Imbibe Hour


Sunday, December 30, 2012

Favorite beers from the Imbibe Hour in 2012

It was another year again in beer.  2012 brought many highlights, much of it coming from a trip to Vermont visiting Hill Farmstead.  Not sure what is in that water that is producing the beer up at Hill Farmstead (fairy dust? unicorn tears?), but it is making some of the best beer I ever had.

Another surprise how a particular style that can normally polarize me a bit, became the source of some my ultimate favorite beers.  That style was the saison - farmhouse ale.  I had so many enjoyable ones that I officially am crowing 2012 the year of the saison for myself.

I made a video of the highlights in beer for 2012.  Feel free to check it out on my channel as well.  There were also many other brews I wish I could mention but it was hard to pair down a list of 600 (which was far shorter than last years) beers as highlights.

Cheers!  and see you in 2013!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Korean memories bring back new twists for imbibing

In the grand scheme of things, my life with drink and food is a journey into fabulous memory, and exceptional revelry.  I had a "brief" life changing experience in Korea teaching English in 1995, which provided me a great backbone in an ethnic cuisine that I have adopted since as my "favorite".  The flip-side I discovered was a culture that liked to imbibe to great joy (if not to extreme excess) with their own unique concoctions.  That concoction I learned was a drink that should be adopted as the national drink of Korea which is called soju.

Soju in all it's glory is really nothing more than vodka, traditionally made with rice, but commonly now often filled with grains, and starches (particularly potatoes).  I was told back in my day the good stuff was made with rice, and the cheap "shit" from potatoes.  Regardless what I always remembered was a drink that was cheap as borscht (A bottle cost the equivalent of 80 cents US), and would be commonly poured into slurpee cups in Itaewon for a bit of cavorting and insanity by American stationed soldiers.  The stories we all have of soju are all fond and large, even if perhaps the after stories are less than glorious, but those late night orange soju tents that dotted the Seoul and numerous Korean city landscapes will forever be in my heart with my drinking compatriots.

Returning to the land of North America, I soon discovered this drink was not available.  In fact I even heard that from the land of the U-S-A, the product did not pass inspection.  We joked back in the times in Korea that we were positive the brew did not contain shall we say, ingredients of distinction.  Scanning the shelves of the corner cheapo stores, we would even see bottles not filled to appropriate levels.  Those bottles we joked were not the ones we were told to buy, cause they were (assumed) to be filled with antifreeze (or god knows what), perhaps re-capped from a lazy employee who had to take a nip before returning home.

Fast forward over a decade later (probably more so but then I'd be dating myself), I go down to my neighborhood Maryland county store and I am seeing soju on the shelves.  Not only was it on the shelves, but as much as the green bottles provided a distinct recognition, there was finally English on the labels that described what was on the label.

It was time to make a revisit for this classic drink.  Living in the Washington DC area (encompassing the suburbs of nearby Maryland and Virginia (or as they say Northern Virginia [NOVA])  ) I became very familiar with a neighborhood of Northern Virginia called Annandale which has a great Korean community.  Aside from the choice and places to buy Korean food and goods, I even ran into a drink called seju (not to be confused with soju).  Closer still much Korean and Asian markets dot the Washington DC landscape to keep me more than satiated.

In my interest of all things delicious to imbibe, my first delve into "seju" was distinctly memorable.  I thought it was to be the equivalent of it's "soju" brother, but the distinct hangul writing made a mental note that this was a drink that makes soju for all intense purposes, a lightweight.

Seju is what soju can be when it wants to be sophisticated, as opposed to the numerous late night "soju-drunks" I ran into in many late nights, through dark alleys, and passed out citizens on street corners.  Seju is what soju should be, when it grows up.  This seju here though, consists of rice wine fermented with corn starch, herbs, and wheat flour.

One last thing.  Soju and Korean drink needs to be consumed with two things.  Food, and secondly the obvious, friends and compatriots.  I decided that it was high time to revisit and imbibe this drink.  Check out the video below, and a great food romp into some deliciousness.

as they say in Korea ... KONBAY!!! (Cheers) enjoy the video below! (click the YouTube icon to open in another window)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Return visit to hometown in Canada brings beer surprises

Half Pints Brewing - Seasonal Oktoberfest
Growing up in Canada where I was born and raised, I can reflect back and realize that there were very few beer choices when I was younger.  In my old hometown of Winnipeg Manitoba, you had about 3 macro producers, and a handful of typical green bottled mass imports, with the only opportunities to buy them at government run stores, or cheap vendor outlets.  That was really all it boiled down to when I think back then.  Sure there were some exceptions but often that was the rule.  We drank, we were fine, we bragged about our beers being better than American swill, but in the end, we were all without much variety or understanding of styles, or what else could be achieved and acquired when it came to beer.

Fast forward years later, I moved to the US and discovered a large abundance of beer from smaller producers.  Belgian beers were more common, then suddenly the craft beer movement exploded.  Beer was a bigger world then I ever imagined.  I hadn't been home in some time with my appreciation for great beer, and always wondered if Canada had treasures that were suddenly available.  Sites like beeradvocate had a section for Canadian craft breweries, and there were many, plus the site had a forum for Canada that contained a place for Canadian craft beer lovers to talk and converse.  When I investigated further I realized there were not just a few new breweries in Canada since I left, there were SEVERAL, pretty much MANY I never even heard of.  One brewery was even from my hometown that didn't exist after I moved away called Half Pints.

I really felt that a future return trip deserved an exploration of drinking some new Canadian beer.  I wasn't sure what I would find, or more importantly how hard it would be to find these beers, and if they would even be worth drinking.  I had a lot of great beer in the US and I was hoping that my old stomping ground could provide a plethora of choice and deliciousness that would make me want more.  I was even more concerned that trying beers from an old hometown brewery was kind of scary.  What if I didn't like them?  I was actually nervous about this, could they measure up to all the great craft US brews too?  In the end, what I discovered was more than just tasty beer, there were some surprises too that made just understand how far beer back home had changed.

Returning home I was like a kid in a candy store.  I hadn't been home in the house I grew up in for more than 2 hours coming back from the airport before I said to my mom "Ma I am going out to get some beer!".

"You just GOT HERE, why don't you sit for a bit, I think we have some stuff in the fridge why don't you go take a look first!"  exclaimed my mother.

Keystone Lager
Patience is not one of my strong characters, but you can't keep a determined beer hunter down.  Before heading out to a government run nearby store it was a good chance to survey the scene.  A new fridge was in place where the old crumbling white and beige relic used to sit.  As I glanced inside, I was also at first reminded how much things were still the same.  There was a can of some mass produced beer that I swear was only made in the US called Keystone, painfully blocking some Anchor Steam.  I heard rumors this was actually a real cheap beer in the US common for frat parties.  However this can was red instead of blue, and it was called Keystone "Lager".

While there is a beer for every person, this one really was a classic macro fizzy lager, with little appeal to myself.  Appearances seemed fine, but it was classic macro tasting, wildly rank smelling and off balance.  A relic from a left over gift given to my parents who don't drink much beer to start with.

Can of Budweiser Shot - Malt Liquor
So what else is in here?  My eyes veered toward a can that was rather short, a very odd size, with the words Shot on it.  A familiar red bow-tie seemed to stick out on it, as I cocked my wrist thinking ... Budweiser??

It was Budweiser.  But not like a Budweiser I had EVER seen before.  This was a product called Budweiser Shot.  Reading the can I thought, so this contains coffee?  Red Bull maybe?  I figured it had to be a high ABV and that it was probably malt liquor.  I guessed correctly, even if the label claims "strong beer" whatever that means (American or English Strong Ale this is not mind you).

