Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Craft Beer in the Laurel Highlands: Kegg Brewing Company

Kegg Brewing Company is the most unique nano-brewery I have visited in recent memory. The brewery is located in the basement of a house, located along a narrow country road southeast of Pittsburgh, and with two guard dogs announcing your arrival. And the tasting room area is confined to any open space between the tap lines and the brewing equipment.

After Frank Kegg retired from the Greater Latrobe School District, he and his wife Tracey decided that opening a brewery was the logical next phase. Logical in the sense that Frank was a 6th grade Science teacher and his brother Mark owns Full Pint Brewing so there is a chemistry background and inherent family lineage and support system. It also helps that the Keggs reside only a few miles from Seven Springs Mountain Resort so there's a steady supply of traffic headed in their direction.

That being said, Frank created a half barrel brew house in his basement built around four one barrel fermenters. The raw materials consist of as local as possible grain, hops, honey, fruit and well water as the base. The tasting area?  In cold weather, any open space around the fermenters and mash barrels. In warmer weather the garage doors open for driveway sipping.

That may be unique enough for most but the special part doesn't start until visitors begin sampling in the basement and spend the next hour talking to Frank. The diverse beer styles only enhance the conversation. They are not only really solid beers but the range in styles are once again unique. Our tasting started with a Cranberry Blonde Ale, followed by a Winter Ale - based on a red ale, a Coffee Porter, Pumpkin Stout, Coconut Stout, and standard IPA (as opposed to a Hoppy Bolbat IPA and Death by Hops IPA). This IPA seemed a fan favorite and was very smooth with a seamless transition from the drop hopped induce aroma through the dense beer to the bitter finish. I enjoyed the Coffee Porter and the Coconut Stout - the later the result of a flawed attempt to craft a Chocolate Coconut Stout - but I thought was fine as a stand alone. And I think my palate is turning towards coffee flavored beers.

Kegg Brewing is easy to find, but as always theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you there quickly. Cheers and safe drinking and skiing.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Angel Funding Wine Makers Through NakedWines.com

Crowd Sourcing has been a capital raising phenomenon for a number of years and NakedWines.com has leveraged that idea to fund dozens of winemakers across the globe. This capital is available to the winemakers up-front to use how they deem appropriate whether in acquiring grapes, vineyard support, or the physical production of the wine. The source for the funds are over 100,000 Angels or subscribers to NakedWines.com. These customers deposit $40 a month into their account and have access to the funded wines at 40-60% off the retail price. And Angels can always withdraw their funds at any time. That's a nice deal, specifically for these value wines produced throughout the world. Recently NakedWines.com sent me a sampler pack of mostly German inspired wines to verify the quality and value of their service. Impressive.

Bruno Santa Lucia Highlands Riesling 2016 ($18.99, Angels $10.99). Made by Richard Bruno, a 20 year veteran with stints at Francis Ford Coppola and Don Sebastiani, this wine is sourced from a cool climate vineyard near Big Sur. It is a quite unique Riesling - crisp tropical fruit, but a creamy honey middle, then finishing with long with light acids.

Petit Villebois Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($19.99, Angels $11.99) by Joost de Villebois is a contrast to New Zealand. This Loire Valley wine is bright with citrus (but no lemongrass) and minerals on the palate and finishing with fresh acids. Villebois mentions that they Green Harvest - a thinning method used to decrease the crop yields and improve the flavor concentration of the remaining grape bunches - and utilize a technique called 'effeuillage' - the reduction of leaves to increase the sun and light exposure of the grapes.

The next four wines were made by Gerd Stepp, a 25 year veteran who; after working in Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Tuscany Italy, Stellenbosch South Africa, and the UK; eventually returned home to Germany's Pfalz wine region. This region contains over 56,000 acres of vineyards and is noted for its fruit-driven wines with a distinctive stony character.

Stepp Pinot Blanc 2016 ($21.99, Angels $12.99). This is a fantastic wine, crisp and floral with a wet rock mineral character. Plenty of acids too.

Stepp Pfalz Riesling 2016 ($24.99, Angels $13.99) A German driven Riesling with petrol, floral, and mineral characters; plus racy acids.

Stepp Pinot Gris 2016 ($24.99, Angels $13.99) Powerful aromas, fleshy citrus, and bright acids. Another Pinot Gris that is enticing back to this grape variety.

Stepp Pinot Noir *8* Pfalz 2016 ($29.99, Angels $17.99) Chalky, dusty, and spices. Balances with red fruit and appropriate tannins. Nicely done.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Visiting A Couple Craft Breweries in Rockville, Maryland

This past September Saints Row Brewing joined 7 Locks Brewing and Gordon Biersch Brewery as the only two craft breweries in Rockville -- the third largest incorporated city in Maryland. I write only, because the area could support many more if you add surrounding areas of Germantown, Gaithersburg, and Bethesda, the I-270 Corridor comes close to Baltimore in population size. That is what Saints Row Brewing is leveraging while serving unique and delicious beer. Start with the Little L Belgium Pale Ale which nails the profile and follow with the On Baker Street English Brown Ale. I generally avoid this style as many are highly malted for my tastes. Not the On Baker Street. It finds the correct balance between toffee malt and bitters - nicely done. And for sour lovers, there should always be something funky on tap with the Sweaty Pineapple Pants Wild Pineapple Sour the current offering. The citrus is subtle but not the tartness; quite nice. The brewery is also well integrated with Untappd so you can explore current and future offerings.

