Wednesday, June 29, 2016

San Diego's Prolific Craft Beer Scene

San Diego is craft beer heaven. I know there are other awesome craft beer cities like Portland and Denver but combine the weather, the beaches, and an accommodating baseball stadium and you get America's Finest City. First, let's look at the numbers. There are approximately 80 tasting rooms within city limits and a few of these are giants like Ballast Point Brewing Company and Stone Brewing. Others, like Pizza Port and the Karl Strauss Brewing Company, have numerous venues scattered throughout the city.  Second, there's Petco Park stadium which embraces craft beer - not just tolerates it.  See the Ballpark & Brews post. And finally, the beer is unique, interesting, and delicious.

On our arrival and quick hotel check in across from Petco Park we headed over to the Stone Brewing Tap Room located conveniently just outside the stadium. The tap room provides a host of Stone brews, most very IPA-centric, but enough options for our heavily weighted Miller Lite group. I choose the Citrusy Wit and finished my Father's Smoked Porter before heading to the Tilted Kilt for lunch. Both solid beers for their respective styles. At the Kilt I went overboard with local beer starting with the AleSmith Brewing Pale Ale .394, then moving on to the the Coronado Brewing Company Berry The Hatchet, and finishing with the Ballast Point Pineapple Sculpin. The later was slightly sweeter than the Grapefruit Sculpin, the Coronado fruit ale tasty, and the AleSmith my favorite of the trio.

After putting the padre to bed for a nap, I ventured ahead to Half Door Brewing Company, named in honor of the Irish pubs and farmhouses where half doors were a way to let fresh air in and keep the nosy farm animals out. The brewery sits in an eccentric historic house with a large front porch and divided second floor seating. Great architecture.  I started with a favorite style, the Bearleener Berliner Weisse and it was tart and fruity as expected. When the crew eventually caught up most of us turned to the Half Door Pale Ale  - a beer that found common ground between the IPA and lite beer drinkers. This beer left us in a cheerful state heading into the stadium.

Day 2 started with an Uber to Ocean Beach to visit relatives, walk in the ocean, and stroll the pier. Afterwards Pizza Port Ocean Beach was a short walk away for lunch and we came away impressed with the food and the beer. My favorite was the No Surf Cream Ale - a refreshing summer ale, while my brother looked favorably upon the Swami's IPA and my father stuck to his porter - the Tube Time Porter.

Our return Uber ride detoured into the Ballast Point Tasting Room & Kitchen Restaurant, a satellite venue in Little Italy. I knew it was a wise decision when we met Bob Carpenter, the MASN TV voice of the Washington Nationals, coming out. I selected three different beers for my sampler and fell in love with the Tart Lady a Wild Ale exuding juicy and tart apricots. The other two experimental ales just weren't for me. The Hop Trois IPA was funky but seemed unbalanced and the When Doves Crye Rye Wine was tense and spicy - too much for my palate. But a sifter of the Tart Lady quickly it washed away. And once again I finished my Father's porter, this one the malty Black Marlin.

I'm returning to America's Finest City later this summer and I will be using theCompass Winery, Brewery, Distillery Locator Mobile App to visit several breweries that I lost time - particularly Mission Brewery and Monkey Paw Brewing. Cheers. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

#VABreweryChallenge - Arlington with New District Brewing Company & Capitol City Brewing Company

Recently the W&OD received another brew stop along the bike trail as New District Brewing Company (#37) joined Capitol City Brewing Company (#38) at it's origin in Arlington.  The later has anchored their Shirlington corner for at least a decade. Normally when I visit Capitol City I stick to the Capitol Kolsch - clean and easy drinking after a bike ride. I've never really been satisfied with the rest of the portfolio but this visit I noticed an expanded rotating taps menu which included an Imperial Blonde, Gose, and a Porter on cask. An interesting development indeed. I obviously ordered the Gose and encountered mixed results. It started tart with a hint of saline and not much coriander but was refreshing. However as the finish lingered it seemed somewhat flawed - a dirty funkiness that didn't belong.  But with that expanded portfolio, I'll be back.

