Thursday, June 28, 2012

Lost Abbey Angel's Share Bourbon at Urban Family

Tonight (well last night when you are reading this) I was going to write a real, legit post.  But, sometimes life happens.  And in this case, work happened.  A day of meetings wall to wall meant that I was behind...and I have delusions of going on vacation next week so I just can't be behind.

So, instead of blog writing, Urban Family Public House happened.  With my laptop, and email writing instead.

Located at 5329 Ballard Avenue in Seattle and convenient walking distance from my condo, Urban Family is quickly becoming the go-to relaxed destination that I've so craved since moving away from Block 15 in Corvallis.  With 25 tap handles, a rotating selection, and plenty of belgians, Pac NW beer, and East Coast selections, this is my kind of place.  Who wants a beer?

I like bourbon and I like beer, so the Lost Abbey Angel's Share Bourbon was a natural choice for me.  In fact, Urban Family had 3 barrel-aged beers on tap this particular evening, but the bourbon aged would do the trick for me.

Brewery: Lost Abbey
Style: American Strong Ale Rating: 94 Rating: 100 overall
Serving: 12oz on tap

So I actually didn't realize how highly rated this beer was until I just looked it up, but it makes sense. It is fantastic. Like, unicorn farts fantastic. It took a few minutes to open up but once it did, there was the dark bourbon and oak influences balanced by vanilla and beery goodness that I know and love.

At 12.5%, unfortunately one was enough to do the trick on a school night. I was left wanting more, and in fact, will probably go get some more this weekend if Urban Family still has it left on tap.

The added bonus to a Wednesday night answering work email? It's all day happy hour at Urban Family resulting in a $1 discount on all beers. Score.

So while I don't have a fancy picture, or any picture at all of this beer, take my word for it: you'll savor every drop. If you find yourself in Ballard over the next few days hit up Urban Family and ask for the Angel's Share Bourbon. Tell them WestToast sent you. They'll have no idea who you are talking about but they'll probably still give you beer.

Urban Family Public House on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Global #SauvBlanc Day

Courtesy of St. Supery Winery website
With summer finally here I find that my recycling bin becomes increasingly fuller with white wine bottles than red wine.  While my cellar (aka, a back closet that remains constant temp) is predominantly red wine, there is a noticeable spike in my white wine consumption over the next few months. Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time with Rhone whites like Grenache Blanc, Viognier, and Rousanne, but I still love coming back to a crisp and refreshing glass of Sauvignon Blanc. That’s why June 21st is just a little cooler than June 20th. Thursday the 21st is Global #SauvBlanc Day with many events being hosted by wineries wherever Sauv Blanc is grown.

 Originating in the Loire and Bordeaux regions of France, Sauvignon Blanc dates back to the 18th century and now finds a home in many of the worlds wine growing regions. Because the vines bud late but the grapes ripen early, it generally thrives in cooler climates on the north coast of California, such as Russian River Valley. It can range in flavor profile from a little more grassy through very tropical, floral, or citrus notes, depending on the winemaker and region. Because it is typically fermented in stainless steel as opposed to oak, it is light, refreshing, and crisp, making it relatively food-friendly. Personally, my favorite pairing is with spicy curry or Thai food where the heat from the food is tamed by the cool Sauv Blanc. With temperatures rising you have no excuse not to indulge with this wine.

Courtesy of St. Supery Winery website
So if you don’t have a twitter account, get one before Thursday so you can join in on the fun. All you have to do is enjoy a glass of your favorite Sauvignon Blanc, give a “cheers” to the wine gods, jump on Twitter using the hashtag #SauvBlanc and join the conversation. If a local winery happens to be holding an event, blow off work or take a half day (like me) and get over there. I am will be leaving work early and making a trip to Napa’s St. Supery Winery for some Sauv Blanc education and tasting. Be sure to follow me (@JesseRAndrews) and WestToast  (@WestToast) on Twitter so you can follow the event live.



Monday, June 11, 2012

Stars in the Constellation

Last week, California-based booze conglomerate E. & J. Gallo announced the purchase of Washington's Columbia Winery and Covey Run. With the announcement has come a flurry of debate in the Washington wine industry as to the impact and whether quality can be maintained under such a large corporate umbrella.

While time will tell on Columbia and Covey Run, Andrea and I recently had an experience that proved without a doubt that there is room among the big boys for individual wineries to maintain their identity, quality, and sense of place.

