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

Friday, December 31, 2010

Day 365 Drink: Schloss Biebrich Sekt

Schloss Biebrich Sekt is a non-vintage sparkling wine that is one of those Trader Joe's exclusives that comes with the promise of a low price and good quality. At around $5 a bottle, it has to be one of the best values in a sparkling wine for toasting the New Year.

Schloss Biebrich Sekt pours with a flurry of bubbles. The wine is a light straw color and green apple nose. The wine has a good base acidity, which balances out the basic semi-sweet nature of the grape. There are hints of pear and melon. A nice sparkling wine.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Day 364 Drink: Trappistes Rochefort 10

There was sad news today when word came that the Abbaye de Notre-Dame de Saint-Rémy in Wallonia, Belgium, had been hit by a major fire. The Abbey is the home to Trappist monks that produce Rochefort, one of the world's great beers.

According to this report from the BBC, the Abbey sustained serious damage, but firefighters managed to save the library and its collection of historic books and the brewery. It is suspected the blaze, which occurred while the monks were eating their dinner, started when a generator malfunctioned. The generator was being used because of recent power outages caused by winter weather in the area. The report from Flanders News indicates that four buildings from the Abbey are a complete loss.  

The Trappist monks have been brewing at the Abbey since 1595. We will be thinking of them during the coming days as they begin the process of rebuilding.

Trappistes Rochefort 10  pours a rich mahogany color with a think tan head. The 11.3 percent alcohol by volume ale has a ton of malt and fruit aromas. The flavor is thick with caramelized malts, some spices, hints of figs and brown sugar. This is a big and complex brew.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Day 363 Drink: Boulder Obovoid Oak-Aged Oatmeal Stout

Boulder Beer was the first of the modern wave of microbreweries in Colorado when it was founded in a former goat shed in 1979. From 1990 to 1993 the company changed its name to Rockies Brewing Co., before changing back to the Boulder name.

Boulder Obovoid Oak-Aged Oatmeal Stout is a 6.8 percvent alcohol by volume beer. It pours a dark brown with a slight tan head. The aroma has a slight cocoa note. The flavor has a creamy body, hints of vanilla and some roasted grains. Not a huge stout, but good amounts of flavor.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Day 362 Drink: Isle of Jura Superstition Single Malt

The Isle of Jura is just seven miles long and 30 miles wide, but the island has a distillery that makes single malts. Distilling has been taking place on the island since the 1600s, but it had been nearly a century without whisky when the modern distillery opened in 1963.

George Orwell came to Jura in 1946 to write. The result was the novel 1984, which has spawned more than a few college term papers.

Isle of Jura Superstition is a 90 proof single malt. The name comes from the legend that Isle of Jura distillers believe it is unlucky to cut peat during April. Isle of Jura Superstition is a mahogany colored Scotch with a a slightly sweet almost maple nose. The flavor has a good backbone of spice, oak and some nice honey notes in the finish.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Day 361 Drink: Smithwick's Irish Ale

Smithwick's Irish Ale got its start in 1710 when John Smithwick began brewing ales in Kilkenny at the site of the former St. Francis Abbey. It is the leading selling brand of ale in Ireland.

Smithwick's Irish Ale pours a dark amber color with a moderate head. The aroma has some roasted malt qualities. The flavor has a good amount of body, with malt sweetness leading the way. The ale is lightly hopped, with a slight amount of fruitiness from the ale yeast. Pretty smooth.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Day 360 Drink: Magners Original Irish Cider

Magners has been making cider in Ireland since 1935. The company uses a blend of 17 apple varieties to create Magners Original. The company suggests serving its cider over ice.

Magners Original Irish Cider pours a light brass color with minimal amounts of bubles. The 4.5 percent alcohol by volume cider has an apple peel aroma. The flavor is crisp and light. Reminds me a bit of a sauvignon blanc.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Day 359 Drink: Folie à Deux 2008 Zinfandel

Folie à Deux Winery is located between Oakville and Yountville along Highway 29 near Mustards, a landmark Napa Valley restaurant. The winery's tasting room is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Folie à Deux 2008 Zinfandel is made from grapes sourced in Amador County. The wine pours a dark purple with ample fruit aroma. This is a soft and drinkable zinfandel. Moderate tannins and overall smooth character.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Day 358 Drink: Pyramid Snow Cap Winter Warmer

Pyramid Breweries started out in 1984 as the Hart Brewery. In 1986, the company launched an English-style winter warmer called Snow Cap. Pyramid is now part of North American Breweries.

