Monday, December 24, 2012

A Collage of Deschutes and Hair of the Dog

The spirit of the holidays is one of collaboration.

You can find evidence of this spirit in the touching way that Clark Griswold and Cousin Eddie came together for an epic Christmas Vacation in 1989; with that in mind I embarked on a journey to discover a beer that epitomizes collaboration in it's very essence.

Rising to the top of the collaborative pyramid was Collage, a joint initiative of Deschutes Brewery and Hair of the Dog Brewing Company. The first brew released in Deschutes' Conflux Series, I was intrigued by the Collage from the instant I heard about...and let me tell you why.

Thanks to Rick, I like unique and boozy beer. You can't get more unique and boozy that Collage. Two years in the making, Collage stands true to it's name as a blend of four of the most unique beers that the breweries offer: Deschutes' The Stoic and The Dissident, and Hair of the Dog's Fred and Adam.

As if blending together four super unique beers wasn't enough, the brewmasters then aged the beers for 24 months in a variety of cask barrels, including rye whiskey, cognac, sherry, pinot noir, bourbon, new American Oak, and new Oregon Oak. Left with more than 100 distinct barrel-aged rounds, the brewers crafted the final blend to reflect the collage of patience, time, and collective curiosity.

So here we go.

Brewery: Deschutes Brewery and Hair of the Dog Brewing Company
Style: American Strong Ale Rating: 92, Exceptional Rating: 99 Overall
Serving: 12oz Bottle
ABV: 11.6%

Appearance: Upon pouring into a belgian glass, the Collage had very little head and appeared lightly carbonated.  The beer golden with a slightly pinkish hue with moderate cloudiness evident throughout.

Smell: Delicious and fascinating at the same time. Depending on the breath, I got alternating notes of whisky and sour beer, a nice contrast between sweet and sour. The variety of spirits notes were inviting but I found the beer to be a bit intimidating on the nose at the same time.

Taste: The first sip of Collage is smooth, until it hits you in the roof of the mouth with a sweet and tangy punch. I wasn't sure which booze influence to pick up from the barrel aging, but I did get a nice oakiness on the finish. This beer almost has a tannic quality to it. Crisp might be a good descriptor.

Overall I found the Collage to be quite unique and enjoyable. With the barrel influence, I wanted it to be a bit darker of a beer but in that respect, the beer then may have overpowered the aging program.

I enjoyed this beer while watching a Gonzaga basketball game; my notes indicate that the beer is "spicy like Gonzaga hoops." Pick up a bottle when you want something different and get lost in the collage.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Drink Like the World is Ending

So tomorrow is the end of the world.  At least it is if you believe the Mayan calendar and a bunch of crazy doomsday preppers.

You see, if you consult our favorite scholarly reference Wikipedia, you'll find that 21 December 2012 is the end of a 5125-year-long cycle in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar, a date in which a variety of eschatological beliefs feel will bring cataclysmic or transformative events.  The events of course will lead to the end of the world as we know it.  No, not the song by R.E.M.

What does this have to do with WestToast?  Absolutely nothing, except that if the world is going to end, shouldn't we all be drunk when that takes place?

"But Josh", I hear you saying right now, "when the apocalypse hits will our booze be safe to drink?"

Well it turns out the Federal Civil Defense Commission had the very same question in 1955, and you might be surprised by the results as summarized by an actual legitimate journalist, Robert Krulwich of NPR.

Operation Teapot it was called, researching "The Effect of Nuclear Explosions on Commercially Packaged Beverages."  Yes, the US Government actually placed canned and bottled beer in proximity to a nuclear explosion at the Nevada Test Site and then tasted the beer.

You can only imagine how bored these scientists must have been in the middle of the Nevada desert in 1955; World War 2 was over and sure, it was the heat of the Cold War, but the Russians didn't drink beer at that time so it could be our secret weapon.  A bit lonely, these Manhattan Project scientists concocted the ultimate frat party scenario -- "Dude, come out to the desert and drink beer with us.  We have Atomic Bombs!"

I can only imagine the street cred one gains from hosting that party.

Now, to answer the question you're all wondering, yes...the beer was safe.  For the bottles and cans that didn't break in the actual explosion, this study found that the level of radioactivity in the beer placed 1/4 miles from the nuclear explosion was "within permissible limits for emergency use."  Further, taste tests indicated that, while a bit "off" in flavor, the beer was "still of commercial quality..."

Glowing endorsements.

Friday you can crack open your favorite brew, fight off the Zombies, and feel comfort in knowing that you can safely drink to your hearts content after the nuclear dawn.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Losin' the Gluten: Omission Beer


It's everywhere nowadays. From supermarket shelves, to bakeries, to pizza places, and restaurants - food without this grain-based protein is popping up all over. I for one feel very appreciative of it, being allergic to wheat (I can do some beers, but it's probably better I stick with other beverages). Some people are not able to cheat a little like I do - they are gluten intolerant, or they might have celiac disease. Still others who go gluten-free might be focused on a specific diet type, like the paleo diet, or are doing it for other health reasons. No matter what the choice, allergy, or ailment, being gluten-free can mean that good beer is hard to find.

This spring Widmer Brothers put out Omission Beer - two different styles (Pale Ale and Lager) of gluten-free beer. The project was spurred by the fact that both CEO Terry Michaelson, and Brewmaster Joe Casey's wife were both diagnosed with celiac disease. This, paired with what Marketing Communications Manager Brady Walen stated as "a desire to brew a great-tasting craft beer anybody can enjoy," led to the development of a process that removes gluten from beer made from malted barley.

