Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Things Beer Taught Me: Oakshire's Heart Shaped Box

So although I don't feel comfortable claiming the identity of "student" (unless you modify it with something like 'of life,' or 'of the human condition'), I am taking a class this term in Family Counseling.  I've really enjoyed being back in the classroom, mostly because I am a big nerd.  I like reading books, and writing papers, and engaging in classroom discussion.  The one thing I have not enjoyed is the time commitment - mostly because it has kept me from posting as often as I'd like.

That said, I do have a school ritual left over from graduate school that I am going to capitalize on here at West Toast.  I looove to sit and read in bars.  I find that when I am in a crowded and noisy environment, I am able to ignore what is going on around me and focus in a better way.  Thus every week I've been posting up at least one night a week at my favorite location in Corvallis, Les Caves, to get in some reading and try out something new.  At least for a while, that is what I'll be posting about on here.

Beer and Psychology!!!

Last week beer was for breakfast, and breakfast was good.  I sampled Oakshire Brewing Company's Heart Shaped Box - a bourbon-barrel aged espresso stout made with bing cherries.  My book - In Praise of Slowness by Carl Honore.  It seemed apt that I'd read a book about the benefits of slowing life down while having a beer, brunch, conversation, and watching hailstones pelt the street outside.  I enjoyed the mixture of intense flavors in the beer.  The powerful coffee flavor made it apt to drink this beer in the morning.  There was a light tartness of cherry throughout, that lingered with the bitter of the coffee at the end.  I did not detect much of the bourbon, but did find wonderful vanilla on the nose that stayed with me into the taste.  The mouth feel was low in carbonation, and smooth, which surprised me considering how thick and dark the beer appeared in the glass.  I paired my brew up with a side of potatoes and sausage, and found that the sour/bitter sensibilities of the beer stood wonderfully with the spice and grease of my breakfast meat.  All in all it was a great brunch.

My reading proved to be very interesting as well - I'll share with you a quote from Honore, who posits that the fast-paced world has led people to impatience, rage, and decreases in coping skills.

"In a way, we are all fast thinkers now.  Our impatience is so implacable that, as actress-author Carrie Fisher quipped, even "instant gratification takes too long."  This partly explains the chronic frustration that bubbles just below the surface of modern life." p. 12

(apologies for no art in this post - it was impromptu and thus I did not have a camera)


Friday, February 24, 2012

Nectar Ales Black Xantus Imperial Stout

I've been blogging about beer off and on for about 7 years now. My father, bless his heart, occasionally likes to pick me up random 22oz bottles if he sees something he thinks I'd be interested in. The reality is, he only drinks Corona Light and doesn't have a clue as to what I really enjoy. Instead, his strategy is to pick up bottles with cool labels that hold beer darker than Corona Light.

This strategy usually results in some decent beer. Rarely am I intrigued enough by what he picks up to actually write about it, but solid beers none the less. This time is different. This time, just this once, he found something magical completely by chance.

When I review a beer, I usually do some background on it first and will write about the brewery, its philosophy, and anything else I find interesting. In this case, I decided to just pop open the beer and drink it with zero research. I never planned on reviewing it with the assumption that it'd be a generic imperial stout, so I'm going to do my review a bit backwards. You're going to experience my journey the same way I did; with my review first and information later.

Brewery: Nectar Ales
Style: Russian Imperial Stout
BeerAdvocate.com Rating: 90
RateBeer.com Rating: 99 overall
Serving: 22oz Bottle

Appearance: Jet black with no light coming through. Only a sliver of a tan head on the pour that quickly dissipates.

Smell: Lots of alcohol, chocolate, coffee, and malt. For comparison, this smells almost identical to Deschutes' The Abyss (one of my all-time favorite beers).

