Monday, September 24, 2012

Winesong 2012

 Recently I was fortunate enough to travel about 90 minutes north of Sonoma to cover the Winesong 2012 event, benefiting the Mendocino Coast Hospital Foundation. Katie and I headed out on Friday September 7th to begin the trek north. The first day of Winesong featured a celebration of Pinot Noir at the Little River Inn. Mendocino, although arguable the 3rd most known wine region in California has really made a name for itself in large part to Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley. A cooler climate area, it isn’t difficult to find old world style wines that allow the terroir to show. Although the event went from 1-4pm, we ran into some obstacles and didn’t arrive until 3:30pm. Determined to make the most of our 30 minutes, we grabbed our glasses and bellied up to a table. I stopped at the Toulouse Vineyards table at the recommendation of fellow writer Katherine Parker. They were pouring several options, some more terroir driven while others were more fruit forward. Whatever your individual palate for Pinot is, you will likely find something you like at Toulouse. We had some other quick stops at LonderVineyards and Philo Ridge Vineyards but 4:00pm came to quickly and we had to depart to our lodging.

Even though we don’t have “hotels” in our blog mantra, the Joshua Grindle Inn is totally worth talking about. I have stayed in bed & breakfasts before, or at least I thought I had. We pulled into the parking lot for the Joshua Grindle Inn and headed towards the picturesque Victorian Farmhouse. As we neared the door it opened, seemingly on its own. Normally I would turn and run at this point, thinking it was haunted, but it was just so cute I had to explore. Thankfully it wasn’t a ghost at all, it was Charles, one of the owners of the Inn who opened the door. We checked in, were given a tour of the property, and shown our room. We stayed in the Library Room, a charming room with fireplace that overlooked a garden. Waiting for us in our room was a small bottle of Mendocino county wine. Just outside our room was the Parlor where complimentary tea, cookies, and sherry were available each night. Now I said this was a bed and what about the food? Oh my goodness, I thought the institutionalized breakfasts at Hampton Inn’s were good, but they don’t stand a chance against this place. Our first morning breakfast included Belgian Waffles with candied ginger nectarines and the 2nd day was a mushroom crusted quiche with fresh fruit. We enjoyed our breakfast at the two person tables on the wrap-around porch each morning and couldn’t stop talking about the hospitality and warmth we felt from Charles’ wife Cindy. The Joshua Grindle Inn will be the first place I check for availability each time I go to Mendocino.
On Saturday we awoke to thick fog, which didn’t burn off until late afternoon. Thankfully it didn’t dampen the spirits of the 1000+ guests who strolled through the Mendocino Botanical Gardens, enjoying wine from all over the world. We visited a couple of the places we briefly stopped at on Friday but also some new folks like McFadden Vineyards. Drawn in by the liveliness of their staff, I appreciated that their Chardonnay was aged only in stainless steel and left out the butter and oak that can take California Chardonnay prisoner. Always on the lookout for earthiness in my wine, I was drawn back to Londer Vineyards and their 2007 Estate Pinot Noir. It was noticeable that the age in the bottle contributed to how smooth and elegant the wine was. With good flavors of earth and tobacco, I definitely may have asked for a 2nd taste.

 One thing I love about this event is the variety of music and entertainment throughout the gardens. From acoustic guitar to classic rock, there is plenty of music to listen to while enjoying your wine. This event has become one of my favorites to cover. With great wine, entertaining music, and substantial food offerings, Winesong has something for everyone. However, I am sad to say that my criticism remains the same as last year. First, there were no spit cups available. Thankfully there was a coffee vendor willing to give us two of their cups for that purpose. Second, it was difficult at times to know if this was a tasting event or a drinking event. Some wineries were clearly pouring small tastes while others were pouring near full glasses. Without spit cups, or discretion, many of the visitors were overindulging quite early into the event. While wine patrons will almost always over consume, I don’t think the wineries should enable it by pouring full glasses.