This is a a departure from most of the GF beer we see here in the US, which is usually made from ingredients like sorghum. The process, which involves using low-protein barley, styles that are not malt-heavy, the addition of brewer's clarex, and the full sanitation of all equipment, leads to beers that weigh in at well below the international standard for gluten-free products. Skeptical? Go ahead and type in the date and style of beer into their "test results" web page to see what the batch was tested at. "We try to be as transparent as possible," Walen stated, "what we do can raise some skepticism."

I cracked the Lager first, and was seriously impressed with the smooth flavor and mouth feel. Crisp and clean, this is slightly hoppy, citrusy, and very easy to drink. If you like a good lager, and have been waiting for your magical gluten-free moment, this beer will not disappoint. Though I tried it sitting by the hot wood stove in my apartment, I imagined it would be a great choice for me in the summer after a day outside in the garden.

The Pale Ale was also excellent, and even more suited to my taste in beer. I gave some to my roommate without telling him it was gluten-free (he gets a little weirded out by all the strange foods I bring home), and he was none the wiser. A balanced mix of hoppy and malty, I paired this beer up with some steak and pasta (quinoa pasta - yum) with red sauce and lost none of its well-rounded flavor. I found hints of vanilla on the nose and in the finish. 

Excited to try it? If you are gluten-free you should be. This beer is accessible and excellent. You can check out the website to find a supplier near you!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Eat, Sip, and Be Merry Ticket Contest!!!

CONGRATULATIONS to Kelly C for winning the pair of tickets to Eat, Sip, and Be Merry this weekend. We know you will have a great time!!! 
Please email me at with an email and phone # so I can pass your information along to the event organizers.

Don't forget, you can still purchase tickets in advance for the low price of $25, which includes $10 in "wine bucks."
Got plans for the weekend? Well cancel them because I guarantee they pale in comparison to what I have for you. Instead of doing whatever it was you were going to do, how about spending a couple days experiencing some delicious wine along the Santa Rosa Wine Trail? Bonus....I’ll give you a chance to win tickets for free!!!

 On Saturday December 8th and Sunday December 9th from 11:00-4:00pm, the members of the Santa Rosa Wine Trail are opening their doors to you for "Eat, Sip, and Be Merry". The Wine Trail members are a collection of urban wineries, restaurants, and a hotel that are within a small distance from each other and just a few minutes from downtown Santa Rosa.

Tickets for the event are $25 presale or $35 at the door. Included with your ticket is a commemorative wine glass and $10 in “wine bucks” to be used at one of the participating wineries. So really it is only $15 if you purchase in advance. I have tasted from many of this producers and even at full price these tickets are a steal. Since we want you to be safe and responsible, tickets for designated drivers are only $5 and include special activities and non-alcoholic beverages.

Participating wineries are Carol Shelton, D’Argenzio, Inspiration, Krutz Family Cellars, Old World, Paradise Ridge, Sheldon, Siduri/Novy, Two Shepherds, and the collective at Vinoteca. There will be live music, activities, exclusive tours, and food trucks at the participating wineries. This is sure to be a good time and I know we all need a break from the recent rains.

Tickets are available at or at the door of any of the participating wineries.


We are giving away a pair of tickets for FREE! All you have to do is enter a comment below to the question:

“If you were to give wine to someone this holiday season (assuming they’re on your ‘nice’ list) which wine from one of our participating wineries would you give them?”

A winner will be selected randomly on thisThursday night so please include your full name and email address I can reach you at.



 About the Santa Rosa Wine Trail

The Santa Rosa Wine Trail is a collection of eleven wineries, three restaurants, and one hotel in northern Santa Rosa in Sonoma County, California. The Santa Rosa Wine Trail card (print yours here or pick one up at one of our member wineries) is your passport to great days and nights of some of the best wine and food Sonoma County has to offer, all in close proximity.

Members: Carol Shelton Wines, D’Argenzio Winery, Inspiration Vineyards, Krutz Family Cellars, Old World Winery, Paradise Ridge, Robert Rue Vineyard, Sheldon Wines, Siduri/Novy, Two Shepherds, Vinoteca, John Ash, Stark’s Steak & Seafood, Willi’s Wine Bar and Vintners Inn.


Then and Now...and Beer

Spending much of my recent vacation in Massachusetts with my college friend Amanda means that there is some reminiscing and nostalgia about our days in Worcester, MA at Clark University.  A few nights ago we took some time to do the post-Thanksgiving holiday decoration frenzy. Silver Christmas trees, white lights, ornaments, and garlands popped out of boxes to be thoughtfully placed around the cozy Boston apartment. We joked about our first Christmas decorating stint in our tiny residence hall room our Sophomore year. Mandi's massive holiday penguin collection, and her cheerful Christmas decorations were balanced out by my humbuggy desire to leave the room as it was. I will say that my attitude has improved since then, and I opted to be involved in the festive-making this time.

One of my goals was to make the house smell like Christmas though cooking an amazing meal. I played around with ideas, and tweeted the whole process (you can follow me @clarecady). It was a ton of fun. I made up a pork tenderloin stuffed with gluten free bread, cranberry sauce, Parmesan, and mushrooms...topped with an apple/cranberry Greek yogurt sauce...mashed butternut squash with maple syrup...roasted Brussels sprouts...and rice pilaf with kale, sun dried tomatoes, leek, and slivered almonds. Oh it was divine! I ruminated on all the bacon and Chinese food we ate in school, and found it a wonder we did not have heart attacks.

