Imbibe Hour


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Drinking in Paradise, island of Kauai offers more than just scenic beauty.

Manawaiopuna Falls
 It's not every day in my life that I get to see or do something special.  Familiar terrain, the common pace of life, the work routine while sustainable becomes all too ordinary and often boring. In order to break out of this mold I tend to do things that give me experiences that have to be different to all my senses.  Food and drink has provided a good outlet for that, and I discovered early on that it is more enjoyable when traveling.

So what better way to experience such a change to my senses than going to what people described to me as paradise.  Where was paradise?  I asked a few good friends I knew.  Many had said it's in Hawaii, but more specifically on the "Garden Island" as it is known called Kauai.

Kauai is one of the smaller islands of Hawaii, with a population of about 70,000 people.  It is filled with gorgeous scenery from an intense wet climate, birds and flowers full of color that you wont see anywhere else, and then surrounded by a gorgeous ocean and numerous beaches that feel like walking on the softest corn meal you have ever set foot on.

Repeated words and phrases kept coming up when I spoke with people about the place.  "Best Island".  "Paradise on Earth".  "Utopia".  "Intensely Green".  "Perfect".  Sounded like a perfect place for a vacation I thought, but what about the drink?  I of course also thought about the food (which by the way I strongly suggest you stick to lunch and street side trucks and shacks where it excels far beyond waitered table service but that's another story...), but was there good drinking also in paradise?  I am happy to report that there is.

The irony though when you first visit Kauai, is that the last thing you want to think about is food and drink.  Your senses are immediately drawn to what you see first as smells and taste take a backseat.  I also noticed that island culture here is really drawn to outdoor activity.  People are up early and in the water doing everything imaginable, surfing, snorkeling, fishing, kite boarding.. you name it.  It seemed like the last thing people wanted to do was care about food and drink.  But not our hero.  Why can't you have the best of both worlds?  And in many ways you can.

Shortly after I landed I found myself shopping for beer.  What irony and priorities huh?  
After a few short local trips it didn't take me long to find out that there was not much selection, but was happy to find that Deschutes is distributed here and was quite common.  Deschutes is one of my personal favorite breweries.  They are from Oregon and their beers are not available where I live. How nice it is to have with ample chances to get Inversion IPA and Mirror Pond while palm trees, lush beaches and perfect weather days surround you everywhere?  Pretty darn good I say, in fact I even found their winter seasonal here, but drinking a winter seasonal in this warm place during December probably would have ravaged the tiki gods and punished me in ways that I couldn't imagine.  It just seemed very wrong so I stuck with the IPA.

Besides some occasional beer found in markets, the island believe it or not actually has two breweries.  One of them is Kauai Island Brewing Company who is just outside the town of Hanapepe.

Pakala Porter
I tried several of their beers, and they pretty much pass the test for enjoyment. One of the things the brewery offers here is a pretty good selection of styles ranging from Ambers, Browns, Fruit Ales (using local Lilikoi fruit), Porter and IPAs.  Captain Cook's IPA was easily my favorite of the bunch, and while not a beer geeks wet dream, the beer has a very distinct and wonderful bursting tropical nose.  The tropical smell from this brew seemed so perfect for the islands setting.  Pakala Porter is also quite decent as well, with lots of coffee roasting rich qualities.

Not to be outdone also, is Kauai Beer Company, which is located on the Eastern area of the island in Lihue.
Kauai Beer Company's lineup
It's actually very close to the airport, so if you get a hankering for some beer right when you land, this is short drive up Rice St not far away.  The place has a classic brewery tasting room welcoming vibe, with lots of open seating, large flags hanging from the ceiling, a window that shows the breweries workings from behind the bar, and a gorgeous large piece of Norfolk pine that accents the bar.

Unlike Kauai Island Brewing, Kauai Beer Co. focuses on German styles of beer and specifically lagers.
 There are only about 5 beers in their lineup, with 2 guest taps, but it is the Munich Helles styles that the brewer here has done their best work in.  While the brewery does make a Marzen and Schwarzbier that go for malt caramel and roasty qualities, their simple take on Munich Helles with beers like Helles Swelles and Lihue Lager are just done so well.  A decent dense malt bill, with light toasty white bread finish and bakery aromas and aftertaste showcase on the palate.  They make for easy drinking and could even convert regular macro drinkers over in my opinion.

