Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Koenig Distillery Huckleberry Vodka

Since transitioning to WestToast, my favorite part as a writer has been the increased flexibility to write about any type of beverage I want. Our wine coverage is as strong as ever, California is getting a lot more coverage, and beer is getting its fair share of attention. It occurred to me, though, that Clare is our only writer tackling spirits and Idaho isn't getting near the attention it deserves. That can't stand, so I sought out what I imagined as the rarest combination of beverages in the Pacific Northwest: distilled spirits from Idaho. I learned two things:

1. They exist
2. The number that do can be counted on one hand

One such distillery answered this call and offered not one, but three delectable spirits that you'll get to read about over the course of an equal amount of articles. Koenig Distillery & Winery is one part winery, one part distillery located in Caldwell, ID. More from their site:

Koenig Distillery and Winery combines Old Word brandy, vodka, and winemaking traditions with some of the Northwest’s finest fruit to produce classic eau-de-vie fruit brandies, premium varietal wines, and vodka.

For proprietors Andy and Greg Koenig, the idea to establish a distillery and winery in Southwest Idaho has roots in Europe, where the brothers have lived for three years in their father’s hometown of Lustenau, Austria. There, pears and apples and plums were transformed into clear, distinctive spirits through the age-old art of distillation.

Jill Koenig was gracious enough to respond to my request personally and before I begin, I'd like to thank her once again. For the sake of full disclosure, this was a promotional bottle sent to me by Koenig. Like all beverages we review, I'm still going to be just as critical as I would otherwise. Without further adieu, let's drink some Idaho huckleberry vodka!

Having lived in the Palouse region, it's an understatement to say that huckleberries are a big deal in Idaho. In fact, I'd say the potato is the only crop whose deal is larger. This makes me especially hopeful that this vodka truly embraces the essence of real huckleberry and its description sure makes it sounds like it will:

Koenig Distillery macerates hand-picked, wild huckleberries in vodka and then slowly distills them in our custom-made copper stills. The resulting all-natural spirit has a wonderful ripe berry aroma and a slightly sweet flavor that blends extremely well with other spirits, champagne and freshly squeezed fruit to make unusual and elegant cocktails. One of our favorite ways to enjoy it is mixed with fresh lemonade.

I'm going to approach tasting this two ways. One will be the vodka by itself and the other will be their favorite way of mixing it with (the freshest I have) lemonade. Having taken the bottle's direction, I've also chilled it ahead of time.

Unlike most flavored vodkas, this one immediately gives off pleasant hues of real huckleberry without any sweetness or extra sugar. It also doesn't at all smell boozy, which could be dangerous at 70 proof.

Sipped on its own, it tastes just as wonderful as it smells. All you get is authentic huckleberry flavor without any of the usual rubbing alcohol flavor other flavored vodkas have. Simplistically, all one tastes is huckleberry accompanied by the warmth one would expect from something 70 proof.

When mixed with lemonade, this is when I realized that I may have a new favorite hot day cocktail. This mix is incredibly refreshing and the tartness of the lemonade is the perfect companion for generally understated huckleberry tones.

All in all, Koenig has opened my eyes to what craft flavored vodkas can taste like. I highly recommend seeking this out if you're a fan of huckleberry and want to try something different. Thank you once again to Jill and everybody at Koenig. Stay tuned as I review two more of their offerings in the near future.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

My Affair with Mendocino and Winesong!

I know it has been awhile since you have seen me on here....did you miss me? Aww, you’re too kind...I missed you all as well. The reality is that August is a month chock full of 16 hour days getting ready to welcome 1900 first year students back on campus. For all the time I’ve been doing this I have yet to find a way to incorporate wine blogging into staff training. If you come with anything please share the wealth. But since I only get paid in wine or event tickets for this gig, I gotta have something on the side that pays the bills, typcally racked up from wine purchases. But August is almost over and that means I’m back, and just in time!

I have been fortunate enough to be able to cover many wine events in California since I began writing, such as Taste of Mendocino, Pinot Days, and Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, which I will be covering again next week. The newest event I will be covering for the first time is Winesong! held in Mendocino County. While Sonoma County wine is my first love, Mendocino wine is that hot little number I have on the side. She’s a bit younger and I have only told my closest friends about her. Come the 9th and 10th of September I’ll be cheating on Sonoma and taking a weekend trip to cover this multi-faceted event.