Now, I have already written about the beer we drank back then, and I would like to think that our palettes have improved in the past 10 years. That does not mean we did not get to have a bit of nostalgia in our drink. Amanda's partner Aldo cracked a growler of beer that came straight from Worcester - English Strong Ale from Wormtown Brewery. This amber ale was carbonated like a champagne, which gave it a crisp mouth feel, and an uplifting sensation while drinking. I enjoyed the maltiness of the flavor, and well as the hints of vanilla in the finish. There was just enough hoppiness to remind me I was drinking a solid beer, but not enough to make it bitter. There was a wonderful hinting at clove and cinnamon mid-palette, which made the beer stand up well to our menu, and added to the festivities. This is a winter beer that is not too powerful, and would pair well with any Christmas/Hanukkah/Festivus (etc.) meal you were to plan.

And the decorations were just so lovely.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

They Make Wine There? The Aloha State!

On a recent family trip to Hawaii, I did what any good wine enthusiast out new wines and wineries. After a quick search, I narrowed it down to one winery that I really wanted to try...Volcano Winery. Did I mention that there is only one official winery in the Aloha State? Regardless, I was still excited to learn that they make wine in Hawaii and to see how it stands up to wine I know and love from the mainland.

Located in the town of Volcano on the big island of Hawaii, Volcano Winery began in 1986 as a hobby of Lynn “Doc” McKinney. Through the years and lots of experimentation with a variety of wines and tropical fruits, Volcano Winery opened up to the public in 1993. Still largely a hobby, the winery began with two pure grape wines from the Symphony grape (more on this later), a couple fruit blended wines and a couple honey wines. Longing to retire Doc, put Volcano Winery up for sale. Now current owners, Del and Marie Bothof, jumped on the chance to combine their love of Hawaii and their passion for wine into one in the same and bought the winery in 1999. While there I had the chance to speak with Marie and she told me that they became an officially bonded winery, the only one in Hawaii, the first part of 2012. Today they make a variety of fruit wines, honey wines, and a couple pure grape wines.

2009 Limited Bottling Pinot Noir
Their pure grape wines include the Symphony Mele, newly released Symphony Dry, and a 100% Pinot Noir. The Symphony grape, a genetic cross between the Muscat of Alexandria and the Grenache Gris grapes, was originally developed by Harold Olmo at the University of California, Davis. Symphony Mele wine had a floral nose and flavors of peach and apricot. Although not a late harvest wine, the sweetness of it reminded me of many of the late harvest wines produced here in CA. 

The other pure white grape wine they produce is a 100% Pinot Grigio, which I was unable to taste because it was sold out. It is the grape used in many of the wines they blend with local, tropical fruits. Volcano Winery also produces two different Pinot Noir wines. The first Pinot was very fruit forward but tasted a little young to me. The second, a limited bottling 2009 Pinot Noir was not available on the tasting menu. Rather, it was necessary to purchase a full glass if I wanted to try it. One of the members in my party purchased a glass and while I understand that a limited bottling makes it difficult to offer on a tasting menu, I was turned off by the requirement to commit to a full glass, especially at a cost of $20 a glass. Don’t get me wrong, I go to restaurants and buy glasses of wine without trying them first, but generally have knowledge of the winery, region, etc to make an informed decision. Because the wines of Hawaii were very new to me, it was a big commitment. This wine was not to my palate and I preferred Volcano’s fruit blended wines because of their uniqueness.

Volcano Blush fruit blended wine

Hawaiian Guava-Grape Wine
 For the fruit blended wines, Volcano Winery makes the Volcano Red, a blend of 85% red and white grape wine and 15% Jaboticaba berries. Their Volcano Blush blends Pinot Grigio grapes with the same Jaboticaba berries and had flavors of cranberries and cherries on the finish. My favorite of the day though belonged to the Hawaiian Guava-Grape wine. Blended Pinot Grigio with the tropical guava fruit, this wine was truly unique with flavors of guava (obviously!) and a little nutty on the finish. Definitely more of a dessert wine and something I would pair with fresh tart fruits. To enjoy the fruit wines I had to be open to a new style of wine and thus avoid comparing it to other wines. These wines just felt Hawaiian to me and very fitting of the surroundings. The final two wines they offer were a Macadamia Nut Honey wine and Infusion, a wine made of Macadamia Nut Honey and black tea. This wine was unlike anything I have tasted and found the subtle flavors of black tea quite enjoyable.

After a long day of trekking over old lava flows and watching steam coming from the Halema’uma’u Crater, stopping by Volcano Winery was just what I needed. Beth, our tasting room hostess was wonderful to meet and very knowledgeable of the winery, process, and their wines. I appreciate her answering all of my questions to try and learn as much about them as possible. If I ever find myself back on the big island, and I hope I do, I will surely make a trip back so I can once again taste wine in an island paradise.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Hangin' out on the East Toast

Home for the holidays. Turkey, log cabin (yes I grew up in one), hound dog, football, and family. After a fun-filled and tasty Thanksgiving, we were looking to get out and about and do something different. We decided to check out the Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, NY.  Though it has been in existence since 1997, we were excited to get out to its rural location to see the new tasting room and brew pub.

My family waves at me through the giant arch!

The grounds and buildings were spectacularly beautiful, particularly the large arch that greeted us upon arrival. We walked through the main doors into merch central, a room filled with beer, food, and swag with doors into the pub and the tasting room. We were not the only ones who thought this was a good post-thanksgiving idea. About 10 minutes after we got our name onto the wait list the place was packed! From the bar to the pub seating area, the merch room to the tasting room, it was SRO with little space to spare. While at times it was claustrophobic, the people-watching potential was tremendous.