The walk-around event in the gardens all leads up to the charity auction, this year featuring lunch created by celebrity chef Bradley Ogden. The auction is my favorite part of the event because it is heartwarming to see the generosity of the attendees. The only downside is constantly having to watch Katie to make sure she isn’t grabbing the auction paddle and joining in on the fun. To see attendees bid thousands and thousands of dollars to benefit the Mendocino Coast Hospital Foundation is inspiring. Some of the highlights included a 7-night Tuscan vacation that went for $25,000 and the “Fund-a-Need” auction benefiting uninsured and underinsured cancer patients raised over $100,000 in a matter of minutes. At the end of the day, Winesong auction raised over $600,000 for the hospital foundation.

If you haven’t attended this event before it is definitely worth checking out. In 2013, the dates are already set for September 6 & 7 and I can tell you that I have already marked my calendar. Hope to see you there next year!


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Wallace Brewing Idaho Select Lager

Long time followers will recall that at some point, every single writer for WestToast has lived and worked in The Palouse.  One of the more interesting dynamics of doing so is you effectively have to live your life in both Washington and Idaho.  Sure your license plate will only dictate one state, but it is almost impossible to fully function without crossing that border on a regular basis.  A few days every year, it's even possible to do so without the assistance of a snowmobile!

Typical Day on the Palouse
Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the Moscow/Pullman area due to Alyssa attending a conference at the University of Idaho.  As such, we knew ahead of time that it was vital for us to cram in as much Palouseness as possible in only a few days. We caught up with friends, saw some sights, watched Cougar football, ate some great food, and brought back some bottles of previously unknown brews.  Today, I review the first of my cache.

Wallace Brewing out of Wallace, Idaho was previously unknown to me.  In fact, the only reason I found it was because I intentionally looked for new beers at the Moscow Food Co-Op (aka the best store in the world).  Since I can't speak to it personally, I'll let their website do the talking:
Wallace Brewing Company started on January 4th, 2007 when Dean Cooper and Chase Sanborn sat down for their first meeting. By summer Herb, Tony & the Zanetti Family had come on board and a location was found. The Jergensen Brewery had just gone out of business in southern California and we purchased the whole operation. Rick Magnuson joined the ownership team with marketing and business expertise. 

The next year was spent re-modeling & moving the brewery into the historic Coeur d’Alene Hardware building in downtown Wallace. January 1st, 2009 the Wallace brewery and Orehouse Tasting Room opens to the public.
I ended up grabbing two of their brews; one of which is their Idaho Select Lager.  I almost never pick up lagers, but I'll admit the story on the label pulled me in.  In short, this brew is a tribute to a previous brewery located in Wallace who saved the public by giving everybody beer when a fire in 1910 caused typhoid-contaminated water.  The American flag bottle cap was pretty eye-catching too, although I can't quite figure out why it's there.  I'm all about beer-related public health initiatives, though, so let's dig in.

Brewery: Wallace Brewing
Style: Pale Lager Rating: 3.66 (average user score) Rating: 3.4/5
Serving: 12oz bottle

Appearance: Light, translucent yellow similar to most lagers. Only a thin white head appears when poured with plenty of continuous bubbling.

Smell: Also very typical of a lager. Lots of yeastiness with not much else.

Taste: I'll admit that I was expecting an average lager based off of the appearance and taste, but this is actually a pretty tasty brew. All the lightness and crispness of a lager are accompanied by a little bit of a hue typical of many wits. This stuff goes down incredibly easily, which is thankfully backed by a low 4.5% ABV.

All in all, I wouldn't say there is anything unique enough about this brew to truly make it stand out in the craft beer market.  That said, it is definitely a solid start to what has become a slowly growing Idaho microbrewing movement.  If you're an Idahoan or just want to support Idaho-made products, you certainly can't go wrong with this one.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Back 2 School Booze: Killians Irish Red at the Blarney Stone

When I set out to write this article I spent some time thinking back to my days as a student at Clark University. I thought about my old crew, and the times we used to have. I thought about my role as the "treasurer" of the 70 Florence Beer Pong Society, and the time my friends threw me a birthday party inside the campus theatre (beer pong tournament complete with a fog machine, lighting scheme, and playlist). When I think of all of those times, and all of the stories I could share with you (as well as the drinks), really one iconic image comes to my mind.

