Imbibe Hour


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Something Skunky this way comes. How quickly and easily beer can go bad.

Look closely at the picture to your left.  Aside from the fact the height level of beer in these glasses is slightly different, one of these things is not like the other.  They are all filled with the same beer, Stella Artois, but can you tell what's wrong?  Before you start emailing me hate mail, or beating yourself brainless, the reality is there is nothing you can physically see that is different.  There is though a distinct difference I experienced with these beers after I took this picture.  One of these beers, is perfectly fine, the other two have been ruined by a very common problem.  The problem is, two of these beers are "skunked".  (Just for the record the first beer on the left is the one that is fine :)  ).

So what does this mean?

The term "skunked" beer or "skunky", is a product of having beer exposed to blue light, that will break down the hop compounds (isohumulones), and produce a very undesirable aroma/flavor, that basically smells like a skunk (sometimes going by a more scientific name as 'methyl', or 'isopentyl mercaptan'). [Randy Mosher, Pg. 61 "Tasting Beer"].  Sunlight is a good source, but this will also happen in one of the most common beer purchasing environments, and that is the cooler-lit cases of a beer store isle.

Beer as we know comes in a variety of  formats, bottles and cans being the most common.  As we all know cans are metal, and we can't see through them and neither can light.  Having beer on tap, comes from a keg, basically filled from the brewery at time made and then shipped to somewhere for consumption.  This no doubt prevents the beer from the chance of being skunked.  I will say though, I have been in many a drinking establishment where some idiot at a bar is drinking his "craft" beer, doesn't like it or it's unappealing, or perhaps it might rarely be off in some other way, but he will actually thinks it is skunked and says so.  Believe me I've seen it with my own eyes, as the bartender (who can often be the proprietor) will just roll his eyes usually and bite his tongue, and pour the schmuck something else.

This leaves then the other common delivery of beer that we all know as the glass bottle.

Skunking can happened to bottled beer not even opened because bottles are essentially clear.  I mean you can see through them when you look at them right?  Of course.  Beer bottles in the US are mostly brown, this prevents "some" skunking but not entirely.  The biggest culprit of skunking happens in either green or clear bottles.  These bottles offer NO protection whatsoever.

I have always wanted to test this theory out and set out to do so.  The perfect candidate seemed to crop up and I chose it because it is often stored in a green bottle, and it just recently started showing up in cans.  That beer is Stella Artois, a basic European Pale Lager.

I grabbed a few cans, and a six pack at a store and proceeded set up my test.  The bottled six pack I have to admit was "sort of" sitting in a refrigerated section for awhile, in of course a typical store.  It would be pretty much impossible to buy a six pack of Stella that had been lying around in darkness, because that isn't how they are displayed of course.  This is also why this problem is so common among beer on the shelf in green and clear bottles.

I decided I would try three Stella Artois beers in three different ways.  One was from the can.  The second would be from one of the glass bottles I bought from the six pack that I had stored away in my basement and wrapped up so that no light could get to it.  The third bottle would be a bottle I would take from this pack, and place outside in direct sunlight for 15 - 20 minutes.  All beers would then be chilled in my fridge to be tasted together for consumption and reviewing.

I did this, and the results were really amazing.  This is science and it doesn't lie.  It was also real fun to do.  You can do this with any green or clear color bottled beer and I suggest you also try this experiment at home.  It will really open your eyes to imbibing beer. To see how this turned out, watch the video below.  Cheers!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Dukeing it out again with Australian Shiraz. Mollydooker wines say you gotta do the shake

I really enjoy a good Australian Shiraz wine once in awhile, and sometime ago, I came across a wine called "The Boxer" from a winery known as Mollydooker.  It was a real fun,very well balanced shiraz full of flavor.  I made sure to actually remember this wine which is something I rarely do in imbibing, but this one made me take note.  It was awhile ago, so the only thing that comes to my mind back then was that it was extremely enjoyable.  There is a lot of wine out there, and it can get confusing also, but often it's out of reach by either being too obscure or sometimes just too expensive for myself.  However, Mollydooker wasn't like that for me and I made a mental note to get this wine again.  It's memorable 30s style cartoonish pugilist character easily would help me recognize the bottle on the shelf as well.

The new vintage came out recently and I was all set and ready.  I know wine enough to trust my own palate, and know pretty much the basics if you could call it that, and will always love wine and its incredible variety around the world.  I do tend to focus on specific varietals from specific regions, since they are what I like to drink.  I certainly by no means am an "expert" but know plenty enough to get around. I was basically all set to crack this open and have at it, when I noticed something I hadn't seen before.

With the bottle tightly clenched in my fist, on a day I was trying to find a bottle of Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout, I turned the label and was reading perhaps to learn more about how it was made, or just anything interesting.  On the label it simply said, to make sure to do the Mollydooker shake before serving.


There wasn't much else it said, but like all good companies with a marketing presence they had a nice website for you to visit to find more about them and their product.  The website went into describing that the bottle had to be SHAKEN first before being served.

I thought this was kind of a novelty at first but with a nice simple fun video they explained their reasoning.  You can see it here.  I remember back in my wine tasting days that there was one fun incident where a guy I knew pulled a wine out from his cellar that he wanted me to taste.  His decanters were full of other wines and being used and he wanted to decant this but had no option.  He stuck his thumb over the bottle and gave it a quick shake.  He jokingly mentioned to me in a fun playful voice, "This is what I call cheating".

It was all very much wink and a nod after that, but no harm or foul seemed to be done.  Thinking back to the event though it made me wonder if shaking this wine would even make a difference.  Mollydookers website goes into a brief discussion also about why this wine should NOT be decanted, but SHAKEN.  I was skeptical, but was willing to try it out.  In fact I thought it would make a great video.

So here below I give my opinion and thoughts on the Mollydooker shake.  Enjoy and Cheers!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Trying to wrap my head around this one. Heady Topper makes a rare appearance

It's happening again, and to some extent I understand, but other times I sort of just shake my head.

I was out on my usual beer run in DC and in one of my go to stores which once in awhile gets some obscure beers.  My eyes scanned the shelf selection, recognizing much of the same beer I had seen on the previous visits not too long ago.  Yeah nothing new...

I did remind myself to either ask the proprietor if something new came in, or if something might be coming, but more importantly I always tell myself to look again in the same spot.  I often miss items on shelves, and have found new ones by scanning them again with razor like precision.  My eye drifted to an empty corner of the book shelf where some Surly use to sit in the past, and some Dark Horse plead the 5th still remained.  There were some cans there that practically blended into the wood work, but there were many of them and in a sparse black design almost seemed to be invisible.  I did realize this was a new product on the shelf, but then looking closely it hit me what exactly I was looking at, and I had to make sure I wasn't dreaming.

Several cans of Heady Topper from a brewery in Vermont called The Alchemist, were on the shelf, a very highly desired beer.  From their website the beer is described as a "Double IPA that will put hair on your chest".  As far as I know, the beer has a limited distribution range and having it show up here seemed a complete fluke. Big IPAs seem to be the rage with many beer fans, and lots of people want to have this beer and many beer related sites rate it very highly.  In short, the beer is highly coveted, but has limited distribution.

I went and reviewed the beer, and have to admit it is really enjoyable.  This seemed like some sort of karmatic retribution for myself.  A good friend of mine had recently moved away from the area and took a job in Vermont.  Both of us being big beer fans, he sent me emails about his trips to Hill Farmstead and The Alchemist, in a way taunting me.  Suddenly it seemed like the beer gods felt sorry for me and decided to drop a bunch of Heady in my backyard.  The irony wasn't lost on me.

However, it occurred to me that highly coveted, obscure, and great tasting beer might have a price to pay.  A recent Youtube comment from "zodiak3000" brought it to my attention that the beer was going for crazy prices on Ebay.  This was sounding all too familiar.