My dad got the best seat for eating ALL THE FRIES!

The menu was unique and eclectic, with an organizational system that kept us hopping. There were many fresh and interesting options - all Euro-inspired. We started with baskets of frites, and were treated to two spreads per order. My favorite was the cumin ketchup. Have you noticed how posh ketchup is getting these days? It seems like everyone is weighing in on this basic and iconic condiment. The garlic aoli was excellent as well.

I had the Three Philosophers to go with the fondue I split with Amanda and Aldo. A blend of quadruple Belgian ale and a cherry lambic, this was a rich beer with hints of cherry, vanilla, malt, and bourbon. It was just hoppy enough to have a bitter finish, but would not put off those who like their beers done differently than your standard Northwest IPA. Aldo tried the Belgian Independence Day Tripel, a classic Belgian ale with hints of vanilla.

After lunch we went in for a tasting. The tasting room was beautiful with lots of windows. We were treated to tiny pilsner glasses for our tastes, a souvenir to take home. Beyond the beers we tried at lunch, my favorite was the Hennepin, a golden ale with orange peel and spice.

My mom and Amanda enjoying the tasting. 
All in all, our experience at Ommegang was pleasant with good food and good beer! It was a great way to spend some time with the family over the holidays!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Songs About Booze: Volume 1

Those of us at West Toast clearly appreciate wine, beer, and spirits. Enough so, in fact, that we share with the world various forms of praise in this here online publication. While the average consumer is content to simply imbibe something and selfishly relish in its deliciousness to themselves, we go beyond that by expending energy, time, and effort (sometimes). I'll get back to this in a minute.

Fast forward to yesterday. Josh indicated that he was having an especially rough day and asked what type of beverage he should have. While I would normally fire off a beer or wine, the first thing that came to my head was to make a piña colada. Nobody can be in a bad mood with a piña colada in front of them. But why do I think that? Sure, they're delicious, but something else has to contribute to the novelty equating them to fun.

It didn't occur to me until I was in the shower this morning that Rupert Holmes' "Escape (If You Like Pina Coladas)" had been stuck in my head since the night before.

Then it really hit me; sure we write stupid articles about booze, but tons of people write entire songs about it. I won't lie, I've never at any point been so inspired by a drink that I felt I needed to write a song about it. Well, I suppose the only caveat is making my own version of the "Scotchy Scotch Scotch" song from Anchorman, but that doesn't count.

So for the first time in West Toast history, I'd like to dedicate the next few paragraphs giving praise to songs that praise alcoholic beverages. If it still sounds coherent by the time I wrap up, I may explore this again in the future.

Rupert Holmes - Escape (If You Like Pina Coladas)

I already mentioned this one, so I'll start with it first. What has largely been reduced to a karaoke favorite, the lyrics of this song are actually somewhat sweet. A guy gets tired of his boring relationship, so he looks in the singles ads for somebody who might be more exciting. Turns out, the exciting new woman he finds was his ex all along and they never shared that they enjoyed piña coladas, rain, and early morning sex. That said, nobody actually knows that because we're all too busy drunkenly yelling "IF YOU LIKE PINA COLAAAADAAS." Deep down somewhere I'm sure Mr. Holmes is ok with that because I'm pretty sure he would have never written the song had he not thought, "god damn I loves me some piña coladas."

Reel Big Fish - Beer

I wasn't a huge ska fan back in the day, but I certainly enjoyed a few bands and Reel Big Fish was no exception. Made especially popular by the greatest film of all time, Basketball, "Beer" is another one of those songs that has a somewhat depressing undertone that gets completely lost on most people. In short, a guy can't live without a girl who keeps playing with his heart, so he drinks until it doesn't matter and does it all over again. I like to think the following lyrics could be a poem in and of themselves:
And if I get drunk well, I'll pass out
On the floor now baby
You won't bother me no more
And if you're drinkin' well, you know
That you're my friend and I say
I think I'll have myself a beer
A beer indeed. On a more personal note, I saw Reel Big Fish perform this live quite some time ago and it ended up creating one of the craziest mosh pits I have ever witnessed. Yeah, at a ska show!

LMFAO - Shots

Redfoo and SkyBlu of the recently disbanded LMFAO may legitimately be mentally retarded, but you can't deny these guys love to party. Specifically, they love shots! What kinds of shots? My guess is pretty much anything, but here is a short list of what "Shots" specifically praises:
Jager bombs
Lemon drops
Buttery Nipples
Jell-o Shots
Three Wise Men
Patron (on the rocks)
While perhaps the single most unintelligible song ever written, "Shots" is worth mentioning due to its breadth of scope, enthusiastic praise, and brutal honesty. Oh, and shots.

So there you have it. Those are just three songs about booze with probably thousands more we could cover. Assuming more than three people read this, I may even follow up with this in the future. In the meantime, what are some of your favorite booze-themed songs?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Bravo Beantown - Boston Beer Summit

The Hub of the Universe, The Walking City, it what you like - Boston is my favorite of the cities on the East Coast. This year I am spending a few weeks kicking it here (with a stint in NY to see the folks for Turkey Day). I am grateful for the sunshine (cold, but dry), the variety of people and food, and the amazing view of the city at night as seen from the hill above my friends' Sommerville apartment. 

I lucked out on timing and rolled into town the day before the Boston Beer Summit - an amazing and engaging collection of 69 breweries, cideries, and meaderies gathered in the Park Plaza Castle. First off - beer festival in a castle? We don't get that kind of amazingness in the Pacific Northwest. If there is one thing I can say for the East Coast (Easttoast!), it feeds my inner geek for all things historic and old.