It is dark - at least 10pm, but likely more like 11-11:30. The street is poorly lit on one side, and not at all on the other. This means if you are pre-gaming it (not that I EVER did that), you are likely to trip a couple of times before you make it to your destination. Just there before the corner - the while wall with green and gold letters. The Blarney Stone - AKA "The Blarn."

What is most amusing about this is that when I set out to find at least one snapshot of this off-campus gem, I found that I had none - zip, zilch, zero. I put out an APB on Facebook to see if someone from my misspent youth could pitch in with a pic. No one even answered with a "nope, sorry I don't have one." I went online to see if I could mine one from Google Images. Still nothing.

Then it occurred to me. The Blarn is not the place you admit to being at. It is the place you always go, and always forget. It is the place of good times and bad blackouts. No one has pictures because no one really ever went there. And by not really ever going there, I mean that everyone was there. If everyone is there no one takes pictures. No one takes pictures because what happens at The Blarn, stays at The Blarn.

I myself NEVER went there. It was not the place I went a couple nights a week with my friends. I did not know the bartenders by name, and I they did not know me. It never happened that I would walk into the bar, and before I had waded through the smoky (does it date me that people could still smoke in bars in MA then???) sea of sweaty, beer covered people, that there was, waiting for me, the ultimate Massachusetts bar beverage.

Killian's Irish Red

I never bought this wonder to the college student at $2 a plastic pint. This delightful concoction of malty? hoppy? fruity? - well...let's just say that at this point in my life I just took beer as it was. ...and it was awesome. So was The Blarn (or so I am told - I've never been).

So here's to the place that no one ever went! Here is to all of the Clarkies out there who will raise a glass of something delightful to the $2 pints of Killian's, and think back on the nights they went where no one remembered their name (or took any pictures). I will not name you here (clearly because I cannot remember you), but I am certainly thinking of you as I write this!

And if, for some reason, you are one of my students and you have happened upon this post. Remember two things:
1) do as I say not as I do, and
2) you are welcome to do as I do, because clearly I never did any of this :)


Monday, September 10, 2012

Back 2 School Booze: Captain Morgan and Diet Coke

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Being a student at Oregon State University was a transformative time for me. I met the woman I'm going to marry, became the first person in my family to graduate from college, gained the skills needed to be successful in graduate school and my career, and I started drinking. That last part is especially important because had that never happened, I wouldn't be a somewhat respected online beverage journalist.

You see, before coming to OSU, I had never really drank. There was one time in high school (fuck you, HRD vodka), but other than that I really had no interest in it. Everything I had drank up until that point pretty much tasted like crap and I wasn't much into suffering through cheap vodka or light beer just to get drunk. That all changed when I turned 21 and the entire world of alcohol became accessible.

That's totally me in the middle on a typical night in college
So what was my drink of choice? Captain Morgan and Diet Coke from a Nalgene bottle. I honestly can't remember why or when I got hooked on Captain Morgan, but the Captain became my first liquor-based BFF.  I also have no idea why I thought it tasted so good because I can't stand the stuff now.  Before we go any further, let's consult Wikipedia about my previously-favorite spiced rum:
In 1984, Captain Morgan Original Spiced rum was introduced to the United States. Captain Morgan is, by volume, the second largest brand of spirits in the United States, and the seventh largest worldwide. In 2007, 7.6 million 9-liter cases were sold. Most Captain Morgan rum is sold in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, South Africa, and Global Travel

Although the pirate Henry Morgan is a figure of Jamaican culture, the Seagram's Captain Morgan Rum is labeled as a product of Puerto Rico, whereas the Captain Morgan Rum produced by J. Wray and Nephew Ltd. is labeled as a "product of Jamaica."