We were invited to be part of a small blogger dinner with representatives of two wineries owned by Constellation Brands: Hogue Cellars and Simi Winery. While I could tell a number of stories about the evening, and may do so in a future post, perhaps the most compelling story of the evening for me was that the wine and conversation shattered every conception I had of corporate winemaking. Much like Gallo, Constellation's portfolio covers the gamut of beer, wine, and spirits, with offerings at nearly every price point in the industry. With 4300 employees and more than 40 different facilities, you'd think it would be hard for each winery to maintain an identity -- but they've done it.

Simi Winery brings over 100 years of winemaking experience in Sonoma County to the mix, founded in 1876 with initial vineyard plantings in 1891. With 600 acres of estate vineyards, Simi produces wines that truly reflect Sonoma County in a powerful way. Vineyard Manager Tom Gore explained to us that Constellation gives him and the winemaking staff the room they need to be creative, and the time they need to produce outstanding wines. In a time where many corporations have compromised quality for dollars, Simi has gone in the opposite direction and Tom should know; he literally grew up at the winery.

While all of the Simi wines I tried were excellent, a favorite was the 2009 Sonoma County Pinot Noir. At $23.99 per bottle, it's a bargain.

Perhaps on the other end of the spectrum as Simi, Hogue Cellars has all of 30 years under their belt; founded in 1982 in Prosser, Washington. Founded by an agriculture family, Hogue has access to some of the truly great fruit in Washington, creating wines out of the Horse Heaven Hills, Red Mountain, and Wahluke Slope. Assistant Winemaker Bryan Weil echoed Tom's comments on the freedom he has in the lab and cellar. With three different tiers of wine under the Hogue label, the winery has a product for every palate but they all scream Eastern Washington.

The 2007 Hogue Reserve Merlot from the Wahluke Slope is definitely worth revisiting -- and I truly believe that Wahluke Slope is the hottest new AVA in Washington.

So there you have it, evidence at least in this Blogger's eyes that corporate ownership doesn't mean generic wine. Hogue and Simi, two stars in the Constellation, have the same artisan spirit of any family-owned winery on the West Coast.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Wax On, Wax Off

I wish I could start this post by saying I recently had a beer with THE "Karate Kid" (not that new one but the original).  Even though we're not talking about an 80's classic - hopefully for all ladies and at least a few of you guys, this will be an informative read about a great business in Seattle, that offers a weekly Happy Hour.  This short story is about putting wax on - taking it off, breathing in - breathing out (just like in the movie) and throwing back a little something to help relax the pain away.

I visited my friends at The Wax Bar last week.  The locally owned business has a skincare lounge in Ballard on 15th Avenue NW just south of 60th as well as a location in West Seattle right over the bridge on 37th Avenue SW.  The best thing? They're the only spa in Washington with a liquor license!  Show up to your appointment a bit early and order a bottle of beer or glass of lambic to make the "wax off" part of your visit a little easier (they always have the latest gossip magazines on hand too).

In addition to being able to relax with a drink before your service I've found this skincare lounge to be top notch.  I tend to procrastinate making appointments so I've seen nearly a half dozen of the estheticians that often split their time between the two locations.  For example: there's Karen, the owner who takes the pain out of the "wax off" process - Michelle, who makes you feel like you have a new best friend just minutes after getting on her table - and Kate, who has some fantastic stories about life adventures here in Seattle and around the world.

If you're looking for a new spa or a place to spend an afternoon with a girlfriend why not check out The Wax Bar.  The offer a full bar of waxing options as well as sugaring and skincare packages.  Its Happy Hour menu is offered from 1-3 during the week giving you a lower price on brow waxing and one other wax service (it's always a Brazilian in West Seattle, it rotates each month in Ballard).  Call to make an appointment in advance or do it like I do and call last minute with your fingers crossed hoping they can fit you in (they often do).  Tell them WestToast sent you, they won't give you a discount but it might get them to read our blog.

When you're there just remember what Mr. Miagi says, "Wax on, right hand. Wax off, left hand. Wax on, wax off. Breathe in through nose, out the mouth. Wax on, wax off. Don't forget to breathe, very important."

Which hand they use to wax on and wax off might not matter much - but let me tell you, a beer and that breathing will.  No matter what, the ladies at The Wax Bar are true professionals who help make it quick and as pain free as possible to get you ready for summer.


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Breakfast (erm...Brunch?) Beer

I do it every Saturday I am in Corvallis: walk to town, buy coffee at local shop, go to farmer's market, buy veggies and eggs, get brunch and breakfast beer. 