Having just went through the Founders CBS madness, I plugged in Heady Topper in the Ebay search bar.  The first listing came up, four cans...  60 dollars.  Wow, I sat there stunned.  Other listings showed single cans going for 10-12 dollars, with many days still left in auction for the price to go up.  When I mentioned to a family member back in Canada that I paid 7 dollars for a can of this beer, they asked me if I was crazy.  Suddenly looking at Ebay I don't feel so bad, but more importantly, a basic beer in a bar in DC goes for that amount, usually higher (and you wont get 16oz of it either which is the size of the can).  Telling the prices to others what they were going for on Ebay, a good friend just simply said, "there's one born every minute."

Suddenly this is where I feel torn, but I also feel this is where the great divide really happens among consumers when it comes to beer.  Nobody bats an eye, or gets wildly upset, seeing people buy bottles of wine for forty dollars, but someone purchases a can of beer for over 4 dollars, they need their head examined.  There was also a great article recently in the Washington City Paper that asked why is craft beer so expensive in Washington?, and it hints of the economic reality of what people will pay for certain things, compared to elsewhere, and how this relates to "craft" beer.  It's a great article, you should check it out.  It certainly put things into perspective when I took a three and a half hour drive North to Selin's Grove PA to check out the tavern and Selin's Grove Brewpub/Brewery, and have phenomenal craft beer for 3.50 - 4 dollars a glass.

This is where I feel torn.  One part of me wants this drink to be taken seriously, the other part doesn't want it to be outrageously expensive and wants it to be accessible to all.  But one thing is all too common, it's just economics 101.

Hopefully, it just doesn't get too far out of reach for myself, to enjoy good drink.

Here's my review and thoughts on Heady Topper - The Alchemist,  Enjoy!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Fruit beer goodness, and from all obscure places... Wisconsin.

While jumping around the imbibing trail, beer is often on the radar for myself.  However, in my search for good beer, even great beer, my thoughts have usually drifted to tried and true tested beer hot spots.  Often I am thinking of West coast state breweries for their hop pleasures, or countries with long brewing traditions such as those of Germany or more importantly Belgium, and the breweries that have made those countries the standard for which beer is measured.  In the end the best beer for myself is in the United States, with it's array of breweries, multiple styles, and it's focus on innovation and perhaps pushing boundaries to the extreme.

Nevertheless, when I was on my search for great beer in the US, an obscure brewery to me came up from Wisconsin called New Glarus.  Wisconsin?  I thought... the place that is known for cheese?  Dairy?  But beer?  Beer WORTH drinking in Wisconsin?  get out of here..

The idea that Wisconsin was to have a brewery that could make fascinating beer not unlike great breweries in California, Oregon, Michigan and so forth seemed like an afterthought.  However, when looking at New Glarus it was obvious this place was doing something very unique.

From their website: "New Glarus is run by an enthusiastic couple Daniel and Deb Carey, who have successfully combined business management and brewing professionalism."  One thing I noticed when checking out their website was that there were some beers here that had an emphasis on fruit as a main ingredient.  Two particularly stood out.  One was a beer titled "Wisconsin Belgian Red", a beer with a pound of Door county Montmorency cherries in every bottle, lagered in oak tanks and balanced by Hallertau hops for a year.  The other "Raspberry Tart" is a classic Framboise made in a similar manner.

New Glarus is not distributed very wildly, but somehow I needed to try these beers having read their descriptions and salivating.  It didn't hurt that both beers were also highly award winning, and also quite coveted by beer fans.  Long story short I was able to acquire the two products, and also get a bottle of Unplugged Enigma, which is as a sour brown ale not unlike a fantastic Flanders Oud Bruin.  I am very grateful for getting it since it is no longer being brewed.  In short it was amazing.

Below is both a review of the Belgian Red and the Raspberry Tart.  Make sure you make an effort some day to try these fantastic brews if you can.  Cheers!

Raspberry Tart

Wisconsin Belgian Red

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Understanding what you like, not all well aged and crafted works all the time

In my times imbibing it has been important to know what you like and should pursue, and for the most part what items just don't work for you.  With that being said it is probably a good time at this point in my writing as you are gazing at a logo near to my left, that I should mention I don't gravitate towards scotch whisky to imbibie on.

Sure, if you saw my long ago posting of the Johnnie Walker event, it was a good romp and one I enjoyed.  Regardless, I don't seek out scotch often, I appreciate it for what it is, but an opportunity arose and when it comes to good drink I am always up for new experiences.  Cedar Crossing Tavern in nearby Takoma Park Maryland was offering a tasting at their bar for anyone wanting to try a 27 year old Highland Park Scotch that was aged and bottled for a private party.  I never would have bothered with this, except the suggestion came from my wife, and if there is any surprise that gets to me more than anything, it is when my wife wants me to go out drinking with her.  Such invitations come around the frequency of the word "never" or "if at all".

Ah you my good woman of fine deed, I shall take you upon your offer of this! I said without hesitation.  We made our plans and set to try this at the bar for a taste, and if we so desired to buy a bottle if we wanted.

I went in with some sort of anticipation, but the mood turned a little sour as the rain kept coming in.  It seemed like it never stopped and the rolling gray for the past two weeks seemed to be a good presence that wouldn't give up.  I sat at the bar, I was ready to take pictures, I was ready to make tasting notes.  But somewhere in the back of my mind I just couldn't get motivated.  I would have perhaps liked to take a picture for your perspective, but honestly you weren't missing anything in that.  What was really missing was desire, instead of just the pursuit of something aged, highly cultivated and crafted, and perhaps really obscure.

As my wife arrived we ordered.  The bartender pulled out two small Cognac snifters not unlike the ones I used to use.  I say "use to" here because I have discovered what a Glencairn glass really does to a good whisk(e)y.  In my thoughts I was thinking I should have brought mine, but going to a simple establishment as this, which had some happy hour folks in, and lots of swinging conversation, it did not make a good environment for tasting, or perhaps the rude stares I might get from patrons wondering, who does this guy think he is??  I sat my pen down, and just went for the tasting and figured I could go from memory later, and in hindsight it was the right decision.

In the end, long story short, I was put forth with a very aged scotch that felt wet.  The nose probably couldn't get too descriptive mostly to the probably too tapered cognac glass highlighting the alcohol, but there was the typical peat and lots of wood, some faint cigar tobacco managed to come out.  The palate felt thin, there was a strange sense of caramel not unlike a good bourbon but then the grass hit, and suddenly the finish lingered and felt like ashes from a cigarette tray.  And it lingered loooooonnnnnggggg.  It was still enjoyable but this did not by any means make me a bigger scotch fan.

I put my glass down, turned to my wife nonchalantly and said, "So what do you think?" since after all this was her idea.  "It's really strong" she sort of grimaced, to which I sort of replied yeah well that might be because it's whisky... go figure.  I kind of took a devilish grin, but she went with the anticipation of getting to try something without spending money on a bottle she may not have cared for.  She has found good drink this way quite often, where as I have plenty of unopened bottles lying around my house to drive her crazy.

In the end, we had our tasting and left.  I walked away sort of ambivalent thinking this didn't make me any more knowledgeable or crave scotch more.  I did not mind Johnnie Walker Blue and Green (my wife is a fan of the green), but I was not getting in on the scotch train ride this time.

I don't know if another scotch tasting is in my midst anytime soon, but it's important to know going in what you enjoy imbibing and what sort of leaves you unimpressed regardless how aged or obscure a drink might be.  I put my glass down thinking about a scotch fan who could have come in with a Glencairn and sat in a corner to really enjoy this in some comfort on a gray night that would warm themselves up.  Sorry to say that person was unfortunately not me.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Wesvleteren arrives a chance to taste beer greatness?

