Beer, Wine and Spirits. Tastings and Travel. News and Events. Classic Flavors from Breweries, Wineries and Distilleries Across the Drinks World.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Truce in the Vodka War?

Members of a committee of the European Parliament meeting in Brussels have come up with a compromise that may avert a simmering vodka war between traditional producers and new products on the market.

The European Commission made a proposal in 2005 that would have split the vodka category into several subsets based on ingredients and flavor. This caused a battle between the old guard and new producers entering the fast growing category. Countries such as Poland and Sweden were aligned in a bloc that said true vodka used only potatoes or barley in the distilling process. Other countries such as Sweden argued that other grains and sugar were traditional ingredients. Still another group, including France and Ireland made the case that any raw ingredient, including grapes, could be used to ferment vodka.

Under the proposed new rules that have gained support in the EU, vodka made with potatoes or grain will be allowed to be labeled simply as "vodka." Products using other raw ingredients can still be called vodka, but must list what they are made from on the label. A vote of the entire EU Parliament is expected in March.

Traditionally, vodka is a neutral spirit. For a product that is considered best when flavors and colors are stripped away is the distillation process, quite a few European drinks producers were heavily interested in the raging debate since vodka is the leading international spirit.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Tuesday Tasting: The Shark, Wonder Boy and Davy Crockett

Tuesday Tasting is a regular feature of Lyke2Drink that explores some of the best beers, wines and spirits on the market. This week we examine three chardonnays with celebrity connections.

If you enjoy wine and are into popular culture, you can drink from bottles carrying labels featuring everyone from Frank Sinatra to KISS. Some are just marketing ploys, others are serious about the liquid inside the bottle. This week we taste three chardonnays with celebrity links that not only have star power, they deliver solid taste experiences.

Greg Norman 2005 Santa Barbara County California Estate Chardonnay ($13): As a PGA golfer he is known as The Shark. Greg Norman first launched his wine brand in Australia and now also makes wine in California. Norman is said to have been actively involved in selecting Santa Barbara as the location for his U.S. label because of the fruit characteristics typical of wines from the region. This chardonnay is refreshing with tropical hints and just a slight vanilla-oak touch. The wine emerges from the bottle ready to be consumed.

Jeff Gordon 2005 Carneros Chardonnay ($50): As a young driver making an impact on NASCAR, the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. once jokingly called him Wonder Boy, now Jeff Gordon is one of the most respected race car drivers in the world. This is the second year for his wine label and the line up will expand soon to include a merlot and a cabernet sauvignon. Gordon is said to be involved in selecting the blend of the wine, which is made at Briggs & Sons Winemaking in Napa Valley. It is a firm, dry white wine with plenty of citrus and melon. There is a hint of oak, but it is clean and does not distract from the fruit. It will be interesting to see what they come up with for the reds -- said to be Gordon's favorite, but this is a high quality chardonnay

Fess Parker 2005 Santa Rita Hills Ashley's Vineyards Chardonnay ($28): Parker uses a small line drawing of a coon skin cap on the label as a simple reminder of his acting days as Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. Parker's acting career ended in the 1970s and he is now active in running the winery, along with two hotels near Santa Barbara. This chardonnay has plenty of oak with nice hints of pear and some apple, finishing with a slight citrus hint. A good solid California style chardonnay.

Beverage Bulletin: News from the Drinks World

Distillery Pubs in Nebraska?: The Nebraska Legislature held hearings this week that could lead to micro-distillery restaurants opening in the state. Upstream Brewing Co., an Omaha brewpub, says if the bill passes they would add distilled spirits to the output at their location. Other micro-distilleries could follow the lead.

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Oregon Beer Tax Increase: Rep. Sal Esquivel is introducing a bill that would raise the beer tax in Oregon from about 0.6 cents a glass to 5 cents a glass to fund the hiring of more state troopers. The move would nearly double the size of the 330-member force. Money raised would also go to funding alcohol rehab programs.

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Wine Festival Raises $18.3 Million for Children: The Naples Winter Wine Festival, with the support of well-heeled attendees, broke a record over the weekend raising $18.3 million for the Collier County children's charities. One bidder spent $2 million to win a 2008 Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead convertible, one of only 100 of the cars to be manufactured and the first to be available in the U.S.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Bars in Canada Looking for Refund of Illegal Booze Tax

As U.S. states and cities race to enact per drink taxes on alcohol sold in bars and restaurants, some Canadian publicans are pushing for a refund of similar taxes after a ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada.

The top court in Canada ruled that a special user fee that the province of New Brunswick had put in place amounted to an unconstitutional tax on liquor. It ordered the New Brunswick government to refund the tax. Some bars in Canadian provinces with similar taxes say they have paid millions over the years and now they want a refund.

The special user fee tax meant that bars and restaurants, which had to buy liquor through the government, actually paid more per bottle than Canadian citizens buying the same product at retail. Bar operators say the special user fee made it even more difficult to make money because their operations in Canada are over taxed and over regulated.

Baptists and Beer

The Journey, a Missouri church that started with 30 members less than five years ago and now has 1,300 members, is taking heat from Southern Baptists because one outreach method of the church involves holding discussion groups at a St. Louis area brewpub.

The Journey bills itself as an interdenominational church, but it has links to the Missouri Baptist Convention. The Baptists are upset because beer flows during the Theology at the Bottleworks monthly meetings. The Rev. Darrin Patrick, founder of The Journey, said the sessions are used to discuss everything from racism to embryonic stem cell research -- and to invite new people to attend Sunday church services.

The Southern Baptist Convention says the use of alcohol is against church practice. At the 2006 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention the group passed a resolution backing its traditional stance against the making, sale or consumption of alcohol. The Journey is housed in a former Catholic Church the group purchased and renovated in 2005 with the help of a $200,000 loan from the Baptist organization. The Missouri Baptist Convention says it would not have backed the loan had it known about the brewpub meetings.

Oregon May Allow Distillery Pubs

Legislation has been introduced in Oregon that would allow micro-distillers in the state to follow in the foot steps of their beer brethren and open restaurants at their distilleries.

State Sen. Ben Westlund and Rep. Chuck Burley, both from the Bend, Ore., area, have proposed the legislation. They claim it would help the economy by providing a financial boost to the growing micro-distillery industry in Oregon.

Bendistillery, which has been in business for 11 years, said it would open a restaurant if the legislation passes. The company already operates a tasting room, but under Oregon law that facility must be in a different location from the distillery.

Pub Sales a Breath of Fresh Air

For many smoking and drinking mix, but the reality is that a smoky bar really reduces your ability to enjoy a craft beer, good wine or well made whiskey because the smoke clouds your ability to smell and taste the beverage. That's before we even get to the health implications of second hand smoke.

Having lived in New York after a ban on restaurant smoking, I now live in North Carolina and have returned to having to deal with smoke-filled bars and eateries. Owners fear any talk of going smokeless, saying it will hurt business. No comes a report from a major pub company in the United Kingdom that refutes that claim.

Greene King announced today that the smoking ban that went into place in Scotland in March 2006 did not have the devastating impact on sales that had been predicted. The 205-year-old brewery said sales at the pubs it manages are up 3.6 percent for the first half of its fiscal year, while tenant-owned pubs are up 1.3 percent. It noted that sales in pubs in its Belhaven division in Scotland were off 2.8 percent, much less than had been expected.

It is good news for pubs across the U.K. England and Wales are set to join Scotland as smoke free in July.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Cab Drivers as Moral Compasses

U.S. Transportation Safety Administration rules that restrict our ability to carry on to airplanes containers with more than 3 ounces of liquid have made it much more difficult to bring home a bottle of wine or six pack of beer. I used to regularly do this when business or leisure travel took me to a new part of the country and I found something worth sharing with the folks back home. Security often checked the packages to make sure the bottles were sealed and sometimes reminded me I could not consume them on my flight. The loss of this freedom is small in the scheme of fighting terrorism, but is still a loss.

