Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Maryland Bourbon at Twin Valley Distillers

Rockville's East Gude Drive has turned into a mini craft beverage destination with Saints Row Brewing and True Respite Brewing Company bookends to the lone distillery Twin Valley Distillers. I visited this distillery on an early Saturday morning to see the new location they moved into a couple years back. They utilize two sections of the warehouse with the tasting room -- cocktail bar on the right and the distillery itself intersecting on the left.  

Twin Valley specializes in Bourbon as well as spirits aging in bourbon barrels -- each as much as possible using locally sourced ingredients. Their showcase bourbons are the Maryland Whiskey Company labels -- the Special Year Straight and Single Cask 2-year Straight. For sipping at the bar I chose the Grand Thoroughbred Single Cask Wheat Bourbon which was named after the state horse of Maryland. This is a friendly bourbon, very smooth and round with hay and soft vanilla. Unfortunately, this tasting bottle was the sole survivor until bottling next month. However, the bartender recommended the 1812 Blended Bourbon  ($40, 45%) which combines both of their single cask bourbons. This whiskey has a rounded mouthfeel, caramel, oak, and honey with a slightly smoky tail. A nice addition to my bar. 

Rounding out the portfolio at Twin Valley are the bourbon barrel-aged spirits, clear spirits, and ready-to-drink cocktails & flavored spirits. On the barrel-aged side are the 1794 Bourbon Barrel Maryland Rye Whiskey, Bourbon Barrel-Aged Rum, and the Reverend Paul's Bourbon Barrel-Aged Malt Whiskey. The clear spirits consist of the Norbeck Vodka made from corn and the Maryland Rum Company Silver Rum distilled from molasses from Baltimore's Domino sugar. Finally, there are several flavored spirits and cocktails from Limoncello to Peanut Butter Whiskey. Check out the product list for more details. 

And as always, theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you to this and other craft beverage destinations. Cheers. 

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Swig & Ramble Season 1 Finale: The Tastes of 2021

Thanks to the fine folks at Swig & Ramble for having me as a guest to discuss my favorite spirits of 2021.  In between Mark interrupting Julia we discussed several Virginia and New York craft spirits from Dida's Distillery, Catoctin Creek Distilling Company, Cooperstown Distillery,  Hillrock Estate Distillery, and Kings County Distillery. There's also a shoutout to Florida's St. Augustine Distillery, plus my 2021 favorite -- the Maggie's Farm Rum - Allegheny Distilling Sherry Finished Rum -- American grown sugar cane fermented and distilled in Pittsburgh PA. Follow the Swig & Ramble Facebook Group to receive updates on the 2022 show schedule. Cheers.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Brewing History: The Silver Branch Vespucci Connection Dry Hopped Pilsner

A recent pint at Silver Branch Brewing Company turned into a history lesson involving trans-Atlantic exploration, the Columbia Exchange, and the genetics of German lager yeast.  In general, I prefer German Pilsners over the Bohemian versions most likely for their breadier and lower hop profile. Thus when faced with these two versions at Silver Branch I chose the Vespucci Connection, a dry-hopped German styled pilsner, instead of their Czech Glass Castle Pilsener.  I then learned how the Vespucci Connection received its name and the discovery of how German lager yeast evolved during the general lager renaissance of the early 16th century. 

Brewer’s yeast is generally categorized as “ale yeast” and “lager yeast”. As most people probably know, the scientific name for ale yeast is Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Less commonly known is that the scientific name for lager yeast is Saccharomyces pastorianus. Interestingly, S. pastorianus is a hybrid of S. cerevisiae and an until-recently unknown cold-tolerant yeast–while S. cerevisiae has 2 sets of chromosomes, S. pastorianus has 3 sets. Ale yeast generally prefers a warmer fermentation temperature, and lagers are as clean and crisp as they are because of the colder fermentation temperatures permitted by the contributions of the extra set of chromosomes from the cold-tolerant yeast to the modern lager yeast hybrid. A 2011 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences by Libkind et al determined that the cold-tolerant parent strain of lager yeast is called Saccharomyces eubayanus, and S. eubayanus has only been found in the wild, despite a lot of searching, in Patagonia.  Vespucci Connection, Columbian Exchange: The New-world Origins Of Old-world Lager Yeast

Thus it appears that this wild yeast from Argentina's Patagonia region hopped aboard a ship exploring the continent. Since Americo Vespucci was the first to identify South America as a separate continent, it may have been his ship that brought S. eubayanus to Europe where it eventually merged with S. cerevisiae in a cold Bavarian cave. The Columbia Exchange is the term historians use to describe the flow of plants, animals, technology, and diseases between the two worlds.  One can press it even forward and suggest that the Beer Purity Law (Reinheitsgebot) of 1516 was also a result of this exchange. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Alentejo's Vidigueira Antao Vaz