Still drinking in Kauai does not exclusively mean beer.  On a trip to a local market, an interesting product was on the shelves, a dark glowing blue labelled bottle that appeared to look like Blue Nun wine.  Going out of your way for Blue Nun in Hawaii?  Hell no!  Kauai has a local meadery called Nani Moon Mead that makes tropical honey wines.
Mead is essentially a wine like beverage derived primarily from honey.  The honey used at Nani Moon is local to the island, with many of the other ingredients being local tropical fruit, cacao, and other spices.  I tried two products one called Cacao Moon, a mead made with local cacao, vanilla beans and macadamia nut blossom honey.

Excellent vanilla notes, with some chocolate character however, it's honey character and mix of flavors seem to clash a bit for my personal tastes.  A better option I enjoyed was the Winter Sun which is made with local wildflower honey, starfruit, and lilikoi.
It pairs really nicely with food as I grabbed some local shrimp, shoyu poke, and super fresh ripe avocado.  A bit of marinating on the grill, and then just simple avocados which were in season (they were incredibly fresh and perfect), it worked as a nice fruity wine for dinner.

But life would not be complete for an island drink adventure if there was no rum.  Luckily Kauai provides this as well.  The Koala Rum company uses tall cane sugar from the islands and currently has 5 rum products.
Their coconut rum is quite appealing, not overly sweet or saccharine tasting, but comes with a great toasty and creamy flavor.  The real treat however is Koala's dark rum, which has incredible tasting flavors of coffee and bitter dark chocolate.
It was one of the more unique rums I have had, and was quite impressed how flavorful it was to just drink it neat.  Tourists and locals joined us in the tasting room with a good feel and sense of camaraderie.  "I work about 10 minutes away, and been living here for 6 years, I've never heard of this place." said one woman at the counter.  "Well come in anytime you like and have a shot with us!" said the young man behind the counter.

Now that's one great work schedule if you ask me.

So if you can pull yourself away from majestic sea turtles, helicopter tours, and suntanning on the beach, you can find inside some real treats on this Garden Island.  After all, as we shared stories of island beauty with sips of rum, beer, and mead with others in between, what better way to experience paradise?  Truly the best of both worlds.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Goose Island Migration Event comes full circle for me, or how I finally slayed the green dragon and the journey to get there.

Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout being served
I haven't written anything in some time and I was wondering if there would be a good opportunity to talk about drink having been busy writing and doing more reviews of beer and other drinks online than actually just blogging.  However, an unforeseen event event came to town recently that provided me a real good opportunity.  Sure there have been a myriad of beer events that I have been to in the past several years, but this event hearkened back to reminders and desires of when I first really started taking beer more seriously and started noticing that there was truly something special going on.

I received an email mentioning an event called Goose Island Migration week that was to take place in Washington D.C. from the well known Goose Island brewery.  Long story short, a few local places and favorite beer stomping grounds of mine such as Churchkey and Meridian Pint were going to have some nice Goose Island beers to be purchased, including many that are highly rated, coveted, and no longer being made. 

I have been lucky to have had many of these beers from Goose Island, a combination of diligent hunting, willful spending, and to some degree just plain dumb luck.  Many of them have also been featured on my YouTube ImbibeHour Channel.

I always loved beer but 3 years ago, a discovery of Bourbon County Brand Stout changed my life.  There was this brewery taking one of my favorite spirits (bourbon) and making beer from it's barrels, and the results shocked me.  More so, they made a beer that would become an iconic piece of history, a barrel aged bourbon barrel beer from 23yr old bourbon barrels that used to hold Pappy Van Winkle bourbon whiskey.  It was simply called Rare Bourbon County Stout.

Here is where the story flashes back.  Before the advent of so called "craft" beer, and the explosion it has taken since then, Rare was a beer that was only on a few enthusiasts minds.  Since that time, craft beer and beers like Rare have exploded in popularity.  In short Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout has become an iconic legend.  I remember that while I didn't seek it out at its release, I thought $40 dollars for a bottle of it seemed ridiculous at the time, around the time I made the video above.  Forty dollars?  Heck I could buy actual real good bourbon for that much, maybe even a couple of Weller's.