This week I was able to play a bit when I ordered my breakfast beer.  Usually I just get something on tap because I really only want one glass.  This time though I was going to be joined by my roommate Brian, so I started to peruse the bottle listings at Les Caves.  Brian is a fan of IPA, but I wanted to branch him out into something new (and drink something that seemed more breakfasty).  On a recommendation from @LesCavesDrew, I opted for Speedway Stout from AleSmith in San Diego, CA.

This coffee-forward stout was aged in bourbon barrels, and boasts 12% ABV.  The flavor was lightly sweet with a the strong coffee flavor one would want in the Pacific Northwest.  There was a distinct roastiness, with caramel at the center, and malty at the finish.  Brian enjoyed that the beer was bitter enough to satisfy his taste buds, and I enjoyed the almost coffee-liqueur sensibility.  Combine that with a rich, dark color and texture you can almost chew on, and you have yourself an amazing beer for breakfast, or any other time.

We paired it with pork belly hash with maple sweet potatoes and eggs sunny side up.  The coffee-bitter of the beer cut the sweetness of the potatoes nicely, and took the greasiness out of the pork.  Truly an awesome brunch.


Monday, June 4, 2012

Soaking in Songs - With Wine & A View

Memorial Day weekend is over so unofficially, SUMMER IS HERE!

If you're like me, your summer weekends are filling up almost before you have time to enjoy the slightly warmer (though still somewhat rainy) weather we're seeing in the Pacific Northwest.  Before you're completely booked you're going to want to save time for a trip down the Columbia River Gorge and one of Maryhill Winery's four summer concerts.

Maryhill is a gem in South Central Washington.  With carefully crafted wine, passionate owners, well maintained grounds and a view that will take your breath away - this Winery isn't just a place to stop by for a tasting, it's a place to spend a leisurely afternoon or an entire weekend.  Its summer concerts are just an extra bonus.  Take a look at the lineup.

The music starts July 21st when Earth, Wind and Fire take the stage.  The following weekend means more music as Chris Isaak plays with special guest Shawn Colvin on July 28th.  Maryhill staff will stay busy into August when Alison Krauss & Union Station, with guest Jerry Douglas, come to the Columbia Gorge on the 5th.  That's three weekends in a row of great music while enjoying what's arguably one of the best views in Washington.  Winery staff will take a few weeks to recharge before hosting Huey Lewis & the News on September 15th.

Concerts will sell out and you can bet rooms in the region will book up so buy your tickets and book your rooms now.  Tickets are for sale through the Maryhill Winery website and I suggest staying in Dallas, Oregon which is just a few miles from the winery so you can catch a cab or shuttle to and from the show.

I'm looking over my schedule now to see which show I can make and hope to see you there.  If you can't make it down on a show weekend, plan to head down some other time.  I promise, it will be worth the drive.

PS: In case you're not sold, did I mention Maryhill wine is for sale throughout the concert AND you can pack your own picnic lunch of cheese & crackers to bring in OR buy hot food that Maryhill vendors have on hand.

Friday, June 1, 2012

It's Tom Douglas Day!

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Without great food, we likely wouldn't appreciate our great wine, beer or spirits quite as much.  Therefore here at WestToast, we support Seattle's Convention and Visitors Bureau or declaring June 1st "Tom Douglas Day" in King County, Washington.

Tom Douglas creates deliciousness, served with graciousness at 13 different joints, all in the Belltown and South Lake Union neighborhoods of Seattle.  With more than 30 years dedicated to the Seattle restaurant scene, he is credited with putting the city on the culinary map, showing the world what local and seasonal Pacific Northwest cuisine means.  Beginning with the Dahlia, Tom and his wife Jackie expanded their kitchens with Etta’s, Lola, Palace Kitchen, Serious Pie (now with two locations), Seatown Seabar and Rotisserie, and most recently Serious Biscuit, Brave Horse Tavern, Cuoco, and Ting Momo.

Seasonal and local took on a new meaning for Tom and Jackie in 2005, when they purchased twenty acres in Prosser, WA, elected Jackie Farmer-in-Chief, and began what would become six acres of cultivated land, yielding 50,000 pounds of organically-grown produce for the restaurants in 2011.

Courtesy: Pacific Northwest Magazine
So tonight - raise a glass to Tom Douglas.  His effort in the food industry has only made our wine, beer and spirits better.

