Explore Spanish WinesDon’t be afraid to try the wines of Spain. They are regarded as among the finest wines in the world, especially if you are looking for values! With the Apollo Progressive Wine Sale going on right now, there is no better time to explore!

By |February 23rd, 2017|Wine Blogs|0 Comments

Step Up to Australian Wines

Step Up For Some True Gems!

One of the most common questions I get about wine is “are the more expensive wines worth the money?”.  That is a loaded questionBarossa Valley because wines can vary so much and often the price can reflect the scarcity for collectors rather than true quality.  However, there is one part of the world that I honestly believe a step up in price can give huge rewards as far as quality.  With the huge discounts offered at Apollo during the sale, now is the time to look at Australian wines again!

If you are willing to add about $10 per bottle in your budget, Australian wines can give you huge bang for the buck.  Five years ago, wines such as Yellow Tail and Lindeman’s were all the rage.  For around $7 dollars they offered great quality.  Unfortunately, they became a victim of their success.  Massive overproduction to meet demand, coupled by drought conditions in SE Australia resulted in the wines that lost their edge in qualitover extracted and drab.  But, if you step up a price point to the high teens or higher, there are truly world class wines to be had.  Often the quality reflects wines that are double the price in other parts of the world.
D'arenberg winesIn regions such as Barossa and McClaren Vale, there are producers that didn’t waver in quality during the heyday of Aussie wines.  They were committed to quality and heritage more than making a quick buck.  This coupled with the fact that Barossa and McClaren with their hillsides and proximity to the sea were not as affected by the crippling drought in other parts of the country.  Many wines from this region are truly excellent.  They are not the typical $5-$10 wines you think of from Australia.  Wines of this region are best known for Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon that are big and bold, yet still possess a stabilizing and refreshing acidity to counteract the intense fruit.  The result is a beautifully balanced wines that can be had a great value!

A couple of my suggested wineries are D’arenberg and Mollydooker.  D’arenberg is one of the oldest famiMollydookerly owned wineries in Australia that have always had a commitment to quality.  They make a wide variety of wines at a variety of pricepoints.  I have never been disappointed in anything I have had.  Mollydooker is a newer winery that has quickly made a name for itself as a top winery in Australia.  Don’t mistake the fun names and labels of these wines.  They are world class reds!

Aussie wines can give a huge bump in quality for just a few bucks added to your wine budget.  There are so many great producers in Barossa and McClaren that it is hard to go wrong.  With Apollo’s huge wine sale going on now, this is the time to step up and taste the difference.

By |February 21st, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Apollo Is Here To Help This Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day for many men can be a very stressful time of the year! The unrealistic world painted by Hallmark movies and romcoms puts pressure on men to deliver the big gift for Valentines Day. Jewelry is best—but in a pinch a great bottle of wine, liquor or beer can melt the most romantic of hearts.

Champagne is a natural treat for the big day. Whether sweet, dry, rich or light a good bottle of bubbly will bring a smile to everyone’s face! Champagne and strawberry’s is a great match. Every woman remembers when Richard Gere used the pairing to start his courtship of Julia Roberts in the classic film Pretty Woman. The sweetness of the berry and crisp oakiness of champagne is classic!

If you are planning a special meal we all know the perfect wine will only enhance the flavors of the food. If you are doing a steak dinner, Pinot Noir is perfect. Pinot Noir is delicate enough to please the soft taste buds of your lover, while still strong enough to balance the robust flavors of any hunk of meat you can create.

Another classic meal is lobster. The rich flavors of lobster will go perfectly with a buttery chardonnay. The chilled elegance of the most popular white grape in the world will open the lobster flavor and create a sensation of creaminess and liveliness.

Since Valentines Day is Tuesday and we are all busy, sometimes an easy pizza and a little snuggling in front to of the TV is always ok. If wine is your thing, try Zinfandel, a peppery rich red wine that is America’s indigenous grape. But for classic pizza pairings a good beer is best! Go with lighter crisper lagers that will cut the acidity of the pizza sauce and refresh the taste buds! Whatever you do, have a little something to enhance the mood and enjoy the most romantic times of the year!

Champagne choices:
Chandon Cuvee M from California is classic American bubbly. The perfect mix of dry and sweet it has flavors of peach, citrus and a bouquet of typical champagne breadiness. The price is perfect—about $20 so you don’t break the bank. Even better any leftover champagne can be the perfect morning mimosa that you may be lucky enough to share with your loved one!

Pinot Noir:
Humberto Canale is a super surprising Pinot Noir from the southern hemisphere. It is one of the furthest south vineyards in the world. Antarctic air cools the grapes and gives it the perfect delicate flavors. There is virtually no Pinot Noir grown in Argentina, but Canale has found the perfect little vineyard to create amazing delicate wines. This pinot noir is bursting with black cherry and berry flavors. It has a great finish that always leaves you wanting more. At $13 a bottle it is the best value around. Save your money for the jewelry or roses!!!

Chardonnay:

Butter Chardonnay has become a national sensation. The Label says it all. It is rich buttery and clean chardonnay. But if you want a cool alternative from a small little California producer, try Caricature Chardonnay. Caricature is vibrant and easy to drink. Using all Lodi grapes Caricature chard exhibits the perfect character and exquisite flavors that you expect from good chardonnay. It has 6months in the French barrel to give it complexity and silkiness. An awesome new wine that won’t break the bank for about $15.

By |February 13th, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

One to Grab During The Italian Red Wine Sale!

One of the great things about Italy is they have a long history of independent city-states retaining their culture and cuisine even though they are now unified under one banner.  One of the greatest red wines in history has survived because of this.  The Nebbiolo grape, despite being enormously finicky to grow and nearly impossible to grow outside of its native Italy, has survived for centuries because the proud people of the Piedmont region refused to give in and plant other international varieties and other economic pressure through the years.

Early history alludes to the alluring grape as far back as the first century AD.  Pliny the Elder noted the exception quality of the wine produced in what is now the Barolo region.  He doesn’t name Nebbiolo by name, but his description is eerily similar to what Nebbiolo is and looks like.  More definite records go back as far as the 12th century.  Nebbiolo doesn’t get the international attention until the 18th century when the English were looking for an alternative to Bordeaux during warring periods with France.

Besides the legendary wines of Barolo and Barbaresco, other wines from NE Italy that utilize Nebbiolo are Roero, Gattinara, Ghemme, Langhe and Nebbiolo d’Alba.  Despite the legendary reputation and popularity among collectors and conneusseurs, Nebbiolo is only about 3% of the total wine production of the Piedmont.  Even though the rarity of these wines can be vexing, the small production accounts for excellent quality control.

Wines made from Nebbiolo are known for ample amounts of acidity and tannin.  Because of this, most Nebbiolos are built for aging.  Some of the most high quality need at least a decade and can last for 4-5 decades.  As the wine ages, the bouquet becomes very complex and delightful with aromas of tar and roses being common. In the mouth, the acidity shines presenting a lively and complex beauty that is incredible with meats and wild game.   For lighter styles try some of the great Langhe and Gattinara wines that only need a couple years but may lack a bit of the complexity.

Today, Nebbiolo is known for making some of the finest red wines in the world such as Barolo and Barbaresco.  The thousands of years of growing in the Piedmont have allowed the grape to adapt perfectly with the terroir.  The result is a gorgeous wine so in tune with the Piedmont, that it barely survives anywhere else in the world!  During the Apollo sale, it would be unfortunate to not grab and try a bit of this tremendous varietal.

By |January 19th, 2017|Wine Blogs|0 Comments

Looking For The Perfect Gift?

In a panic yet?  Apollo has got your back!  Whether you are going to a party or shopping for that person that has everything, Apollo has the perfect gift.  The holidays are a time for great experiences with family and friends.  Apollo has the largest selection of fine and unique wines that can amplify the special moments of the holidays.

If you have a spouse or parent that literally does not need or want for anything, a great bottle of wine is the perfect gift.  This is the time to break out something unique or adventurous that your much too practical spouse or parent would never buy for themselves.   Apollo is stocked to the gills with unique and special wines, beers, whiskies and cordials that is sure to please anyone and everyone.  I’m here to simply guide you towards some great wine ideas that are unique yet delicious!

Do you have a discerning wine collector in the family?  Apollo has several collectible and age worthy wines that are sure to please the most discriminating collector.  Whether it is one of our 100pt wines we have in stock, or that rare, cost is no issue Burgundy.  Apollo has it in stock for that last-minute shopper.  We also have tons of great value wines from small and artisanal producers from around the world that is sure to please any taste.

Looking for something to pair with Prime Rib?  Apollo has everything from Artisanal bargains from Spain to rare and historic Bordeaux offerings.  Looking for new world and modern?  Apollo has several great offerings from some of the best producers from California and Washington.  Gems from Australia also pair well with prime rib and Apollo is loaded with rare bargains from down under.

Serving turkey or ham?  Apollo has unique beauties from Germany and Alsace that pair perfectly with white meats, as well as wonderful small producers from California and New Zealand.

Most people don’t usually buy a wine just for dessert.  Make this holiday different!  Apollo has a huge selection of dessert wine and Port that will serve to finish off that wonderful meal with family or friends.  Also, don’t forget New Years.  We have a huge selection of sparkling wines from around the world that can break you out of the norm in style.

Apollo truly does have the perfect gift for anyone.  We have expert staff, and a huge selection.  We also have free gift-wrapping and can deliver too!

 

By |December 18th, 2016|Wine Blogs|0 Comments

German Wines Make a Great Gift!

Yes, I know there is a smoking deal coming up at Apollo for Italian wines, but do yourself a favor and toss a few German wines in your cart too.   Great beer is often equated with Germany for good reason,  but wine is another one of Germany’s prominent exports and should not be overlooked.

Currently German wines have a mixed reputation in these parts.  Some equate the wine as simple, sweet wine that is uncomplicated and fine as a low alcohol “quaffer”.  Others view German wine as the world’s most elegant and pure white wines in the world!  My view is of the latter, in fact prior to the 1900’s there were arguably only two countries in the western world that were deemed worthy: France and Germany.

The history of German wines date back to Roman times when the Romans had a garrison in Trier to beat back the Germanic tribes on the other side of the Rhine.  The Romans needed a steady supply of wine and transporting it from France or Italy or across the Vosges mountains proved to be too expensive.  Thus winemaking began in earnest with the Romans and many of their methods are still used today.  During medieval times the vine spread east coinciding with the eastern spread of Christianity.  Because of this, churches and monasteries played an important role in grape growing reaching the peak production in the 1500’s and controlling most of the land under vine.  During this time quality rather than quantity became important and German wines were established as being some of the finest in the world.  When Napoleon became ruler, he took most of the vineyards away from the church and broke the vineyards into parcels and many people formed cooperatives.  This, coupled with beer gaining in prominence produced market changes that drove German wine down the road of making much more wine, but of lesser quality.  This carried into the 20th century and still damages the reputation of German wines.

Despite this, there are many German producers making truly incredible Riesling than range from floral and aromatic to flinty and mineral laden.  The flavors and characteristics can change but all of the top-flight wines have Germany’s signature finesse and tremendous balance between fruit and bracing acidity.  This acidity is what makes the wines of Germany often copied but rarely matched.  This is because of the delicate balance of the climate, soil and topography in Germany.  German climate is generally too cold to grow top wines, but because the factors of the river, steep slopes facing the sun, slate soils and German ingenuity, wines are able to ripen to near perfection while still being bright, crisp and aromatically pure wines in the world.

German wines found in these parts are usually of the sweeter style but are beautifully balanced.  Some of my favorites:

  • Pauly Bergweiler Noble House Riesling ($13): The Bergweilers believe that the most important asset of the estate is its vineyards.  Extensive care, handpicking of the grapes and intentionally low yields have kept this estate among the top producers in the world.  The Noble House wine is actually a blend of Rieslings from some of the very best vineyards in the Mosel Valley.  Bergweiler makes wines from each of these vineyards but they are much more expensive.  By blending grapes from these top vineyards, he is able to use some of the very best Riesling grapes in the world, yet make a consistent low cost wine.  In my opinion, this is among the very best value Riesling I can find.
  • Urbans-Hof Ockfener Bockstein Spatlese ($39): Named fof the patron saint of German winemakers, St. Urban.  This winery was founded in 1947 but really started booming in the 1960’s.  In the 1980’s Hermann Weiss started investing in some of the very top vineyards in Germany, including Ockfen.  Ockfener Bockstein is considered a Grand-Cru Vineyard.  Located on a 50 degree slope so the sun’s rays have more direct contact with the vines.  The soils are filled with hard, gravelly slate which also retain heat.  Most importantly the hill is topped with an extensive forest that retains water and allows the water to drain slowly to the subsoil of the vineyard.  The combination of these factors make Ockfener Bockstein the most refined wines they make.  For a taste of a top-flight Spatlese, this wine fits the bill and costs significantly less than many other of the great Mosel Spatlese wines out there.
By |December 10th, 2016|Wine Blogs|0 Comments

Anatomy of Whisky

The holidays are just around the corner and that means whisky is on my mind.  This is always the time of year when my whisky consumption increases.  Partly because whisky is a great companion to cold weather, partly because whisky is always a popular and safe gift and partly because with the holiday craziness a good stiff drink is just what the doctor ordered!  As with anything I imbibe, I believe that gaining a good understanding of the drink can actually make it taste better.  When you appreciate all the effort that goes into getting this bottle to your home you can truly appreciate the flavors better. So what does it take to make a whisky?

Whisky is a complicated and mesmerizing drink that has captured the imagination of people for centuries.  We cannot possibly go into everything that goes into making a fine whisky and cover all the various styles in one sitting.  I will attempt to simply and concisely cover the basics though.

Simply put, whisky is a distilled spirit that is distilled from various grains such as barley, rye, wheat and corn.  Different mixtures of these grains make up the mash and each style of whisky adheres to specific rules when comprising the mash bill.  We will cover the basic styles of Bourbon, Canadian and Scotch.

Bourbon is a mash that must be composed of 51% corn.  The rest of the bill can be various other grains.  Once the corn is milled water is added and heated to start fermentation.  Other basic rules required to make a Bourbon is that it must be distilled in the United states.  Bourbon must also be aged in new, charred oak barrels.  There are other stipulations, but these are the basic ones.  The aging process is perhaps the most important process in the production of bourbon.  Ageing in the charred oak barrels is what gives whiskey it’s color and subtle caramel notes.  Bourbon tends to be among the sweeter styles of whisky because of the corn content and the oak barrels.

Canadian whisky is whisky that is made (wait for it…) in Canada!  Canadian whisky is not quite as straight forward as other whisky styles.  Most likely because Canadians are so laid back, they don’t fret about rules quite so much.  Canadian is quite popular in the northern U.S. because of the history of prohibition and the ease to bring whisky in the U.S. in small fast boats through Detroit and other border towns.   Canadian whisky is a blended multi-grain spirit that typically contains a large percentage of corn.  Even though Canadian whisky and the term rye whisky are used interchangeably in Canada, most Canadian whisky is composed primarily of corn, barley and only a touch of rye.  One rule that is adhered to is that all Canadian whisky must be aged at least three years in Canada in wooden barrels of not greater than 700 Liters in capacity.  The finished product must be at least 80 proof.  The typical end-product is that most Canadian whisky has a lighter flavor profile and not quite as sweet as Bourbon.

Finally Scotch.  Scotch whisky, simply called Scotch is a malt whisky or grain whisky made in Scotland.  There are two basic types of Scotch: Single Malt and Blended.  By law all Scoch must be aged in oak barrels for at least three years.  In the case of blended Scotch, any age statement on a bottle must reflect the age of the youngest whisky used in the blend.  Other rules that are required in Scotch production are: it must be produced at a distillery in Scotland from water and malted barley.  Other grains may be added but must be fermented at that distillery only by adding yeast.  The whisky must be matured in an excise warehouse in Scotland in oak casks not exceeding 700 liters.  It must contain no added substances other than water and plain caramel coloring.  The minimum strength must be at least 80 proof.

Blended Scotch constitutes around 90% of all the whisky made in Scotland.  Blended Scotch can contain both malt whisky and grain whisky blended together.  This gives the whisky and consistent brand style.  Typically lighter than Single Malt and less sweet than Bourbon, you usually get a hint of peat along with caramel and toast notes.

Single Malt Scotch means that it is only produced from water and malted barley at a single distillery by batch distillation in pot stills.  Usually more sought after among connoisseurs because of it’s purity, complexity and sense of place, it can come off as a bit more harsh than blended whiskies.  Single malt usually has a more distinct peaty flavor from the water used along with hints of leather and oak.

This is an ever so brief description of whisky.  I hope this inspires you to learn more and appreciate the complexities of the whisky world.  It really will make you enjoy it more!

 

By |November 28th, 2016|Spirits Blog|0 Comments

Life Through Rose Colored Glasses

Holiday season is quickly approaching.  While always a great time to be with friends and family, it can also be the most stressful time of year.  Amidst this stress, who wants to fret about pairing the proper wine with the complicated dishes being planned.  If you subscribe to the KISS method like me, you may want a single wine choice that can go with virtually any food you throw at it.  Some say impossible!  I say grab a rose!

When speaking of rose, I’m talking of the deliciously crisp, fruity and dry gems that are made throughout the world.  Wines such as White Zinfandel, while they serve a purpose, are not nearly as food friendly as their dry rose counterparts.

The primary way rose is made is to make the wine from red grapes such as Syrah, Cab or Merlot.  You start by crushing the grapes but you remove the juice from the skins much sooner than you would for a typical red wine.  Typically, 1-3 days.  This imparts only a hint of the red color and also only imparts only a hint of the bitter tannins that can get into typical reds.  What’s left is a pink, dry, fruity yet crisp wine that revitalizes the senses!

Rose wines are perhaps the earliest style of wine making.  Many of the techniques used to produce hearty dark red wines were not in practice in ancient times.  In the Middle Ages, even though there was the know how to make red wines, rose wines were still preferred and considered of higher quality.  Red wines were considered harsh and of lower quality.  According to wine historian Hugh Johnson, “To the powerful English market the most prized clarets were the vin d’une nuit or “wine of one night” which were pale-rosé colored wines made from juice that was allowed only a single night of skin contact. The darker wine produced from must that had longer skin contact were known as the vin vermeilh (or pinpin to the English) was considered to be of much lesser quality”.

Rosy for RoseWhile pretty much any region that makes quality red wine also makes quality rose, my favorites tend to come from France.  A couple regions that stand out are Tavel in the Rhone, and Anjou in the Loire Valley.  These two regions have a very long history of specializing in this style. Through hundreds of years of practice and trial and error they have seemingly perfected the art!

With holiday parties on the horizon, it is always a good idea to be well stocked in a wine that can pair with virtually any type of food you can throw at it.  Rose wines are also sure to please nearly every drinker from the novice to even the most hardened connoisseur.

By |November 21st, 2016|Wine Blogs|0 Comments

Bell’s Brewery 30 Years of Inspired Brewing

The Facts:

Sept 19th 1985 – Larry Bell sells his first commercial beer

1986 – Production reaches 135 barrels, Larry and 9 employees will brew, sell and distribute the beer for the next 4 years

1990 – Bell’s Brewery begins to sell beer outside of its home state of Michigan

June 11, 1993 – Bell’s becomes the first Michigan brewery to open an onsite pub, the Eccentric Café.

2003 – Bell’s expands it brewing by opening up the Comstock brewery, about 7 miles east of Kalamazoo.  It will expand in 2005.

March 28th, 2011 – The Eccentric Café reopens after a $3M expansion that added a music venue, large beer garden, expanded bathrooms and a new patio.

April 25th, 2013 – Sister brewery, Upper Hand Brewery is announced and is packaging beer by the fall of 2014.  Although it is a division of Bell’s, it is a completely different brewery.

Today – Bell’s Roundhouse IPA comes out in cans!

Bell's Brewery Roundhouse IPA

Bell’s Brewery Roundhouse IPA

Previously available only in draft, you can now get it in 12oz cans!  Brewed with Michigan honey, Roundhouse is distinctly hop forward.  Substantial amounts of late-kettle hop additions and dry hopping yield a wonderful blend aroma – everything from pineapple to peach and citrus.  Hop intensity is kept in check with a balanced and judicious amount of toasted and caramel specialty malts.  This is the third new addition to their lineup this year.  Just like Hopslam, Roundhouse is best enjoyed as fresh as possible.

By |September 26th, 2016|Beer Blogs|0 Comments

A Short History on Pumpkin Beer

Innovation or Reinvention?

It turns out this particular flavor of beer has been around since colonial times, in his 1801 book “The American Herbal, or Materia Medica” Samuel Sterns makes mention of the healing traits of beer, in particular Bran Beer, Spruce Beer and the lovely Pumpkin Beer.  In particular, Sterns calls out young ladies being cured of “the heat” something that they could not find a remedy for.  Native to North America, most European settlers at the time had never seen a pumpkin, but because it was readily available they quickly found ways to incorporate it into our favorite malt beverage.

In modern brewing history, we can credit Buffalo Bills brewery to be the first to put a pumpkin pie spiced beer to the market in the late 1980’s, although abandoning the use of real pumpkin for the nutmeg and clove flavors of the pie.  Fortunately innovative brewers at Southern Tier and New Holland have perfected the art of using real pumpkin to brew excellent offerings of the style.  The best in the market, if you ask us.  And as of late, Ace Cider has included their pumpkin pie spiced cider to the mix.  So try one today, they drink well with the spooks of All Hallows Eve and are a special treat with your Thanksgiving feast.  We even heard the Cider makes a great snake bite when mixed with a heavy standard lager.