New District Brewing Company is the "first package brewery in Arlington, Virginia in one hundred years"; that's their story and they are sticking to it. The brewery is located across Four Mile Run Drive from the W&OD on Oakland Street near the .5 mile marker. One easy route is to circle back to the brewery at MM 0 taking two consecutive rights on Shirlington and 27th and then left on Nelson, and right on Oakland. Once you arrive get ready for some puppy love with the dog park across the street. As for the beers, another mixed bag. Their signature 1821 is a Saison brewed with a mystery spices from the family's village in Greece. It's big, biting, and spicy - appealing with food and at nighttime but not particularly after a 12 mile ride. The Folded Note Pilsner is hoppier than most and like The Bright Future Kolsch has a solid mineral backbone. Both were a bit refreshing but served at cask temperature - perhaps due to changing of kegs. My favorite was the South German Lager, a maltier brew is some Marzen character, but dry hopped for added aromatics. This beer provided the energy for the 12 mile return trip. Cheers and as always, theCompass Winery, Brewery, Distillery Locator Mobile App will guide you to any wine, beer, or distillery destination.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Ballparks & Brews: Petco Park - San Diego Padres

I've only been to a handful of major league ball parks but for now the San Diego Padres' Petco Park is in a league of their own. The park embraces craft beer embraces craft beer - not just tolerates it like Nationals Park. I only strayed between the third base line and home plate in the 200 level but saw dozens of unique craft beer options at multiple stands. There's even a dedicated stretch of pavement for craft beer carts. And all local craft breweries: Stone Brewing, Pizza Port, Mission Brewery, Karl Strauss Brewing Company, AleSmith Brewing, and Mike Hess Brewing Company. Walking past these carts will take you to a larger craft beer vending area (with longer lines) including Coronado Brewing Company, The Lost Abbey / Port Brewing Co., and Saint Archer Brewing Company among others.

There are other craft beer options as well starting in the center field patio where Ballast Point Brewing Company and Sculpin are King overlooking taps from other local breweries. Although I didn't venture into the 300 level I read that Stone Brewing has a dedicated tasting area and I'm sure other craft breweries are represented. As for non-local breweries, I did see a lonely Goose Island Beer Co. and thought why bother.

I stuck to lighter beers but there were a plethora of other beer styles. The Ballast Point Kolsch and Mission Blonde were my go to beers, whereas my IPA laced sibling chose Sculpin, the Stone IPA, and the ridiculously delicious Karl Strauss Aurora Hoppyalis IPA.

If you care to pre-game, there are a few breweries within walking distance starting with the neighboring Stone Brewing Tap Room and Half Door Brewing Company - two blocks away.  On an outer parameter you can find Monkey Paw Brewing, The Beer Company, and Resident Brewing, then take the Craft Beer Bus to Mission Brewery -and then be deposited at the stadium gates. Cheers to craft beer and baseball.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

#FirstSipNZ with Villa Maria's Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc

One of the most reliable sources for affordable New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has always been Villa Maria and they didn't disappoint with their current summer offerings tasted through the #FirstSipNZ campaign. Elizabeth Smith has the details on this campaign at Villa Maria’s First Sip of Summer. In general New Zealand, and in particular, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc wines are fresh; driven by citrus, tropical, herbaceous, and mineral characteristics; and refreshingly acidic. I learned that the "minerality often comes from vineyards with stony old riverbed vineyard sites". Here are the two wines we sampled, both will be available across the U.S. either now or towards August. Cheers.

2016 Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc (SRP $14.99). The grapes were sourced from vineyards throughout the Marlborough region of NZ with a mixture of warmer and cooler vineyard sites which showcase the herbal and tropical note. However, for me, this wine was all citrus from the wet grass aroma through the bright lemon-grapefruit character to the long, long finish.

2015 Villa Maria Private Bin Bubbly Sauvignon Blanc (SRP $14.99). Produced in the frizzante style similar to Moscato d’Asti and Vinho Verde where the wine maintains generous effervescence but not to the extent of a sparkling wine. According to winemaker Helen Morrison, a true méthode champenoise would overwhelm Sauvignon Blanc and the wine would lose the freshness associated with the grape. The grapes were also sourced from vineyards throughout the Marlborough region of NZ. The added frizz elevates the fruit profile with the citrus flavors dominating while chilled and the tropical banana and guava like characteristics evolving when warming.. The wine also maintains its texture from the creamy start to effervescent ending.  As for food pairings, seafood was highly recommended (mussels in particular). I'll be heading to the beach with this wine for sure. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