Fast forward to now nearly 2000 reviewed beers since, I still thought of this beer.  Even with all the great ones that came before it to this day, I kicked myself in the head thinking I really missed out on a great opportunity.  Could a, should a, would a, done it.. grabbed that iconic green bottle when I had a chance.  I even realized that 40 or so dollars for that beer, was in my opinion, an insane bargain.

I felt this was one of those multitude of beers I would never get a chance to have then out of nowhere Goose Island came to town..

Bourbon Count Brand Vanilla Stout 2010.
Nestled in the back of my head was a trip down memory lane.  The Goose Island brewery came to town bring gifts of lore,  King Henry, non existent versions of regular Vanilla Bourbon County Stout.  Other beers showed up, along with Cherry Rye, and other classics including Matilda, even a brett version of Matilda. 

The other popular mainstays were also here, and you could easily try them.

2010 Vanilla had to be first for myself, having missed it in the past along with Rare. The classic bourbon county brand stout flavors still remained, thick and lush, with a nice creamy texutre.  Molasses, chocolate, coffee, oak, and warmth, all the classic notes of a well aged barrel aged beer were here.  However, it did seem like the vanilla was muted on the nose, and missing quite a bit in the taste.

Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout
At this point I was already pretty darn happy about what I was experiencing.  Other beer fans I knew were at the event and we basically were all enjoying ourselves quite a bit, but there was the buzz that we all knew that Rare had to be around the corner.  Indeed it was, more of an afterthought than a surprise as most of us saw the staff while waiting out in line with a box of Rare being carried into the bar.

There was no way I was going to be able to have an entire bottle for myself, although if I could, believe me.. I would.  Small pours were handed out by the staff so that at least everyone who came, could get a taste.  So what's the verdict?

A mixed bag.  The nose is exquisite unlike any other whiskey barrel aged brew I've had.  The nose screams of toasty oak and large tobacco notes, with the woody angles going from cedar, to barrel char, and with the woody sensations giving a cigar box quality.  It's one of the most perfect examples of a whiskey barrel aged beer I've had.  Then the taste follows nicely on all the right places, but then on first quaff, my mind raced with the library of hundreds of other beers I had before this one for comparison and one thing became obvious.  Even while getting to enjoy the delicacy of this beer, I felt I was still too late to the party.  In short, Rare felt past its prime, and I had missed it's pinnacle, but at least I got to slay the green dragon as I liked to call it.

I thought I would take some time out and talk about what it takes to get to this point, and more importantly the advice on going after best desirable beers, since this event really reminded me how much I've changed over the years, and the beers that have followed since then.  Taking these points into consideration will make your experience truly more enjoyable.

Seek and enjoy the chase.

The experience of tasting beer over a long time is a fascinating journey, and it is full of many highs and lows, but the vast majority of the results are very positive.  Everything comes around full circle, and there was no perfect example of this than my 3-4 years of wanting to try and eventually taste Rare Bourbon County. The desire for the ultimate beer, or the perfect tasting beer, is never ending.  Often it's the anticipation of what will might happen that is even more exciting than the actual taste.  Some feel that this beer or that beer is the perfect beer, end of story.  But it should never be that simple.  If it was why would you want to bother with any other beer?  You could just drink that one all the time?  Perhaps that's how you do feel and that's fine, but there's a very big world out there worth exploring.  I've also met others on this journey who have had way more beers than I have, such as upwards of 10,000.  They're still out there looking, and believe me they aren't stopping anytime soon.  They, like me, are having too much fun.

Everybody is Different

I know that not everyone likes the same things as I do.  Some people at the event I know said they were floored, others agreed with me and felt the beer was past prime.  Others commented they felt the texture was sublime, where I felt that was one of the beers weakest qualities.  That's the thing about opinions, nobody is right and nobody is wrong.  We all like and get different things.  Take this into consideration and find out what you like, which leads me to the next point.

