Wednesday, April 30, 2008

St. Michaels Winery

At the St. Michaels Wine & Food Festival I was able to taste a few wines from St. Michaels Winery and since the winery, itself was within walking distance, we visited the winery afterwards. I had actually heard about the winery the night before when Joe Ely drank a glass of their Gollywobbler Red while performing and we enjoyed this concord wine at the festival.

St. Michaels Winery is relatively new, having opened in 2005, and operates in the historic Old Mill complex. Most of their grapes are sourced from outside Maryland, but their Wye Mills vineyard produces Chardonnay and Seyval grapes for their dry Long Splice and Cabernet Sauvignon for the Maryland Cabernet Sauvignon - a lighter styled wine.

The winery offers a large array of wines, from the aforementioned dry Long Splice to the sweet Chocolate Zinfandel (this was a crowd favorite at the festival). Besides native and hybrids, they produce a number of good vinifera based wines: Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Viognier, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel. I told you they produce a large selection of wines. Of the vinifera, we liked the Pinot Blanc - this is a good wine to drink while eating; but overall, the Gollywobbler Red and Gollywobbler White were our favorites. Neither of these wines were overly sweet and I can definitely see their suggestion of serving the Gollywobbler Red over ice and mixing the White with club soda - then with crabs.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

St. Michaels Wine & Food Festival

On Saturday, April 26th we attended perhaps the best wine festival in terms of location and presenters, the St. Michaels Wine & Food Festival. Held in the small harbor village of St. Michaels, the festival encompasses several days of wine dinners, cooking demonstrations, wine and spirits presentations, and of course, three days of tasting. The festival’s organizers are congratulated for inviting several winemakers and wine growers such as Jim Bernau from Willamette Valley Vineyards, Hank & Linda Wetzel from Alexander Valley Vineyards, and Margo Van Staaveren from Chateau St. Jean. Then there was Even Cattanach, Master Distiller Emeritus, discussing Scotch, Lynne Tolley discussing Jack Daniels, and Robert Kacher discussing Burgundy. Not to mention the dozen of chefs giving cooking demonstrations. We stumbled upon one of these demonstrations when we walked over to a local farmers market before the main tasting event. While tasting pastries, a cooking presentation broke out in the park’s small pavilion. Similar events were planned throughout the town.

The grand tasting was located at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. Besides the wine and presentation tents, attendees could climb the lighthouse, tour the museum exhibits, or as we saw throughout the day, picnic with the family among the grounds. Our first stop was to the Biltmore Estate booth. Located near Ashville, North Carolina, the Biltmore estate was built by George Vanderbilt, grandson of Cornelius, and although still family owned, is now a resort – and winery. The wines are made through the talents of Bernard Delille and Sharon Fenchak from estate grown grapes or grapes sourced from several Californian appellations. We had tasted several of their wines previously, but never their sparklers, which were quite good. The Château Reserve Méthode Champenoise Blanc de Blancs – 2004 North Carolina – Brut is made from locally grown chardonnay - aged three years on lees - and is awesome – dry, citrus flavors, and subtle carbonation. Then we tried the sweeter, Méthode Champenoise Pas de Deux – Sec, made from Muscat Canelli grapes. The aromas stood out, then blended with the unique muscat flavor. In 2007 both these sparkling wines received Gold medals at California wine competitions.

We turned next to Alexander Valley Vineyards, where we met owners Hank & Linda Wetzel. The Wetzels are in the middle of a three week tour across the United States which you can follow at their blog. Hank Wetzel started Alexander Valley Vineyards over three decades ago, and along with their family, makes several of our favorite Zinfandel and Bordeaux styled red wines – particularly their CYRUS. The Sin Zin and Redemption Zinfandel brands are jammier and less spicy than the Lodi – made versions. We had never tasted their whites so we tried their New Gewurz (Gewürztraminer) and Viognier as well as their dry Rosé of Sangiovese. These are three excellent summer choices, the dry Rosé our favorite. The Wetzels were also conducting a seminar later that day, discussing Old World Grapes - New World Style.