Sure, you can pack the beverage in your checked luggage, but you face the obvious issues of lost bags, damaged contents and even theft. If you are traveling internationally, you can buy alcohol at duty free shops inside the terminal to bring back home. However, if you live in Minnesota and use the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, what the TSA has not eliminated airport taxi cab drivers have decided to try to block.

On one side of this struggle are tanned vacationers returning from places like the Caribbean with duty-free rum and California with some cabernet sauvignon discovered while touring wine country. On the other side are Somali cab drivers who say that under Muslim religious law they must refuse passengers carrying alcohol. They also refuse to transport people with dogs -- even guide dogs for the blind -- because of Muslim teachings that dog saliva is dirty.

This would not be really much of a problem, except for the fact that about 75 percent of the 900 taxi license holders serving the airport are Somali Muslims. Minneapolis-St. Paul is a fairly busy airport, with 40 million passengers traveling through it every year. Airport officials say that they know about 5,400 people being refused cab service during the last five years. Imagine arriving back in Minnesota in the middle of a January cold snap and not being able to get a cab driver to take you home. You have the fare and are well mannered. Your offense? That bottle of Scotch you picked up in the duty free shop.

Officials at the airport are talking about stiffer penalties, including suspension of airport licenses, for cab drivers who refuse service to passengers. This would include drivers who refuse passengers because the trip is too short and the fare would not be large enough. Right now all that happens is the driver is sent to the end of the line.

Minnesota law allows taxi cab drivers to refuse service if they feel their life might be in danger. Beyond that and the law in Minnesota and most other places considers the ability of a citizen to hail a cab to be public access issue. The Minnesota chapter of the Muslim America Society has proposed placing a light or color coding cabs that will not accept passengers carrying alcohol or dogs. That would not solve the problem facing passengers stuck at the airport where potentially three out of four cabs would ban them.

One of the great things about living in America is our diversity. Diversity can only succeed when people are tolerant of the beliefs and lifestyles of others. It is a two way street. My wife and I have friends who, because of religious beliefs, do not drink and do not bring alcohol into their homes. When we have been guests in their homes, it is a non-alcoholic gathering. When they have been to our home we serve them soft drinks, but have never had an issue about enjoying a beer at the same table. When we have been out to dinner, the same applies. I'm not going to attempt to convince them to have a glass of wine and they don't try to tell me I cannot have a cocktail. Tolerance, people, tolerance.

The case of the Somali cab drivers runs even deeper than the concept of social tolerance. If I am not breaking the law and I'm not a danger to the driver I should have the right to use a publicly licensed transportation service. I'm not looking for a cab driver to serve as my morale compass. What would happen if instead of alcohol the drivers decided that, because of what Muslim religious law says about women, they would not pick up any female fares unless they dressed in burqas? If they want to apply this rule to their personal vehicle, fine. However, as soon as they hang that taxi license in their cab, it becomes a public access issue.

America is a secular society. If we start to allow any group to impose religious rules on public transportation, we could slide back to the days where people had to ride in the back of the bus because of the color of their skin. Do we want people to be refused service at a hotel or restaurant because they are "different" than the owners? I don't think as a country we should let any group convince us that is a place where we want to return.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Weekend Watering Hole: Tim Schafer's at Lake Norman, Sherrills Ford, N.C.

As a regular weekend feature, Lyke2Drink will visit some of the world's great watering holes. This week we stop at a restaurant north of Charlotte that features beer from the pint glass to the plate.

Tim Schafer's at Lake Norman
7343 Gabriel Street
Sherrills Ford, N.C. 28673

On a recent Friday night we went with friends to check at Tim Schafer's at Lake Norman, a restaurant focused on beer cuisine. Chef Schafer was trained at the Culinary Institute of America and ran a successful restaurant in New Jersey before relocating to North Carolina. He bills himself as The Brewchef and has appeared on the Food Network and HGTV.

The restaurant is not exactly easy to find, but for beer lovers and people who enjoy good food it is worth the hunt.

The beer menu is a romp through a variety of styles, featuring some great American micros and European craft beers. We passed several bottles around the table for everyone to sample, including Orval, DeKoninck, Konings Hoven, St. Bernardus, Spaten Optimator and Trois Pistoles.

We enjoyed several different appetizers and for dinner were very pleased with the double cut stuffed pork chops and the sweet sea scallops. Several desserts were on target, with the Beerimisu a real hit. Beerimisu is Schafer's creation that combines honey ale enhanced mascarpone mouse is surrounded by stout and ale laced lady fingers for a great end to a beer meal.

The cuisine at Time Schafer's is several cuts above the standard brewpub fare and so is the menu pricing. All-in-all the restaurant elevates the beer dining experience to a height very seldom seen.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Nova Scotia Distillery Wins the Right to Use the Word Glen

Glenora Distilery, a single malt whisky maker located in the Canadian Maritimes, won a major round this week in the on-going trademark battle over its Glen Breton Rare brand name.

The Canadian Trademarks Opposition Board has rejected a claim by the Scotch Whisky Association that the use of the word Glen by Glenora is confusing to consumers and leads them to think that the whisky in the bottle is from Scotland.

Glenora is based in Glenville, Cape Breton. It says the name is a way of incorporating all of these places in the brand.

The Scotch Whisky Association argues that the word "Glen" is Scottish and is used by many Scotch makers for their brand names. The group says it plans to appeal the ruling.

Super Bowl Blitz: Anheuser-Busch Unleashes $26 Million Ad Buy

I'm not sure what type of defensive schemes the teams from Indianapolis or Chicago have planned for the Super Bowl, but on Feb. 4th the team from St. Louis plans an all out blitz during the game. Anheuser-Busch is the single largest advertiser in Super Bowl XLI, having purchased a total of five minutes of the most expensive advertising real estate on the planet.

Thirty seconds of time on the CBS broadcast of the game between the Colts and the Bears went for a record $2.6 million. Spots in the game have sold out. It is a coveted place for advertisers because in an age of cable network proliferation that has diluted television audience numbers and encroachment on traditional media by everything from the Internet to satellite radio, the big game still delivers. An audience of 90 million is expected to watch the game in the U.S. It is annually the most watched television program in this country.

Anheuser-Busch will use the game to push its Budweiser, Bud Light and Bud Select brands. They are pulling out the big guns in terms of creative from several advertising agencies. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carlos Mencia, Jay-Z, Don Shula and the Clydesdales will star in various spots.

Anheuser-Busch has been a Super Bowl advertiser since 1976. In 1989 they became the exclusive alcoholic beverage sponsor of the game and have that title locked down until at least 2012. This in spite of the fact that Coors Light is the official beer of the National Football League.

Bob Lachky, chief creative officer at Anheuser-Busch, is said to still be tinkering with the line-up of spots that will be used and agencies are making final edits to some spots scheduled to be aired. Focus group testing is still being analyzed as the brewer works to make sure each spot delivers on the major investment. Lachky and the marketing team in St. Louis do not lack for options. It is estimated that they start with between 80-100 finished commercial scripts in late summer and begin winnowing down the list to get to the final selections.

In addition to the 30-second spots, the company will run four 10-second billboards during the game. Two will promote responsible consumption and two will push the new Bud.TV web entertainment channel that launches the day after the game. The company also plans after each spot to text message a group of cellular phone carrying consumers who sign up at the company's website prior to the game to get their reaction to the just-aired commercials.

No matter the winner of the game on the field, Lachky and company plan to try to run up the score before the key beer selling season even gets off the ground.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Workers Threaten to Strike Crown Royal Distillery

Workers at Diageo's Gimli, Manitoba, distillery are threatening to walk of the job next week, which could disrupt supplies of Crown Royal whisky.

According to UFCW Canada Local 200D, which represent workers at the plant, Gimli is the sole production facility making Crown Royal. Workers voted this week to authorize a strike at the plant if contract negotiations fail. The union is threatening to call for a Canada-wide boycott of all Diageo products if the strike occurs. Negotiations are slated to resume on Monday.