A surprisingly large and thick bleach white head hit, with lots of retention, quite aggressive and impressive somewhat, but the smell was all corn and sweetness.  Taste was pure sugar corn syrup sweetness, that I just couldn't even finish it.

It reminded me of many years ago in high school of some jock jerk who bragged that he drank Okeefe Extra Old Stock by the 2-4 (what we call a case in America), because it was one of the few beers back then that was mass produced higher than 5% (it was another malt liquor that clocked in around high 6.5 or 7 ABV if I remember).  I distinctly remember as a young lad that it tasted like diesel fuel, but to him drinking it was somehow a badge of honor.  I think it decreased his brain cell count.

It seemed we were off to a bad start, perhaps some things hadn't changed after all.  Experiences are worth trying, but you always try to set your sights a little higher.  There is fun sometimes in tasting odd beers you may not care for, but you begin to move on.  I was wondering even if people in Winnipeg forgot how to drink.  A wine store at the Forks I frequented often and took classes at in the past had a customer come in and say "You got any Coors eh?".  Besides the fact that the store doesn't sell any beer, people in Winnipeg are drinking Coors now?? I thought this was the most bizarre thing since the concept of drinking mass produced US beer was considered treasonous by my Canuck counterparts when I was younger (it also wasn't readily available like it is now).  It was time to head to the MLCC stores and see if things might make for a different experience.

The Manitoba Liquor Control Commission is the entity in the province of Manitoba that regulates the sales of alcohol.  Like many places in the US that have county or state stores, it means you grew up having to get your beer/wine/spirits in only one place.  It's a little more complicated and the laws vary but I think I've made my point.

Back in my time, without sounding like a crotchety old man here, MLCC store selections for beers were atrocious.  They offered very little beer selection compared to the mass macro vendors.  Often it was no point going to them for beer, you went to vendors for beer, got the macro Canadian stuff from the cooler and then went home.  Another problem was their hours. I seem to remember they didn't stay open late on certain nights, and they weren't open on Sunday.  However on my return,  I discovered they are now open on Sundays, and they stay open later, but there were also some surprises on the shelves.  It's the same vanilla, but there were things to behold.

First off, while the selection is nowhere as varied as can be down where I live in the US, there were plenty of items domestically and a few foreign gems that I have always had on my radar.  Another surprise was you could break up six packs and buy single 12oz bottles.  As someone who is a major beer reviewer and taster of everything, this is extremely appealing.  Being on the East coast in the DC area, with the ability to travel to several counties and different states, there are many places where you can't even do this. I learned long ago not to waste time on buying six packs being stuck with beers I found I didn't want to drink.

Ossian Supremely Golden
My eyes immediately glanced over to one foreign gem I've been dying to try for years.  It's a beer from Inveralmond called Ossian, which is described as a golden ale from Scotland, and is considered in the category of "milds" for beer styles.

Ossian pours a real nice brassy yellow, and a head that fluffs a great white.  The nose is filled with marmalade, and apricot flavors, and a great tasting sweetness of malt, cask like feel, citrus and orange zest.  It's a wonderful beer.

Cocking my wrist I then discovered this beer was... very old, a problem I have with not checking labels.  Consuming this beer though 9 months past expiration still brought a lot of joy.  However, since every MLCC store is the same, I went to another one and found plenty of this beer and fresher.  It was still fantastic, but strangely I am almost convinced it was better aged.

Golden and fantastic the beer was also everywhere I went, which brings another point about government stores.  It doesn't matter where you go, they all carry the same stuff.  I gave some thought, and felt that this beer should be put on top of the Winnipeg legislature and crowned the new Golden Boy.  That being said, there was an abundance of it, and it probably isn't that popular among the mass offerings.  A few sips off to family confirmed this as they didn't like it.  No problem, ... more for me!  But having a pint of this on the "ledge" as the locals call it would probably make the Scot community quite happy in the city.

3 Monts
Speaking of other beers I found in the MLCC, I ran into another I wanted.  3 Monts Flanders Golden Ale is a beer from France that is full of flavor and greatness.

Wonderful candy notes, and hints of honey, with a body crisp and wine like.  Pear and champagne flavors tantalize the palate with a wonderful finish while consuming.

Suddenly the trip to the old MLCC was not as bad as I remember.  Another surprise for myself was the price on these bottles.  Ossian clocked in at $3.45 and 3 Monts not that much more.  These bottles where I live would have easily been more expensive to buy, even at parity with the US dollar.

It seemed like I got some imports that I could have fun with, but also there were many Canadian craft brews to be had.  Many of them were very well done.

Russell Brewing Company's - IP'eh!
Russell Brewing Company out of Surrey BC, had two bottles that I picked up.  One was an iconic IP'Eh with a classic 1987 style Canadian maple leaf reminiscent of the Canada Cup hockey series.  What's more iconic than that!?  As an English style IPA, it's hop angle did bring the classic herbality, but it had a wonderful rich and malty backbone complimenting nicely.

Another surprise from Russell was a Scotch Ale called, what else Angry Scotch Ale.  In a remarkable great twist of fate, a ham dinner provide a wonderful pairing for this malty rich and toffee tasting great brew.

Russell Brewing - Angry Scotch Ale
There were many other fantastic offerings as well among the shelves.

A brewery out of Barrie Ontario called Flying Monkeys had a plethora of great offerings.

Hoptical Illusion is one big take on a hoppy pale ale.  The hops keep coming also in Smashbomb Atomic, and then there was probably the best memorable beer I had on my visit.

A Black IPA/Cascadian Dark whatever you want to call it, a brew called Netherworld.  The brewers website refers to it as "weird".  I call it a mish mash of American and English IPA styles slammed together with roast goodness.

Flying Monkeys - Netherworld
It is truly a fantastic and unique offering for this style.

It seemed I was doing quite well so far.  Many of the brews I sampled were providing an abundance of great flavors and reminded me of many of the tasty brews I had in the US.  It seemed things in Canada for beer were progressing VERY well compared to my past.  But... what about the home team?

From here I had to come back to my most anticipated beers for this trip, and that is checking out a hometown brew.  I am not sure of when Half Pints started brewing, but it was certainly not at a time when I was living in Winnipeg.  Thinking about this brewery made me pray that my hometown could deliver.  You all have memories and fondness for the place you grew up in.  Could they play with the big boys of the beer world?  Could they make a simple solid style?

Half Pint - Humulus Ludicrous
I thought about all the beer I had in the past, how could I feel about what they offered?  I was thinking if I could even be partial to enjoying beer made in Winnipeg.  I thought I had to be honest with myself, but what if I had something that was truly awful, a mess, how would I feel to say these things?  I was conflicted, I couldn't be a homer, but you always want your friends to succeed.  Luckily I didn't have to think much about this once I had a beer called Humulus Ludicrous.

A giant large Double IPA, Humulus to me rips with dank and earthy hops on the nose, complete with a hoppy palate and rich minty finish.  Boy I like mint on beer, but I find it so rare on hoppy brews.  Half Pints didn't just make a solid beer, they picked the geekiest beer style that would easily make any hop head chasing junkie happy.  Stir Stick Stout turns out acceptable for a coffee stout.  Their take on an Oktoberfest style fits in nicely with most other Märzens I've had.  However, I was even more pleasantly surprised by a flagship brew called St. James Pale Ale.

St. James (no doubt taken from the neighborhood of the same name), is actually more like a Kölsch style brew, as the brewers website describes.  I love Kölsch, it is one of my favorite styles, and I really felt they nailed this solidly.  Floral hoppy with great tasty bread action.  It's what I look for in this style.  I felt like I could just drink these till I was blue in the face.  The naming of this beer sort of throws me (perhaps it's a terroir thing), but I wish I could bring these beers home with me.