Southern Tier Pumking & Warlock

Pumking was brewed to honor Puca, a creature of Celtic folklore, who is both feared and respected by those who believe in it.  Puca is said to waylay travelers throughout the night, tossing them on its back and providing them the ride of their lives, from which they return forever changed.  In the spirit of All Hallows Eve, pour your Pumking in a fine goblet and allow its spirit to overflow in the season where magic is prevalent and spirits are all around us!  97pts by RateBeer, this 8.6% Imperial pumpkin ale will pair with your thanksgiving feast as well as it enchants the spirits at Halloween.  If you cellared last year’s you best cellar one more!

Warlock is dark and mysterious.  This imperial Stout complements the earthiness of its sister but with rich roasty malts and deep, rich character he will enchant your palate on its own as you pour it into your own goblet to enjoy.  Rated 96 at Ratebeer, this beer is high gravity at 10%.

New Holland Ichabod Pumpkin Ale

First brewed in 1997, Ichabod Pumpkin Ale was one of the first ales brewed with real pumpkin to enter the market.  It combines malted barley and real pumpkin with cinnamon and nutmeg to give you the authentic tastte of fall in a glass.  Pairing well with roasted poultry and you favorite dessert, this beer is as versatile as the Minnesota fall weather.  At 4.5% it is sessionable and sweet.

Ace Pumpkin Cider

This is produced by the family owned California Cider Company in Sonoma County.  This flavor was first produced in the fall of 2010.  Combining the classic flavors of cinnamon, cloves and allspice this drinks like pumpkin pie in a glass.  Crisper than its beer cousins, the cider is perfect for a crisp fall day or Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends.  Like all the Ace ciders, there are no added sugars, all the sweetness comes from the fermented fruit.  5% ABV.

 

 

By |September 19th, 2016|Beer Blogs|0 Comments

Technical Beer With a Soul!

Tin Whiskers BeerTin Whiskers Brewing is coming to town!  Come and drink great local beer while you listen to the owner of Tin Whiskers tell his story, beer philosophy and dreams

Tin Whiskers is quickly gaining a reputation of being on the forefront of the explosive Twin Cities beer scene.  The owners strive to make outstanding, technically driven beers.  With electrical engineering degrees in hand before their beer journey started, their methods, marketing and philosophy lean to the nerdy and scientific side.  They also have a mania for freshness.  They frequently stop into shops themselves to guarantee freshness and quality, they leave nothing to chance and don’t depend on distributors or liquor store staff to keep their beer rotated.  

Their background is in electrical engineering but their passion is great beer.  This shows in the product.  They strive for technically perfect beer but they still don’t forget the art and passion that truly great beer requires.  They are walking a near perfect line of science and art in every brew they create!

I can tell you how well-crafted his beers are, but don’t take my word for it!  You can buy tickets here to meet the owners of Isanti Spirits and Tin Whisker Brewing and try several of their products while eating delicious food from Johnny Mangos paired especially for this event.  Food, spirit, beer and fun all for only $20!

By |August 11th, 2016|Beer Blogs, Spirits Blog|0 Comments

Isanti Spirits Is Coming To Town!

Isanti Spirits is coming to town! Come and drink great whiskey and gin while you listen to the owner of Isanti Spirits tell his dreams and how he made them come true!
This still makes spirits the way you are supposed to. Isanti truly tries to make a local whiskey. They didn’t invent a creative label, concoct a story about using his great grandparents long lost recipe and then send the recipe to be made in some huge distillery in Indiana. He did things the hard and methodical way. He took time to learn the art of distilling, studying at the highly esteemed Dry Fly operation in Washington. Next he spent time at at the Artisan Distilling Institute at Michigan State. This program is truly one of the top places in the country to learn the craft. He finally concocted his own Rye Whiskey recipe, and bought a farm in Isanti. Isanti was the last dry county in Minnesota but now they have fully embraced his operation. His grains come right from his farm or from his immediate neighbors in Isanti. The water used is the fresh and clean water of northern Minnesota. Isanti truly tries to make a genuine local rye whiskey as well as his delicious Sunken Bobber Bourbon.
He also makes great gin on the premises. I’m not sure if it was planned or not, but he discovered that red cedar was growing on a portion of his farm that were producing a rare breed of Juniper. With junipers in his yard he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make gin. Again, everything is coming from his immediate vicinity whenever possible. Isanti Tilted Cedar Gin is a true farm to bottle gin!
Right now he makes three great products with more coming in the pipeline. I can tell you how well-crafted his goods are, but don’t take my word for it! You can buy tickets here to meet the owners of Isanti Spirits and Tin Whisker Brewing and try several of their products while eating delicious food from Johnny Mangos paired especially for this event. Food, spirit, beer and fun all for only $20!

By |August 11th, 2016|Beer Blogs, Spirits Blog|0 Comments

Get Great White Wines Now!

Finally! White wine weather has arrived. When the weather gets warmer and the food is light and fresh, few things are as good as relaxing on the deck and sipping some white wine. There are so many greats from all over the world such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio it would be difficult to grow tired of your options. I want to throw another option that is severely underrated, yet perfect for the summer months all the same. Spanish white wine.

When thinking of Spanish wine, most will think of mind blowing red wine values that are everywhere. Yet when you stop and think that Spain has the world’s most total acreage devoted to vineyards, you would assume that there are some great whites if you wander of the beaten track a bit. This is a very accurate assumption. Spain is home to an array of whites ranging from rich and exotic to neutral, clean and crisp. Most are excellent with summer food fare too! Read on to learn more about these underappreciated wines.

Great White Wines

The Beautiful Pazo Senorans Estate in NW Spain

When talking of Spanish white wine, you really have to start with Albarino. This is Spain’s signature white grown in NW Spain just north of Portugal. Imagine a crisp ocean breeze in a bottle – light, intense minerality with searing acidity. Throw in some exotic and complex notes and you are getting there. These features allow Albarino to pair beautifully with shellfish, various seafood and of course paella. Galician cuisine has a strong North Atlantic vibe. Over generations the wine has been made to pair with this style of cuisine and they have it down pat! Next time you have shellfish give Albarino a try you won’t be disappointed.! One of the very best producers of Albarino is Pazo Senorans. Consistenly ranked among the top white wines in Spain.
Another great white grown in Spain is grown further inland in Rueda. Northwest of Madrid the Verdejo grape grows well here. Reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc, it is lighter, less exotic than Albarino but still crisp and refreshing. Grown in a scorchingly hot area, the locals need a zippy and refreshing wine quaffing wine that won’t break the bank and Verdejo fits the bill. Seldom over $15 and usually closer to $10, Verdejo may not be the most complex wine you will drink, but if you are looking for a crisp and clean food friendly wine, it is hard to go wrong with Verdejo. Larrua Rueda is a fine example of this style.

Finally, don’t forget about Cava. A great valued sparkling wine made in Spain. People forget that sparkling wine is also a great everyday food friendly wine. It is too good to only drink at celebrations! Cristallino Brut Cava is a great value!

Spain has much more to offer than delicious red wines. Some of their whites are absolutely delicious. While not as appreciated as the greats from France, Italy or the U.S., Spanish whites can be an excellent option often found for a fraction of the price as the aforementioned regions.

By |June 17th, 2016|Wine Blogs|0 Comments

Walleye With Garlic Sauce Plus My Favorite Pairings

After we have all extracted the plentiful bounty the lakes of Minnesota offer, I’m sure we have more fish than we know what to do with.  I’ve got a great and easy walleye recipe that has been perfected by my wife’s ancestors and passed down for generations!  (Actually, it was probably something she found on the internet.) Nonetheless, it is a tasty and simple to make concoction. I will follow the recipe up with a favorite wine and a favorite beer to pair with this dish.


 

Mama Gina’s Walleye with Garlic Wine Sauce

Ingredients Directions
1 6-8 oz. walleye Fillet (preferably fresh) Season both sides of the walleye with a salt and pepper mix.  Coat both sides of the walleye with flour.  Heat the butter in a skillet and cook the walleye on one side for 2-3 minutes over medium-high heat.  Flip the walleye and cook until the fish is opaque and cooked through.  Remove the fish and add the mushrooms and diced tomatoes to the skillet and cook until mushrooms are golden and the liquid has evaporated.  Add the garlic wine sauce and season to taste.  Serve the fish over linguine and add the pan drippings.
Salt and Black Pepper
Flour
 Tbsps. Butter
1oz sliced white mushrooms
1oz diced tomatoes
Garlic Wine Sauce
6oz cooked linguine
Lemon wedges
 
Garlic Wine Sauce
1 Tbsp butter Melt the butter in a medium sauce pot over medium heat.  Add the garlic and sauté until the first signs of browning.  Add the water, clam base, wine, and lemon pepper and simmer until reduced and thickened.
4oz chopped garlic
6 cups hot water
2oz clam base (bouillon)
¼ dry white wine
3 Tbsps. lemon pepper

 

Wine to pair:

This dish seems like a Mediterranean take using Minnesota’s favorite fish.  This cries out for one of my favorite Italian white wines : Falanghina!  This is obscure to most of us, but is an ancient and indigenous grape from southern Italy and I love it with medium and light bodied fish.  A great, reasonably priced example is Terradora Falanghina.  It is fresh and clean in the mouth with mouthwatering acidity and ample structure.  The finish provides hints of apple, pineapple, quince and pear.

Beer to pair:

Odell’s 5 Barrel Pale Ale.  This beer has great citurs flavor and floral aroma but is not overpowering hoppy.  This won’t overpower the fish, but provides great flavors to pair with walleye.

By |May 22nd, 2016|Beer Blogs, Wine Blogs|0 Comments

Ibotta Great Deal at Apollo!

Apollo has joined forces with Ibotta to give you a chance to save even more money! Cash back coupons! Dozens of beer, wine and liquor brands! This app is so easy to use and you can get some serious cash back deposited directly into your choice of accounts fast! Combine Ibotta’s cash back deals with Apollo’s great specials and the deals turn absolutely ridiculous!

stellaIbottaApollo’s Happy Hour this week is a prime example. From 4-6pm on Tuesday 5/17 Stella Artois 12pk Bottles are only $12.99. Earn another $3 from Ibotta and that 12pk is only $9.99!

It gets better! Ibotta doesn’t just give you great deals on wine, liquor or beer. It is also good at hundreds of other stores that you shop at every day. Deals on any brand! You call the brand. Seriously, pick ANY BRAND you want. No gimmicks, just real money on the things you want to buy every week – from staples like milk, bread, and eggs to fresh fruit and vegetables to of course you favorite adult beverage at Apollo.

Put this on your phone and don’t forget to check it before your next shopping trip. The great deals constantly change.

The Easy Steps To Start Saving

1. Download the App

Download the Ibotta app, available on iOS and Android. The app is required to submit a receipt.

2. Unlock Rebates

Before you go shopping, unlock cash rewards on great products by completing simple tasks.

3. Go Shopping

Buy the products you’ve unlocked at any

4. Verify Your Purchases

Scan your product barcodes, then submit a photo of your receipt.

5. Get Cash

You’ll have the cash deposited into your Ibotta account within 48 hours.

 

By |May 16th, 2016|Beer Blogs, Spirits Blog, Wine Blogs|0 Comments

It’s Rosy for Rose!

What if I told you there was a place in the world where the soil, climate, tradition and philosophy of winemakers is so in-tune that the growers decided to only make one style of wine in that region.  When you can make a wine so aligned with the terroir, why make anything else.  One such region is Tavel in the Rhone valley of France.


Tavel is reputed to have been a favorite wine of kings Louis XIV and Philippe le Bel, the Popes of Avignon and Ernest Hemingway to name just a few!  Tavel wines must be rose wine and have a minimum alcohol content of 11%.  This makes the style drier and more masculine than most pink wines.  It is also one of the few rose wines that will actually get better with age.  The wine is also aged longer on the skin than most rose wine.  This style makes this wine a near perfect food wine.  Many great chefs will tell you that if you don’t know what wine to pair with a meal, serve Tavel.  It pairs will with nearly any food.  It’s also superb as the sun starts shining the the birds start singing!

One of my favorites is Domaine de Chantepierre.  Organically grown from a small family farm.  It is imported in tiny lots into the U.S. but still manages to give great bang for the buck!

By |May 4th, 2016|Wine Blogs|0 Comments

My Favorite Morning Elixirs

Weekend mornings and vacations during the spring and summer are some of the best times of our lives!  The sun is rising, the birds are chirping, dew is rising and the opportunity’s to enjoy an awesome morning cocktail are abundant!

My two favorite morning drinks are Bloody Mary’s and Mimosas.  Mimosa is an old time English and French favorite.  The mother’s day brunch staple is named after the beautiful tropical flower.  The delicious elixir is elegant in its simplicity.  Champagne and orange juice!  However the devil is in the details!

What type of champagne?  Fresh squeezed or pulp free juice?  What to garnish the glass with?  Any special add on’s?  What is the correct proportion for bubbly and OJ?

Mimosa

The Classic Mimosa

Two types of sparkling wine work well.  If you have a sweet tooth and like sweet wines, go with the Italian masterpiece Asti Spumante.  Asti is the region in Italy where the wine comes from, and Spumante means sparkling wine.  The grape is predominantly Moscato.  Moscato is one of the most popular wines in the USA. Sweet, easy, and low alcohol—Asti is a great sipper.  For more body and crispness, go with Brut Champagne.  Remember that Brut is the driest of all sparkling wines.  It is drier than extra dry!  I agree at first it doesn’t make sense—but I believe the French do it, just to mess with our minds!

Try a Spanish Brut Cava like Frexinet or the New Mexico  sparkling wine from Gruet for your Mimosa.  They are both great medium priced brands that are definitely a step up from the cheap California sparklers.

Take a fluted champagne glass (any glass is okay if you don’t have a flute) and put in two ounces of Pulp free OJ.  Fill glass with the champagne and if you like a little kick you can add a floater of Grand Marnier (the famous French orange liqueur) over the top.  Garnish with an orange wheel and you have the perfect morning cocktail!

Bloody Mary

One of many iterations of the Bloody Mary

Where a mimosa is simple, the bloody Mary can be complex and an intricate exercise in mixology.  Thousands of combinations can be used to make the bloody Mary.  And everyone has his or her own secret ways! At its base a bloody Mary is merely Tomato juice and vodka.  But we all love flavors and the myriad choices of bloody Mary mixers makes it fun!  A few of my favorite mixers are Remedy Bloody Mary and Zing Zang.  When you don’t want to work from scratch these mixers are amazing!

Remedy is a homemade mixer produced in Holmen Wisconsin.  It has a little black pepper and extra cayenne added for a special kick at the back of your mouth.  The Zing Zang mixer is a little bit mild and allows you to experiment a little more with your add on’s.

What really kicks up the bloody Marys are the spices and other garnishes that work so well.  Various salts, peppers, glass rimmers and seasonings can all add the little something you need to find your unique flavor!  Here is my favorite recipe.

A couple ounces of Vodka, 4 oz. Tomato juice, ½ TBSP of lemon juice, Worchesthire sauce, Tabasco, a little horseradish.  Shake it all up in with ice and strain into a tall Collins glass with ice.  Simple and easy!  But what makes it fun is the added food!  Put some bleu cheese stuffed olives and hot peppers on a skewer and add to the glass.

Let the veggies soak up the flavors and about half way thru your drink delicately take the skewer and enjoy the soaked veggies for the special treat.   Other cool items to add, Cheese squares, bacon, pickled asparagus, jalapenos, etc.  The list goes on and on!  Try your favorites and have a go!   Another secret ingredient is to add Seagram’s Lime twisted Gin to your bloody Mary instead of vodka.  It adds a little zing and the lime works really well with the acidity of the tomato juice!!

The old saying goes—you can’t drink all day unless you start in the morning!  Try one of these morning eye openers to start the weekend right!  Cheers and enjoy in moderation!

By |April 21st, 2016|Spirits Blog, Wine Blogs|0 Comments

Raise The Bar At Your House

The new cocktail culture that has taken the nation by storm is changing the way people feel about liquor, beer and wine. Sometimes when you watch TV you see all kinds of fancy cocktails and drinks that mixologists create seemingly out of thin air with new herbs, cordials and unique flavors. But at the end of the day you can make a complete bar at home and make 95% of your guests happy with a few basic items! Sometimes the simplest ways are best!

Vodka is the # 1 liquor in the world. Vodka is the perfect spirit for thousands of cocktails. The great thing about vodka is its mixability and adaptability. It can go in virtually anything and you can make drinks that will make all ages happy! If you have an older classic crowd, there is nothing more traditional than a good vodka Martini! Vodka, Dry vermouth, an olive or two and you are ready! Or if you have a younger crowd you can whip up some vodka lemonades, or vodka cranberry drinks.

The second component of any bar has to be whiskey. Here is where it gets a little trickier. There are many types of whiskey. Scotch, Bourbon, Rye, Blended, Canadian, Irish, and so on. If you can only have one type of whiskey in your bar, go with a good Canadian. Brands like Crown Royal or Canadian Club are high quality whiskey’s that are mixable and great in an old fashioned or manhattans, but also great in a basic Whisky Coke or 7-UP. For the whiskey purist in your crowd, CC is still a good well-constructed whisky that anyone will enjoy neat or on the rocks. All the other types of whiskey are awesome whiskeys and outstanding in their own right—but they are way more robust and you will have more flexibility with Canadian Whiskey.

The third item you need in any bar is rum. But you need two types. With the popularity of Captain Morgan and Coke as a cocktail, you have to have the Captain. But then have good straight rum, like Bacardi, which is way more versatile than Captain. Bacardi or any good Rum can be used in a myriad of drinks, like the Cuba Libre, Daiquiri’s, Pina Colada’s and so on. Rum has the sweeter profile that can make many a person happy. Rum always gets you in a tropical mood and hearkens the mind to the Caribbean Sea!

Living in Minnesota you have to have brandy in your repertoire. The upper Midwestern states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas drink more brandy per capita than virtually anywhere! Especially in the winter months, brandy is a welcome addition to any cocktail. Brandy Manhattans and Old Fashioneds are super popular for the classic cocktail crowd. Brandy adds a warming and slightly sweet flavor to all cocktails. Brands like E&J and Christian Brothers will do you just fine! Don’t forget the VSOP versions—the extra years of Barrel Aging make the VSOP a better and richer brandy!

During the summer, Gin is still king. There are few drinks more refreshing and satisfying than the Classic Gin and Tonic. Have a good English gin like Beefeater or Tanqueray. A twist of lime and a highball glass and you are good to go.

The sixth and most unique liquor to have is Tequila. Tequila is a must because the #1 cocktail in America is still the Margarita. Tequila is a must if you want to liven up the party. A round of Tequila shots is always a great party starter! Get the real 100% Agave tequila. You wont be sorry and your guests will love you when they see an authentic great Mexican import!

Of course every bar needs the mixers and accouterments. Make sure you have some Cola, 7-Up, Tonic Water, Club Soda, Orange and Cranberry juice, sweet and dry vermouth and Grand Marnier. Have these basic things and you will be able to make virtually any cocktail anyone can think of.

Only 6 bottles of liquor, a few mixers and you have a complete bar in your house! You will be the hero of your neighborhood. Enjoy in moderation and don’t be afraid to experiment! Cheers!!

By |April 5th, 2016|Spirits Blog|0 Comments

Wine With Easter Dinner

Western Easter is very early this year—luckily you have time to find the perfect wine for Easter dinner.

The traditional dinner of Ham is a great food to pair wine with.  It allows us to break away from the usual cabernet and chardonnay most people have with dinners.  The light texture and easy flavors of Ham cry out for crisp clean lower alcohol wines, Riesling is the classic match for ham.  German Riesling has the sweetness to mesh well with the saltiness of ham.   Try a kabinett for the perfect balance of sweetness.  J. Friedrich has a nice Piesporter Michelsburg kabinett that is a great wine.  Not too expensive, but tastes outstanding.

If you want to be a little more trendy and cutting edge—Roses are all the rage!  Roses’ have a pink color that looks beautiful in your glass.  They will typically have aromas of berries and slight spices.  Don’t be afraid of pink wines.  Not all pink wines are sugary sweet or cloying.  True roses have beautiful complexity and will tantalize your taste buds.  Try a good French rose from Tavel or Provence.  If you are into celebrity, try the MIraval Provence rose.  It is a nice rose form Provence (a region in southeast France).  Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie own Miraval.  The good thing is when celebrities open a winery they have a lot of money and aren’t afraid to spend it.  You get a great wine that they love and they will spare no expense to get it.  The Miraval Rose has enough refreshing acidity to liven up any meal.  And it will go perfect with Ham!

If you are doing a little more adventurous food like prime rib or lamb, there are amazing choices for red wines that will be perfect with dinner.  Prime rib is the richest and most flavorful of meats.  The high content of flavorful fats beckon for the rich robust tannic flavors of Cabernet Sauvignon.  Cabernet is the king of the grapes.  The tannins in cabernet will balance out the juicy flavors of your fine cut of meat.  Tannin is the dry characteristic of wine that hits the back of your throat and may turn off the beginning wine drinker.  But try a good cabernet with your meats.   A great choice is Greystone Cabernet.  Greystone is a project from the Markham family of wines.  Greystone is the “House” wine of the Culinary Institute of America.  You know it is a good wine if the burgeoning chefs use it while learning their craft!