Taste: Oh! This...this is really special. It tastes very similar The Abyss at first, but with more coffee! An initial booze rush is slowly flushed out by tastes of bitter coffee and malt that soothes to dark chocolate as it escapes your palate. The coffee and chocolate notes especially multiply as you sip through a glass and the alcohol becomes much less apparent. The mouthfeel is also notable as it feels rather heavy, quite like a milk stout. While not nearly as chocolatey as a chocolate stout, this would be a phenomenal beer to pair with a dessert (cheesecake, perhaps?) or have as a dessert itself. As you continue to drink towards the end of the glass, the pleasant aromas and tastes never degrade and the last sip is just as enjoyable as the first.

With that out of the way, let's learn about what I just drank and which masterminds created it.

Before I go any further, let me first disclose that I have a bias in favor of Oregon and Washington beers. Don't get me wrong, I love me some California beer, but statistically-speaking and based off of the availability at hand, I am more likely to pick up a random Oregon or Washington beer I find intriguing more often than a California one. This is reason number one why I didn't initially think to research this ahead of time. The old man has bought me a ton of random California beers with cute labels, but none have been interesting enough to write about.

Next, I have to admit I hadn't even heard of Nectar Ales. I have another bias against animals on labels, so I very well might have completely blocked them out of my mind if I've actually seen their ales on a shelf. For more info, let's consult with Nectar themselves:

Nectar Ales was founded in 1987 in Humboldt County as one of California's - and the nation's - pioneering microbreweries. Leading with its unique Red Nectar ale, Nectar Ales helped blaze the microbrew trail and is today regarded as a true California classic.

Under the founding slogan “All Natural Ales,” the beers of Nectar Ales are brewed with all-natural ingredients, including the finest hops and malted barley. At all points in the brewing process, careful attention is paid to craft ales of extraordinary flavor, character and pure naturalness —the achievement of great taste.

Sounds like I've been oblivious to 25 years of great beer making. But what's this Black Xantus all about? Turns out it is a super limited special release:

Black Xantus (pronounced Zantis) is truly a unique bird. An Imperial Stout aged in American oak barrels, infused with fresh organic/ fair-trade coffee from our local coffee roaster, Jobella Coffee Roasters. This special, limited release beer bursts with bourbon and espresso aromas leading into chocolate and black cherry flavor. It’s 11% ABV is softened by time in barrels which also contributes to the beer’s appeal. We are very proud of this new addition to the Nectar Ales family.

Suddenly, my entire tasting experience all makes sense. Many of the same methods used to make this ale are the same that are used to make The Abyss. The biggest difference with this gem is the introduction of Jobella Coffee. This slight modification has completely rocked my world and has immediately skyrocketed Black Xantus towards the top of my list of all time favorite brews.

If you can still find a bottle of this (and only 400 cases were ever released starting in September), get your hands on it and take it home with you. This is an incredibly special beer that is unlike all else. Don't let the hummingbird fool you either, this is no gimmick. In fact, I dropped what I was doing to write this post and am breaking my general rule of posting on weekend nights. Go to your local beer store. Now!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

2 Days in Seattle

The Seattle Convention and Visitors Bureau has a message for all of you non-Seattleites:  There's a lot to love about Seattle, and if you come to visit, we think you'll agree.

I, for one, can attest to that.  And if you live in a few major metropolitan areas in the West Coast (Portland and San Francisco, to name a few), you'll soon see billboards featuring a new project to share our greatness with others:

2 days in Seattle are 2 days you won't soon forget.

I suppose one's propensity to remember 2 days in Seattle could actually be negatively correlated to exactly how much you enjoy [drink] those 2 days, but I digress.

The 2 Days in Seattle campaign is unique, innovative, and user driven. Featuring an interactive map with pre-populated with Seattle hot spots, the Bureau then invited a number of national social media mavens to the city to experience if for themselves -- with absolutely no agenda or planned events -- and share their observations while doing so. What you'll now find is a living, breathing visitors guide with tweets, photos, reviews, and suggestions. Oh, when *you* visit, you can add your experiences to the site as well.