In the times I have spent imbibing, and specificaly drinking beer, there were many great brews that I came across.  Going down the malt and hops road takes you on lots of interesting twists and turns, some places near, some far, and with that come many tales of greatness.  There isn't a day that goes by that I hear someone usually raving about a beer, claiming it to be the greatest thing ever since sliced bread.  Often times the beer is not where I am, it's from a brewery in some other part of country, and/or it has a limited release that is gobbled up with a low production.  In many ways the hype of it increases the desire among many beer fans to want it even more.  The beer is hard to get, and the rarer it is the demand starts increasing.  The stories get bigger, the raves keep continuing.  In the end it's like a snake eating iteslf into a vicious repeating cycle.  The beer in the end, becomes in a sort of way.. a myth of epic proportions, one where it's great tastes seems hard or impossible to believe.  In many ways the beer almost fits the mantra of, it must be good, because it's rare.

There are a few breweries in the world who have beers that fall into this category.  There is one though that every beer fan finds out about and it basicaly seems to fit into a special category that no other brewery can classify.  The brewery is simply known as Sint-Sixtusabdij van Westvleteren in Belgium, or as many refer to as just Westvleteren.  This is a brewery run by trappist monks who have been making their beers since 1838.  They only make three beers currently, each one placed in a very simple brown non descript bottle.  The only way to differentiate each one is by the breweries distinct cap on top containing the brewery's coat of arms.  A green cap is for their blonde ale, blue for a dubbel style refered to as simply "8", and one of their most coveted a yellow capped bottle containing a Belgian quadrupel style known as "12".  The "12" or "Westy 12" as some refer to, has been written about not just by beer fans but also other well known beer writers.  Many have refered to it as "the best beer in the world". 

The fascination with Westvleteren is nothing new having been talked and coveted about for so long.  In many ways the beers take on the great mythical proportions coupled with images of an old monastery monks, sitting around in robes making beer from their secret traditions.  The reality is they are a solid brewery operation, and don't walk around in robes all the time, but take great pride in what they make.  There is one unique issue that makes their beers coveted as well and herein lies the interesting character.  Westvleteren beers are only sold in one place, the brewery itself and a cafe they own in Westvleteren Belgium.  They are not even sold elsewhere in the country of Belgium (well technicaly read more below).  The fact they have been written about as the greatest and also have an idilyc history with extremely limited distribution (the monks will only produce enough beer to support their monastery) makes them very special.

At some point every beer lover wants to have these beers, but how? 

The result is with the demand many of the beers a "gray" market has appeared.  Demand for these beers all over the world, has created opportunities for people to purchase them and resell them, many times for large amounts of money, very much against the monks wishes.  The bottles within the local area aren't that expensive but have often been resold through other distributors for much more in ways that makes you wonder if it's really worth it.  If you live in America like I do, getting the chance to try these beers requires some leg work and also some introspection.  You can either spend the time to actually fly over and visit, or perhaps spend less money by finding them possibly through a distributor who bought some bottles, but is a small bottle to pay online from some distributor you don't know exactly worth it?  The other angle though which most beer fans do though, is trading with other beer fans to get them.

Acquiring these three beers for me was quite an interesting journey.  In many ways there has been criticism on both sides of the debate about Westvleteren beers. One is the obvious side of the monks who express succinctly for their beers to NOT be resold.  The second is the side and criticism of the monks to make more beer to stop the heightened demand and prices thus making them more available and affordable.  It's an interesting debate with no clear winners.

In the end, I've had many trips to Europe, but one right now is not in the cards anytime soon.  Finding another beer fan, we exchanged some goodies and I have now my chance to try all three of these beers. The best thing was sharing appreciation of good beer with someone, instead of just handing over cash to someone who might have alterior motives and could care less about good drink.

Below are my thoughts on all of them first starting with the Blonde Ale.  I had since purchased a chalice to hold these brews to see them in all their glory.

It was a long journey to get to this point in my imbibing life, a road that takes you many places and certainly ones that make it all worth it.  Another road I hope to do someday, is to get back to Belgium not just to have this beer again, but to also return the bottles and say thanks. My imbibing thoughts are posted below. Cheers to you all!

Review of Westvleteren Blonde Ale

Review of Westvleteren "8"

Review of Westvleteren "12"

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Beer that smells like my cat's litter box? Surely you jest!

So I was pursuing my regular beer imbibing frolic, when I had discovered a unique bottle on the shelf deciding on what to purchase next, when a title sprang forth from a rather dull diamond looking label that I could not ignore.  On that label simply stated the words written in phonetic jocular connotation as to not arouse suspicion but  almost made so the brewers could have a good laugh. On that label was titled the words "Katz Pis".

Now right away I knew what this was about and thought it was pretty funny, but also knew that it would be a good opportunity to review it being a beer fan, and also a cat owner.

You see, the label refers to a bottle of cat piss, or more likely the idea that the beer will smell/taste like a litter box of your feline persuasion.  Sometimes I thought for sure there might be a brewer at the place named "Katz" and this is his addition to glory but let's not go there...

The reality is that in the beer world, there are certain hops that will give of an aroma that many people will identify as urine.  Or specifically a strong ammonia that smells like cat piss.  Hence the name of this beer which is a single brewed hop beer of the Nelson Sauvign variety.  The idea of a urine smelling drink is not knew, it's also particular common among some people who get a cat urine scent off of certain wines, particularly in my opinion, certain varieties of German Riesling's and Gewurztraminer and sometimes Sauvignon Blancs.

For me, I own two cats, and even before sharing their spaces I was more than aware of what cat pee smells like.  I can honestly say I have never smelled a wine or a beer that smells like cat piss.

However, I went into trying this beer out hoping to find something interesting.  What I got was something I truly did not expect.  For more, watch the video review below.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Beer and Champagne, one great imbibing way to enjoy anew

In the realm of imbibing we often think of Champagne or champagne like drinks (referred to as sparkling wine) as a way to celebrate. However, there was one version of bubbly I was not familiar with but after now being acquainted, I would love to try more of. That drink, is called Bière de Champagne, or Bière Brut, or simply put Beer Champagne.

Like Champagne, Bière Brut follows the method of methode de champenoise, but follows the beer styles usually of well.. whatever the beer maker wants. These two are traditionally Belgian and definitely bring Belgian Pale Ale styles to the table mixed with Champagne like great taste. This was also an occasion to celebrate, but bubbly doesn't have to be just for celebrating, there is no excuse to just drink bubbly on any moment that arrives.

I went and reviewed and checked these both out, having moved into my new home. It was without question, a blast. Watch the video to find out more.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Hitting a brief imbibing run while in Maine, brings a lot of fun, and a big lift to the spirit

One thing about being on vacation is about relaxing. Nothing spells relaxing than having a nice good drink. I had been driving up to Maine from DC hitting a few beer places such as Portsmouth Brewery along the way, but a lazy Sunday provided an opportunity that was unexpected, having settled in and gotten comfortable with the in-laws.

Spending time with extended family, we went on a little farm tour for eating and drinking. Not giving a care in the world, sitting down in the back seat, I was allowed to let my mind just wander and think back as to what we would see and more importantly taste. Here I was truly not in the drivers seat, I was truly a lazy spectator with no expectations. Luckily I was going to find myself surprised.

Our first stop was Savage Oakes winery in Union Maine. As the list of tasting items was provided some items looked interesting and expected.
I get very suspicious of many small wineries, particularly ones that focus on fruit production and addition with their wines. For the most part it's catering to a different area, and the wine is usually not something I care for. Some of this was here, but not entirely.

The first wine I tasted though was George River, a sweet off-dry white made from Cayuga grapes. I expected typical sweetness, but also a sense of just bubblegum candy. What I got was anything but. My nose was immediately transported to sweet Rieslings and Gewürztraminer like style. Bursting with ripe sweet melon, but not cloying or sticky, even a body like a simple Pinot Grigio made for one enjoyable first sip, and quaff.

