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

Sunday, November 30, 2008

It's Time for Beer Can Christmas Trees

Perhaps it was the two straight days of decorating the inside and outside of our house coming so close after hosting family for a traditional Thanksgiving meal, but I'm really starting to think that the creators of these Christmas trees have the right idea!

I'm willing to wager that: (a) Men are behind most of these holiday classics; (b) Most of the men who created these trees are in college or they are single, divorced or soon will be; and (c) The vast majority came up with the concepts after consuming the contents of the building materials.

All kidding aside, I cannot get enough of these malty holiday symbols. Remember last year when the Viet Nam Beer Co. used 8,000 Heineken cans to build a uniquely shaped Christmas tree? If pictures are worth a thousand words, then these videos on You Tube must be worth a million:

Here is a Christmas tree built from 1,050 Stubbie Bottles:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jp8jIPaX9BM

If you liked that clip, you'll love the Heineken Christmas tree in Hawaii: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ccEduayuXh8&NR=1

In order to get into the holiday (or is it the recycling) mood, this year I think I'm going to listen to "Beer Can Christmas Tree" by Michael O’Neill and Jimmy Baldwin while opening presents. After all, who can resist the lyrics:

I don’t need no Douglas fur,
Don’t want no Evergreen,
The “purdiest” tree to me is a beer can Christmas tree,
A beer can Christmas tree...

Cocktail Classics: Warwick Melrose Baked Apple Pie Cocktail

Baked Apple Pie Cocktail
at the Library Bar
Warwick Melrose Hotel in Dallas, Texas

1.5 ounces Cruzan Coconut Rum
0.5 ounce Apple Juice
Dash of Apple Pucker liqueur

Pour these over ice into a martini shaker and mix thoroughly. Strain into
glass and top with a dollop of whipped cream

Friday, November 28, 2008

Lager Library: Christmas Beer: The Cheeriest, Tastiest and Most Unusual Holiday Brews

Christmas Beer: The Cheeriest, Tastiest and Most Unusual Holiday Brews by Don Russell takes on the subject on Christmas beers and winter warmers with gusto.

Russell, the Philadelphia Daily News beer columnist known to many as "Joe Sixpack," ranks his "50 Best Christmas Beers," with Troegs Brewing Mad Elf, Dupont's Avec les Bons Voeux, Samichlaus Bier, De Dolle Brouwers Stille Nacht and Anchor's Our Special Ale holding down the top five positions. There are dozens of other holiday and winter brews in the book, which can help decipher some of the ingredients brewers use to spice holiday beers.

Russell establishes the origins of the 2,000-year-old holiday beer tradition and goes on to show that there are brewers from Australia to Estonia who make festive ales and lagers. He credits Fritz Maytag at Anchor for launching the modern era of holiday beers in the U.S. Since Maytag brewed his first back in 1975 there has literally been a river of special winter seasonal brews from brewers big and small on the international scene.

The 208 page book (Universe: $19.95) is loaded with bottle photography. "Christmas Beer" would make the perfect holiday gift for almost any beer fan.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tuesday Tasting: A Little Dark Brew to Ward Off the Cold

Tuesday Tasting is a regular feature of Lyke2Drink that explores some of the best beers, wines and spirits on the market. This week we taste five dark brews perfect for Thanksgiving gatherings.

When the days grow shorter, the nights a little cooler and the wind picks up a bit, I think it is perfect weather for dark beer. The touch of extra flavor from the roasted barley goes perfectly with robust foods and Fall traditions.

In the last week or so I have enjoyed five different dark beers. Here are my notes from those tastings.

Saranac Black Forest Bavarian Black Beer: This brew pours a brown amber color with a thick, firm head. The flavor was dominated by the caramel malt and provided a rich, smooth taste.