In Greek households, Lamb is the traditional Easter meal.  The gaminess of wine is a great match for Syrah or Shiraz.  Remember Syrah and Shiraz is the same wine.  In France and America we call it Syrah.  In Australia they coined the term Shiraz.  Shiraz is wine with blackberry, mint and pepper flavors and great depth.  My wife loves Shiraz because it’s a little softer and more fruit forward than Cabernet.   Since she loves Shiraz—It is now my favorite too!  It is easier to keep the peace if we enjoy the same wines!  Try Schild Shiraz from Australia.  It is Inky black, rich and sumptuous.

After dinner liqueurs like a Baileys Irish crème or Kahlua are a great finish to every dinner.  The sweetness will satisfy everyone and it always is a treat to add a little something to the coffee!  IF you want a little different twist—have a bottle of Frangelico or Chambord.  Hazelnut and Black Raspberry are the flavors and they are great sippers and will help settle your stomach after a rich meal!  Or put these two favorites together and drizzle a little heavy cream for an awesome cocktail called the Nuts and Berries.

Easter is the beginning of spring and the season of rebirth.  Don’t be afraid to try a new wine or liquor and resurrect your taste buds!  Enjoy in moderation and Cheers!

By |March 22nd, 2016|Wine Blogs|0 Comments

Celebrate Everything Irish!

One of my favorite holidays is coming up.  St Patrick’s day is a day to celebrate everything Irish!  The Irish have always had a fond spot in my heart. I love their stories of fighting for independence, the famous culture of enjoying life and enjoying friends is a great example for all of us!

Being the home country of whisky is a whole other matter.  Back in the 800’s an enterprising monk discovered ways to distill whiskey.  From the humble beginnings in the quaint countrysides of Ireland has evolved a worldwide phenomena of whisky flavors and tastes. Even the word whisky comes from the Gaelic term “uisce bethea” translated as the Water of Life!

Irish whiskey is unique to the world because of its soft flavors and double, if not triple distillations.  Irish whiskey is distilled mostly from rye corn, and barley.  It is aged in 2nd run barrels from primarily Spain and the USA.  The Spanish barrels are typically sherry barrels that impart a subtle sweetness to most Irish whiskeys.

There are two distinct ways that Irish whiskey is made.  Column Distillation and pot still whiskey.  Column Distillation is a method that allows a large and continuous distillation to ramp up production to meet demand.  Pot Still distills a little more hand crafted product  and produces a whiskey that is intense and more flavorful.  Whiskeys like Jameson are blends of both products.  This gives it the rich and still smooth flavors we love.  There is no peat used in the production of most Irish whiskey.  That is one of the main differences between Irish and scotch whiskeys.  Whereas Scotch has heavy peat and campfire aromas and flavors, Irish whisky is a soft, delicate aroma that lends itself to great sipping or great cocktails!  For a simple Irish cocktail try Irish whisky with Ginger ale.  OR if you are a little adventurous and want to try a real cocktail try a Green eyed Ginger.  2parts Irish whiskey, 1 part Midori Melon Liqueur and Ginger ale.  Pour in that order in a tall glass and garnish with lemon and lime!.

You can’t talk about Irish drinks without bringing up Baileys Irish crème.  A worldwide favorite, Baileys is unique in its rich decadent, creamy mouth feel.  The robust flavors of Chocolate and crème roll over the taste buds and deliver a smooth satisfaction that is the perfect after dinner drink.  Baileys is made with Real Irish whiskey and real heavy Irish dairy crème.  It’s unique recipe and excellent ingredients allow Baileys to be one of the few crème liqueur that won’t curdle when added with other liqueur.  Try Bailey’s neat or on the rocks for the rich sensation.  Or make a Martini using Baileys and vodka..

Last March I had the opportunity to visit the famed Guinness brewery in downtown Dublin.  Dublin is a beautiful city that combines the charm of old school Europe but is still modern in its sensibility and hospitality.  The Guinness brewery is a huge facility that dominates the skyline of Dublin.  Their sky bar is one of the highest points in Dublin and you can see all directions of the beautiful city while savoring a rich creamy Guinness stout.

Guinness has been brewed since 1759.  Arthur Guinness was the proprietor and he signed a 9000-year lease on the land where the brewery sits.  They are a pretty stable company!!  Where many of us think that Guinness is a rich black foreboding drink, it is actually a deep ruby red in color and is silky smooth and flavorful.  I love the Nitro Guinness.  Treat yourself to 8pk of Guinness cans, get it ice cold, find a nice pint glass and get to work!  The nitro in the cans of Guinness really replicates the smooth flavors you get from the famed nitrogen taps in virtually every Irish pub.

Guinness alone is awesome, but for a real treat make yourself a Half and Half.  Some of you may know it as a Black and Tan.  I learned never to call it black and tan because that was the slang term for the British expeditionary force that tried to prevent Ireland becoming a free republic in eh early 20th century.  We all have to be PC sometimes!

A Half and Half is made with lager and Guinness stout.  Take a light lager like Harp or Smithwick’s and pour half a pint glass.  Then hold a spoon over the glass.  Slowly pour your Guinness stout over the spoon allowing the beer to tantalizingly flow down the side of the glass. Patience is key! If you do it right you will have a beautiful Pint that is a lighter hue on the bottom and rich dark colors on the top.  When you finally take the glass to your mouth you fell the silky creaminess of the Guinness, then the slight bracing hops of the lager will hit your taste buds and you have an explosion of flavors!  It is awesome!

A final favorite Irish drinking quote.  Here’s to a long life and a merry one.  A quick death and an easy one.  A pretty girl and an honest one.  A cold beer and another one!

Slainte!!

 

 

By |March 9th, 2016|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Aging Potential of Beverages

As my daughters are both graduating this year from college and high school it makes me think of age and how old I am and how old I will eventually be!  With modern medicine and great drugs (like Cabernet Sauvignon and good bourbon) I may live until I’m 125 years old.  I theoretically could be a great, great, great, great Grandpa!

As always my thoughts go to liquor, beer and wine.  How old can wine get?  Do the expiration dates on beer mean anything?  I found an old bottle of whiskey in my grandma’s cupboard—is it still good?  I get these questions and more all the time!

Antique Whiskey Bottle

Once in the bottle, whiskey will remain unchanged essentially forever

The quick answer is yes–it is still drinkable.  It won’t send you to the hospital, or give you hallucinations.  It will be different than what the creators wanted you to taste.  All wine and beer is evolving constantly.  But hard liquors like whiskey/vodka/rum will not change once they are in the bottle.  Most are over 40%alcohol and will never change.  They will last a long time!  I believe it’s a waste and a shame to keep something so good as a classic scotch around—but if you find one in the back of the cupboard—drink it up and reminisce.  It will taste the same as it did when you first bought the bottle!  The only exceptions are crème liqueurs like a Baileys Irish Crème.  Even though the crème is pasteurized and it is good Irish whiskey-the crème will eventually harden and make the bottle undrinkable.

Beer is the shortest lived of all alcoholic beverages.  Most beers are meant to be consumed within 115-125 days of bottling.  The fresh hop flavors in beer will fade over time, Again the beers won’t be bad, won’t be unhealthy, wont be chunky, but they will be different.  The Drink by dates on beers is a guideline.  The beers won’t change overnight.  Beer is not like a gallon of milk.  It won’t sour right away. It won’t curdle and it won’t get chewy!  It will change, but I have had beers in my refrigerator for over a year, and I drank one and it was different but not bad!  Obviously we all need to go to the FiFo method of cooler management.  First in First out!  But if you find an old beer—don’t worry—try it and it’ll be okay.

Anheuser Busch was the first national brewery to make a big deal about fresh beer with their huge ad campaign of Born On dates a few years ago.  This forced consumers to do the math in their head and figure if the beers were okay.  But even mighty Budweiser has switched back to drink by dates for best flavor.  It is simpler and is a good guideline.  But it definitely puts pressure on retailers and wholesalers to rotate beers, change things up and make sure you rotate your stock.  It is a constant challenge and breweries are putting a lot of pressure on wholesalers and retailers to keep the beer stock fresh.  When you see a great beer, marked down or put in mystery bags, you know the brewery is helping the industry blow out close to out of date product.  Beer makers want us to enjoy the beers in the best way possible.  But to reiterate, the beer won’t be bad—just different!

Wines will age in different manners.  Most white wines are meant to be drunk in the first couple years of availability.  Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blancs and other whites will slowly lose their fresh ripe flavors and get a little flatter.  Most whites will be starting to get bad tasting after 5 years.   Try to drink within at most 3-4 years for quality.  If you have an old bottle, look at the color first.  If the white wines have a brownish tint, or too dark a gold color that is a bad sign.  Look for clarity and bright colors in your glass.  In older white wines the aromas and taste will change also.  You will not get the fruit forward nuances, but will rather get the astringent tastes and sourness that marks a bad wine.  Again not dangerous to your health—just to your taste buds!

Old Wine

The aging potential of wine can depend on a variety of factors such as winemaker, climate, grape composition and more.

Red wines are definitely the wines to age.  Good Cabernets, Merlots and Pinot Noirs can age for up to 10-15 years depending on the winemaker’s preferences and techniques.  Most of us don’t have the patience to wait 10 years to drink a wine.  But the wait is sometimes worth it!  A well-aged bottle of Napa Cabernet or French Bordeaux is a sublime experience.  The wines will exhibit amazing fruit flavors and smooth finishes as the rich tannins slowly change the wine over time.

Now I am not talking about your inexpensive everyday $10 California reds like Robert Mondavi or Apothic Red.  These Everyday quaffers are nice to drink and are meant to be drunk immediately. The instant gratification we all crave!  I have read of statistics that say the average bottle of wine purchased is drunk with in 3 days!  Enjoy and live life in the fast lane.

But someday treat yourself to an older red wine and you will see the differences.  The old saw of everything gets better with age is most true with great red wines like Chateau Montelena, Caymus, or Keenan Cabernet.  If my example of living to 125 years of age is close to accurate, I should be buying some good bottles now and drinking them over the next 10-20 years!  Think about the long term and treat yourself to something sublime that ages as well as you do!  Cheers and enjoy in moderation!

By |March 2nd, 2016|Beer Blogs, Spirits Blog, Wine Blogs|0 Comments

Nitro Beer Review

Nitro is the trending term in beer circles today.  Nitro is not a former American Gladiator, or the thing you put under your tongue when you have chest pain.  Nitro refers to the practice of putting Nitrogen in beer as opposed to typical Carbon Dioxide.

Nitrogen was first popularized in Ireland where the pioneering Guinness Brewery uses it in all its draught forms.  Sitting at a pub in downtown Dublin, sipping Guinness Draught, is totally different than anywhere else.  Nitrogen infuses beer with a soft and creamy mouth feel that CO2 can’t replicate.

The taste is sublime, but the mesmerizing effect of the beer being poured into a glass, is just as spell binding.  Watching the Dark Ruby liquid flow into the glass while the nitrogen churns it up and creates creamy clouds of flavor is amazing.  The beer starts out looking like a whole glass of foam, but as the Nitro starts working, you notice the creamy head forming at the top and the beer appearing miraculously from the bottom up!  The bubbles actually seem to defy gravity as they work their way up the side of the glass!

Guinness Nitro IPA Cans

Guinness Nitro IPA

Guinness Draught in the can is the closest you can get to an original Dublin style pour and taste.  They place a widget in the bottom of the can, which releases the nitrogen when opened. Pour the beer hard into a glass and let the magic happen!  Guinness’ American brewers have recently released the Guinness Nitro IPA.  India Pale Ales are the hottest thing going, and adding Nitro is a new twist.  American brewers have finally caught on.  The last few years has seen a few enterprising craft brewers joining the Nitro crowd.  Left hand Brewing of Longmont Colorado being the domestic pioneer.

The Left Hand Milk Stout has been a favorite for many years, but when they released the Nitro Milk Stout it opened up new flavor frontiers for beer lovers.  The same beer takes on two totally different flavor profiles.  As mentioned above, the addition of Nitro softens the edges and gives a rounder, more full mouth feel.  The original milk stout, while still creamy and smooth is a little sharper on the tongue.  Try it both ways to see the difference.  Left Hand also just came out with the Hard-Wired Nitro Porter.  It has the rich creamy head you expect form a nitro beer, but is rich in coffee flavors.  They describe it as a ‘gratifying blend of your morning cup of coffee and your 5 o’clock beer.”

Wasatch Polygamy Porter Label

Wasatch Brewing Polygamy Porter

Another pioneer in the market is Wasatch Brewing of Utah.  A Wisconsin native who moved to Utah in 1986, was dismayed to find virtually no good beer in the conservative god fearing mountains of Utah.  Greg Schiff took the leap and formed Wasatch Brewing and makes some great beer.  Along with good beer, he loves to poke a little fun at the culture of Utah.  Some of his beer names like Provo Girl, Evolution Amber Ale and Polygamy Porter soon became famous for their tongue in cheek names and great flavors.  In 2015 Wasatch came out with ‘the little sister-wife” of their Polygamy Porter.  The tag line is “bring some home for the wives!” They discovered a proprietary way to infuse their beer with Nitro without the use of a widget.  The Polygamy Porter pours Jet black, and has a delicious off white head that throws off amazing aromas of chocolate and caramel.

You know a trend is gaining steam when the ‘big boys” get in on the act.  Samuel Adams, the pioneering craft brewer of over 60 different types of beers, has just released their Nitro series.  They have 3 different types of beers that come in 16oz cans with the great nitrogen widget– Coffee Stout, White Ale and IPA.

Notice that most of the beers coming in Nitro options are rich, creamy, opulent stouts and porters.  This is a natural progression.  The Nitrogen really softens the edges of any beer it is added to.  Pale ales and India Pale ales are usually popular for their sharp and intense flavors of citrus, pine and fruit.  Nitro will soften the edges of the strong bitter hops.  Most Hopheads want and enjoy the sharp intense flavors.  However there is a place for Nitro and I think we will be seeing more and more brewers experimenting with Nitro to create new and exciting flavors and experiences.

It is a great time to be a beer lover. The creativity and energy of America’s brewers will continue to excite and titillate us with great flavors!  Enjoy in Moderation and Cheers!

By |February 1st, 2016|Beer Blogs|0 Comments

Styles You Haven’t Tried, But Really Should!

I am not one that does New Year’s Resolutions.  Over the years I have learned that I rarely, if ever,stick to them.  However, there is one resolution I do every year that I actually able to stick to!   Every year I strive to try something new and expand my horizons in the beverage world.  We are in a golden age of producers that are using a combination of historical knowledge, technological advances and brilliant creativity to provide us with exceptional products.  We just have to be daring enough to let these creations into our lives.  The following are grapes that I have resolved myself to experience this year, or are grapes that I have experienced but are off the beaten track yet brilliant.

Xinomavro [Ksee no’ ma vro]:  An excellent red grape for those looking for distinct flavors, rich tannins and long aging potential.  Grown primarily in Northern Greece, Xinomavro (meaning “acid-black”) is a superb red that is not for the faint of heart.  It possesses more than a few tannins that when integrated right can offer excellent structure and complexity.  On the nose this grape offers up aromas of red fruits such as gooseberry with hints of olives, spices and dried tomatoes.  In the mouth the wine can offer up more of the Mediterranean flavors such as oregano, sun-dried tomato along with olives and dark fruits.  The finish is strong and long with the tannins doing their duty of adding structure and complexity.  When done correctly, Xinomavro can resemble the classic and highly acclaimed wines of Barolo and Barbaresco.  Hard to find, but good examples of Xinomavro are definitely worth seeking out.

Aglianico [ahl-YAH-nee-koe]:  Another dark grape originating from Greece that is not for the faint of heart!  While this originated in Greece, it was brought by Greek settlers to southern Italy and is now predominately grown there.  In ancient times it was the main grape used in the famous Falernian wines of Rome (think first-growth wines of the day)  It is now regarded as being the oldest grape variety still used by consumers today.  The wines tend to be quite full-bodied with high tannins and high acidity.  Another red designed for hearty meals.  When young, this grape is a bit tannic and wild typically needing a few years to be tamed.  Over time the tannins get integrated and the fruit comes to the forefront.  Much like humans, there is a sweet spot in the maturation process.  At the right time, everything is clicking and the result is a well-balanced and very complex wine.  It’s trademark flavors are typically plum and chocolate.

Pedro Ximenez (PX):  PX is a white wine grown in many regions throughout Spain.  Usually PX is used to make “liquid gold”!  Technically a sherry but very different than any other styled sherry. When done in dessert wine fashion, the result is an intensely sweet, dark dessert wine.  It is made by drying the grapes under the hot Spanish sun which will concentrate the sweetness.  The liquid is then a thick, black liquid with heavy notes of raisins and molasses.  After placed in barrel and fortified,PX becomes a formidable wine.  My first experience with PX was years ago while attending a wine dinner at Olde Village Hall in Lanesboro.  Served with homemade vanilla ice-cream it was truly a match made in heaven!

Melon de BourgogneMelon de Bourgogne:  This grape originated in the French wine region of Burgundy where it had a reputation as making crisp and simple white wines.  While the wine had its fans, in the early 1700’s the farmers of Burgundy were realizing that Chardonnay was going to make them rich.  Not wanting the precious Chardonnay to be defiled by nearby Melon de Bourgogne, the French government ordered the destruction of Melon de Bourgogne vineyards in Burgundy.  After this order, it would have been probable that Melon de Bourgogne would be lost to the ravages of history.  However, the spinsters of fate had other ideas.  In 1709 the vineyards around Nantes in the western Loire valley had experienced a winter so devastating that nearly all of the vines there had died.  After that winter, the growers in the Loire Valley were in search of a new variety of grape to grow.  Since then Melon de Bourgogne has been ubiquitous in the production of the light dry wine Muscadet.  The Melon de Bourgogne is so associated with the wine region Muscadet that most now simply call the grape Muscadet.  The wine is light, dry and crisp and is quite possibly the perfect wine to serve with north Atlantic seafood.  While best known in Muscadet, good examples of Melon de Bourgogne can also be found in Oregon under the name of Melon.  Oregon Melon is very hard to find, but good examples of Muscadet are around and are delicious with seafood or a warm summer night.

By |January 26th, 2016|Wine Blogs|0 Comments

Micro In Size But Not In Taste!

Minnesota is world renowned for abundant and fertile soils, pristine, clear water and towering, statuesque white oak trees. These three seemingly unrelated natural treasures have enabled Minnesota to leap to the forefront of another wellspring of entrepreneurship and creativity.

Micro Distilleries have sprung up throughout Minnesota. Minnesota’s natural assets create the perfect conditions to make awesome vodka, gin, and whiskey! And there are new stills coming online everyday! In 2011 the Minnesota legislature created a law that allows small micro distillers to proliferate. This law lowered the entry fee to $1000 from $30,000. This opened the doors and we are the luckier for it!

Minnesota’s first legal still opened in Osakis MN. Colorado businessman Adrian Panther and head distiller Brett Grinager (who trained at Makers Mark) opened Panther Distilling. Their first creation was White Water whiskey. It is a Minnesota corn bourbon Mash filtered thru barrels for smoothness. Soon after came Panther Spiked Apple a delicious concoction of Minnesota Apples and large sticks of pure cinnamon. It is a unique take on the apple pie!

2-3 years after his stills created his delicious White Whiskey, Panther released his Minnesota 14 Whiskey. The slow aging process in the Minnesota cold winters can be intolerable for many distillers—but the wait is worth it! Minnesota 14 and Panther’s Pike Street Bourbon are worth the wait. The flavors that the Minnesota made barrels impart on the virgin white whisky are wonderful.

Far North Solveig Gin

Far North Solveig Gin

Another pioneer in Minnesota’s burgeoning industry is Far North Spirits in Hallock Minnesota. Hallock is about as close as you can get to Canada without having to wave the maple leaf. It is in the far Northwest corner of Minnesota. The grains used in their products are all grown on the family farm or nearby family friends! Their first concoction was Syva Vodka. Syva is Finnish for ‘Deep’. Far North uses non-gmo AC Hazlet Winter Rye as its base grain. Syva Vodka is silky smooth and has hints of lavender and vanilla. My favorite Far North Spirit is the delicious Solveig (SOUL-vai) Gin. Solveig is classic Scandinavian woman’s name combining elements of Sol (sun) and veig (strength). It is a totally unique gin with out the typical overpowering Juniper flavors typical in most gins. Rather the Solveig has slight coriander and thyme flavors. It is great in a simple martini where you can really savor the soft finish and floral undertones.

J. Carver Distillery in Waconia Mn

J. Carver Distillery in Waconia Mn

Waconia based J. Carver has started a distillery in a former auto dealership. A group of friends decided to take a leap and discovered some awesome creations. They have a wide variety of products from vodka, grappa, whiskey and gin. My favorite is the Barrel Gin. It is totally unique and combines the best of both gin and whiskey. They take their delicious gin and rest it in white oak barrels for a short time to impart unique characteristics. The gin is created from local grains, wild rice, clover, star anise and more. It is awesome and can be used to create amazing cocktails like the Old Fashioned or Negroni. It will give you the unique flavors you have never had and will enjoy discovering!

When I think of Rum I can only think of warm Caribbean beaches and tropical drinks. But even here in Minnesota we have some brave souls creating amazing Rums. Norseman distilling of Minneapolis has created a unique rum. It is aged in bourbon barrels for a unique flavor!

If you notice, most of these local entrepreneurs have released gin and vodka first. Gin and Vodka can be released with a minimum of aging and prep. Good whiskey takes time to mature and we can look forward to a plethora of Minnesota made whiskey coming on the market as they ripen to the perfect flavor.