Pyramid Snow Cap Winter Warmer is a 7 percent alcohol by volume ale that pours a deep red brown with a moderate tan head. The beer has a nice malty aroma with just a hint of spice. At first you think the malt will totally dominate this brew, but the 47 IBU come forward with some grapefruit qualities. There is good amount of flavor to the beer, with roasted malt, some coffee notes and dried fruit.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Day 357 Drink: Sapphire Hill 2006 Alexander Valley VLH Zinfandel

Sapphire Hill Vineyards calls Healdsburg, Calif., home. We stopped at their tasting room a couple of years back and this bottle has been safely stored in our wine fridge since that great trip to California.

Sapphire Hill 2006 Alexander Valley VLH Zinfandel pours a dark purple red and gives off a thick grape aroma. The wine is made from single vineyard
old vine zinfandel grapes. The flavor is unlike any other dessert wine you have likely had recently. The zinfandel grapes are left on the vine for weeks after the regular harvest, so the flavors become concentrated. At harvest the grapes were 33.5 Brix and the residual sugar an amazing 8 percent. The result is a wine with a big zinfandel body and a sneaky sweetness that keeps popping up throughout.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Day 356 Drink: Stone Lukcy Basartd

Stone Brewing sold its first beer in 1996. The company has grown rapidly over the years and sold 98,500 barrels of beer in 2009. The Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens has a seating capacity of 385 people, with 32 craft beers on tap and an extensive wine list.

Stone Lukcy Basartd is a one time release, 8.5 percent alcohol by volume beer that hit the market in November to celebrate the 13th anniversary of Arrogant Bastard Ale. It is a dry-hopped three beer blend using Arrogant Bastard Ale, Double Bastard Ale and Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale.

Stone Lukcy Basartd pours a red copper color with a lacing tan head. The ale has a vibrant grapefruit aroma that trails toward pine notes. The flavor is thick with fresh hops, plenty of citrus. The malt in this beer stands its ground, but is pushed aside by the hops. The oak aging shows itself in the finish. A big beer.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Day 355 Drink: Shiner Holiday Cheer

The Spoetzl Brewery is located in Shiner, Texas. The brewery traces its roots back to 1909 and the Shiner Brewing Association. In 1914, Kosmos Spoetzl took control of the brewery with the plan to focus on Bavarian style brews. Shiner Holiday Cheer is a dunkelweizen brewed with Texas peaches and roasted pecans.

Shiner Holiday Cheer pours a brown color with some hints of red around the edges and a slight, but persistent head. The aroma is strawberry fruit in a big way. The flavor has a big peach presence and plenty of malt. No sign of the pecans as they are overwhelmed by the peaches. Something a little different for the holidays.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Day 354 Drink: Rogue Santa's Private Reserve Ale

Rogue Ales operates a string of brewpubs in Oregon, Washington and California in addition to its production brewery. The brewpubs are friendly and relaxed places to have a pint and grab some food. If you are not able to get to one of the Rogue locations, you can still find Rogue products widely available in most craft beer friendly markets.

Rogue Santa's Private Reserve Ale is a 6 percent alcohol by volume amber colored ale that produces a fluffy white foam. The beer is a hearty 65 IBU, thanks to the Chinook and Rogue Farm Revolution and Freedom hops. This is balanced by a hefty amount of malt that give the beer some sweet fruit character. The beer finishes with some lingering grapefruit elements from the hops.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Day 353 Drink: Monstre Rouge Imperial Flanders Red

We live in the age of collaborator beers. It is always interesting to see what two great brewers come up with when they decide to brew a special beer.

Each year Seattle's SBS Imports selects a U.S. brewer to produce a special collaboration beer with De Proef Brouwerij in Belgium. Previous partners included Tomme Arthur of Port Brewing/Lost Abbey (2007); Jason Perkins of Allagash (2008); and John Mallet of Bell’s (2009). For 2010, Terrapin Co.'s Brian “Spike” Buckowski went to Europe to brew alongside De Proef Owner-Brewmaster Dirk Naudts.

