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Thursday, February 9, 2017

Straw-beery: Belgian Beer & Strawberry Surprise

Two words: fruit beers. For most people, skepticism comes quickly, including me. So when the Früli Strawberry Beer from Belgium showed up, I had reservations. Actually, I admit I rolled my eyes. I’m a purist and adding flavors to beers or spirits usually makes me cringe. But I can announce here – I was wrong. The nose is more floral, more perfume-ish, but then that translates to a delightful beer with soft, under the radar strawberry notes - the Dutch know subtlety. The carbonation is milder than many beers providing a better sensory experience. It starts as a white beer, then is brewed with strawberry juice, orange peel and coriander, making it very light and refreshing, unique and appealing because it’s so harmoniously balanced. This can work as a cocktail too (two ideas below), or even a marinade for, say, chicken on the grill. If you too are skeptical, I strongly encourage you to try this. It will definitely change your mind.
Fruburry Martini: Früli, black raspberry liqueur and vodka, garnished with fresh black raspberries and a lime twist;
Frulirita: Früli, tequila, triple sec and fresh lime juice, garnished with a lime wheel and a fresh strawberry, topped with orange zest sprinkles:
Origin: Belgium
Average Price:  $13.99/4 Pack
ABV: 4.1%
IBU: 6.5

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Bargain Bordeaux: Légende by Rothschild

Ok, so here’s the point: Not everyone can afford First Growth Bordeaux. Well, even Second Growth is pretty pricy. So for those of us who would like to drink Bordeaux without carving up our savings account, there is a light at the end of the wine tunnel. With all that in mind, may I present the 2014 Légende Bordeaux Rouge. Let me be honest, this is not some stellar wine you’ll embrace by buying dozens of cases, but it is a solid example of a reasonably priced wine that is enjoyable - an “everyday drinker” as we like to call it. Sound good? 60% Cabernet, 40% Merlot, it provides muted black cherry, raspberry, pomegranate, cranberry and sweet cedar notes and combines that with a pretty good acidity to make a wine that is fairly complex and enjoyable to drink. Oh, and it picked up a Silver Medal at the Decanter Wine Awards, if that matters to you. Since it’s part of the Lafite Rothschild group, you already know you’ll be getting a better than average wine, at a better price for a better jolly good time with your meal.  LAFITE
ORIGIN: Bordeaux, France
PRICE:  $17.99, 750/ML
ALCOHOL: 12.5%

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Old Poodle Dog Cabernet Sauvignon: Man’s Best Friend

Jasper and the Old Poodle
It’s only fitting that Boozehoundz should write about Old Poodle Dog 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Odd name? Well, as the story goes that a French restaurant in San Francisco during the gold rush days was called Le Poulet d’Or. Then, as now, many locals had a hard time pronouncing the name. Some began to call it simply Old Poodle Dog. So, there you have it. What is unleashed by OPD is a wine of primarily Cabernet Sauvignon with small amounts of Merlot, Malbec and Petite Sirah, which translates to robust black cherry, blueberry, blackberry and sweet cedar, without being too hot, and what sets this apart are the back notes of tobacco and smoke, a great acidity, bright fruit, culminating in a deep and resonating Napa Cabernet – ultimately very pleasurable to drink. It’s ideally balanced - a spot on example of a terrific wine that actually will best other well known Napa Cabs but at a lesser price. Seriously, take this Poodle for a walk.
ORIGIN: Napa, California
PRICE: $36/ 750ML
ALCOHOL: 14.4%

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Sapporo: Black is the New Black

Sapporo started making beer in 1876 in Japan, the same time Budweiser launched in the U.S., so there is a long history to Japanese beers. But Sapporo has rarely launched new beers and after 50 years in the U.S market they decided to hit the market with a new beer - Sapporo Premium Black. Sold in 22-ounce cans and at just 5% ABV, this new beer uses both hops and barley to create an initial foamy, thick head and deep rich chocolate brown color. It drinks smooth and offers up aromas roasted dark malt, chocolate black coffee with wisps of resin and molasses. Though it has some girth, it is not heavy handed and bitter, therefore it will work with a variety of foods including blackened/Cajun seasoned meats, burgers of course, smoked ham, wild boar pizza, well a host of things actually. Time to check it out.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Bombs, Bubbles & Benedictines - A Pithy History of Champagne

Champagne has long been considered the beverage of choice for holidays and celebrations, marking special occasions with a sense of prestige. But it wasn't always that way. Wars, disease and exploding bottles have all taken their toll on Champagne’s rocky road to the 21st Century.