I'll cut to the chase. It was the best wine they offered for tasting. I turned to my wife and said this one is really good what do you think and she loved it even more. I am not much of a white wine sweet drinker but this one was plenty good enough for me, fancying my Alsacian Reisling and German Gweurz palate. Mentioning it to the store staff what I felt they said it was their best seller.

So much for not getting a good imbibe drink while in an obscure place. But like they say, but wait there's more.

My always entertaining hosts though were not done. There was another winery we were going to go to, but more importantly... they made spirits. It was here where I found a real treasure.

Sweetgrass Farm Winery and Distillery is located in Union Maine as well, not too far from where we were.

As the tasting list was provided, you could have 6 items, and I quickly dove into the four spirits which were Back River Gin, Cranberry Gin, Three Crow Rum, and Apple Brandy.

Back River Gin is London Dry in style but is added with the one ingredient essential to Maine and it's identity, that being Maine blueberries. Juniper in smell, with a fruity finish this was a real neat tasting gin. Dry with a real sharp finish, then finishing with a unique fruityness.

Cranberry gin was much like it's older Back River brother. Orange like and off pink in color, the cranberry gin had similar hallmarks but had an interesting mild carbonation feel, and had a finish tasting like very tight fizzy Italian orange soda.

The apple brandy I was quite curious about having enjoyed Tom's Foolery from Ohio. It did not disappoint either, taking a cue from a simple Calvados. Butter and cinnamon on the nose, light textured bringing the same notes from the nose to the palate.

All was going fine and well but there was one item here that stood out high and mighty and stories tall above the rest.

Described by the distillery, Three Crow Rum is a distilled rum made with top grade cane molasses fermented and distilled during the cold Maine winter for ultra smooth rum, aged in bourbon barrels.

First nose on this is an incredibly toasty brown sugar, literally browned and not burnt. The bouquet is complemented nonetheless with so much going on, hints of caramel, a huge nose of butter and butterscotch in particular and maple sugar, and buttered toasted whole wheat bread.

While the palate seemed a little thin, all the great notes on the nose come through in the taste not to be missed with so much variation, and an incredible buttery oak sensation on the finish.

I quickly snatched up two bottles of this, and if I knew I wasn't going to be bringing back many bottles of beer, I probably would have bought tonnes of this stuff. Nevertheless, gin, rum, and wine were all bought along a good event called Maine open farm days. I just wish more farmers could grow stuff like this more often. ;)

To see more check out my review below.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Return to Knob Creek brings joy, just bring out the pancakes!

It has been awhile since I made a recent blog posting. My life has been turned upside down with selling my house, and in the process of temporary living and waiting to close on a new place.

In the meantime, I never forgot bourbon, more so... I never forgot the taste of Knob Creek, it's spicy finish it seemed, now what could better than going back and trying it with a Glencairn glass?. During my time I may not have been as active in drinking and tasting bourbon, but I wasn't one to slow down and read about what was going on.

Some time ago, I found out that Knob Creek released a special edition, in fact simply a "Single Barrel Reserve". Different from small batch for the obvious, but it was also higher proof. Having tasted it, the first thing with it's incredibly butter texture and hints of sweetness and giant honey bent my mind screamed only... "I want pancakes!!!".

A comparison had to be made. Bourbon had to be tasted. Drink and imbibing had to be consumed. Time was short, life is hard, everybody dies... not everybody lives. Having enjoyed regular Knob Creek, it was time to partake in this special edition. To see how it turned out watch the video below.

Cheers! and Enjoy!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Trip down memory lane with cocktail master Dale DeGroff

Catching up again with events at the Museum of the American Cocktail, I discovered there was a special guest coming in to town that needs really no introduction.

In the history of cocktails, bartending, and drinking in America, there are a select few who managed to cultivate a craft when nobody was caring. They found and placed themselves in historic places (New York, New Orleans) either by choice or perhaps dumb luck, and worked in some famous locales. As the cocktail renaissance flourished and grew anew, they became the speakers and purveyors that all would begin to look up to. One such person I had the chance with others to meet was Dale DeGroff, former bartender of the Rainbow room in New York City, or as he simply said "I was just a bartender who got lucky."

Sitting in a small theater (the Warehouse theater to be precise) with an audience of about 30-45 intent listeners, Dale (or as he is known as "King Cocktail" ) spoke whimsically about America's past drinking glory, and then focused on his young days in New York City. As he mentioned stories of working in the famous Rainbow room, to all the NY gossip and shenanigans bartenders ran across, you would be riveted to a sense of place and pride. When you listen to Dale you realize people like this aren't just whimsical folk who have a passion, they are literally walking history books. Without question, Dale is what I call a living institution.

While watching Dale sip on his 4th 5th or I lost count of how much Cognac he was imbibing, we were presented with some cocktails and small snacks to enjoy courtesy of our hosts the staff at DC's The Passenger.

If there is ever a good excuse to know and learn about the history of cocktails, listening to Dale is a truly can't miss experience.

I strongly suggest that if you are a fan of true imbibing, and the care, history, passion that goes into good drink (cocktails for sure!) then you owe it to yourself to be treated to this mans stories.

Dale DeGroff has many accolades, most notably a 2009 James Beard award for Outstanding Wine & Spirits Professional. Check out his books and seminars if you have a chance (and website too). Cheers!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Kentucky Derby day means only one thing for imbibing, MINT JULEP TIME!

Today is the running of the 137th, 2011 Kentucky Derby. While thoughts may focus on things of big winnings, fancy hats and dress, or the sense of Kentucky pride, there is one thing that stands out as a tradition that every person should enjoy on this day. That tradition is to enjoy a mint julep cocktail.

To me a proper one is very simple to make, but it takes some preparation and some right tools to get the job done right.

First get a silver cup. You will need this to make your drink ice cold and refreshing. It doesn't get any better than this. Second use crushed ice to give your drink a frosty kick and feel. Third gently muddled your mint inside the cup without dangerously bruising it or making a salad, and finally pick a good bourbon you like.

It's really that simple. Enjoy bourbon whiskey on this day it is a great time to be doing it, and no cocktail is more fitting for such a time. To learn more watch the video below. Cheers!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

American Wild Ale - Pucker up for a beer imbibing drink

"This beer is sour!!" I exclaimed when my wife gave me a beer she had in Belgium called a "lambic" some time ago in my imbibing early days of yore. Beer can taste like this? I said to myself, and in reality it can. There are varying degrees of sour beers out there of different sour levels and style. There was interesting properties about them, tart, viscous, fruity, vinous... there was much to explore here.

After some time, my road lead back to the heartland of America and away from Belgium to discover a style of beer called "American Wild Ale".

An American Wild Ale is a beer style that contains wild yeast, usually Brettanomyces, Pediococcus or Lactobacillus, which makes the beers sour, "funky" and musty. These are quite interesting and unusal to others, but to me quite fascinating.

Two particular wild ales I wanted to get my hands on are made by Russian River Brewing in California, one called Consecration and the other Supplication. Both are aged in oak wine barrels that held Cabernet Sauvignon wine.

So how did this turn out? Feel free to check out the video review below.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Returning to Owen Roe and finding out about my a.. b.. c..

I love wine, and that goes without saying when imbibing good drink. I could not imagine my life without it. However, back in my exploring days of wine I found myself diving into bold reds seeming to find either jammyness, complexity, smoke, big tannins leaving much white wine in the background who often didn't share these characteristics. Sure, I would find out I loved Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, or the varying degrees of Rieslings from Alsace, even simple Vinho Verde from Portugal was a hit for me. But there was always one varietal that I never seemed to enjoy and that was chardonnay. I felt I could appreciate a good one, but I never could get much into so many of the oaky or ridiculously thick and buttery sensation that I felt. I soon learned to adopt a phrase I heard that was an inside joke among wine drinkers. You could call yourself and abc wine drinker. This meant, "Oh I am an A.B.C. wine drinker, I'll drink anything!"