Monstre Rouge Imperial Flanders Red is an 8.5 percent alcohol by volume brew based on Terrapin’s Big Hoppy Monster, fermented with brettanomyces and aged with toasted American oak. The beer pours a slightly cloudy brown with a medium head. A good citrus report from the aroma. There is a good level of sourness to the beer, but it is balanced with some sweet malt. The finish has some interesting spice notes.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Day 352 Drink: Anchor 2010 Christmas Ale

Anchor Brewing in San Francisco has been turning out a special Christmas Ale since 1975. The 36 beers have had different recipes each year and the label always features a different tree. The trees are meant to symbolize the winter solstice and the label for 2010 features the Ginkgo biloba tree.

My best estimate is that I have managed to try more than 20 of Anchor's Christmas Ales over the years. I can really only recall one time when I was a little underwhelmed by the beer. The 2010 is actually one of my favorites that I can recall from the annual series.

Anchor 2010 Christmas Ale pours an inviting red brown color with a thick tan head that stays in place. The flavor has a bunch going on. Flavorful roasted malt, some cinnamon, a touch of cocoa and a hint of root beer. Even with all of this going on, the hops show themselves with a good bittering quality that scores throughout.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Day 351 Drink: Olde Mecklenburg Yule Bock

Charlotte's Olde Mecklenburg Brewery makes all of its beers adhering to the Reinheitsgebot. Like many brewers in Germany, the brewery produces seasonal beers, including a holiday brew. This year's Olde Mecklenburg Yule Bock sold out rapidly at the brewery taproom, but I was lucky to score a bottle at Total Wine.

Olde Mecklenburg Yule Bock pours an amber color with a thick lacing head. The beer has a biscuity malt aroma. The flavor has a nice caramel sweetness, bright and refreshing. There is a slight floral hop signature, but the malt is the star with this brew. A nice holiday beer.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Day 350 Drink: Evan Williams Single Barrel 2001 Vintage

Heaven Hill Distilleries has been making whiskey in Bardstown, Kentucky, since 1934. They recently filled their 6 millionth barrel of whiskey on the 75th anniversary of the day that they filled their first barrel.

One of my favorite Bourbons from Heaven Hill is the Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, which they have released for 16 straight years. Heaven Hill Master Distiller Parker Beam and his son, Craig, select whiskey for the vintage from among Heaven Hill’s 900,000 barrels of aging Bourbon. At around $26 a bottle, it is one of the best values you will encounter in a Bourbon.

Evan Williams Single Barrel 2001 Vintage is an 86.6 proof Bourbon that is a tarnished copper color with a rich vanilla nose. The flavor is round and inviting. It's not as sweet as the nose suggests, with plenty of wood, some spice that dances across the palate, toffee and a long finish.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Day 349 Drink: Sweetwater 2010 Festive Ale

Sweetwater Brewing is the dominant craft brewery in the Atlanta market and you can find their beers spread around the southeastern United States. Even if you are just flying through Jackson Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, you can hit the Sweetwater Draft House in Terminal B.

Sweetwater 2010 Festive Ale is an 8.5 percent alcohol by volume classic winter warmer. The beer pours with a healthy tan head and a translucent brown that lets light waves through. The aroma hints at sweetness and raisins. The beer has a hefty malt base with some roasted nut qualities. There are some background spices that hint at cinnamon.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Day 348 Drink: Great Divide Smoked Baltic Porter

Great Divide Brewing is one of the places I look forward to visiting when I am in Denver for the Great American Beer Festival. They host an annual bash on the afternoon before the Thursday evening GABF kickoff session. It is the place to reconnect with old friends and get introduced to some industry luminaries. They also pour a great lineup of house beers.

Great Divide Smoked Baltic Porter pours a rich dark color with a huge head. The brewery uses German malts and hops, including the addition of Bamberg smoked malt. The 6.2 percent alcohol by volume beer has a mild smoke aroma. The flavor has a coating malt base and a nice mellow smoke overtone that is more roasted than heavy. A nicely built beer.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Day 347 Drink: Benedictine Liqueur

Benedictine Liqueur was created in 1510 by the Venetian monk Dom Bernardo Vincelli in the Abbey of Fécamp in France. The liqueur is made from 27 plants and spices and only three people are allowed to know the recipe to the drink at any one time.

The liqueur is celebrating its 500th anniversary with special packaging, but the liquid inside is the classic. It is distilled in four batches, two of which have vanilla and lemon peel added for flavor. After aging separately, the batches are combined and then aged for another eight months. Then saffron, Cognac, honey and caramel are added before an additional four months of aging.