We wanted to make sure we said hello to Jim Bernau, owner of Willamette Valley Vineyards, who besides pouring his wines was presenting a seminar on Terroir Influence, the Dirt in Oregon. His booth was located in the Navy Point tent, which was the most scenic surrounded on three sides by water. Mr. Bernau was pouring several brands of Pinot Noir as well as Pinot Gris and Riesling. The winery had just released its 2006 Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir which is awesome – full of raspberry texture and a smooth finish. We couldn’t think of another wine to sip in the evening sitting on the docks. He also mentioned that their Whole Cluster Fermented Pinot Noir was very popular the previous day. For whites, their Riesling is by far one of our favorites.

Turning around from Willamette Valley’s booth, we noticed Even Cattanach, kilt in all, standing alone behind several bottle of Scotch. We did not want to waste this opportunity. During the next 20 minutes, Mr. Cattanach poured us several Scotch brands while explaining the difference between highland and lowland scotch (the water) and the influences of the wind and sea on west coast scotch. He also suggested cutting the scotch with a few drops of water in order to enhance aromas and sweeten the whiskey. We also learned where he was the master distiller when each of his children was born and how to actually drink scotch. Don't "chew" the whiskey by swirling it in your mouth like wine; instead let it move from the lips to the tongue on its own, then swallow. We tried several single malt Scotch brands and all which were remarkable. The 14 year old Oban is distilled on the west coast and the influence of the seas create a sweet citrus flavor; yet the finish is long & dry. The 10 year old Talisker, from the Isle of Skye, was smokier with a more peaty flavor. The two Dalwhinnie 15 year old brands were our favorite. These highland whiskeys - actually the highest water source in Scotland - were aged 15 years in used bourbon casks with the black label getting another 6-9 months in sherry casks. This produces flavor similar to a fruit cake - and once again, a smooth finish.

Sticking to whiskey, we stopped at the Jack Daniels booth and met Lynne Tolley, who not only works as an official taster at the distillery, but is also the great grand niece of Jack Daniels. After meeting her, we decided to attend her afternoon presentation on "A History of Tasting at Jack Daniels". Ms. Tolley is one of twenty or so tasters for the traditional black label brand and one of only five for the single barrel brand. She has also just written a cook book, Cooking With Jack The New Jack Daniel's Cookbook, and based on the long lines waiting for her to sign it, was hugely popular among the attendees. Basically, Jack Daniels can be used in most recipes, particularly as a replacement for vanilla. The book is also filled with stories about the nation's oldest registered distillery and Jack Daniels himself. Ms. Tolley’s presentation was fascinated, not only the stories and myths concerning the distillery, but also because she brought alone samples of whiskey to show us the affects of their unique charcoal filtering process. Jack Daniels is a Tennessee whiskey and not bourbon and their Black Label is now the largest selling whiskey in the world. The distillation and aging process is exactly the same as bourbon – they use over 51% corn (actually 80% corn, 12% barley and 8% rye) and the corn liquor is aged in new charred oak barrels. The reason Jack Daniels is a whiskey is that the distilled product is filtered through layers of charcoal 12 feet deep. This process mellows the whiskey even before aging. For this presentation we sampled the corn whiskey just after distillation and then after filtering. The transformation was amazing. The original corn whiskey tasted like the locally produced Virginia Lightening – sweet, but a rough finish. The filtered product was more like vodka – smooth at the finish. Then the liquor is aged usually 4 years, sometimes longer in the new charred oak barrels. We next sampled the Gentleman Jack, which is filtered twice, so you can imagine the smoothness of this product. Then we tasted the traditional Black Label brand – old No 7. This whiskey is spicier and is ready to mix - either as the popular Jack and Coke or in a Lynchburg Lemonade. Finally we tasted the Single Barrel made from whiskey stored in barrels in the upper floors in the warehouse. Each bottle tasted slightly different, but in general this whiskey is slightly bolder, but smoother than the Black Label. Ms. Tolley also informed us how they dispose of the used barrels. Some are sent to Jamaica to age Appleton rum, some to Scotland to age Scotch, and some to Louisiana to age and store Tabasco. Consumers can purchase the barrels for planters or if you are willing, you can purchase a single barrel of whiskey and have the bottles plated with your name or organization. Nice, if you have $9,000 to spend.

