Monday, November 24, 2008

American Rum Distillers

While viewing the results of the 2008 International Rum Competition, sponsored by Polished Palate, I was quite surprised to notice that several American companies were awarded medals. I was under the misguided, but probably common belief, that rum wasn’t produced in North America. Upon further research I learned that in fact, there are over a dozen micro-distilleries in the United States crafting several styles of rum from sugar cane.

The history of rum is closely aligned to the history of the Americas. See And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails by Wayne Curtis. In brief, Christopher Columbus introduced sugar cane into the West Indies from cuttings he obtained from the Canary Islands. Sugar production became integrated with the slave trade and it was plantation slaves who first discovered that molasses - the bi-product of sugar cane refinery - could be fermented into alcohol. In some cases, rum is also produced from fermenting pressed sugar cane as is the case in most French speaking Caribbean islands. Eventually the actual production of rum moved to colonial New England, with its abundant supply of skilled artisans (metalworking and cooperage). The rum trade was so vital to the colonial economy that the introduction of the Sugar Act in 1764 was one factor that sparked the American Revolution. However, over the next century grain became cheaper than molasses and simultaneously consumer’s tastes drifted towards grain spirits and beer. In the 20th century, the consumption of rum received an unexpected boost from Prohibition. Consumers headed to Cuba in search of sun and alcohol and discovered Bacardi while at the same time rum runners competed with Canadian whiskeys to supply the underground economy. Today there is a renaissance in the rum market as the versatility of the spirit is displayed in multiple white, dark, spiced, and aged styles. Rum is no longer just an ingredient in daiquiris and mohitos.

There are currently over a dozen American micro distillers producing rum from some form of sugar cane. And in most instances, these craft distillers use only local ingredients – including domestic molasses. The most logical place to start is Hawaii – where sugar cane flourishes as in the Caribbean. On Maui, Braddah Kimo operates Haleakala Distillers - the only licensed distillery operating on the island. Mr. Kimo is a skilled artisan. Not only is he the master distiller, but he also built the entire distilling facility himself. His rum is made using fermented Hawaiian molasses diluted with Maui rainwater, double distilled, and then aged in used Bourbon casks. Haleakala Distillers offers several styles and the Braddah Kimo's Extreme 155 Rum and Maui Dark Rum were awarded silver medals at the 2008 International Rum Competition.

Hawaiian molasses is also distilled on the mainland. Dave Classick - both Sr, and Jr. - use an Alambic Pot Still to distill fermented molasses into rum. Their distillery, Essential Spirits Alambic Distillery, located outside of San Francisco in Mountain View, sells two styles of rum, a Silver and a Gold. Further north in Napa, Charbay Winery & Distillery triple-distills Hawaiian sugar cane syrup in their Alambic Pot Still. They also sell two styles of rum, the platinum Tropical Island’s Cane Rum and the Tahitian Vanilla Bean Rum. The later is “made with our distillers' own extraction of pure beans.”

Elsewhere in the United States, Louisiana is the most likely source of molasses. New Orlean’s Celebration Distillation won several awards at the 2008 International Rum Competition, a gold for their Old New Orleans Crystal Rum, a silver for their Old New Orleans Amber Rum, and a bronze for their Old New Orleans 10 Year Old Rum. As expected the company uses Louisiana grown molasses and then ages the rum in used bourbon casks. Celebration Distillation also uses a custom made distilling system that is a combination of a pot still and column still.

The first legal post-Prohibition distillery to open in Tennessee is best known - not for sour mash whiskey - but for their rum. Prichards' Distillery makes several styles of rum, but the best selling is the Prichards’ Fine Rum. This spirit is made from Louisiana molasses distilled in a copper pot still and then aged in new charred white oak barrels. Their white Crystal Rum is made from the same molasses distilled five times in the copper pot stills. A couple other distilleries that use Louisiana molasses are Triple Eight Distillery (Nantucket) and Tuthilltown Spirits (New York). Another New England rum maker, Newport Distilling Company (Rhode Island), found a different source: Westway Feed in Chicago. Each of these companies age the rum in American oak to create three separate brands: Hurricane Rum, Hudson River Rum, and Thomas Tew Rum.

