Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Don't be an out-cider part three: Sea Cider Rumrunner

One of the things I so enjoy about being a wine, beer, and spirits writer is the conversations I get to have with people about what they like to drink. Every so often I come across someone who gets so inspired by talking to me that they want to share with me their favorite beverage, and I get both a good conversation and a good drink as well! This is what led me to the final installment of my cider series - though this one has a bit of an international flavor to it.

I had the good fortune to get to go to beautiful British Columbia for a long weekend. My boyfriend Greg's friend was getting married, and Greg was to be a groomsman. It seemed as good a time as any to see the town where Greg grew up, meet some of his pals, and hit up a wedding in my first go at being a +1. After the rehearsal rather than a dinner the wedding party headed out for some drinks at a local brew pub. Knowing that I had been gathering information for a cider series I ordered up a bottle of Grower's Pear Cider. What I ended up getting was a mouth full of overly sweet alcoholic soda and a lot of people giving me a hard time for ordering something that 16 year old's get cheaply for the purposes of inebriation.

This of course cued my wine/beer/spirits blogger ego into action - I had to redeem myself from looking like someone who was clueless and unable to appreciate good drinks. I ordered myself up the hoppiest beer in the pub, and struck up a conversation with Greg's friend Pete about what kinds of beer he enjoyed. After a while we were talking about what he liked, what I liked, and I was able to explain why I had ordered up the Grower's. Pete, after having another good laugh at my expense, then suggested I check out the Rumrunner from Sea Cider, a local cidery in BC.

Not only did Pete give me a good recommendation, but he showed up at Greg's house the very next day having traveled to Sea Cider to pick up a bottle. We sat on the back porch with the rest of the groomsmen, some snacks, and this lovely bottle of tawny goodness. I could immediately smell the rum on the nose as soon as we popped the top of the bottle. It was mingled with the strong scent of tart apples aged well. The flavors were complex, with a nearly sweet start shifting into a strong rum flavor (dark rum), and ending with a champagne-y and tart finish. This cider is brilliantly done and wonderfully unique. It went very well with the sharp cheese we were eating. at 12% ABV it has quite a kick, and I recommend sipping rather than downing glass after glass. Really in the end you will enjoy it better!


Monday, August 27, 2012

Back 2 School Booze: Coors Banquet Beer

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It's that wonderful time of year where the days are long, produce is farm fresh, and millions of young'uns are headed back to the ivory tower of academia. That's right, August and September represent the start of the year for college students.

It's no secret that most of our staff make our living educating the future of our country at various colleges and universities; it's an obligation we take very seriously.

Almost as important is ensuring that the young men and women who have reached the watershed age of 21 (or 18 in Canada) over the summer begin to develop a sophisticated palate, one that will wow the pants off of their college mates this Fall. To that end, WestToast is proud to bring you our next series: Back 2 School Booze.

Over the next month, each writer will revisit our college days, sharing the finest swill that we could afford ten years ago. OK, so sophisticated might be exaggerating a *little*, but at least it didn't kill us. Without further adieu...

Josh's Gonzaga Experience

I'll admit, I may have imbibed in cheap spirits and malt liquor before my drivers license said I could; often with disastrous results. It's with those memories in mind that I remind all of our fine readers that the drinking age is likely there to protect us from ourselves; cheap tequila and 40's aren't good for anybody and frankly, at that age many will drink anything they can get their hands on. We do not condone that here at WestToast.

I went to school at Gonzaga University, a smallish regional Catholic liberal arts institution in Spokane, Washington. As a newly minted adult of record, my friends and I were looking to take that next step up and make our Jesuit priests proud. No sir, Natural Ice was not going to cut it. If we had been a little more crafty, I'm sure we could have snuck in to the bar at the Jesuit House, acclaimed to be the best stocked bar in Spokane. Instead, we made an unspoken decision to settle for the best the gas station across the street had to offer.

Coors Banquet Beer.

It's got banquet in the name, that means it's classy.