I got to sample a great number of amazing brews (alas, trying all 69 seemed ill-advised). Here are some of my favorites in no particular order.

I had to try the Brown Sugga from Lagunitas. Yes that is a California beer...perhaps I was trying to tie this event to the Westtoast region, or perhaps I was just interested in sampling the molasses-sweet flavor of this historic accidental brew.

 I followed up with the IPA offering from Baxter Brewing Co. from Lewison, ME.I found it to be a very straightforward and hoppy IPA with solid bitterness from start to finish. If you are into IPA that hits you hard and has flavor staying power, this is your beer.

After that I changed tack a bit and tried the Utopian Mead from Moonlight Meadery out of NH. This mead is aged in bourbon barrels, and it shows. It drank like a lightly sparkly sweet bourbon - very creative and fun.

I decided to go with the Crispin Cider booth next. Yes, another CA offering. I wrote a review a while back about their Honeycrisp Cider, and was interested in trying a few more flavors. I started with the Original, which I found incredibly light with low carbonation and a rounded sweetness. I moved on to sip on the Dry English, which was a great deal stronger in flavor, and still sweet for something being listed as dry. I enjoyed both ciders, though the English was better suited to my need for intense flavorings.

My next tasting was the Vanilla Java Porter from Atwater out of Detroit, MI. I thought it fitting to sample this beer considering the night before I had been to a screening of Denis Leary's BURN (an incredible film - go see it!). This beer was intensely vanilla on the nose with a hint of coffee. I found the flavor to be similar, though as it warmed in my hands the Coffee flavoring shown through. If you are a fan of PNW coffee you should totally give this beer a try.

The best name for both brewery and beer goes to Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project,whose Fluffy White Rabbits was a classically flavored light triple. Its fruity finish and crisp mouth feel was refreshing.

I hit up another cider after that (oh, how I love cider), trying the Traditional Dry from Angry Orchard of OH. I found this cider to be lip-puckeringly tart with strong green apple flavor. This is the Jolly Rancher of ciders, and I started dreaming up things to do with a Traditional Dry reduction...drizzling over vanilla ice cream being the first thought.

I decided to roll on to something a bit more local and a bit more bitter. I sampled the Winter Shredder from Cisco Brewers out of Nantucket. Hops up front and a toasty, nutty finish. This beer was true to its name - I'd love to drink it sitting by the fire in a ski lodge after a long day on the slopes.

I continued my love affair with the beers from Southern Tier (Lakewood, NY) by testing Oat, an Imperial Oatmeal Stout. This beer was thick, rich, and creamy. I liked the toasty nose and finish, and the continual flavor of molasses.

Photo credit

After spending some time chatting with Mike from Fest Pics (thanks for the photo my friend), we tried the Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale from Alltech from, you guessed it, KY. Slightly oaked and strongly vanilla, this was a very light ale with a lot of lovely flavor.

I followed that with a beer from Portland - no, not OR...ME. Peak Organic's Amber Espresso. I did not expect such a strong coffee flavor from so light a beer. It was nutty and bitter and toasty and, malty. This is a coffee beer that belongs in all the Northwest brew pubs!

We closed the night by trying the Black Lager from 3 Beards (definitely runner up for best brewery name). We sipped this MA beer behind our awesome beard masks. It was delightfully nutty with a nice balance of malt and hops. It is a winter warmer for sure.

All in all the Beer Summit was a lot of fun, and there were some amazing beers, meads, and ciders there to sample - something for everyone. Keep your eyes open for it next year!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Finding a Spark

This fall I've been blessed with quite a few visitors to the fair city of Seattle.  Why they didn't choose to come over the summer when the weather was simply gorgeous, I do not know...but I digress.

Visitors are always a great opportunity to reacquaint myself with the local booze scene; an activity that Kyle, Rebecca, and I embraced last weekend in Woodinville Wine Country.

On this journey both Kyle and I were determined to check out wineries we were less than familiar with.  With a tasting room located in the Hollywood Hills Wine District near Purple, our lunch destination, Sparkman Cellars fit the the bill nicely.

Frankly I'm a little embarrassed that Sparkman hadn't been on my radar before.  They've certainly received quite a bit of critical acclaim lately including recognition as Wine & Spirits Top 100 Winery, Wine Spectator Rising Star, and Wine Enthusiast Rising Cult Winery.  Nonetheless, after an amazing visit with Larkin in the tasting room, they're definitely on my hot list now.

Sparkman Cellars was formed in 2004 after an impressive career in the restaurant industry for Winemaker Chris Sparkman.  Strong relationships in the Pacific Northwest wine industry allowed Sparkman to source some of the very best fruit in Washington early on.  Without great fruit you can't have great wine; Sparkmen seriously has some great fruit from some of my favorite vineyards:

  • Klipsun, Red Mountain
  • Ciel du Cheval, Red Mountain
  • Boushey, Yakima Valley
  • Stillwater Creek, Columbia Valley
  • Evergreen, Ancient Lakes
  • Red Willow, Yakima Valley
  • Temperance Hill, Eola Hills (Oregon)
Told you.

With a little care, magic, and attention Chris handcrafts the juice into simply phenomenal artisan wine.  Two particular highlights stuck out for me during our tasting.

The Wilderness is a red blend that varies in composition from year to year using the fruit left over from the varietal specific wines of that vintage.  Sure, it's seconds...but we're talking seconds from the best vineyards it the state, so yea.  At only $28, you're getting a phenomenal bargain on a delicious, drinkable, and flavorful wine.  I've got a bottle on the rack.  Look forward to a full review when it gets cracked open.