Benedictine Liqueur has a sweet, warming layered flavor. You can certainly taste the honey and there is a mild lingering herbal character. Benedictine can be used in several classic cocktails and it is also great for sipping after dinner.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Day 346 Drink: Saranac 2010 Season's Best

Back in the 1980s Saranac Season's Best was one of the few true holiday beers that you could buy in my hometown of Syracuse, N.Y.

I am sure I was violating a few laws about shipping alcohol, but it was all in the name of research. Saranac Season's Best became my trade bait with brewers on the west coast to get a taste of some of the Christmas beers I had only heard about. It was not a cheap way to get a six pack, but trading was the only way to get these beers in the days before craft beers became readily available.

Saranac 2010 Season's Best is a nut brown lager that weighs in at 5.3 percent alcohol by volume. The beer is a mahogany color with a moderate head that laces the glass. There is a mellow malty aroma to the beer. The body of this beer is not too heavy, yet the flavor has a caramel and biscuity base, with just a touch of roasted grain.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Day 345 Drink: Sierra Nevada 2010 Celebration Fresh Hop Ale

Sierra Nevada Brewing made its first edition of Celebration Ale back in 1981. Since that time it has been one of the most anticipated of the holiday seasonal beer offerings.

Sierra Nevada 2010 Celebration Fresh Hop Ale pours a nice amber color with a thick off white head. There is a pretty intense hop nose to this 6.8 percent alcohol by volume brew. The 65 IBU really come through, with Chinook used as the bittering hop, Cascade and Centennial used for finishing, then those same two hops used for dry hopping the beer. The result is a pine tree wonderland of a brew that will go very well with holiday feasts.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Day 344 Drink: Abita 2010 Christmas Ale

Abita Brewing was founded in 1986, 30 miles north of New Orleans. In its first year, the brewery produced 1,500 barrels of beer.

The brewery has become a real part of Louisiana over the years. They showed their true colors after the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, producing SOS Charitable Pilsner to raise fund to get people back on their feet. In August, David Blossman of Abita Brewery presented New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond and Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans co-president Gordon Wadge with a check for $100,000 to help the church with their ongoing oil spill relief work. The money went directly to help 40 families hurt by the disaster.

Abita 2010 Christmas Ale is a 5.5 percent alcohol by volume brew that pours a red mahogany color with a lacing head. The aroma has a good roasted malt background with just a hint of nut meat. The flavor continues the roasted notes, with some sweetness and just a touch of background spice bitterness from the 38 IBU.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Day 343 Drink: Trullo 2008 Riesling Qualitatswein

German wine labels can be a challenge, but if you know what you are looking for they can help make your selection a little easier.

If you are in Germany, you may encounter Deutscher Tafelwein (German Table Wine) or Deutscher Landwein (German Country Wine), but in the U.S. most of your choices will be either Qualitatswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (QbA) (quality wine from a specific region) or Pradikatswein, which traditionally had been called Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (QmP), the highest ranking among German wines..

Trullo 2008 Riesling Qualitatswein is from the Rheinhessen region, which is south of the Rhein between Bingen and Worms. Wineries in the region make Silvaner, Muller-Thurgua and Riesling. If you have ever had a Liebfraumilch, it was likely made in this region and must contain a blend of at least 70 percent of the Silvaner, Muller-Thurgua and Riesling grapes. If you turn your nose up at Liebfraumilch, keep in mind if you enjoy Spätlese or Auslese you are basically drinking a blend of the same grapes.

Trullo 2008 Riesling Qualitatswein is a light golden color with a sweet floral nose. The fruit is forward in this wine and it would make a nice cocktail wine. There are bits of peach and honeysuckle in the flavor profile.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Day 342 Drink: Busnel Fine Calvados

The French have had apple orchards and made cider for centuries. Since the 1500s, apple brandy has been distilled. Calvados was given name protection in 1942 by the appellation contrôlée and three regions can now make the drink.

Busnel Calvados has been produced at the Distillerie Busnel in the Pays d’Auge region of Normandy since 1820. Sixteen pounds of apples are used to distill each 750 milliliter bottle of Busnel Fine Calvados, which is aged for at least 2 years in oak.

