Monthly Archives: January 2016

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|Comments Off on Styles You Haven’t Tried, But Really Should!

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|Comments Off on The Best of Times, The Worst of Times..