Switching back to wine, we visited with Chateau St. Jean Winery, whose winemaker, Margo Van Staaveren was tasked to present Cinq Cepages Cabernet Sauvignon Blending
Merlot. Their Fume Blanc is a very refreshing sauvignon Blanc, but our favorite was their Sonoma Merlot. This wine is full of fruit flavors – blackberry and cherry – with low tannins at the tail. And close by was the Robert Kacher Selections of South American and French wines. These were awesome wines. The Domaine Du Tariquet Classic - Ugni Blanc-Colombard was a refreshing citrus flavored white wine whereas La Font Du Vent Notre Passion is a light, earthy red wine. An interesting wine was the Inacayal Carmenere - possibly the best Carmenere we've tasted with a big cherry flavor. Inacayal also produces a Malbec which is even better with an interesting vanilla and chocolate finish. The best wine in this collection was the Domaine Font de Michelle Chateauneuf-du-Pape. This is an earthy full bodied red wine with raspberry flavors and a smooth-smooth finish.

While searching for food, we noticed an interested product, potato vodka from Maine. Not normally interested in vodka, but intrigued about its origin, we discovered an amazing spirit: Cold River Vodka. The ingredients are simple, Maine grown potatoes and water - nothing else. John Arsenault, the distiller's representative first had us try the vodka neat - where it tasted similar to other potato vodkas - but nothing special. Then he added a splash of water and ice and the spirit transformed into one with an amazing aroma - how many vodkas even have an aroma - with a smooth sweet tail. Don't bother mixing, this vodka is fine with just a little water and ice. Don't just take our opinion. This product won a double gold at the 8th annual San Francisco World Spirits Competition and was listed as the 47th Best Spirit in the World and Best North American Vodka of 2008 by F. Paul Pacult in his book Kindred Spirits 2. What a find.

In total, there were hundreds of wines to sample from and obviously we couldn't try all. We skipped over several that we normally flock to, such as Trefethen Vineyards, Lockwood Vineyard, Tablas Creek Vineyard, JanKris Winery, Beaulieu Vineyard, and J. Lohr Winery. Some new ones we recommend you exploring are Zaca Mesa Winery Syrah, Anton Bauer's Gmork (Gruner Veltliner); Cline Cellars Rhone styled wines: Cashmere, Carignane, and Mourvèdre, plus their nice Zinfandel; Sipp Mack Pinot Blanc and Sylvaner; Silverado Vinyards Cabernet Sauvignon; Girard Winery Artistry; Firesteed Cellars Cayalla; and Zinfandel from Bonterra Vineyards and Mariah Vineyards.

We finished the day, feet dangling in the water, drinking a glass of Willamette Valley Vineyards Riesling – which we confiscated when Mr. Bernau left for the day - with some Kerrygold cheese and a sweet olive oil cake from Cakewalk Confections. We couldn’t think of anything better, relaxing on the pier, watching the boats come in for the evening.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Wine 101 - Madeleine Angevine

Can you guess the flagship white grape for the Puget Sound region in Washington? Chardonnay? No. Pinot Gris? No. Gewürztraminer? Close, but no again. The correct answer: Madeleine Angevine. This is a Riesling-type vinifera from the Loire Valley in France that is also popular in the United Kingdom and Germany. The early-ripening grape is a cross between Madeleine Royale and Précoce de Malingre grapes and grows well in cooler climates - much like the Puget Sound AVA.