The name Champagne is derived from a Latin root word, ‘campania’ meaning 'field,' and in 92 A.D. these fields of vineyards in the Champagne region of France were to be uprooted by order of Emperor Domitian, however many acres were secretly kept and cultivated. The Emperor wasn’t terribly bright, not understanding the potential value of land as land in Champagne today is pricy - between $1 and $1.5 million Euro per hectare, according to Champagne Ayala, whom I visited recently. Of course the Church got involved (somehow they always do) and as their power grew, vineyards were donated to monastic orders. And that is why the Dom is associated with Champagne.

The Vineyards of Ay, Champagne, France
Two monks capitalized on the trend of sparkling wine in the late 1600s. Jean Oudart and Dom Perignon (yes he was a real person) and both began experiments with second fermentations inside the bottle in order to produce a sparkling wine. Dom Perignon is credited with sourcing grapes from a variety of vineyards and blending wines to produce consistency, not with inventing Champagne. But as with all new endeavors, fermenting wine in a bottle had its price. It was known that sugar and yeast needed to be added to produce the second bottle fermentation, however the amounts were never exact and bottles routinely exploded, resulting in an average loss of 30% of inventory, not to mention shards of glass embedded in your skin. But in 1836, a pharmacist determined the exact amount of sugar and yeast needed to produce the necessary carbon dioxide, corresponding to the atmospheric conditions of the bottle and bottle thickness. Finally there was a high degree of reliability of Champagnes. Good and prosperous years lay ahead...sort of.

About 1863 a North American aphid (phylloxera) paid an unexpected visit to the vineyards of France. The little yellow aphid lived on the roots and leaves of vines and slowly, steadily ruined everything. Within 15 years nearly half of France’s vineyards were destroyed. The solution was to graft French vines onto phylloxera-resistant North American rootstock. Needless to say, much of France was appalled at having to accept help from America but it worked. The replanting of vineyards began and Champagne returned to greatness…sort of.

At Champagne Ayala
During World War I vineyards became battlefields, cellars were looted and, with the advent of prohibition in America and the fall of Imperial Russia, the export market hit rough times and the demand for Champagnes halted. Champagne eventually rebounded from the hardship, but then World War II arrived and once again France's countryside was devastated – it was déjà vu all over again.

Riddling at Champagne Bollinger
Today everyone knows the names Veuve Clicquot, Bollinger, Dom Perignon, even Korbel and Champagnes retain their regal position. American sparkling wine (not called Champagne as that’s a registered brand name) is also of excellent quality and American houses like Schramsburg, Gloria Ferrer, Domaine Carneros and others compete with France's best. Not to mention Prosecco from Italy, Cava from Spain and sparkly wine from across the globe. So this year, as you toast family and friends, remember the long struggle it took to get those bubbles in your stemware…and be grateful that you don’t have to pick shards of glass out of your skin.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Port in the Holiday Storm

In the weeks before Christmas as time was growing short
I searched high and low for a great holiday Port.
One that would be true, as clear as a bell
From Paso Robles comes this holiday Noel.

I could go on, but let’s not belabor the poetry. Each holiday season winemaker Steve Glossner of PASOPORT WINE COMPANY creates Noel, typically a blend of young and mature barrel aged ports consisting of Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cao and a touch of Chenin Blanc, though there are variations to this. There is a freshness about this port; it offers sweet rhubarb, red raspberry, crisp baked apple, candied blackberry, caramelized cedar, sugared plum, and the kind of easy drinkability that you want in a holiday port. There is no overt sweetness and it doesn’t linger like a sticky wicket on your tongue. That doesn’t mean it’s lacking, in fact there is a complexity and richness to it making it a very enjoyable wine to sip. Available at the winery in Paso Robles, it always sells out so you’ve been put on notice! So get a fire going, grab your sweetheart, put on a classic Christmas film and soak in the goodness of this terrific little number.
ORIGIN: Paso Robles, California
PRICE: $45, 500/ML
ALCOHOL: 14.1%

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Ginned Up – How Tom Collins Brought Gin to La Canada

The gin-based cocktail, Tom Collins, got its name from “the great Tom Collins hoax of 1874,” an immature prank whereby a person went to a bar and told a patron that someone named Tom Collins was talking trash about him. The patron, incensed by the idea that Tom Collins would talk smack about him, would then go looking for Tom in as many bars as it took to find him…and hilarity ensued. It didn’t take long for an enterprising bartender to name a drink after the non-existent Mr. Collins. And gin finally got some respect. Sort of.