Both Graham Barnes Distilling and Railean Distillers proudly state that they use only Texas ingredients in their rum. Graham Barnes uses molasses made from Rio Grande Valley sugarcane and a proprietary process that removes several insoluble particles before fermenting. After fermentation, the liquid is distilled using reflux column stills, then blended with filtered Hill Country water, and then double filtered through activated carbon. The finished product is their Treaty Oak Platinum Rum. Railean Distillers is located near Galveston Bay in San Leon – once home to Jean Lafitte and an assortment of other pirates, sailors, and fishermen. The Railean family distills the Texas cane molasses using a Bavarian Holstein copper pot still that the distillery believes creates an” ultra-pure cane spirit”. The Railean White Rum is bottled after diluting with water whereas the Railean Reserve XO is aged in new charred American Oak casks. No used bourbon barrels here. These rums were also entered into the 2008 International Rum Competition and received a silver and bronze respectively.

In the Pacific Northwest, rum is created from an unorthodox source: brown cane sugar. Bardenay Distillery in Boise, Idaho prefers the brown cane sugar since there is more molasses in brown sugar than in processed white sugar. This means that the sugar has a higher mineral composition – basically more nutrients for the yeast to feast on. An added benefit is that the rum is distilled directly inside their restaurant providing a sweet aroma for their patrons. Rogue Distillery and Public House in Portland Oregon follows a similar approach - distilling fermented brown cane sugar.

There are several other rum distillers producing small batch rum not mentioned in more detail. Like those listed above, these craft distillers deserve a look from any interested party. There’s Dogfish Head Craft Brewery (Delaware), Forks of Cheat Winery (West Virginia), New Holland Brewing Company (Michigan), Penobscot Bay Distillery & Brewery (Maine), Charbay Winery & Distillery (California), and Temptryst (Texas). In fact, Temptryst was the most highly awarded distillery at the 2008 International Rum Competition. It will be interesting to view the next few year's results to see if American rum distillers can continue to compete with the traditional sources in the Caribbean and Americas. Or was this just a one-time chance occurrence?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Thanksgiving Beer

Over the last couple of weeks it seems that every wine retailer and blog has given their Thanksgiving wine advice. So instead, we are going to impart our beer suggestion for the holiday - particular since the Pilgrims mostly likely consumed it during their feast. When the 100+ passengers departed, their cargo included barrels and barrels of precious beer. During these voyages, water spoiled quickly, so each passenger - men, women, and children - received a ration of beer each day. Not only did the beer remain bacterial free, but it was also a major source of carbohydrates. The responsibility of maintaining the integrity of the barrels fell to John Alden, a cooper and carpenter, who the pilgrims hired to repair the Mayflower in Southampton before their voyage west. After their 60 days at sea, the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth partially because their supply of beer was dangerously low. Another reason was the site included a brook containing "sweet" and clean water. Legend says that Alden was actually the first passenger to set foot in the new land. History also says that Alden was a signer of the Mayflower Compact, an assistant to the governor, and with Priscilla Mullins, the third couple married in the Plymouth colony. Alden was also a survivor. When he passed away in 1687, he was the last male survivor of the signers of the Mayflower Compact and with the exception of Mary Allerton, was the last survivor of the Mayflower's original passengers.