Pennsylvania to Back Restart of Latrobe Brewery with $4.5 Million

The Rolling Rock brand has packed its bags and moved to New Jersey, but Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell made an announcement this week designed to get the disused Latrobe Brewery back up and running.

Pennsylvania has given City Brewing Co. of Wisconsin, which purchased the plant from InBev USA, a $4.5 million package of loans and grants to upgrade and expand the plant. The brewery has been closed since July. That's when Anheuser-Busch purchased the Rolling Rock brand for $82 million.

City Brewing plans to employ at least 250 people, many of them former Latrobe Brewery workers. State officials say the company will invest $10 million in the brewery and expand the plant's capacity to 2 million barrels. City Brewing markets brands such as LaCrosse Beer, but it also contract brews beer, malt beverages, teas, energy drinks and soft drinks for other firms.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A Visit to the Beer Hotel: Four Points by Sheraton, Norwalk, Conn.

When I first heard the news of Starwood Hotels' plan to launch the Best Brews program at its Four Points by Sheraton properties it was during the Great American Beer Festival in Denver this past September. During a business trip this week I had my first chance to stay at one of the company's hotels and see how they are delivering on the promise to become "The Beer Hotel."

So far so good.

The small bar at the Four Points in Norwalk, Conn., had four draughts: Paulaner Pilsner, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Farmington River Hop River IPA and Otter Creek Stovepipe Porter. The nine domestic bottled brews ranged from Bud Light to Smuttynose IPA. The 11 bottled imports included Chimay Red, Duvel, Samuel Smith Nut Brown Ale and Pilsner Urquell. That's a solid range for a hotel bar no matter where you are traveling.

Four Points launched a hunt for a Chief Beer Officer as part of the promotional effort behind expanding its beer selection. The result was more than 7,000 applications for the non-paying position and publicity in places like the Wall Street Journal. They plan to allow the public to vote on the finalists in the coming months.

The Best Brews program is clearly a marketing gimmick by Four Points, but one that deserves support from beer lovers. It's common to read and hear the complaints of beer fans when they encounter uninspired selections that only range from light beer to national domestic lagers. This is a case of a major hotel chain rolling out the red carpet for beer drinkers. Based on the activity at the bar I saw last night while enjoying my first ever Farmington River brew, the program has a real chance to be successful -- as long as the beer community shows its appreciation.

Ohio City Wants Drink Tax

The push to use so-called sin taxes to balance municipal budgets appears to be picking up steam in a number of places around the country. The city of Kent, Ohio, is the latest to take steps to tax alcohol by the drink in taverns and restaurants.

Kent officials are asking state representatives to propose legislation that would allow local municipalities to impose taxes on drinks sold on-premise. Revenue from the tax would be earmarked to fund police and fire departments. Obviously, someone has taken a poll that shows homeowners have had enough of property tax hikes and the idea of a consumption tax that targets drinkers scored well.

Kent State University calls Kent home and there are 42 bars within the city limits. City officials have not disclosed how much the tax would be on each drink or how much they hope to collect. The Kent Licensed Beverage Association has come out against the proposal.

Liquor Sales Booming in U.S.: $17 Billion in 2006

Bolstered by booming premium vodka and whiskey volumes in 2006, spirits sales jumped by 6.3 percent to $17 billion in the United States.

According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States brown goods such as Scotch and Bourbon were up 4.6 percent to $5 billion, while vodka soared by 11 percent to $4 billion. Top shelf liquor brands lead the way, with a 17.5 percent sales increase, outpacing gains by well brands.

Spirits are quickly gaining a greater share of stomach among American drinkers. They now account for 32.8 percent of all alcohol spending. Beer still leads the way with 50.7 percent of the spending last year, but beer is down from 55.5 percent in 2000. Wine holds a 16.6 percent share of the market, up slightly.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

West Virginia Bill Could Cause Bar Tabs to Jump by 35 Percent

A bill before the West Virginia Legislature would allow counties to impose a per drink tax of up to 35 percent on all alcoholic beverages sold at bars and nightclubs. The Mountaineer State becomes the latest to target on-premise alcohol sales as a way to shore up rickety budgets.

Counties adopting the tax would be allowed to spend the funds for regional jail costs and fire and rescue services. While these are certainly important services, many voters in West Virginia say they had not heard of the proposal and were concerned that elected officials were trying to pass the bill before a public debate was held.

Many state governments are increasingly under pressure from local governments over unfunded mandates for a variety of social programs. Targeting drink sales at bars appears to be perceived as low hanging fruit by state legislators and without an organized response from bar and restaurant owners and patrons it is likely these types of taxes will proliferate.

French Barrels to Grace British Gardens Instead of South African Chardonnay

The British freighter Napoli was beached along the English coast over the weekend and hundreds of containers were lost overboard. In addition to dog food, cosmetics and BMW motorcycles, part of the booty to wash up on the Devon coast were 158 new French oak barrels.

French barrel maker Tonnellerie Boutes said the barrels were headed to South African wineries, but the barriques ended up on Bascombe beach, where treasure hunting locals were picking through the cargo.

The issue for South African vintners is that the 2007 harvest is about to begin and wineries face a barrel shortage. Tonnellerie Boutes said it would expedite the manufacture of replacement barrels, but they may not arrive when they are needed.

The barrels, worth $850 each, are covered under the shipping company's insurance policy.

Tuesday Tasting: Wooden Brews

Tuesday Tasting is a regular feature of Lyke2Drink that explores some of the best beers, wines and spirits on the market. This week we examine the growing love affair between brewers and wood.

At the Great American Beer Festival during late September in Denver we were amazed by the number of brewers offering beers that had been aged in old Boubon barrels and other wood combinations. In fact, it was the second most populous category in the professional judging, beat out only by American pale ale. At least four made the Lyke2Drink All-Festival Selections: Browning's Brewery Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout, Great Lakes Rackhouse Ale, Michelob Celebrate Oak Vanilla and Sierra Nevada Wood Aged Bigfoot Barleywine. In the last few weeks Lyke2Drink has had the chance to sip some more wood finished brews, finding that wood is indeed a friend of beer. A few were already covered as part of our holiday and winter beer tastings. Here are two others that we found to be very much worth the extra effort to locate.

Allagash 2006 Interlude: This experimental beer from the Maine brewery is aged in French merlot and sirah oak and has a slightly winey and fruity flavor profile. Sugar and yeast are added at the time of bottling to create a second fermentation in the bottle. You'll want to split this with friends for two reasons: first the 750 ml bottle holds a 9.5 percent alcohol by volume brew and when we found one at the Flying Saucer in Charlotte it set us back $25. An impressive beer with an impressive price tag.

Rock Bottom Chicago Barrel Aged Imperial Stout: They serve this 9-10 percent alcohol by volume brew in a brandy snifter, which helps concentrate the flavors. My glass came off the tap a little too cold, but as it warmed more of the rich flavors emerged. There was a reddish hue to the head on this beer, which ringed the glass. Aged in barrels formerly used to mature Woodford Reserve Bourbon, you can taste the whiskey and the vanilla from the oak. A perfect drink to ward off the freezing temperatures of the Windy City.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Beer For Dogs II

I remember the afternoon that we discovered that dogs love beer. It was a number of years ago when we lived in Upstate New York. Our family cocker spaniel Lady, who recently passed away at the age of 16, decided that she had to investigate the box the UPS driver had left near her spot in our garage.

This had happened before to other packages with food and even make up, but I cannot imagine what went through her mind this time when she ravaged the cardboard only to find a case of beer bottles from a microbrewery inside. Not to be deterred, she bit the caps off at least nine bottles and pried at most of the others before we discovered her beer bash. Lady really did not get to taste much brew that day and now I wish a pair of entrepreneurs on two separate continents had come up with their brainstorms just a little earlier.

The news media has been going a little crazy the last day or so over Dutch pet shop owner Terrie Berenden from Zelhem. She has come up with a recipe for a beef extract and malt non-alcoholic brew called Kwispelbier -- or Wagging Tail Beer. It turns out the Dutch treat for canines is not the lead dog when it comes to suds for man's best friend.