One Puget Sound winery, Bainbridge Island Vineyards & Winery, produces a dry Madeleine Angevine wine, with a trace of sweetness, and a sweeter "Ferryboat White" blend. The winery decided to cultivate this grape after the winery’s winemaker, Gerard Bentryn, worked in vineyards in England where Madeleine Angevine thrives. Since Seattle is actually dryer than the Isle of Wight and the Devon areas in England, Mr. Bentryn thought that the grape would do even better in the Puget Sound AVA than in England. Ironically, they were able to purchase vines close to home on Vashon Island, but the vines were sold as "Early Muller Thurgau" because the nursery did not know the true nature of the vines. After vinifying the grape, the winery has had no problems gaining public acceptance. The Madeleine Angevine wines sell out every year and the Ferryboat White is their best seller. They have a far more difficult time getting wine shops in the Seattle area to stock these wines. Mr. Bentryn also comments that wine writers and judges like to dwell on the endless repetitions of Chardonnay, Cabernet, and Merlot. “They seem to be cognitively unable to enjoy the almost endless "uncommon" grape varieties out there.” Once again it appears that the general wine public is in the forefront. Finally Mr. Bentryn believes that “Madeleine Angevine is truly a wine for the Puget Sound region. For those discerning few who seek the full spectrum of the "qualities" of wine, landscape, culture, spirituality of time and place; wine grown where you live, not just manufactured where you live; Madeleine Angevine and all of the wines that are grown here are the keys to becoming an integral part of this wonderful place we live”.

Another Puget Sound winery, San Juan Vineyards, also cultivates Madeleine Angevine and in their case, produce a dry wine that they market as oyster wine. The winery opened in 1999 after planting the Madeleine Angevine and Siegerrebe vines three years previously. The winery’s tasting room is situated in a historic one-room schoolhouse built in 1896. According to Yvonne Swanberg, the winery’s General Manager, their estate Madeleine Angevine wine has a devoted following from visitors to their tasting room or other public tasting. The wine sells out every year and the winery announces the release of their latest vintage to their Wine Club members so that they get first crack. The wine’s peach and apple flavor apparently goes very well with oysters; considering there is an oyster farm on San Juan Island - San Juan Vineyards has become a destination spot for wine and shellfish.

Lopez Island is one of the many islands in the Puget Sound and is home to Lopez Island Vineyards. This is a small family owned and operated winery that produces wines from organically grown grapes. Brent Charnley, the wine maker, became interested in Madeleine Angevine, while working as the wine maker for Mount Baker Vineyards in the 1980s. Mount Baker Vineyards grew 30 different varieties so Mr. Charnley was able to see firsthand which varieties ripened well and what kind of wine they made. When planning which grapes to plant for the Lopez Island Vineyards, the grapes had to meet two criteria: (1) early ripening and (2) match well with food – especially seafood. Not only did Mr. Charnley feel strongly that Madeleine Angevine met these requirements based on his past experience with the grape, but also it is a wine he personally enjoys to drink. The Lopez Island Vineyard Madeleine Angevine is a complex, dry, estate grown wine that is 100% barrel fermented and according to the tasting notes, “complement the flavors of grapefruit, tropical fruit and herbal qualities that are the characteristics of this grape.” Mr. Charnley recommends serving the wine with seafood and shellfish, in particular Dungeness crab and raw oysters “due to its sharp acidity and citrus (grapefruit) character, but it is a great match for oysters with a mango and grapefruit salsa on top!” Even though this wine has won numerous awards since the winery’s inception (at the San Diego National Wine Competition, Enological Society of the NW, Indiana International Wine Competition, Riverside CA International Competition - among others), people are reluctant to try the wine unless it can be compared to one of the 2-3 best known white wine grapes. Once people taste the wine, they are generally pleased with it.

