Imbibe Hour


Sunday, October 31, 2010

In Tokaji Hungary, Imbibing is anything but BORing. Part 3

After some imbibing hell, it was time to go through imbibing nirvana. I had picked Hungary for my vacation because I "specifically" wanted to go to Tokaji's wine region. Hungary as I mentioned before is primarily a wine consuming nation. Bor, as wine is called in Hungary is also primarily white, but not all of it. In fact Hungary has been making white wine for centuries, and only started making red wine during the 16th century.

However, as there are many wine regions in Hungary to choose from, none is probably more well known and famous as the Tokaji region for its sweet wines particularly the ones known as Aszú. I could spend pages here talking about all the cellars I went to in Tokaji. There are several just within the town region, some are new, some aren't, but you can walk around from cellar to cellar trying wine till your legs fall off. There is also a wine bar nearby where you can just go to one place to have wine from several producers.

Contrary to popular belief, not all Tokaji wines are sweet they can be dry as well. There were 3 things that stuck out at me as I was visiting this region. One is that I was concerned going around to cellars and trying wine was going to break my pocket book. If anything it was opposite. Even the cheapest Tokaji wine is solid with a glass going for barely a few US dollar and it tastes anything but cheap. Secondly this was the first time I visited a European wine region and I was concerned that there would be a lot of pretentiousness and ego. This was not the case at all as producers let anyone taste their wine, many times giving it to me for free. Finally there was nothing NOTHING here that I tried, old, new, sweet, dry, cheap, expensive, that I found that wasn't worth consuming. There was not a single bad boring wine not worth tasting here, from going to a well established producer like Hétszőlő 1996 6 puttonyos Aszú, A Pincéset 1993 Aszúcencia, or visiting some persons small basement having wine out of a plastic jug.

It is hard to determine where to begin. Perhaps I'll mention an interesting characteristic. In the cellars of the hills there is a distinct mold that grows in the cellars that many believe creates a flavor to the wine. Also one of the other things is that the grapes used to make Aszú are made with botrytis grapes (a fungus), and those definitely impart a dramatic taste to the wine. Noble rot indeed!

As I mentioned you can have dry Tokaji wines, many are made with the Furmint varietal grape. In fact I had one of the most shocking dry wines here. I tasted a 1995 dry Furmint Vivamus Pincézet that had the nose of a caramel tawny port, but tasted like a great dry wine with acidity. In fact there are too many wines I had that I just can't talk about them all.

Wines had caramel, body, acid, mint, mango, butter, oak, floral notes, sugar, honey, hot pepper finishes, spice boxes, jam preserves, dried raisins, creme brulee, even Christmas fruitcake on the nose and/or palate. One of the Hímesudvar 2002 Aszú had legs so big that when swirled a concentric solid ring coated the glass, fell all consistently, and never even broke.

Wine is often served to you not just in the bottle but straight from containers, sometimes the barrels themselves. Often the proprietor will stick a long giant glass rod and siphon the liquid gold out for you, keeping their finger on the end of the rod and dispensing it into your glass.

Many of the cellars I went to had of course the distinct mold inside, but also they had another characteristic. Many people come and stick in the mold and walls many coins, some hang paper notes on strings, or leave other mementos of their visit. Soccer pennants was a common one I would see adorned on the walls, many of them hard to read as the mold would overtake them.

While first traveling in to Tokaji, the train goes by a very large vineyard which is part of Hétszőlő. Many times I went back here only having a hard time finding its tasting room. Turns out I was going to the actual production winery, and was directed to go in town to their tasting cellar which is the oldest in the town. In fact a Hungarian king was crowned inside its depths.

A young man who spoke the best English came out to talk with me about the companies operations. It was quite fascinating as he pointed out to me the bins of botrytis laced grapes, I could even eat them!

They were just finishing up harvesting, harvest time actually starts around early October and we were just coming to the end of it. I immediately then thought to ask a question, probably the one that makes the most sense when you visit any producer. "Did you have a good year?" which is what I asked, wondering if the harvest is going to produce really good quality wine. He mentioned to me that there was too much rain this summer and that they don't think it's going to be that great, however he did say they did have lots of fungus laden grapes, so those might actually be quite good.

I thanked the Hungarian guy who spoke English with a French accent about taking the time out to share with me some of the things going on at the winery. I hardly expected a big known producer to just do this with some ordinary tourists who were just walking around casually without a care in the world.

Hetzolo's wines are really good by the way.

That being said, I went to another cellar where something very interesting happened. We were just about done, stumbling back to our hotel, when we passed by a place and figured well why not we'll check it out. The wines were good, the place was messy. The cellar was filled with HUNDREDS of empty liquor bottles, everything from wine, to beer, to bottles of Bacardi. What is up with this place I thought? We were being siphoned wine from jugs which was quite fun, having a good time. Everything was inexpensive there was not pressure what so ever. Suddenly our host an older man, came to our table and placed a very old molded bottle on our table.

We had already been to several wineries, had enough wine at his place and I sort of quickly motioned him to stop pouring. He then spoke in his best English "mini" meaning he was just giving us a real small taste of something. And that something was really interesting as he pointed to the bottle on the table. He was pointing at the bottle on the table, and then our glass as to say this is what this is, please look. I glanced at the bottle and my jaw nearly hit the floor.

What he was pointing at was a 1962 bottle of Tokaji Aszú. I sort of sat there frozen. Did this guy just pour me a 50+ year old Aszú? I thought fast. Okay... the guy is old so maybe he did make this, check, but I didn't see him take this out of the barrel. Where was this magic wine coming from? He had to take it out of a barrel somewhere (which there were many in the cellar), but I did not witness this. The bottle didn't have a producers name on it. Was this fake? Regardless this was a gift he was letting me try, he wasn't asking me to pay for tasting it.