In California, Jamie Miller discovered on a camping trip that her 120 pound Japanese Akita named Kodi loved beer. In 2005, she started brewing and marketing Happy Tail Ale, a beef flavored non-alcoholic brew. You can now get it in a number of states and over the Internet through www.beerfordogs.com.

Unfortunately, it's too late for me to share a brew with Lady, but my Daughter and Son-in-Law recently acquired a great dane puppy. So, as soon as I figure out the legal drinking age for a dog in North Carolina, Winston and I are going to sit on the back porch watching the ducks on the lake and enjoy a brew.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

What Are They Thinking?: Think Tank Says Raise Michigan Beer Taxes

The Center for Michigan thinks that beer drinkers should shell out a little more for each draught to help close a budget gap for the state. The think tank would like to see the $6.30 per barrel state tax -- last raised in 1962 -- increased to as much as $39 a barrel to catch up with inflation.

The group points out that tobacco taxes have been increased six times since the last beer tax hike, making it high time for beer drinkers to pony up. Taxes on wine and liquor have also been increased twice since the last time beer taxes were increased.

If the beer tax was indexed to keep up with inflation, Michigan would go from collecting $44 million from suds sales to $240 million. It would cost consumers 10-cents for each 12-ounce bottle they purchase.

Predictably, the Michigan Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association is against the tax increase, saying beer is already taxed at a higher rate than neighboring states. Consumers also pay a 6 percent sales tax on beer purchases.

Royal Caribbean Brews Up Reason to Cruise

According to CruiseCritic.com the Royal Caribbean cruise line has launched its own brand of alcohol -- and it's not a rum. Royal Legendary Belgian Ale is being served on every ship in its fleet.

Royal Legendary Belgian Ale is a white ale and is currently being offered as a limited-time specialty, although the cruise line reports substantial interest among passengers will likely cause them to continue to produce the brew.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Vodka Gives a New Twist on Race Fixing

Spend any amount of time around a horse track and you will hear stories of race fixing and insider tips on horses to either bet or stay away from for a certain race. As much as thoroughbred and harness racing organizing bodies work to keep cheating out of their sport, its backbone is gambling money and all bettors look for some type of edge. Most study The Daily Racing Form, but a veterinarian in Nebraska is alleged to have employed what just might become known as the James Bond solution.

Dr. Jay Stewart, the president of the Nebraska Veterinary Medical Association, is alleged to have injected thoroughbreds running at Fonner Park in Grand Island with vodka. Dr. Stewart denies the charges.

He is charged with four misdemeanor charges of trying to influence a race by tampering with a horse. The allegation is that vodka was administered to calm horses before races during 2005. Each count carries with it the potential of a $5,000 fine and a year in jail. The trial starts next week.

Friday, January 19, 2007

French Frustration: Sluggish Wine Market a Blow to National Pride

For the French, wine is part of their national identity. Tough times in the vineyards are a blow to national pride and frustrating to those looking to maintain the country's leadership in an evolving world market.

Some things, like the glut of juice on the world market, are beyond the control of French winemakers. Others, like modernizing the marketing of French wine, are wrestled with as if someone was suggesting the colors on the French flag should be changed to green, purple and black.

French wines have long carried the name of their appellation as their key identity. Bordeaux, Burgundy, Alsace and other regions have loyal followings. If your wine comes from one of the "in" regions, things are mostly good. If you are outside of one of these areas, it's not so good. Things are particularly tough on the mid-level vin de pays wines. The French Agriculture Ministry recently released a report that showed 70 per cent of winemakers in the Languedoc-Roussillon region lost money last year. In Bordeaux, 80 percent of the vineyards were in the black.

Now winemakers from a number of regions are considering joining together to blend grapes and market product under a 'Vineyards of France' label. Cheap table wines are already blended under a "Product of France" designation, but this proposal would include mid-level quality wines. The thought is that "France" on the label will be a stronger selling point on the world market than designations like Cotes du Rhone. The French National Office of Fruit, Wine and Horticulture holding a meeting on the proposal this week.

Meanwhile, the French Wine Co-operatives Union is frustrated by delays at the European Commission, which is considering proposals to reform government policy towards wine across the European Union. Changes are needed since there is a surplus estimated at 1.5 billion liters of wine held in storage tanks around Europe. We could all help out by ordering a bottle of French, Italian, Spanish or other European wine at dinner tonight. However, with the equivalent of 3 billion bottles backlogged on top of the stocks already in restaurants, retail locations, distributor warehouses and in-transit along the import-export trail around the world, we would need to build up a major collective hangover before the situation solved itself.

Winemakers are angry because it has been a year since the European Commission held hearings on the matter. A report was expected in December, but has now been delayed until June or July. At that point, the EU Parliament will go on break and not likely discuss possible legislation until the Fall -- just in time for another harvest season to be winding down.

One proposal that has been floated is to rip out 400,000 hectares of vineyards. This has not pleased winemakers in France, Italy or Spain because they believe they would have to shoulder the greatest load in the reform package. While this debate goes on, wines from the United States, Australia and South America are making further inroads around the globe. It will take more than reducing the supply of European wine to solve the problem.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Money Grows on Vines: Grapes Have a $162 Billion Impact on the U.S. Economy

The next time you use a corkscrew you will be adding to one of the most vibrant sectors of the United States economy. According to figures released this week in Washington, D.C., by MKF Research LLC of Napa Valley, wine, grape and grape products industries contribute more than $162 billion annually to the American economy.

The MKF Research report, "The Impact of Wine, Grapes and Grape Products on the American Economy: Family Businesses Building Value," looked at the economic impact of the grape, wine, grape juice, table grape and raisin industries. It measured employment, agricultural statistics, product revenues, tax collections and other factors.

The study found the industry supports 1.1 million full-time jobs and that 23,856 grape growers have 934,750 acres under cultivation as vineyards. In 2005, there were 4,929 wineries operating in the U.S., up from 2,904 in 2000. In addition to producing wine, the wineries also are a generator for tourism revenue, with 27.3 million annual wine-related tourist visits counted by the study. The industry also pays its fair share in taxes, $17.1 billion overall, including $9.1 billion in federal and $8 billion in state and local taxes.

The report noted that the industry does face challenges because of a lack of funding for research and education, a lack of skilled labor, difficult access to capital for start-up or expansion, a competitive wine market because of low cost imports and regulations that limit market access.

The study was funded by a number of industry trade organizations.

Nebraska Lawmaker: Ban Underage Wine Consumption at Mass

Here is a case of a solution trying to find a problem. Nebraska State Sen. Lowen Kruse has introduced a bill to close loopholes in state laws that allow minors to consume alcohol. Wine served as part of holy communion religious ceremonies is one of the targets.

Sen. Kruse's bill would make it illegal to allow minors to drink alcohol in their own homes or at churches during services. Catholics and several other Christian churches use wine as part of observances to replicate Christ's words at the Last Supper. The church groups are protesting the measure as a potential violation of religious rights. Sen. Kruse has said that, while the wording of the law would ban all alcohol consumption by minors in churches, he did not believe anyone would be brought up on charges if teens consumed wine as part of the rituals during a mass. Church leaders say they would have trouble knowingly violating Nebraska law during services if the bill passes.

The bill would also make it illegal for parents to share a beer or glass of wine with a meal in their homes with their own children under 21 years old. Common in many places in Europe, the practice of parents teaching children about responsible alcohol consumption by sharing beer or wine during family meals or special celebrations is one way some experts suggest Americans could do a better job educating teenagers about moderation. Sen. Kruse's bill would lump this practice together with the irresponsible behavior of a limited number of parents who allow and even assist underage children to host keggers and drink fests for fellow high school students.

Syracuse Common Council: Festival Beer and Wine Tax is Painless and Necessary

Syracuse is my hometown, so a recent news report about a potential new tax at outdoor festivals in the center of the city caught my eye. A number of non-profit groups host festivals in Clinton Square that draw thousands of people to a downtown where bars and restaurants can use the spill over business. On Monday the Syracuse Common Council will vote on a proposal to impose a 12.5 percent tax on beer and wine sold at these events.

