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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Franklin’s Brewery - Hyattsville, Maryland

For some reason the day after Christmas I was craving beer so I headed to a local microbrew on the other side of the beltway: Franklin’s Brewery in Hyattsville, Maryland. The venue is located in a historic area that is somewhat on the decline, but from what I discovered, customer travel frequently from Washington D.C., nearby College Park, as well as local neighborhoods. The building was constructed over 130 years before as a blacksmith and carriage shop. And since 1910 it has served the community as a hardware store - turning into Franklins in 1992 with the brewpub added ten years later.

Today the brewpub was serving nine beers and I sampled each. For those hop heads, this is your place. A majority were hop infusions: the Sierra Madre Pale Ale, Private I.P.A, Anarchy Ale, and the Mission Accomplished. These beers are definitely more suitable for pairing with a meal - which the hops a great palate cleanser. My favorites were the Imperial Stout and the Twisted Turtle Pale Ale - the later an English-style pale ale made correctly in that style using Crystal and Pale Ale malts and Magnum and East Kent Goldings Hops. The finish was mildly hoppy - but lingered - a true English ale. This beer was also served using their nitro system - creating an even more English feel - soft and creamy. The Imperial Stout tasted as expected as well - a little high in alcohol but balanced by the dark flavors. In fact, most of these beers fit their billing, the Sierra Madre Pale Ale was a west-styled pale ale and the I.P.A. extremely hoppy; except for the Bombshell Blonde - billed as a Kolsch - wasn't as hoppy as expected and seemed to be more of a lager than ale. But in sum, these are good beers - and its nice to find a non-chain microbrew in the area. We will be back - particularly before or after trips to the University of Maryland basketball games.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Kim Crawford The Artists' Lounge

One of New Zealand's best known wineries if Kim Crawford, makers of excellent Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay - among many others. The winery is pushing the social networking principle further than the usual suspects by creating their own "The Artists' Lounge" - an "online community as a place for emerging artists and those who appreciate the arts to share inspirations and artwork with each other for the chance to inspire." The site consists of two lounges, The Artists' Lounge and a Music Lounge. The first contains an "Artists in Residence", a community of emerging artists representing various artistic categories: fashion, music, photography, print making and poetry. There is also a forum which allows members - anyone who registers - the ability to post ideas, "a work of art, or anything to ignite and inspire The Artists' Lounge community". Finally the The Artists' Lounge contains a Member Gallery where both members and resident artists can share their artwork.

Whereas this lounge will undoubtedly interest many readers, our focus and interest are in the Music Lounge. Every few months the lounge selects a handful of artists to showcase - some from Oceania, some from North America. We felt the site legitimize themselves immediately by selected The Greencards and Sarah Bettens as one of the initial artists. The remaining artists were unknown to us - one important rational for visiting the site - to find new artists. I really liked the soulful vocals of Daphne Willis, Nathan Gaunt, and the jazz sound of Weather Pending and Sutro. The others were also good: Boh Runga, John Zambricki, Leftover Cuties, and Van Risseghem. Now, the goal of any good social networking site is to draw traffic and promote their brand. Kim Crawford's "The Artists' Lounge" has perked our interest. Not only will we be regular visitors to this site - we plan to look for Crawford's wines during our next trip to Norm's Beer & Wine.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Kugler's Vineyard 2004 Cynthiana

This week we opened a real surprise in our Norton series, the 2004 Dry Cynthiana from Kugler's Vineyard. Tony and Kay Kugler own and operate this small family enterprise located just south of Lawrence Kansas. The winery makes wines from a couple traditional labrusca grapes (Concord and Niagara), hybrids (Seyval Blanc and Vidal Blanc), and its flagship wine: Cynthiana. This is a big wine, and the Kugler's have managed to remove all traces of grapeyness and acidity from the wine. It is full bodied with cherry flavors, yet smooth - with little traces of tannins. A very nice wine. So, next time you find yourself traveling to Lawrence to see the University of Kansas, or a show at the Bottleneck or The Granada, or even just visiting Kansas City, take a little detour.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

2001 Little Mountain Vineyard Norton Hermannhof Winery

Lately we've been eliminating our abundant inventory of Norton wines - accumulated several years ago while traveling weekly to the Midwest. This week we opened an ancient bottle - the 2001 Little Mountain Vineyard Norton from Hermannhof Winery. You know they are serious about this variety when they bottle wine from only vineyard designate grapes. Hermannhof is located in German settlement of Hermann the and its stone cellars are "among the 100 early Hermann buildings placed on the National Register of Historic places by the Federal government". After opening, we decanted the wine for about an hour to let the rust and wine aerate. And it had aged nicely. In fact the usual grapey Norton flavor had been replaced by cherry flavors more reminiscent of a Cabernet Franc. The finish is very smooth - not a bad wine at all.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

St. Augustine Wineries

On our frequent trips along Route 95 in Florida, we most likely take a detour into historic St. Augustine to either see the sites or stop in at San Sebastian Winery. This winery has a great roof top terrace where we have enjoyed their wines made from unique grapes grown from their Clermont, Florida Vineyard. We are talking about Florida Muscadine, Blanc Du Bois, and Stover grapes. Many times we have had to fight through visitors shuttled to the winery via tour buses as tourists looked for souvenirs. San Sebastian used to be the only game in town, but on our most recent stop in St. Augustine we found that Florida Orange Groves and Winery has incorporated another franchise along St. George Street: Vino del Grotto Winery. Florida Orange Groves makes fruit wines and sells them through several channels - including wine stores at major Florida tourist enclaves: Key West, Miami, Panama City Beach, and now St. Augustine. The use all types of fruit in these concoctions starting with Florida oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, pineapples, mangoes, and even key limes, bananas and coconuts. Yes, many of these are gimmicky - but marketed to tourists; they sell. The winery also produces traditional fruit wines in blueberry, cherry, red raspberry, and blackberry flavors - with the dry versions of the cherry and blackberry not too bad. Many of the other versions where just too sweet for our blood. Vegetables are not forgotten either. Their 40 Karat Semi-Dry White Wine made entirely from carrot juice and then there is the Hot Sun Spicy Tomato Wine. The later is actually a medal winner - as are many of their wines. However, despite these intriguing offerings are favorite was their traditional honey wine made from - you guest it - orange blossom honey. Its sweet - but not gritty - typical of a sweet mead. So the next time you find yourself near this historic city - make sure you stop into San Sebastian Winery on your drive in or out; and while walking along the pedestrian street of St. George - take a look at Vino del Grotto Winery.