Throughout the next few months, I'll sprinkle in a 2-day itinerary here and there on WestToast so you can join in on some of our favorites.  There's food, there's wine, there's beer, and there's spirits.  What on earth else could you need?

Until then, check out http://2daysinseattle.com, build your itinerary, and come visit...although why we want to share, I don't know.

To join the conversation, use #2daysinseattle on Twitter.  If you feel compelled, make a comment about what's on your Seattle list!


Monday, February 20, 2012

Mythbusters: Does Size Matter?


There has long been a debate between couples about whether size matters. Some say that size is directly related to quality of experience, whereas others downplay size and put more value in the individual performance. Two weeks ago I tested out this theory and am here to put the issue to bed (pun intended).
A couple weekends ago I attended an open house event hosted at the Inspiration Vineyards custom crush facility in Santa Rosa. (You didn’t think I was talking about something other than wine, did you?) Seven small production “micro-wineries” joined forces to support one another and provide the public a chance to experience their wine. Most of these wineries are making less than a couple hundred cases (one producing only 28 cases). After spending the day tasting each of the wines they offered, I am here to declare, once and for all, that size does not matter. Most of the wineries present are available by appointment only or in a small handful of local restaurants or cafés. Because of this, I found it to be a real treat to have them come together for us to easily enjoy their wine. Below are some thoughts on a few of the wines at the event.
The 2009 Sauvignon Blanc was one of my favorites from winemaker Jon Phillips. I immediately took note of the wonderful citrus flavors that were present. I experienced grapefruit, orange, and even a little green apple. The crispness of the wine was balanced nicely with just a few hints of oak that softened the wine but still allowed for the fruit to be the center of attention. I recently paired this wine with baked lobster tails and found it to be a wonderful match.

Having missed my first couple chances to try the wines from William and Michelle, I had all sorts of excitement built up to finally taste Two Shepherds. Of the many highlights, I was particularly fond of the not yet released Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre (GSM) blend. The Grenache took center stage and provided loads of red fruit flavors and aromas to this wine. Like all of their wines, the GSM came in under 14% abv and is enjoyable now but will also get better over time.
The winemaker, Craig, and his team were pouring a couple wines not yet available and some not yet bottled. However, one I enjoyed and purchased was the 2010 L’Inizio from Paso Robles. This white blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussane, and Viognier was sweet with flavors of pear and pineapple but was still a bit dry which made it really easy drinking.

Because of their philosophy of making wine simple and approachable, I won’t talk much about the wines here. At Simple Math they believe that “it isn’t about the tech sheets, it’s about what’s in the glass – yum or yuck. That’s it!” Without hesitation I said “yum” to most of Christian Lane’s wines.  With a philosophy that lines up with the approach of WestToast, the amount of “yum” in my glass, and the fact that there is the symbol Pi on the bottle (awesome!)  I had to restrain myself from going in to debt buying Simple Math wines.

The 2009 Intelligent Design Cuvee was a wonderful red Rhone blend that was built on a foundation of Grenache, followed by Syrah and Petite Sirah. The Grenache (75%) provided prominent flavors of strawberry and spice while the Syrah (20%) added some dark fruit, as expected. Winemaker Jason Welch then added the 5% Petite Sirah to give this blend a little more body and tannins. Because of the small amount of Petit Sirah used, the wine had just enough tannins without immediately drying out my mouth.

This new label was pouring their debut wine, the 2008 REDiculous. This blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Syrah was a heavy hitter that made me think of my father in-law. A meat and potatoes guy to his core, this bold red wine is right up his alley. Over time the tannins will soften out a little bit and this wine will be a great partner to grilled meat. Coming from Jon Phillips, the winemaker at Inspiration, I look forward to seeing future releases under this label.

Both the 2009 and 2010 (barrel sample) Pinot Noir were examples of more fruit forward, medium bodied Pinot Noir. The 2010 surprised me with a bit of a caramel and toasty finish. It sounds somewhat tacky, but I was reminded of a toasted marshmallow jelly bean from Jelly Belly. Another young producer, watch for future releases from Premonition Cellars.