The 2010 Darkness Syrah was simply...gorgeous.  Fruit forward yet balanced and silky, this 100% Syrah was the star of the day.  Sourced from Boushey and Olsen vineyards, this bottle is worth every penny of the $62 purchase price.  If only my wine budget allowed for more $62 bottles!

 Next time you're looking to put a little spark into your Woodinville tasting experience, stop by Sparkman Cellars and savor every sip.

Monday, November 12, 2012

It's a's a dessert...a beersert?

My favorite dessert is creme brulee.

I worked as a salad and dessert prep cook at a country club when I was a teenager. At the end of my shift when I was allowed a certain amount of credit for my dinner, I almost always used it to eat one of those amazing desserts. Because I was in charge of preparing these wonders, I was able to make it just - how - I - liked it. That and I got to play with a blow torch. Yep. A lot of restaurants take the custard out of the fridge, sprinkle on the sugar, and blast it with 3000 degrees of propane flame so that it is hot and crispy on top, and cool and creamy on the bottom. There are places where they put flavors into their custard - fruits, flowers, or herbs - but me, I like my burnt cream nice and simple...vanilla.

A while back I wrote an article on a beer that tasted exactly like a chocolate bar. More recently I toasted Halloween with a beer that was flavored to mimic pumpkin pie. The common thread in all of these? Well there are two. First, they are all awesome beers that are patterned after desserts, and second, they are all by Southern Tier Brewing Company. This time STBC hit me up with a beer after my all-time favorite dessert.

When Drew cracked this bottle for Matty and I, we were immediately treated to an intense vanilla aroma that was so powerful that people three seats down the bar inquired as to what we were drinking. The vanilla smell was so strong that it seemed to taste sweet in the back of my throat before I even took a taste. Despite pouring from a decent height, Drew could not get any kind of head to form on this baby.  The flavor was totally in line with my olfactory experience. Heavy with vanilla bean, the stout flavors in this rich beer gave the whole thing the burnt sense that brought together the creme brulee experience. The mouth feel was solid and creamy. This beer was sweet, but not sickeningly so. That said, there was certianly enough sweetness to make it a dessert beer.  I don't think I would pair it with anything. I might not even be tempted to eat my favorite dessert afterward.


Monday, November 5, 2012

Don't be an outcider part 5: Crispin Honey Crisp

At some point I am going to stop listing all of these cider posts as part of the outcider series...but I just like the pun too much to do so now. At this point I am on a roll with my cider much so that Rick has put up a cider tab on our main page - thanks Rick! The thing of it is...cider is hot right now, especially here in the Pacific Northwest. I can't go to the store without finding something new I have not gotten to sample. It's awesome because I have always liked cider. From my days drinking sugary-sweet Cider Jack in basement residence hall rooms at college, to toasting the end of the day with a proper pint in London, to reveling in the explosion of craft cider on today's market, I am a cider fanatic.

My recent try was Honey Crisp by Crispin in Colfax, CA. I keep seeing this cider everywhere - the brew store, Bier Caves, and even Corvallis' beer and wine mecca - the Orange Store. I found its elegant and subtle label almost intimidating compared to the down-home advertising most cider is paired with. With words like "artisanal reserve" and "super premium quality" splashed across the label, my curiosity was certainly piqued.

If you are a fan of sweet ciders you HAVE to pick this up for your next drink. Honey crisp is almost mead-like in its rich, honey taste. The apple in the flavor is over-ripe and dripping with sugar and late-fall sunshine. Creamy in mouth feel and pale golden in color, this cider has a remarkable way of drawing you in. As I poured more from the bottle, the color clouded as this cider is unfiltered. That said, I did not want to give up any of the experience to save the clarity of my drink. The sediment actually provided a richness to the flavor, and increased the tangible qualities of the crisp mouth feel.  I would recommend this cider alone, but think it would also be an amazing after-dinner drink to go with desserts such as cheesecake or creme brulee.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Halloween Mischief

Despite having what I can only describe as the perfect costume, this year I ended up with no appropriate occasion to wear it with Halloween falling mid-week and all.  It'd too bad really, for everybody else's benefit.

Instead, on Halloween weekend Clare and I decided to get into a little mischief.  Fremont Mischief Distillery, that is.

While the distillery is two miles from the Seattle headquarters of WestToast, it was only at a recent excursion to Nick's off Market that I first tried some Mischief booze and was hooked.

A quick aside...Nick's off Market has fantastic happy hour and daily specials. Most notably for our purposes today, Whiskey Wednesday brings half-priced whiskey all night long, and, on Tuesdays you can enjoy $2 off local distilleries. Check it out.

About Fremont Mischief

Located in Seattle's funky Fremont neighborhood, Mischief has a solid foundation in the budding Washington craft distillery market. Founded by friends Mike Sherlock and Erik Freeman after an entertaining costume party, Mischief is dedicated to delivering great spirits through small batches and the highest quality ingredients.

According to Mike Sherlock,

We use organic and heirloom grains...even though they have less starch and are harder to use because yields are so low. We feel these grains make Mischief spirits more flavorful, and give them a softer finish. We could buy production grown, non-organic grains; they're less expensive, the yield is better. It certainly would be easier for us. But, by taking these extra measures and extra costs, we feel it makes a difference you will notice and appreciate. It's worth it to us because we want to make the very finest for all who choose our spirits.

I definitely noticed the difference.

