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Friday, March 10, 2017

Moon-Shining: Sugarlands Distillery Shines On

Moonshine, white lightning, hooch – whatever you call it, there is a burgeoning industry these days making the stuff. Sure, it’s not true moonshine in that you can legally obtain it, but it still hearkens back to the good ‘ol days of guys illegally distilling something in the mountains of Tennessee while evading the authorities. Now you can proudly walk directly into Sugarlands Distilling Company in downtown Gatlinburg, Tennessee and taste samples of their Sugarlands Shine, 2o versions in fact. And there’s behind the-scenes tours of the production facility, live music, Appalachian storytelling, and outdoor adventure tours in the Sugarlands, an area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I recently sampled two of their ‘Shines, the Root Beer Moonshine and their Appalachian Sipping Cream, what they call Electric Orange Sipping Liqueur. Using mainly corn and rye as their base for a neutral spirit, they then add in various flavors (they have a Peanut Butter and Jelly, Blueberry Muffin, and Coffee versions as well) to create a proprietary moonshine. And I can tell you this, these are damn good.

With the Root Beer you are immediately hit with the noticeable smell of root beer. You still get the notes of sassafras, molasses, and cinnamon and there is a slight sweetness to this, which underlies the idea that you don't really notice much of the alcohol note. This also means it’s easy to drink and it’s ideal for a grown-up root beer float.

Admittedly, I’m not a fan of orange drinks and as a kid if there was orange sherbet or an orangesicle bar or cream soda, I would avoid it. And then I tried the Appalachian Sipping Cream, and wow, what a great surprise. The Orange is wonderfully creamy with notes of orange, nutmeg, citrus zest and so compelling and terribly fun to drink. I’m a huge fan of limoncello crema (where they add cream) and this is exactly like that, smooth and velvety and the orange is light, bright but not heavy or acidic. And if you’re like me, this will be gone quickly. Bottom line? You’ll grow sweet on Sugarlands.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

On Your Mark: Markham’s 35th Birthday

I don’t recall what I did for my 35th birthday. And I’m guessing you really don’t care. But Markham Winery’s birthday is a different story, you know, cause they make wine…wine that you buy. It was 1980 when the first vintage of Markham Merlot hit the shelves, and Merlot--that underappreciated grape--has been Bruce Markham’s success since then. The winery in St. Helena traces it’s roots (pun intended) back to the 1870s when it was founded. Bruce and Kate Markham rebooted the old winery as Markham in 1978, keeping the history alive, and creating new wines. Sure there are other wines in their portfolio, Chardonnay, Cabernet, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Pinot and others, but it is Merlot they are known for, and what they do exceptionally well. So we’re celebrating with Merlot and cake (no, it’s not merlot-cake, it’s a lovely chocolate cake from WeTakeTheCake) but more importantly it’s the 2014 Markham Merlot that you should get your hands on. It offers ample mild fruit of bing cherry, blueberry, boysenberry and rustic sweet cedar, beautifully integrated tannins and a mild acidity and ultimately is a terrific value - a wine that is truly worth getting to know. Happy birthday, Markham!
ORIGIN: Napa, California
PRICE: $25/ 750ML
ALCOHOL: 14.2%

Bruce and Kate Markham

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.