I was far from done it seemed.  The neighboring province of Saskatchewan (or I like to call the big "S") even proved it was up to the task.  As much as I like to make fun of those guys, it turned out a brewery called Paddock Wood made one heck of a memorable style Czech Pilsner called what else, Czech Mate.

Full of super dry grassy hops and huge nose of citrus and lemon lime, the beer has a great crisp texture, matching citrus and some candy grapefruit.  Unlike most Czech style pilsners I had this one was truly mouthwatering.

So it seemed as I surveyed the MLCC shelves, I made a good dent and was quite surprised by what I found.  I don't think it's going to vary much from now, but I didn't quite have everything either.

However, a return trip may not provide other new Canadian beers to try, but plenty of repeat beer offerings.  I guess the problem though now is if I want something new from Canada I just may have to go somewhere else.  But as long as these beers are around, I don't think I'll ever be missing anything if I return, cause I will be more than satisfied upon my return.

Well done Canada.  Well friggin done eh?

Beers reviewed and tasted on trip to Canada:
(in no order of preference within the groups, italics indicates foreign)

  • Netherworld Cascadian Dark - Flying Monkeys, Barrie Ontario
  • Ossian Golden Ale - Inveralmond Brewing, Perth Scotland UK
  • Humulus Ludicrous - Half Pints, Winnipeg Manitoba
  • 3 Monts Flanders Golden Ale - La Brasserie De Saint-Sylvestre, Saint Sylvetre Cappel France
Very Very good:
  • St. James Pale Ale - Half Pints, Winnipeg Manitoba
  • Czech Mate - Paddock Wood - Saskatoon Saskatchewan
  • Muskoka Mad Tom IPA - Lakes of Muskoka Brewing, Bracebridge Ontario
  • Russell IP'eh - Russell Brewing Company, Surrey British Columbia (BC)
  • Russell Angry Scotch Ale - Russell Brewing Company, Surrey British Columbia (BC)
  • Hoptical Illusion - Flying Monkeys, Barrie Ontario
Worth trying:
  • Oktoberfest - Half Pints, Winnipeg Manitoba
  • Stir Stick Stout - Half Pints, Winnipeg Manitoba
  • Mill Street Coffee Porter - Mill Street Brew Pub, Toronto Ontario
  • Einbecker Brauherren Premium Pils - Einbecker Brauhaus, Einbeck Germany (watch out for  skunkiness though because of the green bottles)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Fall brings more cider. I want to be back in Orleans again!

Orleans Cider taken at Stowe Taste of Vermont Fair
Sometime ago, I posted a blog entry about drinking cider and fall imbibing.  I found that apples as a fruit where never my fancy, but when fall season would come, I would think about them for good drink.

You may have seen my video of visiting Hill Farmstead in Vermont for great beer, but I also made a discovery at a small food fair near Stowe Vermont, trying a little product I had never heard of from a craft producer.  That product was ice cider made by Eden Ice Cider in West Charleston Vermont.

You heard that right ice cider.  It was here I discovered a product known as Orleans.  Orleans unlike most ciders is actually a cider hybrid wine.  They took their fresh pressed cider from Vermont apples, then fermented the concentrate to make a dry wine that was then infused with a mixture of herbs.  The result is something truly spectacular.

At first sip Orleans is like cider, but then it tastes more like an ice wine when nicely chilled.  The nose is all apple aroma but filled with huge notes of basil and other aromatic herbs.  It finishes clean, with a palate rich in flavors of apples, honey, anise, slight pepper, and LOTS of basil.

Speaking with the booth attendant, she remarked the product was extremely popular with bartenders in New York City who were making lots of cocktails with it.  This was no surprise to me whatsoever, the applications you could do with this beverage made my headspin.  Cider and fruit check, incredible herbs, check, controlled sweetness, check.  It was practically a well crafted cocktail in a bottle by itself.

All I can say is that if you ever see this product where you live, you need to try it, it is really something special worth seeking out.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Hunting treasures in the home. Old home bars leave untapped secrets

Old Bottle of B and B found in home bar
I hadn't posted a blog write-up for sometime.  I am not always sure what to write about somedays.  I could easily "repost" video reviews, and also "repost" beer reviews, but the former is simply on my channel on You Tube, and the later being on BeerAdvocate's website.  It was becoming a bit redundant just for redundancy sake I felt to throw them up on here.  Once in awhile though, life events among good drink come into play, sometimes you can find a little piece of history.  Where can you find drink history?  I soon found out in other peoples old home bars.

First a bit of background.  My wife and I were invited to a wine tasting party for a couple we only knew a little bit about.  A classic, they are friends of friends of ours sort of thing.

We weren't sure how "much" of a wine tasting this would be, I debated about which wine to bring among a plethora of choices I have.  I do love wine, and I have "plenty", and nothing says like an excuse to get rid of wine than to go or have a party.  We grabbed a bottle of Sancere that we like, and off we went.

Shortly into our visit it was obvious this was really just a house party.  We nibbled, we chatted, we hung out, we met friends we knew, and some new people also.  It was not a sophisticated gathering of glasses and tasting orders, which was good, but hey we were prepared not knowing what to expect.  Bottles sat on the table, people dove in to the selections.  I am always interested in finding new wines, one bottle that was brought was a Romanian sweet white whose name I can't remember.  You certainly couldn't buy it here. A Hungarian co-worker of the host brought it, and it made a good talking point between us and him since my wife and I spent time in Hungary.  Who says drink doesn't provide good conversation worth talking about?

It became obvious though while we were outside that is was getting quite humid and warm.  While the setting was nice, it was a classic DC muggy summer day, sweat was pouring off my body, I found myself going into the inside of the house for water too often, and the chilled whites sweating on the table were getting consumed like crazy as the reds barely got touched.  It seemed like we just needed to cool off.  Our host recognized this and then said:

"Hey let's all go downstairs into our basement where it's cooler, what do you say?"

We all glanced around, and it was pretty obvious we all didn't have to say what was on our mind.  Then our host said:

"I have a bar down there!"

Hello did he say BAR?  Enter our hero!!

Pulling the sliding glass door, we all made a dash for downstairs, as the air conditioned blasted and evaporated the sweat off of my forearms.  I was excited to see another bar, perhaps we could swap stories and tips.

I went downstairs and noticed the bar that was definitely part of the house probably built when the basement was refinished.  The host had mentioned that when they bought their house, the previous older couple left many things behind, furniture, tables, much of it from the mid century modern period and totally retro, going with the style of the houses build date in the early 60s.  The previous owners had no use for these items, and left them for the new couple. One of the things they left behind also was a bar (although it appeared to be made much later), and with it were contents of glassware, shakers, instruments, the usual for any well prepped bar.  But also it contained... old bottles.

"I don't know what this stuff is?! What do I do with it?!"  the host asked holding up a Hawthorne strainer.

It soon became apparent to me that this was happening in homes across America.  I certainly remember this when I was shopping for a house years ago.  Many new homeowners were buying older homes, and there were downstairs bars in them.  Sometimes they didn't always know what to do with these bars, or get the most out of what they offered.  More importantly it dawned on me that these bars could contain bottles of a former era.  Thoughts of being a cocktail bar rescuer as a job fluttered in my imagination, but figured that wouldn't pay much.

I remember one DC rowhouse I saw way back while looking for a new home, extremely dated, in ok condition, but nothing to get excited about, until I was told by my wife to go in the basement.

"So what's down there?" I asked, "another purple toilet or something?"  I said.

"No just go take a look I think you'll be surprised.".