DB Double Back Stout with Coffee: From Redhook this limited edition beer is 7.0 percent alcohol by volume. This is a re-release of a classic Redhook offering and it reminds me of how things have progressed on the craft beer scene. When this beer first hit it would have been considered an extreme beer. Now it would be just outside of the mainstream of the craft movement. Don't get me wrong, it is a good brew, with nice roasted notes in the finish. It is just not the in-your-face flavor monster I recall from back in the 1990s.

Hook & Ladder Backdraft Brown: This brew pours a nice hazelnut brown color and has a moderate head. The flavor has a good sweet malt base that lingers. This would go very nicely with a turkey leg and a football game.

Kona Pipeline Porter: This limited release beer is made with 100% Kona coffee. It has a nice mocha nose and a deep roasted coffee flavor. Well put together and a treat for anyone who loves beer and coffee.

Highland Imperial Black Mocha Stout: Another limited edition brew. At 9.5 percent alcohol by volume this beer is thick and offers up coffee and chocolate flavor characteristics. It is black and nearly impervious to light. Good level of roasted aroma and flavor round out the beer.

Russian Distillers Worry About Vodka Surplus

What wars, political upheavals and massive cold snaps failed to accomplish, the credit crunch appears to be doing. Russians are not drinking as much vodka as they once did.

The cause appears to be the difficulty retailers are having in finding credit to use to stock shelves with vodka. Reports from Russia's National Alcohol Association claim that distillers are now warehousing 82 million liters of vodka, up 600 percent from last year.

Distilleries are cutting back on production. They point out that Russian consumers are also tending to buy lower priced brands, reflecting the overall downturn in the economy.

Scotch from "Whisky Galore" Wreck Up for Auction

A bottle of Scotch from a legendary shipwreck is set to be auctioned next week in the United Kingdom.

The wreck of the SS Politician in 1941 set off a flurry of "salvage" efforts by residents of the Outer Hebrides and inspired the 1949 film "Whisky Galore." Now a bottle recovered from the ship in a 1970 dive is going to be sold at Gorringes Auctioneers in Lewes, East Sussex, on Dec. 3rd. Bob Pert, a leader of the dive team that located the wreck, is selling the whisky.

The bottle of Ballantine Scotch from the SS Politician, which ran aground off of Eriskay, could sell for several thousand dollars. The ship was sailing for the Jamaica and U.S. with 260,000 bottles of whisky at the time of the wreck.

All of the crew got off of the ship safely. When word of the cargo spread among locals, who were facing war time rationing, small boats began going out to the ship to recover cases of the whisky. Authorities tried to halt the efforts and actually charged some of the salavagers with stealing the Scotch. The government eventually sank the damaged ship, but not before the majority of the whisky had been removed by the unauthorized crews.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Lager Library: The Ultimate Beer Lover's Cookbook

The Ultimate Beer Lover's Cookbook by John Schlimm is described as a landmark collection of recipes that were gathered over a 10 year period. It's hard to argue with the fact that Schlimm has pulled together an impressive collection of main courses, soups, sauces and cakes, along with a an inspiring array of mixed drinks made with beer.

The 351 page book (Cumberland House Publishing: $26.95) starts with appetizers and runs through desserts. Schlimm is a member of the Straub family, a six-generation family of brewers in St. Marys, Pa. Among the drink recipes in the book is one called St. Marys Rootbeer.

1 ounce Galliano
1 ounce Kahlua
1 ounce Cola
2.5 ounces Club Soda
1 Teaspoon Beer

Combine Galliano, Kahlua and Cola in a shaker over crushed iced and shake well. Strain into a glass filled with ice cubes. Add club soda and beer.

U.K. Looks at Tougher Alcohol Rules

Three years ago rules for British pubs were relaxed to allow 24-hour licenses. Now it appears that those opposed to expanded alcohol sales have been joined by people upset by what they see as an increase in binge drinking to push forward new rules to curb drinking in the United Kingdom.

Media reports suggest that in the next two weeks a tough set of new regulations will be considered that will change some of the drinking culture in the country.