I stopped my paranoia and suddenly just got in to focus to taste the wine. I put behind all doubts and just took it in.

This is what it looks like to drink it...

And this is what it feels like after...

Having tasted the wine it was quite and experience. The wine had the bouquet of an incredibly caramel chocolate honey port. Taste was divine with the similar notes on the bouquet, but it had a certain acidity to it that ports just don't have, there was even some of trademark mold taste on it as well. This was unlike anything I have ever had in my life.

I am not sure though what happened. Is this for real??? I kept asking myself. There was a phone number on the bottle. How was that possible in 62? It was hard to get a phone in Communist times. Another producer when I asked him about how the vineyards survived during the Communist era told me many where flat out ripped out. What was going on here? Did the guy just buy basic port and put this in a barrel for a few years? Or was this hidden under wraps and continuously aged for decades with a label slapped on it later? I had to stop thinking about it and just enjoy the experience.

After all of that there was still much imbibing to consume the following day. I found that I really enjoyed the Sárgamuskotály and Hárslevelü varietals. Furmints were also just a good basic white wine grape, and a good Aszu is just spectacular (although tasting several of them can be a bit much, they are VERY sweet).

Probably though a good memory stood out on my visit which happened as my wife and I were making plans to leave our town and go on a long train ride to Romania.

We were stocking up on some food and drink for the train ride and walked into a store to buy some basic wine. It was in plastic giant 2L bottles and really cheap.

We realized that even the basic wines always offered a good time and a good place to be, whether its carefully crafted or just basically made. I think what got to me was that it seemed like making this wine that the people of this region inhabit seemed so effortless. Everyone just seemed to make wine and it was as if it was the easiest thing to do to such as putting socks on in the morning.

I wish it was so simple where I lived, and more importantly I wish I could do this so easily myself.

That said, the imbibing trip to Tokaji and also the imbibing portion of Hungary was complete. It was now time to go on to other lands and see what they offered.

Somehow I knew there was no place I was going between here and Istanbul that would produce drink better than Tokaji so I just had to sit back and enjoy the long train ride, and make my 2 litres of Muscat Tokaji last and last. It wasn't that hard really, you can do it elegantly....

Or just do it with reckless abandon...

Somehow I know Tokaji, I will be back. Can't wait for a return.

Wineries visited:
Some of the wines imbibed:
  • 2003 Benkö Borház Tokaji Szamorodni (purchased)
  • 2007 Hímesudvar Tokaji Furmint
  • 2007 Hímesudvar Tokaji Sárgamuskotály
  • 2006 Hímesudvar Tokaji Kövérszölö
  • 2006 Hímesudvar Tokaji Furmint
  • 2003 Hímesudvar Tokaji Cuvée
  • 2002 Hímesudvar Tokaji Aszú
  • 2009 Hétszölö Tokaji Furmint
  • 2007 Hétszölö Tokaji Hárslevelü
  • 2007 Hétszölö Tokaji Sárgamuskotály (purchased)
  • 2005 Hétszölö Tokaji Édes Szamorodni
  • 2003 Hétszölö Tokaji Forditás
  • 2001 Hétszölö Tokaji Aszú 5 puttonyos
  • 2001 Hétszölö Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos
  • 2001 Hétszölö Tokaji Muskotalyos Aszú 5 puttonyos
  • 1999 Hétszölö Tokaji Hárslevelü Aszú 6 puttonyos (purchased)
  • 1996 Hétszölö Tokaji Aszú 6 puttonyos
  • 2004 Peter Csaladi Pincészet Aszú 5 puttonyos
  • 2003 Peter Csaladi Pincészet Aszú 3 puttonyos
  • 2009 Peter Csaladi Pincészet Hárslevelü
  • 2006 Peter Csaladi Pincészet Sárgamuskotály
  • 2003 Furminit (producer forget)
  • 1995 Vivamus Pincészet Szamorodni
  • 1993 Vivamus Pincészet Aszú 6 puttonyos
  • 2000 Vivamus Pincészet Aszúesszencia
  • 1999 Andrássy Pincészet Tokaji Aszú 3 puttonyos
  • 2008 Babits Pincészet Sárgamuskotály
  • 2006 Babits Pincészet Cuvée
  • 1993 Tokaj Hills Pincészet Aszúesszencia
  • Giant bottle of Sárgamuskotály from Borostyán Pince non vintage
  • 1962 unknown Aszúesszencia
If you want to share more knowledge of Tokaji and the wines from this region, please contact me.

Trip to Jupiter is cocktail nirvana!

Having spent some time reading up on old cocktails I came across one of many intriguing cocktails in Ted Haigh's Vintage Cocktail and Spirits book. One of them immediately caught my attention for 2 reasons. Firstly, the cocktail was described needing specific measurements of a teaspoon. Suggestions were strongly mentioned in writing that coffee spoons, or just eyeballing it "wouldn't cut it". Secondly you would need one item besides gin, vermouth, and orange juice. You would need a special liqueur I have never heard of before called Parfait Amour. If you didn't measure this liqueur in the cocktail correctly, it would overpower everything.

Parfait Amour is actually a very interesting liqueur. It has a grape jelly bean quality, with marshmallows, somewhat orange-"y", and even a little licorice aftertaste. It does seem kind of well... "girly" but at 50 proof it can pack a punch. It is not to be taken lightly.