I held off my excitement that from what I had already seen in this house we were never going to buy it, a classic too many problems.  However, my jaw hit the floor when I went downstairs.

Far off in the distance was a formed wall with a full seated bar, 4 swinging upholstered swivel chairs, cubed glass bar that went at least twenty feet in length, a full working sink.  I could easily see that the person who lived here was really putting his priorities into a great drink establishment, neglecting the rest of the house sans working kitchen with no new appliances.  The bar was not stocked, much of the bar items were of course boxed away in preparation for a move, but the bar was lengthy, a great giant slab of wood, a few touches of cigarettes odd burns and circular water stains.  Not many, but just enough to give it character.  A classic old cubed TV jutted in the corner, it was from the 70s, you could easily mistake it for a fish-tank.

The stories that place could tell, I dreamed of the African American couple who lived there, the guy who came home with his buddies, and made drinks for everyone, probably with a little bit of TV.. maybe Redskins games, slamming down drinks and perhaps making a good cocktail or two, probably during a better football era than now.  This bar had more charm and history that I think of any local watering hole I'd ever been in.

Getting out of my flashback, I quickly pulled out at my smartphone and said "here look, this is my channel, and this is my bar at home, I can show you some things."  Our host took one look and then exclaimed WE HAVE A BARTENDER!!  I was quickly voted in to make drinks for everyone.

"You have to show me how to make this stuff!" said our host.  I replied "Oh of course, but let's take a look around".

Investigating any new bar is always fun, but for the most part, many people don't have a lot of things bottle wise.  I realize I have a hobby and buy lots of different liquor, but most people aren't like me.  Most home bars usually contain one to 5 simple bottles, mostly just of something people like to drink all the time.  Usually there's just a bottle of gin, cause people like to drink gin and tonic all the time.  Or there's just a bottle of whiskey, or a bottle of vodka.  Sometimes people just want to do shots, but mostly the contents of ingredients in drinks for home use can fit on a small shelf.

"Make something!"  someone from the party exclaimed excitedly.

I saw a large bottle of Makers Mark.. ok plenty of this, but I started noticing that our hosts bar was quite empty.  "Do you have any bitters?"  I was thinking if I could get some Angostura bitters and find sweet vermouth I could make people Manhattans.  I noticed no bitters, that's ok, but we need vermouth.

I opened up a cabinet, and found some more bottles, and couldn't make out what they were in the darkness, so I grabbed the first one I could and brought it out.  The picture above is what I found, an old bottle of B & B or Benedictine and Brandy.  Most of the contents were still in, with about 1/2 the bottle still left.  We quickly made the rounds, based out some small liqueur glasses and drank.  Still good, classic herbal notes, almond, vanilla, and sweetness, it held up and was absolutely delicious.  The worn brown label indicates and older bottle, but I don't think this bottle is very old, or say... worth a lot of money.  But it's always great to taste some history.  If you know anything about how old that bottle might be from the picture, please contact me!

Stock picture of Galliano bottle
Digging back into the cabinet I found what I call, another relic classic from the so called Fern bar area.  In this bar was the classic bottle of Galliano.  I recognized this instantly, and it is something I distinctly remember from my childhood, but not because as a young 12 year old kid was I sipping it with pinky raised mind you.  The one thing that is unmistakable of Galliano is it's bottle shape.  A bottle of Galliano is very slender and thin, and extremely tall.  It's so tall and obnoxious that when you go to a bar somewhere it sticks out like a missile or something that belongs in an ammunition warehouse.

I noticed the bottle was old, probably from the 80s, since the lettering on it was identical to all the bottles I saw growing up.  I remember many neighborhood restaurants I went to as a repeat customer with my family.  These restaurant places I went to I had been going for many years, I would pass by the bar area and I would see that bottle of Galliano on the shelves. Through the early 80s up to practically the last of the early 90s, I could still go back to these places and see that SAME bottle on the shelf.  It... Never.... Moved... ever.  Something even in my gut tells me if I went back to these same places now in my old hometown that bottle would STILL be there.

Just like the downstairs bar, the Galliano was still there.  In here is where my fascination with this spirit lies.  It is the relic of my youth, it is my wonderment of always thinking, "what does that large ICBM bottle taste like?".  I just could never want to ask or try it, or even go buy it, I always made excuses.  Columnist Justin Wilson of the Washington Post describes it as: "a sweet Italian anise-citrus-vallia liqueur". but for me I have always been averse to trying it because to me the contents look banana colored, something I really dislike.

Unfortunatly, my free sip of Galliano was not to be either.  The bottle had barely an ounce in it, and I left it to be hoping someone might finish it.  Something tells me though... it's still going to be there like a spent radioactive fuel rod that just never goes away, and nobody wants to touch.

So while the party went on, some basic cocktails were made, including a whiskey sour with Makers.  Asking for sugar and eggs for the bar, the host was wide eyed.  "What are you going to do bake us a cake!?"

Au contraire, for within a bar there are secrets and memories waiting to be unlocked.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Beer and Bratwurst! Beer and food and pure love

I really love to cook, and one of the great simple things in life is to make something simple.  Poaching sausage with just some simple onions does the job, but what if you could combine bratwurst and try different beers?

I decide that when I was viewing some recent threads on, a place I spend probably far too much time on.. there was a good discussion on cooking with beer and bratwurst.

I get great sausage from my farmers market from a place called Smith Meadows.  I really REALLY love their Sweet Italian Sauage but I digress...

I bought some of their bratwurst and decided that I should try to cook them, trying and tasting them with different beers and seeing how the results went.  I picked a very common light produced mass lager, a true great German Pilsner,  DC Brau's the Corruption IPA, and finally the grand daddy of them all, one of my all time favorite beers, Aecht Schlenkerla Eiche, a very malty doppelbock that is smoked with oak.

I loved this beer so much I decided to make a gravy with it also.  The results of this cooking experiment were quite fascinating.  I video taped my experience (they make tapes?) and the experience is below, feel free to watch my experiment below.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Grabbing a beer with Greg Engert beer director of Churchkey Birch & Barley

There has been a lot of changes lately in the craft beer world since I can remember. Living in the Washington DC area for many years gave me a real good opportunity to witness such changes, particularly when a new establishment came along called Churchkey.

Churchkey Birch & Barley, is a craft beer bar that has 50 taps and 5 casks, and is managed by beer director Greg Engert, a former employee of the Brickskeller.

I sat down to talk with him about the birth and growth of craft beer and his establishment.  It was quite an interesting and if you want to see it grab a drink and spend 1/2 hour watching the video below.  Cheers!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Beer Cocktails, stepping it up with Maui Coconut Porter and Chairman's Reserve Rum

Something seems to be happening in the drink world that defies explanation.  Two unlikely concoctions, beer, and liquor (in the form of cocktails) have come to a-head on meeting in a full collision melding with craft practice.  How did this seemingly happen?

Brewers have taken the world over with interesting beer.  Revisiting old styles, revamping them, taking on new twists, and giving many things for beer geeks to salivate over.

With that, mixoligists and bartenders (can they be one or the same... sure) using their knowledge of solid cocktails, combine their smarts and find interesting ways to meld flavors, technique, and history to make something different and hopefully delicious.

Mixing alcohol into beer is really nothing new.  How many times have you heard of depth-chargers,  car bombs (or that other name that isn't so flattering), boiler makers, snakebites and so forth.  Sometimes adding things to a beer involved things that just seemed like an afterthought out of boredom, such as the stories I hear from people dunking a shot of whiskey X into a pint of brew.  I doesn't even have to be other alcohol, shandys, radlers also come to mind.

However, sometimes people put a little more effort into a good drink, and when they do the results can shine, and from that you can have a beer cocktail with true thought and great taste.