Three hundred and thirty years after his death, the Mayflower Brewing Company began operating in Plymouth using the same source of water that the Pilgrims found "sweet" and clean. In fact, the founder of this craft brewery, Drew Brosseau, claims that the soft water is ideal for brewing "lighter-colored and milder beers". Oh yea, before I forget, Drew Brosseau is also the tenth great grandson of John Alden. He started home brewing beer years ago and after retiring, parleyed this experience into creating the brewery. Based on this heritage, locating in Plymouth was an obvious choice as was brewing English styled ales: a Pale Ale, a Golden Ale, an IPA, and a Porter. The Mayflower Golden Ale is probably the most widely appealing style, but the most appropriate beer would be the Mayflower IPA. This brew mostly likely resembles the actual beer drank on the Mayflower since brewers added extra hops to keep beer fresh for the long ocean voyages. It would be interesting if the same folks who decipher the recipes for the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery ancient beers could do the same for the Pilgrim's beer. In the meantime the Mayflower IPA is a close alternative. And after dinner, we recommend their Porter - particularly if temperatures remain near 30 degrees.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Miranda Lambert and LouViney Winery

A year or so after country singer Miranda Lambert launched her music career with her debut album - Kerosene- the Lambert family started exploring creating a private wine label on her behalf. They eventually selected LouViney Winery, a small family owned winery in Winnsboro Texas to produce the wines. According to Susann Briggs, the Lambert's visited their winery, enjoyed the taste of the wines, and was impressed with the "family oriented values upon which we built our winery". The next step required formulated the wine styles that the Lamberts were seeking. Fortunately LouViney could use existing blends to satisfy their requests, all except for one. It appears Miranda enjoys a crisp Pinot Grigio styled wine and LouViney had to create a new wine to match this style. The result was "Kerosene" - sound familiar - and is made from the Blanc Du Bois grape. Never heard of this hybrid; see the WineCompass Wine 101 section for a summary. The wine labels and tasting notes are listed below. Anyone interested in purchasing these wines can do so through the Miranda Lambert store or take a trip to Winnsboro and buy directly from LouViney Winery.

Miranda Lambert Belle
In naming our wines, we wanted to select those that would reflect the spirit of the wine as well as the attributes of Miranda. Southern Belle came to mind. In defining the word Belle we found it to be the perfect fit for this sweet wine as well as for Miranda. Simply put, it means the most beautiful. With her true southern spirit, she epitomizes southern hospitality and beauty while being a just a little bit flirty. As you might sense in looking at the beautiful label, in like manner, this light-bodied sweet, red wine is a mouthful of ripe cherry and raspberry flavors that tingle the palate. The finish is silky smooth and leaves you wanting more. It pairs well with chicken, red meats, mildly seasoned pastas and Miranda’s favorite - wild game dishes. Serve chilled.

Miranda Lambert County Road 233
Our most robust spirit is full of fruity flavor and powerful color, yet is smooth in texture and delivery. With its ripe berry essence, the aroma lingers as long as its explosive finish. This dry velvety Merlot is endowed with just the right balance of power and finesse that make it an excellent companion to steak and pastas with full-bodied red sauce or, for special treat, try it with dark chocolate. Simply decadent!

Miranda Lambert Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
An alluring radiant wine bears overtones of ripe pears, honey, and golden raisins. Lusciously aromatic it is perfect for those who prefer the sweeter things in life. It is so deliciously perfumed, it has been teased as dessert in a bottle! Just like a Crazy-Ex, you’ll be seduced over and over by this charmer. So mild it can be served with fruit, light cheeses, sorbets and other light desserts, it is also delightful with Sunday brunch on the patio, fruit-glazed chicken dishes and spicy Asian cuisines.

Miranda Lambert Electric Pink
A semi-sweet wine similar to White Zinfandel, this brilliant pink light-bodied wine has a delicious berry taste and aroma. And just like Miranda’s famous electric pink guitar, it often produces a sudden sense of thrilling excitement! Our blush is a vivid, sweet, great choice for sipping on the front porch on warm summer days. It goes well with spicy foods such as Thai, as well as cheese and other light appetizers. Serve chilled.

Miranda Lambert Kerosene
This dry, straw-colored wine is light, yet pleasingly tart with softening hints of pear and ripe apple. It is similar to Pinot Grigio. The finish is clean and crisp. It marries well with pastas in cream sauce, fish, grilled chicken, garlic-based dishes and spicy foods. It is also a good wine to compliment light appetizers or a first course. Actually this versatile white delight can pair with most any dish or be enjoyed by itself in the shade of your favorite tree. Serve chilled.