Here is how to make the great classic Jupiter cocktail based on Ted Haigh's suggestion. Try one for youself it's great.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Trip to hell and back but don't call this Hungarian doctor. Imbibing in Hungary Part 2

As I was traveling around Hungary, and parts of Eastern Europe I began to notice something. Trips through towns, small areas, souvenir stands, even local grocery stores all seemed to carry an imbibing product that was ubiquitous. It was everywhere I went. Sitting on store and stand shelves stood bottles in the liquor section of a product that had a distinct mark. The mark contained a simple cross surrounded by a red background, it beckoned as some sort of medical cure all. AH HA! I thought this is something I must try, the bottle was intriguing, my mind raced about what would be inside. It's Hungarian made in Zwack, does it contain paprika? I was excited and figured it was some sort of digestif which it turns out I was correct. But what the contents included and provided to me was not what I was expecting.

Finally towards the end of my trip I set out and grabbed a small bottle to sample. I recommend that if you do want to purchase it in Hungary, do so out of Budapest because the prices of the product are cheaper. That being said, as days went by in Hungary the bottles kept calling out to me as if they knew I wanted it. Many bottles were also uniquely shaped. I settled on a standard round one which sometimes I would find decorated as a painted soccer ball. I came back to my hotel room all excited. Not bothering to ask anyone what it was, or research it, or what it tasted like, left me giddy and highly anticipating it. I put the bottle in my hotel fridge in the morning, and told myself it would probably be better cold and I should enjoy it after a nice day coming back in the evening, preferably after dinner. Ah I could come back after some sights, indulge the local cuisine, put my feet up, and then taste what was inside. I wanted to be surprised. And surprised is an understatement when I had this.

This is a bottle of Unicum liquor.

Unicum, is a Hungarian product made in Zwack (here is the company site link). It pours a very dark brown color out of the bottle. I looked at it. "Boy this sure looks like Jägermeister!" I thought. Which got me even more excited because I actually really enjoy Jägermeister. I already had joyous visions of myself carrying the product around Europe, occasionally stealing wondeful sips as I sat back on the train through the countryside. I took a whiff and it smelled like Jäger also, very herbal but one thing stood out. It was considerably stronger, and there was also a bitter smell. "Well..." I thought, "this should be fun!" I figured with much glee as I set forth placing a good solid few ounces in my glass, and placed a nice cool ounces of dark brown in my palate... swallowing in one big gulp. And the result and imbibing moment can be described as so...

This stuff... is absolutely AWFUL!!

"WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING?!?!?" I kind of yelled out loud to myself... One thing struck me instantly after quaffing this FOUL stuff. This is SOOOooo bitter that it makes medicine taste attractive. The herb like Jäger smell was completely gone, there was no sweetness, but only a massive bitter taste that felt like a really bad Angostura pumped up on steroids. I sat down on the edge of my hotel bed, to think about what abomination I just consumed, only to feel the bitterness lingering and LINGERING and NEVER going away. This stuff sticks around in your mouth FOREVER, it just gets worse. The logo on the bottle now reminded me of medicine that was suppose to be of the variety that it tastes so bad because it's suppose to fix that horrible sickness you currently have. Only drinking this will make you feel as if you just got Dengue fever. I even thought what could you mix this with? and my mind suddenly shuddered at how this "thing" would just overpower and dominate whatever you would put it in.

The bitterness felt so bad that in my wrecked mind I figured if I had another bit of it, it could somehow wash the bitterness and get past it and taste something. Doing so validated only one of the most useful phrases that I have known. The definition of stupidity, is to do the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. I was REAL STUPID to keep trying to drink this thing.

This experiment WAS OVER.

Looking back and researching the product since being home they mention (like Jager) to serve this ice cold. Well it was in the fridge and not the freezer when I had it, but still I even have had cool and sometimes lukewarm Jager and I still enjoy it. I am not sure having it from the freezer would have made a difference. Their website also contained cocktail recipes which made me feel as I was looking at a horror movie. A sample of "Zwacktails" as they call them, made my stomach just cringe. Reading the ingredients for a "Zwackoff" included the Unicum with... Smirnoff Orange and a splash of Energy drink... Good friggin lord that sounds like the epitome of grossness.

Speaking of Energy drinks... why do people drink those things? I still don't get them they all taste horrible, and when I got to Hungary after surviving Unicum I figured a trip to Hell couldn't be worse. I was wrong.

I saw this hilarious looking can on store shelves. This is a "Hell" can of Vodka Energy drink. So... you have an energy drink laced with vodka at about 5% ABV. So what is the point of this? Is this for alcoholic marathoners or something? You're suppose to drink cheap vodka but then have the energy to maybe do the Boston marathon? Seriously... WHY?

I knew this was going to be nasty, one look at the pour and I was greeted with a fizzy head that disappeared instantly leaving a bubbling piss colored yellow glass. What is this? a fucking urine sample I am suppose to drink or something?

Worse is the smell. Sour apples, and... no joke... it smells like body odor. 20 day old sweaty gym socks.

Taste.. like a sacchariney typical energy drink, what vodka? you can't even tell it is there, is that a good thing? Not that vodka has any taste to begin with... What is this dysfunctional gimmicks angle? Frat parties I guess. Here you have a drink that basically cancels everything out, at 5% you probably couldn't even get drunk on this stuff, but spend more time at the toilet pissing like a racehorse after your 7th can. I gave the toilet the better benefit of the doubt and poured it all down the head. Poor toilet...

Actually the angle for this product wasn't that surprising. I remember back when energy drinks came out and trying one and hating it. They were of course not filled with alcohol either. However, one time I was taken out to a bar in Florida and I saw people ordering energy drinks with their shots. A couple of roided jocks were doing this (long story), and I soon discovered that people in bars did this so they could drink more... I also learned where I grew up that in Canada certain places caught on to this and local governments started banning the sale of energy drinks in bars.