Listen to Yourself

There I said it.  I know.. contradictory right?  You're reading this article, and I was tempted to say dont listen to anybody, when I .. am TELLING you what to do.  What I am getting at is you have to be your own judge and be honest with yourself and your palate.  Really just pay attention and not be influenced by others, or ratings.  Places like BeerAdvocate and the like are great, I use them all the time and as I mentioned I am a supporter, but they are not the be all end all to what are the best beers.  You should look at my channel and places like BeerAdvocate as guides. Some you will find more useful than others.  They point you along the way and give you directions, but it's up to you to decide which way to go.

Do your homework

There is a wealth of information about beer and what it is on the Internet, but you need to cycle out the noise from what are legitimate reputable and reliable sources.  Understand beer more than just hops, malt, water, yeast.  Look at true beer organizations, and what criteria they have.  Taste a variety of different beers.  On average I personaly review 2-3 new beers every day that I have never had before.  It keeps me on my toes and I look forward to it.  It's fun. In fact I don't even consider that work, it's pure playtime.  Don't just randomly go on to some website and say what are the best IPAs I should have?  It's never that easy.  So do your homework, beacuse homework is rarely this fun!

Baby steps

This sort of follows the previous point.  You are going to enjoy beers like Rare, and other big important beers more, if you go out and try easier to access beers of the same type, or preferably simpler but just good beers like it and many of them.  The simple reason why is you will have a bigger background to draw your experiences from, and the experience will become richer.  Seek a great opportunity sure if you have the chance, but build yourself up for the big dance.  Start off slowly and work your way up.

Live in a good beer region/town/city

Yeah I know, it sort of smacks of a bit of bias and uprooting but there are some huge advantages if you live in a region that has a lot of good beer because of either great shops and/or breweries.  Variety is the spice of life, and living somewhere where there is a lot of choice in great beer is going to make you appreciate it, and diversify your palate.  Also you will run into other people like you at breweries and bars that share your same passion and make connections.  If you don't feel you live in a good region, plan a weekend trip to one, or take a vacation.  Do whatever it takes.  Homebrewing is also a good alternative.  Can't find beer you like often?  Make your own.

Get to know people in the industry

For this one, it will really help in your journey to appreciating good beer.  Visit breweries that you like and strike up conversations with the staff, and the brewer.  If you have a favorite place to shop in, get to know the staff even outside of beers you want to taste.  Find a decent bar and frequent it often and know the people who work there (and tip well!).  All these industry types will lead you to better beer and give you tips on where to find or access it.

Embrace luck

I don't know how else to say this but the enjoyment of rare beers is just sometimes dumb luck.  I don't know why or how but it just happens.  You will find yourself in search of beers you think you'll never find, and then somehow it just shows up in your lap.  A perfect example was that at the Goose Island event, some guy sitting next to me didn't even know it was going on.  He just walked in and showed up to go to a bar for a drink.  I've just randomly been in some of my favorite bars, and then suddenly on the menu was a gem.  It just happens.

Don't beat yourself up

The one thing I've discovered so far on this journey into great beer is that there is a lot of good beer to go around.  In fact the reality is there is TOO MUCH good beer around.  I hear lots of complaints online from people who said they can't get the latest hyped up beer release, or couldn't get to a bar event when the keg kicked.  Understand that there is always a next time, and there's always another beer out there.  Don't get angry, and be patient.  It took me 3 to 4 years to just even try Rare, and anybody who knows me knows.. patience is not my strong suit.  For others that night at Churchkey it might have been even their first big beer, and that's nothing to get angry about.  Plenty of people I know have had beers that I have desired for a long time.  You don't deserve it more than the next guy.  There is always another beer out there .  You'll be ready.  So order/grab something else and move on. 

Sharing a beer with Goose Island Brewer Dave Tohtz
Being back to seeing Rare again brought back a lot of memories.  The experience was truly unforgettable, more so because it just completed a long cycle.  It was also really amazing to know that for some people, this might have been the very first important beer they ever tried at this event, and they just might be starting on a new journey I know far to well.  I hope they'll have just as much fun as I am having, and enjoy the ride.