Among the measures that are expected to be part of the government's plan:

-- Elimination of happy hour drink specials.
-- Outlawing free drink promotions for women or those encouraging sports fans to watch games at pubs.
-- Bans on pay-one-price and all-you-can-drink promotions.
-- Curbs on drinking games.

The package of proposals would be considered by local community authorities for enforcement.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Lager Library: 101 Champagne Cocktails

In paging through 101 Champagne Cocktails by Kim Haasarud you might get the idea that drinking sparkling wine on its own is a foolish concept.

Haasarud is known as the Liquid Chef and has a series of the "101 Cocktails" books out, including ones covering Margaritas, Martinis and Sangritas and Pitcher Drinks. This 128 page offering (Wiley, $16.95) has a range of recipes that go from the simple to the advanced.

If you enjoy entertaining and think that Champagne cocktails start and end with the Mimosa (Haasarud actually gives three Mimosa recipes), you owe it to yourself to pick up this book. The range of Bellini recipes is quite inspiring and will likely cause you to want to host a brunch fairly soon to try one of them out on guests.

Here's a sample of one of the recipes:

Bellini Tropicale

1 ounce Mango Puree
1 ounce Pineapple Juice
0.5 ounce Peach Liqueur
4 ounces Champagne

Combine all of the ingredients except for the Champagne in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Add the Champagne and stir. Strain into a chilled flute. Garnish with a pineapple wedge.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Oak via Airmail

The mail today contained an awkward white envelope that had been airmailed to me from London. I say awkward because it was unevenly weighted and whatever was inside moved around quite a bit. As I brought it inside I noticed a more than slight aroma of whisky.

I opened it up to find a letter from the folks at Glenfiddich and a thick piece of oak with the width and height dimensions of a postcard that was once part a barrel of Scotch that had been filled on March 7, 1977. Glenfiddich has released 482 bottles of Glenfiddich Vintage Reserve 1977, priced at $750 each -- if you can find one. As the letter states, "From the cask piece, you can experience the qualities that are inherent in the whisky from years of interaction within the cask."

Now it is not every day that I get a piece of oak via airmail from the other side of the Atlantic. I agree that the aroma from the piece of wood gives me a good idea of what the scent of the actually Scotch must be like. The package certainly caught my eye more than a simple press release. And I understand that if Glenfiddich sent an actual tasting sample of the 31-year-old whisky to every drinks journalist they would not have any of the precious liquid left to sell.

All of that said, I hope other distillers don't get the idea of substituting pieces of barrels for tasting samples. That would make writing about spirits, wine and beer far less interesting.

Travel Troubles: On Foot and in the Air

My travel record is legendary among those who have worked with me or known me over the years. I've been trapped in New York City by Nor'easters; found by a couple of hurricanes and a few tropical storms; had airplanes land at airports that were not on my itinerary; and rented cars that were nearly out of gas. I've had the typical lost luggage, misplaced hotel reservations and flight delays and cancellations.

My contention is that if you travel enough, these things are bound to happen. With the condition of the airline system in the U.S., more people will be discovering that travel is less fun everyday. Recently, I was on a USAir flight with a colleague from Charlotte to Philadelphia that was delayed about 30 minutes. We had a tight connection in Philadelphia to make a flight to Syracuse for a business meeting. After sprinting from the B Terminal to the C Terminal and then taking the shuttle to the F Terminal, we made it to the gate 12 minutes before the Syracuse flight's departure time. Just in time to watch the plane being pushed back. The friendly gate attendant from USAir then decided to lecture us that we needed to be at the gate at least 10 minutes before the departure time. After I pointed out that both my watch and the clock on the wall said it was 12 minutes before the scheduled flight time she just shrugged. I asked and she confirmed that our flight was indeed oversold, so it did not matter that USAir had caused us to be late in arriving in Philadelphia in the first place.