The United Grapes of America - Minnesota's Alexis Bailly Vineyard Voyageur

Minnesota wine was present last month at the annual Wine America Congressional Tasting through the Alexis Bailly Vineyard Voyageur ($29). The wine is a blend of Minnesota grown Marechal Foch, Leon Millot, and Frontenac. The first two grapes are French hybrids whereas the later was developed by the University of Minnesota in 1996 as an extreme cold hardy wine grape for northern growers. The wine itself, as well as the winery, is named after their 4th great grandfather, Alexis Bailly, who along with a handful of other French/Canadian pioneers (voyageurs) paddled their way through the St. Lawrence Seaway to Hastings, Minnesota. And the Marechal Foch and Leon Millot were part of the original vineyard when, in 1973, David Bailly planted the fist modern vineyard in the North Star State.

The United Grapes of America The United Grapes of America
The vineyard was inspired by not only Bailley's interest in wine but also a desire to start a business where he could deduct wine trips to Europe. I can relate to that sympathy. In 1967 he tasted the Boordy Vineyards Red from the historic Maryland winery and realized European styled wines could be made in the east. Further research lead him to Millot and Foch and over time he concluded that "the Léon Millot has made the best wine and the Maréchal Foch has been the most winter hardy".

The Voyageur is dark, both in color and black fruit forward flavors; stressing the fruit forward nature of this wine. Ten months of oak treatment comes in play during the mid-palate and outweighs the fruit, whereas the wine finishes with plenty of acids and a slight tannic coating. This wine shows well, a bit pricey in the world market, but more reasonable in the drink local market. Cheers.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Argentina's Rutini Wines Delivers Four Wines from the Tupungato Valley

I recently received a care package from Rutini Wines, the esteemed winery located on the outskirts of Mendoza, consisting of four Argentinean wines. The winery was founded in 1885 by Italian immigrant Felipe Rutini, who according to wiki became one four great Italian winemakers in Mendoza. His first vineyard was located in Maipú and he further expanded into the Los Corralitos and Medrano regions of Mendoza. In 1925 his descendants planted the first vineyards in Tupungato, in the heart of Mendoza's Uco Valley. Named after one of Mendoza´s mountain peaks, the Tupungato Valley sits at  3000 to 5000 feet (900 to 1500 meters) above sea level. The valley also consists of  several different microclimates, creating optimal growing conditions for different grape varieties. Today it is recognized as one of Mendoza´s premier viticulture regions and the source of the four wines received from Rutini.

2015 Trumpeter Torrontes ($12) - Argentina´s signature white varietal, this Torrontés starts with stone fruits, continues with a mineral backbone, and finishes with easy acids. A very nice wine providing top value.

2014 Trumpeter Malbec ($12) -  Aged using a plethora of American and French barrel grades for 7 months this wine starts bold with strong cherry flavors, maintains a base of structure, and then the tannic finish falls slightly flat. But for the price, I'd say worthy .

2013 Rutini Malbec Encuentro ($19) - Aged 12 months in 50-50 French and American oak this wine is delicious. The wine starts with smooth black cherry and plum, followed by a spicy and structured mid-palate, and finishing with chewy tannins.  Hits a sweet spot.

2012 Rutini Malbec ($35) - Aged 12 months in 80% new French oak and 20% new American oak and includes grapes from vineyards from both La Consulta, San Carlos and Tupungato Valley, Mendoza. This is a juicy wine exuding dark fruit, herbs, and earthiness; yet maintains a firm structure. The tannins at the tail creep up slowly.

Monday, June 13, 2016

The United Grapes of America - Kentucky's StoneBrook Winery Vidal Blanc

The annual Wine America Congressional Tasting delivered once again with a new state wine, in this case, Kentucky and the StoneBrook Winery Vidal Blanc ($13). The winery is located in the western part of the Bluegrass state, just south of Cincinnati, in the Ohio River Valley AVA. This viticultural area is the second largest in the U.S. spanning portions of four states (Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky) and encompassing 26,000 square miles. (The Upper Mississippi River Valley AVA is the largest at 29,914 square miles.) This region also possesses a long history of grape growing reaching back to the early 1820s with Catawba and Isabella being the featured grapes.  In most cases French hybrids have now replaced these native Labrusca grapes.
The United Grapes of America The United Grapes of America
StoneBrook Winery is a 5th generation farm composed of two farmsteads dating back to the 1870s and 1890s. Their tasting room is located in the remodeled Kool House originally constructed in the 1890s. Their Vidal Blanc was the winery's first estate wine and is fresh and floral on the nose, transitions to a sweet pear and grapefruit flavor finishing with decent acids to balance the sugar.  I'm sure this is their best seller. Cheers.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