In the wine world, the Pinot Noir grape is a mysteriously seductive grape . It's fickleness and fragility is something that not just any Joe Winemaker is willing to work with. While many take the challenge, only the strong emerge as great producers of Pinot Noir. I believe it is because of the challenge involved that Pinot Noir is also widely celebrated. There is the International Pinot Noir Celebration in Oregon, Pinot Days in San Francisco, and even an international #PinotSmackdown, of which New Zealand took the crown this year.

On Day 1 of Winesong! we’ll have another chance to celebrate Pinot Noir with a barrel tasting from wineries all over the Anderson Valley. Many critics of California wine say that Pinot is better left to our friends in the terroir driven Pacific Northwest. And to be honest, before tasting through many of the Anderson Valley wines at Pinot Days, I would have agreed. Now, I invite all of you to put those preconceived notions about California Pinot aside and I think you’ll find many of the things you love about Northwest Pinot Noir happening right here in Anderson Valley.

The second day of Winesong! includes tasting from producers all over the world and a charity wine auction, something Sonoma and Napa counties also do.

If I have made you jealous about getting to attend this event, than I have done my job. You could either keep sitting there feeling bad about yourself or you could click here to get your tickets. WestToast will be there.....will you? Whether you can make it or not, be sure to follow me on Twitter @JesseRAndrews for live updates during the event.



Friday, August 26, 2011

Staple & Fancy: What the chef wants, you get.

Chris, a good friend of mine, is the General Manager and Chef de Cuisine of an upscale brewpub in Oregon. Over the course of many shared meals, he has taught me a piece of advice that has transformed my life: trust the chef.

A quality chef, he opines, is proud to practice the culinary craft and odd consumer preferences aside, the chef is best suited to make recommendations on what dish in their portfolio is fresh that night, pairs well with your drink of choice, or will simply blow your freaking mind for any number of reasons. This notion has driven me to order dishes I never would have otherwise on a chef’s recommendation, and I’ve never been regretted it.

Last weekend, my friend Jill was visiting Seattle and it had been a long day; a really long day. In need of food therapy we wandered into historic Ballard and found our way into Staple & Fancy Mercantile. Billed with a menu of simple Italian-inspired food and with a line out the door, I was excited to experience Ethan Stowell’s cuisine for the first time. Facing an hour wait, we lingered for a few minutes and some seats at the bar opened up! Pro tip: sit at the bar. I ordered a cocktail, opened the menu, and the note at the top jumped out at me:
And, if you would like to avoid the trouble of ordering altogether, please feel free to hand your menu back to your server and let the kitchen prepare you a family style supper served in four courses for $45 per person. Participation by the entire table is required. We would also like to inform you that you really should do this.
Ummm, OK, if you insist, Ethan. After all, you’re the expert. I promptly handed my menu back, Jill did the same, and we were off to the races on one of the best 4-course meals I’ve ever had. Ten minutes later, there was food on the table. For the appetizer course, the staff brought out some bruschetta, marinated olives, and some salted cod spread. All delicious. Then the soft boiled eggs with anchovies and some fried gnocchi appeared. Then, a pork remouloude. And bread. And scallops.

Next thing we knew, we were surrounded by eight, yes eight, plates on the table each plate with plenty for the two of us. Surely, Jill commented, this has to be at least three of the four courses. Nope. Three more to come. Next up, a seafood ravioli in a sage brown butter….with a glass of wine. Then came the “main course”, seared ahi tuna, perfectly prepared. Finally, a chocolate pudding mousse dessert, which I paired with a delicious port.

As I waddled back to my condo, I had three observations from my Staple & Fancy experience:

1. The quality of the food coming out of Ethan Stowell’s kitchen is simply fantastic.
2. $45 for that much awesome food? It’s a steal.
3. When the chef offers to surprise you, you’d be a damn fool to not take advantage of the offer.

Staple & Fancy
4739 Ballard Ave NW
Seattle, Washington

Managing Editor Josh Gana also covers wine for Seattle Pulp, part of the KOMO News Network. This article was originally published there.

Staple & Fancy Mercantile on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Cal Poly Mustang Red

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Editor's Note:  From time to time, WestToast features guest posts from carefully screened writers who meet our extremely rigid standards of liking booze and being willing to write about it.  Tom Loveday and Peggy Duncan, authors of this post, are part of this selective group.