A common answer to the question “What got you in to making wine?” was along the lines of “we liked wine, so why not?” I loved hearing this from the winemakers because it was easy to sense their passion and love for making wine. It was about sharing something they loved with others. Although it is much easier to run to the grocery store and pick up a bottle of widely distributed wine, you will do yourself a great disservice if you don’t check out each of these producers. They are each making some really great wines and prove that you don’t have to be huge to give people something they like.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Seattle's Amber Den

When I moved to Seattle a year ago, I started one of the most important albeit difficult parts of relocating:  finding a new neighborhood haunt.

You know, the type of place to go for a quick drink on a Friday night.  The type of place to plop at a table with the laptop on a Sunday afternoon and write a blog post.  The type of place where you go pound down a few after a really tough day at work.  The closer to home the better.

It takes a special environment to fulfill these stringent requirements and diverse purposes.  In Corvallis, we were blessed with Block 15 Brewpub and my debit card statement is evidence of just how much time I spent there.

The neighborhood I live in, Ballard, has hundreds of eateries and drinkeries.  I've found many fantastic standbys, but nothing that just had that feel yet.  A few months ago, when walking home from the farmers market, I passed by a defunct coffee shop at 17th Ave NW and NW 56th Street and saw an intriguing sign:  Coming Soon:  The Amber Den.  Wine.  Beer.  Food.   Well hell, I like all of those things.  Even better?  It's close.  An elevator ride an 325 feet of walking close.  I was excited.  Could it be...my new place?

The Amber Den opened the first week of February, and I was itching to check it out.  Last Friday, I grabbed a few friends and we made the hike.

About Amber Den

According to various online features quoting owner Nick Simonton, The Amber Den seeks to fill a missing niche in the Ballard culinary scene:  a good neighborhood corner hangout.  Seeking to be accessible, unpretentious, warm and cozy, the Den seems like our kind of place.

The Amber Den is split into an upper floor seating area and a downstairs area, with a bar anchoring the middle of the room as you walk in the door.  Most of the tables I observed were 2 or 3 top bistro style tables, although there were some larger seating spaces as well as some very comfortable looking soft seating tucked into some of the window nooks.  Four wall-mounted wine racks are prominently displayed next to the bar.  

Comfortable and cozy?  Check.

The Wine

The list presented a combination of Northwest and import wines at a variety of price points.  With approximately 10 selections by-the-bottle and 4 wines offered by the glass, I selected a glass of the 2009 Proletariat Wine Company Bordeaux Blend to get started. 

As the establishment continues to grow and evolve, I hope to see a bit larger glass pour selection and an expanded Northwest inventory.  With time...
The Beer

Three beers on tap and five bottled selection offered a nice selection as I transitioned to beer for my second drink of the evening.  I was quite pleased that all three draught beers were from the Puget Sound area, a Maritime Pacific Imperial Pale Ale won me over and left me feeling warm and toasty.

They also had hard cider available.  

The Food

Featuring a number of appetizers and small plates, we ordered a number of items to get a sense of the fare:
  • Meat and Cheese Plate
  • Albondigas (Meatballs)
  • Ciliegina (Cheese Balls)
  • Garlic Shrimp
  • Short Ribs
For our group, the garlic shrimp were spot on and the clear winner.  Featuring a taste of Chorizo, garlic, and a light sauce, they were delicious.   The meatballs, cheese balls, and short ribs were fine but nothing to write home about.

While not necessarily appropriate for a full-on dinner, the menu offers some great snacks to pair with your drink of choice.

General Observations

All in all, I was satisfied with my Amber Den experience and believe they have a ton of promise.  With only two weeks under their belt, there are definitely some areas of improvement to be had but nothing that is a show-stopper or unexpected for a brand-new establisment.