Finally, Greenbank Cellars, located on Whidbey Island, cultivates Madeleine Angevine because the grape thrives and produces larger yields in their climate. The winery resides in a 100+ year old barn – which is the featured on their wine labels. Madeleine Angevine, as well as all their other white wines, are vinified in the Alsatian style, meaning dry, fresh, crisp, citric flavors, and no oak. The result is a food-friendly wine that the winery recommends with seafood. The winery is very proud of their Madeleine Angevine and has compared it favorably to other white varieties vinified in warmer regions. Like the other wineries mentioned, Greenbank Cellars must struggle with the general public’s lack of familiarity with the grape.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival - Beer

While half the team sample the various bourbons at the 2nd Annual Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival, the other half focused on the large array of craft and imported beers being served. There were almost 60 different brands to choose from, so we started at an unusual booth that was serving local favorite National Bohemian along side German Warsteiner Dunkle and Belgium Chimay. The latter is rather pricey, so anytime the opportunity presents itself for a free tasting, take advantage. Chimay is also one of only 6 beers able to carry the title 'Trappist" - since it is brewed within a Trappist monastery, completely under the monastery's control. What a beer - powerful but with subdued bitterness.

Since we were planning to attend Hugh Sisson's presentation on "Brews and Barbeques" we heading over to Clipper City's booth where Mr. Sisson is the founder and general partner. The Maryland beer renaissance quickened in 1989 when Hugh Sisson opened Sisson's Pub in the Inner Harbor Baltimore. After a few years he left the brewpub to establish a larger brewery, Clipper City and in 1998 he acquired the Oxford Brewing Company, Maryland's first craft brewery. Before today, this brewery produced two lines of beer, the Clipper City brand - made in classic styles focusing on Maryland traditions (McHeny and BaltoMärzHon) and Heavy Seas, a more robust and heavier style of beer. But, today saw the introduction of a third brand, the Oxford Organic Ales: Oxford Class Organic and Oxford Organic Raspberry Wheat Beer. The amber styled ale Oxford Class Organic was available for tasting and this is a great beer - possible the best we tasted all day. It has caramel flavors with a slight "hoppy" finish - but very refreshing - great for summer. Also on hand was the BaltoMärzHon a Marzen styled beer that is light and smooth with little hops in the finish. In contrast, their Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale is produced using three pounds of hops per barrel and where hops are added in three ways - in the kettle, in the hop back, and dry hopped. The final beer was the Peg Leg Stout, a dry Imperial stout made in the English tradition. In other words, the tail is smooth and milky instead of bitter. Even during the daytime, this is a refreshing dark beer.

Next to Clipper City was another Baltimore brewery, The Baltimore-Washington Beer Works, makers of Raven Lager. This beer is rather unique in that it was first brewed in Germany and competed in the European market before being produced locally. The Raven Lager is another example of a good locally produced beer. The same could be said for Backfin Pale Ale a balanced and refreshing ale made by the Clay Pipe Brewing Company in Westminster. Rounding out the Maryland contingent was Frederick based Wild Goose Brewery and Flying Dog Brewery. Wild Goose beers are well known, from their Cambridge days up to their move the the Frederick facility. Their Wild Goose IPA is a favorite. Flying Dog Brewery originated in Denver, but recently purchased the brewing facility from defunct Frederick Brewing Company, where Wild Goose beers were also brewed. Although we didn't spend too much time at Flying Dog's booth, the Flying Dog Snake Dog, an India Pale Ale was good. I can envision a future trip to Frederick in order to learn more about the Flying Dog beers.

By this time Mr. Sisson's presentation was ready to commence so we headed over to hear why beer is the best choice to pair with BBQ. Besides running Clipper City, Mr. Sisson is extremely interested in the wine industry and hosts a local radio show which focuses on wine. From this background he has immediate credibility in contrasting beer and wine pairings. He started the session by stating the obvious - although not obvious to all - that if you like a pairing then you are right. Eat and drink what you like. But he wanted to introduce us to the three C's to help us choose: Compliment, Contrast (say, a stout with oysters), and Cut - to refresh the palate. For example he served the group a crab quesadilla paired with the BaltoMärzHon in order to compliment the dish. The pairing was scale to scale in that the beer did not over power the quesadilla that would have happened with a hoppier beer. Also, when eating summertime crabs, who wants to drink a bitter beer in 90 degree humidity? He then served the more hoppier - that's an understatement - Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale with a North Carolina styled barbecue where the bitterness stood up to the vinegar flavored sauce. Scale to Scale. Finally he served the Peg Leg Stout with a beef brisket. This was awesome - much better than a Zinfandel or other red wine. The stout both complimented the beef, but also refreshed the palette. Hugh Sisson provided a very strong argument why to choose beer over wine for ant style of BBQ.