Mischief's tasting room is located at 132 N Canal Street in Seattle and is open daily from 11 AM - 5 PM, except Sunday when they close at 4 PM.  As an added bonus, there is no tasting fee.

The Booze

Mischief lists six different spirits on their website; when Clare and I visited the tasting room was pouring four of them:
  • Mischief Vodka:  Made with winter wheat in the classic russian style, this vodka is only filtered once and as a result, retains a nice flavor.  We found the vodka to have some nice vanilla notes with an inherent sweetness up front.  The vodka can easily stand on it's need to mix.
  • Mischief Gin: Using the Mischief Vodka as a base, this refreshing gin utilizes 13 fresh and local botanicals. Light on the juniper that can turn off some spirit drinkers, this gin had notes of licorice and lemon peel. It's a fun drink that is a sipping gin, Clare even suggested drizzling it on some vanilla ice cream.
  • Mischief Whiskey: Distilled in Canada, the Mischief Whiskey is an eight-year rye aged in bourbon barrels. Warm, buttery, and sweet, Mischief will please whiskey drinkers from every walk of life.
  • John Jacob: My favorite of the day, the John Jacob is a 100% rye grain whiskey made in the Seattle distillery and aged in charred oak. A bit boozy on the nose, this whiskey was also sweet and smooth, with some outstanding caramel notes. I walked away with a bottle and enjoyed some on the rocks shortly thereafter.
Both Clare and I enjoyed all four of these spirits; Mischief definitely warrants a trip back to the tasting room when I have company in town.

Next time you're in a bar and see Mischief on the shelf, forget those well spirits and go local.  Everyone needs some Mischief in their life.


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Dinner with the Pumking

Happy Halloween!

One of my favorite animated movies of all time is not Snow White (which was the first one I ever saw), or Beauty and the Beast (though I did identify with Belle's bookishness), but Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas. Burton has always made movies that appealed to me (Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Batman), and Nightmare is by far the best in my book. I enjoy the darkness and the humor (also incidentally why I really like Chuck Palahniuk...or maybe I just like Helena Bonham-Carter...). I enjoy the noir and the beauty of the landscapes. Oh yeah, and I really, really, really, like Halloween...and Jack Skellington.

photo found via Google Images

So you can imagine how excited I was when I looked into the beer cooler and spotted this lovely label from Southern Tier.

I HAD to get this beer. I mean, how often does one get to spend an evening sipping with the Pumpkin King? I was even more excited when I found that this seasonal was meant to taste much like pumpkin pie! Oh how I love beer that is meant to taste like dessert. The nose on this imperial ale was spicy and fresh - cinnamon, clove, and just a light bit of hops. The flavor was spectacular - sweet and pumpkin at the start, malty at the center, and tapering off into a spicy finish with a hint of saltiness that made me think of my mother's pie crust. The mouth feel was creamy and smooth - reminiscent of whipped cream. The only thing wrong with this beer was that at 8.6% ABV I was unable to enjoy a whole bottle. A girl's gotta be able to get out and trick-or-treat!

photo found via Google Images

Monday, October 29, 2012

Elysian's The Great Pumpkin Imperial Pumpkin Ale

While most beer fans get excited for Fall to bring forth numerous seasonal Oktoberfest beers, I couldn't care less. Drinking light beer in large quantities is only fun if you enjoy using the bathroom every ten minutes. No, my friends, Autumn brings with it a significantly more exciting type of beer; pumpkin ales.

Pumpkin is finding its way into almost everything lately. And why not? It's a cheap, readily-available ingredient that grows on every continent but Antarctica. Toss in some cinnamon, nutmeg, and/or allspice and even the most boring of food or beverage item is instantly delicious.

I've found that this is largely the same with beer, although with one big caveat. Some pumpkin ales are pretty much a typical lager with nutmeg dumped in. That's not how I roll. Real pumpkin ale is brewing beer with intentionality, real pumpkin, and a spice profile appropriate for each unique brew.

The first pumpkin ale that really grabbed my attention years ago was Elysian Brewing Company's Night Owl Pumpkin Ale. Not a lot of brewers were brave enough to use pumpkin at the time, but Elysian accepted the challenge. Night Owl presented itself as a balanced, medium-bodied ale with just enough pumpkin and spice to remind you of everything you love about the Fall while still being as drinkable as most ales.

You can only imagine my excitement with Josh informed me that Elysian was releasing four pumpkin ales this year. The best part? He hooked me up with all four. Up first for review is The Great Pumpkin Imperial Pumpkin Ale. From Elysian:
Brewed at our original Capitol Hill location in Seattle. silver medalist at the 2007 Great American Beer Festival in the Fruit and Vegetable category, the world’s first Imperial pumpkin ale. Brewed with pale, Munich, Cara-Hell, Cara-Vienne, Cara-Munich and Crisp 45° L Crystal malts. Roasted pumpkin seeds in the mash, and extra pumpkin added in the mash, kettle and fermenter. Spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and allspice.
What I'm reading is there's a lot of pumpkin involved in this 8% ABV offering. Let's drink some!

Brewery: Elysian Brewing Company
Style: Pumpkin Ale Rating: 92 (average user score) Rating: 96 overall / 98 style
Serving: 22oz bottle

Appearance: Slightly orange with a similar appearance to many summer wheat ales. Only a very thin, white head pours and quickly dissipates. Not a whole lot of light gets through this one.

Smell: Lightly sweet with the typical nutmeg and allspice hues of a pumpkin ale. A little bit of pumpkin is on the nose as well with surprisingly little alcohol.