Beer cocktails aren't without their controversy either.  Some brewers cringe at the idea of a beer they concocted, slaved over, perfected after many repetitions, just to have someone seemingly pour something ELSE into the mix.  Dam them all some might say.  Others might be more flattered.  What if you could punch flavors out, enhance them, use good quality ingredients, just as the brewer intended, could it work?  For myself personally, I am on the fence, but I take exception to anyone who does things with good technique, and understanding of what came before, and those who use the right things at the right time.  A beer cocktail can truly get it right.

Pictured above is a beer cocktail developed by Gina Chersevani, and published in the Washington Post (recipe here).  In it, she uses a fantastic craft style American Porter beer made in Hawaii that I have actually reviewed before called Maui Coconut Porter.  Just toss a shot of whiskey into your glass after you pour?  Hell... and no.

In this drink, she uses classic cocktail ingredient and proportions, that enhance the character and flavor of the drink.  Chairman's rum is used, to give a molasses kick with a very dry match of the porters roast, coconut milk and sweet syrup come into the mix to pull out that coconut of the porter also, and add a sweetness not unlike a good refreshing summer cocktail.

I decided I had to try this drink out and get an idea if a beer cocktail can really deliver.  And when done right, it really shines.  There are plenty of other beer cocktails out there, and so long as they are done with thought and care, I'd love try more myself.  Check out the video below to see how I made this drink.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

One Tequila, Two Tequila, MORE!!!!

When I think of tequila back in my younger days, one word keeps popping up into my head.  SHOTS!! dude SHOTS!!

The second though is a trip I took down to Mexico in my youth with my family, to escape a cold Canadian winter and spend time in a country where we could get out of our comfort zone and enjoy some better weather.  But we loved it, and getting away from a cold Canadian winter is key if you can, and your last thought is how great the booze tastes.

In the end my memory of tequila and youth is one of manufactured falsities, one where sowing your oats involved picking a drink based on your pre-conceived notions of what taste and perhaps manhood meant.  Does this tequila have the worm in the bottle?  I asked my friend in my youthful days.. oh ho ho no it doesn't... that's not the real stuff.  At a sand bar on the beach in a typical tourist trap, a drunken man came up to me and told me in his experienced wisdom.. "the only good tequila...(hic) is the gold stuff".  Which is about as useful information as the best beer is the one's that are brown.  In the end I take that drunken retired and highly inebriated man's wisdom with a grain of salt now in my older years.  Mostly cause he left the bar with a tab that went down with a paper strip to his ankles.

I felt like I graduated when I would order tequila sunrises at the bars as a young twenty something.  Yup fake grenadine, cheap orange juice, and you guessed it... cheap tequila.  Cheap tequila is simply known as mixtos.  And mixtos for most people, is what your life is introduced with for tequila.  

The reality is, true tequila, is like a fine wine.  Really good tequila can be aged like a great whiskey, be served with care, and caressed like a true lover when it is 100% agave.  I had a premonition of this many years ago when I went to a restaurant in DC called Oyamel.  

I fell in love with Jose Andres creations, having eaten at Jaleo.  When I visited Oyamel back in the day, I discovered tequila in ways I could only dream.  There were flights, just like glasses of wine.  Mostly though, it was the taste that emanated from them.  They rolled like great whiskeys of oak and vanilla, some had honey and chocolate.  Sometimes their palate was velvety, tequila was something really impressive.  It was time for a return.

I returned to Oyamel for a taste of fancy.  The first picture was what I had first, a simple tasting flight of blanco tequilas.  The first was Siembra Azul a mild salt nose and faint hint of cocoa, tasting simple and warming with a muted presence.  Next was a Domain Charbay produced tequila which had an incredible salt and briney nose.  I was blown away even tasting basic silvers/blancos that had salt sensations on the nose.  It's as if the salt you had to lick for your shots were not even needed.

With Domain a huge grass finish came out and a warming giant bump on the swallow.  Third and next to come for the Oyamel Blancos flight was Casa Noble.  Nose brought a faint sour lemon and still some mild salt.  Finish brings on the palate much of what was on the nose but also some black pepper and mild lime.

Strangely enough the silvers/blancos/plata whatever you wish to call them, didn't provide me personally with much a flavor profile.  Chamomile?  Orange?  not so much.  Things changed a bit when I went for a flight of rare and collectible which included a mezcal, the first mezcal I have ever had.

The first in the rare was a Casa Dragones another blanco.  Strangely, the blancos as enjoyable as they were, just were not grabbing my attention.  Another salty nose, and salty palate but this one finished with a real impressive mild sugar sweetness.  Still I was wondering where my tequila dreams would return?

The next was Jose Cuervo "Reserva de la Familia".  Notes for me personaly on the nose brought a most impressive blanco.  Mild floral notes mixed with a sense of grass and nut.  In the palate it had a wonderful texture, creamy, sensing of vanilla condensed milk and a herbal finish particularly mixing with the sangrita on the side.

Did I mention the sangrita jalisco?  House made, a mixture of peppers, chile pecin, grapefruit, lime, citrus and blood orange juices.  It really was an impressive combination with the tequilas.

Not to be out done, I had my first mezcal, and without question, it was memorable.

Del Maguey "Pechuga", is something I can truly say to this day I have never in my life ever had anything like. Limited to only 650 bottles, and distilled with among other things... hanging chicken breast.  Say what??!?  No I am not making this up. Nose hits with a smoke bomb, nearing a whiskey peat fire.  Sweetness comes in the smoke flaring nostrils, orange, dried citrus peel.  This one on the nose is a big winner, I have never had a sensory experience like this before and I'll never forget, chicken or not.

Taste however got into a giant almost tannic oak monster whiskey barrel sensation.  Wooden, splintery, and also unfortunatley a huge blast of novocaine and phenolic like numbing on the finish.  Luckily the sangrita with this mellowed out the palate and brought more of the nose out.

Still I was trying to find my tequila niche, and then I remembered, all tequila, is not clear, some is truly like liquid gold.  Pehaps that old man who was downing cheap tequila was on to something?  I decided to get a recommendation for an añejo style tequila, and was recommended Casa Noble, and thank the tequila gods it came up.

A wonderful brass and amber body, compliments a most wonderful nose.  Milk chocolate, powdered cocoa, and vanilla abound.  Yes this is tequila, and boy is it amazing.

It has a wonderful amber bronze body, a nose bursting with chocolate notes, and sea salt (I love  sea salt and chocolate together).  Tastes incredibly mellow, rich oak and soft grass mixing with chocolate and some butter in a nice memorable dance.  Finish is wonderful with a great warmth but no trace of serious heat or even alcohol burn.  

It seems I found my tequila niche.  It just might be añejo.  I think I need more aged tequila, just like a fine wine, and lord knows, I don't need any more shots to entertain me.  But it looks like I am honed in on aged tequila.  More please!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

ZOMBIES ATTACK - and the horror cult that is Three Floyds

There have been many breweries that have emerged from the scenes of the craft beer drinking masses.  It seems us beer drinkers sometimes want more interesting beers, and more choices.  If there is one brewery that has stood out since it’s inception in 1996, it would be Three Floyd’s out of Munster Indiana.

Three Floyd’s was started by two brothers in 1996 in Hammond originally, but soon grew with increased demand in 2000 to their new home in Munster.  Like many breweries word seemed to travel, their beers became highly desirable.  The brewery also has a limited distribution depending on where you live.  Good beer is one part of the equation and we all have our opinions on what we like, but one thing that seems to be unique about three Floyd’s is their image.