While my friends and I agreed with that sentiment at the time, as I went to my local fine food market the other day to revisit Coors, I felt a little self-concious. The checker had to be judging me. To make the experience of a 31 year old fine beverage journalist guzzling Coors even more absurd, friends Drew and Jake joined as we enjoyed a fine selection of local cheese and fruit with the beer.

Full disclosure:
  1. I didn't have any friends at Gonzaga named Drew or Jake.
  2. We didn't pair Coors with fine fruit or cheese in college.  Most often it was pizza.  From Domino's.  
  3. Gonzaga University does not endorse nor condone this post.
  4. We only drank cans in college.  The glass bottles made an inconvenient clinking noise, duh.
About Coors

Founded in Golden, Colorado in 1873 by German immigrants, Coors survived the Prohibition by making malted milk, near beer, and porcelain. Yep, porcelain. Soon after, Coors staked it's claim as a popular regional beer in the American West. In 1959 the company made it's mark in the history books by using the first all-aluminum two-piece beverage can.

Even more notably, Coors was featured in the 1977 movie Smokey and the Bandit, one of our favorite movies here at WestToast. Also, relevant to the Back 2 School Booze series, Coors has sponsored the Coors Events Center on the University of Colorado in Boulder campus, and, the Coors Life Direction Center of Regis University is named after Coors.

Today Coors operates the single largest brewery facility in the world, and through a series of mergers and buyouts is now owned by the Canadian Molson Coors Brewing Company.

Coors Banquet Beer

Brewery: Coors Brewing Company
Style: Pale Lager Rating: 65 Rating: 1 overall
Serving: 12oz bottle or can

With 5% ABV, this beer contains a bit more alcohol than it's macro brew counterparts in the United States.

Upon pouring into a pint glass, I noticed a distinct lack of head and it was the color of apple juice or urine. It was super light.

On first taste, both Drew and Jake were pleasantly surprised:

Drew: The initial taste is not high quality, but after that it is quite refreshing. Sh*t, you get 5%! Jake: I remember it tasting worse. It's watered down, but at least it's Rocky Mountain water.
This malty macro brew definitely qualifies for a session beer -- you could drink it all day long. Smooth and refreshing on a hot day, I can report that it is absolutely disgusting when paired with an aged gouda. All parties involved agreed though that the sweetness of some local pears complemented the beer nicely, as did some fresh figs, after schooling Drew on what a fig newton was.

After finishing our first round, we were debating what to drink next. Jake was a bit worried about the Coors tainting our taste buds, but as I astutely pointed out, the Coors isn't doing sh*t to our taste buds.

So college student friends, if you're looking to demonstrate that you have grown beyond Schlitz's or Mickey's but you're not quite ready for Blue Moon, the Banquet Beer is an option that is not egregious. Unless you don't live in the American West, cause then everyone will think you're a cowboy.

The problem here, is that Coors beer, you take that east of Texas and that's uh, that's bootlegging.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Don't be an out-cider part 2: Anthem Pear and Cherry

After my experiences with Finnegan and 2 Towns' ciders I decided to continue my cider kick for a little while longer. I remember when I was younger and in college (PS - stay tuned for the Back 2 School Booze special edition we are planning here at West Toast!!!) cider was what people drank if they did not like beer. The ciders were fluffy and sweet with little in the name of complexity of flavor. In essence, they were alcoholic soda pops aimed at young people who just want to get boozy. It was not until I trekked to London for a study abroad program that I found some full-bodied ciders that could really blow your hair back. After returning to the states I returned to my favored beers (again, please keep a keen eye for our September articles!), and left cider behind.

Years later, when I moved to the lovely Pacific Northwest, I was treated to ciders that reminded me of the jolly old days in London. I also have experienced ciders that have taken steps even beyond that. Some still are sweet, but offer more than just sugar. Some are tart, but offer more than just the puckering of the lips. Some are dry, but offer more than just the tangy bite of apple. There is a cider out there for everyone (including some that still focus on the young and undiscerning demographic).