After the session we decided to hit three out of state craft brewers starting with the king: Sierra Nevada Brewing. Located in Chico, California, Sierra Nevada are available most everywhere and their Pale Ale is almost becoming a brand name. Besides this beer they had Sierra Nevada Summerfest and the Sierra Nevada Bigfoot available for tasting. The Summerfest is a pilsner-style lager, very light in color - but packed with flavor. This is a refreshing beer. The Bigfoot is even more flavorful - think chewy malt - with a hoppy finish. Sierra Nevada is at the top of their game. We also learned how the current hop crisis is not necessarily harming larger brewers such as Sierra Nevada. Instead, the rising coast of diesel is having a tremendous affect on their transportation costs, moving their produce from one coast to another. San Diego based Stone Brewing Company has the same problem. They were pouring three beers: the IPA, Arrogant Bastard, and Smoked Porter. The latter was really good - you don't find many porters these days and this one had a nice chocolate flavor.

The final brewery we will discuss was very impressive: Erie Brewing Company. This Pennsylvanian brewery had a constant crowd surrounding their booth despite being tucked away in the corner. Out of their beers, the two that stood out, at least to use, were the Pilsner and Railbender Ale. These beers were very similar to Sierra Nevada's; the Erie Brewing Pilsner, light and refreshing like the Sierra Nevada Summerfest and the Erie Brewing Railbender Ale, malty and bitter like the Sierra Nevada Bigfoot. I'd say they're in good company.

There were still dozens of good beers that we tried but didn't take sufficient notes to describe each beer. These omitted beers are from quality producers such as Widmer, Redhook, Magic Hat, Dogfish Head, and Wolaver to name a few. Our suggestion: attend other beer festivals to sample a wide array of beer styles, find your favorite, and pair with the appropriate style of BBQ. This should guarantee a great summer.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival - Bourbon

On Saturday April 5th 2008, we attended the 2nd Annual Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival held at the Timonium Fairgrounds, Maryland. We intended to spend a day away from wine and sample various craft beers and America's native spirit: Bourbon. Our first task was to learn more about this spirit so we headed immediately to the first seminar of the day: "The Wonderful World of Bourbon" - hosted by Wild Turkey Distillery's Master Distiller Jimmy Russell. Mr. Russell has worked at the distillery since 1954 and humorously and honestly guided the audience through the definition of Bourbon - to government regulations - to sampling 5 different Wild Turkey brands.

Bourbon was first distilled in Bourbon County Kentucky in the late 1700s. Elijah Craig is considered the inventor of bourbon, since he was probably the first to age the whiskey in charred oak barrels. Today, this whiskey is the most restricted spirit in the United States in which the government regulates its definition and receives 65% of the retail price in taxes. At one time, Federal Agents even possessed the keys to the distilleries and opened and locked the doors before and after working hours. By definition, a whiskey can be called bourbon when
  • It is made in the United States.
  • It is made of a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn.
  • It is distilled to no more than 160 proof.
  • It is aged to no more than 125 proof.
  • It is 100% natural (nothing other than water added to the mixture).
  • It is aged in new, American White Oak, charred barrels. Once used, the barrels are sold for other uses - primarily whiskey aging.
At Wild Turkey, Mr Russell attempts to create a consistent flavor with each batch. This consistency is evident in the Wild Turkey 101 - made from a blend of 6, 8, and 10 year old bourbons. Each bottle has virtually the same caramel and vanilla notes with a sweet tail. We next tried the Russell's Reserve Bourbon made from batch of 100 barrels 10 years to proof. This was good - but there's something about the flagship 101. Mr. Russell fought the idea of producing a single barrel product because it was incompatible with his goals to produce a consistent bourbon. After reluctantly agreeing to work with market forces, every year he designates barrels with a similar taste and uses these for their Single Barrel Bourbon. Their Rare Breed is an interesting bourbon, its made to barrel proof - in that no water is added - from a blend of 6, 8, and 10 year old bourbons. This was our favorite - and since it has a touch of tobacco - would be great with a cigar. Finally we tried their American Honey Liquor, basically the same Wild Turkey 101 with honey and spices added. This aperitif is popular as an after dinner drink or as Mr. Russell uses it: with lemonade or over ice cream.