That being said I sort of understand the appeal but once you get older the gimmick wears off fast. As you get older, you start appreciating alcohol for different reasons, mostly because you start realizing that drinking shouldn't be... a sport. We've all been there at some point (beer pong anyone?) but when it comes to true imbibing and joy, energy drinks are one thing I'll always stay away from.

There would be some even better imbibing in Hungary soon, but I would be staying away from these items. As I passed the grocery store isle at the Penny Mart in Tokaj I noticed other charming funny cans next to Hell which I thought about buying as fun souvenirs. One can was simply called "Don't Stop". I just said to myself, "Uh no thanks... I don't think I'll even start."


Update: November 17th 2010

FDA Calls 7 caffeine-alcohol drinks unsafe...

Imbibe Hour hits the road in Hungary Part 1

It was time for a vacation. I do like to travel and visit foreign lands and set out to Europe again but to areas I thought would be interesting and perhaps not peoples first choices (like France, Spain, England etc..). Interesting is putting it mildly how the experiences came out. There were some good, some bad, but all of it highly memorable. They also provided opportunities to imbibe (in particular one stop that was a key destination I had desired for its wine) and much to write about. More on that soon...

My first stop was Hungary, and I landed first in the capital city Budapest. Arriving jet lagged from New York I took a private arranged ride from the airport, being whisked away through old gray buildings with highly decorated columns, narrow cobblestone sidewalks, and crossing the Danube to the Buda side of the city over one of it's many gorgeous bridges. My wife and I arrived at our hotel and the imbibing commenced almost immediately.

In our hotel room was some basic dry white wine, nothing too crazy to write up about but it was certainly nice to kick back and drink something after such a long flight. However, the next morning we were given a complimentary gift of bubbly at our first breakfast. The picture you see above is of a very common bubbly called BB semi/dry from Balaton Boglár. This one is described as a medium dry sparkling wine (you can't call it Champagne of course...) and it was fairly good. Crisp, sweetness to taste but a little sweeter than I expected for a "medium dry" but even some fruit. It reminded me of Chandon actually but the bottles cost a heck of a lot less if you buy it at the store, and its probably a better value than Chandon. So far the imbibing conquest was going well, so what else did I run into?

Well Hungary has beer. Yup no kidding.. who knew huh? Of course it has beer and there were many macro-brews that seemed to be common. Dreher was the one I seemed to find all over the country. Dreher is a Pillsner. So how is it? Actually fairly decent. Good color, excellent head, some decent lacing, some possible wheat smell (that doesn't mean necessarily there is wheat used in the beer. I am not sure.) on the nose and very faint citrus, but it has that sweet fakeness and felt some sweet possible corn-like taste also in the palate to myself. Decent lacing, not too carbonated either there was some hop finish but very faint. For a macro produced beer this was actually ok, and it's also quite cheap. I'd grade it a B- maybe C+ slightly better than average.

There are many other beers that you could get at probably any sort of supermarket to imbibe on. Yes you can get basic alcohol at pretty much any supermarket in Hungary. It's one of the many reasons I enjoy Europe because it is so easy to imbibe there. Quite often in Europe, the beer and wine is cheaper than water (which you have to pay for in restaurants). It makes for interesting days when you're not drinking water that's for sure.

There were other things to grab that seemed to be abundant as well besides beer and wine.
One of the most interesting finds in Hungary fell in the spirits category, the classic Eau Di Vie, or specifically a fruit brandy that is common known as pálinka. Pálinka comes in many flavors and I tried several. Things is they were all pretty much similar at least the ones I had pictured here. Big burn, and the fruit component on pálinka seems to be more of an aftertaste after swallowing, not a taste you feel on the palate at all. Problem with that is that they all start to taste the same. However, the apricot pictured here had the most flavor, the others were all fairly marginal, and the Bodza (I don't know what that is I think it is Black Currant) I really found kind of bitter and not very pleasant to drink. Doing some research here at home, it appears pálinka comes in varying degrees of quality depending on the producer which there seems to be many. This producer pictured here I believe is Szicsek. Left to right is Blackberry, Peach, Apricot, Cherry and I think Black Currant.

So after a few days things were starting off well on the imbibing trail, but is this really all there is for Hungary? Of course not. What I did know before going is that Hungary is primarily a WINE consuming nation, and there will be more about that soon... but first I had to go through an imbibing hell here and back first. I did live (although barely) to tell you the tale. Stay tuned my friends and I will tell you all about it.

Monday, October 11, 2010

On the road to Bridgeport and Tugboat. The imbibing trail in Portland never ends.

Leaving Rogue, my next stop was Bridgeport Brew Pub. I entered a really nice warehouse designed space, with hues of dark brown, friendly chatter, well dressed clientele, and a few families with kids. It was a very different atmosphere than the usual beer places I was at before, trying to emphasize perhaps some sophistication. Other places were more focused on beer, while here maybe you could get more?

Staff was gracious, and the place seemed more like a good restaurant than a place focused on making great beer. I can't comment on all the food but the mussels are fantastic.

Anyway, I sat down near the bar to look up and see a listing of the eight beers that were offered. The picture pretty much explains it all, here were all their beers on tap including a seasonal that was listed on the far right.

I decided to bite the bullet and try all eight beers. Considering that this was the fourth place I went out drinking I knew I had to watch myself. I did realize that I was probably not going to finish everything that was offered to me, but that's ok. The important thing was to get the taste of the beer and see how it measured up.

