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Saturday, July 4, 2015

A Fifth for the 4th - Hand Made Hooch in the USA

What makes America great is the potential for discovery, a willingness to explore and delve into the unfamiliar. Our forefathers were not shy about ignoring boundaries and seeking adventure. Since George Washington made whiskey, let’s celebrates the founding fathers with wines, spirits and beer you can only find in the USA. This is all American made booze - under the radar, small batch and relatively unknown. The flag used as a backdrop once flew over the Kennedy White House. So go forth and drink your Independence Day!  (NOTE: This article originally appeared in The Hollywood Reporter).

Ale: AleSmith Brewing Co. San Diego is home to more military bases (seven, count ‘em) more than any other county in California, not to mention the rest of the U.S., and that means there are a lot of people who crave beer. But not just any beer. AleSmith, located in San Diego, excels at barrel-aged brews. Their Wee Heavy is a Scottish ale aged in bourbon barrels, full of toffee, caramel, with notes of hops, roasted rye, brown sugar and a whiff of the bourbon casks. This is a very complex aged beer that offers up a boatload of scents and aromas with a not so wee heavy mouth feel. ($30,

Cabernet Sauvignon: Frank Family Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Patriarch. No mater where you go Cabernet is king, and Rich Frank (former President Walt Disney Studios, producer Royal Pains) knows how to assemble various parts to make a compelling whole. His motivation was to honor his dad, World War II veteran Hy Frank, who landed on Omaha Beach four days after D-Day, then drove support vehicles for General Patton’s Third Army. Frank presented the first release of Patriarch to his father on his 98th birthday. There are just 500 cases of this stunning wine. It’s smooth as velvet, seductive, a seamless mix of light oak, black berry, a near cranberry, supple pepper spice and black cherry with an earthen back note and mild acidity. This is the patriarch of Napa Cabs. ($225,

Carménère: Niner 2012 Carménère: The Niner family from Paso Robles is not only helping to define the Paso wine scene, but they are making unique and cool wines like Carménère, though just a mere 138 cases. Like many of our Founding Fathers, owner Richard Niner was a farmer, originally in West Virginia, then migrated West ending up in the Paso Robles region where he planted Carménère on Bootjack Ranch, a plot of land that was once an ancient seabed. With a judicious oak treatment this wine results in black cherry, black berry and blueberry with hinter notes of cinnamon, vanilla and spice on the finish. ($60,

Gin: 209 Gin. San Francisco is one of the most beloved cities in the U.S. and was actually the capital of California for a brief four months in 1862. The 209 Distillery located at Pier 50 offers a sweeter profile than most gins and is ripe with citrus and mint, all the better to make your cocktails more complex. And this is a flavor powerhouse; more potent than most gins on the market so a little goes a long way. Using in part juniper berries from Italy, lemon peel from Spain, and Coriander from Romania, it’s ultimately all American. They also make a Kosher iteration for Passover. ($35,

Merlot: Buty 2012 Conner Lee Vineyard Merlot & Cabernet Franc. Washington was admitted to the Union in 1889 but was known to have grapes in the ground in the 1820s. Second only to California in terms of wine production the Washington wine scene is rapidly evolving and doesn’t want to play second fiddle, and this wine is one of the reasons why. Taking Merlot and Cabernet Franc and blending them is nothing new; what is new is the expressiveness of the mere 315 cases this 2,000-foot vineyard produces. Sure you get the bramble, black cherry, pomegranate and blackberry you’d expect, but you also get a delightful acidity you don’t often get from red wines. This Buty is a beauty, and California may want to check their rear view mirror. ($45,

Nebbiolo: Wofford Acres 2013 La Mancha. The Sierra Foothills was where gold was discovered in January 1848 and is the birthplace of California wine, though Spanish missionaries were making wine in the 1790s. Theses days the new rush is on wine and some are as elusive as gold. Wofford Acres La Mancha from El Dorado is only 113 cases, and is a blend of Nebbiolo, Petite Sirah, and Cabernet Sauvignon resulting in pomegranate, huckleberry, plum and cedar with enough bright fruit and acidity to ensure it goes with any meal. There’s a pleasant rustic quality to this meaning it’s not a polished Napa wine, this is a tad rough around the edges, just like our forefathers, and the 49ers after them. ($35,

Pinot Noir: On Point 2013 Christinna’s Cuvee: With only 198 cases of this wine you’ll be hard pressed to find a Pinot Noir of this quality and value. Hailing from the Anderson Valley in Mendocino, itself a slice of American life in that the region had its own micro language called Boontling (“frattey shams” meant grape vines), this Pinot Noir is supple, soft and with a enough acidity to make it stand up to picnic foods. Earthy spice, bright strawberry and dark cherry meld for a seamless wine that is on point as to how Pinot Noir should be. In spite of the oak barrels and the Pommard clone being undeniably French, Mendocino makes this a truly American iteration with a forward, lively wine. ($36,