During the Wines of Portugal tasting that I've previously written about, I spent a considerable time at one booth, sampling several excellent wines from the Alentejo DOC. This region is named for its southerly position from the Tejo river and occupies an area directly east of Lisbon to the Spanish border.  It is sparsely populated, hot and dry, and is best known for the cork industry. Yet, it is also a highly respected wine region with a generally wave-like topography that protects much of the land from the cooling effects of the Atlantic. This contributes to the production of rich, easy-drinking red wines, as ripeness is easy to achieve in these conditions. Thus wineries in Alentejo usually focus on red wine grapes: Aragonez (Tempranillo), Castelao, Trincadeira,  Alicante Bouschet, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Alentejo DOC contains eight subregions, which span from the mountains to the hot, dry center of the region: Portalegre, Borba, Évora, Redondo, Reguengos, Granja-Amareleja, Vidigueira and Moura. During the tasting, I became very impartial to the white grape Antao Vaz, which historically is autochthonous to the Vidigueira region. 

Located in the heart of the Alentejo region, the lands surrounding Vidigueira have the perfect microclimate for the perfect vineyards. Bound in the north by the Serra do Mendro mountain range, which creates a natural frontier between the Upper Alentejo and the Lower Alentejo regions, the average annual rainfall here is higher and temperatures more moderate, despite its southerly location. The schist soil too offers perfect conditions and adds mineral notes to the wine. 

The Antao Vaz grape thrives in Vidigueira's hot and dry climate yet maintains a surprisingly high level of acidity. The berries are loosely clustered and thick-skinned, giving them good disease resistance, and even in drought-like conditions remain productive and evenly ripened. Antao Vaz is also versatile and how the grapes are harvested determines the type of wine produced. If the berries are picked early, they will be used to produce light, citrusy wines with good acidity, but if left on the vine for longer, they will give a rounder, plumper wine that can be barrel-aged.

Quinta do Paral is located in the Vidigueira sub-region and had a few varietal and blended versions of Antão Vaz at the Wines of Portugal tasting. The estate is composed of 102 hectares of mature vines, olive groves, and cork oaks situated around the village of Vidigueira. Some of the grapevines are over 40 years old including Antao Vaz.  The Quinta do Paral Estate Bottled Branco 2018 is a blend of equal parts Antão Vaz, Verdelho, Vermentino & Viognier fermented in stainless steel; and exudes ripe, tropical fruit flavors with citrus and honey overtones. In contrast, the Quinta do Paral Vinhas Velhas Branco 2018 is richer where the 70% Antão Vaz and 30% Perrum are fermented in French oak followed by extended aging on lees. This is an excellent Burgundian-styled wine and made using 50+-year-old grapevines. 

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Assisi DOC Grechetto

Umbria, in central Italy, is a region of lush rolling hills, hilltop villages and iconic, historic towns. The latter are exemplified by Orvieto and Assisi. At the very heart of the Italian Peninsula, it is surrounded by Tuscany, Marche and Lazio. It is in fact the only Italian region without a coastline or international border. -- wine-searcher.com

The Assisi DOC is a sub-region within the larger Umbria wine region that was officially granted in 1997. The vineyards must be planted at a minimum elevation of 180 m (590 ft) up to a maximum of 750 m (2,460 ft). The soils are primarily medium-textured calcareous soils, poor in organic matter, but rich in skeleton and mineral salts derived from the dissolving calcareous rock from Mount Subasio. This provides particular saline components to Assisi wine - even to red wines which are slightly more numerous than white wines. Assisi Rosato must comprise 50–70% Sangiovese; 10–30% Merlot; and a maximum of 40% other authorized red grapes. These OARGs include Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir), which along with Merlot, can be labeled as varietal wines (at least 85% of the grape variety).  

White wines are dominated by Trebbiano and Grechetto with the former the dominant grape in Bianco wines and the latter able to be labeled as a varietal wine. Grechetto on its own is either a synonym for  Grechetto di Orvieto or Grechetto di Todi - each genetically unique and each autochthonous grapes from their respective territories.  In Assisi, Grechetto normally refers to Grechetto di Orvieto but there are some situations where both grape varieties are planted close together and vinified together. According to wine-searcher.com, "wines from Grechetto di Orvieto alone tend to be light-bodied and high in acidity. The Grechetto di Todi variety is generally considered superior."

The Tili Vini Family Organic Winery is located on the slopes of Mount Subasio and the family has been growing grapes and olives on the same land since the 13th century.  They were also the leading force in petitioning for the creation of the Assisi DOC in the mid-1990s.  They produce many different Assisi DOC wines but one of our favorites is the Assisi DOC Grechetto. This wine is delicious, full-bodied, stone fruit and pineapple with traces of saline and plenty of vibrant acidity.