Isanti spirits co-founder Rick Schneider has experience gained from training at Dry Fly Spirits in Washington and at Michigan State in the only college program teaching Distilling. He created a delicious rye whiskey that has been aging here in Minnesota. It was just released and is delicious! Rye whiskey is awesome in cocktails and makes a delicious Manhattan. Use 3oz of Isanti rye, Sweet Vermouth and a little cherry juice. As an added attraction Rick grew up in Rochester! His whiskey and Gin are awesome!

Whatever your cocktail of choice, Minnesota’s Burgeoning distilling industry has created a flavor for you! Try something local and support our homegrown bootleggers! Cheers and enjoy in moderation!

By |January 11th, 2016|Spirits Blog|1 Comment

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times..

What happens when the immovable object meets the irresistible force?  It is the age-old question and may never be totally solved.  However we get to witness just such a battle going on for the taste buds and wallets of the alcoholic beverage market.

The immovable object is the huge corporate behemoths trying to shape the way we enjoy our beverages.  The irresistible force is the ever-present need for human beings to innovate and keep pressing for new horizons.

The needs of Wall Street and financial markets around the world constantly need huge growth and Corporate M&A to feed the beast.  Huge mergers are happening around the world whether in pharmaceuticals, energy, commodities or even in the beverage business.  In the past few years we have seen American icons like Budweiser, Jim Beam, Robert Mondavi, and more swallowed up by the whims and desires of huge multi-national companies.

Remember when we thought Anheuser Busch and Budweiser was the biggest beer company in the world?  We were amazed at the reach and fortunes of the August Busch family.  But when Belgian beverage giant InBev swallowed the All-American icon we realized just how big the world is. Mighty Budweiser was merely a regional brand that was one piece in the worldwide puzzle being created by corporate titans.

Now a mere 6 years since Bud was eaten up by a foreign company, the beer business was rocked when word of the impending merger between SAB Miller and AB-InBev was announced recently.  Many people thought how is this possible?  How big can a company get?  How will it affect us beer drinkers?  Won’t they have a monopoly on the market?  Where is the American fairness?  Where are the trustbusters of lore?  We have to remember that the USA is only a small part of the global market.  Local number one sellers like Bud Light, Miller Lite and Coors light pale in sales comparisons to brands like Snow (China), Brahma(Brazil) and Heineken.   There are no competitive issues on a worldwide basis.

This is the immovable object.  Corporate America will always push to grow, strive to dominate and struggle to appease Wall Street.  This is not a good thing for us beer lovers.  As the Corporate giants consolidate their holdings, they will invariably push for cost savings and efficiencies. It will become only about rising profits and the love of the business will disappear.  Soon all the beer will taste alike if the corporate behemoths get their way.  It has happened already as former imported brands like Becks, St Pauli Girl, Fosters, etc. have been homogenized and brewed locally here in North America for purely economic reasons.  The Beer is not the same, the taste is different and they are merely marketing vessels used to take up shelf space for the same beer and flavors.  This isn’t good and it won’t get better.

Luckily the irresistible force wont be denied!  Human nature is to explore, create and innovate.  There are thousands of new breweries and distilleries opening on a daily basis.  These entrepreneurs brave the odds and have given us hope for new flavors and local tastes.  Here in Minnesota alone the last few years have seen dozens of new breweries, wineries and distilleries open up.  These companies like Fulton’s Brewery, Salem Glen Winery, and Panther distilling embrace the localvore movement.  They use local ingredients, hire local people and bring a level of authenticity that the huge international companies cannot hope to match.

The big companies are constantly trying to limit distribution options, they try to use their corporate muscle and money to buy shelf space, overwhelm our senses with over the top marketing and bully smaller companies out of business.  Anheuser Busch is well known for giving huge incentives for local wholesalers to carry only their brands and ignore local options.  This is one way for them to defeat the local business.  Not illegal—but definitely not putting the interests of consumers first.  A lack of choice is never good for us!  Giants like Anheuser Busch and Miller Coors don’t care about local economics—it is only about feeding the corporate beast.

As venerable family scions reach retirement age, the lure of quick cash is often too much.  Look at venerable brands and family icons like Ravenswood, Mondavi, Goose Island, Red Hook, and more.  All these former family business have been taken over and changed not for the better by heartless corporate machines.

I am not an expert on economics or even on liquor, beer, or wine.  I love new tastes and am enamored by the constant innovation of local entrepreneurs.   As consumers we need to embrace local business and support our small business.  Homogenization is never a good idea.  Find the small family business that cares about what they do, lives the business and strives to bring new and great things to market against overwhelming odds!  Know what you drink, don’t be swayed by advertising and marketing.  Drink Local and discover true innovation and great flavors!!

This is the best of times and worst of times.  The struggle between huge multi-national and small entrepreneurs has never been fiercer.  Discover everything the world has to offer!  Cheers and always enjoy in moderation!

 

 

By |January 4th, 2016|Beer Blogs, Spirits Blog, Wine Blogs|0 Comments

Farmer Fizz For New Year Anyone?

Farmer Fizz – A Matter of Terroir

If you have had any interest in Champagne at all in your life, you probably understand that true Champagne is only made from grapes coming from the Champagne region in France.  All other sparkling wines grown outside of Champagne cannot or should not use the term Champagne.  This is a branding technique the French have used for decades to give their sparkling wine notoriety.

What you may not know about Champagne is that nearly 90% of it is made from the “big houses” such as Roederer and Mumm.   Because the big houses produce such mass quantities they have to buy from any number of the 19,000 Champagne growers in France.  Sometimes as many as 80 different growers may have grapes in that bottle of Champagne.  This has forced the big houses to have a house style that is consistent year after year.  While this consistency is admirable, it lacks what many wine connoisseurs are looking for.  It lacks terroir, or a sense of place.  Terroir is an all-encompassing term that means the land and natural influences control what the wine tastes like more so than humans making the wine.

For centuries French wines have championed the concept of terroir in their wines.  It is what separates the great Burgundies and Bordeaux from the rest of the world.  Yet, in many cases Champagne has not followed suit, at least not for Champagne in the affordable price range.  For those looking for a sense of terroir in your champagne and don’t want to spend $150+, you should give grower Champagne or “farmer fizz” a try.


Bottle Inspection

An example of the involvement and pride the makers of Gaston Chiquet Champagne exhibit.

Grower champagne is simply sparkling wine made in the Champagne region that is produced by the same estate that owns the vineyards from which the grapes come from.  Of the 19,000 growers, only about 25% do this and only about 1% export to the U.S.    Since these wines are only coming from a single grower, they are able to be more terroir focused and artisanal in nature.  These Champagnes are also typically organically grown and released sooner than the big producers due to the high cost of ageing.  While grower Champagnes have become trendy, the marketing budget of these wines are a fraction of the big houses.  Subsequently they still represent a small chunk of the overall sparkling wine market.

A common criticism is that grower champagnes have variable quality, especially from vintage to vintage.  This is true, but many consider this a strength because the wine truly shows the sense of place and purity of the grape.  The large Champagne houses are getting grapes from all over the region, and some may call the mass produced Champagne non-distinctive.  Opinions may vary about the quality of grower Champagne, but I believe many of them are a delight and show the true craftsmanship and special terroir that is evident in Champagne.

If you would like to actually try a grower champagne look for the initials RM that appear before a number on the wine label.  This means Recoltant-Manipulant.  Other initials you may see are:

  • NM for Negociant-Manipulant: This appear on the large Champagne houses that buy the majority of their grapes.
  • RC for Recoltant-Cooperateur: This means a wine is sourced from a single grower, but it is made for him by a co-operative winemaking facility.  While the grower grows the grapes, they often have little involvement in the winemaking process.
  • SR for Societe de Recoltants: This is company set up by two or more growers who share the winery they use to make the wine. In this process the growers have significant involvement in the winemaking process.

Some of my favorite brands are:

David Pehu

David Pehu in his element

Pehu Simonet Grand Cru Brut ($60) made from a Grand-Cru vineyard and tended by four generations.  The land is famous for producing farmer fizz of power, structure and nobility.  It is a deliberate effort that speak of the local traditions, people and above all the land from which it grows.

Gaston Chiquet Tradition 1er Cru ($55) The Chiquet family has been tilling the vineyards since 1746, but started in Champagne in 1919 when two of the brothers started production of Champagne.  Thirty-five years later, half the family went on to start Jacquesson.  Gaston stayed with the original vineyards and passed it on to his son and two grandchildren who now run the business.  Because of the age of the vines, production is low and quality is high!  The family refuses to use the modern high production clones preferring the classic methods.  He also does not use oak aging as he feels the land already gives the wine plenty of body.  This produces a pure and clean flavor that is not too weighty.  “We are not making wines as winemakers” says Nicolas Chiquet.“ We are adapting our methods to the land.”

 

By |December 21st, 2015|Wine Blogs|0 Comments

Christmas Traditions

Christmas is the best day of the year. What can be better than presents, family and good food! Here is a great plan for your day. From morning to night, hopefully this will make your Christmas season great! Try one or try them all—you will enjoy.

Start your Christmas morning with French toast. I love using Flaherty’s Tom and Jerry batter in my French toast. There is usually a little batter left over from the Christmas Eve celebrations. The Tom and Jerry is a great drink that is an upper Midwest tradition. Usually the Tom and Jerry uses brandy and rum to make a great winter warmer cocktail but the spices and rich flavor, make French toast awesome. After you open Santa’s gifts Christmas morning, the Flaherty’s French toast is a great finisher.

remedy Bloody Mary

A perfect Bloody Mary with Remedy

After breakfast is the time to enjoy your gifts. Whether a good book, a new video game or new clothes, Bloody Mary’s will hit the spot about 11:00 or 12. Try a mild mix like Clamato or Remedy Bloody Mary Mix. Remedy is a small family owned operation that has the perfect blend of spiciness and smooth. You can add a little heat with Tabasco, but the Remedy Bloody Mary’s will help your day go perfect! And the extra Vitamin C is always good!

About this time, maybe you want to watch a little basketball or football. The NBA has taken over Christmas day. This year we can watch the rematch of the Warriors and Cavaliers. The duel between Stephan Curry and Lebron James will be classic. Enjoy a good old-fashioned All-American beer with the true All American game. Sam Adams has a great winter beer that will relax you as you watch the game. The Sammy Winter has spices of orange peel, ginger and cinnamon. Not too hoppy, but it is a great bracing winter beer.

Francis Tannahill Dragonfly Gewurztraminer

Tannahill Gewurz – An Apollo Best Buy!

After the game it is time for the main event. Christmas Dinner!! Whether you go for the traditional Christmas ham, delicious prime rib or my personal favorite roast leg of lamb, the perfect wine will make the food taste even better! If Ham is your thing, go for a lively fruity white wine. If you like a sweeter wine, Gewürztraminer or German Riesling will mesh perfectly with the saltiness of the ham. Drier whites to try are Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc. For a red wine, Beaujolais or a lighter pinot noir will liven your taste buds. As much as you may like a rich Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux, don’t use it with your ham. The heavy tannins and dry flavors will overwhelm your palate and dry out the ham in your mouth.

Now if you are indulging in a delicious beef roast, prime rib or lamb, the Rich bold flavors of your favorite red wines will thrill you! The rich flavors of beef and lamb scream out for the tannins present in your favorite rich red wines. For a great medium price Cabernet Sauvignon try Greystone Cabernet. Its about $12, has great flavors and is the featured brand at the Culinary Institute of America. All of Greystone wines are made to complement food and are the perfect price point. For a sweeter red that will please even the non-red drinkers, try Donnasaune. A unique wine from Hungary, it is a best seller because it is a touch sweet, without being cloying. People will be amazed at the unique characteristics of this underrated import.

If you have been a good boy, and want to treat yourself, try my Favorite Cabernet. Keenan Cabernet from Napa Valley is the wine that hits my taste buds perfectly. It’s grapes come from the famous Spring Mountain District, use sustainable agricultural practices, and are all hand made masterpieces. It isn’t cheap—but Christmas only rolls around once a year. Give yourself a gift for a change!

After indulging in a delicious traditional dinner, the finale comes along. Dessert!! Christmas cookies, cakes and pies are always a highlight. Of course, Baileys Irish Crème is a must with your after dinner coffee. The original and still the best coffee creamer! If you want to take a walk on the wild side, try the smash hit of this holiday season, Brown Jug Sprits Bourbon Crème. Similar to Bailey’s, but with Bourbon and the unique added touch of Maple Syrup! Delicious!!

Other Favorite sippers that will also help you digest all the delicious foods are the French favorite Chambord (Black Framboise), Italian stalwart Frangelico (Hazelnut) and of course I have to mention my favorite Greek liqueur Ouzo. (Anise). All these liqueurs were made as Digestif’s to help us recover from a big day of indulgence and celebration.

This is a time of year to celebrate the birth of greatness. We should all celebrate and enjoy our families and ourselves. Enjoy all your holiday libations in moderation. Cheers and Merry Christmas!!

 

 

By |December 15th, 2015|Spirits Blog, Wine Blogs|0 Comments

Our Favorite Holiday Cordials

The Christmas season is the time of year when we can all become children again and experience a rebirth in both our spiritual and our sensual sides. The Holiday season is the time when we can rediscover our love of classic cocktail and liquors that hearken us back to a magical time in our world. Christmas is when we can indulge in some of the best holiday cheer. Good holiday drinks bring us warmth, friendship and tradition.

A classic Midwest tradition is the Tom and Jerry. This awesome hot drink can warm our souls, and our hearts. What is more relaxing than sitting around the fireplace with a warm mug of thick delicious decadent Tom and Jerry? A Tom and Jerry is a drink made with batter, brandy and rum. The long time Rochester Restaurant, Michael’s was famous for their Tom and Jerry’s. Many families waited all year to get their famous homemade Tom and Jerry’s. To make at home, grab three eggs, ½ teaspoon each of allspice, cinnamon, cloves and 3 teaspoons of powdered sugar. Separate the egg whites from the yolks and beat separately. Fold the yolk and the spices into the egg white. Use this batter in the bottom of your mug. Add hot milk, rum and brandy and you will be warmed to the bone!

I get a little lazy sometimes, (OK, most of the time) so I love the ease and convenience of Flaherty’s Tom and Jerry Batter. Developed n 1947 by The Flaherty family, they have developed a strong following and the batter is delicious! Dollop their famous batter in a mug, add Piping hot milk or water, ½ jigger of Christian Bros. Brandy and ½ jigger of Bacardi Black Rum and you will be amazed! It is delicious and will make any cold night seem a little more bearable! Or for a special treat—try the Flaherty’s in your French toast batter on a holiday morning! Delicious!

Decadence and indulgence is a theme of Christmas. We love to indulge our family and friends with meaningful gifts and thoughts. Part of the indulgence is rich, thick Baileys Irish Crème. The original and still the best–Baileys has been on the market since the early 1970’s and is the best selling crème in the world. Its proprietary blend of Real Irish Crème, Real Irish whiskey and other secret flavors allows us to experience a once in a lifetime flavor! Of course Baileys is great in coffee or hot chocolate, but it makes delicious creamy martinis when added with a premium vodka like SKYY or add cold press espresso for a treat.

Kir Royale Cocktails with lemon twist garnish

Kir Royale Made With Chambord

If you don’t want creamy drinks, don’t worry. There are plenty of decadent holiday cordials that will make anyone feel good. Chambord is delicious elixir of fine French cognac, fresh blackberries and raspberries. Legend goes that King Louis XIV was the inspiration for this delicious libation. No heads were cut off during the manufacture—but there is royal inspiration in every bottle! I love Chambord on the rocks as a velvety smooth sipper. Or add Chambord to champagne for a bubbly masterpiece. However Chambord and vodka shaken in a martini glass is the perfect blend of sweet and strong! Garnish with fresh raspberry and you will be overwhelmed by framboise happiness!

Frangelico is a hazelnut masterpiece from the hills of Piedmont in Northern Italy. Discovered and perfected by Christian monks over 300 years ago, the bottle today hearkens images of the ingenious hermit monk who discovered the elixir. Imagine living the solitude life of hermit monk—you would need a little sumthin sumthin to get you thru the lonely nights! Frangelico is now world renowned for its delicious flavors. Use it in a Tiramisu Martini. Take Frangelico, Good vodka, Irish crème and cold espresso. Shake and strain into a martini glass for delicious dessert cocktail! Or if the black raspberry Chambord sounded good to you, put Chambord and Frangelico in equal parts in a lowball glass. Add ice and top with crème for an excellent after dinner cocktail that will satisfy your need for sweet and nutty!

Tiramisu Martini

The Tiramisu Martini

This is a few of the many holiday liquors out on the market. Other classic liqueurs are Drambuie (Scotland), B&B (Benedictine monk liqueur and Fine French brandy), Kahlua (Mexican masterpiece) Amaretto (Italian Almond liquor) and dozens more.

Don’t be afraid to experiment and enjoy the history and tradition of Christmas drinks. It is a season of decadence and indulgence. But don’t forget the traditions and the happiness of being with family and friends! Enjoy in Moderation and Merry Christmas!!

By |December 7th, 2015|Spirits Blog|0 Comments

Vodka – A True Classic

Vodka is the number one selling spirit in the nation. There are many ways you can sell vodka. You can tell a story of great tradition, you can highlight the ingredients, you can talk up the distillation process, you can sell it as cheap as possible, or you can just make good smooth mixable vodka.

Vodka at its base is a distilled spirit, which is charcoal filtered, and meant to be as indiscriminate as possible. In the old days we were always told that vodka is a colorless, flavorless spirit that is used only in mixing with fruit juices or in a Bloody Mary. Now, however, we have been re-educated in the mystery of how to make good vodka. There IS a huge difference. Good vodka can be a unique experience and can make even the most mundane Vodka and Orange juice spectacular.

The key to good vodka is the grain used in the beginning mash   Basic distilled grains will come out of the distillation process pretty nasty tasting. During the distillation process you get the ‘heads”, “tails” and the “heart” in the distillate. No one wants the heads or tails—we all want the heart! This is where the real flavors and nuances come into play. The heart is the purest part of the distilled product. It has all the flavors, the aromas, and all the pleasant flavors that come from distilling. Good liquors come from the heart. True master distillers know when to pull the good parts out and save them for us commoners. We need to find the masters!

The birthplace of Vodka is Poland (The word Vodka comes from voda—Little water in Polish) and uses potatoes in a big way. Potato vodka is still my favorite. Great Potato vodka like Luksowawa and Chopin are 100% gluten free, distilled to a crystal clear look, and have the creamy mouth feel that I enjoy. Chopin Vodka, in a martini glass, with a whiff of Dry Vermouth and three olives as the garnish is the perfect cocktail!

As an aside, on November 13th, I will be the guest chef at Johnny Mango’s monthly charity cooking show (ChefMango.com) Proceeds of the event will go to Syrian refugee relief in the Mediterranean Sea and the rest of Europe.   Chef Johnny will be teaching us how to make great Polish delicacies, while I will assist in some way. I can’t boil water—but I know how to make a great Martini! We will both learn something!!

Marketing of vodka is a huge part of the sales process. It is amazing to see new vodkas come on the market. Flavors are a huge part of the market. Brands like Smirnoff, Absolut, and UV have dozens of flavors and new ones coming all the time. Marshmallow, caramel, salty watermelon, and others are only a sliver of the choices available. Other vodkas strive to create only the best vodka and don’t mess with flavors.

Two newer, true pure vodkas on the market thriving now are Tito’s and Aviv. These two vodkas have taken two different methods to market. TIto’s was started in Austin, Texas by former oilman and geologist Tito Beveridge (yes that is his actual name!). He experimented with his buddy’s and did hundreds of blind taste tests until he came up the perfect distillation techniques. Small batches in copper tanks give Tito’s a smooth mixable finish that is still very affordable!   The packaging is as plain and no nonsense as the process taken in finding the great flavor!

A small company in Minneapolis called Tzaft Imports brings us Aviv. They have created a unique style of vodka using figs, pomegranates, olives, wheat, barley, grapes and dates. The vodka is good and totally unique—but the marketing and packaging are taking the world by storm!! AVIV comes in a unique triangle bottle that has hundreds of secret messages strewn through the bottle. The entire project uses ancient and modern symbolism to create a unique experience and to remind us that we are all interconnected in someway. At the base, the bottle begins as an irregular triangle and tapers to an equilateral triangle at the top, representing the journey to ones perfect character. One side of the bottle is slightly curved, which represents the challenges we encounter throughout our lifetime. This is only a small part of the symbolism present throughout the bottle–try it and discover your own journey!

Vodka at its heart is a simple product—but no other product has such a wide variety of uses, tastes and history! It is a true treasure that is deservedly the number one seller! Enjoy in moderation and Cheers!!

 

 

By |December 2nd, 2015|Spirits Blog|0 Comments

Turkey Day Pairings

For a wine guy, no other holiday has as much meaning as Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is the busiest wine season.  Everyone loves a good bottle of wine with his or her sumptuous feast.  The right wine can make all the food taste so much better.  The right wines can enhance conversation and lead to a wonderful day of family and friends.  From the thousands of wines, it is difficult to pick the right one.  Your mind may wonder do I get one wine to carry the party thru from beginning to end?  Or should I get a few wines to pair with each part of the feast?

I prefer variety. You should have a nice mix of whites and reds in the house.  You don’t want anything too rich or heavy.  So your Huge Napa Valley Cabernet or French Bordeaux might overwhelm the taste buds and your light turkey flavors.  A few standbys are Rieslings for a white and a Pinot noir for the reds.