The senior 7 Locks Brewing is a happening place with a playroom, small bandstand, cornhole, and abundant other games to entertain visitors. There's also a plethora of craftbeer options from IPAs to lagers but start with the Sahti Farmhouse Ale if available. This is based on a Finnish style first brewed by peasants in the 1500s where the mashing occurred in wooden barrels which was then scooped into a hand-carved wooden trough (kuurna) with a bed of juniper twigs that acted as a filter. I also savored the Surrender Dorothy Rye Pale Ale and the Reserve Series Rye on Rye. This barrel aged beer is excellent where the whiskey notes meld with the rye flavors. You can also experiment by blending different amounts of Surrender Dorothy to the Rye on Rye. Makes for added entertain. Cheers and as always, you can find these breweries using theCompass Craft Beverage Finder.

Monday, January 8, 2018

When Its Cold Outside Reach for Port - Here's Two from Warre's and Graham's

This winter the buzzword appears to be bomb cyclone, which replaced polar vortex, which replaced Alberta Clipper, which sometime in the past replaced the simple cold front of my youth. Regardless of these marketing weather gimmicks, when its cold I reach for Port - a fortified wine produced from grapes grown and processed in the Portuguese Douro demarcation and fortified with neutral grape spirit.

There are over a hundred sanctioned grape varieties eligible for Port, but in general, expect the use of these five: Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Touriga Francesa, and Touriga Nacional. There are also several categories of Port: White, Tawny, Ruby, Reserve, and Vintage. (See The Wine Coach for specifics.) Aged tawnies come in ten year increments that reflect a port house's style and not a minimum, maximum, or average age. Thus a 10-year-old or 20-year-old Tawny port is a taste that is reflected in oak aging, racking and blending. Ruby Ports are aged in large vats for two to three years before bottling whereas Vintage Ports are from a single harvest designated as an exceptional year and aged additional years in the bottle. The Reserve Port category was created by Cockburn's (founded in 1815) to bridge these two styles where the wine is aged longer in large barrique casks. The goal was to create a wine similar in quality to the Vintage Port but drinkable early like the Ruby Port.

Warre's Warrior Port ($19). Warrior is the oldest continuously bottled Port brand (1750's) as Warrior has been branded on the casks of Warre’s finest Reserve Ports since the earliest days of the firm. The grapes are drawn from Quinta da Cavadinha and Quinta do Retiro, Warre’s best quintas in the Pinhão and Rio Torto valleys that also produce Warre’s classic Vintage Ports. The wine is fruity and chewy, lot's of texture, with another long lingering finish. Apparently the higher altitudes and cooler climate lead to this ripe fruit character. For a full bodied, yet fresh, easy drinking Port wine, start here.

Graham's 20 Year Old Tawny Port ($56) is a blend from all five Graham quintas – Malvedos and Tua, Vila Velha, Lages in the Rio Torto and Vale de Malhadas in the Douro Superior. It is pure tawny in color as well as showing layers of rich dried fruit, oranges, and nut flavors. The wine finishes very smoothly with a boost from elevated acidity. This 20-year-old Tawny Port is an elegant wine - excellent for all occasions - particularly during cold winter weather. Cheers.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Visiting Tall Pines Distillery in Pennsylvania Ski Country

If you are heading to the southwestern PA ski resorts like Seven Springs Mountain Resort and Hidden Valley Resort then stop by Tall Pines Distillery - the first legal moonshine distillery in Somerset County Pennsylvania since prohibition.  You will most likely be met by Dozer, the very friendly black lab or owners Daniel Fay and Keith Welch. The distillery is located three miles north of the Mason Dixon line at 9224 Mason Dixon Highway (Route 219) in Salisbury. The operation specializes in flavored moonshine, fruit brandy, and whiskey.

In the distillation area, the process looks as if it was run out of a barn - albeit with modern equipment - but with a thump keg (which enables a second distillation) and a worm box filled with cool water.  In general  the moonshine in sells for $34 per 750ml bottle or $18 for a 375ml bottle. The Cafe Mocha was a nice take on coffee liqueur but I opted for the Peach and Lumberjacked Apple brandies. The Peach is a little heavier than my preferred Eastern European palinka, but lighter than schnapps. Savor that peach flavor.  The Lumberjacked Apple is made from distilled apple cider and the apple flavor lives long past the slight burn. Besides neat, I envision the apple brandy mixed with hard cider and a shot of rum. Looking forward to our next ski trip and as always you can locate Tall Pines Distillery using theCompass Craft Beverage Finder. Cheers.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Remembering the 2017 Maryland Winter Wine Showcase

I just registered for the 2018 Winter Wine Showcase, an annual tasting at the B&O Railroad Museum where Maryland wineries feature two of their top wines. During the 2017 event I was very impressed with the quality across the board, but two Albarino wines stood out. These were the Boordy Vineyards 2016 South Mountain Vineyard Albariño ($20) and Port of Leonardtown Winery 2015 Maryland Albariño ($20). I had been saving both in order to conduct a comparative tasting with a few from Riax Baixas (Albarino's native homeland in Galacia Spain) but was instructed to open each sooner rather than later. That still is in insteresting concept considering that neither of the Maryland wines exhibit the minerally driven character associated with Riax Baixas Albarinos. Instead the Maryland wines are more stone fruit forward, with creamy depth, and finishing with plenty of acidity. Somewhat Viognier-ish. They are both delicious wines. Cheers to 2017 and best wishes for 2018.