I spent some time hearing about the brewery talking to a few beer geeks who raved about their unique take on styles.  With some footwork I acquired a few bottles of their beers and had to admit I was quite impressed with their taste, but more striking was their labeling.  Glancing at a bottle of Gumballhead, a scary demented yellow character of a Looney Tunes tweety bird reject stared back at me wanting to pick a fight.  Another bottle of Alpha King Pale Ale had a mad Neptune like character swirled around with big artist rendering, as did Dreadnaught with what looked like a manic British general dancing around in front of the Taj Mahal.

Art work and neat graphics are fun, and everything about the artwork and the characters that grace the bottles of this brewery hints at a group of creative attitudes, but also some sense that there’s a bit of mad scientist working behind that Munster curtain.  It seems to be a working formula for the brewers, as their brand had reached what one could call a fanatical devotion.

Still as much as I have never stepped foot in their brewpub (currently), I have always wanted to try more of their beers, to romp in the fun and mania that is Three Floyds.  Checking out some of the laws for shipping to my state I was able to get a shipment from a store in Chicago for some Three Floyd’s beers.  When I called to place the order they actually just received a beer that normally flies off the shelf, and that was a pale ale called Zombie Dust.

Zombie Dust, almost a take on fairy dust for the demented.  The imagination that is Three Floyd’s is truly quite unlimited.  The beer is a very desired pale ale.  The brewers decided to bottle this beer year round due to the raves of their fans who had it.  When it is produced it goes fast. I was able to get a hold of some and try it out.  To see more about it click the video below.  Cheers!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Beer and bargains, playing is half the fun, but time waits for no thirsty man

DC Brau's Stone of Arbroath at Bier Baron
DC Brau's Stone of Arbroath at Bier Baron
There are two things that you can't get away from when going out to enjoy good beer.  One is that you will be able to have beer on tap which is something you can't do at home (unless you have your own home bar and kegerator).  The second is, usually you will be spending more money, particularly when it comes to drinking non macro produced brews.

For me, drinking beer in the DC area can be expensive, that is why I was so excited in early April to read about a promotion that was going on for neighborhood bars and restaurants.

The Washington Post had an article about a passport that you could get to promote DC beer week. You buy a small badge for $10 dollars, visit the venues and you could get certain discounts.  The deals on beer varied from venue to venue.  Churchkey for example, had a promotion for the badge to have half off any cask beer on Mondays.  It was obvious when I looked at the offer the badge price would be quickly compensated for the deals that were offered.  The real kicker was that if you visited all of the places in your passport, you would get stamped, and could enter your passport in a drawing.  15 winners would get a $50 dollar gift certificate to 1 of the 15 bars, and... wait for it... 1 grand prize for $50 gift certificates to.. ALL OF THEM.  Looking at the list there were many venues I was quite often a visitor, some that I had not visited in some time, and some that I have never been to.  It was time to move post haste and get my badge and earn the prize... or... not.  Perhaps it is of no use to mention this deal now, since the end of April is upon us, but if I could make one saving grace to tell you about this promotion, it is that I have not got a chance to grab the brass ring.  But I tried!!  and found also some real new interesting things along the way.

Nugget Nectar at Churchkey
Nugget Nectar at Churchkey
The first place I thought of going to was an obvious one and that was Churchkey.  I am at this place often, and it is no stranger to anyone in the DC area as a premier destination for beer.  Here is a place to chase 40 taps and a bottle list that fits in a huge binder.  If you are a beer nut/geek/dork/freak, you need to visit.  It was also one visit here that during my passport hunt I met someone I will refer to as only "The Man".

"The Man", like myself, is a guy who comes into Churchkey with pen and paper in hand to review, not unlike me and many other beer reviewers.  There is one exception. "The Man" is retired, he's also much older than myself and is up to nearly 10,000 personal reviews of beers.  Striking a conversation with him we could talk about beers till we were blue in the face.  The hardest part, was he wouldn't let me leave!  Needless to say, I still had to figure out how to get to all these other places on my passport.  Me and "the man's" path I am sure will cross again.

Meridian Pint was a no brainer, It's often in between my work and on the way home so that was no big deal.  The Dupont Circle area was close to my area for work for after tipples that fit places like Pizza Paradiso, Kramers, Bier Baron  and so forth.  A few spot places could also be managed.  But how was I going to do the rest?  It was obvious that a good chunk involved a return trip to the Adams Morgan neighborhood.  The last time I was there to imbibe was during my last bachelor party which should put things into perspective, and will be a story I won't dare repeat here.  So what's new in Adams Morgan 7-8 years later?

Jack Rose bar
One of three walls of Jack Rose
I went to a place that never existed back in the day called Jack Rose.  Upon walking in, my eyes nearly exploded.  Rows, and ROWS and ROWS lined the shelves filled with mostly whiskey bottles.  I was rather stunned to see so many bottles on display, it was a physical library of whiskey.  I grabbed a seat though thinking about what beer to have, and more importantly, if the beer selection would be just an afterthought to the whiskey choices offered here.  With 20 choices on tap and a quick glance of the handles my mind was made up in an instant.
Aecht Schlenkerla Eiche on tap at Jack Rose
Schlenkerla Eiche on tap at Jack Rose
Peering out was a familiar name, and more so, it's name on a distinct green background that makes me drool everytime on first sight, that beer name is Aecht Schlenkerla Eiche, their oak smoked rauchbier.  I love this beer to death.

The tap list here at Jack Rose seems to focus on malty offerings, a Smoked and Oaked Epic beer popped out as well.  No doubt the offerings here at Jack Rose are bent to hit on the whiskey smokiness offerings, and the beers seem to hint at dark richness focusing on malt and smoke.  It is a place that I need to visit again.  A quick chat of the bartender mentioned that the place has the largest whiskey selection in the United States.  I really need to return...

Summer Solstice - Anderson Valley at Smoke & Barrel
Smoke & Barrel was another place I visited that is also new.  This place was a mystery to me at first, and it sort uh... made me wonder what happened to the old Asylum that use to be around here?  I quickly forgot settling in with a familiar favorite cream ale from Anderson Valley, their Summer Solstice.  Really nice atmosphere, and very friendly staff was what I left with for an impression.  The place contains BBQ but I did not have any when I visited at the time.

Tryst tap shot and staff photos in Adams Morgan
Being in Adams Morgan reminded me for an overdue visit to a place I always think of, but never get a chance to visit as much as I would like and that is Tryst.  A great coffee house, it has had what I would consider a very noticeable make over since my last visit.  Where is all the ratty ripped furniture?  Woah these walls are actually painted (and cleaner).  Still the portraits on the wall of the coffee staff are still there, this time against a clean yellow creme background.  I still get a kick out of the one guy who has a cup of joe over his groin, the camera angle posed and shot to make it look like he's a pic right of an ... ahem... porno mag.  Hey your espresso isn't THAT big buddy... ;)

Espresso at Tryst
Espresso at Tryst
I was surprised they were participating in the promotion for beer, I couldn't even remember if they even served beer back in the day?

Still, I took a breather and had of course great coffee. I almost forgot one of my favorite touches they have when they serve, and that is, animal crackers on your saucer.  Even though I didn't have any alcohol they still stamped my passport which was nice, remarking that it was yellow and VERY hard to see.

The Totality Incomplete
The totality incomplete
Still, after all this time adventuring, I am still not finished.  Time has nearly run out, and even the budget with the discount hasn't quite made it happen.  Technically of this writing I could "still" complete this passport but I am down to four places.  One is in my favorite DC neighborhood of H ST NE, called Granville Moore's.  Another is the District Chophouse that servers a nice side of corn bread in a cast iron skillet the size of your face.  The Big Hunt, while also in the Dupont neighborhood has always eluded me...  But as I understand it, when May 1st comes time is up for the passport.