And so my wine appreciation of chardonnay stayed like this for most of my life, until I went to visit Owen Roe. Owen Roe had been on mind for many years after trying some I think 95 rated cabernet (wine is scored on a 100 point scale) at a tasting I was at. Simply put for me the wine just was one of the best things I ever had, it might as well have been off the frikkin chart. To this day, I still don't know what year or varietal it was an I still kick myself for not making a note to remember it.

While visiting Oregon and Owen Roe, I purchased a case and decided on two bottles of chardonnay, the Columbia Valley 2009, mostly just so I could have something for my wife. I was enjoying all the other reds I was having and I figured well, they couldn't possibly screw this up for the chardonnay. Luckily I was right, when I got home and opened up a bottle a few weeks later I was floored.

Luckily I still had a second bottle and it seemed like I had to talk about this one, I just couldn't let me experience of this wine slide. It is aged only 7 months in the barrel in which 14% of the barrels are new French oak, the rest are neutral. The wine is only for sale in the tasting room, and is not that expensive.

This wine had this wonderful balanced buttery spice, almost like ghee. Small hints of oak, and citrus lemon and lime. In the mouth low acid with a good body, wonderful tolerable lime juice that isn't bitter on the finish, and soft velvet tannins. My only complaint... my first bottle was better. The second I opened up many months later and I think it lost some of its edge but it was still great.

Personal score:

First bottle: 93
The bottle I reviewed below: 91?

Hard to say I don't normally score wine, and I am not an expert but I'll never forget this wine.

Cheers and thanks Owen. OH and more importantly if you've read this far, please tell me a fav chardonnay of yours for the abc crowd cause I want another one!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

KBS and more bourbon beer barrel goodness

In the realm of craft beer, barrel aged beers specifically from bourbon barrels seems to be all the rage. Many are made, much of them seasonal and come out with much anticipation. Sometimes though, a beer will be released with a limited production and high demand, but also touted by many as the best ever. Often the production of how that beer is made seems to give it more mystique, and one beer that seems to be wrapped up in it is from Founders, called Kentucky Breakfast Stout, or KBS for short.

KBS, is a 2 year aged imperial stout, made to rest in bourbon barrels. Besides the fact that it sits for 2 years, the brewery mentions that the beer is actually "cave aged", because the barrels are actually stored in an old abandoned gypsum mine. Does that make a difference? Does that impart a certain flavor? A sort of I dunno what? Regardless, whatever Founders is doing they are doing A) something right B) making some dam good beer while doing it.

Watch the video review to see more:


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Frolicking through Flanders... not red this time but old brown!

Enter, new imbibing territory. Some time ago while discovering the world of beer I learned mostly from my wife who spent some time in Belgium, that beers could actually be sour.

I thought, no you're joking right? Actually it was a big eye opening experience to hear of beers from Belgium that are called Lambics, Kriek, Gueuze and so forth. These beers while being varied in their own right are almost always some degree of sour, and filled with wild active yeast to impart a dramatic taste and flavor. Many of them feel like crisp champagne.

I was given a style recently made by a small American producer in Utah named Squatters Pub Brewery, who made a beer called 529 in the style known as Flanders Oud Bruin. This beer was a one time brewing offering. A brown Flanders style ale in the Flanders Red tradition it seemed, to take on perhaps an American flavor? With that I cracked open my first Oud Bruin, and imbibing pleasure commenced.

Watch below to fine more. Cheers!!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Wandering back in Maine... revisiting the imbibing beer trail

Last Christmas, I was up in Maine and hit a beer store in Waterville called Jokas. My intention then was to buy some local craft beer, and to partake of a simple winter weekend on the off chance I'd get to sit down and have a beer. Turned out my trip to the beer store was even a smarter plan than I imagined since a giant blizzard rolled in and I was stuck inside with nothing to do but well.... drink... Good thing I was ready.

However, when I returned back home to DC I was left with a beer on my mind that I saw on the shelves there that I didn't buy while I was up there. It had a cute little simple smiley face, on a tiny bottle... and it looked and reached out to say to me... you sir... with my plain simple label do not ignore my bland surroundings... please come and drink me.. I remember glancing at its purple ink and thought.. this looks really interesting, but having coddled bottles of Cadillac Mountain, Dogfish and Sebago in my hands the bottle sat. But somehow I never forgot about it.

The beer I am referring to is an Amber Ale called Zoe from Maine Beer Company. When I got home I actually researched it a bit and found that it was actually very highly received, and thus started really kicking myself for not trying it while I was up in Maine. In the end... I acquired some, with some help of a trade. After that, I got into my Maine beer imbibing mode below.

To see how the imbibing went, check the video below.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Acquiring one of the most desired American Doubles, Pliny the Elder and Double Trouble Founders imbibing fun!

In beer land, there is an American Double IPA that many try to seek it out. It is available year round, but only available mostly in California. If you live like I do on the East coast, your chances of finding the beer on store shelves are slim to none.

The beer is called "Pliny the Elder" from Russian River brewery. It comes in a very non descriptive bottle with a basic red dot logo which doesn't seem to leave a lot to imagination. However, it is the contents inside that are what is really important.

I put Pliny in comparison with another favorite brewery of mine, Founders and tried Double Trouble side by side. To have even more fun with this tasting, I slept on this and awoke the next morning and cracked open both bottles at 10:00 AM with a very rested palate having nothing to eat or drink for at least 14 hours. How did this turn out? Well check out below.


When 70 degrees hits in February It's time for some light and crisp imbibing Pilsner joy

We got some stupidly warm days all of a sudden here in my area. When that happens my mind turns to things of light air, crisp summer days.. and great things to imbibe on such as a great light beer. Nothing satisfies like a Pilsner to hit the spot.

I had some German style pilsner lying around. One is from Germany the other is an American made beer out of Pennsylvania called Victory Prima Pils. Both of these beers while being of the same style are VERY different from each other in taste and feel, but they would be just the perfect thing to imbibe on a warm summer day.

In my latest video I pair these two in a taste test for great tasting goodness. To see how it went, watch the video below.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Finally a glass made for tasting whiskey, and how to christen it properly. Whistlepig does the trick!

As I began tasting whiskey I sort of went with what I could get on hand to make it an enjoyable experience. I needed some small glasses with a little taper, and found some simple standard cognac/brandy snifters. They were inexpensive, and I could buy a few knowing that if I ever broke one I wouldn't shed a tear. As time went on and I ran around looking at whiskey, it was something I read about when tasting brandy that made me think I might be missing out on the tasting experience because of my glassware. The person said "When evaluating brandy never use a snifter, use a tulip glass". What??!? I thought.. you mean these so called glasses called "cognac/brandy" glasses should NEVER be used for as there name says... "brandy"?

Well it made me think if whiskey was the same. Certainly two revered products should be capable of a good glass right? So I was talking about my rye experience online with some very knowledgeable people on, and on a lark someone pointed me to a Canadian Whiskey aficionado, and there stood in his hand on his webpage... something I hadn't seen before that was to me... very unique. What was that thing?! I asked myself.. and before I knew it I discovered he had in his hand a glass SPECIFICALLY for tasting WHISK(E)Y which is called a "Glencairn".

Long story short, I bought four of them finding a good online deal I think. Many times a single Glencairn glass can be a little pricey (not too bad), but also I would be peeved if I broke one of these (the glass is a little fragile). I am very excited to try the four glasses out on my next bourbon tasting, but I figured it made sense to evaluate it with something good. I used the glass while hunkering down and evaluating a bottle of Whistlepig rye whiskey, a 10 year aged straight rye whiskey made in Canada and bottled in Vermont.

The glass made some interesting surprises for me. To see how, take a look below at the video. Cheers!