Kung Fu Girl Riesling

Kung Fu Girl Riesling is a fun and excellent turkey pairing

Rieslings are good with turkey, cranberry sauce, even the pecan or pumpkin pie for dessert! Go with a slightly less sweet one.  A German Kabinett or Washington Rieslings are always good.  I love Kung Fu Girl Riesling.  It is a medium priced Riesling from famed winemaker Charles Smith in Walla Walla Washington.  It has hints of sweetness, but a clean finish.  It won’t overwhelm the meal, but rather complement the many flavors.  The added bonus—it is a natural conversation starter.  The unique bottle always makes people pick it up and talk about it.  Who can’t love a Kung Fu Girl?

Pinot Noir is the classic red wine with a turkey dinner. Pinot Noir has an earthier feel surrounding the bright fruit flavors of Black cherry.  It will not overwhelm the turkey, but will go really well with the spicier stuffing that make the meal so good!  There is tons of good Pinot Noir on the market.  I like Oregon Pinot Noir, as they are usually a little more nuanced than their California Counterparts.  Cooper Hill makes a great medium priced Pinot Noir. It is a little more money than your run of the mill labels from California (like Mondavi, Sutter Home, Gallo, Mark West) but I think the balance and outstanding flavors make it worth it.

It you want to shake it up, try a little champagne with the party. We all forget how much fun it is to drink champagne.  If you pour a flute of champagne when your guests arrive, they will invariably smile and light up a little bit!!  And the Champagne goes surprisingly well with the traditional meal.  Get brut or extra dry champagne.

Nouveau Beaujolais is the classic fun wine for the season also. Nouveau only comes out the week before Thanksgiving.  It is the traditional first harvest wine made in France.  In Paris they have big celebrations to announce the new vintages.  For us Americans, it is the perfect fun, seasonal wine with Turkey.  The wine is fresh and meant to drink young.  Low in alcohol and bursting with fruit flavors, it is youthful in flavor and just perfect to drink! Buy it now because by New Years Eve it is all gone!!

Dessert is the best part of any big meal! Pecan pie and Pumpkin pie is always awesome.  If you want a good dessert wine, try a classic Sherry from Spain.  It is not as heavy as a port and will go perfect with the spiciness of the pies.  But after drinking wine all day—I’m ready for something else.  I love the wide variety of dessert liquors out there.  Of course Baileys Irish Crème is the number one.  Baileys on the rocks or in a fresh cup of coffee is always appreciated!

But a new favorite out this year is the Brown Jug Bourbon cream. The owner came up with the recipe as his family was scrambling to use up all their leftover cocktail ingredients before heading home from vacation.  It is an amazing mix of Bourbon, cream, ice cream, vanilla, and maple syrup.  Bring this classic, old school looking bottle out and people will love it.    It will bring your dinner to a perfect close.

While we celebrate and give thanks for all we have, a good after dinner cocktail will only add to the festivities! Cheers and enjoy in moderation!

 

 

By |November 10th, 2015|Wine Blogs|0 Comments

Get It While You Can

Mick Jagger once sang the classic line “you can’t always get what you want”. Nowhere is that more true than in the world of great liquor, beer and wine!. People always want what they can’t get. It is a truism of the human condition!. Some of you may remember the frenzy created back in the 70’s when Coors beer became a west coast phenomenon. Us Midwesterners heard the rumors of this amazing beer from the Rockies that was unlike anything before and made our Midwest stalwarts like Grain Belt, Hamm’s and Old Style seem stale and boring. Many were the stories of brave souls enduring 15-hour car rides thru the harrowing Nebraska and Dakota prairie to bring back a trunk load of the golden banquet beer called Coors. IT was a special treat if you could get your hands on a can or two. It was an exclusive club that tasted the golden elixir. The rest of us could only dream of the special treat.

But as with many things the anticipation was better than the payoff. When Coors Beer finally became available in Minnesota, it sold like crazy! The shelves could not be stocked fast enough! But then people realized that it wasn’t that much different or better than what we already had. It settled down to be another good brand of beer with no special cachet or benefits.

The new trends, the new flavors, and the new old things always buffet the alcoholic industry. Like any other business there are ebbs and flows to all products. In the past 15 years there have been many instances of the hot new product. For a while Single malt scotches were the hot thing. Patrons were clamoring for the rich smoky overwhelming tastes of he new peat bombs from the craggy shores of Scotland.

There were shortages and the prices skyrocketed. Brands like Macallan, Oban, Lagavulin, and Laphroig went thru a period of extreme shortages and demand far exceeded supply. Scotch takes time and patience—you can’t open a spigot and create 15yr sherry casked scotch. Patience is a virtue.

Lesser-known brands jumped into the fray and sales rose across the board—but the old standbys held their own. While the public waited for Scotch production to catch up to demand, High End Vodka became the new scotch. Brands like Grey Goose and Absolut took the world by storm. These upstart luxury items from across the Atlantic came to America and shocked the senses of the American public. There WAS a difference in Vodka! For the longest time we had been taught that vodka was flavorless and was all the same. The Goose and Absolut taught us different. These brands never ran into the shortages that Scotch did, as you can literally open a spigot and make vodka in less than a month! But the quality brands rose to the top and still reside in our consciousness!

The public is always looking for the new thing, the hot items, and the new experience that will shock the senses and impress the neighbors. Fads included Irish whiskey, Bourbons, Napa Valley Cabernets, Japanese whiskey, and now the latest fad being craft brews and Micro Distilleries.

New Glarus Beer from Wisconsin is the long time beer that Minnesota has been clamoring for. Thousands of people go to Wisconsin and come back clamoring for Spotted Cow or Fat Squirrel. These beers are top sellers in Wisconsin, but the owners have made the conscious decision to keep their brand only in Wisconsin.   They make all they can and sell all of it right in Wisconsin. The beers are good—but the inability to buy it locally makes the heart grow fonder for us hearty souls on the west side of the Mississippi.

For 5 years, Minnesota’s own Surly Beer was tantalizing our tastebuds with great beers, Started in a small warehouse district, the beers garnered a cult following. Surly Darkness Day became the event of the season. Fans would literally camp out overnight at the brewery to be the first to procure the delicious Ebony liquor gold. Each year Darkness Day would be envied by all. Now with the opening of the new brewery, Darkness is a little more available and the frenzy has died down a little bit. Look for it the week of Halloween for the first taste of the treat.

Craft beers aficionados are always looking for the latest and greatest but also wait with bated breath for the release of their favorites. The next few months are rife with the possibilities of procuring hard to get classics that are made in limited quantity and limited supply. Put your name on the lists, follow the beer trucks around and maybe you can get a little taste of the following great beers.

 

1) Founders KBS: Kentucky Bourbon Stout—a American Double/Imperial Stouot aged in oak barrels for an entire year.

2) Goose Island Bourbon County Stout—Imperial Stout aged in Bourbon barrels. Even more rare are some unique stouts aged in different barrel finishes.

3) Indeed Rum King—An imperial stout aged in Rum barrels.

Brewed in Minneapolis

4) Surly Darkness—Russian Imperial Stout –Always highly rated!

 

These and more special releases will be coming (and going) soon. Great beers are hard to find—but when you see them buy them. But don’t get mad at your local supplier if you miss them. Local liquor stores never get what they can sell—only what the brewery will allow them to buy! Supply and Demand rules the day! You can’t always get what you want! Cheers and enjoy!

By |October 27th, 2015|Beer Blogs, Spirits Blog, Uncategorized, Wine Blogs|0 Comments

The Finer Things Radio Show September 23rd

What great ideas does Ari have this week? Listen in and find out. Ari always has interesting ideas to make your next party or weekend the best it can be! Five minutes listening to The Finer Things can change your life!

By |September 23rd, 2015|Radio Shows|0 Comments

The Greatest Two Week Party On Earth

Munich Germany is in the Throes of the Greatest 2 week party on earthy! Oktoberfest 2015 is in full gear and over 6 million people can enjoy the German hospitality while celebrating Crown Prince Ludwig’s nuptials to Princess Therese of Saxony in 1810. Rochester has its own Oktoberfest on September 25th. The Downtown Peace Plaza will become a great big german beer garden! Bratwurst, unlimited beer, German music and great german drinking toasts and games! All for a great charity—Beyond the Yellow Ribbon to benefit our returning military veterans

America is famous for innovation and taking something good and making it better! Beer is the same way. German Oktoberfest beers are great representation of the Marzen beer style. Malty, Dark Copper in color, and slightly hoppy, but german brewmasters are limited in experimentation by the German Purity law of 1516. The Reinheitsgebot decrees that beer can only be made with Water, Barley, and Hops. This limits the German brewmeisters a little bit. American Brewers don’t have their hands tied and have unleashed an amazing run of creativity in fall and seasonal beers! American craft brewers have pushed the envelope and created some of the greatest beers in the world.

I will recap a few great American oktoberfest and fall seasonals and delve into a true great American beer style–Pumpkin! The Number one selling Oktoberfest beer on a national basis is Samuel Adams Octoberfest. Sam’s take on the style is both traditional and cutting edge. It uses two different german hop varieties and has a deep smooth flavor with hints of caramel. It is one of my favorite beers!

Schell's Oktoberfest

Schell’s Oktoberfest – A great Minnesota take on a classic

Closer to home is Schell’s Brewery in New Ulm. Schell’s is a 6th Generation German family brewery who are making some amazing beers. Their Oktoberfest is a little lighter body than Sam Adams, but has a slight spiciness that is unique and makes it a great sipper!.

A new style Fall beer is the Lederhosen Lager from Pearl Street Brewing in LaCrosse. Making beer since 1999, Pearl Street has some great varieties. The Lederhosen Lager is their seasonal take on the classic style. It is 5% alcohol and is the smoothest Oktoberfest around.

Great Lakes of Cleveland Ohio makes an excellent Oktoberfest. The great flavor comes from addition of Munich Malt in the malt bill. The Munich Malt Gives it a cool flavor that is has nutty, bready flavors. Great Lakes has won numerous Gold Medals for their unique take on a classic style!!

Pumpkin beers are a uniquely American phenomenon. There is a long history of pumpkin brewing from the early settlers in American history. Pumpkin became a favored style because there was virtually nothing else to brew beer with. And we know after a hard day of farming and settling a foreign land our early American pioneers needed a cold beer to relax!

Southern Tier Pumking

A big bold take on a pumpkin beer.

Pumpkin beers were made by George Washington and enjoyed by all! Pumpkins were plentiful in the old days and made some great beers. After the 1800’s typical malts and grains became to be more readily available and economical, so pumpkin beers faded from the scene. But in the last few years Pumpkin has become the hot flavor in just about anything. We know Starbucks has popularized the Pumpkin latte, but pumpkin beers are awesome. It is typically like a pumpkin pie in a bottle. Hints of cinnamon, clove and allspice is prevalent. Try the Alaskan Pumpkin or the Pumking if you can find it. Pumking from Southern Tier Brewing in Upstate New York is always considered a classic and among the best. It is an imperial ale and is a huge 8.6% alcohol flavor explosion! The Pumpkin pie flavors are outstanding and the undertones of pecans is amazing in the finish! Try this beer for the best of the best!

Alaskan brewery makes an awesome pumpkin beer with more of a clove and nutmeg flavor. A little hop flavor upfront balances the sweetness of the pumpkin. Alaskan is a fast growing craft brewery form Juneau Alaska.

For a real kick and amazing American ingenuity try the Funky Pumpkin from Boulevard Brewing in Kansas city. The funky pumpkin is spiced with the usual nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice and ginger. But the Funky part comes from the use of sour beer aged in stainless steel tanks with brettanomyces.(the wild strain that is in all sour beer) Boulevard has created a one of a kind pumpkin beer that is a true innovation!

Fall is a great time of year for a myriad of reason. Weather, Football, and now Beer and Oktoberfest! Enjoy in moderation and Cheers or as they say in Munich–PROST!!!

By |September 22nd, 2015|Beer Blogs, Uncategorized|0 Comments

Oktoberfest Is Coming!

It has been over 200 years since Crown Prince Ludwig married the Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausens in 1810.  The amazing love story captivated the German countryside and spawned one of the biggest celebrations in the world!

 

Ludwig and Theresa wedding nuptials and subsequent reception have become an annual event taking up 3 weekends in late September and early October in Munich Germany.  Over 6 million liters of exquisite German beer are consumed, countless German songs are sung, an infinite number of beer drinking stories are exchanged, and millions of foreigners are indoctrinated into one of the great German traditions.

 

Oktoberfest in Munich Germany is world renowned for the camaraderie, great beers and awesome traditions.   The Style of beer to be mainly consumed under the tents in the heart of Munich from September 19th-October 4th is Oktoberfest/Marzen styles of beer.

 

Oktoberfest is my favorite seasonal beer.  I like the wheaty, lighter, fruitier summer quaffers, I enjoy the robust dark stouts and flavorful winter and holiday beers, and I always indulge myself in the spring seasonals.  But Oktoberfest beers have the perfect combination of flavor and color that always satisfies.

 

An Oktoberfest beer is technically a Marzen Style.  Marzen Style beers were made in the spring in such a way that they could last all thru the hot summer months in the old days before refrigeration. Typically Copper in color and about 5-6% alcohol.

 

There are 7 German beers that are served at the original Oktoberfest celebration in Munich.  Paulaner, Hacker Pschorr, Lowenbrau, Ayinger, Hofbrau, Augustiner and Spaten.  All German beers must follow the Reinheitsgebot, the German purity law passed in 1516 by Bavarian law.  This states that all beer can only be made using Water, Barley and Hops.

 

Hacker Pschorr has been making beer since 1417.  It is always considered the original.  The Maltiness hits you up front with a touch of sweet grain.  The foamy head exudes amazing aromas of bread and yeast.  The taste is smooth yet bracing enough to startle your senses!  It is a true representation of the style.

 

Ayinger is another great beer.  Slightly more reddish in hue than the Hacker it is a rich creamy foam top that has a rustic old school style flavor.  You open it up and it smells and tastes like Europe!!

 

Erdinger has an interesting twist on the original Oktoberfest style.  Erdinger is famous for its wheat beers.  Erdinger is world renowned for having the best Weiss beers around.  They make a cool Wheat Oktoberfest that is unique and will appeal to just about everybody.  Lighter body and color than most—the addition of the classic fruity notes from the Wheat base gives it a slightly softer backbone and really quenches your thirst!!

 

Here in America we are always looking for innovation and new things.  Left Hand Brewing and New Belgium have both made some really cool Oktoberfest styles of beer.  They really are taking the new world approach and expanding on the original masterpieces that came from Old World Europe.  Next week I will bring up a few New World twists and also the phenomenon that is pumpkin beer!!

 

But for this week—embrace the old masters and try a real traditional Oktoberfest!  As the Germans say May you live a hundred years—with one extra year to Repent!  Prost!!

By |September 14th, 2015|Beer Blogs|0 Comments

Worlds Longest Bratwurst Test Run

If you want to see the real shot at the worlds longest bratwurst world record.  Come to Rochester Oktoberfest 2015.  Music, Beer, Entertainment and of course your share of the world’s longest brat.  Cost for all this is only $17.

  Buy your tickets here

By |September 10th, 2015|Beer Blogs, Uncategorized|0 Comments

Root Beer With A Kick

Madagascar Vanilla

Madagascar vanilla beans being laid out in the sun to dry

Root Beer conjures up images of the old A&W stand with the drive up ordering kiosks and the waitress bringing your food to your car. Root beer was always a favorite in the house! But we always had real root beer.
Now Adult root beers have taken the world by storm in the last few months. There are 4 new 5.9 % root beers that are outstanding. These root beer flavored malt beverages are made similar to other malternatives but with real flavors of classic root beer.
Not Your Fathers Root beer has been the 800lb Gorilla in the industry. It is the most popular Hard Root Beer in the world. Originated in Chicago by Smalltown Brewery, it is now also brewed in Lacrosse Wisconsin because the original brewery couldn’t keep up with demand. It comes in 6pk bottles and cans. NYFRB is a bold smooth and spicy beverage, and is definitely the sweetest of the Hard Root Beers.
A new entry is the Coney Island Root Beer. Owned and Developed by Sam Adams, it is a different flavor profile than any other. It uses Madagascar Vanilla and other unique spices in its Blend. Madagascar is the leading produces of vanilla in the world. The tropical climates and unique terrain of the Remote Island is perfect to make the best vanilla.
Sprecher Brewing in Milwaukee has been making Non Alcoholic Root beer and other sodas since 1985. Their NA root beer is famous for the use of Real Wisconsin Honey direct from the combs and of course other secret botanicals including vanilla. It has the flavor of root beer that has been aged in oak bourbon barrel.
Sprecher has used their vast experience and great techniques to develop a line of new Adult soft drinks. Sprecher has Hard Root Beer, Hard Ginger beer and Hard Apple Pie. The Ginger is an awesome taste experience that is totally unique. Try it straight or use it in your Moscow Mules (Vodka and lime) for an extra kick! The Hard Apple Pie is brand new and gives you the flavor that reminds you of grandma’s old-fashioned pie! Sweet and just a little tart!
RootStock Root beer is out of Columbia Missouri. Just released this week in Minnesota it is a collaboration of two friends who wanted to make a cool drink! It is comes in Cans and is the perfect thirst quencher. It uses pure cane sugar and molasses in the blend. It is brewed without grain and is totally gluten free!
These hard Root beers follow in the footsteps of other flavored malt beverages like Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Smirnoff Ice, and Bartles and Jaymes wine coolers. The category is constantly evolving with new flavors and ideas. It is a great way for brewers and customers to keep trying new and unique flavors to find new refreshing ways to enjoy adult beverages.
Hard Root beer is the latest and greatest for a good reason. It is sweet but still savory. It hearkens us back to a simpler time! Try it with ice cream for a real Adult Root Beer float! You will be amazed how the flavors translate so well. Just keep the kids away! Another cool mixer with the Hard root beer is Jagermeister. The famous shooter from Germany is synonymous with good times and its fierce unique flavor. But when the herbal spices and deep alcohol of Jagermeister blend with the Sweet herbs of the Root beer you get a killer drink that will liven up any party!
Flavored Malts will always be around and it will be fun to see what is the next flavor trend. Keep experimenting and always enjoy in Moderation. Cheers!!

By |September 9th, 2015|Beer Blogs, Uncategorized|0 Comments

Two Great Parties!

IF there are two cultures that know how to throw a party it is the Greeks and the Irish! The next two weeks is an exciting time to be in southern Minnesota! August 28-30 is the Original Rochester GreekFest and September 4th and 5th is Irish fest. Greece and Ireland have little in common other than the zest for life and the love of good food and drink!

Greece has been making wine for countless centuries. The abundant sun, mountainous terrain and amazing seaside breezes are all conducive to making great wine. The last 20 years has seen a renaissance in Greek wine making. Modern wine making techniques have taken hold and the results are astounding. Try a beautiful white wine called Moschofilero. It is crisp and has an unbelievable floral aroma. It is a perfect companion to lighter foods such as pork, seafood, or grilled vegetables. Of course with your traditional Gyros you need a red wine such s Elios Red. Elios means Sun in Greek and this bright red wine is an example of the latest popular wine flavors. It is medium bodied and semi dry. A wonderful summertime red wine.

Of course when talking beverages from Greece you must talk of Ouzo. Ouzo is the distilled clear liquor with an unbelievable sweet anise flavor. Ouzo Ploumari comes from the island of Lesvos and is my favorite. You can do it as a shot or add a little water to the clear liquor and watch as it magically turns to a mysterious cloudy sensation! Ouzo is an awesome aperitif that will whet your taste buds and prepare you for the delicious foods and desserts that you know are the best part of Greek Culture!

Metaxa Angels’ Treasure launches in Greek travel-retailMetaxa is another awesome export of Greece. It is similar to brandy but with a smother finish and is very mixable. Spyros Metaxa developed Metaxa in 1888. In Europe it is coming on as a popular mixed drink in the nightclubs because of its high quality and great mixability! Try a Metaxa Sidecar—a great twist on an old classic. Take a couple ounces of Metaxa, an ounce of Cointreau, fresh lemon juice, and orange juice. Shake it vigorously and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with an orange zest—you will be blown away!

Ireland of course is no slouch in the beverage department. Guinness Irish Stout is the standard bearer that all beers strive to measure up to. One of the largest beer brands in the world, Guinness is famous for its Dark color and smooth flavor. Roasted with barley and the perfect hop mix, Guinness is not only tasty it is actually good for you! While you may think that Guinness is a heavy beer, I actually consider it a light beer. It is only 4% alcohol and has only 125 calories. Less than most beers! Pour a glass of Guinness; notice the color and the deep white delicious head. The color is actually not black, but the roasted barley gives it a deep red color that is surprising!

My favorite export from Ireland is of course Whiskey. Irish Monks were the first whiskey producers and exported the delicious elixir to Scotland and beyond. The word whisky comes from the Ancient Gaelic word Uisce bethea meaning the water of Life! Irish whisky is more than Jameson. Jameson is the fastest growing whiskey brand in the world and is renowned for its great light and smooth flavor. But Ireland is making many great whiskeys. Try Redbreast—a 100% pot stilled whiskey that is as rich and complex as any scotch or bourbon. Other brands to try are Tyrconnell, Green Spot and Connemara. Connemara is unique in that it is the only peated Irish whiskey on the market! If you like scotch you must try Connemara.

The next couple of weeks are a great time to be in Rochester! Be Greek for a weekend; enjoy the finest Greek Cuisine and drink. Have a Gyros, Drink a Greek beer like Hillas, indulge in the finest Baklava anywhere, and dance your worries away.