Taste: This is really delicious! Everything I mentioned loving about Night Owl comes through riding a much higher level of booziness. I'm pretty sure 8% is a lie, but I like it! The pumpkin and spice hues come through in just the prefect amounts to not overwhelm one's pallat. As it dissipates, you're left with some lingering allspice and enough alcohol warmth to remind you that this one can be dangerous. I highly recommend drinking this with a rich dessert (cheesecake perhaps?) or on its own.

In short, you owe it to yourself to pick this one up. Elysian has proven that when it comes to pumpkin, nobody comes close to what they can do with it. And, yes, I'm looking at you, Dogfish Head.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Stumptown Cold Brew

I love coffee. Only slightly less so than beer, but apparently it isn't socially acceptable to bring a mug of porter into the office each morning. That withstanding, I still really love coffee.

A perfect weekend for me involves rolling out of bed whenever I want, strolling into the living room, grinding some coffee beans, and drinking an entire French press. Living in Portland is especially advantageous for this as we're graced with a multitude of local roasters who never cease to amaze my taste buds.

One such roaster, Stumptown Coffee Roasters, is iconic of Portland coffee roasters. Founded in 1999, Stumptown essentially revolutionized what it meant to serve quality coffee while infusing ethical purchasing principles. Since then, dozens of others have popped up around Portland with only few considered rivals. I'm a huge fan of what they typically purchase from Latin American countries, but they source from all around the world.

Witch such world-renown beans, I guess the next logical step was to brew the stuff ahead of time, put it in a stubby bottle, and serve it cold? I've been known to enjoy an iced coffee from time to time, but I have to admit I've never seen a "classy" approach to the style. Most of the time you just end up with yesterday's leftover coffee poured over ice. Knowing Stumptown, I'm assuming they have foregone this strategy in lieu of full-on cold brewing their stuff chemistry-style. As a mildly-respected online beverage journalist with $3.50(!) to spare, I pretty much have to give this stuff a shot. From Stumptown:
Stumptown Coffee Roasters is gearing up for iced coffee season with the release of its first-ever bottled coffee. Cold-brewed from the roastery's house blend and bottled at Portland’s House Spirits Distillery, these bottles of cold-brew goodness are full of rich, chocolaty aromas, tangy fruit flavors and earthy undertones.
Before I do so, however, let me take a moment to point out the stubby bottle. What was once a fairly common bottling method for beers has since become the iconic bottle of choice for Session and Red Stripe Beers. Hooray beer! Is it the best bottling method for coffee? I have no idea, but it certainly stands out when placed next to the fifty other bottled iced coffee drinks.

When first popped (and I say popped because I didn't realize the cap was a twist-off), you're initially greeted with subtle hues of chocolate and the typical aura of coffee. The first sip is a bit surprising as I have to admit I'm not used to my coffee "glugging" as I sip it. That said, my first reaction was not incredibly positive as it comes off really bitter. When that subsides, the taste is actually quite pleasant with plenty of chocolate, toffee, and nuttiness hues. Subsequent sips are similar with an odd bitter/tea type first reaction and the aftertaste actually being a better experience. After getting through a third of the bottle, I've decided this isn't exactly the drink for me.

That aside, this is definitely a unique beverage that I would suggest trying if you have the opportunity. It's unconventional, unique, and a little strage; just like the city Stumptown calls home. And the best part about this drink? You can responsibly drink as many as you'd like. Hooray responsibility!


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Don't be an outcider part 4: Blue Mountain Cherry

Fall. Harvest time. The air is dry and crisp, and everywhere I go I hear the sound of dry leaves crunching underneath my feet. Despite being the harbinger of winter, fall is my favorite season. It is the only time of year where I feel a nostalgic twinge for my days growing up on the east coast. I think about the brilliant colors of the maple trees, wagon rides, scarecrows, powered sugar donuts, and, of course, apple cider.

I did go with friends this year to pick apples. We pressed 10 gallons of juice. I had never had fresh, unpasteurized apple cider. If you get a chance to try it I highly recommend the experience. Most of that 10 gallons was put up to ferment and make lovely hard cider wonderfulness. Yes, I get gushy about hard cider. I think that if I were to ever move away from the Pacific Northwest my fall nostalgia will include this awesome beverage.

We gleaned another fruit as well - Italian Prunes - and set ourselves down for an evening to pit them for plum wine. Of course, I feel that making alcohol requires drinking it, so I picked up a bottle of Blue Mountain Cherry Cider while buying yeast at the brew store.

I do not think this cider could taste any more like cherries. Each sip was packed with tart, full, cherry flavor and just a hint of apple lingering in the finish. The nose was also ripe with cherries and champagne undertones. As the cider warmed the flavors went from pie cherry tart, to newly ripened rainier, and on into juicy bing. Not sure what cherries were in my bottle, but it was fun to experience the flavors open up over time. I drank this cider alone, and because I did not want to mess with the flavors, it kept me from sampling the plums. That said, I would most definitely pair this up with chocolate desserts, or even turn it into a fancy ice cream float.


Monday, October 15, 2012

STOMP!!!! (a photo journal)

I had the wonderful opportunity to partake in the Willamette Valley Vineyards' 22nd Annual Grape Stomp Competition. Here is our experience in photos!

 Oh how I love Pinot Noir grapes!

 Our wonderful hosts gave us wine glasses

Folks lined up their empties as they enjoyed the wine

Aftermath of a heat

 One that got away!

Enjoying the Pinot Noir

Lined up for our heat

 My grapes await!


My trusty swabber at the ready

After 3 minutes

Our output

Straining the product


We weighed in at 109oz. - one oz. shy of the leader!

Post stomp snacks