The imbibing results are as follows. Haymaker an Extra Pale Ale had a sour nose, very light bodied in taste and mouthfeel, with some bread on the end. It was average if I could say, the sourness threw me off. Blue Heron, a Pale Ale had a light copper color but no nose, and a small lemon taste to it. Ropewalker was a very closed bouquet virtually no nose on it of even hops or anything I could get. For me it was unfortunately not very memorable in taste. The IPA however was starting to make things a bit better. Orange smell, grapefruit finish similar to the Deschutes Inverson but not as strong. There were was no bitterness and little hops. I like to have just a little bitter but not too much in my IPA. The ESB however was fairly good, with a nice thick head, mellow taste and mouthfeel, actually a little creamy. That says a bit considering I am not an ESB fan, it wasn't bitter however. The porter is quite good, tobacco nose with some smoke. A roasty aroma in taste in the mouth with a decent finish. Hop Czar is an Imperial IPA, consisting of a good nose, hops, lemon, citrus. Taste continues those notes from hops to lemon to grapefruit in that order, and a slightly bitter finish. Quite a good one, the head though did not stick around. Last but not least was the seasonal Hop Harvest Ale, another fresh hop 1 hour beer. The nose on this was not very obvious, but it was similar in taste to the other IPA with grapefruit and lemon but hardly bitter at all.

In conclusion while there was some beer worth drinking here, I found most of the beers disappointing compared to other places I had been. "Ok we're done right?" I said to my colleague. "Naw man we got to go to Tugboat! You gonna finish that!?" he said pointing to my collection of hardly empty plastic cups. "Naw..." I admitted.. "Go ahead..."

As much as I was happy to get through the tasting, it was a good thing it took us some time to get to our next venue. I arrived at Tugboat having a hard time finding the place.

I was pretty happy though we found it, it is quite cozy inside, it resembles more of a coffee house with bookshelves and clientele looking like they should be having a latte instead of a pint.

Unfortunately, I was greeted nicely but with disappointing news. They only had one of their beers available, a stout. Well I figured I might as well have it. In the end it had a little molasses on the front nose, not much body or flavor in the mouth. There wasn't much of a head on it, it looked a little weak and perhaps past its prime. However at 14% ABV it wasn't too strong tasting, and had tastes of cocoa slightly, but also a surprising berry fruit finish. Too bad there wasn't a lot to to try here, but the female bartender was quite perky and enjoyable to be around.

Stealing spirits away from the brewery, acting like a Rogue in Portland

Rogue brewery and distillery is probably one of the most well know beer places in Portland. In my time spent in DC I would see Rogue's beers all over on the shelves. I discovered they make spirits as well, and bought a light rum of theirs which I did in a blind tasting. In that tasting I picked up a tasty rum that had a nutty almost almond component to it. It was very good. When I discovered they made gin and whiskey I knew what I wanted to sink my imbibing teeth in to if I ever visited.

I arrived at the bar, and was greeted immediately with a drink. "Here ya go", said the friendly guy behind the bar, "This is our Chateau Wet Hop." he finished placing a glass right in front me waiting for me to consume. So how about that, you walk in to the place.. and they give you free beer. The Wet Hop Ale was very grassy on the nose, but was fairly easy drinking, nothing too excited to get crazy about.

Now of course I was not going to take advantage of this and just leave oh no... There was much work to be done. Rogue I find is kind of overwhelming cause they make so much stuff it seems. Their beer list is extensive, and it's charmingly displayed with a muscle made man in various forms of dress, and always with a prominent red star displayed. Many times I can never remember which unique bottle contains what. However, I remembered that I was really intent on having the spirits here. When I glanced up at the board looking at a good spirit listing, I saw gin, rum and whiskey calling out to me.

"I'll have the Dead Guy Whiskey", I remarked, highly anticipating having more goodness. I sort of caught the bartender heading for the beer taps and then pouring. No no.. I mentioned... Whiskey... Ah he said, and grabbed me a shot. The Dead Guy Ale just so you know felt like it had a blueberry nose on it a bit with that same profile on the finish. The bartender already poured it. So what was the whiskey like?

Buttery. A very good front nose, buttery in smell and taste, and finish. It's all I could remember from it, like eating a stick of butter with some sweetness. Very tasty!

I was with someone during this time, and he ordered us oyster shooters while pounding back our bounty. He his stouts, me my whiskey, when I suddenly realized that whiskey and oysters is NOT a good food pairing by any stretch of the imagination.

Luckily when you are at the source, you can always count on help. I quickly asked the bartender for a beer that was something local, something that you probably couldn't find on the East coast (where I live). He remarked, "Try the Northwestern Ale."

AH! Perfect. He poured a great red headed copper color beer, which I quickly plunged my snout into.

Cinnamon, which was a real surprise, with a wet hoppy-ness taste and some citrus flavor. Perfect for my oyster. This was a very pleasant beer and quite surprising. I don't think I've ever had a beer that had such a distinct cinnamon nose on it.

Still I had to focus. SPIRITS man... SPIRITS... you're here for the SPIRITS... oh yeah right. I realized though that I had to pace myself. I got my colleague to order the Spruce Gin. Smooth with a piney front nose and a lemon finish, not harsh, a great tasting gin.

By this time after Clear Creek, Deschutes, and now Rogue, I was getting my fill. "Hey!" my colleague mentioned, "I need to eat" so we headed off to Bridgeport for of course... more beer and imbibing. I glanced at my watch. It was only 1:30. oh man... the day is just getting started.

AW SHOOT, why I need to come to Deschutes more often.

After having a morning breakfast of spirits (see previous blog posting), my next stop was to get some tasting and lunch.

When I first arrived in Portland I happened upon Deschutes by accident. I arrived early and had time to wait for my scheduled pickup, so I sat a nearby bar in PDX and ordered one of my favorite beer styles an IPA. It was the Inversion IPA from this brewery, and I had it on tap. It was a great beer and an explosion of grapefruit, and tasty hops. Woah! Welcome to Portland I'll say! Who are these guys? I certainly didn't hear or think of looking them up before I came.