A gin fizz and an egg are much fun to have together

When I got into making cocktails, I always enjoyed using egg white and making frothy drinks. Unfortunately the by product of an egg white, is of course the egg yolk. I would stare at the white blob and say to myself, "Ok.. so what do I do with this now?" Well the reality is you can still use it in a cocktail, and a good way to show off an egg in a cocktail, is to make a fizz.

A fizz is a cocktail that has a standard base, mostly gin and lemon and some type of sweetener (simple syrup) with soda water. However, when you add an egg you can have three different types of fizzes. Adding egg white to a basic fizz makes a silver fizz, add only the yolk, and it's a golden fizz. If you add the entire egg you get a royal fizz. This is just a real basic fizz, and there are THOUSANDS of fizz recipes adding many ingredients. You can really go nuts with this type of cocktail in varying it.

This is actually a refreshing, but sometimes messy drink. It's fun to make a lot of froth and foam and feels like a good thing to have in the summer on a hot day. Watch below to see how to make one.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Amber waves of grain, a good amber ale beer is great to imbibe on

Amber Ales seem to be an after thought to me in the beer realm, but after tasting 3 that were all very different (one that sort of sells itself as an Imperial Amber and feels more like an IPA), there might be more to this style than I imagined.

The three beers I pulled out were, Full Sail's Amber, Troegs HopBack, and Troegs Nugget Nectar. Placing HopBack and Nugget Nectar side by side in this tasting just seemed to make sense. They are both similar and sort of an evolution from one (HopBack) to the next (Nugget Nectar).

Full Sail was very different from both these, and it was beer that really grew on me the more I drank it.

To see more of what I thought, watch the video review below. Cheers!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Imbibing Orval and understanding how a proper glass makes a beer shine

Sometime ago I was at a Belgian beer tasting hosted by Belgium native Bart Vandaele from Belga Cafe and learned a very important lesson. The proper glass for a beer from Belgium makes a big difference in your tasting experience. So much so that of the thousands of beers you could have from breweries each glass is unique.

I remembered this and when setting out to make my latest tasting I realized I never had an Orval glass to compare against my Leffe Blonde. So I decided to wait, and got one in the mail. That time was well spent and made a huge difference and impression on me in tasting this unique beer.

It's kind of hard to sometimes justify having lots of glassware, but it truly does make all the difference. To understand why, watch the review below of Orval and Leffe Blonde.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Hefeweizen beer battle, or how I like to butcher the German language.

Hefeweizen. It seems to be one of those beers that has been sort of bastardized of late. People get a real skinny glass and throw a lemon in and that's it. Is there more to this than that? Turns out there is. First off... skip the lemon.

I can say that this isn't my favorite style of beer, but if you want to have a good one try one of the two I had here. Weihenstephaner is a product from Germany that claims to be the oldest brewery in the world. Reading the bottles on these was enough to make my head spin as I probably butchered the pronunciation of all the German language I could.

For comparisons I grabbed also a bottle of Edel-Weisse Mein Grunes from Scheneider & Sohn a green grenade sporting a USDA organic seal.

Turns out there was much imbibing joy to be had. These definitely feel like summer beers, so while there is loads of snow outside it felt hard to get into character. But for the price point for these beers, they just can't be beat.

Check them out. CHEERS!

Friday, January 28, 2011

American Straight Rye Whiskey to the RESCUE! Manhattan cocktail joy and drink

In the realm of whiskey I was always confused about what "Rye" whiskey was. I grew up in Canada and it seemed like virtually all Canadian whiskeys were just referred to as rye whiskey. The funny thing is, everyone I knew and grew up with never drank it, the only people who did were just really old, and they certainly weren't my parents. It seemed everybody just drank beer, the typical macro stuff and not any craft beer cause the movement in those days wasn't as big as it is now.

When I got into bourbon, I started learning just about whiskey in general, and many bourbon fans also enjoy rye whiskey too. However, I soon learned that there was a distinction to what Americans call rye and what Canadians call rye. There are many distinct differences, but not to say that one is superior over the other all the time.

One of the most obvious things is that American rye whiskey has to contain a mash bill that is at least 51% Rye. There is no such stipulation or law for this in Canada for rye whiskeys. Some Canadian whiskeys hardly even contain any rye at all.

I was also realizing that many people like Rye in their Manhattans which is easily a favorite cocktail of mine. I normally have it with bourbon being such a fan, but as I started hearing people talk about all these great American ryes, I felt like I was missing out on something special.

So I grabbed three straight American rye whiskeys to compare against, and more importantly try them all in a tasting. The results and imbibing joy are all below.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Scratch another off the list, Imbibe Hour crashes DC's Churchkey for the Tröegs scratch night and nugget nectar goodness.

How do I love thine beer... for let me count thy ways... For imbibing in DC special events make it more fun!

I headed down to one of DCs prominent beer bars called Churchkey, in nearby Logan circle as part of a special Tröegs Scratch night tasting.

Tröegs brewery is located in Harrisburg Pennsylvania, and they were offering a good promotion in DC at Churchkey to showcase their "scratch" series beers of playful American IPAs. It was a special treat because most of these on tap don't make it outside of Pennsylvania, but also because they were offering something else. They were also offering their famous Nugget Nectar beer from a firkin cask. IMBIBE HOUR TO THE RESCUE!!! I enjoy their doppelbock as well, and it seemed like a perfect excuse to go have some more Tröegs!

I first heard about the event through, a sight where I find much information on beers, and a place I stash all my beer reviews. The site is stupidly addictive, almost like Facebook but much more mature and organized. I never understood why I never got into it years ago when I first signed up being such an imbibing purist.

I had made arrangements to make sure I was going to be ready for this. I contacted the manager asking if it was okay to write about the event, take pictures... etc.. They were more than happy to oblige. I was told however that the beer wouldn't be kicked in until 6 PM so that staff could partake of some before hand. So I arrived about 15 minutes early and I sat at the bar at one of the few seats I could find. I was asked if I wanted anything and I said.. "Well.. I am just waiting until 6 for the Tröegs stuff... I heard you got a firkin of Nugget, true?" The server said "we sure do!" "Well guess I am waiting!" as I sat there twiddling my thumbs at the bar, not trying to suly myself and drink something amongst the 40 offerings on tap. Those minutes seemed to go by... real... sllooooowllllyy....

10 minutes to six the server seemed to relent and came over and said... well you want one? I hesitated... took the night in... and paused....

"Yeah sure!", HA he cracked before I did!

Nugget Nectar is another showcase and seasonal beer that lots of people get to go goo goo gaga over. It's pictured up in the left there next to Scratch #37 and #38. The brewery describes the color as straw/orange, but out of the cask it is an obvious copper/brown.

That wasn't the only thing though, I was all set on reviewing and tasting all these beers but sometimes Churchkey is a bit crowded but also a bit dark inside to judge a brews appearance. I got a fairly good spot, not the most optimal but at least one good place to review the beers. Unfortunately I noticed I was provided snifters. Snifters??? Is this not an American Ipa? What's going on here? In the end it turned out it was because I was only given samples. Man I wanted PINTS baby!

Some things were also not helpful. A patron next to me got his flatbread order, and for the next 4 minutes after it arrived all I could smell was salt and ham prosciutto. I had luckily got the first beers nose before this, but I was almost ready to call quits and give up thinking the environment wasn't going to be conducive. Luckily things settled down and it all came in after a short while.

I flagged down a server as I was cleansing my palate with some bread crust, a must I find sometimes when going between drinks to soak up other flavors and neutralize my palate. The bar on a Tuesday was surprisingly stupid busy. "Hey", I said, "can't you serve pints of this?" I asked. The congenial server apologized and didn't realized I wanted to nestle in on 2 pints at a time but that was okay. In retrospect it made the night a bit easier, and my liver was probably ready to jump for joy at getting a break. He actually came back with a pint of Nugget Nectar and said "Here ... this one's on me." WELL I'll take that for sure! and that joy is framed above.