I tried Anthem Pear on tap at Les Caves a while back and found it to be light and lovely. So pale in color that I questioned it even had a hue, this cider had a nose that floated on the air gently and almost begged you to dip your nose right into the liquid. The flavor was equally delicate, almost floral, with soft pear flavor and a hint of sweetness. I do not think I would drink this with food - the flavors might get lost. I would also avoid drinking it ice cold. Let it be just cool enough to sooth you in the summer heat, and drink it in the evening light on the porch after a long day. If you like things to be interesting but are not looking for flavors that will knock your taste buds off, this is the cider for you.

After my experience with the Pear, I decided I would give Anthem Cherry a try while brewing up a batch of red oaked ale. I found the color of this tart cider to be pleasantly reddish-orange with a light carbonation and fruity nose. The flavor was undeniably cherry with a chamagne-y finish. I also found this to be a very earthy cider. I enjoyed drinking it alone, but would be happy to sip it along with some raw milk cheese or dark chocolate. It would be great alongside of a dessert - just be ready to pucker up when you sip!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Don't be an out-cider part one: 2 Towns Made Marion

Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of...cider???? 

I don't mind if I do! Especially when it is Made Marion from 2 Towns Ciderhouse in Corvallis/Eugene. I came across this wonderfully tart and fruity treat recently while on a sailing excursion with my friend Chris. He had stowed away a bottle below decks between the rum and the grog so that we could enjoy something light and crisp on the hot, and unfortunately, relatively calm and sunny day. We were fortunate enough to get out on a small sailboat borrowed from a friend, and with our scull and cross bones showing us the direction of the wind, we set out to sail at a scorching 2 knots (OK - we got up to about 4 at one point).


The cider and the company truly made the day. We sipped it from pewter steins as we fumbled with slack sails, enjoying the light berry sweetness that faded into the tart of hard cider. The mouth feel was smooth and well-carbonated without feeling like soda pop. I enjoyed the roundness of the flavor, and appreciated both the uniqueness of a marionberry cider as well as the cleverness of the name. I also really enjoyed the deep maroon color and bright, berry nose.

Made Marion is the current seasonal cider out of 2 Towns Ciderhouse, and can be found both in bottles and on tap. I can't say I prefer it either way - I've had both and they are both delicious!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Drops of God: Volume 1

Every wine maker knows that if one of your wines gets a great review in a handful of widely-acclaimed publications (think opposite of West Toast), chances are you're in for a big wave of sales. What helps even more is if said review was written by an especially stingy connoisseur who rarely gives out high remarks. But what if I told you that even those publications can't hold a candle to the power of a comic book? It's true.

In Japan, manga (comic books) aren't just for kids. There are versions published for all ages and it isn't remotely odd to see adults reading manga on the subway after a hard day at work. Kami no Shizuku (The Drops of God) is one such manga for adults that has rocked the wine world and the entire Asian market for the last eight years.

Shizuku Kanzaki is the son of a recently deceased, world renowned wine critic named Yutaka Kanzaki. In order to take ownership of his father's legacy, an extensive wine collection featuring some of the most rare labels of the last 30 years, he must find 13 wines, known as the "Twelve Apostles" and the heaven sent "Drops of God" that his father described in his will. But despite being an only child, Shizuku is not alone in this unique wine hunt. He has a competitor. Issei Tomine, a renowned young wine critic, was recently adopted into the Kanzaki family and is also vying for this most rare of prizes.

Beyond the official description, one also learns that Shizuku works as a rep for a beer company and has never tasted wine in his life. The twist is that his father had been teaching him how to be a wine critic his entire life. A lifetime spent sniffing random vials, tasting pieces of bark, and visiting specific gardens in bloom has made him somewhat of an idiot savant. All of this is necessary for him to uncover the 13 wines needed to inherit his father's estate.