Miranda Lambert Red 55
Wineries have found Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blends are star performers, and perhaps that’s why our friends and family selected this wine as the front-runner in our inaugural tasting. Named after Miranda’s prized first pickup, a candy apple red 1955 Chevy step-side, this beautiful cherry-colored wine is smooth and medium bodied with a mellow berry aroma. This slightly juicy blend dodges over-oaking. Just like Miranda’s vintage ‘55, our Red 55 is sure to be a classic. Pair this best-all-around wine with almost any kind of food, from fancy fare dinners to picnics and BBQs.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Black Ankle Vineyards

We have been receiving reports lately about the Grand Opening of Black Ankle Vineyards, but really took interest when we learned that the winery was awarded the Maryland Governor's Cup in their first vintage. The winery was founded by Ed Boyce and Sarah O'Herron, who decided to craft their own wine after years of being consumers. They research grapes, the wine-making process, terrior, and discovered a farm in central Maryland that met their criteria. The duo decided on several traditional grapes - but also planted a few unique grapes - primarily the Spanish grape Albarino, the Austrian favorite Gruner Veltliner, and the ancient Muscat. The other estate white wines are made from Viognier and Chardonnay, whereas the reds consist of Syrah, Pinot Noir, and all five Bordeaux red grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. It was a blend of these five grapes that won the 2008 Governor's Cup, their 2006 Crumbling Rock.

Black Ankle Vineyards is located just outside of Mt. Airy and is situated near several other wineries. However, Black Ankle differs from these wineries in that they produce only dry wines - if you care for sweet wines - then visit the other wineries afterward. The tasting room is a large stucco building with enough comforts to encourage a long stay - particularly the fireplace and indented table. And the wines were terrific. Ms. O'Herron explained that they attempt to make wine in the style they enjoy - dry, but with flavor and structure. Their Viognier and Gruner Veltliner were good examples of this approach. They both were earthy with honey flavors and a slight nutty finish. Odd for wines aged in stainless steel. The Viognier was much different than the traditional Virginia versions - more old world than new world. The Albarino was also excellent - much more citrus than the other whites. The final white wine we tasted was the 2006 Bedlam - a blend of all their white grapes. It is a refreshing acidic wine with good lineage: the 2007 version was awarded the 2008 Maryland Winemaster's Choice Award.

The red wines were just as intriguing. We started with the 2006 Passeggiato - made from 100 percent Syrah. It is unique in that it is made with a light body - but full of raspberry flavors. The more traditional Syrah spiciness is evident in their 2006 Syrah, which includes 10% Pinot Noir. Even with the spicy finish, it is a smooth wine - we noticed cherry flavors and some vanilla. The first Bordeaux styled blend was the 2006 Cosecha - made from all five of the Bordeaux grapes. It is medium bodied and very drinkable now - in fact - it was our choice for dinner that evening. It is earthy and smooth - with some cherry and raspberry flavors. Finally we tried the 2006 Crumbling Rock - and yes, we can see why it was awarded the cup. Interestingly it has a higher percentage of Cabernet Franc than the Cosecha and contains no Malbec. It is made full bodied - earthy, with enough tannins that Ms. O'Herron suggests will age very nicely. The wine also differs from the Cosecha in that the flavor is more evident of black fruits and not red fruits. This is a nice wine - that proves that vinifera grapes can make excellent wines in the mid-Atlantic. And that was it. No semi dry wines nor dessert wines. Just an excellent addition to the Maryland wine community.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Virginia Wine Lover Magazine

The Virginia Wine Lover Magazine published our article on Virginia Meaderies in their November newsletter. We also received our copy of the Winter issue of the quarterly magazine. There are nice articles on the Shenandoah Valley and Corks - plus a dinner with Thomas Jefferson.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Augusta Winery - 2001 Norton

