Friday, January 11, 2019

Silver Spring Maryland is a Craft Beverage Destination

Probably because it is not incorporated, Silver Spring encompasses a large area bordered by the DC and PG County lines and extended to Burtonsville, Colesville, and Wheaton.  However the business district's heart is the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road and slowly a plethora of craft beverage establishments have opened in that vicinity.

I recently visited a few of these including the neighboring Great Shoals Winery in Takoma Park. This establishment recently moved from their Heyser Farms Colesville location where the delicious Spencerville Red apples mysteriously self- propagated. The winery first made a name for itself producing the Spencerville Red Hard Apple cider which is still a personnel favorite. The Black Twig is another single apple varietal cider but expect more traditional apple and pear cider blends. They also offer a range of wines from dry to sweet as well as local craft beer.

Denizens Brewing Co. enjoys the honor as the first local craft beer producer in Silver Spring and since 2014 has provided a solid selection of core and seasonal beers. Their Born Bohemian Czech-style Pilsner, Southside Rye IPA, Third Party Belgian-style Tripel, and Ponch’s Porter have been staples during previous visits so this time I focused on their seasonals. This included the delicious Cool Breeze Oatmeal Stout, Animal IPA, Ill Cru Mixed Culture Strong Sour Ale, and the Lowest Lord Extra Strong Bitter. This last was an unexpected surprise - smooth but richer than those enjoyed in English pubs. Expect a larger portfolio and increased distribution as Denizens opens a new production\tasting facility in Riverdale very soon.


Just down Georgia Avenue, Astro Lab Brewing opened just a couple months ago and the current lineup is IPA centric with a lonely Moo Milk Stout as the only alternative. This is a delicious beer, soft but packing loads of chocolate flavors. I included the S.P.F. 100 XPA Pale Ale into the IPA category and several years ago that would have been your strongest IPA. This is another well made beer joining the IPAs as approachable offerings. The Nebula Imperial Double IPA is so so smooth and the No Mates - Mosaic American IPA and No Mates - Columbus American IPA are great representation of a single hop varietal beers.


For those seeking wine, The Urban Winery is located very close to Astro Lab and expect a new brewery, Silver Branch Brewing Company to open in the coming months. And as always, theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will show you these destinations. Cheers.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Chardonnay that Leverages the Chalk Hill AVA and Estate

The Chalk Hill Estate Winery benefits from tremendous name recognition based on the winery's outstanding reputation but also from the surrounding Chalk Hill AVA. This appellation, one of thirteen in Sonoma County, is located between the cooler Russian River appellation to the west and the warmer Alexander Valley to the northeast. The Chalk Hill AVA is slightly higher with lower soil fertility with the top soil a "distinctive layer of chalk-colored volcanic ash which inspired the name of Chalk Hill, the appellation, and the estate". Within both the AVA and Estate reside several microclimates with the lower cooler sites more suited for Chardonnay used in the Chalk Hill Estate 2016 Chardonnay ($42). The vines were planted using Vertical Viticulture techniques where the rows were planted to follow the rise of the terrain. Cover crops prevent erosion and the layout allows breezes and sun exposure which translates to acidity and ripeness. The grapes were fermented using native yeasts with frequent lees stirring and aged eleven months in 100% French oak. The result is a very balanced wine with depth and texture from stirring and noticeable butter and spices from the oak treatment. Yet, neither overwhelms the fresh fruit flavor of the Chardonnay and refreshing acidity that boosts the finish. A classic Chardonnay.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Toasted Goat Winery and the History of Frostburg Maryland

In 1806, President Thomas Jefferson authorized the construction of the National Road - the first major highway in the United States built by the federal government and linking the western territories to east coast cities. Specifically, the 620-mile pike was built between 1811 and 1837 and allowed goods and settlers to move considerable easier between the Potomac and Ohio Rivers. Early in the surveying period, "Meshach Frost built the first house in present-day Frostburg in 1812 (on the present-day the site of St. Michael's Church and Rectory)" In 1820 the growing town was named Frostburg and the community continued to grow even as the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal reached the Cumberland area in the mid 1800s. In fact, the railroads accelerated the local economy by providing transportation for the coal industry in which Meshach Frost also helped develop through the Frostburg Coal Company. And during the Civil War the manufacture of fire brick became a leading industry.