Sound a little dramatic? It is, but that's how the reader gets sucked into one of the most well-written and condensed Wine 101 lessons you'll ever find. After finishing only the first volume, readers are given lessons in:
  • The origins of wine
  • Vintages
  • Decanting and what it means to "open" a wine
  • Fermenting wine in steel vs. wooden casks
  • Typical restaurant mark up
  • Terroir
  • How grapes grow
  • Dessert wine
  • Why cheap wines can be better than more expensive wines
The end of Volume 1 alludes to Volume 2 covering food pairings.  As an example of how they sneak in lessons, take a look at this pane.  In Japan, manga is read right to left:

There's even a thrilling feud between a co-worker who only drinks Italian wine and why their company shouldn't sell that French swill! 

So why is this important to the wine industry?  Beyond attracting a younger audience, here is a small sample from the impact section on Wikipedia:

The Japanese importer Enoteca has stated that the comic character has begun to influence its stock ordering decisions. The sale of fine wines in South Korea has increased significantly as a result of the popularity of the comic, with the sale of wine rising from less than a third of the market to around 70 per cent of alcohol sales.

After an issue with a mention of lesser known producer Château Mont-Pérat came out, a Taiwanese importer sold 50 cases of Mont-Pérat in two days. Sales of Umberto Cosmo's Colli di Conegliano Rosso also leaped 30% after being mentioned in the Manga series. All Nippon Airways reported it had to recraft the in-flight wine lists to accommodate the increased interest.

After being featured in the finale of the Japanese television adaptation series of Kami no Shizuku in March 2010, the little known Bordeaux wine 2003 Château le Puy became significantly popular in Japan. In September 2010, the proprietor of Château le Puy, Jean-Pierre Amoreau, made public his intention to cease international sales of their 2003 vintage in order to deter wealthy speculators and retain a small stock for those buyers he deems to be genuine connoisseurs.
And how does this help the region West Toast knows and loves the most?  After reading only one volume, not much.  The vast majority of what The Drops of God covers is French wine.  You have to start somewhere though, so I understand why the authors would choose that.  That said, the one American wine they do mention is Opus One.

The Drops of God has already hit the New York Times Best Seller list since hitting American shores last September, so it is only a matter of time before the domestic industry sees its impact.  While it isn't for everybody, it is certainly entertaining.  You might even learn something!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Beer at Ballard's Breweries

Last Friday I decided to call it a day a bit early; it had been a long week, I had a three-day weekend on the horizon, and it was gorgeous in Seattle.  As I returned to my humble abode in Seattle's up-and-coming Ballard neighborhood, a few friends and I decided to check out the local brewery scene.

Hyperlocal, that is.

As good fortune would have it, within a 1 mile radius of my condo you'll find at least five breweries.  You can never go wrong with walking to a brewery.  On this particular day, we chose to stick within a half-mile, exploring the brand-new Reuben's Brews taproom, and, NW Peaks Brewery.

When I say good fortune, I mean that I picked a damn awesome place to live.

Reuben's Brews

The first stop for the afternoon, I was excited to check out Reuben's Brews as they had just held the grand opening for the taproom on August 5. Self-described as a small, family owned and operated brewery, Reuben's is named after the brewer/owner's son who was an inspiration in the beginning.

Seeking to produce "Brilliantly Tasty Artisan Ales", the owners describe their mission:

We at Reuben's Brews really enjoy pouring our beers to people and sharing our passion - making great beer. We readily admit, with a smile on our face, that we have a beer obsession. An obsession to produce tasty ales.

Being good a responsible journalist, I promptly ordered a sampler, allowing me to taste all six brews on tap. You know, for science. As Rick astutely pointed out when I sent him a picture, it was nice that you could not see through more than half of the beers.