The Goose Island Migration Event is touring other cities, look out for it and make sure you go.
  • Philadelphia | Sept 24-27
  • San Francisco | Oct 1-4
  • St. Louis | Oct. 15-18
  • Austin | Oct. 29-Nov 1

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

With Summer comes the good fruit. With the good fruit comes a whiskey cobbler

My own personal take on a whiskey cobbler
It seems it has been awhile since I did a posting, but I really felt the time was right for one.  The time had to be right for the right time of the year, the right drink, and the right conditions.  With Summer all of that came into focus as the farmers market filled with seasonal berried fruit.  As others thought of pie and desserts, I could think of only one thing.  Taking those fruits to make a classic whiskey cobbler.

Cobblers are actually a real old cocktail, and there are numerous variations on them.  There are gin cobblers, sherry, and of course whiskey cobblers, that are all a mix of a few basic ingredients.  A base spirit, some type of sweetener,  water or club soda to top off, and most importantly fresh fruit.

I got inspired to make this drink after a trip to my local farmer's market, and also reading up on some ideas from my cocktail library.  I had a stash of real fresh blueberries, cherries and raspberries, and even still some strawberries which were still hanging on for the season.

I came up with a recipe as follows in the video below, watch it to learn how I made my own variation on this drink.  It's fruity bouquet and refreshing taste is perfect for summer, and it works well with my favorite style of whiskey that being bourbon.  The orange curacao adds a nice mellow sweetness with the citrus angle as well, and the key to making a good cobbler is using FRESH FRUIT.  The sweetness will be just perfect.

Here is my recipe:
  • 3 Cherries (pitted)
  • 4 Raspberries
  • 4 Blueberries
  • muddled into a cocktail shaker
  • 2 oz. of whiskey (a 90 to 100 proof Bourbon)
  • 3/4 oz. of Orange curacao
  • 1 oz. of water
  • Shake vigorously and pour into a rocks glass filled with ice.    Garnish with fruit and a cocktail pick and serve

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The hunt for one of the most desired beers on the planet, The chase for Pliny the Younger

In the realms of great beer, there is one brew made out in Santa Rosa California that is highly coveted and released only once a year in beer pubs.  That beer is a very large hopped IPA called Pliny the Younger from Russian River.

The problem is in order to get a glass, you have to travel to only a few select places to get it.  California which is the home of Russian River brewing company, offers a few places to get it.  I've also seen Pliny Younger in Denver.  For our hero who was always curious about this beer, there was one option that was a little bit more economical sense wise if I was to get my hands on this so called coveted "nectar of the gods".

Philadelphia PA often has kegs of it, and one of my favorite beer bars was holding a much publicized event to taste the beer.  I took a day trip (and early day trip) to Monk's Cafe, to wait in line with many beer fans and also to get a sampling of many other Russian River brews.

Taking an adventure to try one of the most coveted beers in the world I found out takes a lot of planning.  When I thought about everything I was doing, I couldn't believe I had to go to this much effort just to try one beer.  However, I was very glad I did, since when I arrived 2 1/2 hours early before the bar opened, there were already 20-30 people ahead of me in line.  20 minutes later, the line snaked around the block with hundreds of people, many who I am not so sure were even able to get a glass once the bar opened 2 hours later.

I had to document this event for my channel being a big beer drinker and fan, and it turned out that the journey was probably the most memorable thing about it.  There's always one thing about good drink, it's sometimes the chase which is more exciting than the actual reward.

Watch the video below to see how I made this day trip, which started promptly at 6:30 AM in the morning for a long drive to Philadelphia.  Cheers!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Interview with Jeff Hancock brewmaster of DC Brau

I had the fortunate chance to connect with Jeff Hancock of DC Brau.  I've enjoyed quite a bit of their beer, and it's been interesting to watch his business thrive in the DC area at a time when the growth of craft beer is exploding in popularity.  I wanted to interview Jeff for my channel on YouTube, and we luckily got our schedules in order and recently did it.

You can listen to the interview below, it's all just audio.  It's much like a podcast, you can just hit play and listen to it in the background while surfing somewhere else or doing something else also.  I did provide brief breakdown of the sections if you want to go to certain subjects.  Feel free to check it out!