The History

Being a host family has its privileges. This summer we hosted two Cal Poly baseball players while they played baseball for the Corvallis Knights of the West Coast League, a collegiate league with a family fun format similar to minor league professional baseball. The parents come to visit, usually for 5-7 days during a home stand and for one particular parent it happened to be the week Peggy and I celebrate our anniversary.

We came home the day after our anniversary to a gift bag of wine. Now Peg and I do not tend toward the higher end wines and the ones she brought were nice, a merlot and a blend, a touch nicer than we usually get but not worthy of mention in this venue.

Two days ago Peg and I came home to a package we were not expecting. When we opened it we found two bottles of 2008 Cal Poly Mustang Red. Here is what the Cal Poly wines website had to say about it:

2008 Mustang Red
NEWLY RELEASED! This latest vintage of the Mustang Red is our biggest award winner. It received the Chairman’s Award and Unanimous Gold from the Riverside and International Wine Competition, as well as gold medals from the Orange County Fair and the Long Beach Grand Cru. The Mustang Red is a blend of Zinfandel, Syrah and Tempranillo, with a little bit of Petite Syrah. This rich and full-flavored wine is ideal to drink with soft cheeses, grilled vegetables and red meat.

The Menu

Since we are featuring the Wine as opposed to the meal all pairings will feature the Cal Poly mustang red wine. Of course we used our special fish plates to plate the meal as they make us feel special when we use them for dinner.

Parmesan Fricos stuffed with goat cheese mousse.

Spicy Beef Kabobs with roasted corn on the cob and mustard & herb new potatoes

If you want my fine tunes for the recipes, comment on the blog and I’ll post them. Note on the plating. You have to be lenient about the plating of the entree because by then we had consumed a bottle while cooking, and another to taste with the appetizer so the plating (on hindsight) is a bit sloppy.

The Wine

I found the mustang red to be very smooth starting with notes of cherry and plum with the Parmesan crisps a hint of tapioca came through and a light finish and a just a hint of vanilla in the nose. The Mustang red complimented the meat well helping to enrich the flavor. The cherry and plum start was still there but then notes of wood came out and the finish was fruitier than with the appetizer.

All in all, the description of the wine on the cal poly web site was more accurate than I am used to. The wine works well with hearty food and meets the expectation of making a well paired dish better for having it with Cal Poly Mustang Red.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Rocking the wine Chateau

“So keep on rocking me, baby…Keep on a rocking me, baby” crooned Steve Miller as I stood on the lawn of Chateau Ste. Michelle winery a few weeks ago, awkwardly gyrating my body, glass of Merlot in hand.

An *cough* older gentleman sidled up next to me with holding a glass of Riesling. I fully expected him to ask my friend Clare if I was having a seizure but instead, he leaned in and asked, “Does this do anything for you?”

The wine? You’re darn right it does. The Chateau Ste. Michelle Cold Creek Merlot comes from one of the more exceptional vineyards in the Columbia Valley of Washington and is delicious. Then it hit me. He was talking about the music! Sure, the Steve Miller Band stopped recording new music before I was born, but like the rest of my generation I recall with fondness the vintage US Postal Service commercials featuring Miller’s hit “Fly Like an Eagle”. I was at a winery, on a gorgeous sunny evening, sipping some wine and listening to a rock legend, a short 20 miles from Seattle proper – of COURSE it did something for me.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery, “The Chateau”, located in Woodinville is Washington’s oldest winery and home of the renowned Summer Concert Series since 1984. Hosted on the lawn of the gorgeous estate, imagine walking into the tasting room, selecting your favorite bottle of Chateau wine, and being serenaded by the likes of Chris Isaak, Peter Frampton, Pink Martini, or Ani DiFranco. You don’t have to imagine too hard because that’s exactly what you can do at the Chateau all summer long. An intimate venue, the Chateau makes for an excellent concert venue and add some phenomenal local wine and a magical evening is in the making.

Did I mention it’s for charity? No? According to the winery, the annual concert series is offered
as an expression of community involvement and support of the arts. Net proceeds from the concert series support our charitable contributions program of long-standing philanthropic partnerships with many local and national charitable organizations.
Not only can you drink and rock, you can feel good about supporting charity along the way!

So, if you’re looking for that perfect evening between now and September 10, 2011 (the end of the concert season), check out a show at the Chateau. For that matter, check out the wine while you’re at it. I realize the lineup isn’t the most edgy in the world, however, I thoroughly enjoyed my 70’s rock experience and I have it on good authority that concert management has some fresher acts in their sights for the future.