Two of the beers at Reuben's were particularly memorable:
  • Roggenbier:  A german-style rye ale utilizing the same strain of yeast as hefeweizen, this beer came in at 19 IBU and 5.3% ABV.  It was a nice starter beer.  There was a nice banana note on this one that become more prominent as the beer warmed up a bit.   
  • Robust Porter:  A bit more boozy at 6.0% ABV and 30 IBU, the porter was my favorite of the day.  Jet black and silky-smooth, the chocolate and caramel notes hit the spot for me.
I'm excited to check back in with Reuben's over the next few months as they rotate beers on tap.  It looks like they have room for up to 12.

Reuben’s Brews
1406 NW 53rd Street, Suite 1A
Seattle, WA 98107

NW Peaks Brewery

A "nano-brewery" making no more than one barrel per batch of beer, NW Peaks releases two new beers each month which are only around until they are gone. The most popular beers will make a return visit, but in a way, everything they do is a seasonal.

NW Peaks is a nod to the mountains surrounding by avid-mountaineer and head brewer Kevin Klein, and they emphasize a community supported brewing mentality.

I'll admit, my palate was marginal at best after Reuben's, however, it did not stop me from enjoying the four-beer sampler at NW Peaks.

I particularly enjoyed the following two beers, for vastly different reasons:
  • Redoubt Red:  At 5.25% ABV and moderate+ hoppiness, this red is cool, refreshing, and easy-drinking. It was perfect for sitting out on the patio on this sunny summer afternoon, and it's the NW Peaks beer that I've seen on tap at local venues.
  • Ingalls Ginger:  Described as a ginger ale, just not for kids, this beer has a nice ginger flavor and a nice 4.75% ABV.  It was a nice surprise for me because I can find "flavored" beers to be hit or miss, but this was true to style and very enjoyable.
With 2 new beers on tap every month, I know I'll be back to NW Peaks.

NW Peaks Brewery
4912 17th Ave NW Ste B
Seattle WA 98107

Next time you are in Ballard and want to try some of the local flavor, these are two great places to check out. You may just find me bellied up to the bar.

Monday, August 6, 2012

What booze helps you beat the heat?

Wine, beer, and spirits. Duh.

In case you haven't kept up with the social media whining over the past few days, let me break the news to you -- the Western portion of our coverage area is currently experiencing a bit of a "heat wave".

No, it's not the multiple 100+ degree days that I experienced growing up in Eastern Washington, but folks, two words: air conditioning. Richland has it, Seattle doesn't. Nor does Portland, Corvallis, or Salem for the most part.

Today is a day in Seattle that is reminiscent of the sweaty summer of 2008, sitting shirtless on the floor of the Corvallis Chateau, drinking Deschutes Green Lake Organic Ale and eating donuts to stay cool. Don't judge, that beer and donuts spawned the ingenuity behind The Oregon Wine Blog.

So, despite my stubborn protesting to friends and colleagues that it really isn't that hot, I'll begrudgingly admit that it's damn hard to sleep when it is 80 degrees in my bedroom. That's where booze comes in. A refreshing beverage makes everything better, even when it is 90 out and you're struggling to stay cool.

My beer palate leans to the dark and heavy and my wine preferences are firmly in the red category. Neither sound super appetizing in the summer heat. So, that leaves cocktails, and I present to you what I believe to be the perfect summer treat:

Gin and Tonic.

Simple, crisp, and refreshing. What more could you ask for?

I mean really, a trained monkey can make a fantastic gin and tonic, and I give the Josh Gana guarantee that you'll feel at least 5 degrees cooler. At least you will if you pour it all over yourself. Here's the recipe:
  • 2 ounces gin
  • 5 ounces tonic water
  • 1 wedge of lime
Pour the gin and tonic into a highball glass filled with ice, stir, and garnish with the lime.  Enjoy.

See, I told you it was simple!  My go-to gin is Crater Lake Gin from Bendistillery, retailing for around $22 in Washington.  If I'm feeling extra spicy, Ebb+Flow Gin from Sound Spirits here in Seattle is the way to go, retailing in the $35 range.

Now it's your turn; what is your favorite summer beverage?