I suppose.. and I say this with all hypothetical possibilities cause what I am about to say next is "technically" possible... BUT.. I could visit all of the four remaining places within the next 48 hours.

Somehow though the time and the funds always seem to run out, but the good beer and places in DC never does.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Return to form, the bar is back and open, flying high with an Aviation cocktail

The bar is back.  While I was in between houses, I got stuck with lots of my wares in boxes.  The bar was one such thing.

Time waits for no one.  There is a saying that whiskey never keeps. But the reality is that nothing should be locked up that you wouldn't want to share it's greatness.

I decided after setting up the bar that I needed an introductory cocktail to christen it if you will.  Any what a perfect cocktail to debut than the Aviation.

The Aviation cocktail uses a real unique ingredient called Crème de Violette, a liqueur made and described as capturing the fragrance of the native Austrian wildflowers of Queen Charlotte and March Violets.  Pouring and making this drink is truly like soaring high.  Shaken with lemon juice a whispy cloud hits but gives the colors of streaking gray and blue, and violent tinges.  With this drink you will want to climb high, and never come down.

I also decided with the inaugural bar initiation to make a discussion on what a proper cocktail glass should be. To learn more on how to make this drink, and to also see a little bit of what I call cocktail glass 101, check out the video below.


Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter and beer, and a fun seasonal from Het Anker

When it comes to Easter, my first thoughts go to what I am having for dinner.  Being that I grew up just having excuses to cook a big meal on holidays that I was never exactly "one to observe" so to speak, I was never one to complain.  Holidays meant an excuse to eat and drink well, no matter your disposition.

However, I got quite bored and even more disgusted with the signature disk on Easter and that is of ham.

Ham I grew up with was the typical overly pink, water injected, and as I soon experienced coming to the DC area, can be hell on earth that is salty.  One Christmas I went hole hog into it and bought what I and my family will only refer to as "the salt lick" of death.  Long story short, it was a Christmas ham I wish I could forget.  "You making another Mongolian salt mine again?!" my dad sent in his email when I told him the plans I had.  If there was anything it would have to be the amount of ridicule that probably got me more motivated. I refused to be mocked, I wanted revenge on this beast, I am going to destroy this ham!

I went for it again this Easter, while in the back of my thoughts I was thinking duck... just so I could be different.  Since a duck around this time let alone a good one is probably not the most easiest to acquire, and pork was in abundance, ham just made me cave in.  My mind panicked as to how badly I would either, a) Hate this thing with strong compassion or b) how badly I would screw this up.

I grabbed a good ham from my organic farmer's market, a Mulefoot butt roast.  Huge hunk of meat, and also a huge hunk out of my wallet.  I figured this is a real bad way to screw up an expensive piece of meat at $9.99 a pound.  Examining the picture I'll let you guess how much that thing weighed (then do the math).

I closed my eyes and handed over my credit card, dreaming of the glaze that would come, the oven that could handle it, and the salt lick past ready to bury into oblivion.

A few hours of prep the day before (scoring the ham and a bit of marinating, the next daya glazing of honey and mustard and vinegar, smoke that filled my house for 30 minutes as I seared it for 20 minutes at 425 first before turning it down, I had lift off, once my instant read thermometer took nearly 4 hours to get to a good internal temperature.  ARE WE DONE YET?? I kept asking myself while friends nibbled on a turkish meze of celery root and carrots with homemade pita bread my wife made.  The die was cast, WE EAT NOW!  Friends could partake, and boy did we ever.

Pictured left was a big dent we put in it, as the jewels of fat glistened everywhere.  I grabbed my latest gadget, an electric carving knife.  My god this is my favorite kitchen items and would describe it as the best tool ever in a kitchen.  Nothing makes a man feel like a man after 4 hours of slaving a hot roast, having fat burned on your arms, lifting a giant pan, and ripping into the beast with a chainsaw to extract a hard slaving work of cooking and basting.

Along with all the food I also took part in enjoying an Easter Ale beer from Het Anker, which is a seasonal beer released specifically around this time.

Wonderful match and interesting take on a Belgian Strong Dark Ale.  Malty but also a big candy licorice and perhaps even some mint and menthol like action on the finish.  Certainly an interesting beer to imbibe on Easter.

But nope, not done.  Enter crepes again and for Easter more beer.

Chimay Bleu rounded out the evening of some beer imbibing fun.  These crepes I didn't actually prepare myself, it was from our friend (who also added Noir dark chocolate hazelnut spread from Belgium too).

Beer and Easter just works in the most peculiar way I must admit.  Now I have 8 days of ham to eat for left over.  Pork... so dam good, and take that SALT LICK!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Enjoying passions, one thing at a time. After the ride with Throttler magazine

Riding motorcycles.

I am by no means the best rider on the planet, or even the most experienced, but one thing I always wanted was a bike.  After eventually learning how to ride one through the MSF, I discovered that drinking and riding was a no go.  A real NO GO.  But that didn't mean I couldn't combine my passions the correct way.

I eventually got enough experience to take longer rides, and with a goal in mind once luggage became the ultimate cool accessory, (more so than a Yoshi Pipe) I found myself riding to vineyards in Virginia at times, checking out scenic trails and the fantastic Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park.  I would find myself more in the scene, glancing at rolling green hills, old mountains of the Appalachia, chances to partake of fresh fruit, wine tasting (spitting), the sun shined as if the day would never end.  Then someone came calling.

I received an invitation to write for a motorcycle magazine called Throttler.  I've actually written my first article, and if you check the link up above you can see the article I wrote.

Throttler magazine is published out of Iowa, it's free if you find a copy at a local dealership where it might be distributed.  The articles deal with a ride variety of motorcycle culture so please go check it out.

One last obvious thing, don't drink and ride EVER, that means ZERO CONSUMPTION while riding.  Stick to the formula and you get to ride again.  (You'll notice that all my bottles in this pics are of course UN-OPENED!)  Even better yet... you'll have another drink when you're done!

Cheers and ride safe and smart, and then...

Drink well!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Breakfast and beer, Belgian Crêpes make it happen

I love crêpes to death.  As a young kid raised on loving pancakes with maple syrup and butter, my mom would make crêpes mostly on Christmas Eve as a special treat.  As I got older my sweet tooth really disappeared (probably because I had 8 cavities and root canal by the time I was 12) and I would love stuffing crêpes with ham, cheese, shrimp and seafood.  There is no limit to the imagination what you can stick in a crêpe.  But better yet why not use beer to make them?

I came across a Belgian crêpe recipe in the Washington Post, and used a great Belgian Pale Ale called Troubadour Blond to make them with.  Watch the video below to see how you can make these wonderful tasty breakfast meal.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Rum punch challenge in Alexandria, brings another visit with Bacardi

 "This smells awful, what was this?... Bacardi Superior, wow shocking, and if I can help it I am never having this light rum again". - July 7th 2010 - concluding my own personal blind light rum tasting.

When I first started this blog and video channel, it came out of a necessity to really examine what I was drinking and to have some balance between seriousness and fun.  As time has gone on I've learned quite a bit, and it's always interesting to revisit past tastes.  When I think of Bacardi I can only think of one thing, and that is of course rum.  They are the largest distiller on the planet and make ubiquitous products for easy consumption in my opinion.  Most of their really good stuff is impossible to get or just flat out unheard of (I can think of ONE product).  I sort of think of them as the Anheuser Busch - InBev of the rum world.  However, I was given another opportunity to spend some more time with Bacardi in a historic setting, in what looked like an excuse more than anything to also have a good time.  It was almost 2 years since the last visit with the bat himself for me.