Managing Editor Josh Gana also covers wine for Seattle Pulp, part of the KOMO News Network. This article was originally published there.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Barley Wine 101

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While I can't speak for every writer at WestToast, I like to pride myself in the fact I've been writing long enough that people actually think I know what I'm talking about. Sometimes I even do! Today I'm going to impart some of that knowledge onto you in a rare, but educational experience where I share both the basics and my opinion of Barley Wine. You know, because I'm a respected online beverage journalist.

Barley Wine is perhaps the most under appreciated beverage on the market and I think most of that stems from the name alone. Barley Wine isn't wine at all, but beer! Originally brewed in England, it got its name due to its relatively high alcohol content that hovers around 8-14% ABV. As such, one typically drinks Barley Wines in the same quantities and fashion as you would a wine. Some, however, ignore this advice and end up on the floor.

Barley Wine holds a special place in my heart and palate due to its unique flavor profile that is typically not seen in other styles of ale. Regardless as to the style or brewer, almost all barley wines will exhibit undertones of brown sugar, nuttiness, raisin, and other familiar tastes that one would expect from a brown ale. These are undertones though, and none of these flavors are the shining star.

Where it gets interesting is if the brewer decides to go the American or English route. This is a gross oversimplification, but most American-style Barley Wines go with a primarily citrus hues (usually grapefruit) and most English-style Barley Wines go with a raisin/apple combo. My preference heavily leans towards English-style varietals, but that's just a personal preference due to the raisin hues not completely overpowering other flavors as well as an increased ease of drinkability.

The other phenomenal aspect of Barley Wines is that many of them spend at least a portion of their life in a cask. This mellows them out and makes the mouth feel increasingly smooth, which is critical for any high alcohol ale. My ideal Barley Wine is one that has spent most of its life in a cask and is then poured straight into my glass. While I can't replicate that last portion in my living room, what I can do is offer a review my absolute favorite Barley Wine.

Mirror Mirror is the barley wine rendition of Deschutes' Mirror Pond pale ale. Odd in concept, I know, but delicious in execution. This 11% masterpiece is aged in French oak barrels and real eased only when Deschutes feels like it. Unfortunately, this means Mirror Mirror is seemingly random in its availability and comes with a rather hefty price tag. This brew is rich in raisin and oak with a hint of citrus that ties everything together into a beverage you wish would never end. Thankfully, it does end because if it didn't, you'd end up on the floor as mentioned previously. If you can find it, stock up.

Are you a home brewer and want to take a shot at making your own? Deschutes has kindly released their recipe for Mirror Mirror clone.

If you're like 99% of customers and can't get your hands on Mirror Mirror, my go-to Barley Wine is Full Sail's Old Boardhead. Not only is it available almost year-round (Full Sail brews this every year), but it's also on the opposite end of the price spectrum at around $6/bottle. I would highly recommend picking this one up if you're new to barley wine and want to give it a shot.

So what are you waiting for? Stop by your local bottle shop and pick up some barley wines. You may just find a new favorite beverage.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Spirited Away Part IV: Whipping Votes at Clyde's

I know, I know, this series started as my travels to visit the other West Toast staffers over this summer for spirited adventures, but I would not be a good West Toast writer if I did not bend the rules! This week I trekked to the nation's capital on a business venture and, of course, I had to try something new...ish.

We walked by just around the time the debt ceiling was passed

My colleague had not been to DC, so we decided that the best thing was to take the very little time we had to ourselves and trek about the mall. We started with the Capitol building and worked our way along from there to several museums, monuments, and memorials. I had not been to the National Museum of the American Indian, and I highly recommend! Lots of beautiful artifacts, clothing, photos, and history - and a relatively honest look at the relationship between the government and the native people of this continent. Also, the Mitsitam Cafe there offers a variety of amazing dishes. Offerings such as plank-roasted salmon, oysters with corn cream, or pheasant croquettes are either made from native recipes, or are modern twists on old ingredients. Rainbows graced the walls, and everywhere I looked there were medicine wheels.

Primitive canoes and the four directions - beautiful!

After walking for many hours in the heat and humidity (we are but poor Oregonians who are used to temperate weather - oh! how we suffer), we headed away from the Mall to get a drink before meeting my cousin for dinner (it was great to see you Melanie!). We took the Metro to the Gallery Place/Chinatown area and started a good wander. We had not gone
far when we found Clyde's at 7th and G.