I had much to say about these beers. They were all decent, some considerably better than others, and there were ones to me that I preferred even though many didn't fit the classic American IPA style. It was a good atmosphere and I got to sit next to another guy who wasn't that big of a beer drinker, but had certainly been to many pubs in England and felt right at home. I told him to grab the cask Nugget Nectar since so many people were ready to kill each other to get at it, which he jumped on. Long story short, the nugget nectar is a solid brew out of the cask, but it's personally not something that I think I would crave again even after having two of them that night. It is without question a beer everyone should try!

The night was nearly over when of course I remembered they were giving out glassware. "Hey!" I inquired, "you got glasses?!" I asked, and before I knew it, one showed up and then another server came by and said... why don't you take another. So there I had it... two Nugget Nectar pints to take home for keepsakes. Seems like the perfect excuse now... to get some Nugget out of the bottle and try some!

All in all... for Tröegs and Churchkey, it was a night of win, just like always. If you want to get a better idea of what I thought of these beers, see my reviews on here (this link).

Cheers to you all, and have some good brew!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

American Strong Ale Battle, more big beers for big fun

In the realm of beer, one category seems to defy explanation and that is the American Strong Ale. An American strong ale is sort of what its namesake implies, a particularly strong Ale like beer. This has become a sort of go to catch all category for craft brews that are high in ABV. It basically gives brewers a big blank template to essentially go crazy, many of the beers sometimes are stored in oak barrels, or they have specific ingredients that you wouldn't normally find.

For todays imbibing joy I brought out three heavweights to compare. The beers imbibed on were from Stone Brewery in San Diego Double Bastard, Great Lakes Nosferatu, and Lagunitas Brown Shugga, a strong ale with a large amount of brown sugar added. The results were some very good imbibing joy.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Slamming and chasing beer, and trying to understand the sheep mentality.

I was looking for some beer of late to imbibe on and spending some time on as I usually do, just to get ideas of what was going on in the halls of beerdom (my reviews are under the username "smakawhat" in case you are curious). One day there was a thread titled Hopslam in DC in the Atlantic forum. I was confused by this, was this about getting beer and throwing/slamming them into townhouses in upper NW? or was this something else entirely? Well reading more it was obvious someone was wondering about the availability of a beer called HopSlam from Bell's brewery a seasonal release from Comstock Michigan and when/where to get it in DC.

HopSlam is an American Double Imperial Pale Ale or what many people refer to as DIPAs, big on hops and usually big on abv. Many people who are a fan of this style are refered to as "hopheads". Soon reading a couple messages it became obvious that this beer has a bit of a "cult" following, and people were posting messages about where is this? When is it coming? And then shortly afterwords with our hero checking and finding it quite often in the DC area, discovering the ridiculous price for this six pack of beer averaging about $23 dollars (our hero paid $25).

Well I am always up for trying something that people are raving about, but as a working man and having a cellar growing with beer that is hard to contain, forking over that much money for another 6 beers makes me start to wonder about my sanity.

It also poses a dilemma for me. When is a beer too much money? For some people this is an easy question, they might live in an area of low choice and availability, but with a lower standard of living and smaller prices (unlike DC). I had to pinch myself when I drove out this weekend to rural VA, pulled up some craft beer on tap (that was very good by the way) and only paying $4 bucks for it.

The thing about beer, is that ever since the craft movement began and took off, we've now got beers that are jumping up in price because of demand. When I picked up the hopslam beer I actually didn't see it on the shelves where I normally go. I asked someone who worked there if they had it, to which they replied "Oh yeah of course we got some in yesterday, we only allow one pack per customer, you just have to ask for it." The young woman who normally works in the wine section then went behind a door, and I felt like I was doing an illegal clandestine transaction... jesus I am just buying beer.

The young woman came back with a pack, and I remarked about the oddness about this. There was though a reason for this behavior. She told me, "people who come here know the beer and will ask for it, then we will go get it for them but limit the amount." Then she remarked one thing to me which sort of made wonder about the feelings about the human race. She then said that if they put all of the packs out someone will come in and buy ALL OF IT.

I don't know about you, but I love drink, and beer, but I particularly look at beer, even craft beer, as a great emancipator of the human condition. Everyone drinks beer (or at least I think they should drink good beer), and it belongs to everyone. It levels the playing field, you get together with people shell out a few small bucks and have camaraderie and anyone can join. It's communal, to some degree blue collar and should be good but also free of thoughts about superiority. When you jack up the price suddenly it makes me think you have to belong to some elitist super club such as trying to buy 97+ point rated wines...

So I had a lot of mixed emotions about taking this green pack home with me, and also forking over alot of money for another DIPA from Three Floyds Brewery in Munster Indiana for comparison. I've heard a lot about Three Floyds, and I actually almost like them just for their intricate bottle art alone. So once again I forked the wallet over and bought some Dreadnaught to taste along side Hopslam.

The results of how this went are all below: Cheers!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Big Beer is Big fun, and full of imbibing win.

Several years ago when I arrived in DC I would often be in one of my favorite beer stores to pick up goodies during the December holidays. When one goes to the liquor store during these times, you find the usual things, lots of champagne (or some other sparkling wine), gift packs, glassware, but one time amongst all the celebratory stuff I saw in the beer section very large bottles. "Hey they stuck a bottle of champagne in the beer section by mistake what are they doing?" I though to myself. Then I looked closer and saw that this wasn't a mistake... these big bottles had familiar labels and were full of beer!

For many years I put off buying these items, always telling myself.. yeah I am gonna have to get one of these. Years would pass (and I mean MANY!), I would see the bottles in the stores and talk myself out of them every time. Finally I had to break down and do this and find an excuse to buy one of these (cause it would be hard to justify drinking this all to myself), and called up some friends and invited them over for a poker night.

The stage was set, and with much imbibing joy, we cracked this sucker open. This is a jeroboam sized bottle of Augustijn Blonde Ale a style of Belgian Pale Ale. I purchased it in late December, kept it in my cold basement garage and cracked it open about 4 weeks later. Storing these things is an issue because you want to serve and keep this at a good temperature. I have some tips if you are thinking about having one of these large bottles:

1) Make sure you have a big enough place that is perfect for cold/cool storage

The beer recommends 8°C (That's 46.4°F for us Americans) and that "seemed" to be what my unheated basement in DC would do on a typical winter day. This is also why I drink a lot of beer during this time, because I have plenty of room down there, it's dark, and it stays perfectly cool. However, this does not work for long term cellaring of bottles, because a typical temperature in July in my basement is about 120°F!! I did get concerned at one point cause we had some very odd days in December where the temperatures outside even got into the high 50s! but it stored and kept well. Luckily temperature changes didn't vary much, which always has me concerned cause I am convinced that really ruins beer fast (especially Belgian style made beers). Make sure you have enough room.

2) Put it in that dark cool place and DON'T MOVE IT AROUND, LEAVE IT until you are ready to serve it.

3) Opening

Get help... no what I mean is you can do this yourself but have someone ELSE around to probably hold your glassware. Two hands with everything always so another body is always good. Besides you're sharing this! Have kitchen towels ready, and a place to set the bottle DOWN. Now as for opening, as I've mentioned with corks... ideally TWIST THE BOTTLE while holding the cork to loosen it. Once you've done that then slowly with your thumbs go around the edges gently pushing the cork. DO NOT PUSH HARD OR YOU WILL BREAK THE CORK. Eventually the cork will start to give, the best feeling is when you feel the cork move on its own that way you can have time to be ready when it pops.

4) Aim

Seriously this is a no brainer.. but AIM away FROM YOURSELF. Have an idea of where the cork is going to go before you even begin opening, a big open ceiling is good. Don't aim in a room with lots of windows, lights etc... and of course DON'T AIM FOR YOUR FACE looking at the cork to see what is going on.