That brings me to my recent European adventures. Our trip involved trains, planes, automobiles and buses, so there was plenty of opportunity for "fun." If you don't count dealing with Rome taxi drivers, there were just two mishaps, confined to the start and end of the trip.

Issue one had to do with the most basic form of transportation: walking. When we arrived on the first day in Bamberg I decided to change footwear into a brand new pair of Merrell casual shoes I had purchased for the trip. We walked from our room at Brauerei Fassla directly across the street to Brauerei Spezial. A total distance from our room to our table of no more than 50 yards. As you can see from this photo, the Merrells just could not handle the stress! I was in shock when my foot started to feel a chill and I looked down to see my toes sticking out. The upper had separated from the sole. I had to haul the shoes around Europe for the next 15 days to get them back to Charlotte to return them.

After visiting Brhea, we planned to leave Rome's Ciampino airport on the morning of Nov. 11 on a Ryan Air flight to Frankfurt Hahn. There we would rent a car for a leisurely drive in German wine country before arriving at the Frankfurt Main Airport for our flight home the next day. That was before a Ryan Air flight arriving the day before encountered a flock of birds on its approach to Rome.

The Ryan Air pilot declared an emergency as one of the engines smoked. The hard landing caused one of the landing gear to break. A couple of the crew and six passengers were slightly injured using the emergency slides, but a real tragedy was avoided. However, the next day when we arrived at the airport the plane was still blocking the runway. The airport was clogged with people and no one was giving out much information. There was no one at any of the Ryan Air counters. No one had a clue when the airport might try to move the plane so the airport could reopen. We decided our best bet was to keep moving and try another form of transportation. (I found out later that police had to be called to the airport because angry passengers finally had enough of the delays with no clear information. For it's part, Ryan Air emailed me around 12:15 p.m. to say that my 9:20 a.m. flight had been cancelled. By then Sandy and I were already set to board a train in Rome.)

The 14 hour train trip from Rome to Frankfurt included changes in Milan and Basel, Switzerland. At the first stop we purchased some food and a small bottle of Veneto Merlot and two cans of Splugen Lager. This beer is a Carlsberg product that fit the mood of a 14 hour train ride -- most of it in the dark -- perfectly. The beer was fairly flat and had little hop character, but I was still glad to be able to get to Frankfurt in time for the flight home. Thankfully, the train on last leg of the trip in Germany had Franziskaner Weissbier available, so I made that my last brew in Europe.

All in all, it was a fun trip to Europe. Even with the shoe incident and train journey with Splugen.

Florence and Prato: A Day in Tuscany

Wine is an important part of Italian life. In Tuscany, it's religion. If you doubt it for an instant, visiting the Duomo in Florence will prove the point.

The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore was built between 1296 and 1436. Designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, the church's massive dome dominates the Florence skyline and its green and pink marble exterior speaks of the region's wealth and power that existed hundreds of years ago. If you are in good shape you can climb the tower next to the church, but I'd recommend spending your time wandering the church. During my visit I was admiring the carvings on one of the massive wood doors when I noticed that a key component woven around the exterior was grapes. For Tuscans, God and grapes coexist quite nicely.

We took a fairly packed high speed train on a Saturday morning run from Rome to Florence. From there, Sandy and Brhea went east in search of Gucci at something called "The Mall," which is a set of designer outlets, I went east in search of a quieter part of Tuscany.

Prato is a quick 25 minute train ride from Florence. Prato grew as a major center of textiles in the region. Like its bigger neighbor, it has a church as its central focus, which features recently restored frescoes from Filippo Lippi. Unlike Florence, where the streets were clogged with thousands of shoppers and tourists, it felt like I had Prato much to myself.

I wandered around for a couple of hours, admiring the Prato Duomo, and searching fruitlessly for some famous fresh Prato Biscotti. I did, however, find a small restaurant behind the Duomo that gave me a feel for authentic Tuscan food and drink. The Aroma di Vino was open when most of the rest of the town was shut for siesta. I had a bowl of ribollita, a vegetable and bread soup where just about all of the broth has been soaked up, and a pasta dish with a ground pork sauce. A glass of house red washed the meal down nicely. The purple liquid had nice hints of plum skins and berries throughout.