A a true neighborhood hangout, the Amber Den blends a number of genres.  It's not a brewpub, not a wine bar, and not a restaurant -- and you won't see the depth in any of those specific areas that you might at a specialty establishment.  I think that very wise on the part of the owners, and I'll be interested to see if the market drives them in any particular direction as the identity becomes more established.

I may have found my new neighborhood haunt.

The Amber Den on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 12, 2012

ZAP Festival Reflections

 I know I have said it before and you may be tired of hearing it, but I love being in wine country because of the plethora of events available for the “just graduated from slapping the bladder” wine drinker to the most experienced oenophile. I believe it should be celebrated any time an organization can get hundreds of wineries to come together in one space to share their wines. The ZAP Festival was the latest event that deserves such accolades.


This festival kickoff brought together over 50 wineries and local cafés, bistros, and eateries to highlight intentional wine and food pairings. I was impressed with the substantial amount of food being offered. I have attended some food & wine pairings that skimped on the food, especially given the amount of wine being poured. Let’s be honest, the good majority of participants were tasting and swallowing as much wine as they could, so having more than small bites was appreciated. One of my favorite pairing of the night was the lamb with a Zinfandel demi-glace from Ruth's Chris Steakhouse that was paired with Bonneau Vineyards. The wine was used in the demi-glace so it was easy to appreciate the pairing. It wasn’t clear if all the wine & food partners collaborated this much, but for those who did it was well worth it. I felt that this event was made by the small touches. Getting one of those plates/trays with the wine glass holder (do those things have their own name?) was appreciated. Seems like a small touch but made the whole event a little easier to navigate. Also, the partners who knew about what their colleagues were serving/pouring and why they were together was great. I am by no means an expert at pairing food with wine so I liked having them point out flavors to notice. We left Epicuria with a full stomach of delicious food and wine to return on Saturday for the Grand Tasting.

Grand Tasting
The ZAP Festival concluded with the Grand Tasting. A collection of 250 wineries pouring already released wines as well as many having barrel samples of their upcoming vintages. The format was similar to other large scale wine events. Rows of tables with wineries organized alphabetically and by region. It seemed that many of the staff at the tables were intimately involved in the winemaking process so it was great to be able to have real conversations about their wines. Some of my highlights of the day were the Chateau Montelena 2009 Zinfandel. With a wonderful floral nose, this wine evolved into flavors of black fruit with just a hint of herbs and spices. Another favorite was the Edmeades Winery 2007 Zinfandel from Perli Vineyards. This was a bit more a robust example of Zin but maintained nice balance that masked the 15.6% abv.
My wife (and unofficial photographer) Katie
So, besides being all about Zinfandel, what set this tasting apart from others? First, as we entered the main hall we were greeted with a sourdough baguette. Offered to all that attended the event, this was another small touch that made a big difference. Although I tend not to swallow most of the wine I taste, I imagine the baguette was a huge help to the non trade/media attendees who don’t carry a spit cup. Second was the live Twitter feed. I saw this once before at Taste of Mendocino but it is a great way to give and get real-time suggestions of where to stop. Third, and perhaps what I found the most impressive was the “Zin Zone.” This will really only speak to wine media but it is worth mentioning. This was a sectioned off area that had many of the wines being poured in the main hall. Media could enter the zone, pour their own glass and taste through lots of wines. After experiencing the main tasting, I went to the Zin Zone and was able to go through many more wines, finding great examples of Zinfandel. Knowing everyone around you was media was also nice as we shared recommendations. For example, I wouldn’t have found the 2010 Mauritson Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley had it not been for a fellow wine writer. For me, this was the wine of the event. Expecting it to be very young, this wine had exceptional balance and approachability. This seemed to be a wine that many people also enjoyed and will be one to try and get your hands on.

All and all, I really enjoyed this event and the little things that went in to making it great. I encourage everyone to check it out next year because with so much variety in Zinfandel being produced. I guarantee you could find something you like, even if you don’t currently put Zinfandel in your favorites category.




Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Rogue Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Ale

Every now and then, a beverage comes along that resembles nothing you've had before. Sometimes it's because of a particular method of fermentation. Other times, it's a combination of ingredients that you wouldn't have thought make sense to combine. These brews often leave you scratching your head wandering either a. why hadn't anybody thought of this before? or b. how baked was the brewer when he thought this was a good idea?

Rogue's Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Ale mostly falls under option b., however, it is definitely worth talking about for more than just the novelty. We typically don't write about beverages we don't like, but bear with me on this one.

Before we get to the beer itself, let's deconstruct the two companies responsible for what we're looking at.

Rogue Ales, located in Newport, Oregon, is responsible for some of the best craft beer and spirits in the world. While mostly known for their Dead Guy Ale, they brew everything ranging from Czech-style pilsner to chocolate stout to estate-grown hops used in their Chatoe series of brews. While Rogue usually takes their brewing seriously, as a company, they're kind of a bunch of weirdos like us. For example, they get to come up with their own employment titles. Hold that thought for a moment.

Next, we have Voodoo Doughnut. If any business was an embodiment of Portland's culture, Voodoo is where one usually points. In short, they're a kooky doughnut shop that comes up with crazy doughnut combinations (such as the Bavarian cream-filled Cock-N-Balls), is easily identifiable by their bright pink boxes, and whose locations double as wedding chapels. They've pushed the limits of what a doughnut shop should be so far that after introducing a Nyquil-glazed, Pepto Bismol-sprinkled doughnut for those extra rough late night, the health department had to draw a line in the sand. Most importantly, they also make a bacon-topped maple bar that is more or less what you HAVE to try if you've never been to Voodoo before. We even owe our relevance to that doughnut after we paired it with Sokol Blosser Meditrina.

So how did we end up with a Rogue ale that tastes like a Voodoo Doughnut? I'm thinking the conversation went something like this:

Cat Daddy (Voodoo owner): Hey John, you should try this special bacon maple bar.

John Maier (Rogue brewmaster): This tastes a bit like the Saturday Market. I'm picking up something similar to those brownies you brought over last week.

Cat Daddy: Yeah, weird. Anyway, I have a problem I'm hoping you can help me with.

John Maier: Yeah? What's that?

Cat Daddy: I want to drink this.

John Maier: I like the cut of your jib. Consider it done!

I have no way to verify if any of that is true, but here's what Rogue has to say about it:

A Collision of Crazies

Rogue Ales has collided with Voodoo Doughnut to create Bacon Maple Ale! This unique artisan creation contains a baker’s dozen number of ingredients including bacon and maple syrup from one of Voodoo’s signature doughnuts.

With that out of the way, our journey starts on Friday night when Josh, Alyssa, and I hit up Rogue's Portland Public House for dinner and drinks. We knew we wanted to leave with a bottle or two of their Voodoo ale, but didn't expect to see this bad boy when approaching the pub:

Turns out this is a pretty special ale. Since it isn't available on tap, we bought a couple of bottles to try at home. We also picked up some doughnuts on the way home for a genuine pairing. Onto the review!

Brewery: Rogue
Style: Brown Ale (officially)
BeerAdvocate.com Rating: 74
RateBeer.com Rating: 41 overall
Serving: 750ml painted bottle

Appearance - Looks like a typical amber ale. Opaque with a finger's worth of white head on the pour.

Smell - Lots of smoke and maple aromas. Of other existing beers, this smells most similar to Southern Tier's Creme Brûlée stout. Very sweet with some hint of the actual bacon Voodoo uses. Josh noted that he is somewhat tentative due to poor experiences with smoked porters and stouts and I'll echo that statement.

Taste - Unique. Smoke and maple immediately hit you with the taste of bacon on the finish. Not much beer flavor aside from the very beginning, which lends its way to just maple and smoke towards the end. Somewhat dry with the smoke flavoring just not going away. By itself, it's kind of boring after two or three sips.

When paired with a doughnut, the beer actually mellows out a bit and it operates as a true pairing.