On one side of the ledger are event organizers who take all of the risk to bring in entertainment, pay for tents and staging, and shell out cash to promote the events. If bad weather hits, they usually will lose money. Sometimes beer and wine sales mean the difference between a profit or a loss. On the other side is the city of Syracuse, which does not charge rent for the use of Clinton Square for the events, but says it spends $350,000 each year for police coverage and clean up after events. They say the new tax will cover just a portion of those costs.

Towns big and small across the United States struggle to maintain a sense of community as suburban sprawl increases and people from different economic, social and racial backgrounds find fewer and fewer reasons to come together as a group. Keeping places like Clinton Square available and profitable for music and cultural festivals is more important than most people realize.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Pittsburgh Brewing President to Depart as Part of Reorganization Plan

Pittsburgh Brewing President Joseph R. Piccirilli, who gained control of the company during bankruptcy proceedings in 1995, will apparently lose his grip on the maker of Iron City beer as part of the protracted bankruptcy process now winding its way through the U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

Bankruptcy Judge M. Bruce McCullough granted yet another extension to Pittsburgh Brewing, this time until Feb. 6, before it has to file its reorganization plan. Lawyers for the group headed by John N. Milne of Connecticut, who will become the new chief executive officer of the company if the plan is successful, have been lining up support for the plan from labor unions and creditors.

Milne told media at yesterday's hearing that Piccirilli will stay in place through a transition phase and then leave the company. Pittsburgh Brewing has been in bankruptcy since December 2005.

Media reports also noted brewery officials have been meeting with Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell's staff about aid to help the brewery get back on its feet. The Pennsylvania state budget is said to contain a $5 million line item to help fund the construction of a brewery building in Pittsburgh. Gov. Rendell would have to approve allocating the money to Pittsburgh Brewing.

White Wine Named Top Wine from Chile

Most of us think red when we think Chilean wine, but a sauvignon blanc has taken home the top prize in the 2007 Wines of Chile Awards.

Casas del Bosque's Sauvignon Blanc 2006 from the Casablanca Valley took the Best in Show prize. It's the first time in the four year history of the awards that a white has earned the top prize. It beat out 400 wines entered in the competition.

The judges named Miguel Torres Santa Digna Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2006 as the Best Value White and Montgras Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 as the Best Value Red in the competition.

Havana Club Prepares to Boost Production

The health problems facing Fidel Castro have many wondering what might happen to relations between Cuba and the United States after his death. For one famous brand of rum, now appears to be the perfect moment to boost production.

Havana Club International SA, a joint venture between the government controlled CubaRon and French drinks firm Pernod Ricard, is investing in a major new distillery in San Jose, just outside of Havana, that will double its output of Havana Club. The company plans to be the number one dark rum producer in the world within six years.

The U.S. government began enforcing an embargo against Cuba in 1962 as part of the Cold War battle against Communism. Having access to the U.S. market denied has hurt a number of industries in Cuba and limited economic opportunities for its citizens.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Do Screw Caps Stink?

For wine lovers who hatted to see the increased use of composite corks at the expense of natural cork, the massive wave of synthetic corks was unsettling. No sooner had they started to come to grips with plastic corks then they started to experience the rapid rise of the screw cap.

At several recent dinners in upscale restaurants I've seen guests give an odd glance as a waiter unscrewed the cap of a bottle of wine. Most of these wines have been whites from New Zealand and Australia, but producers of reds from California and elsewhere are turning to screw caps in massive numbers. We have all been assured that a screw cap does a perfectly fine job sealing a bottle of wine. Now a new study suggests that it might do too good of a job.

British researchers found that 2 per cent of screw cap bottles had a rotten egg odor when they were opened. The smell is produced by a chemical process called reduction that takes place in most wines in a bottle. The problem is that the screw cap apparently seals the odor inside the bottle, while natural cork is porous and allows some of the odor to escape and oxygen to dilute the smell.

The research was conducted on 9,000 wines using screw caps at the International Wine Challenge. The rotten egg or sulphidisation odor was present in 2.2 percent of the wines opened.

State College Balancing its Budget One Drink at a Time

Between my two daughters and myself, we've attended seven different colleges in cities large and small over the years. You get kind of used to having your wallet lightened along the way, but a current proposal in State College, Pa., has me feeling sorry for faculty and students -- even if they are fans of the Nittany Lions.

The State College Borough Council is talking about slapping a per-drink tax on alcoholic beverages sold at restaurants and bars in the town that is home to Penn State University. The municipality says the tax will go to pay for services used by problem drinkers and for police.

The tax would be on top of various other federal and state excise taxes placed on alcohol. In Pennsylvania, an 18 percent alcohol tax already generates more than $200 million a year for the state.

The per-drink tax idea might not be limited to State College. Borough officials believe they will get more support in the state capital for the legislation if it would be open for use by all Pennsylvania college towns. West Chester, Pa., which is the home of West Chester University, has been lobbying for a similar law recently. So in addition to everything from the hotel bed tax they receive on parents weekend to the parking fines they collect on football Saturdays, college towns may have uncovered another method of extracting a few more dollars from those associated with the schools they are so proud to call their own.

Tuesday Tasting: Mysterious Mezcal

Tuesday Tasting is a regular feature of Lyke2Drink that explores some of the best beers, wines and spirits on the market. This week we head to Oaxaca, Mexico, to taste some mezcal.

Mezcal has a reputation. The college campus rumor back in my day was that it contained mescaline, a hallucinogenic drug. The reputation for being a bit wild was not helped when at least one brand decided to add a worm to each bottle in what has to be one of the strangest marketing ploys in drinks industry history. Mezcal, like Tequila, is made from the blue agave plant, which takes up to 12 years to produce a 75 to 200 pound pina ready for harvesting. Mezcal makers cannot use the Tequila name because they are not located in Jalisco. The reality is that mezcal is a much more complex drink than most give it credit for being.

Recently I had the chance to taste a group of four mezcals, each in two pairs that started in the same raw form. The blancos were fine drinks on their own that were then finished in different oaks to create a second, more refined mezcal.

Los Danzantes Blanco ($60): Clear color, yet with a smoky nose and bits of roasted pepper in the taste. A sweet grass fire of a drink.

Los Danzantes Reposado ($65): A golden color from six months in French oak this mezcal has mellow vanilla tones with hints of smoke and grass in its aftertaste. A pleasant earthiness comes through in the aging of this spirit.

Del Maguey 1995 Chichicapa Blanco ($70): Aged for 11.5 years in glass, this mezcal has a grassy, orange peel flavor profile with hints of smoke and spice.

Del Maguey 1995 Chichicapa Reposado ($300): This pours with a copper hue that is slightly pink around the edges. Aged for 11.5 years in glass and then finished for 150 days in a Cabernet Sauvignon barrel from Napa Valley’s Stag’s Leap appellation, it has a caramel and toffee nose that gives way to a slightly burnt pepper flavor.

Monday, January 15, 2007

To Your Health: Study Says Red or White Wine Has Cardio Benefits

A study by researchers at the University Of Connecticut School Of Medicine and the University of Milan has found that white wine may offer many of the heart healthy benefits that have been attributed to red wine.

The study, published in the American Chemical Society Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry, notes that the pulp of grapes has the same compounds as grape skins. Previous studies have suggested that compounds found in the skins, which are left on the grape in the making of red wines, offer the best protection against cardiovascular diseases.

The researchers said grapes contain polyphenolic antioxidants are found in both the skins and the grape pulp.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Breast Boosting Beer from Bulgaria is Big Business

News reports out of Europe suggest that one of the biggest benefits of allowing Bulgaria to join the European Union just might be women with larger breasts. That's if you believe the hype around Boza beer.

Either European men said to be flocking to buy Boza beer for their wives and girlfriends are gullible, or the company behind the brew will soon become one of the largest brewers in the world. Boza beer, made from fermented millet or wheat flour and yeast, is said to cause female consumers to grow larger breasts. Boza has become the rage among shopkeepers and bar owners in several parts of Europe now that high duties have been eliminated with Bulgaria in the EU.