Gin is having a resurgence in popularity due to trendy craft cocktails and the TV show Mad Men, which robustly praised a drinking culture and resurrected classic cocktails (see my article on 10 classic cocktails HERE). Gin is also perennially known as the preferred base for the martinis of James Bond. So why is gin relevant and frankly how is it that the largest gin list for any bar in North America is not in Los Angeles, Manhattan nor Chicago, but my tiny hometown of La Canada Flintridge at The Flintridge Proper?

Brady and his 200+ gins
I sat down with The Flintridge Proper owner Brady Caverly recently when I revisited my familial digs. “Due to the fact that aged spirits were largely unavailable during prohibition, many of the best golden age cocktails are gin-based like the Tom Collins, Bees Knees, French 75, Negroni, the Martini,” says Caverly, who offers over 200 gins from across the globe including vintage gins from the 1980s, 70s and as far back as 1964. “Gin is appropriately enjoying a renaissance in the mixology movement because of its prominent role in the classics but also because no other spirit offers the diversity of flavor profiles,” Caverly suggests. Sure, gin has a historic context, first distilled by the Dutch in the 1600s and more recently as the signature cocktail at the Coconut Grove in Hollywood in the 1930s, and the still popular dirty martini at Musso & Frank Grill, Hollywood’s oldest restaurant. But that is exactly the point – gin seems stuck in a bygone era, namely your grandfather’s.

Gin is like the middle child of a complex and boisterous family. Whiskey and bourbon are the first-born kids, dominating, aggressive, popular; tequila and vodka are the youngest, goofy kids, the irresponsible ones, the partiers. And there gin sits, the quiet middle spirit who always seems to be “resurging” but never quite breaks out of its shell. “When most people think of gin they think of London Dry, this is the gin our fathers drank with very strong juniper and citrus notes,” says Caverly. “But the majority of the small batch and artisanal gins that makeup our nation's largest collection are in the New World-style, where the juniper is dialed back to be replaced by a dizzying array of botanicals, citrus, spices and other natural ingredients - from the rose notes of Nolets, to the cucumber notes of Hendricks, there is literally a gin for every flavor.”

Arne of Distillery 209
Arne Hillesland, master distiller and “ginerator” for Distillery No. 209 based in San Francisco agrees. “The only gins available for generations were heavy juniper bombs that took some getting used to, or created abject hatred among those who overindulged,” he told me. With the emphasis of distillers like Hillesland, gin is reinventing itself. “Gin, since it is flavored with botanicals and other natural ingredients, can have an almost infinite variety of flavors for all different uses in cocktails as well as neat in a glass,” Caverly says. “By law in the U.S. and many other countries, gin must be a spirit predominately flavored with juniper,” Hillesland says, and asserts that for at least four centuries gin has been much more than just juniper. “Other botanicals have played major parts giving gin depth of flavor and mixability. This increases the approachability for the consumer ready to move on from vodka or other spirits with low flavor content. But if a distiller backs away too much from Juniper they end up with just another flavored vodka.” And the average consumer may not really understand clear spirits enough to know the difference. “It’s all about education,” says Hillesland. “The Screwdriver, the Gimlet, the Greyhound, the Bloody Mary and others are such great cocktails when made in their original gin format instead of vodka.”

And Hillesland notes the making of gin allows for more diverse expression of the final spirit. “All the other major spirits stop the distillation process when gin is just getting fun. Rum, whisky, tequila, brandy, vodka make (typically) one to four passes through the still and then it’s onto bottling or aging. Making gin requires starting with a pure spirit, then follows a process of defining all the botanicals and their amounts, how they are processed to determine the unique flavor profile created in your final distillation with the botanicals added to the pure spirit base,” Hillesland says. Therefore The Flintridge Proper is the de facto stop for a gin lover, or a newbie. “We offer flights of gin where guests enjoy the spirit neat as you would a fine scotch, and I expect to see more folks drinking gin straight in the future,” says Caverly. And with the enthusiasm of people like Caverly and Hillesland, the gin movement has its boosters. “Just as America’s tastes in food are maturing towards the more genuine, flavorful, handcrafted products, I believe that when consumers are educated more about gin they will realize it’s a fantastic and versatile spirit,” Hillesland told me.