To summarize, this is an interesting idea that largely relies on great marketing. The beer itself is average at best and only a small fraction of people would enjoy drinking more than a 8oz poor; especially if not paired with a doughnut. To be completely honest, Josh and I couldn't get through more than half a pint and we ended up dumping the rest. That said, this is probably the worst beer I'd recommend to try for the sheer novelty of it. It was an experiment worth trying and I commend Voodoo and Rogue for giving it a shot.

In the end, hand me a Hazelnut Brown Nectar and a Mango Tango and I'm in heaven.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Resolve To: A Week Of WestToast Resolutions - Day 5

When the doctor asks the “how many drinks a week” question I bet most of us say we’re social drinkers. That means something a little different to everyone. It could mean that at the end of a terrible day you sit on your couch and socialize with your best friend as you put down half a bottle of wine. It might mean that you dedicate one night a week to drinking cocktails because it’s the only time you get to meet up with friends who otherwise are spending time with their family. It could be that you have a few beers once a month at the alehouse during a professional networking event as you work to advance your career. Drinking levels are different for all of us and probably vary from week to week and month to month and as long as it’s kept in control we fit the definition.

Social Drinker: (noun) a person who drinks alcoholic beverages usually in the company of others and is in control of his or her drinking. (courtesy: dictionary.com)
While most of us say we’re social drinkers we all could probably do a better job of adding alcohol education to that socializing. I’m not talking about alcoholism, though my all means I hope you help yourself and/or your friends if that is something that’s an issue. I’m taking about knowing more about what you drink in the company of others and mixing up what your normal social hour drink might be.


Take your social drinking from this:
Seeking or enjoying the companionship of others; friendly; sociable; gregarious.

To this:

Pertaining to, devoted to, or characterized by friendly companionship or relations: a social club...of, pertaining to, connected with, or suited to polite or fashionable society: a social event.

Sure they might seem sort of the same but they’re different parts of the definition of social [soh-shuhl] (courtesy: dictionary.com). There is being social in the company of some you know and some you don’t and the act of being social in your own space, in the company of people who you know and trust.

Instead of heading out to a bar to meet up with friends, welcome them into the comfort of your own home. Most of us are struggling to make ends meet with mortgage payments right now or shelling out a fair share of rent so make use of that money you’re already paying. Turn Book Club into Wine Club and share life stories at home while you and your friends learn about the latest blend.

There are books and games that will help you make it happen. “The Wine Club” by Maureen Christian Petrosky serves as a 12 month guide to learning about wine with friends. Along with certain wine categories each month the book provides food recipes for the evening to compliment the tasting and tips on gadgets that are worth the money to make your home club even more fun.

‘Wine Teasers, Wine Game’ from ‘Fine Wine Games, Inc.’ is something that’s a little more casual. It offers cards to spur discussion, offer information and spark friendly competition for any kind of gathering. For Example: QUESTION: Being such a rebel, you want to order white wine with your steak. Which wine should you choose? Riesling, Chardonnay or Champagne? ANSWER: Chardonnay DISCUSSION: It is still true that white wines go well with white meats and red wines go well with red meats. However, our question points out one of the many exceptions to this rule. Chardonnay wines can be so bold and brassy that they are like red wines in disguise. For a hot summer cookout (I can’t wait), a lightly chilled Chardonnay will be a fine companion to a grilled steak.
While some are fairly primary, others are much more mind teasing - some even including song lyrics that include wine.

So forget your other half completed resolutions and get social this year - hide your unmentionable, take out the trash and open up your home. Pick a theme, have each guest bring a bottle and polish up your glasses for a great night in, that will lead to more socializing than your average night out.