None of the news reports on Boza's reputed miracle qualities cite any scientific data. Boza is commonly consumed with breakfast in Bulgaria and nearby countries, which tends to make me think that what we may be dealing with here is a confirmed mass case of beer goggles.

Pittsburgh Brewing Saga Continues: Brewer Works to Resolve Financial Issues

Pittsburgh Brewing Co. continues to try to keep its head above water while it finalizes an agreement with an equity investment firm.

In the latest moves, the company made a $49,000 payment to the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau after the government agency had filed a motion to U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge M. Bruce McCullough to close the bankrupt brewer because the firm had failed to make a promised payment on Jan. 1st for the overdue excise taxes. Then the company was able to get negotiators for the 145 members of the International Union of Electrical Workers-Communication Workers of America Locals 22B and 144B who work at the plant to agree to contract concessions. The workers will vote on the new pact on Jan. 21st.

John Milne of Westport, Conn., who leads the investor group, will become Pittsburgh Brewing's new CEO. The group must file its reorganization plan with the Bankruptcy Court by Tuesday. Milne has said that part of the plan calls for spending at least $1 million on a marketing campaign for the Iron City brand.

Weekend Watering Hole: Fred's, Sarasota, Fla.

As a regular weekend feature, Lyke2Drink will visit some of the world's great watering holes. This week we head to the Gulf Coast of Florida to visit a restaurant where wine is king.

Fred's Restaurant
1917 S. Osprey Ave.
Sarasota, FL 34239
(941) 364-5811

On a recent business trip to Sarasota I was part of a group that had the chance to go to Fred's, part of the city's Southside Village. Fred's is really four places in one. There is the main restaurant, an alfresco set of tables on the sidewalk, a bar area with booths and an adjoining space called the Tasting Room. For a city of its size, Sarasota has a bushel full of quality restaurants. Fred's is among the best.

Fred's menu offered a range of seafood, steaks and chicken. I went with the pan-seared red snapper with herbed chick pea puree and found it to be quite satisfying. Others enjoyed the sea scallops, grilled yellow fin tuna steaks and New York strip steaks.

I was impressed with Fred's massive wine list, which has won the Wine Spectator Award several times. If you are looking for high end wines in this part of Florida you would be hard pressed to find another list with as many $100+ (many well over this mark) wines. I was a little more conservative in ordering wine, but still found three very good wines on the list: a 2003 Grosset “Polish Hill” Riesling, Clare Valley, Australia; a 2004 MacCrostie Chardonnay, Carneros, California; and a 2004 B.R. Cohn Silver Label Cabernet Sauvignon, North Coast, California.

If you have not been excited by a wine list in sometime, it's worth a stop at Fred's.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition Announces Winners

The 55 judges in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition recently tasted 3,800 wines from 1,573 wineries in 20 states before handing out medals, awarding best in class honors and determining the Sweepstake Winner awards for the best sparkling, white, red and dessert/specialty wines.

The Sweepstake Winners for 2007 are:

-- Sparkling Wine: 1999 Roederer Estate Brut, Anderson Valley
-- White Wine: 2006 Geyser Peak Winery Sauvignon Blanc, California, and 2006 Windsor Vineyards Gerwurztraminer, Alexander Valley
-- Red Wine: 2005 Flying Goat Cellars Pinot Noir, Rancho Santa Rosa, and 2004 B.R. Cohn Winery Petite Sirah, North Coast
-- Dessert/Specialty Beverage: 2005 Navarro Vineyards Late Harvest Muscat Blanc, Anderson Valley.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Blue Law Battle: Georgia Considers Sunday Sales Bill

Things could get interesting in the Georgia Legislature this session. This week state Sen. Seth Harp introduced a bill that would give local municipalities the right to allow beer and wine to be sold on Sundays at grocery and convenience stores.

Georgia is one of only three states that ban sales of alcohol for off-premise consumption on Sunday. If you decide on having a barbecue or friends over to watch a game, you had better plan ahead. I ran afoul of this law a few years back when we were visiting friends in Atlanta. Our gracious hosts made our stay very enjoyable. My only issue was that the beer in their refrigerator started and stopped with Corona Light and we planned to watch the Daytona 500. I made what I thought was going to be a beer run to a nearby grocery. I was amazed when I put a Sunday newspaper and a six pack of a local microbrew on the checkout counter, only to see the clerk grab the beer and stash it under the counter. It was 11:55 a.m. so I asked if they only sold alcohol after noon on Sunday. That got a laugh from the clerk who said "Welcome to Georgia."

The debate in the Georgia Legislature will be fueled on one side by grocery and convenience store lobbyists, with support from brewers and wineries. Opposing the bill will be the Georgia Christian Alliance, some neo-Prohibitionist groups and an unlikely backer -- liquor stores, because they are left out of the mix.

If Sen. Harp's bill passes, residents in each county would be given the right to vote on whether to allow Sunday sales. A poll commissioned by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that 68 percent of state residents support the legislation. Even if the elected representative follow the will of the people, the bill might not get past the desk of Gov. Sonny Perdue, a teetotaler.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Pennsylvania Grocery Stores Push for Right to Sell Alcohol

I'll admit I was a bit shocked back in November when voters in Massachusetts turned down a proposal that would have allowed grocery stores in the state to sell wine. In a campaign that saw the largest amount ever spent for advertising for and against a ballot question in the Bay State -- $11 million -- voters bought into the argument that wine at grocery stores would mean more underage drinking and more drunk drivers on the roads. Polls taken just prior to the election showed the measure would pass, but a late media blitz turned the tide.

Late last year supermarkets in Minnesota made rumblings about wanting to be able to sell alcohol. Now it looks like grocery stores in Pennsylvania are ready to press forward to get the right to sell alcohol.

Wegmans Food Markets, a Rochester, N.Y., based chain says it will buy liquor licenses for its 11 stores located in Pennsylvania. This will allow the company to sell beer to drink and takeout in the cafe restaurants it operates in each store. The company might later add wine and spirit sales in the cafe. The move would allow customers to buy alcohol inside the grocery store because technically the cafe would hold a license similar to a tavern or restaurant. To qualify the cafes must have at least 30 seats, be separated from the grocery aisles and sell alcohol through a separate cash register.

Wegmans is following Weis Markets, which already is selling beer at one of its stores in the Poconos using a similar loophole. The company plans to add alcohol sales at some of its other locations.

Another Pennsylvania chain, Acme Markets, says it would like to see the Pennsylvania Legislature vote to allow alcohol sales in grocery stores in the state. The company sells alcohol at locations it operates in New Jersey. It plans to lobby elected officials on the matter.

Heartland Launches Employee Stock Ownership Plan

Have you ever been in a restaurant with lousy service and realized that not a single person in the place really cares? That should not be the case at any of the Heartland Brewery locations in New York City if founder and Chief Executive Officer Jon Bloostein and his partners go forward with an employee stock ownership plan proposal they announced this week.

Under the plan Heartland will continue to be managed by Bloostein but, 49 percent of the company's stock will be transferred to 380 employees. Corporate Solutions Group, a New York investment banking house, put together the transaction.

Bloostein said he had looked at finding a partner to buy into the chain and had considered offering stock to the public, but decided on the deal to employees. Heartland was founded in 1995 on Union Square and has five locations in Manhattan. The company also recently launched the Spanky's BBQ brand.

You'll Have to Pony Up More the Next Time You Belly Up to the Bar

As if high gasoline prices were not enough, the cost of a pint is also on the way up.

Anheuser-Busch has signaled its plans to take a price increase early this year. The maker of the King of Beers serves as a bellwether in these matters and you can expect most other brewers to follow suit. Unlike the price of gasoline, which appears to go up and down based mostly on commodity trading speculation, there are actual hard reasons behind the climb in beer costs.