I was drawn to the old-world style of the outer facade, which stands in stark contrast to the modern building in which it is housed. The interior was reminiscent of a Victorian parlor with beautiful stained glass lamps, and wooden paneling. We parked ourselves at one of the many bars in the establishment and ordered up.

I was impressed with the wide variety of liquor at the bar, and scanned to see if any of the vodkas I'd been tasting were available. Upon reading the very creative
and interesting cocktail menu I saw that they offered a drink that included the same Pinnacle Whipped Vodka I wrote about during my visit to Petaluma. I was not interested in this cocktail however as it included orange juice, and I imagined that it would taste something like a creamsicle. I know that most people's childhood memories include this frozen treat, but I have never, ever, been a fan. I thought about just having the vodka on the rocks, but decided I needed to give it a twist, so I ordered the cocktail from the menu without the orange juice, essentially ending up with Pinnacle Whipped and Grand Marnier.

The net result was fabulous! In case you are not familiar with Grand Marnier (which I was not), it is a French blend of cognac and orange bitters. I found this to be in wonderful balance with the sweetness of the Pinnacle, creating a bite that had just a hint of orange in the finish. I gave my colleague Nick and taste and he described it as 'spiked cream soda.' All in all I was very pleased.

Nick and I also sampled two other cocktails from the menu - both utilizing basil to a wonderful effect. Nick chose the Hendrick's Basil Bash, a combination of Hendrick's Gin, simple syrup, sprite, lemon, lime, and basil. I found this to be beautifully balanced in flavor - the tart brightness of the citrus mixed well with the cucumber cool of the gin, while the herbal nature of the basil accented the floral notes. The only criticism I had was that it was served in such a small quantity!

I had the Strawberry Basil Lemonade - Bacardi Dragon Berry Rum, simple syrup, lemon, basil, fresh strawberries, lemonade, and Sprite. I was familiar with all of the elements of this drink save one - dragon berry??? Really I figured that this was some gimmick that Bacardi had dreamed up to be fun and fresh and sell more rum, but no, it is indeed a real fruit - kind of. The real name is dragon fruit, and it is reported to taste similarly to a kiwi.

This photo came from Tropical Fruit Nursery's website

Regardless of whether or not I could look the damn thing up on my smartphone, I did not detect any flavors in the beverage that hinted at kiwi, or dragons, or anything other than a sweet strawberry front and a tart lemon finish that was accented by the aromatics of the basil. Despite the lack of dragony goodness in the drink, I loved it! Honestly there needs to be more basil in sweet things in this world!

So for cocktails I give Clyde's at Gallery Place two thumbs up! BTW - there are 13 locations where you can get this same drink menu in the area, so be on the lookout!!!


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Pend d'Oreille Winemaker's Playground

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It's got to be one of the finest Washington cabernets made in Idaho out there.  Or is it an Idaho cabernet using Washington fruit?  Well, unless you are the feds it doesn't really matter how you describe it, other than "outstanding".

I'm talking, of course, about the latest production from a longtime friend of WestToast, Pend d'Oreille Winery out of Sandpoint, Idaho.  The 2008 Meyer's Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is part of the Winemaker's Playground series, an opportunity for winemaker Steve Meyer to do exactly that -- play in a sandbox that continues to define wine in the state of Idaho.  With fruit from the Lawrence Vineyard on the Royal Slope of the Columbia Valley, this cabernet is characteristic of some of the best aspects of the terroir.

This is a bottle that has been sitting on my rack for quite a while waiting for the right moment to sample and review, and that moment came last week as I was bumming around Wilsonville, Oregon, enroute to a vacation in Central Oregon.  I'll be honest, I often don't trust my palate enough by itself to do a full-on review of a wine solo, so I try to wait until I'm with another writer to bounce sensations off of as we experience the wine together.  Rick is always game as in this case, and we cracked the cab open after a wonderful Moroccon dinner in a strip mall in *downtown* W-ville.

We poured, swirled, and sniffed.  On the nose, we both got immediate notes of cherry and plum with a bit of a boozy spice.  In a good way, you know?  We sipped...and Rick spoke:
Bam. There's a spice right at the start, leaving a fascinating sensation on my palate.  I taste the grape, rare for a wine.  There is an essence of lingering berry fruit and vanilla, with some hints of cola.  
I found this to be a big and juicy wine, that starts out bold but ends on your palate more balanced that you might initially anticipate.  It was delicious.

Assessment? Steve has a pretty awesome playground at Pend d'Oreille. I want to play.