5) On pop

Once the bottle opens PUT IT DOWN IMMEDIATELY because it should gush and you will get your hands wet. If you hold it while it is gushing you will get your hands wet and there's a VERY good chance you will DROP IT which means... spilling it, or worse... breaking it.

And finally my most important tip for this..

6) HAVE FUN!! Share this with someone who appreciates good drink.

That's about it... to see how this drink and review went, check out the video below.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

An evening in Roma, one drink at a time thanks to the Museum of the American Cocktail

One of the great things about living in DC is that there is always a good excuse to go out imbibing. One of the perfect ways to do it, is to sign up for seminars with the Museum of the American Cocktail. The museum (MOAC), recently offered a very tantalizing opportunity I could not ignore, an introduction to Italian digestif and aperitif liqueurs/bitters and such and the cocktails you could use with them. Here anyone could come and understand the simple basics of all those odd sounding bottles that you see in the liquor store with weird names you probably have a hard time pronouncing. You could try their contents in the seminar (in a cocktail) without feeling embarrassed to buy a bottle that has the word "Aperol" on it, thinking that you're suppose to scrub your floors with it instead. (disclaimer don't buy it for that, drink it... trust me....)

The reality is these somewhat interesting sounding bottles have really great applications in some real simple drinks that anyone can make, and the seminar with the help of Gina Chersevani from PS7 you got to learn some basics and also how to make limoncello. (did I just quote wikipedia? for shame on me...)

Drinking digestifs, aperitifs and slugging down bottles of Vermouth seems to be a way of life in Italy. Much of that I read from Jason Wilson's book Boozehound as he pounced around the Italian countryside downing digestifs and bemoaning the lack of appreciation for these drinks in America. Cocktails in Italy are really not from the same mindset as they are in America, you just drink bitters and vermouth with a little bit of perhaps soda water and fruit, as common as grabbing a can of cola in the US. However, in America some of these ideas of drinking these spirits have crossed over here and been around for some time. Some things in life always translate well.

The evening first started off with a simple Bellini cocktail, but with a specific white peach puree from the Perfect Puree of Napa valley. Served in a champagne flute, it really did give a refreshing peach rind scent, and a feel of actually tasting peach fuzz. A Bellini is of course made with Prosecco, a type of Italian sparkling white wine. Next we moved to a very familiar cocktail which contains probably one of the easiest types of ingredients you could find and that is Campari, a glowing red/orange colored aperitivo.

Pictured on the left is a cocktail called the Americano (Campari, Vermouth, Soda water, lemon twist or orange wedge garnish). So far everything was familiar, and I was glancing around the room to see if anyone was going to notice the bitterness and perhaps wince a bit if they were not familiar with this drink. Campari is not really a strong alcohol drink it's ABV is only 25% (50 Proof), but just by itself it is quite bittersweet. In fact that was a familiar refrain from our host who was remarking that for some people (not all) that some of the things we would be tasting tonight you may not care for.

I'm actually a fan of these drinks but mostly in certain circumstances. I do associate them mostly with summer, and they are kind of lighter, but they are also really what their name sake implies.. they are drinks you have BEFORE or with a meal. A real great simple example is the grown up bolder brother of the Americano, a drink that has many variations called the Negroni. Equal parts gin, sweet red Italian vermouth, and Campari, it's a great palate cleanser and provides a good kick. Throw in some lemon peel/twist and you are good to go!

The Negroni is also a foundation for other cocktails mostly through the substitution of Campari. Take out the Campari... use green Chartreuse... and you have a Bijou a personal favorite of mine. Take out the Gin...keep the Campari... use a bourbon, and you have a drink I've never heard of called a Boulevardier. Bourbon? Did someone say bourbon! I have never actually heard of this drink and I currently have enough bourbon at home to make Kentucky embarrassed (or extremely proud). I think I am going to be making many Boulevardiers in the coming weeks... heck I am making one right now...

As my mind raced about which bourbon I should use first to go with this cocktail my concentration was broken as we were introduced to a guest bartender, Gina Chersevani. Dang it I am trying to think if Old Weller Antique or a more rye dominated bourbon would go with Campari! THIS IS IMPORTANT!! when suddenly a drink in a small plastic cup was placed in front of me which when that always happens, my mind suddenly calms down ... shuts up... and I say... oh hello lovely what do we have here?

It was quite obvious from it's large yellow color that this was none other than Limoncello a lemon style easy drinking liqueur. Limoncello is a real simple drink that is light, aromatic, and when made correctly, what I describe as lemon sunshine. This one was great. Upon tasting this I was asking myself how long has my bottle of Pallini in my freezer been sitting neglected and surrounded by frozen vegetables?

This however was not store purchased limoncello, this I soon discovered was homemade, and before I could think any faster a big giant tub was placed on our table which looked like a yellow aquarium, filled with yellow liquid and what appeared to be many dead Swedish yellow fish.

What it of course really was, as Gina explained, was the contents of how the limoncello was created. We were presented a recipe on how to make this ourselves, which in this form was lemon peel, steeped in vodka, and sometimes sweetened later with honey. It's a little more involved and not as simple as just that, but Gina with Italian flair and giant bravado took us through the steps of how to create this enjoyable drink. I was jealous of her lemon peeling skills, and I realized she was using more of a potato/vegetable type peeler and then telling us how to pull the fruit and not the peeler so you wouldn't get any pith. Pith... I hate that stuff and it is my cocktail nemesis. I always seem to get it and I realized that even just going to these seminars I always get some little 30 second tip from a presentation that makes my imbibing skills better. I was ready to pull out my potato peeler as soon as I got home and chuck my crappy channel knife into the garbage.

Gina is a blast to watch and listen to. She has that incredible Italian housewarming inviting charm, and gets excited about talking about cocktails. It's a romantic combination when you meet someone who is enthusiastic about creating drinks. Gina really does feel like the old high school classmate from way back that everybody knows and is friends with. She returns the favor without a big ego and with much affection.

Still Gina wasn't done. Our next cocktail was an Aperol Spritz or as Gina embellished vocally saying with perfect accent "Spu-ri-tza!" Suddenly I wasn't in DC anymore I felt like I was being transported to an Italian cafe somewhere. This was presented with a fresh bay leaf and rosemary (I still have lots of this around), and one of my all time favorite things in life..kumquats. Kumquats are a fruit that you eat WHOLE. A bowl of these was passed around which many curious on lookers didn't seem to know what to do with. You have to bravely just eat the thing SKIN and all because the skin is sweet, the fruit is really BITTER. It makes perfect sense to have these in a cocktail like this. I will admit though I could not get a taste for the Aperol in this drink but it's a great refresher! Aperol is as its makers claim, the #1 selling spirit in the country.

Gina still wasn't done. She came up with one of her own crafted drinks and we of course, were tortured drinking all this wonderful goodness. It was to showcase another spirit called Averna Amaro in a cocktail she called Latte di Cioccola ta di Basil. Upon pour my first reaction was it's almost like an Imperial Stout! Hooray Beer! Ok no not really, lets say milkshake for adults.

Composed of Averna, chocolate ice cream, whole milk, and basil ground up in a blender, its nose was strangely of malted ovaltine, subtle chocolate, and nice whiffs of fresh basil. This was a nice way to end the evening and probably the biggest hit of the night. I will admit though like the spritz, I couldn't get a sense of the base liqueur. However, luckily a bottle Averna was being passed around and Gina suggested for people to take a whiff (not a drink) of it.

Upon receiving the bottle and just glancing a nose off the cap which is usually not enough to really get a feel for it, it seemed like a mixture of molasses and chocolate. Very odd. However it was very tempting not to just grab the bottle and chug before passing it on to the next person which I am sure people would flip out if they saw me do it.

So once again, drinks in hand it was another evening of imbibing success. Heading out afterwords for dinner and drinks, I could only think of one thing after leaving the event unable to take the drink on my table home. Sometimes life is just bittersweet.