(vintage Wine & Cheese Photos circa 2003 & 2009)

Entertaining Tip:

Stop by a local bead store and buy a pack of circular earring hoops with a small hole in one end to connect the hoop to itself. Grab a selection of beads (a couple more than your expected number of guests) then thread each bead onto a single hoop. Ask the store employee to bend them up for you at the shop so they hook into the hole of the hoop and you’ll leave with very simple, yet custom and ready to attach wine glass charms.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Resolve To: A Week Of WestToast Resolutions - Day 4

The trend is to buy local and it’s not a bad bandwagon to be a part of. From the food served at restaurants, the fruit you pick up in the grocery store, to the store you stop by for that perfect Valentine’s Day gift most of us consider local to be better for a variety of reasons. Finding local food is arguably the easiest way to support small businesses and consume local products, especially in this part of the country, but there are plenty of other things that aren’t at the top of the “buy local” list.

There are plenty of things it’s ‘easier’ to just grab and not worry about where it came from (drugstore items, clothes, etc.) but there are plenty of items we can get local and it might just take a slight change of habit to make it happen.


Living along the West coast it’s easy to buy wine that’s from right down the road and with the burst of breweries it’s probably harder to find a beer NOT from the area but when it comes to spirits it seems like the fad fizzles. Part of that is because Washington distilling laws only recently changed and I think another reason is just because we’re stuck in our habits. While there are dozens of fantastic distilleries popping up in the region people are still popping into the liquor store and grabbing the same old brand off the shelf without spending much time to look around and see what else is available.

Granted most of us probably don’t shop for spirits as often as beer or wine but this year I challenge you to try something new.

If you tend to pull from the vodka section (which I do), try just standing in front of it and looking for your five favorite labels. Vodka labels are often a little more creative than some of the brown liquors. Once you pick your favorite labels go and take a look at where the booze comes from. I would almost guarantee that something is local. From there you can either take a chance on the taste, see what the label has to say, go by price, ask the employee if they happen to know anything (usually they don’t) or pull out your smartphone and do a quick google search. You can also go in knowing ahead of time that you’re going to leave your standard selection on the shelf and grab something out that you’ve scoped out in advance.

Here are a few options:

Ebb + Flow Vodka: a single malt vodka made from 100% Washington Palouse Malted Barley that has notes of vanilla and just a hint of natural sweetness.

Elemental Vodka: begins with organic soft-white wheat grown in the Pacific Northwest region. .

Charbay Vodka: American Midwest corn & rye for their clear vodka.

Drinking local will make your next drink that much sweeter.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Resolve To: A Week Of WestToast Resolutions - Day 3

As we get older our opinion of alcohol tends to change. In my unscientific studies among my friends I’ve found that we might actually enjoy glasses of wine and pints of beer more frequently that we did during our college years, but now those glasses are both of a higher quality and a more sensible amount.

One of the things I love about my age now is that there is always at least one bottle of wine in my wine rack and usually at least a couple of beers in the fridge so I always have something on hand when I need it after a long day or for a last minute social event.


If you do some research and put it into your budget it is really a great deal for so many reasons.

1. You will get quarterly (this is usually the standard) shipments of wine to help restock your rack.
2. You can take friends in for tastings whenever you’re looking for something to do and you’ll usually find that you all will taste for free, plus you’ll get a discount on the bottles you buy that day.
3. You really get to know a brand and club membership will help you know the tastes, smells and varieties of it, allowing you to more easily understand all other wines.

There are dozens of places along the coast where you can become a member. Some have set quarterly prices while others charge depending on the wine included in each shipment. Some have fees to join while others don’t ask for money up front, they just ask for at least a year commitment to the club. Some allow you to chose only reds or only whites. There are so many options out there that allow you to really customize what you choose.

My suggestion is to pick a place that you can get to in person at least twice a year. While everywhere will ship to you it’s always nice to be able to save that shipping cost and pick it up yourself occasionally. Plus, in person you are able to taste the current flight and chat with the staff about what is new within the company and with the wines. While you’re there you can also take advantage of sales that might be going on (like my household did recently when cases of a fantastic red were marked down to 50% off but I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t gone in).

So take the plunge this year and join. You’ll be part of a new community and you’ll make your wine rack happy.