Captain Morgan's Rum is distilled from sugar cane. The combination of the type of yeasts employed for fermentation, distillation method, aging conditions, and blending determines the characteristic flavor of rum. Made with molasses, water, mash and yeast, Captain Morgan Original Spiced rum is distilled in a continuous still. Once distilled, the clear spirit is aged in oak barrels for up to a year, adding a golden color and character to the rum before the flavors and spices are added. The brand’s taste is achieved through a proprietary recipe, which is blended into the rum mixture at the final stages of production, making use of spices indigenous to the Caribbean Islands.
The Diet Coke served two purposes. The first, albeit least important purpose, is that Diet Coke is my all time favorite beverage. I'd exclusively drink Diet Coke if I didn't think I'd die of cancer the next day. The most important reason is that 21-year-old Rick was convinced that mixing booze with diet soda meant that you wouldn't get hung over. While I still believe there is an ounce of truth to this, there were still definitely a few hung over mornings involved.

Don't even act like you wouldn't get thirsty walking across all four blocks
Why a Nalgene? Being a college student in Corvallis meant you'd often be on the move, so why not take the party with you? A Nalgene meant that cops wouldn't think twice about me carrying a container of alcohol around and since it had a lid, it meant it wasn't an open container (or so was my logic at the time). I wouldn't have to worry about dropping my drink either since you can run a Nalgene over with a car! The BPA may have added a little kick as well, but that has yet to be tested.

So how do you make this monstrosity?  Behold:

Official Recipe
  • Get a Nalgene bottle
  • Fill half way with ice
  • Pour in Captain Morgan until ice is completely covered
  • Fill to rim with Diet Coke
  • Close Nalgene and enjoy your party on-the-go
I'm going to do this review a couple of ways. I'll cover Captain Morgan by itself and then in cocktail form.

I probably should have worn the helmet when drinking this stuff
Captain Morgan
You know you're in for a treat when something you're imbibing has a pirate on the label. The spirit itself comes in a light golden color, which is very similar to tequila. Hues of 70 proof rubbing alcohol and faint sugary coconut exude when poured by itself with little or no hint of spices. Perhaps that's the "other natural flavors"? Heed this as a warning as each sip tastes exactly as it smells. After being greeted with a dose of what tastes like fire, sugar and molasses flavors float across your inflamed taste buds. After the sweetness subsides, the fire taste sticks around for a bit longer.

Why am I doing this?
Since I don't have my old OSU Nalgene anymore, I had to improvise. Alyssa won't let me make cocktails in her orange Nalgene, so instead I'll be using an OSU stadium cup. The cheap plastic probably has BPA too, so I'm really hoping I get a genuine experience out of this. Unbeknownst to me, a horrifying fact about this experiment is that the entire half pint I bought is exactly what was needed to cover the ice. Ugh.

The smell of this cocktail is actually quite pleasant. The Diet Coke completely cuts out the rubbing alcohol fumes and only sweet notes of sugary deliciousness come through. Like a shark, the Captain waits below the surface for an opportune time to attack. Turns out, that time is exactly when you decide to drink it. While not as awful as I remember it being last time I tried, I just can't get past how boozy this drink is. The Captain hits you full force while surfing the Diet Coke like a goddam wave. The same flavors exist, although this time they kind of get stuck to the roof of your mouth. Even worse is when the carbonation leads to fire-laced burps that remind you of your mistake all over again.

Final Thoughts
The best part about getting older is that most of us actually get wiser. I feel like this is actually the case for me. Not only do I no longer make cocktails that can kill me, but I drink much better offerings at a more responsible pace.  While I will always cherish those precious moments between the Captain and I, that ship has sailed. Well, it probably sank, which is most likely why I don't have that Nalgene anymore.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Gettin' Figgy With It

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As noted in my recent Back 2 School Booze post, friends Drew and Jake joined me in the epic tasting that was Coors Banquet Beer.

Well, after we downed the Coors it was time to transition to something a little different. When I say "a little different", I mean on the complete opposite end of the beer spectrum in quality, style, and production. Block 15's Figgy Pudding fit the bill nicely.

Photo courtesy of Block 15 Brewing Company.