For our semi-weekly Norton tasting we opened a bottle of 2001 Norton from Augusta Winery. The winery was established twenty years ago by Tony Kooyumjian and is noted for their Norton and Vignoles. Their appellation is significant since Augusta Missouri is located within the first U.S. Wine District, or Viticulture Area #1. The 2001 Norton has aged well in the bottle. It is full bodied with a black cherry nose and cherry-tobacco flavor. The finish is long and spicy - but remarkably smooth. There is no evidence of the standard grapey flavor or acidity associated with newer Nortons. One of our party's immediate reaction was "this is the best Norton I've ever tasted". Apparently the latest release has continued this tradition of excellence. It has one Gold medals at the Florida State Fair International, Pacific Rim International, and the Missouri Wine Competition. Congratulations to Augusta Winery.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Dogfish Head Brewery

One of our favorite breweries is Delaware's Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. Sam Calagione and brewmaster Andy Tveekrem craft truly historic beers - that is - along with their standard line of excellent I.P.A., Pale Ales, and Pilsners the winery produces several beers replicated from ancient recipes. This past Saturday, at the Falls Church, Virginia Dogfish Head Alehouse, we listened to rockin' blues from Bad Influence Band and sipped several sifters of their Midas Touch Golden Elixir. The "actual oldest-known fermented beverage in the world!" In the 1957 an archaeological expedition uncovered the possible burial chamber of King Midus in central Turkey. Inside the chamber were over 150 drinking vessels that contained chemical residues of barley, grapes, honey and saffron. Using these ingredients as a base, Dogfish Head re-created the ancient recipe blending one of the oldest grape varieties, Muscat, with barley, honey and saffron. The "Phrygian cocktail" is awesome and powerful (9.0% abv), which explains the sifter. It tastes more like a brandy - with the floral aroma and flavors of the Muscat up front.

At the same time that "Phrygian cocktail" was being fermented in the Middle East 9,000 years ago, the early Chinese were fermenting a concoction of rice, honey and fruit. Molecular Archeologist Dr. Patrick McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania, who analyzed the King Midus drinking vessels, found similar residue in the preserved Chinese pottery jars. He passed this information along to Dogfish Head, resulting in Chateau Jiahu. In trying to remain historically accurate the brewery uses pre-gelatinized rice flakes, Wildflower honey, Muscat grapes, barley malt, hawthorn fruit, and Chrysanthemum flowers. The rice and barley malt are fermented together with the remaining ingredients added to the wort. The result is a refreshing beer - or at least that's what we remember from the Washington D.C. Wine Festival.

Another historic brew is their Theobroma ("Food of the Dods"), based upon residue from pottery fragments found in Honduras. The chemical analysis discovered an alcoholic chocolate drink used over three thousand years ago - probably in special ceremonies. Dogfish Head version contains Aztec cocoa powder and cocoa nibs, honey, chilies, and annatto - a fragrant tree seed.

Finally we have to note some of our other favorite beers from Dogfish Head - particularly their Raison D'Etre, Palo Santo Marron, and Olde School Barleywine. The Raison D'Etre is brewed with beet sugar, green raisins, and Belgian-style yeast - producing a great slightly sweet malty ale. The Palo Santo Marron is an unfiltered brown ale aged in handmade wooden tanks. The Paraguayan Palo Santo wood add caramel and vanilla flavors to the beer. The Olde School Barleywine is malty and hoppy with an interesting flavor due to fermenting with dates and figs. Another sifter for this beer.

The best place to enjoy these beers are at the brewery itself, either the Rehoboth Beach Brewpub or the Alehouses in Falls Church, Virginia and Gaithersburg, Maryland. Each venue hosts free Saturday night music, with the Rehoboth Beach location landing some national\regional acts and the Alehouses providing a setting for local artists. In November the Rehoboth lineup consists of Nothin But Trouble, Dexter Romweber Duo, Brian McGee and the Hollow Speed,Leaving Texas, Whiskey Rebellion, and Nate Myers & The Aces. At the Alehouses look for Marshall Artz, Evan Bliss & the Welchers, Cletus Kennelly, and One Eyed Pug.