Brewers are paying more for hops and barley, two of the primary ingredients in the suds we enjoy. The price of barley has jumped 24 percent in the last year. Packaging costs have jumped, too, thanks to increases in the cost of aluminum. Brewers and distributors also face increased energy costs. Yup, fueling those beer delivery trucks is more expensive than it used to be.

There is not much any of us can do about higher beer prices. Unlike gasoline prices, where we might be able to switch to public transportation or buy a hybrid auto, beer lovers are pretty defenseless if they want to continue enjoying a cold brew after a long day. Will this push some to homebrew? Perhaps. Will cheap wine prices caused by the glut of grapes on the world market attract some? Maybe. The truth is most of us will kick in the extra dime per pint or quarter per six pack and not give it much thought.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Gordon Biersch Brewery Chain Expanding

Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant Group plans to open seven new locations during 2007, including six under the Gordon Biersch Brewery banner. The company plans to expand in Las Vegas, Chicago, Phoenix, Kansas City and Maryland.

Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurants was founded in 1988 in Palo Alto, Ca. The company now has 25 Gordon Biersch locations and units that operate under the Big River Grille and Brewing Works, Seven Bridges Grille and Brewery, A1A Ale Works, Ragtime Tavern Seafood and Grill, Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery and Blue Water Grille brands.

The Chattanooga, Tenn., based company has locations in California, Hawaii, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Washington, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington, DC.

Not Quite California, But Illinois Wineries Contribute $250 Million to State's Economy

As the farm economies of many states evolve, land owners are taking property once used for everything from dairy farming to tobacco growing and turning it into vineyards. Illinois is one state that does not instantly spring to mind when you think wine. However, a just released report from the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association indicates that could change in the coming years.

According to the report, nearly 2,300 people now work in vineyard and winery business in the state. The industry has more than a $250 million economic impact on the state. The growth has picked up steam during the last decade with 68 new wineries coming on line.

While distribution of Illinois wine is expanding in restaurants and retail stores, most is sold at the wineries to visitors. Wineries are good corporate citizens, paying $11.9 million in taxes to the State of Illinois.

PGA Golfer Mike Weir Launches Icewine

With seven PGA wins to his credit Canada's Mike Weir is recognized as one of the better golfers to ever come out of the Great White North. He's also trying to build a name for himself as a winemaker.

The next step in the process for the Mike Weir Estate Winery is the release of its inaugural icewine during the Niagara Icewine Festival (www.niagaraicewinefestival.com) taking place throughout the region from Jan. 19-28. The Weir 2005 Vidal Icewine, a sweet and intensely flavored dessert wine, will be sampled at events during the festival.

Weir has partnered with NiagaraƂ’s Creekside Estate Winery to a line of premium wines, with proceeds going to The Mike Weir Foundation, which supports various charities in Canada.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Tuesday Tasting: Four More Seasonal Beers

Tuesday Tasting is a regular feature of Lyke2Drink that explores some of the best beers, wines and spirits on the market. This week we offer up the last in a series of tastings of holiday and winter seasonal beers. With these four brews we bring our total of seasonals reviewed to 34. To check out the others go to the Tuesday tasting section of the blog index.

Delirium Noel: This Belgian brew is 10 percent alcohol by volume and has a reddish hue. The beer is slightly sweet, with some wine like characteristics. There is even a slight hint of smoke in the base of the flavor profile. An interesting brew to share.

Harpoon Winter Warmer: This beer from New England has a rich creamy head and an inviting amber color. There is a pronounced cinnamon nose and taste throughout.

Magic Hat Roxy Rolles: A cloudy amber brew from Vermont with plenty of hops to ward off the cold. There is a twist at the end of the flavor that is hard to identify exactly. Likely part of the hop bitterness, it did have a slightly spruce tree finish.

Sarasota Invincible Ale: This golden color draft is 9 percent alcohol by volume. Golden in color and an Imperial IPA by style, there is a good bit of hoppiness to this beer.

Less Than 40 Hours Until 2007 Bloggies Nominations Close

It's been a learning experience since Lyke2Drink was launched back in July.

Turning out copy on nearly a daily basis is not new to me, nor is marketing a product. Still there is much about blogging that I am still learning. I want to create a blog that goes beyond the "I had this to drink today" nature of some and has more news value than the cut and paste content of some others. There would be elements of each of these formats to Lyke2Drink for sure, but my goal is to create something people will want read and visit often. Perhaps not on a daily basis, but at least once or twice a week. I purposely decided to go in the direction of a general alcoholic beverage blog, instead of something more specialized solely about beer, wine or spirits. While focusing on one segment would give me the ability to turn out more in-depth copy and appeal to some, I don't drink only one type of beverage and I don't think that is the way most people approach adult beverages.

I've learned that most bloggers are very friendly and more than willing to promote another blogger's good work. I've found that blogs can be a very good source of information. They can also provide misinformation, but so can the mainstream media. I was prepared to work to slowly build an audience and see where it went. I've found that after five months or so with a relatively low level of promotion, I can expect 80-130 unique visitors a day to my blog about alcohol. My highest daily hit total was back on September 14th when 357 people hit my blog, many reading a post about the Greatest 50 Drinking Songs of All-Time. My best month so far was December when 2,756 unique visitors stopped by Lyke2Drink.

I have learned that building a blog's readership requires good content, reader interest in the topic, some good luck and timely promotion. After all, there are something like 60 million blogs in the world today. Building a blog does not mean the readers will come. That's where the promotional part of this message comes in.

I could use a little help. It will use up less than 3 minutes of your time and your help will be greatly appreciated.

This is a real longshot, but to try to promote Lyke2Drink I'm mounting a rather late grassroots campaign to be nominated in the Best New Blog category of the 2007 Bloggies. Again, this is a real longshot.

Nominations must be submitted by Jan. 10th (Wednesday) at 10 p.m. You can only submit one nomination form and it must have at least three nominations listed. So you can put Lyke2Drink in multiple categories or list some of your other favorite blogs. Take a look at a few in my blogroll for suggestions.

Please go to http://2007.bloggies.com and enter Lyke2Drink (http://lyke2drink.blogspot.com) in the new weblog category. Thanks for supporting Lyke2Drink. In the spirit of politics at its finest, I owe you a drink.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Bottle of Beer Pays for Camper for Second Honeymoon

You should never under estimate the value of a good beer. After reading this report out of the United Kingdom, I'm tempted to put together a mixed six pack of some of the holiday beers I have in the fridge and try to trade up for a trip to next summer's Great British Beer Festival.

Pete Genders, 28-years-old from Lincoln, England, took a bottle of Lincoln GRAle -- worth around $5.25 -- and during a series of trades turned it into a camper van to take his wife on a second honeymoon. Genders started his trading exercise five months ago and in just five trades managed to land the red VW Campervan worth $2,900.

Genders swapped the Lincoln GrALE beer for a day as a local newspaper editor, trading that for a day as the co-host of a local radio show. He exchanged that tickets to a concert by The Zutons, which he exchanged for a Citroen sedan said to be worth just under $1,000. He then exchanged that set of keys for the keys to the VW Campervan.

Granite City Gets Brewing Patent

Granite City Food & Brewery Ltd., an 18-location Midwestern restaurant chain, has been granted a patent by the United States Patent Office for a proprietary beer brewing process that they call Fermentus Interruptus.

The Company uses a central brewing location for the production of unfermented and unprocessed hopped wort and then transports the liquid to its restaurants. The brew is then placed into fermentation tanks where it is finished into beer. The process cuts down on the equipment and labor costs associated with running separate brewpubs. Because the liquid being transported across state lines is not finished beer, the company does not have to involve distributors in the shipments.

Granite City says the proprietary process will allow it to continue its geographic expansion.

Anheuser-Busch Cos. and Budejovicky Budvar Sign a Truce in the U.S.

Anheuser-Busch Cos. of the United States and Budejovicky Budvar of the Czech Republic have agreed to put aside one of the world's longest running trademark disputes in the name of selling more Czech pilsner in America.