The first beer ever bottle-released from our favorite Corvallis brewpub, I was lucky to find both the 2010 and 2011 vintages of Figgy in my beer/wine cooler this particular evening. The vertical tasting format highlighted some of the special subtleties of the beer and I'd like to think that Jake and Drew owe me one for sharing.

As described by Block 15 owner Nick Arzner,

Inspired by a 16th century English Christmas cake our Figgy Pudding is brewed with English Pale & Specialty malts & molasses and fermented with London ale yeast. After fermentation we matured Figgy Pudding in brandy barrels before conditioning with mission figs, Ceylon cinnamon and nutmeg.

Typically a winter seasonal beer, we threw convention out the window for a summer tasting. At 11% ABV, it didn't really matter if it were winter or summer! Here we go...

Brewery: Block 15 Brewing Company
Style: English Strong Ale Rating: 90 Rating: 90 overall
Serving: 750ml Bottle, Corked and Caged
November 2010 Release: 64 cases
Re-Released November 2011

Immediately evident upon pouring into the glasses was a notably different color. The 2011 was significantly darker, with a more opaque and syrupy hue. The 2010 vintage poured a bit more clear and had a lighter, reddish tone. The 2011 poured more head as well.

Upon taking in the nose of the two, I was immediately drawn to the 2010. It displayed more fragrance with notes of fig evident. After letting the 2011 open up a bit, I started to get some almost sour beer notes off of it

The initial impression favoring the 2010 continued on the palate. It was balanced yet flavorful, complex and delicious. With almost a barley-wine like quality, the figs, brandy, and hops combined into a super-elixer of holiday awesomeness. I want(ed) more. The 2011 vintage was a lot tighter; the flavors never seemed to really open up. It was still good, but definitely outshone by the 2010 -- which is a true masterpiece.

This is a beer that was intended to be bottle conditioned and evolve over time, so I'm left to think that another year in the bottle will be just what the doctor ordered for 2011. By then, 2012 Figgy will be out and perhaps I can finagle my way into a 3-year vertical tasting.

If you haven't checked out Block 15 yet, drop by next time you're in Corvallis. Beyond their standard 6 - 8 brews, they always have another 6 - 8 unique and rotational beers on tap. Often they have some nice high gravity options, and for an oak lover like me, plenty of barrel-aged beer. Figgy Pudding also was recently listed on Imbibe Magazine's 50 of the World's most obsessed-over beers. I'd tend to agree.


Monday, September 3, 2012

Back 2 School Booze: Cheap Tequila

Photo courtesy of Google Images
Over the last week I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the college drink of choice of my WestToast colleagues. But I must admit I am a bit envious of them for their choices. Not because I wish I could have downed some of the Beast, only to regret it later, or because Coors Banquet Beer actually sounds rather fancy. No, I am envious because they can think back and remember a specific brand of drink I consumed on a regular basis. As I began considering what to write about for my post I realized I didn’t have a college drink of choice, or at least I couldn’t remember it. While I definitely had a stash of wine in my residence hall room closet or a 6-pack of Red Trolley Ale in the fridge, much of my college years were spent going after the bottom shelf of the liquor aisle, more tequila.
L-R: Sister-in law Bre, Brother Jason, Me, Wife Katie
After high school I needed to get away for a few years and so I went as far from home as I could while paying in-state tuition. Known for scholarly research, challenging coursework, and 35,000 young minds ready to change the world, I landed at one of the world’s finest institutions. No, I’m not talking USC or UCLA, I am talking about none other than San Diego State University. Sure we have risen to the top of Playboy’s Party School list, and yes, a few fraternities were busted for maintaining a major drug ring (Google “Operation Sudden Fall”), but I learned stuff, and am proud to be an Aztec for Life.