#SAVOR2016's Top Fifteen Beers That Blew Me Away

I attended SAVOR 2016 on Friday June 3rd and this Brewers Association sponsored event was splendid.  76 breweries poured two beers each and represented a mix of styles from IPAs, Stouts, Porters, Saisons, and sours. Many sours in fact and that's how I started off the evening. Out of the two dozen or so, there were a few that clearly stood out above the noise. Same for the many excellent barrel aged stouts and porters.  And in both categories top honors goes to Crux Fermentation Project. One caveat, I didn't sample many IPAs - just ran out of time trying to sample 152 beers. Cheers.
  1. Crux Fermentation Project [Banished] Bretted Farmhouse 
  2. D9 Brewing Company Systema Naturae Sour Ale fermented with wild lactobacillus & yeast, naturally conditioned.
  3. Crux Fermentation Project [Banished] Tough Love Barrel Aged Imperial Stout banished to used bourbon barrels
  4. The Lost Abbey Track #8  Barrel Aged Quad Judgement Day aged 9 months in new bourbon barrels and spiked with cinnamon sticks and dried chili peppers
  5. Oskar Blues Ten Fidy Imperial Stout combines hefty amounts of various dark malts with 98 IBUs of hops
  6. Urban Chestnut Brewing Company Schnickelfritz Weissbier
  7. Center of the Universe Brewing Company IV Quadrupel aged in red wine barrels
  8. Southern Tier Brewing Company Salted Caramel Imperial Stout based on a milt stout with Himalayan sea salt and caramelized sugar
  9. Right Proper Brewing Company Diamonds, Fur Coat, Champagne Berliner Weisse brewed with Meyer lemon zest, elderberries, and dry hopped with Sauvin
  10. New Belgium Brewing Company Tart Lychee Sour Ale barrel aged with lychee puree and cinnamon sticks
  11. Perennial Artisanal Ales Savant Blanc Sour Ale Barrel Aged Belgium Blond Ale (aged in Chardonnay barrels) with Chardonnel wine grapes
  12. Deschutes Brewery The Abyss Rye Barrel Aged Imperial Stout brewed with black strap molasses, licorice, cherry bark, augmented with vanilla, then aged 12 months in rye whiskey barrels.
  13. Strange Craft Beer Company Cherry Kriek Lambic with loads of cherries
  14. Bell's Brewery Bourbon Barrel Aged Expedition Stout
  15. Lewis and Clark Brewing Company  Prickly Pear Pale Ale

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order)

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

#WineStudio Concludes it's Two Month Foray into DO Rías Baixas

Our two month #WineStudio foray into DO Rías Baixas wine concluded May 31st as the focus continued with their signature grape Albariño.  This has been an eye-opening venture into the region's wine and history as explained in these earlier DO Rías Baixas posts. We will finish this series by commented on a few additional wines we sampled during the sessions.

2014 Santiago Roma DO Rías Baixas ($11). This 100% Albariño is made from grapes harvested from estate vineyards in the Salnés Valley. It is unique in the sense that it offers ripe red apples that then lead into a lemon-mint profile. This excellent value wine concludes with a mildly salty finish.

2013 Baladiña DO Rías Baixas Lagar de Besada ($16). This wine is also 100% Albariño from the Salnés Valley made from one of the first bonded wineries in DO Rias Baixas. It starts with stone fruit which is quickly followed by strong citrus flavors, mild minerals, and a somewhat tannic and very fresh acidic finish.

2014 Tomada de Castro DO Rías Baixas ($14). The Castros had been making homemade wine for a century when Carlos Castro took the venture public. It is another 100% Albariño with plenty of maritime influences. The wine possesses the more typical tropical and stone fruits, mild minerals and saline, sweeter acidic finish.

2015 Torre La Moreira DO Rías Baixas ($18). This wine is produced by Bodegas Marqués de Vizhoja, a historic estate from the 16th century located near the Portuguese border.  This may be my very favorite wine of the sessions with it's very intensive stone fruit flavor, saline and herbal notes, and bright finish. Well done indeed.