I went back to Florence after lunch and did some site seeing and shopping, stopping in the Mercato Centrale square to find a place to meet back up with the girls for dinner. We settled on Trattoria Za-Za at just about the same time that at least 100 other tourists tired from a day of walking Florence made the same decision. This meant that, while we had about two and a half hours before our train headed back to Rome, we barely made it out of the place in time because the restaurant appeared to have more hostesses than waiters. We sat outside in an enclosed tent and the food at Za-Za was nice, as was the wine. The restaurant was priced decently, especially compared to what we had been experiencing in Rome.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Rome: Wine, Taxi Drivers and Ruins

We spent six nights in Rome so we could maximize our time visiting with Brhea, who is in the fall of her senior year at Loyola's campus in the Italian capital.

Rome has some of the most interesting sites to visit in all of Europe. From Vatican City to roaming ancient ruins to checking out museums, there is a ton to see and do.

For all that is good about Rome, the city can also be difficult for visitors. It's cliche to say that Italian drivers are crazy. The folks on motorcycles appear to have a collective death wish and the driving styles of the locals would qualify as road rage in most parts of the world. The cab drivers can run the spectrum from semi-helpful to thieves -- and I don't just mean taking the long way to the airport. From bumping the rate from daytime to nighttime during the afternoon, to claiming you gave them a 10 Euro note when you paid with a 50 Euro bill, the taxi drivers of Rome really harm the image of the city.

When it comes to food and drink, get ready to open your wallet wide. A good meal in a good restaurant is expensive. It's hard to have a very simple lunch at a cafeteria-style place for under 20 Euro a person. If you want to have a Bellini at the Harry's Bar at the top of the fashionable Via Veneto it will cost you 18 Euro -- about $24. It's not news that when you travel to a big city you can expect to pay inflated prices. In the case of Rome, however, you will find it difficult to find moderately priced places that are worth your time and money.

We did get one pleasant surprise during our visit in the form of a restaurant that we had enjoyed six years ago during our last visit to Rome. Girarrosto Toscano on Via Campania -- a quick walk off Via Veneto, near the city wall and Villa Borghese -- has kept serving some very nice meals at prices that are "reasonable" for Rome. In a city full of restaurants, this is one that I can recommend that will not disappoint, from the olives and bread at the start of the meal to the vin santo and biscotti at the end of the meal.

I did have several nice bottles of wine while in Rome. My three favorites were:

Villa Sandi Prosecco Valdobbiadene D.O.C.: This sparkler is a crisp and clean wine. There is a good level of tart green apple and acidity in this wine. Finer bubbles and more Champagne-like than most preseccos you will drink.

La Scolca Gavi 2007 Bianco Secco: A very nice wine to go with a late lunch. A straw, slightly green color. Tasty minerally texture with some slight grapefruit notes around the edges.

Capsula Viola 2007 Toscana: This is a blended Tuscan white that is fairly affordable. Nice floral aromas, light flavor. Pear and apple notes.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Chasing Family Roots Near Verona

Our first stop in Italy was Verona. We wanted to check out the city and use it as a base for exploring the nearby countryside where one branch of my wife's family, the Salvagno clan, is from.

In one day we would see the town Sandy's great grandfather left in the early part of the last century to come to America and visit the Salvagno Olive Oil Co. to meet some of Sandy's distant cousins who make a very fine olive oil.

In the morning we got a driver to take us into the countryside to Nesente Valpantena, where olive groves mix with vineyards and Salvagno Frantoio per Olive is located. Sandy and Brhea really wanted to see the place and I don't think we were expecting to really meet any Salvagnos, but before we were done introductions were made and hugs exchanged.