The next week you can wear your Green proudly, try a traditional Irish breakfast, learn to sing a profound Irish poem, and savor the finest whiskeys from the birthplace of the true water of life!   Enjoy life and learn of all that two great and influential cultures have to offer!

By |August 27th, 2015|Beer Blogs, Spirits Blog, Wine Blogs|0 Comments

Apollo Blog Defining Classic

What is a classic? Can anything be classic? A song by Eric Clapton? A 1965 Shelby Mustang? Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman in Mel Brooks’ legendary movie– Young Frankenstein? In the world of adult beverages there are many things considered classic, especially in cocktails. We have all heard of the growth in classic cocktails like Martini’s, Old Fashioned’s, Moscow Mules, etc. Just because something is old does not mean that it is a classic. A classic is an original idea, flavor or groundbreaking product that started industries!

I spent the last weekend in Northern Wisconsin and had two such classic products. Sitting around a campfire with old college buddies is classic in itself! But when you throw in a little beer–the stories get better, the classic jokes get funnier and your exploits turn from mundane college pranks into epic achievements of glory!

Miller Lite was the catalyst for many of the old stories. When Miller Lite came on the National beer scene in 1975 people were dumbfounded and flabbergasted. Who wants a Lite beer? Who would have even thought of Lite? Who even knew beer had calories? They didn’t even know how to spell! Miller Lite was the brainchild of a vice president in Milwaukee. His inspiration came from a trip to Germany when he had a lighter style beer. The different brewing process, lower calories and low alcohol struck a chord with an entire generation. I am not a sociologist, but I would venture an opinion that Miller Lite created a new awareness of losing weight and healthy lifestyles that blew up in the late 70’s and 80’s. It is not too far a stretch that the Miller Lite craze begat the entire health industry. Would Jane Fonda and her iconic workout videos have started without the groundbreaking creation of Lite beer? Who knows? Lite may not have been the entire catalyst, but it definitely helped! The commercials alone turned aging sports figures into iconic advertisers! The whole Great Taste-Less filling arguments still resonate today. Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner were my favorites.

Miller Lite is a good beer. It is not the trendy drink loved by the beer cognoscenti because it doesn’t use 14 different types of exotic hops and grains grown by hipsters using organic fertilizer from free range Black angus beef cows. It is merely brewed in the time honored and simple ways of any Classic. Water, beer, hops, and yeast! A crisp clean flavor with just the right touch of bitter hops is totally satisfying. Really Classic American light beer!

Any classical reference to beer, has to include one of the largest and most influential beer brands in the world. Heineken has been brewed since the mid to late 1800’s. Started by Gerard Heineken in Amsterdam, it has become one of the largest sellers worldwide. They have expanded carefully and smartly throughout the world. The terrific branding of the green bottle, red star and the smiling “e”are known everywhere! Heineken is no one’s favorite beer, but it is everyone’s second favorite! Wherever you go, you know you can find a Heineken and enjoy the classic flavor. A little richer, a little more rustic than Miller Lite, Heineken always satisfies. In the last 30 or so years, the Heineken family(even though it is publicly traded, a family member is still involved in decision making) has embarked on a buying spree. They now own many huge brands around the world. From our southern neighbor Mexico, beers like Sol and Dos Equis are part of the Heineken family. From the Far East you can have a great Tiger beer from Malaysia. Not only is the beer good, but the business sense is great! These two great beers are just two of the many classics available. Try the classics and never be disappointed! There is a reason-the greats keep surviving and prospering! Enjoy in moderation! Cheers!

By |August 12th, 2015|Beer Blogs|0 Comments

Gose Beer Is No Laughing Matter

Gose Beer Is No Laughing Matter

 

When the editor for 507 sent me an email telling me that Goze beer might be a good topic, I laughed! Goze beers are virtually unknown and there are hardly any available in Minnesota. Goze is a style of beer originated in and near Leipzig Germany. It is a wheat beer with a tart sour flavor. Like lemonade—but not a Leiny summer shandy Flavor.

It is a unique beer that is gaining traction with the beer cognoscenti. Along with Goze style beers, Sour Beers are getting more and more popular. Beer Geeks love to push the envelope, as they are always trying to find a new and different flavor experience. We need adventurous passionate people in society. Without someone pushing the envelope we can never progress!

In order to write an article, I figure I better drink at least one or two Goze beers. Two I tried were the O’Dell’s Brombeere Blackberry Goze and the Schell’s Goosetown. Both are similar to the really traditional German style. But they have been adapted to local tastes, and in my mind are more palatable. The O’Dell’s Brombeere is a great balance of sweet and tangy. The blackberry is very present, but does not overpower the other components of the beer. Schell’s Goosetown is slightly salty and has a wheaty flavor. I know you read that last line and thought to yourself salt? In a Beer? But yes the addition of saline or salt flavors really makes the Goze style beer come alive. The condiment, adds a little something to the tartness! It is surprising but good!

Sour beers have been in the marketplace for a little while longer and are a little better known. Rodenbach and Monk’s Café are two great Belgian sour beers. Along with Sour beers, I also consider Lambics a good rendition of the style.

Lindeman’s is a family company in Belgium started in 1822. They started importing to the USA in 1979. The Lindeman lambics are made in a totally old school unique style. The brewing process can take months if not years! The brewers use no yeast in the brewing process. The only yeast used is totally wild yeast that is floating thru the air. The unpredictability of the local yeasts is what makes Lindeman’s so good! It takes two summers of maturation and the Lambic is ready. The great flavors are then added to make different styles of Lambics. The two most popular and tastiest styles are the Framboise and the Kriek. The Framboise is the sweeter raspberry flavor. The Kriek is a sour cherry style. The Framboise finishes with a clean sweet finish while the sour Kriek finishes dry and crisp! Other flavors sometimes available are Black Currant, Pomme (Green Apple), and Peche (peach)Lindemans

Sour beers and Goze’s will continue to come on the market. Adventurous brewers are always looking for new and unique styles. You can count on the brewing revolution here in the US to take a walk on the wild side and develop something new. Look for your specialty beers anywhere. Check the Bomber (22oz and bigger bottles) section out. Brewers make small batches and many times it is cheaper for them to bottle a few big bottles than 6 or 12 pks. Not to mention that bottle fermentation is easier and typically better in the large format bottles. The Bombers are the perfect way to try and taste new beers with someone else. Which is really what makes beer drinking so good—the camaraderie of sharing a new beer with a new or old friend! Cheers!!

By |August 3rd, 2015|Beer Blogs|0 Comments

Minnesota Mixology

One of the big trends in culinary circles is the prevalence of local ingredients in all manner of special dishes and desserts.  Of course, it follows that cocktails should follow in the same vein.  Minnesota Mixology is here!

 

Along with the locavore movement is a trend towards more savory and succulent cocktails rather than the usual sweet bombs of years past.  Minnesota is perfect for a wide variety of herbs and spices that can dress up classic cocktails or be used to create new varieties of cocktails.  Mixologists throughout the region are discovering the joys of experimenting with Minnesota herbs like mint, thyme, basil and even rosemary!

 

Johnny Mangouras, noted local chef and culinary artist, has always loved rosemary.  I always joke that his idea of gourmet is to put a sprig of rosemary on something and it makes him a chef!  But when you add a touch of rosemary to a cocktail you really are stretching the boundaries and going into uncharted territory!  A Rosemary Gin cocktail will surprise you.  Make up some simple syrup with rosemary sprigs.  It takes about an hour.  Add the syrup to your shaker with a aromatic gin like Hendricks, and fresh lemon juice.  Shake it and strain into a glass with ice.  Add sprigs of rosemary for flavor and a cool look and you have an awesome summer cocktail that is not sweet—but just savory enough to whet your appetite for more!

The Pama Mojito

The Pama Mojito

Mint is the most used of all the herbs in cocktails.  Everyone has had the famous Mojito.  A few years Bacardi Rum had a big marketing campaign revolving around the Caribbean drink.  There were countless iterations of the tropical thirst quencher.  My wife has turned herself into a mojito guru thru practice and diligent days on the deck perfecting her mojito recipes.  My favorite recipe is the Pama Mojito.  Pama is an amazing Pomegranate liquor that is the perfect blend of sweet and tart.  Muddle simple syrup, 2oz of Pama, 1 oz of Rum, the juice of 2 limes, and mint leaves in your glass.  Muddle gently to release the delicious oils from the mint leaves.  Add ice and club soda and you are transported to a tropical island!

 

Lemon or lemonade drinks are always standard fare for a more savory flavor.  The citrus bite of the lemon is greatly complemented by the savory flavors of various herbs.  Basil is a natural partner with lemon flavors.  Use a ¼ cup of Fresh lemon juice, 2 cups of water, 3 tablespoons of maple syrup, and a  tablespoon of fresh minced basil.  Add 2 oz of premium vodka like Minnesota’s own Prairie Organic, mix in a blender until the basil is broke down.  Pour over ice and you have the best basil lemonade ever!

 

So far we have talked about Gin, rum and vodka.  Two more liquors that always go great with fresh herbs are Tequila and whiskey.  Tequila, thyme and fresh lemons make a delicious mix.  The natural smokiness of the tequila meshes perfectly with the thyme.  Muddle the thyme in a glass with a teaspoon of sugar and 2 lemon wedges.  Add good Blanco Tequila (always use 100% agave tequila like Patron or Don Julio), ice water and ice.  Simple, but holy cow!! It is unique and refreshing!

 

Mint Julep

A classic Mint Julep

Being a straight bourbon fan, I usually hate to take the time and create cocktails with bourbon.  But sometimes tradition dictates that you have to enjoy the finer things and slow down and create.  A couple of herbs that go well with Bourbon are Mint—of course!  The Kentucky Derby Mint Julep is world-renowned!  But a lesser known herb is tarragon.  The Tarragon adds a little licorice and savory flavors.  Try this totally unique cocktail.  Make an old fashioned with the added twist of tarragon.  You will be amazed!  Put some bourbon, tarragon, peach or strawberry, simple syrup, and bitters in your mixing glass.  Muddle the ingredients to release the flavors.  Strain into a glass filled with crushed ice, and garnish with a sprig of tarragon for flavor and you have a totally new twist on the old fashioned.

 

I always talk about local breweries, restaurants, foods, drinks, etc.  There is a difference!  We need to support our local small businesses and utilize all that Minnesota has to offer.  Experiment, explore and don t be afraid to try new things. The journey is always better than the destination!  Cheers!!

 

 

By |July 16th, 2015|Spirits Blog|0 Comments

My Favorite Wine Importer

I have long been a lover of French wines. So I was devastated when I heard that my favorite wine importer had let his license expire in Minnesota. A couple months later I rejoiced when I heard he had a change of heart. He was simply toying with my emotions. I quickly pounced to get my hands on my favorites once again!

Steven Gaucher got his start in the wine business not the traditional way of working in retail or a restaurant and slowly working up the ranks. In the early 1990’s living in the east coast, Steven enjoyed drinking the vast array of French wines readily available in his neighborhood. After spending numerous summers vacationing in the south of France, his appreciation for French wines increased and he had developed many friends and contacts in the process. Suddenly in the late 1990’s he was forced to move to Iowa, the 45th ranked state in wine consumption. Shortly after moving to Des Moines he was thirsty for some white Burgundy and was dismayed that there was none to be had. Steven was not the type to take this sitting down. After several conversations with his friends in France, he had suddenly become a wine importer of French wines into the U.S.!

The reason his company is among my favorites is not because he has a huge portfolio or possesses rights to several of the top French wines out there. I can’t afford those anyway! His philosophy has always been to bring affordable, tasty wines that are readily available in southern France to the U.S. He selects his wine the fun way, he tastes them! He doesn’t really care about ratings or press or reputation. He simply drinks the wine. If he likes the wine and it is in a price range that he feels is a bargain, he searches out the producer and works out a deal to bring small quantities to the U.S. Often times, these producers are simply farmers that supply grapes to the larger firms but always set aside small amounts for themselves and a bit extra to sell in the local markets.

By using this methodology, he has a knack for finding delicious, affordable wines that I always trust when I am looking for something myself. Here are a couple of my favorites that just came back in stock.

Chateau Beauchene Premiere Terroir Cotes du Rhone Rouge ($18):
This wine is owned by the Bernard family which has been farming in the region since the 17th century as tenant farmers. Like many farmers, they benefited from the French Revolution and shortly after were able to buy some choice landholdings. This land, which has been farmed continuously by the same family, was considered part of the best red wine region in southern Rhone called Chateau Neuf du Pape. Unfortunately for the Bernard family, French politics reared its ugly head. In 1936 the government moved the borders of Chateau Neuf du Pape and his vineyards, with a stroke of a pen, became the much more humble Cotes du Rhone. The Bernard family’s loss is our gain! An average priced Chateau Neuf is around $50-70 dollars but an average priced Cotes du Rhone is around $15.

The Chateau Beauchene Premiere Terroir CDR is literally separated from Chateau Neuf du Pape by a small gravel road! This wine is in essence a Chateau Neuf du Pape but your wallet simply knows it as a Cote du Rhone.  Produced at the Bernard estate, this wine is juicy, full bodied with a layer of finesse. A stunning value.

Chateau Beauchene Cotes du Rhone

On the left is Chateau Neuf – On the right is Chateau Beauchene


Tour Boisee Minervois ($15):

Tour Boisee Minervois

Jean Louis Poudou – “Innovator” of Tour Boisee Minervois

Minervois is a region a touch southwest of the Rhone. This region’s wine laws are much less restrictive than most other regions in France. Because of this, the innovators have flocked here to make wine. Unencumbered by strict traditions and laws, they are able to make wines the way they feel they should be made. Jean Louis Poudou is the innovator of Tour Boisee who combines modernization with the traditional belief that land needs to express itself in the wine.

Tour Boisee Minervois is a blend of the famous Languedoc trio of Grenache, Carignan, and Cinsault. The blend conspires to make a juicy, spicy blend with soft and round corners. Notes of blackberry, blue berry, liquorice and just enough tannins to pair beautifully with meats fresh off the grill. Steven Gaucher eloquently states “Jean Louis Poudou and his fabulous wines from Minervois are the best expression of the Languedoc terroir I have come across in my 23 years of traveling in that region of France.”

By |June 24th, 2015|Wine Blogs|1 Comment

When Life Gives You Lemons…

Lemonade is one of Americas Favorite summertime drinks.  What other drink conjures images of lazy summer days, kids swinging on the swing set, lounging by the pool with a big picture of ice-cold lemonade.  Lemonade is so mixable and so refreshing.  There are countless recipes for adult lemonade.  Lemonade is very mixable and flavors can be discovered to please every palate!

 

The basic mix I love with lemonade is Vodka.  The smooth neutral flavor of vodka is the perfect complement.  Make your lemonade as you usually would, as sweet or as tart as you like. Take a good mid price vodka, mix to taste.  The vodka should add a little bite, but don’t let the alcohol overpower the natural refreshing properties.

 

To add a little taste use flavored vodka to jazz it up.  Raspberry vodka is my favorite mixer in lemonade.  The subtle sweetness of the raspberry really brings a little pleasure to everyone.  Another classic flavor in lemonade is cranberry vodka.  The tartness of the cranberry is a cool addition to any lemonade.

 

At your next backyard party, keep it simple!  Have a big pitcher of lemonade and a couple bottles of vodka.  Your guests will love the versatility and the abundant choices.  If you really want to class it up, have some fresh cut fruit available for garnish.  It adds the touch and as you are lounging in the sun, you feel healthier too!

 

Lemon is not only an American passion, but in Italy they have been making lemon drinks for years.  Limoncello is a lemon liquor that I think will keep getting more and more popular.  Limoncello is made from Amalfi lemons in the Sorrentine Peninsula of Italy.  Mt. Vesuvius’ famous eruption left the hills of Sorrento rich in special nutrients and soil that can’t be found anywhere else!  It is delightful semi sweet liquor with the touch of tart lemon that blows you away.  There are a few good brands of limoncello.  One of my favorites is the Gioia Luisa limoncello.  Made by the Saverio Family since 1946.  Limoncello is traditionally made from the zest of lemons.  Amalfi lemon peels are steeped in grain neutral alcohol until the sumptuous oils are released.  This is then mixed with a pure neutral alcohol.  The resultant mixture is amazing in its bright colors and flavor.

 

The other night I came home in the mood for a martini, but discovered I had no vermouth!  Now once in a while I will have a very very, dry martini(no vermouth) but I decided to step back a bit.  I spied a bottle of limoncello that I had left from last summer, in the back of the bar.  I decided to throw  a little in the shaker with my vodka.  It turned out delicious!  I was amazed at how the sweet/tart flavors of the limoncello balanced the flavor of the vodka.  I threw in a lemon twist, and had a great cocktail.  At the end of the day, I don’t always measure my drinks.  I like to free pour and hope my intuition guides me well.  But for this cocktail I did roughly 4 parts vodka to 1.5 parts limoncello.  The resultant elixir had the bright sun like color  of lemon, but the satisfying burn of a good martini!  I was really surprised how good it was!

 

Gioia Luisa LimoncelloGioia Luisa also makes a limoncello cream.  This uses their famous limoncello, but adds cream for a rich decadent treat.  It is best to keep it ice cold and sip after dinner.  It is surprisingly good.  Not too sweet, but a real tart gem.  It conjures images of a good lemon crème pie!  Try it for a different after dinner cocktail.

 

The Luisa family decided to use the expertise gained in making limoncello, to use the same techniques for an Orangecello.  It is a little sweeter than the limoncello.  But if you put it in your freezer and pull it out on a warm night you will see a transformation, in your mood and your taste buds.  The Gioia Luisa family of cocktails is high quality and will make any gathering special.

 

Whatever your summer plans include, a little lemon is always good!  Don’t be afraid to experiment.  You never know what you will find!  Enjoy in Moderation and Cheers!

By |June 1st, 2015|Spirits Blog|0 Comments

What the What? Beer Cocktails?

Mixology is not just for Liquor. Mixology is the Art of mixing fine liquors and ingredients to create a sum that is greater than the parts. But rather than liquor, Beer is becoming an ingredient that people love. Beer sales still dwarf wine and liquor on a national and international basis. Thus it makes sense that the mixology cognoscenti would use beer in their new and older traditional drinks.

If you are in a beer rut, drinking the same old thing, day after day—try a beer cocktail. One of the original is the Radler. The story goes that an ambitious barkeeper invented the Radler early in the 20th century. He bought a little bar in Bavaria and helped lead the local charge to develop a bike trail that coincidentally ran right by his establishment. As the biking scene took off during the decade, his bar became the go-to spot. One day during a big bike rally, he had thousands of bikers stop by his bar. Running low on his beer stock would have been disastrous, so he used some old unsellable lemon soda he had stocked in the basement and mixed it 50/50 with the remaining beer stocks. His ingenious way of rationalizing was that the bikers wouldn’t fall off their bikes on the way home!! A Great idea and the bikers loved it so much they kept coming back for more! FYI–Radler means biker in German!

In Europe, the radler beers are getting super popular. Here in the states the big sellers are Leiny Summer Shandy and Time traveler Shandy. However try the Stiegl Radler for the truest European expression of the great drink!

Summer Shandy

An American take on Radler

You may wonder why Leiny calls their popular beer Summer Shandy and not radler. In Great Britain a shandy is any drink that has beer and soda added. The true British Shandy is Beer and Ginger Beer mixed together! However Leiny liked the alliterative values of the Summer Shandy!

A great drink that the Brits have invented is also the Snakebite. Snakebite is any beer and Hard Apple cider mixed together. It is a great mix where the sweetness of the cider and the slight hop bitterness mesh together to make a great drink! Try it for a change of pace!

The idea of mixing beer is also popular in Latino countries. The Michelada and the Chelada are very popular and you can even find the chelada premixed by the Budweiser family of beers. A Michelada is good cold cerveza mixed with limejuice, assorted sauces, spices and peppers. Try a bottle of Modelo Especial, one whole lime juiced, worchestshire sauce, Tabasco, and soy sauce. Mix in a pint glass and you have a great Michelada! Don’t forget to rim the cup with salt! A Chelada is similar but you add tomato juice or for a real treat use Clamato. The Clamato has a unique flavor that adds a little oomph! I like a little heavier beer like Dos Equis in my Chelada.

The Radler, Shandy and the Michelada are all relatively old recipes with a lot of tradition. If you want to step out and experiment, there are a lot of newer recipes and ideas floating around. Try these two beer cocktails to liven up your afternoon and evenings! Try a beer Sangria. Take a 24oz of Summer style ale like Sam Adams Summer Ale, 1 cup of Peach Nectar, 2oz of limejuice, 2 oz. of simple syrup, 4oz of Pisco (a south American liquor) and 2 cups of frozen peaches. Mix it all together in a pitcher and you have the most unique sangria you can find!

Or if you want to really indulge and make your summer awesome try the Beer ice cream float! Simple to make—but decadent! Take a rich Porter or Stout beer (maybe a beer with chocolate undertones like Oscars Chocolate Oatmeal Stout from Black River falls Wisconsin) pour over two scoops of ice cream and you got it!! Simple—but delicious.

Beer is easy to drink, easy to find, and can be used in a myriad of ways! Don’t be afraid to experiment! Expand your horizons and always enjoy in moderation. Cheers!

 

By |May 28th, 2015|Beer Blogs|0 Comments

Colavita Wines

The Godfather I and II were on TV again a few weeks ago. As usual, I ended up losing a few hours, because I can ‘t channel surf without getting engrossed again and again in the intricate and tragic story of the Corleone Family. I have seen the movie at least 150 times, in bits and pieces, but can never get enough!