Still the place lingered in the back of my head. I was sort of confused still about how to say their name. It didn't seem to role off the tongue easily, but the beer sure was memorable. After leaving Barista one morning I just happened to walk by their brewery just by luck in the Pearl district. Is this a sign? It was as if karma was telling me that I had to keep this place in mind. I glanced upon a perfectly hung neon sign jutting out at a perfect angle from the corner of a real nice brick building. Oh yeah, that's that place that made that tasty IPA I said to myself. Perhaps... I should... go here some time.... I made a mental note.... and walked away...

After my visit to Clear Creek I needed lunch and I wanted beer. When talking to someone the previous day, they mentioned they were at Deschutes and then started raving. DUDE they take hops from the field, in an HOUR and they are at the brewery and the make the beer right then and there man! There needed to be no more persuasion, the die had been cast. I was going to Deschutes.

I settled in and saw a great row of taps, and a beer menu that looked incredibly enticing. A sampler of six was available, and in many way I though about just getting three at a time so my beers wouldn't sit so long. But that's okay, the lunch time crowd was coming in, it was a little dark inside, somewhat noisy, there was no need to get super serious about this. I could enjoy the beer just so.

First was the Gluten Free ESB. I am not usually a fan of ESBs and the fact that this was a "Gluten-Free" ale had me confused. There were slight hops but a weak body and finish. I figured to try this one just out for curiosity of this "Gluten Free" concept, but in the end I have to say I actually didn't like this beer. In fact this was the only beer in Deschutes I had that I didn't want to drink. As I mentioned ESBs are not my thing (I did have a slightly better ESB at Bridgeport). That's okay I figured there were more. Next I had the Fresh Hop Mirror Pond, described from the menu as a staff favorite. This was pretty amazing. An apple like fruit nose with chewy hops, tasting of a squash body (much like Hair of the Dogs "Greg") nutty and a sweet finish. Finally things started getting good. Next was King Cone... oh man a nice wonderful slight smoke on the nose, transforming into pine (that was mentioned in the description and I agree with it). Citrus in finish but also has some resin and a lingering great hop taste. This was really impressive beer and much fun to be imbibing.

I was set on tasting the rest when suddenly someone approached me. "Excuse me?" I glanced up to see a young woman staring at me. "Oh hi!" I said... not sure what to say next, did this person work here? The young woman asked if I was a beer reviewer since she saw me across the room dunking my nose and writing notes. I told her about the blog and my writings, and she was from Napa and worked for a winery. We both loved the beer here and she felt the Mirror Pond also tasted like Schnapps. We shared great conversation about Napa and the Pinot Noirs here and had a nice chat. Hopefully if she is reading this she can send me her contact info of where she works. It was a nice chat.

Shortly after our conversation ended I sat to work on the next three beers. Summer's Gone Saison had a bitter nose, peppery as described and fruity. Is this a HefeWeizen? There was one on the menu and this sure looked and smelled like one. Tasting the beer it was lemony and also tasted like one. It was good it did feel like more alcohol perhaps than the Hefe so I guess this is it, but it sure felt like at first I was served the wrong thing.

Jubelale was next, dark and tasty agreed with the description provided, thrusting my pencil underlining hop bitterness on the menu, and detecting a faint anise in the aftertaste.

And with all that I finished with the Hop trip, perfectly as described with a fruit nose (couldn't pick that fruit out), and a chewy wet mouthfeel.

I settled back and took stock of great fresh hop beer much satisfied. I was set to leave when I just decided to take in the menu again looking up at the board above. Something jumped up at me that I had missed. "Cask IPA".

Shit... I was all set and packed away and ready to go (someone had called and I was meeting them shortly) when I realized I needed to try a sample. I quickly asked for it and then set to trying it out. Oh my god... a nose and taste loaded with hops, fruit, grapefruit, a buttery taste even some caramel. This had to be the only cask beer I have had that reminded of Bourbon characteristics, Butter, caramel, some oak... dear god it was good. I wanted a pint, a big friggin glass of this right then and there. Unfortunately I couldn't stay, and that was torture defined... right there. I have returned home since this write up, and I still think of that little glass sitting on the edge of the bar between me and the door, how I wish I could go back and fill it up right now. I still think about this place, I am thinking about it RIGHT NOW... and it's killing me. I want that cask IPA so bad. Somehow I will return for it and I will not ignore Deschutes any longer. Forgive me for not noticing you earlier for I have sinned, and I will come back to the chapel and repay in kind for not noticing you earlier.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Up the creek in Portland's Alphabet neighborhood. Water of life no paddle needed

While I was at House Spirits I was asked if I was going to make my way to Clear Creek. Clear Creek? I said, I hadn't heard of it. Turns out Clear Creek was one of the earliest distilleries in the Portland area, producing Eau Di Vies and the occasional Single Malt McCarthy's whiskey. Whiskey? They make Whiskey??? I was sold and had to visit. I needed no more excuses and set out for an early visit.

Opening at 9 it was to be my first stop. A bike was out of the question cause that would be a bit of a ride from downtown, so I hopped on a #15 bus and enjoyed a simple easy drive through Portland's beautiful Alphabet district. Arriving at a strong locked metal warehouse door, only available to enter if I hit a buzzer, I thought I should have been a delivery person rather than dropping by for a tasting. Nevertheless, I was greeted with much warmth and enthusiasm by the staff.