Busnel Fine Calvados is an 80 proof brandy that pours a tarnished brass color and has a fruit and oak nose. The flavor starts with a warming sensation that opens to a slightly bitter apple skin note, which mellows into a long finish.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Day 341 Drink: Hacienda de Chihuahua Sotol Plata

Distilling has been going on in Mexico for nearly as long as Scotch has been made. Most people are familiar with Tequila, which must be made in the state of Jalisco around the town of Tequila. Mezcal is also made from agave, but does not have the same geographic restrictions. There are other native spirits to Mexico. Sotol is one example, made using the Dasylirion wild agave.

Hacienda de Chihuahua Sotol Plata is a white spirit with an incredible aromatic nose of sweet floral notes with an earthy undertone. The flavor is a bit of a surprise given the aroma. The sweetness is very faint, with more of a fresh cut green grass and agave flavor base. You can tell that Sotol is a cousin of Tequila, but the wild nature of the agave is very evident.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Day 340 Drink: Kerstbier 2008

Klein Duimpje means "Tom Thumb" in Dutch. This tiny brewery is the work of Erik Bouman, who started making wine at home in 1990 and then moved on to homebrewing in 1994. He launched Klein Duimpje in 1997. The brewery turns out a pretty wide variety of styles, modeled after traditional brews from England, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Klein Duimpje Kerstbier is a Christmas beer that pours a dark reddish brown with a moderate head of foam. The beer has a malty aroma with some fruit qualities. The beer has a full, earthy flavor. There are maple notes that come and go, with some spice qualities that are typical of a well built Belgian dark ale.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Day 339 Drink: Westmalle Dubbel

In 1836 the monastery at Westmalle became a Trappist abbey. Abbot Martinus Dom started construction of a small brewery to meet needs of the monks. In 1856 started selling beer to people in the nearby Belgian countryside.

Westmalle Dubbel is made using a recipe that dates back to 1926, when the monks decided to make a slightly heavier dark brew than the normal dark ale they had been making. The reddish-brown ale pours with a hefty rocky head and a firm malty nose. The 7 percent alcohol by volume beer is a great cold weather ale. Plenty of flavor from the toasted malt. There is a depth of flavor that defines the dubbel style.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Day 338 Drink: Afton Mountain 2005 Chardonnay

Afton Mountain Vineyards is one of Virginia's pioneer farm wineries, with its oldest vines dating back to the 1970s. The vineyard, located on the southeastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is run by Elizabeth and Tony Smith.

We visited a couple of years back and this bottle has been biding its time every since. The vineyard is in a beautiful part of Virginia with winding roads, mountain views and vineyard tasting rooms.

Afton Mountain 2005 Chardonnay is an estate bottled wine in the Monticello AVA. The wine is a light straw color and has a faint pear and citrus nose. The chardonnay has a nice balanced fruit flavor, hints of buttery goodness and a good level of acidity. Perfect for a seafood and pasta dish.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Day 337 Drink: La Choulette De Noel

Brasserie La Choulette is tucked away in Hordain, a twon in northern France. The brewery has been turning out biere de garde since 1885 and Alain and Martine Dhaussy have been in charge of the operation since 1977.

La Choulette De Noel is a 7 percent alcohol by volume brew that pours an attractive brick color with a very proud off-white head of foam. The flavor has a malty base with mellow hints of spice and just a touch of dried raisins. The beer finishes with a fading dryness that encourages another sip.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Day 336 Drink: Napa Cellars 2009 Sauvignon Blanc

Napa Cellars is located in Oakville, Calif. The winery selects grapes from across the Napa Valley. Winemaker Joe Shirley got his start in the business at Sonoma Cutrer, before joining Trinchero Winery in 1999. He became head winemaker at Napa Cellars in 2007.

Napa Cellars 2009 Sauvignon Blanc is a bright straw color and has a fresh grapefruit aroma. The wine benefits from cool fermentation in 100 percent stainless steel which allows subtle citrus and floral flavors to be maintained. A good level of acidity lends a crispness to the wine that makes it perfect to accompany fowl and pork dishes.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Day 335 Drink: Martin Codax 2009 Albariño

Albariño is a white grape that is native to Galicia on Spain's northwest coast. The cool climate, ample rain and lengthy periods of sunshine create a white grape that has a good level of acidity and fruit balance.

Martin Codax 2009 Albariño Rias Baixas is a pale straw color with a clean fruity nose. The flavor has a mellow dried apricot base, some distinct mineral notes and a palate cleansing level of acidity. A solid cocktail party choice.