The second Godfather, which chronicles the story of a young Vito Corleone coming to America and starting an Olive oil importing business, is the greatest movie ever! It is a true epic representation of the American dream. Even though it ends in a sordid affair of crime and murder, it is a testament to vision and risk taking! There is a venerable Italian company that is following the same path in the Wine business! No crime or murder, but the same passion and commitment to excellence!

Sant’elia a Pianisi

Sant’elia a Pianisi

Colavita was originally a fine olive oil and pasta importer. Started in the charming hilltop village of Sant’elia a Pianisi; this family business has grown into a multinational behemoth. World renowned for fine olive oils and vinegars, it is beloved by millions. Now they have taken the same family traditions of excellence, and their years of family connections throughout Italy to create a line of great Italian wines. Colavita makes four traditional Italian varietals. Pinto Grigio, Verdicchio, Pinot Noir and Valpolicella Ripasso.

Colavita has partnered with the Terlato Wine Group to bring these great wines to America. Terlato is an importer and producer of some of the greatest wines and wine values in the world. They deal only with quality and amazing wines. Some of the great wines in their portfolio include Chimney Rock, Rutherford Hill, Gaja and Santa Margherita to name a few of the over 90 wines they represent. They don’t mess around! They have some awesome wines!

Colavita basically means a life lived well! Vita is Italian for life—not just life–but life lived well! The four wines they have created are a testament to this ethos.

The Colavita Pinot Grigio is a classic Italian Pinot Grigio. It is fermented in 100% stainless steel. The non-wood fermentation and aging allows the fresh flavor of this wine to jump out of the glass! It is from the famed Veneto region, where some of the greatest Pinot Grigio comes from. The cooling ocean climates and rolling hills create an ideal climate for this grape to flourish. Pinot Grigio is an awesome summer quaffer with a touch of sweetness that will please everyone in the group.

However if you want a white wine that really reminds you of Italy, try the Verdicchio. The Verdicchio comes from the Marche province. The Apennines Mountains to the west and the Adriatic sea to the east surround it. This unique terroir gives this wine some amazing characteristics, light Yellow Green Color, crisp fruit aromas, and a little earthiness balanced by citrus notes! There is no other wine like this in the world.

Pinot Noir is a grape that enraptures wine lovers. It is a grape that can create some of the greatest wines in the world. However it is hard to find good affordable Pinot Noir. Winemakers know that it is a temperamental grape. Cheap Pinot Noir is exactly what you pay for–flat boring thin wines. However when you step up a little bit, Pinot Noir can be a joy! The Colavita Pinot Noir is unique in its fruit forward flavors. 100% stainless steel aging allows the soft flavors to come forward. Hints of Blackberry, and a velvety finish tease your palate.

The Valpolicella is truly the treat of the entire portfolio. Just saying the wine is fun! Vahl-paw-lee-Chel-la. It rolls off your tongue like the wine floats over it! This Valpolicella is made in the Ripasso method. Ripasso literally means repassed. The grape juice for this amazing wine comes from the same juices that create Italy’s most amazing wine—Amarone. Amarone is always $40-100 a bottle. You can get a taste of the exquisite flavors for around $15-20, in the Ripasso Valpolicella. The grapes for this wine are partially dried by laying out on the open plains of Italy. The sun slowly dries the grapes to a raisiny texture. This brings an amazing ripeness and intense flavor. Truly unique. If you want to tantalize your taste buds, This well-balanced wine has great wild berries on the finish. I can’t emphasize enough how fun this wine is!

The Colavita Family has a winner in these wines. Italy has made wines for thousands of years; they know what they are doing! Food and wine are an intricate part of the Italian lifestyle. They go hand in hand! Enjoy in moderation and live a Vita Life! Cheers!

By |May 28th, 2015|Wine Blogs|0 Comments

Have a martini and mourn the ending of Mad Men

Nothing evokes images of class and sophistication like a fine Martini. From the impeccably clad James Bond to the fine aristocratic gentleman of London England to the high class wall street bankers in New York, a martini is the perfect way to finish a day, close a deal, or just enjoy the finer things in life!

But what is a martini? Is it the glass? It is it ingredients? Is it the method? In actuality it is all three and more! The origins of the martini are a little murky, but one of my favorite stories is the New York version where a guy named Martini invented the drink. Other theories say an Italian drink company made the first one, or that the Martini came from the Martinez drink? Whatever the origin, most people agree that the original martini was a simple concoction of gin and vermouth!

A true gin martini is 3 parts gin and one part dry vermouth, garnished with a lemon twist or olives. From here you can make it drier and drier! A dry martini simply means less vermouth in the ratio. It is said that a true Englishmen will pour three parts of gin, wave the vermouth bottle over the glass and bow to the east—the direction of France where vermouth originated!

From this simple recipe, martinis have grown to become one of the most popular drinks in the world. The Martini glass with the long stem and open mouth(perfect to enjoy the aroma) has become the signature. Virtually anything you pour into the unique glass is called a martini! Name a flavor and you can probably find a ‘martini” recipe to satisfy your taste buds! Chocolate, peppermint, mango, cranberry, etc. The list can go on and on!

James Bond

Shaken, not stirred

James Bond, one of the most famous martini drinkers ever, prefers his martinis with an added touch of flavor and panache! The original Bond likes 3 parts Gordon’s Gin, 1 part vodka, and a half part Lillet Blanc. Shake it well and add the lemon peel. In the original Casino Royale book he called the delicious elixir the Vesper, after a female secret agent.

I prefer Vodka to gin. My Martini recipe is a little different. I first chill my martini glass, with a little ice. I then add some dry vermouth to the glass. I swirl the vermouth to coat the glass with a delicate film of vermouth flavor. After dumping the vermouth, I then add 2-3 oz. of Chopin Vodka to my shaker. I shake it with vigor and urgency then pour straight into the glass. 3 basic martini olives is a must—I need my veggies! The slight film of vermouth is perfect for my taste buds. I love Chopin Vodka. It is 100% potato vodka from Poland. It has a slight creaminess to the finish that I have never found in another vodka. It is wonderful!

True mixologists never shake their martinis. They prefer to stir it. Shaking a drink adds at least 23% more water to the mix. I like this because it is a little lower alcohol in the final drink. Purists like to stir because you get the truest expression of the products flavor. But it doesn’t matter what the experts say. Experiment and do what you like! The fun is in the journey not just the destination!

Without getting into the hundreds of other martinis, I have to mention another great recipe. The Dirty Martini. A Dirty Martini is for olive lovers. It is made just like you would make any other Gin or Vodka martini. But you add an ounce or two of olive juice from the olive jar. It takes the edge off the martini and really accentuates the flavors! They are fun and easy to make and are very environmentally sound! You use every bit of the jar of olives! No waste!

Martinis are simple to make, but are truly a classic. Sometimes the classic drinks are still best. Experiment and find your perfect ratio. There are dozens of great gin and vodkas you can try. Every libation has its own character and flavor. Don’t be afraid! You can never go wrong. Sometimes you will just like one better than the other! Cheers!!

By |May 28th, 2015|Spirits Blog|0 Comments

Traditional Holiday Drinks

As I was sitting around on a grey Sunday, watching the hapless Vikings go thru another disappointing loss, I spied a bottle of Warres 10yr old Port leftover from Thanksgiving sitting on the counter. I felt it was a shame to leave the lonely bottle half drunk so I di my duty and poured myself a glass. The sweet bracing undertones of the 10yr elixir calmed my nerves as I watched Teddy Bridgewater lead the ineffectual offense. As I sat there reflecting on the grey foggy day, the port brought me to a place in England where I could see English aristocrats drinking their ports while ruminating on the upcoming season. Port is a not an English drink—but it has become an English tradition especially around the Christmas season.

Port is basically a fortified wine. The English had the Portuguese wine makers add a little brandy or liquor to the wine so it would stand up to the long travel back to England. The English discovered that the great strong flavors were delicious as an evening nightcap or perfect with a chocolate dessert. It soon became a staple on the Christmas table!

I started to think of other Christmas traditions around the world. Christmas in the civilized Western world is an awesome time of year as we celebrate the birth of greatness. The entire Christian world from the classic byzantine Eastern Orthodox countries like, Greece, Russia, Romania, to the modern western churches of Italy, Germany, France and England all have their own traditional drinks and holiday traditions. Russia is definitely a vodka culture, Romania has the great plum brandy slivovitz, and Greece has the beautiful Metaxa, a Brandy-like liqueur.

Mulled Wine

A classic German Drink

German Gluhwein is always a classic in the cold regions of the world. Gluhwein is a red wine that is fortified with various spices of cinnamon, lemonseed, aniseed, cloves, orange and vanilla. It can be served warm or room temperature. It has an amazing aroma of holiday spices, similar to the holiday beers I wrote about last week. You can make it yourself or the Saint Christopher winery has a great one that is premade in the bottle and ready to go, either way it is a great holiday drink.

The Scandinavian countries of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden have their own traditional drink. Aquavit is a strong drink that will warm you up! The name aquavit comes from the Latin term Aqua Vitae or “water of life. “ Aquavit is a distilled product from grain and then flavors are added. The most popular is Caraway and dill. It is usually sipped ice cold. It is a great treat with the ever-present lefsa and lutefisk!

Francophiles drink wine with every holiday. And of course the Beaujolais Nouveau must be drunk over the holidays. The celebratory wine bottled in early November is best drunk young and fresh. The Nouveau this year is spectacular and if you see some you should treat yourself to the bright cheery flavors. Beaujolais Nouveau was made to celebrate the first harvest of the winemaking year. Use it to celebrate the birth of the King. It will go perfect with your Christmas Turkey or Ham!

Here in America we have some great traditions also. There are a plethora of great Craft Breweries making fun and unique Christmas style beers. Try any of the brands you see and you will be happy. There is so much good beer out there it is an awesome time to be a beer lover! The creativity and daring of the US brew masters is at an all time high!

But I love Tom and Jerry’s this time of year. A Tom and Jerry is an egg-based batter that you add brandy and rum to. It is sweet and filling and will bring a smile to everyone at the party. You can make it from scratch, but as I am lazy and busy, I use the locally made Flaherty’s Tom and Jerry batter. The Flaherty family of St Paul has made it since the 1940’s. It is a fresh product that is only available this time of year. The family recipe is just spicy enough and is perfect with a half a jigger of Rum and half a jigger of Brandy. It also makes a great French toast. The holiday spices of cinnamon, all-spice and other secrets are a great way to start the holidays!!

Whatever your heritage, Liquor, beer and wine is and should be a part of every celebration. Enjoy this most blessed of seasons and enjoy the Christmas miracle! Cheers!!

By |May 28th, 2015|Beer Blogs, Spirits Blog, Wine Blogs|0 Comments

Cordials Make Every Holiday Better

December is the month of the year when everything tastes better! The feast of thanksgiving has whetted our appetites and now our taste buds are ready for a month of revelry and celebration!

Holiday parties abound and we all want a little something different! Holiday liqueurs and cordials really come to the forefront. Form crème liquor to ancient recipes to classic mixology we can enjoy a plethora of flavors and experiences!

CordialsCrème liquors like Baileys sell more in the next month than virtually the rest of the year combined! Baileys is the original crème. Introduced in the early Seventies, it took the world by storm as people were entranced by its decadent lushness of texture and unique chocolate, cream flavors. Baileys uses real heavy Irish crème and also the finest Irish whiskeys to create its one of a kind experiences. Baileys and coffee is still one of the best ways to celebrate a crisp weekend morning in the wintertime! I love a little Bailey’s on the rocks after dinner to settle the stomach and also to satisfy the sweet tooth thereby keeping me away from the other desserts! New this year is the Baileys Chocolate Cherry. Two great flavors that are perfect together!

Another new favorite is RumChata. Rumchata burst on the scene in 2009 and the public went crazy! Developed in Pewaukee Wisconsin it uses real Caribbean rum and homegrown Wisconsin dairy crème! Based on the classic Hispanic drink Horchata, RumChata is like a cinnamon roll in a bottle! You can make some excellent coctails like the French Cream a combination of Cognac and RumChata. But again feel free to enjoy in your coffee or hot chocolate, or just straight up! Don’t forget to try it in your French toast the next morning for a really special treat!

IF crème cocktails are not your thing, don’t worry, as there are plenty of liqueurs that have amazing flavors to tempt you. Chambord from France is always a favorite. You feel like royalty as you drink the black framboise (raspberry) elixir. Some say Chambord was developed for King Louis XIV. It is a combination of Fresh Blackberries and Raspberries, French eau di vie, a touch of Madagascar vanilla and a few other secret herbs. I like Chambord in hot chocolate or mix it in a great martini with premium vodka for a strong finish to the night!

On the nuttier side is Frangelico. In a bottle shaped like a Franciscan monk (the sash is included) it is sweet hazelnut liqueur. Developed in the mountains of Canale Italy, it is a classic digestif that has medicinal purposes, but is more important for my mental health! It is a classic that I love in a martini or in my hot chocolate. It is slightly sweet, but has enough astringency to satisfy your thirst and give you a unique flavor profile! For a special treat mix Chambord and Frangelico together in a rocks glass and drizzle with crème for a great taste of nuts and berries!

On the irreverent side try the Naughty Cow! A relatively new drink on the scene, it is truly chocolate milk for adults! Not as creamy as a Baileys, but more chocolatey. It is a great package with a dizzy looking cow on the front that will elicit great conversation around the table or party! Sip it straight or any way you like! It’s okay to be Naughty once in a while!

If you are into the classics there are many venerable brands that have satisfied for centuries. Drambuie is a scotch lovers dream. Scotch, Honey, Heather and secret ingredients make it a bracing winter drink. Try it in the Classic Rusty nail. Drambuie and Scotch in a short glass over ice with a lemon twist!

Benedictine and its close sibling B&B are two classic French liqueurs. Developed hundreds of years ago by monks as both a digestif and a guilty pleasure, they are unique and best sipped after dinner around the fireplace!

If you want to work a little bit and have some festive color in your night, the classic Grasshopper is still popular! White Crème de Cacao, Green Crème de Menthe, a little Ice Cream and a blender of ice and you have a frothy green cocktail that is an unbelievable mint chocolate delight that will remind you of the 1950 and 1060’s when this great drink had its heyday! The classics can still hold up!!

However you enjoy this festive time of year, do it with friends and family and always with moderation! Cheers!

By |May 28th, 2015|Spirits Blog|0 Comments

A Most Underrated Wine Region – Bourgeil

I have long maintained that the single most underrated region in the wine world is the Loire Valley.  There are scores of unique wineries, growers, and grape varietals to be found here.  This small area can lead us to discuss a whole myriad of wines.  Today we will review a region in the heart of the Loire called Bourgueil.

The wines from this region are almost exclusively made from Cabernet Franc.  Cabernet Franc, underrated in its own right, is a wonderful red grape full of character and vibrancy.  Lighter than Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine tends to be a bright pale red wine with finesse and a touch of pepper on the nose.  Along with pepper, well made wines can also include aromas of cassis, violets, tobacco, raspberry and maybe even cedar. The complexity of these wines along with well balanced acid and judicious oak make my mouth water!

Bourgueil soils contain a lot of gravel and sand along with some limestone.  This combination allows the vines to have excellent drainage without the soil being to rich.  The vines have to fight to survive, therefore the roots go deep and extract every ounce of love from the soil.  This creates wines that are floral, fruity and complex and with age will have a wonderful earthy element.  Bourgueil wines can age beautifully in the bottle.  If you like a more up front, fruity style, you can drink these young, if complex earthy and  leathery notes are your thing, age the wine for 10-20 years in a cool, dark place and you will be amazed at the complexity and melding of earth and fruit in the glass.   Pair reds from this area with pork tenderloin or grilled chicken.  Bourgueil wines are also the ultimate burger wine!

Harder to find, but also beautiful are rose’s from this region.  Only 5% of total production, these wines are fresh, vibrant yet still have the signature violet and peppery notes.

OuchesAn awesome example of Bourgueil that won’t break the bank is Domaines des Ouches Bourgueil Igoranda.($20)  Made by the Gambier brothers who represent the 8th generation of Gambiers making wine in Bourgueil!  Over time, they have learned to master the region pulling grapes from various spots on the vineyard in order to make different styles.  The Igoranda  is elegant with cassis, tobacco combined with a flowery aroma of bing cherries and black raspberries.  This wine is composed of fruit from the hillside.  The Gambiers have noticed this plot takes longer to ripen, giving the wine more acid and complex fruit.  While riskier and more expensive to produce, the results are beautiful!

Be daring and don’t ignore this unknown region.  If you are a red wine fan, I think you will be surprised.  While hard to find, it is worth the search!

 

 

 

By |May 28th, 2015|Wine Blogs|0 Comments

Summertime Ideas

There can be nothing better than a long tall cocktail on a summer night!  During the fleeting summer months we need to take the time and enjoy the pleasure of mixing a great drink.  I agree that the utter simplicity of cracking an ice cold beer open, pouring the golden brown ale into a frozen pint mug, and letting it cascade over your parched taste buds is a summer rite and will quench your thirst—but taking the time to craft a cocktail can be just as satisfying.  Sometimes the journey is better than the end result!

 

The burgeoning mixology movement is bringing new flavors to our consciousness, but also is bringing back some old classics!  New items like St Germain Elderflower liqueur and Pama Pomegranate liqueur are awesome to try and will amaze you with cool flavors and never before tasted delights.  But sometimes the simplicity of the classic Gin and Tonic with a twist is just as good!

 

Gin and Tonics have been around for hundreds of years.  First popularized in England since the 1700’s , The Brits have long toasted the long summer nights with a classic Tanqueray and tonic or Beefeater gin.  These are two of the standards in the Gin world.  Years of tradition have made them the perfect gins!  The juniper flavors shine thru to create the slight piney flavor we all love in gin!  Fill a long tall glass with pure ice, add a couple of ounces of gin, fill with tonic water, and spritz a little lime over the top and then garnish with the lime!

 

St. Germain Cocktails

Click for more great cocktail recipes

St Germain has taken the world by storm.  It was introduced to our palates a few years ago.  It took customers a while to figure out what to do with the unique liqueur.  But now it is flying off the shelves!  It is a delicate liqueur made with fresh elderflowers.  It is handcrafted in France using age-tested methods.  It is a true testament to the French custom of taking it easy and doing things the right way! It is a great mixer to many cocktails.  But my favorite is the Elderflower Cocktail.  Get a chilled Collins glass, fill with ice, 2oz of St Germain, 3 ounces of Champagne (brut or extra dry) and soda water.  Garnish with a lemon twist.  It is amazingly simple—but the flavor is pretty cool and will make you feel fancy and European for the afternoon!

 

Pama Liqueur can be used as an additive to many cocktails. My wife and I were walking thru the liquor store one day, and the unique crimson colored bottle caught our eye.  I had never tried it, but was intrigued!  So we took a bottle home and started experimenting!  Being a thirsty guy and a martini lover, I immediately grabbed my Chopin Vodka, a shaker, and made a Pama Martini.  The Pomegranate flavor blew me away.  It was slightly sweet—but not so much as a cosmopolitan or other girly drinks!  Even though the drink had a pinkish color, I was secure enough to enjoy the great flavors!  My wife, ever the contrarian, decided to make a mojito with the Pama added in.  I had to admit—her mojito was amazing!  She used great rum, fresh mint from my neighbor’s garden, fresh squeezed limejuice, her homemade simple syrup, and her favorite muddling tool to create this awesome Pama Mojito.  I hate to lose any competition —but this was worth it!!

 

This is the smallest sampling of a few drinks you can make in the summer time.  The most important thing to remember is don’t be afraid!  There is a plethora of recipes available.  But sometimes just turning your creativity loose can create an awesome summer drink.  But Just in case you fail don’t despair–the Ice-cold Beer can still satisfy!  Whatever edge of the spectrum you fall into—enjoy and savor the fleeting days of summer with a great adult beverage!

By |May 28th, 2015|Spirits Blog|0 Comments

Louisiana Classics

The Mississippi River begins in bucolic Itasca Minnesota.  A charming and beautiful site that from first glance would never seem possible to create the greatest River in the world!  But from the humble beginnings in northern Minnesota, the ‘old man river’ ends at a site that is the polar opposite of Itasca!  New Orleans is about as far from Minnesota as you can get—both physically and culturally.  The voodoo vibe, the great zydeco music, spicy flavorful Cajun foods are all a culture shock to us native Minnesotans!

 

However there are a few great Louisiana liquors and beers we can all share.  One of the little known powerhouses in the industry is housed in Louisiana.  Sazerac companies are an amazing story!    Sazerac is the largest family owned distillery in the country.  It has some of the biggest brands and most hallowed liquor names in the entire world.

 

The Sazerac Story started in 1838.  Antoine Peychaud operated a pharmacy in the French Quarter of New Orleans.  Being a skilled apothecary, Antoine loved to mix up cocktails.  He started mixing Cognac, Absinthe, and his secret ingredient –Peychaud bitters.  This cocktail soon became known as the Sazerac.  From here it slowly grew in popularity.  It was drunk throuout the city and was getting popular.  So eventually an enterprising man named Thomas Handy bought the rights to Peychauds bitters and started making the Sazerac cocktail available everywhere.  Slowly he started buying different distilleries and brands.  Today it is a powerhouse in the distilling world!  Sazerac owns venerable brands and distilleries like Buffalo Trace and Eagle Rare Whiskey, Pappy van Winkle, George T Stagg, Dr Mcgillicuddy, Fleischman, and Mt Boston, to name a few.  It all started from a cocktail!  Try a Sazerac Cocktail either the traditional way with a cognac or the newer version of Rye Whiskey.  Cognac will make a slightly sweeter drink—while the Rye will be a little spicier!