Clear Creek makes several Eau de Vies (translation water of life). You can think of these as after dinner drinks or commonly known as digestifs. They make brandys (pear, apple, plum) but there is also a Kirschwasser, a Framboise, and a spirit I'll get to reviewing shortly an Eau de Vie of Douglas Fir which takes pine needless from the forest and pear fruit. The company also makes, grappa, a signature pot still brandy, and a very well known single malt whiskey which when I was visiting was just being tested and going through a process of adding more barrels to get more peat smell out of it. More on that later also....

There were lots of products to taste so I couldn't figure out at first how this could be achieved. There was no way I could taste all of this properly. Turns out there was a way, the establishment by law is only allowed to let people try 5 things, so they give you a passport with all their products and you are to select 5 products for tasting. The whiskey unfortunately wasn't available... GRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!! First off it isn't ready yet, and secondly chances are when it gets released at the store it will be gone FAST and there wont be much chance to just have some of it so come November you better come fast.

I settled in on their signature product the Pear Brandy, and decided on three grappas (Muscat, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir), and then finishing up with the Douglas Fir Eau Die Vie. The pear brandy is quite fascinating, it is a clear liquid brandy that they recommend serving ice cold from the freezer. There isn't anything else you can really detect but bountiful pears and a great finish, but the reality is the pear taste and smell is so ingeniously fruity that while you are consuming this brandy you feel as the skin is physically in your mouth. It's a pear bonanza, and doesn't taste fake or artificial at all, it's the real deal!

I decided on trying three grappas next. I normally don't drink grappa, but I wanted to compare three different kinds to see if there was any real difference between the grape varieties. There were some slight differences. The Muscat seemed a little piney-resiny maybe floral, the Noir had a better finish with perhaps some type of nut on the end, the Gewurztraminer had a softer palate than the other three, some sort of faint fruit on the end I couldn't discern. Nevertheless, the reality is they were all very similar and tasted well... like grappa.

I was very excited to try the next product when suddenly the owner/distiller Steve McCarthy came out with a large snifter. He was talking with the staff and just pulling barrels to check, and using other barrels to blend because he felt the whiskey needed more peat. His intention as was told to me by his staffer, was to add other barrels to it to improve the peat strength. He went up to the host who was running the tasting, "what do you think?", nearly ramming and shoving the snifter enthusiastically. I stood there like a deer in the headlights looking at what was to be the future, as the staff congregated around him swapping ideas of the whiskey. I figured there was no harm in doing what I was about to do next. I figured I wouldn't be overstepping my boundaries if I asked what I was about to say. The snifter and its owner were slowly making its way to the back of the warehouse, heading to the back where all the barrels and steel columns and all the magic happened... never to be seen again by my eyes. It was NOW or never....

I asked two things. One, if I could smell the bouquet, and two if I could take a photo. Luckily they said yes. Keep in mind this whiskey is not ready.

The smell had an incredible intense campfire smoke to it, it also had somewhat a bacon like aroma. The fascinating thing, and I am not sure after tasting a bunch of grappa that this helped me judge the quality of it, I smelled sweet grapes coming off the bouquet. I figured that couldn't be coming from the whiskey but from my own palate of the grappas I had consumed. It was really wonderful!!! Alas the grape smell of pure true grapes threw me in the end, I am not sure I'll ever know, but it was a fantastic sensation.

So after the brief whiskey sneak peek, it was on to tackle the Douglas Fir Eau de Vie. The appearance of the liquer is quite impressive. It has a very pale gorgeous emerald green color to it similar to absinthe except it looks much nicer. I was concerned that this would taste VERY resiny and extremely strong, since that is how evergreen and dried pines kind of smell and taste. It was anything but, it has a slight fruit taste which comes from pear that is made with it, and does have the faint whisper of pine and evergreen. It's a real neat product, I am not sure it is for everyone, but I already have an idea for a cocktail with this product which I can't wait to try out sometime soon.

After imbibing such good stuff, I couldn't leave empty handed. This was a real unexpected find and one I am glad I found at the last minute. Too bad the whiskey will have to wait (even if it is a Scotch) :)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

In Portland it's always good to go bite the dog that bit ya!

I had rented a bicycle for the day to get around easily in Portland. As much as Portland is a bike friendly town, renting a rickety cheap cruiser, and then wandering around the warehouse industrial area of SE Portland aimlessly was not exactly what I had in mind. Much of the city seems to be constantly under road repair, and while I was trying to kill about 20 minutes before my next imbibing conquest was to happen, I seemed to be just annoying road crews by going up and down the streets with no sense of purpose. One place name Roots Organic I could not find. I approached another cyclist saying HEY! Where is Roots Organic around here? (I knew according to my map it was near). Oh you're close, I thought I heard him say. OH I am close okay... where? No no no he stammered back at me... they are CLOSED.. They went out of business 2 weeks ago. But for my luck Hair of the Dog was still around! Luckily for me, arriving right at the opening of Hair of The Dog brewery and tasting room was well worth the wait. I luckily found this much earlier in the day getting VERY confused trying to locate it on Google Maps, and postings from the website saying that the directions provided online are incorrect. Somehow things weren't jiving, and I am not one to get lost easily, but I figured getting on the other side of the river I would find it. As soon as I crossed over the bridge on my bike, it showed up right in front of my face. It is a brown building on the corner of SE Yamhill St. and SE Water Avenue, just as you come riding over the Morrison Bridge. It's as if the beer gods were giving me good karma. The good thing about arriving as soon as they were opened was that there was nobody there. This actually I found out later was a rare occurrence, most of the time as soon as they would open the place, they would be busy as the staff told me later. The first thing I noticed was the roof was being repaired. The building is an old warehouse from 1907-08 that has needed roof work for sometime. There were a few loud blasts from upstairs but most of the time I sat in a large totally empty tasting room with just the proprietor, the bartender and myself to take in the day. I had no other places to really go for a few hours, there was no rush, this was the perfect beer tasting possibility ever given to me. It was empty, and dead quiet with NOTHING to distract me. It took me some time with help from the bartender to figure out the menu and what to taste and I quickly figured out to sample the 6 made beers. The beers go by straightforward names, given by the brewmaster who I also learned from the bartender serving me, is also a trained chef. I usually grab in order of higher alcohol but just went down the list for tasting as listed on the menu. The first beer I tried "Greg" a beer made without hops and winter squash, has a fairly closed nose on it. The mouthfeel though was a bit wet, but it was full of interesting tastes. There was a little sweetness, a slight nutyness on the aftertaste, somewhat even buttery but a crisp finish. In fact it had a very summery feel much like a crisp white wine. Quite impressive. The second beer "Blue Dot" a Double IPA, was also very good. Oregon just seems to make great IPAs and this is no exception. Nice not overbearing hoppy nose, not too bitter on the finish, some fruit in taste, but the aftertaste gives way to a lingering "berry-type" of fruit I couldn't put my finger on. "Fred" beer, with it's cloudy opaqueness was also another treat. A very fruit nose that smelled specifically of tropical fruit mango. Excellent body and mouthfeel with a very sweet honey taste, even at 10% ABV the beer doesn't feel too heavy.