These economic trends continued to the turn of the century when the Hotel Gladstone opened in downtown Frostburg in 1897. Eventually, William Gunter purchased the building, renamed it Hotel Gunter, and installed a jail for prisoners being transferred and a cock-fighting ring in the basement. Other vices continued through prohibition as the basement also operated as a speakeasy.

In much more recent times the hotel was purchased by local Frostburg residents Donny and Kristan Carter and is now the home of Toasted Goat Winery. The couple opened the winery a couple years back in the Arts and Entertainment District and will remain in the district as they move operations to the hotel. The arts are a major influence in the winery's theme as evident by the label paintings displayed behind the tasting bar. These labels celebrate various aspects of Frostburg such as featuring church steeples, bridges, and rail trains. Donny Carter is the winemaker and produces a range of styles using local and American sourced fruit. On the other hand, Kristan Carter is a home brewer and ensures that the tasting room includes Maryland craft beers via pints and flights. In the future, the couple plans to open a full-service restaurant to cater to both hotel guests and visitors.

During a visit to Frostburg State University (the other FSU), we stopped in for a flight of mostly white wines. The Steeple White ($14.99) was the clear favorite as the Pinot Grigio is fermented to 1% r.s. providing a fruity counter-balance to the excellent acidity. This wine was book-ended by the sweeter Moscato ($18.99) and drier Chardonnay ($18.99). For the reds, our party also enjoyed the Cabernet Sauvignon laced Steeple Red ($16.99) and the dessert Chocolate Covered Raspberries wine. We also explored the hotel's basement containing the old jail and relics from the coal mining era.  We look forward to visiting again soon using theCompass Craft Beverage Finder. Cheers.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Founding Spirits Distillery: Farm to Table "Never Bitter" Amaro


When is an Amaro not bitter? That was the question that Jon Arroyo and Bob VanLancker wanted to answer as part of the Washington D.C. farm to table kitchen and distillery: Founding Spirits Distillery. This Italian liqueur literally translates to "bitter" and is usually consumed as a cocktail ingredient or an after-dinner digestif. Instead the Founding Spirits Arroyo’s "Never Bitter" Amaro is intended to be more approachable and consumed both as an aperitif and digestif as well as in cocktails. It is distilled onsite using their Founding Spirits Vodka as a base and then infused with multiple herbs, roots, spices, and botanicals. The vodka is in itself very clean and distilled from North Dakota Hard Red Spring Wheat and Virginia rye and barley.

On a recent visit, I was able to sample the Amaro neat and in two interesting cocktails - all during a delicious family meal. Sipping neat, the liqueur is slightly sweet and savory towards the front, with the finish introducing a somewhat bitter experience. But much more approachable than most bitters. For cocktails, the Amaro was an interesting ingredient in a Piña Colada -- providing a balance with the sweet pineapple and coconut milk. Even better was the How Jefferson Woulda Liked It -- a concoction of Founding Farmers Rye Whisky, Founding Spirits Amaro, lemon, brandied cherry, and an orange slice. This was brilliant, with the Amaro contrasting with the sweet and spicy rye whiskey.  In fact, the whiskey was has been produced for the past decade as a partnership between Arroyo and Rick Wasmund of Copper Fox Distillery. In traditional Copper Fox style, the barley and rye were malted using apple and cherrywood. Excellent.

In addition to the three spirits mentioned above, Founding Spirits produces an American Whiskey that is distilled at Copper Fox but aged in D.C. and the Founding Spirits Gin, distilled onsite. On our next visit we will target these spirits and as always, you can locate Founding Spirits using theCompass Craft Beverage Finder. Cheers.