 

Another great thing in New Orleans is Abita beer. It is an awesome brewery in Abita Springs LA, about 30 miles north of the city.  The brewery started in 1986 and blew up in popularity. They make all their beers following the purest methods.  Only water, barley, hops and yeast are used.  This is the best way to make beer.  No preservatives, no tricks, just good solid beer making!!  One of the keys to their great beers is the water.  Abita is one of the only breweries to never have to filter their water or use additives. Their water comes from over 5000 ft. below ground and is singularly pure and amazingly capable of producing great beer!  Water is the key! Abita makes dozens of beers, but only a few make their way to the northland—but the ones that do are worth it!  I love Purple Haze.  It is a raspberry wheat beer that is the perfect mix of wheat malts and vanguard hops, the hops are perfectly balanced to offset the sweetness of the malt and the fresh raspberrys that are added after filtration.  It is a great summertime refresher!

 

For the serious beer drinker, the Abita Restoration Pale Ale is a great example of balance and flavors. It uses 3 different malts, and has Cascade hops added for bitterness both before and after fermentation!  This beer has a great rich body, fresh citrusy flavors and a golden blond color.  A great beer to quench your thirst on a hot New Orleans or Minnesota day!  It is refreshing to see a classic brewing style that has been used by the Germans since 1516 still used today to make amazing beers!

 

Culturally we are as far apart from New Orleans as could be, but we share a great river and we share a great love of Beer and liquor!  Enjoy everything in Moderation!!

 

 

By |May 28th, 2015|Beer Blogs, Spirits Blog|0 Comments

Charitable Beverages

Charity and wine have been one of the best pairings ever known.  The beverage industry has always been very involved and a key part of virtually every charity fundraiser you could ever go to.  The enticement of drinking well and doing good at the same time is too good to be true!

 

From the champagne toast at the high end dinner fetes to the great times had trying over 200 different wines at a big casual party, wine/liquor/beer always helps the cause!

 

But you can help a good cause virtually every time you enjoy a beverage.  There are numerous purveyors who give a large portion of their proceeds to a charity or a good cause.  A great local Minnesota option is the Finnegan’s Beer Company.  This great beer gives 100% of its profits to local food shelves and needy people.  They even have a Reverse Food truck.  Where they bring the food truck to you and rather than eat, you give food to the needy.  It is a great idea and impacts countless people.  But the best thing is that the beer is good!  Finnegan’s has three varieties.  The original Finnegan’s Amber, Finnegan’s Blonde Ale and the new Dead Irish Poet Stout

 

Finnegan’s Irish Amber is full flavored amber ale with a nice smooth flavor.  It is malty and creamy with slight hops added.  It is the first beer developed by Finnegan’s, and really put them on the map.  It carries the Irish theme into its clean straightforward packaging; which is Irish green and the ever-present four-leaf clover!

 

Finnegan’s Blonde Ale is the next entry which came out a few years ago.  It is a crystal clean tasting blonde ale.  A slight hop kick gives a satisfying finish to this beer.  It is an easy quaffer that you can’t not enjoy!  Every beer drinker from the Busch light guy to the hop crazed beer snob can enjoy this everyday brew.

 

The newest Entry to the Finnegan’s world is the Dead Irish Poet.  A limited release extra Stout; this is a huge step away from the usual Finnegan’s flavors.  It is a 7% alcohol bombshell.  As Finnegan’s Proclaims proudly, it has deep dark brooding flavors that are homage to the greatest Irish poets of yesteryear like James Joyce, William Yeats and Oscar Wilde.  I know nothing about Poetry, but I love good stout.  This is a nice bracing stout that will satisfy your yearning for dark chocolate undertones and creamy finish to your beer.  The Dead Irish Poet is available only in the Finnegan’s Variety pack.  You can’t buy it as of now in individual packs.  But by buying the Variety 12pk you can run the gauntlet of great Irish style beers and give a little back to charity!!

 

If wine is your passion there are countless good causes to help and still enjoy great pleasure.  I love Cline Vineyards of California.  The Cline Cashmere is one of my favorite California Red wines.  It is a Rhone Style blend of Mouvedre, Syrah, and Grenache.  The name says it all, like cashmere it is luxuriant and exclusive!  Best of all the pink tones on the label foretell where many of the proceeds go!  Over $270,000 has been donated to Breast Cancer Research and Living Beyond Breast Cancer.  Cline also uses as much sustainable farming techniques as possible to produce some great wines.  They are still a family owned vineyard that gives back and is not just some huge corporate behemoth with no soul!

 

Whiskey Lovers can still drink good and do good also.  Numerous whiskey brands give a lot back to various organizations like Jack Daniels and their successful Pheasants forever limited releases.  You can guess where a portion of Wild Turkey proceeds go!

 

As the Charity Benefit season approaches, we can all do good and drink good.  There is no higher calling than to give a little back!  Enjoy in Moderation and sleep well knowing you have helped someone along the way!

By |May 28th, 2015|Beer Blogs, Spirits Blog, Wine Blogs|0 Comments

Southern Hemisphere Wines

The new world versus the old world is a common battleground in the wine arena. However while old world is easily defined as the European masters such as France, Italy, Spain and Germany, and New World was always Napa Valley and Sonoma valley, I want to talk about the New new world of wines. The Southern Hemisphere can be easily forgotten!

 

Southern Hemisphere wines have had a renaissance in the past few years, while Australia had a big boom with cheap shiraz and Sauvignon blanc was made famous by the innovative e winemakers of New Zealand, other countries like Chile,, Argentina and South Africa have come to market with amazing wines!

 

Stellenbosch South Africa Vineyards

Stellenbosch South Africa Vineyards

South Africa has been making wines since 1659. But it has only recently started to make great inroads into the consciousness of Americans. South Africa makes good use of the classic Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay grapes, but two of my favorites are the blended wines and a great white wine made with Chenin Blanc

 

Bush Camp Red is made by the Landskroon wine company. Landskroon is dates back to the 17th century when the French Huguenot settlers came to the Cape. The Bush Camp Red is a crazy good value. It is a blend of Cinsault, Cabernet, Shiraz and a touch of Cabernet Franc. It has flavors of black raspberry and a little smoke. But for whatever reason the flavor profile is perfect for my taste buds. IT is about $9-10 a bottle and among the greatest values in the world!

 

The Bush Camp Sundowner Chenin Blanc is an awesome white sipper. It is fresh and clean tasting and will go great with fish and a nice crisp salad. It is slightly dry, but has enough fruit to please everyone!

 

Argentina is also a region that has become more popular lately. Malbec is the grape that has brought the Argentine wines to the forefront. Malbec is originally a French wine that was used in many basic Bordeaux blends. Malbec has great big tannins and a rich inky dark color. Argentina is famous for their cattle farms and amazing steaks! Try a Brazilian Steakhouse like Fogo De Chao, for a small taste of great Brazilian Grilled Meats! Malbec goes perfectly with any grilled beef. A great Value is Tilia malbec. It is a top seller due to its aromas of black cherry and plum. Nicolas Catena is the brain trust behind this everyday killer wine. Catena was a pioneer in the Argentine wine world. His wines have won competitions throughout the world and his Namesake Catena Alta is always top rated around the world. With Tilia you get a little bit of the masters magic for about $10 per bottle! Tilia comes in Malbec, Chardonnay, Cabernet and a little sleeper wine called Torrontes. The Torrontes is slightly sweet with a little effervescence. Try it by itself or with light appetizers or salads,, it is refreshing and clean!

 

Adelaide Hills Australia Vineyards

Adelaide Hills Australia Vineyards

Australia is still the king of Southern hemisphere wines. It produces more wine and has the largest vineyards in the southern hemisphere. It is easy to forget that it is a Continent onto itself! It has many different climates and great regions. It can make wines in virtually any style! But I love Aussie Red wines. The king of the Grape world Cabernet Sauvignon is well represented, but Shiraz is the kingpin in the land down under. Australian Shiraz is Rich, with lively berry flavors and aromas. It is so good that I drool as I write about it! True Aussie Shiraz can match up with the greatest wines in the world! While Yellow Tail Shiraz and its ilk can be great quaffable values, step up a bit and try the next level or two. A few dollars a bottle can make a huge difference in the quality. Try Black Opal Shiraz for about $9 a bottle. It is about the best red wine for a little scratch that I know of. The Stump Jump red is another favorite of mine. It’s a cool blend of Grenache, Shiraz and Mouvedre. Rich jammy and tons of flavor. It is made by D’Arenberg wines, which is a 6th generation wine family in Australia. Chester Osborne, the latest in the lineage, knows what he is doing!

 

Event though it is a world away, and even though everything is backwards, from the seasons being opposite, to the toilets swirling the wrong way, the one thing the southern hemisphere can do do right is the great wines! Try one of these southern stars or any down under wine and you will love it!

By |February 16th, 2015|Wine Blogs|0 Comments

Stirred – Not Shaken

Classic Martini

Classic Martini

Nothing evokes images of class and sophistication like a fine Martini. From the impeccably clad James Bond to the fine aristocratic gentleman of London England to the high class wall street bankers in New York, a martini is the perfect way to finish a day, close a deal, or just enjoy the finer things in life!

But what is a martini? Is it the glass? It is it ingredients? Is it the method? In actuality it is all three and more! The origins of the martini are a little murky, but one of my favorite stories is the New York version where a guy named Martini invented the drink. Other theories say an Italian drink company made the first one, or that the Martini came from the Martinez drink? Whatever the origin, most people agree that the original martini was a simple concoction of gin and vermouth!

A true gin martini is 3 parts gin and one part dry vermouth, garnished with a lemon twist or olives. From here you can make it drier and drier! A dry martini simply means less vermouth in the ratio. It is said that a true Englishmen will pour three parts of gin, wave the vermouth bottle over the glass and bow to the east—the direction of France where vermouth originated!

From this simple recipe, martinis have grown to become one of the most popular drinks in the world. The Martini glass with the long stem and open mouth(perfect to enjoy the aroma) has become the signature. Virtually anything you pour into the unique glass is called a martini! Name a flavor and you can probably find a ‘martini” recipe to satisfy your taste buds! Chocolate, peppermint, mango, cranberry, etc. The list can go on and on!

Non-Traditional Martini

Non-Traditional Martini

James Bond, one of the most famous martini drinkers ever, prefers his martinis with an added touch of flavor and panache! The original Bond likes 3 parts Gordon’s Gin, 1 part vodka, and a half part Lillet Blanc. Shake it well and add the lemon peel. In the original Casino Royale book he called the delicious elixir the Vesper, after a female secret agent.

I prefer Vodka to gin. My Martini recipe is a little different. I first chill my martini glass, with a little ice. I then add some dry vermouth to the glass. I swirl the vermouth to coat the glass with a delicate film of vermouth flavor. After dumping the vermouth, I then add 2-3 oz. of Chopin Vodka to my shaker. I shake it with vigor and urgency then pour straight into the glass. 3 basic martini olives is a must—I need my veggies! The slight film of vermouth is perfect for my taste buds. I love Chopin Vodka. It is 100% potato vodka from Poland. It has a slight creaminess to the finish that I have never found in another vodka. It is wonderful!

True mixologists never shake their martinis. They prefer to stir it. Shaking a drink adds at least 23% more water to the mix. I like this because it is a little lower alcohol in the final drink. Purists like to stir because you get the truest expression of the products flavor. But it doesn’t matter what the experts say. Experiment and do what you like! The fun is in the journey not just the destination!

Without getting into the hundreds of other martinis, I have to mention another great recipe. The Dirty Martini. A Dirty Martini is for olive lovers. It is made just like you would make any other Gin or Vodka martini. But you add an ounce or two of olive juice from the olive jar. It takes the edge off the martini and really accentuates the flavors! They are fun and easy to make and are very environmentally sound! You use every bit of the jar of olives! No waste!

Martinis are simple to make, but are truly a classic. Sometimes the classic drinks are still best. Experiment and find your perfect ratio. There are dozens of great gin and vodkas you can try. Every libation has its own character and flavor. Don’t be afraid! You can never go wrong. Sometimes you will just like one better than the other! Cheers!!

By |February 11th, 2015|Spirits Blog|0 Comments

A Beer to Savor – Schell’s

Nestled in the rolling wooded hills of central Minnesota is the bucolic Germanic themed enclave of New Ulm MN.  It is a beautiful town with all the small-town trappings you would expect.  A hometown café and sportsbar sit in juxtaposition with the ever-present mall mentality that has overtaken America.  However New Ulm has one treasure that cannot be found anywhere else in the world—The world Famous Schell’s Brewing Company.

Schell’s is in its7th generation of having the same family working and creating great beers from their beautiful, well groomed gardener’s paradise of a brewery.  On a trip to the rustic brewery I was entranced by the old fashioned buildings and the great little museum showing all the history of the family thru the years.  A walk thru the gardens evoked a time past where you could enjoy the finer things in life such as good conversation, amazing scenery, and even the occasional Peacock strolling in front of your path!  However the absolute highlight of any trip to the brewery is the Beer!

Schell’s has been making beers for over a hundred years.  It has survived world wars, temperance movements, prohibition, great depressions, and even changing beer preferences!  They have had an explosion of new beers and creative ideas in the past few years.  They have continued making their standard Deer Brand lager, while expanding their roster of beers with a huge variety of yearlong staples and great seasonal offerings, along with a new initiative to create one of kind offerings where they stretch the imagination of their brew makers and consumers alike!

They have developed the Stag series of beers and the Noble Star series of beers.  These are limited release and hard to find innovative, yet nostalgic beers that are one of a kind treat fro your taste buds.

Stag Series is an innovative series of beers released throughout the year.  Their latest is the #8.  The Stag #8 is a blonde dopplebock made in collaboration with a German based brewery. Both breweries are family owned and have over 570 years combined experience.  Using a wide variety of hops, this unique beer has full flavor but is very drinkable!

The Noble star series are Berlin style wheat beers.  They are aged in rare cypress tanks that Schell’s bought in 1936.  These tanks are a one of a kind tool to create beers that simply can never be recreated!  They are all bottle conditioned, hand labeled and hand filled.  Truly a connoisseur’s beer!  Their latest release is the North Country Brunette.  It has a spicy complex flavor that can only come from the unique cypress aging tanks.  It is tart and dry with a slightly fruity flavor.

All Stag series and Noble Star beers are limited and hard to find!  If you find one, snatch it up because you will probably never see it again!

The everyday beers of Schell’s should not be forgotten.  They have a great sampler pack that allows you to try 3 of their staple offerings while also offering a rotating seasonal beer that fits the climate and desires of Minnesota and the world.

My Favorite is the Firebrick.  It is a Vienna style lager with a reddish hue.  It has a nice malty flavor with a touch of hops to give it the bitterness you need in a good beer!  Also don’t forget the Schell’s Dark.  A great everyday dark beer that fits every occasion!

Coming soon is my favorite seasonal beer. Oktoberfest.  A perfect blend of malts and hops, Crimson to deep brown in color, Oktoberfest beer is a great item and the history behind the recipe is a story of the ages.  In September I will retell the epic tale of Love and celebration that spawned Oktoberfest beer and its traditions.  Schell’s makes one of the best Oktoberfest beers and should never be missed!

As the locavore movement gains momentum, we need to remember to drink locally too!  Schell’s is a Minnesota treasure that should never be forgotten!  And if your travels take you to central Minnesota, you have to stop and visit—it is well worth the trip!

By |November 11th, 2014|Beer Blogs|0 Comments

Tequila Time

Summer is upon us, with that the margarita season has begun.  Of course the most important ingredient of a margarita is Tequila!  We all have or know someone with a horrible story about Tequila that probably makes many avoid it.  Tequila, aside from being a great mixer for margaritas, when done well can make some of the finest spirits on earth.  In my opinion, Tequila has the largest range of quality in the spirits world.  Some of the best drinks I’ve had and also some of the worst drinks I have had have been Tequila.

What makes one Tequila taste great, and another that makes you queasy when you smell it?  Like any fine spirit, it is the ingredients and also the type of ageing it goes through.  The main ingredient in Tequila must be, by law, agave.  Because of the famous red volcano soil around the town of Tequila and Jalisco, many believe that agave grows best here.  By law, Tequila must come from this region. The two basic categories of tequila are mixtos and 100% agave.Mixtos use no less than 51% agave, with other sugars making up the remainder. Jose Cuervo is the best known example of a Mixto.  100% agave Tequila must use 100% agave.  Be careful, it must say 100% on the label.  Some Tequila’s will simply say “made with agave”.  These are not 100% agave Tequilas!  The major flavor difference with 100% agave Tequila is that it is more vegetal, complex and usually smoother than mixtos.

The other major factor in making quality Tequila is the aging process.  There are 5 categories that denote the amount of ageing.  These terms are usually on the label.

  • Blanco or plata is white Tequila.  It is unaged and bottled or stored immediately after distillation.  It is usually stored in stainless steel or neutral oak barrels.  While often times a bit harsher, many people prefer this style because it gives you a much more pure expression of the agave.  Blanco is also the preferred type to mix in a margarita or other tequila drinks.
  • Joven or oro:  this is unaged Blanco tequila that is colored and flavored with caramel
  • Reposado:  aged a minimum of two months, but less than a year in oak barrels.  The type and size of barrels may vary.  Some prefer new oak barrels to impart a stronger oak flavor, others may use used whiskey or cognac barrels.  Others may use huge barrels that will also weaken the oak flavors.  The type of oak barrels is nearly endless.  Each decision by the distiller can affect the taste of the Tequila.  This is what makes Tequila so interesting!
  • Anejo: is aged for a minimum of one year, but less than three years in small oak barrels.  They must use small barrels no larger than 158 gallons to impart a stronger oak influence
  • Extra Anejo: is aged a minimum of three years in oak.  This is a relatively new category only established in 2006.

Reposado and anejo tequilas, because of the ageing process, are often smoother, subtler and much more complex than other types.  This is because during the ageing process the Tequila will take on many of the characteristics of the wood it is aged on.  Like many other spirits, the wood and ageing is very important in the complexity and flavor of Tequila.

One of the most important things I can tell you is don’t be scared off by all of those nightmare stories that involve Tequila.  Fine Tequila imbibed in moderation can be as satisfying as drinking the finest whiskey or brandy.

By |November 11th, 2014|Spirits Blog|0 Comments

Great Summertime Cocktails

There can be nothing better than a long tall cocktail on a summer night!  During the fleeting summer months we need to take the time and enjoy the pleasure of mixing a great drink.  I agree that the utter simplicity of cracking an ice cold beer open, pouring the golden brown ale into a frozen pint mug, and letting it cascade over your parched taste buds is a summer rite and will quench your thirst—but taking the time to craft a cocktail can be just as satisfying.  Sometimes the journey is better than the end result!

The burgeoning mixology movement is bringing new flavors to our consciousness, but also is bringing back some old classics!  New items like St Germain Elderflower liqueur and Pama Pomegranate liqueur are awesome to try and will amaze you with cool flavors and never before tasted delights.  But sometimes the simplicity of the classic Gin and Tonic with a twist is just as good!

Gin and Tonics have been around for hundreds of years.  First popularized in England since the 1700’s , The Brits have long toasted the long summer nights with a classic Tanqueray and tonic or Beefeater gin.  These are two of the standards in the Gin world.  Years of tradition have made them the perfect gins!  The juniper flavors shine thru to create the slight piney flavor we all love in gin!  Fill a long tall glass with pure ice, add a couple of ounces of gin, fill with tonic water, and spritz a little lime over the top and then garnish with the lime!

St Germain has taken the world by storm.  It was introduced to our palates a few years ago.  It took customers a while to figure out what to do with the unique liqueur.  But now it is flying off the shelves!  It is a delicate liqueur made with fresh elderflowers.  It is handcrafted in France using age-tested methods.  It is a true testament to the French custom of taking it easy and doing things the right way! It is a great mixer to many cocktails.  But my favorite is the Elderflower Cocktail.  Get a chilled Collins glass, fill with ice, 2oz of St Germain, 3 ounces of Champagne (brut or extra dry) and soda water.  Garnish with a lemon twist.  It is amazingly simple—but the flavor is pretty cool and will make you feel fancy and European for the afternoon!

Pama Liqueur can be used as an additive to many cocktails. My wife and I were walking thru the liquor store one day, and the unique crimson colored bottle caught our eye.  I had never tried it, but was intrigued!  So we took a bottle home and started experimenting!  Being a thirsty guy and a martini lover, I immediately grabbed my Chopin Vodka, a shaker, and made a Pama Martini.  The Pomegranate flavor blew me away.  It was slightly sweet—but not so much as a cosmopolitan or other girly drinks!  Even though the drink had a pinkish color, I was secure enough to enjoy the great flavors!  My wife, ever the contrarian, decided to make a mojito with the Pama added in.  I had to admit—her mojito was amazing!  She used great rum, fresh mint from my neighbor’s garden, fresh squeezed limejuice, her homemade simple syrup, and her favorite muddling tool to create this awesome Pama Mojito.  I hate to lose any competition —but this was worth it!!

This is the smallest sampling of a few drinks you can make in the summer time.  The most important thing to remember is don’t be afraid!  There is a plethora of recipes available.  But sometimes just turning your creativity loose can create an awesome summer drink.  But Just in case you fail don’t despair–the Ice-cold Beer can still satisfy!  Whatever edge of the spectrum you fall into—enjoy and savor the fleeting days of summer with a great adult beverage!

By |November 11th, 2014|Spirits Blog|0 Comments