There was an event in Old Town Alexandria VA that was being held at Gadsby's Tavern, a historic place which was built in 1785 (with the adjacent hotel coming in 1792, check out the website link for the fabulous history of this place).  It was here that the 8th annual Rum Punch challenge was being held.  Punch?! I asked myself..  Could I go drink 6 different rum punches, complete with catered food snacks, judge the entries made by local restraunters and vote on who was the best?  I think I needed to pay a visit, as many others did the same.

I arrived with a good group of friends, was presented with a solid rocks glass, 5 tickets which represented 5 votes to enter for each punch I thought was worth it's weight in salt (or in this case rum!), and of course came with thirst and desire. With a historic setting and friends and some simple eats what was not to enjoy?  So how did the punches turn out?  They went as follows in the order I tried them.

The first one I tried was "Jones Point Punch" from the actual Gadsby's Tavern Restaurant.  Using Bacardi Select Dark, the punch didn't have the sense of dark rum to it to me.  It was memorable in how I always associated punch, kind of fruity, summery.  There was a good amount of fruit in this one, somehow it really tasted like pineapple juice too much to me.  However, as nice as it was it didn't really grab me.
Onward hoe!  For there would be much more, taking in a great open space that also serves as a ballroom.  The second punch was also with Bacardi Select Dark but went for a different angle.  The darkest of all the punches served, this was the "Queen Anne's Revenge" made by FireFlies restaurant.  Here they went for a dark molasses angle, spices, and ingredients that were often quite extensive, that many times I couldn't remember them all.  It was very much heavy on molasses, but not thick.  Burnt brown spiced edges of cinnamon, warm, charring, quite delicious.  I imagined myself having this punch nestled up in front of a fireplace on a cold winter night, perhaps not the angle we think of for punch, but it was I thought a very unique and fantastic creation.

After two punches it was obvious to me that there was some good thought that was going into these punches.  Rum punch is actually one of the classic serving summer cool downs of yore.  Much of it was consumed here in George Washington's day.

Our third contestant was Bittersweet's "Pomander punch".  After taking another happy dip, my grove started to hit, or perhaps it was the merriment of enjoying fireplace and molasses like punch tickling my fancy.  Here we dove in.  This punch out of all the ones I had, had the best smell.  The nose on this was a glorious orange and clove bouquet, hints of floral, extremely airy.  It was fairly solid in taste as well, but also kind of a classic fruity punch.  Very impressive, but.. I think I was looking for something unique.

After three punches I was beginning to think of the angles each participant was going for.  Should they go for something fruit and basic?  Or were there going to be more things challenging unexpected??

I headed to another corner and saw the "isla besos" ("island kisses"??) from RedRocks.  My eye glanced to the Bacardi Select Dark, and then saw the ubiquitous Superior.  Yeah I remember you... we didn't get along so well last time did we?  However, I was beginning to notice that Bacardi's rums mixed pretty well in punch with a slew of ingredients quite nicely so far.  Would I want to take a 80 dollar bottle of Agricole rhum and dump it in for punch?  Probably not.  The island kisses punch was.. well it was pink, and slushy in appearance.  Served with a message in the bottle (which later contained a coupon, but boy was it hard to get that message out!).  I thought I finally had some time to relax and talk to the participants, and so I began asking questions.  Before I took a sip I asked, "so what's in this?".

I got a bunch of ingredients listed that were very unexpected.  Strawberry puree, agave nectar, the two rums of course, some club soda, honey (I think?), and some jalapeno for kick.  Wait.. did he say jalapeno?

I quickly grabbed a good chug.  But I was sort of jealous that I asked what was in it before tasting, for I would have been even more surprised I do think.  Yup you heard that right, strawberry backbone with a sweet rum kick, mixing some syrup sweetness and this just right peppery green punch from the jalapenos.  Talk about a unique creation, and I DON'T LIKE STRAWBERRIES! but was VERY impressed by this one.  Someone here was making something unique, someone did some serious homework here, and everything was balanced nicely.  However, it was a big risk to make a punch like this, it was so different and was probably going to rub some people the wrong way.  This was a polarizing punch for sure.  But that's what you have to do some times you have to take a chance.  This was my other personal favorite, a summer beat the heat punch with pepper kick and fruit, just great.

Still reveling in the rum punch tales, the ice house slew that was attached to the tavern back in the day to keep the punch as cold as possible during those swampy 18th century nights, I saw a familiar sign or should I say fish, and in a punch bowl too.  Dogfish Head.  The brewery!  THE DOGFISH HEAD BREWERY IS HERE!!  I was ready to see if Sam was under the table, and my mind started racing as the beer geek in me was ready to explode out.  Palo Santo and Dark rum!  What about Noble rot and something?  okay wait a minute calm down now... I don't think punch is going to have BEER in it (not that you couldn't try), but this was a rum night dude. Then I forgot...  Dogfish makes rum!  I even remembered I have their rum at home.

The punch they offered was "Alison's Folly", a punch made with Dogfish Head's small batch Spiced Wit Rum.  I actually have a bottle of this orange peel and coriander made rum at home and it's quite nice.  I totally forgot they make spirits also besides beer, and I am also a big fan of their Honey Brown rum too.  However, the punch while certainly decent was rather basic, and not unlike the other two fruit punches I already had.  Unfortunately, those punches were also a little better than this.  The rum angle of the orange and the sense of the Wit Rum just did not come out here.  It was subtle and nice, lingering, delicious, but I knew it wasn't going to win amongst some of the other contenders.  I actually prefer this rum not to be mixed with anything.  They made a solid punch but it was not a favorite of mine for the night.

Speaking of rum, there was a new product that was being offered by Bacardi that was in two of the punches.  One was in the Pomander, the other in the next and last punch I tried the "Oak Ball Punch" with a new rum from Bacardi called Oakheart Spiced.  

I looked at the bottle, 35% alcohol (which would make it 70 proof).  The punch was pear based, and had a very large oak vanilla nose to it.  The smell was actually quite nice, with a faint caramel hiding.  Once again though with a pear base it was more of the classic fruity punch angle going on and not seeming to bring much of the taste out for the punch.

I asked a server if I could try the rum just by itself which I could.  It had that similar great vanilla nose, but even at 70 proof the rum had that harsh varnishy quality, not unlike the superior of days past, also had next to nothing texture wise.  It really did not taste good by itself.

So with all punches taken and imbibed, I had to decide on favorites.  It was clear that two punches stood out for me, and both felt seasonal.  One seemed right for winter, the other for a hot summer day.  I took 2 of my 5 tickets giving two votes to both "isla besos" and "Queen Anne's Revenge". I threw my last vote into "Pomander" mostly cause of all the other punches it has the best bouquet.

Votes were tallyed by all who attended, with a runner up and first place announced.  The runner up was....

Gadsby's Tavern and their Jone's Point Punch.

The winner of the best punch competition was:

Pomander Punch by Bittersweet.

So in the end my favorites didn't get it, but we all seemed to have a good time trying all the different concoctions.  I sat in the hallway on break and had a good chat with an older guy about the history of the tavern and Alexandria (the first place I lived in when I came to DC).  Full of tales of George Washington slept here, and ghosts that allegedly roamed the nearby cemeteries, there was good punch to be had for all who wanted.  As the town criers finished (that's our crier with a friend of mine in the photo) their announcements, we all settled home safely knowing that rum has a good place even if it is from Bacardi.

There's no question, all the punches made tonight were far better than the Cava version I made myself ;)

Gadsby's rum punch challenge offers a well planned out, executed and fun night of merriment.  Food doesn't run out, punches are out with no losers, and with it all comes with a great piece of historic setting that makes rum punch the center piece and star.  I don't think I'd want to have rum punch anywhere else in the world.