Upon leaving the seminar we found ourselves at the lone whiskey booth: Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey. While sampling their excellent Single Barrel 94 Whiskey - we learned about sour mash, charcoal filtering, and the historical tradition of America's oldest registered distillery. Jack Daniel's whiskey is unique because the whiskey is filtered - drop-by-drop - through ten feet of hard sugar maple charcoal. Along with the sour mash process (where a portion of the previous batch is added to the next batch) this filtration mellows the whiskey before it is aged in the barrel.

Directly across was a display of several well known Jim Bean brands: Knob Creek, Bookers, Bakers, and Basil Hayden. The Basil Hayden bourbon is unique in that it consists of just over 51% corn, whereas most distillers use over 70% corn. Basil Hayden uses more rye to offset the lower amount of corn which produces a lighter bodied bourbon. This profile was popular among the beer drinkers at the event. The Basil Hayden bourbon also has a tie to the state of Maryland because the brand is named after Basil Hayden, a Maryland Catholic who, in the late 1780s, led a group of pioneers from Maryland into what is now Nelson County, Kentucky (near Bardstown). There Hayden founded the first Catholic church west of the Allegheny Mountains.

We made sure we visited Maker's Mark next, and while waiting for our souvenir baseball dipped in wax, learned what makes this bourbon popular, besides the distinctive red wax seal and drip marks. Maker's Mark is made without rye. Instead barley and winter wheat is combined with corn to produce a smoother spirit - even before aging. The barrels are rotated from top to bottom in the warehouse, which helps create a different flavor profile. As a result, this spirit does not require a long aging process and can be bottled by taste, not age.

At this point in the day, after two hours of not spitting, we decided to be a little more discriminatory in our tasting. We skipped the Buffalo Trace booth since we are very familiar with their Blantons, Ancient Age, and Buffalo Trace brands and headed to the small batch booths. To our surprise the first we tried was a Buffalo Trace brand: Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel Bourbon. This is a great bourbon - somewhat nutty - almost chewy - but still smooth throughout. The next was the Ridgemont Reserve 1792 Small Batch Bourbon. This is a lighter bourbon with a honey and vanilla aroma and soft finish. Coming after the Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel probably didn't help its cause. The final table contained small patch brands from Kentucky Bourbon Distillers. These were all excellent bourbons and we recommend trying all. Our favorite was the Kentucky Vintage and this may become our everyday bourbon. Sorry Ancient Age 10 Year. It is made in the Sour Mash fashion (although I guess almost all straight bourbons are made in this fashion) and has a medium body with caramel flavors. Those who prefer a more potent drink, try their Pure Kentucky XO aged to 107 proof or their Noahs Mill aged to 114 proof. After the initial burn, these bourbons are loaded with the usual vanilla and caramel flavors and a long-long sweet finish. It may even be advisable to add a touch of water to these last two brands to reduce the tannins. The final bourbon tasted for the day was their Rowan’s Creek, a 100 proof bourbon that is a little more fruitier than its cousins. It also has the most flavorful aroma. Why did I prefer the Kentucky Vintage?

For bourbon lovers, this was a great opportunity to sample various styles without having to pay for the entire bottle. Our hope for next year is that more corporate representatives will be available to discuss their brands - but thanks to Jimmy Russell and the reps from Makers Mark and Jack Daniels for spending time with us. Bourbon truly is "America's Native Spirit".

