Wednesday, November 28, 2012

They Make Wine There? The Aloha State!

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

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

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

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

Volcano Blush fruit blended wine

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

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


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Hangin' out on the East Toast

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

My family waves at me through the giant arch!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 23, 2012

Songs About Booze: Volume 1

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

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

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

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

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

Rupert Holmes - Escape (If You Like Pina Coladas)

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

Reel Big Fish - Beer

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

LMFAO - Shots

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

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Bravo Beantown - Boston Beer Summit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 19, 2012

Finding a Spark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 12, 2012

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

My favorite dessert is creme brulee.

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

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

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


Monday, November 5, 2012

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 2, 2012

Halloween Mischief

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

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

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

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

About Fremont Mischief

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

According to Mike Sherlock,

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

I definitely noticed the difference.

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

The Booze

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

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