Seattle's Convention and Visitor's Bureau Press Release:

June 1, is proclaimed “Tom Douglas Day in King County” in honor of Douglas receiving Outstanding Restaurateur of the Year Award by the James Beard Foundation earlier this month. The award is considered by many to be the nation’s most prestigious national food and restaurant industry accolade.
Douglas, who was not able to accept the award in-person in New York on May 7, was subsequently surprised by an in person presentation and proclamation reading by King County Executive Dow Constantine at the board of directors meeting of Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau (SCVB). Douglas, who serves on the board and has been influential within the regional tourism industry, was praised for his national success and local commitment by Constantine and tourism industry leaders who were present.
Constantine encouraged all county residents to join in congratulating Tom on his national honors and “many years of keeping Seattle diners happy and well-fed.” He noted that Douglas’ “collegial nature and entrepreneurial spirit have fortunately proven contagious, as many chefs trained and mentored in his restaurants have gone on to start their own businesses.”
Douglas owns 12 restaurants in the Seattle neighborhoods of Belltown, Pike Place Market, and South Lake Union and has been a pioneer of regional cuisine in Seattle during the past two decades, often appearing in national and international food, travel and lifestyle media.
“We’re honored to salute Tom Douglas as one of the city and county’s top tourism assets,” said Tom Norwalk, President and CEO of Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Not only has he achieved the nation’s highest restaurant industry award but, by way of his long-running success and outspoken passion for local cuisine and Northwest ingredients, he has helped cultivate our region as one of the top food destinations in the world.“ 

Washington Says Goodbye To The Booze Business

Nearly 80-years of state liquor control is now over.

I tried to make a quick run to a Washington State Liquor Store Thursday night, but like the half dozen other cars that turned into the parking lot of the Greenwood Avenue store, I was disappointed to see that they were all closed for the day to check inventory before the sale of booze goes public.

Today, June 1st, Initiative 1183 takes effect in Washington allowing stores larger than 10,000 square feet to sell liquor.  The measure was approved by voters last fall but opponents filed suit, saying it includes a provision for public safety funding, violating state rules that require initiatives to only have one subject. 

Just ahead of the switch, the Washington Supreme Court upheld the initiative on Thursday, agreeing with a judge that voters still would have passed 1183 even without the public safety provision.

"[The] disputed portion of I-1183's ballot title is not palpably misleading or false," wrote Justice Steven Gonzalez for the majority opinion.

Four of the nine Washington Supreme Court justices dissented and presented two different opinions.  Justice Charles K. Wiggens wrote one dissent, discussing how the measure adds new taxes and contains $10 million dollars that will be spent on nothing liquor related.

"An initiative can impose new taxes, but the ballot title cannot misleadingly imply that it does not," wrote Wiggins.

The other dissenting opinion came from Justice Tom Chambers who agreed with Initiative 1183 opposition that the law is unconstitutional because it failed to mention a new tax.

While options on where to buy liquor in Washington just got a little better, the price is also on the rise (hence the rush to try to buy a few bottles today).  The initiative included a 10% distributor fee and a 17% retail fee, to reimburse the state for millions in lost revenue (that's the public safety funding money).  While prices on some spirits are expected to go down and consumers should see more frequent sales and specials, the new taxes could still bump the discounted price up higher than they were while sold by the state.  Seattle Times Reporter Amy Martinez but together a thorough article on Thursday's ruling as well as price examples if you want to read more.

All the taxes and extra costs involved is a bit confusing.  The state has put together a website to help walk you through them all: I-1183 Taxes

While many stores won't have room for the selection Washington State Liquor stores did, Metropolitan Market claims it will have an exclusive selection of craft and local spirits for you to buy.  Costco, the major financial supporter of I-1183, says it will carry about 70 different products and not just huge two gallon jugs.  Its Kirkland Vodka is something I've heard good things about for years from California friends.  Someone once told me (though I wasn't able to confirm it) that it's actually from the same producers of Kettle One (all the research that I just did was comparing it to Gray Goose, so really I don't know what to believe until I'm able to try it or talk to Costco PR).

While many supporters think the convenience of more retailers will increase liquor sales some of you will still be able to stop by your regular liquor store.  Washington State auctioned off its liquor stores and licenses so many private owners will take over the state stores while bringing in more than $31 million dollars.

Now, Washington is out of the liquor business and the revenue state run stores created but you and I can stop in at more than 250 Washington retailers to pick up a bottle of booze with our veggies for dinner (already that's 4 times what it was on May 1st and that number is just expected to grow).