Monday, April 7, 2008

International Rum Championship

On March 27-29, almost 148 sugar-cane based spirits were judged at the 3rd Annual Polished Palate International Rum Festival. Held at the Don Vicente Inn, in the heart of Ybor City, Tampa, this event is the only only such recognized competition for sugar cane-based spirits in the United States. Besides the rum competition, the festival included a dinner and rum tasting on the 27th, the Rum on the Bar B (Q) dinner on the 28th, and the grand tasting on the 29th.

The rums were divided into several categories whereas the cachacas where divided into three categories. Several spirits that we tasted at this year's South Beach Food & Wine Festival did quite well. The Moleca Double Distilled Cachaca won Gold in the Unaged Cachaca category and the Moleca Double Distilled Gold Cachaca won a Silver in the Aged Cacahaca category. The Vizcaya VXOP Cask 21 Rum won Gold in the Dark Rum category; the Ron Barcelo Imperial Rum won Best in Category for Rum Aged Less Than 8 Years, and the Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva Rum won Best in Category in the Rum Aged 9-15 Years. Here are the results for categories that included a Best of Category:
  • White Rum: Mount Gay Eclipse Silver Rum
  • Dark Rum: Temptryst Reserve Rum
  • Rum Aged Up To 8 Years: Ron Barcelo Imperial Rum
  • Rum Aged Up To 9-15 Years: Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva Rum & Pyrat XO Reserve Rum
  • Rum Aged +15 Years: Ron Millonario Solera Reserva Especial & Ron Zacapa 23
  • Rum Liqueres/Cream: Santa Teresa Rhum Orange Liqueur & Santa Teresa Araku Ron Y Coffee Liquer
  • Spiced Rum: Montecristo Spiced Rum
  • Aged Rhum Agricole: J.M. V.S.O.P Rhum & Madras Rhum
  • Rhum Agricole Liqueur: Madreas Prune Liquer
  • Flavored Cachaca: Ypioca Red Fruit Cachaca

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival - Timonium Fairgrounds, Maryland

On Saturday we will be venturing out to the Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival at Timonium Fairgrounds, Maryland. This is a very unique event which includes bourbon and beer seminars, unlimited tasting of over 60 brews and 40 bourbons,and barbecue provided by local establishments. Plus, semi-local rock band - Mr. Greengenes - will provide musical entertainment from 2:00 PM-6:00 PM. What more do you need.....

The bourbon and beer exhibitors are extraordinary. Our bar is always stocked with staples such as Booker's, Baker's, or Blanton's Single Barrel, but also attending are several I've never tasted such as Parker's Heritage, Kentucky Tavern, Jefferson's Reserve, Rock Hill Farm Single Barrel, and Raven's Run. For a truly unique experience stick to the single barrel bourbons and see why bourbon is as much a sipping drink as Scotch.

For beers, there are a wide array of styles. Vermont's Magic Hat, California's Stone Brewing Company, as well as Pennsylvannia's Erie Brewing Company have several good varieties. Watch out for the Belgium Chimay. Whereas this is an amazing beer- it's potent. Then there's National Bohemian. This often maligned Pilsner beer was once brewed locally in Baltimore but is now owned by Pabst - and brewed by Miller in North Carolina. An interesting arrangement. "Natty Boh" is underestimated and along with Schlitz is a great summer time beer that I'm convinced will compliment barbecue.

Finally, the Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival provides several interesting seminars. Jimmy Russell, the Master Distiller at Wild Turkey Distillery will describe "The Wonderful World of Bourbon" and then see Kirk and Mark of the WHFS Morning Show will sample and educate from their favorite bourbons. Hugh Sisson, Founder and General Partner of Clipper City will discuss his brewery's operation and will pair several Clipper City brews with barbecue. Finally, Monyka Berrocosa, Food & Wine Journalist & Educator, will discuss several styles of beer - from light lagers to porters.