Finally it was time to taste the next three. "Adam" is the flagship beer of the brewery. It has more of a nose of molasses, with a faint chocolate smell. The taste was leathery with a very faint tobacco finish. The Doggie Claws '09 Barley wine, consists of a reddish copper color, and has a nose of Christmas spices. It really smelled like Christmas, nutmeg, sweetness, cinnamon almost. In contrast I was thinking it would be really sweet but it wasn't really (which is good) finishing off with a taste of honey, and having the hops come through in the aftertaste.

Last was the "Little Dog" was last which had a nearly ashy smoke bouquet, and possibly a faint apricot nose to it. The other notable thing about this beer was that it had still to some extent a crispness like the "Greg" beer. I was very impressed by the beers, they really gave the impression of a brewmaster who was in his craft, and making something unique, without getting too crazy. There are more Portland adventures to write about so stick around!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Enter the house that Portland is building. Sprits begin to dominate the Oregon landscape

While on the imbibing conquest in Portland there were many things to be aware of. Portland is full of microbreweries, it is home to a great Pinot Noir wine growing region. The thing though that many people may not be aware of is that it is home to some great spirit makers as well.

I set out to hit House Spirits, a distillery in Portland that makes primarily Aviaton Gin. This was actually a surprise to me, since in the DC area I would see that gin occasionally on shelves, and even in bars. It's a very good tasting gin by the way, but I must admit I never tried it until I came here. It has a solid but not overpowering lemon nose to me, and has some distinct anise on the finish, smooth, not overbearing. A good tasting gin, also one that seems would handle cocktails very readily as well.
However, my first pursuit was the whiskey that they make. I was invited to a tasting by two young men, Matt and Colin, who have all the enthusiasm and youth and vigor that is needed to be successful entrepreneurs. Both of them were polite, and willing to answer any questions about their product, and were proud of the work they have done. I inquired about the tasting of the whiskey being very excited to be there, but they began to mention a few things first. First, they only had a white dog available for tasting, 100% malted barley spirit pot distilled, and had just started to bottle their Slab Town whiskey of 40% malted spirits and 60% grain spirits. They also offer Vodka and Aquavit for tasting and Shochu as well. I was very tempted to taste the Shochu, but it would have been a bit much for everything going on today. So my apologies for not discussing it, but more importantly I've never had Shochu yet! (sake and soju and dongdong ju yes), and it would truly be a beginners tasting for me as well so I figured this wasn't the time for it. But there was much to indulge in.
While I have had only a few white dog whiskeys (two to be precise), there's was quite unique, it had the profile of a white whiskey, heat, some sugar taste, but it had a nose that reminded me more of Grappa, than the traditional corn whiskey I've had in the Virginia region. This was quite a surprise and I really enjoyed it. However, their slab town whiskey was even a bigger surprise. As it was described to me at 80 proof it would be light bodied, but also creamy. What? I thought to myself.. no whiskey isn't "creamy", milk is creamy, creme brûlée is creamy, cream ales are "creamy". Creamsicles are kind of "creamy" not whiskey right?? Well this my friends... is a great finishing CREAMY whiskey. It has hints of brown sugar on the nose and while being light bodied at 80 proof is full of flavor. This was a moment of pure enjoyment and made a trip on rickety bicycle all worth it. I started feeling excited for this product and I soon realized talking with the guys over a bigger caramel nose print of uncut whiskey that they might be on to something. Think of.. as described to me by my wonderful host, the concept of a North-West Whiskey. Whiskey is synonymous with a few regions in the US when we might think of whiskey such as Jack Daniels, Makers Mark, etc.. that people are known to want. What if suddenly people wanted North West Whiskey? What if it was different? What if you made a distinct product that put a stamp on the region you lived in? Wouldn't that be exciting to be on the cusp of something that great?
I am not sure where this is going, all I do know is that this was a very enjoyable product to have and if you like whiskey PERIOD you should seek it out. The bottles are designed to mimic the old school apothecary period, where medicinal remedies would sit on shelves to ail all your cures. To me those old bottles looked like serious poison in the wrong hands, something of importance, even the standard Government Warning Label on these bottles sits prominently as to note the "seriousness" of the contents coming forth. For me though, they make a bigger statement than pointing out possible "poison" as old medicine bottles were able to do. As the one bottle sits across from me as I type this it simply states, Warning... hands off... this is mine. Slab Town Whiskey is being released at House of Spirits this Saturday October 9th 2010. Get some before it's gone.