Francesca Salvagno, 26, acted as our tour guide and we were joined along the way by her father,Giovanni. We also got the chance to meet a sister and a cousin. In the conversation we somehow discovered that we nearly bumped into Francesca last fall during our 25th anniversary trip to California. She went to Califronia in late October at nearly the exact time we were there to visit olive producers and spent time at Pietra Santa Winery in the Cienega Valley where the Blackburn family and Italian winemaker Alessio Carni also turn out olive oil.

The Salvagno Olive Oil operation was founded in 1923. The family was originally from Venice, but moved to Nesente, to the north of Verona and near Lago di Garda, to start farming. Before long they were growing olive trees.

It takes about 100 kilograms of olives to produce just 15-20 kilograms of oil. The family grows and buys olives from 600 area farmers. They use five different kinds of olives -- Leccino, Grignano, Pendolino, Frantoio and Favarol -- and cold press the oil. The oil is filtered through cotton or, as the locals like it, consumed unfiltered. The company makes about 200,000 liters of extra virgin olive oil each year. In addition to the oils, the company has a line of olive snack products, plus olive-based beauty products.

In addition to the personalized tour of the well maintained production facility, we were given an olive oil tasting. It was a real treat for all of us to make a Salvagno connection in Italy.

After we were driven back to Verona, we headed to the train station for the quick 25 minute trip to the Lago di Garda town of Desenzano. For most of the trip grape vineyards were visible along alternating sides of the rail tracks. It was raining heavily when we arrived and it continued for the two and a half hour visit.

We made a stop in one of the few cafes that were open during the late afternoon for some snacks and wine. Sandy had a glass of local red, while I had a white blend made from Veneto vineyards. These wines were not very remarkable, but they were perfect for the casual meal we were enjoying.

Upon returning to Verona we stopped at a wine shop just steps away from our hotel and picked up a bottle of Bertani Villa Novare 2005 Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore. This was a deep red, purple color wine with a nice fruit aroma. The wine was very smooth and drank like it was much more expensive than the 14 Euro price. It put a perfect ending to a day of discovering some of Sandy's Italian roots.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Lunch in Innsbruck

We left Munich via train heading to Verona, Italy, for the next leg of our trip. It is about a five and a half hour passage that chugs up the Alps, through the Brenner Pass and glides back down the other side, with some of the most picturesque scenery you could expect from a rail journey.

We wanted to break the trip up a bit, so we left the train in Innsbruck, Austria, for a few hours. Innsbruck, the capital of the Tyrol, hosted the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympic Games. Looking out from the city in one direction you see amazing mountain peaks. The other direction you look up at the Olympic ski jump.

It was a pretty warm day for Innsbruck in November and the nearby mountains did not have the snow that I had expected to see, although some of the other Alps we passed on the train journey already were covered. Innsbruck is a beautiful, compact city that is a good walking town. There was quite a bit of construction going on in the core of the city, but we navigated around to stop into several shops, take in a few of the sites -- including the Golden Roof in the old town section of the city-- and enjoy a meal.

We stopped for lunch at the Goldenes Dachl Gasthaus, which is right off the main square. We were seated quickly and soon had beverages and food in front of us. I had a steak with fried onions and spatzel, Sandy had a traditional Tyrolian dish of hunks of ham and potatoes with a fried egg on top, while Brhea repeated her meal from the Spatenhaus with pumpkin soup and wiener schnitzel.

My beer choice was a half liter of Zillertal Zwicklbier. This "fresh" beer is traditionally non-filtered and is often the "house" beer of the brewery, meant to be consumed quickly. The Zillertal Zwicklbier I tried was bright gold and had a nice effervescence. It was on the hoppy side of a pilsner and really went nice with lunch.

After we toured a little longer is was back on the train to head to Italy. We all agreed that Innsbruck certainly deserved more time, but we were glad we decided to make the time to at least get a first taste on this visit.