The two companies have fought over the Budweiser trademark, running up millions of dollars in legal bills around the world. Anheuser-Busch cannot sell its flagship beer under the Budweiser name in most of Europe, using the name Bud instead. In the U.S., the Czech company cannot use the Budvar brand name, instead selling its beer as Czechvar.

Under the agreement announced by the two brewing firms this morning, Czechvar, currently sold in 30 states, will go nationwide using A-B’s marketing, sales and distribution clout. The move further expands the St. Louis based brewery's alliances with imported brands. Czechvar joins Grolsch, Tiger, Kirin, Stella Artois, Beck’s, Bass Pale Ale, Leffe and other beers in A-B's import portfolio.

The two companies are calling the agreement "an historic alliance." And while it does not clarify which is the "real" Budweiser from a trademark standpoint -- more than 40 lawsuits over the trademark will move forward in other nations -- it does signal a change in approach by the two companies.

"After years of differences, this is a meaningful step for two great brewers to form a relationship that is good for both of our businesses," said August A. Busch IV, president and chief executive of Anheuser-Busch.

"We managed to move away from discussions between lawyers and towards a practical dialogue," said Jiri Bocek, director general of Budejovicky Budvar.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

When in Chicago Do as the Romans Do

To promote the Jan. 14th start of the new season of its series Rome, HBO will be buying wine for patrons of more than 100 restaurants in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Free bottles of Rome Cabernet Sauvignon will be given away from Jan. 10-13 to promote the series, which is set amidst the blood, lust and intrigue of the Roman Empire. Customers will find a card on their table that reads: "A taste of 'Rome' awaits you. Ask your server for details." Those that inquire will get a free bottle of the wine.

Anheuser-Busch Sets Record in 2006

The maker of the King of Beers is on a roll.

Anheuser-Busch, America's largest brewer, was rewarded for its frenetic level of activity in 2006 with sales of 102.3 million barrels -- a new record.

The company announced on Friday that shipments to wholesalers were up 1.2 percent. The company said core brands like Bud Light and Budweiser contributed to the growth, as did the freshly acquired Rolling Rock brand and import labels like Grolsch. Company officials said strategic initiatives put in place during 2006 position A-B for additional growth in 2007.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Brewing News: Dispatches From the Beer World

Heineken Pushing Non-Alcoholic Brand in Europe: In an effort to attract the growing Muslim population in Western Europe, the Netherlands' brewing giant Heineken is backing the Fayrouz non-alcoholic beer brand with a $48 million advertising effort.

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Honey Porter in a Landslide: The Boston Beer Co. polled beer fans and the winner of the brewery's annual Beer Lover’s Choice is Samuel Adams Honey Porter. The brew beat Samuel Adams Smoked Lager by a vote of 8,206 to 5,984. Attendees at nearly 800 tasting events nationwide cast ballots during August and September. Honey Porter will be released in January.

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Pyramid Exits Soda Business: Seattle's Pyramid Breweries has sold its Thomas Kemper soda brand to Portland, Ore., based equity firm Adventure Funds for $3.1 million. The soda line includes a root beer, ginger ale and orange cream.

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Only Happy Cows: It just might be that a division of Japan's Kirin Brewery Co. may have found a way to prevent mad cow disease. Scientists at Hematech Inc., working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, bred cattle without the prion protein. The cows showed signs of resistance to mad cow disease or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, a brain wasting illness fatal to cows and linked to nearly 200 human deaths in recent years.

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Potential Craft Beer Merger: Redhook Ale Brewery Inc. and Widmer Brothers Brewing Co. have confirmed they are involved in preliminary discussions about combining the two companies. Redhook and Widmer currently share a joint sales and marketing venture in the western U.S., operating as Craft Brands Alliance, and have a brewing and licensing relationship in the eastern U.S.

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More China Moves: SABMiller's Chinese partner, China Resources Snow Breweries, is spending $320 million to complete an acquisition of Blue Sword. Blue Sword has ownership stakes in 14 breweries around the country. SABMiller plans to increase its market share in western China through the move.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

No Ice For Ice Wine

You can't make ice wine unless temperatures dip low enough for long enough. For vineyards in the northeastern United States and Ontario's Niagara Peninsula risking riesling, vidal and other grapes waiting for a freeze, it has just been too warm this winter.

The mild winter is bad news for lovers of the sweet dessert wine. Without temperatures in the mid-teens for several hours, wineries cannot harvest frozen grapes and produce ice wine. By freezing over ripe grapes, sweet flavors are concentrated and produce an amazing wine.

Most grapes are harvested in September and October, but grapes earmarked for ice wine are left on the vine until December. Often crews are called out to harvest the precious grapes in the early morning hours before temperatures rise with the sun. In extreme situations, grapes can be left on vines until late January. The yield declines as time goes by as grapes are lost.

Vineyards walk a thin balancing act. The longer grapes stay on vines the more likely they are to become meals for deer, birds and other animals. Warm or wet weather can cause the grapes to rot. Rows of vines produce a limited number of half bottles.

Some vineyards are giving up on producing an ice wine during 2006 and have picked the remaining grapes to make sweet late harvest wines. While it cannot be called ice wine, some vineyards in the U.S. use an artificial method, picking grapes and then freezing them before crushing the grapes.

With all of the problems and the growing demand for ice wine, you can expect prices to skyrocket for the 2006 vintage.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Graveyard Grapes

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland had a dilemma at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery. Weeds were overrunning part of the cemetery grounds and it needed some sprucing up. One estimate would have the church spend $50,000 to chop the weeds and clear the debris. Then the diocese decided it was better to spend $25,000 to plant a vineyard.

Grape vines in the graveyard might sound a little odd, but cemetery officials see the vineyard as not only a cost savings measure, but also a link to the Cana water-to-wine miracle and today's modern the Mass. They are quick to point out Franciscan friars introduced grapes to California in the 1700s.

The nearest graves are about 60 feet from the vines. The Diocese of Oakland has hired a vineyard consultant to monitor the zinfandel, chardonnay and pinot noir grapes. The church plans to see how the vines develop and then decide if the wine can be used in church ceremonies or sold at fundraisers. Talks are underway about possible plantings at two other cemeteries.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Why the Belgian Post Office is Better Than the U.S. Postal Service

You can learn as much or more about the attitudes of government officials by observing what they do rather than what they say. It's clear in so many ways that many elected and appointed officials at local, state and federal levels of government in the United States would love to ban or at least further restrict our right to purchase and responsibly consume beer, wine and spirits. They might not be running on the Prohibition Party line, but look at what they do in everything from excise tax increases to restrictions on where and when alcohol may be purchased or served.

It even filters down to our postage stamps. That's right: postage stamps.

You might not think it matters, but it serves to prove a point. In a country where our first President ran a distillery, the author of the Declaration of Independence was a collector of fine wine and at least one leader of the revolution was a brewer, you might expect a more favorable attitude towards alcohol among politicians. Not so and postage stamps are evidence.

When has the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) produced a stamp to honor brewers, winemakers or distillers? It has not happened recently, that's for sure. Perhaps a stamp collector might have some historical information on when (or if) this has ever occurred. However, in 1998 when the USPS was producing a series of stamps marking key happenings of the 20th Century they went out of their way in the collection of key events in the 1920s decade to have a stamp honoring Prohibition. That stamp showed a barrel being dumped. Nothing subtle about that stamp. The 1930s collection did not have a stamp marking the return of alcohol.

Contrast this to the Belgian Post Office, which recently issued a series of stamps called "This is Belgium," which contained two beer themed stamps. One honored Belgian Trappist ales and another the gueuze style of beer made in the country. At least they had the sense to salute a part of their culture that makes positive contributions to the economy, lifestyles and national pride.

We've had Elvis, the Muppets and comic strip characters on stamps. Certainly the brewing, wine and spirits industries deserve at least one stamp each. The USPS says it listens to public suggestions for stamp topics. If you have an idea on how to rectify this omission you can contact them at: Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee, Stamp Development, U.S. Postal Service, 1735 North Lynn St., Room 5013, Arlington, Va., 22209.