Roussanne: Adelaida Vineyards 2013 Version White. The tiny region of Adelaida, originally settled in the 1890s by Mennonite farmers, is inside the larger Paso Robles region, and is making its mark with Rhone grapes. Here a blend of Roussanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc showcase the best of the area: soft tropical fruits, honey, mango, apricot, sweet resin, and lemon verbena bookended by judicious new French oak. White Rhone blends are not favored by many people in part because people haven’t tried them, but since this is all about discovery, all the more reason to seek this sleek wine out. ($35,

Riesling: Left Foot Charley 2013 Missing Spire. This patriotic beauty hails from, ahem, Michigan. Surprised that Michigan is making wine? Well, fasten your seatbelt - wine was first made in 1679 when French explorers noticed grapevines growing along the Detroit River. Today the state, and regions like the Old Mission Peninsula, is home to over 100 wineries. Left Foot Charley, and this region as a whole, excel at making both dry and sweet iterations of under appreciated Riesling. This lightly sweet version is packed with subtle tangerine, peach, lavender and honey. It’s a beautiful example of just how compelling a balanced Riesling can be and will cause you to rethink the grape. ($18,

Sparkling: J Vineyards Brut Rose. There’s nothing more festive for the 4th than bubbles, and pink bubbles at that. From Sonoma’s Russian River Valley (so named for the actual Russians who attempted a foothold in the Northern Sonoma region specifically at Fort Ross) this dry sparkling rose is comprised of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The strawberry, lemon cream, raspberry and tangerine notes and deft carbonation make this a poised wine, perfect for your picnic - think fried chicken and potato salad - and just a hint of sweetness which results in a beautifully balanced sparkling wine that even a comrade would crave. ($38,

Syrah: Presidio Winery 2011 Artistic License: America was predominately agrarian when the country was founded and farming is still the backbone of this country feeding an astounding number of Americans and dozens of other countries. The beauty of this small lot wine is the fact that it puts nature and farming first. Made from certified organic and biodynamic grapes, this farm-friendly Syrah is rich with boysenberry, blueberry, black cherry, and a spicy earthy undertone that carries though the entire palate. Soft charred oak from resting in barrel for 24 months while hanging out in Santa Barbara completes the package. ($39,

Vermentino: Tessa Maria 2014 Vermintino: She’s the granddaughter of actor Fess Parker (TVs Daniel Boone, and Davey Crockett, how much more American can you get?) and continues the wine tradition with her own label out of Santa Barbara, now the third generation of Parker’s to make wine. Her 2014 Vermentino is a discovery of happy proportions and she bottled just 138 cases. This wine is ripe with honeydew, tangerine, lemon-lime, butterscotch, and honeysuckle. All stainless steel fermented and aged, there is no oak treatment, so this is a delightfully light, crisp and very refreshing wine that will make you salute. In a historical twist, the fruit comes from Camp 4 Vineyards, owned by the Chumash Indian tribe. ($24,

Vodka: Loft & Bear. When you think of vodka you think, Russia, probably Poland, but not Los Angeles. However LA was lively during prohibition, from parties on Catalina Island, and scores of Angelinos flocking to Tijuana to get their booze fix, to bootlegging happening in plain sight near City Hall. There are still miles of tunnels underneath the dirty LA streets where illegal booze flowed freely. Today downtown is hip and above board and Loft & Bear Vodka honors LA’s past with this vodka made from winter wheat, and Northern California water. Sweeter than typical vodka this offers a smooth and viscous palette weight with a citrusy heat, a clean nose and refreshing feel, and it’s distilled in a downtown loft. ($35,

Whiskey: Jack Daniels Sinatra Select. Frank Sinatra was known to favor Jack Daniels as his social lubricant, so this iconic American distillery decided to honor the Chairman of the Board with his very own whiskey. Made in “Sinatra barrels,” (they have deeper grooves cut on the interior of the barrel allowing more extracted wood and whiskey interaction) this special bottling leaps out on the nose with caramel, clover honey, tangerine, brown spice and is super smooth with a viscosity other whiskies can only hope for. There’s the faintest whisper of a citrus bite on the end, preceded by cedar, sweet resin, mint and a rustic woodiness. Start spreading the news. ($185,

Zinfandel: Dueling Pistols: No, it’s not the name of a band, it’s a reference to a famous duel between then Vice-President Aaron Burr and Federalist Alexander Hamilton on July 11, 1804 in Weehawken, NJ. The Veep shot Hamilton dead that day but by today’s standards Veeps do not wield such unrestrained power, with the exception of Julia Louis-Dreyfus. This blend of Zinfandel and Syrah from Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley is way more easy going than either of the duelers and it offers notes of cedar, blackberry, blueberry, anise, and black cherry with mild tannins and a temperament that is smooth and forgiving. ($35,

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