Photo courtesy of Google Images
  One benefit to going to San Diego State was that it was only 20 minutes from Tijuana, Mexico, where the legal drinking age was 18. Back then Tijuana wasn’t riddled with the gun violence it is now. Back then your biggest concern was how to avoid eye contact with the small child selling Chiclets and making sure you could pronounce “United States” when the immigration officer asked you your country of origin on your way stateside. There were many trips, some even organized by my Resident Advisor, down to the most sophisticated of night clubs in Tijuana called Safari. Every weekend Safari was a packed house with guys who sprayed too much Old Spice (Axe body spray didn’t exist yet), and the girls that loved a guy in a wife beater smelling of Old Spice. And we were in Mexico, so we drank tequila, because it made us feel more authentic in some way. And you know it wasn’t the good stuff. It came in a large plastic container and was more than watered down. Safari also had a guy walking around with a whistle and when he came up to you he would blow his whistle and start pouring directly from the bottle into your mouth. An easy way to prove yourself to your friends...that is until you decide you only speak Spanish to that immigration officer I mentioned above and you ended up in a Mexican prison.
Photo courtesy of Google Images
Photo courtesy of Google Images
Back stateside we found any number of drinking games to play with our high quality agave liquor. Shot checkers was a personal favorite of my group of friends. Regardless of the game or the method of consumption, we were poor college students who needed a drink, and thus we went for the bottom shelf. I like to think I have made my way up the ladder to more quality spirits these days, but I will never forget the days of grabbing the new bottle of tequila and feeling the way the plastic would form in your hands as you looked for the nearest exit of Vons grocery store and whether a security guard was near.
Photo courtesy of Google Images
In full disclosure, I did not purchase a bottle of cheap tequila for this post to review it. If you have ever had it, you would know why....that sh*t is nasty. It burns on the way down, and on back on the way up. How we ever drank it is beyond me, so I simply retell the story and leave you with the immortal words of the most interesting man in the world.


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Back 2 School Booze: Beast

I now know why we used to play drinking games, use beer bongs and just chug beer.  It's because the beer we drank in those years isn't really sipping beer.

What I drank in college depended on the year, the group of friends and which cheap beer might have been on sale - but the go to was always Beast.  I'm sure that Miller Brewing Company hates that name and would prefer I tell you it's called Milwaukee's Best.

Photo Courtesy: Club 68 member Matt Clark
Memories of Beast flooded back recently when a college friend put up some old photos online to celebrate nearly ten years since graduation.  Back then we started drinking Beast at an exclusive club that had epic parties.  Club 68 had a kegerator that was barely used because we could never afford to keep the CO2 filled, a tiny kitchen that I often remember many of us standing in and a round table that was perfect for playing three man - rules for that drinking game vary and I can't say I remember ours so you can check Wikipedia if you're looking to play something while putting down some Beast.

When I went to buy some before writing this article I had a hard time finding it.  I figure is was because of one or more of the following:

  • I am not used to looking for it anymore
  • I actually had to go inside the cooler
  • The label has changed since I was in college
  • There is now Beast Premium, Beast Light and Beast Ice (at least I don't remember variety)
  • I no longer live in the desert and micro brew is more popular here
  • I don't live next to a college campus

For a minute I thought I was going to have to buy an entire case, though 30 cans would have been less than 20 bucks.  Luckily, I found one of three 24 ounce cans hiding up on the top shelf, though they were Beast Premium.  I got home and cracked it open, debated pouring it into a glass, decided that was too classy, took a swig out of the big can, felt trashy and then drank some more.  It had a pretty strong nose and start to the sip but quickly faded out by the end leaving nothing to savor.  I looked for a description on the MillerCoors site and found this:  

"Introduced in 1984, Milwaukee's Best Premium features premium flavor, without the premium price. Brewed for a man’s taste, Milwaukee’s Best Premium is a lager of the finest quality malted barley, selected grains and choicest hops. Highly drinkable. Highly affordable."

The "Highly affordable" description is why we bought it and the "Highly drinkable" description isn't inaccurate, it just isn't the same "drinkable" that most of us who read and write for this blog think about.  Milwaukee's Best is the perfect beer to crack open and take a long swig of after a long day of work, a big project around the house or on a hot day.  It's the type of beer that you drink instead of water, not something you pour into a pint glass and savor while trying to decide exactly how many IBU's are in it.

I might not be stocking my fridge with Beast during this Back To School Season but if there is ever a Club 68 reunion, I'll buy the first case and bring the dice.