Monday, April 4, 2022

A Southern Brewery Tour

For spring break we are heading on a multi-state tour of colleges and for my benefit, breweries and maybe distilleries. These types of trips make managing theCompass Craft Beverage Finder worthwhile as we can search for craft beverage establishments in each city we pass through.  I'll be updating this post as we visit more breweries. Cheers.

Great Oak Brewing - Southern Craft BBQ (Bristol, Virginia)
Apparently, we missed a great spot during last year's Bristol Rhythm & Roots as Great Oak Brewery and Southern Craft BBQ opened at the tail end of State Street. The BBQ was excellent - try the burnt ends tacos or half chicken. The two beers I tried were as good. The Tennessee Uncommon Ale has a mash bill that includes corn and was more flavorful than expected. The Twin Eddies Coffee Porter was a surprisingly good pairing with the burnt ends. Can't wait to return for the 2022 music festival.

Balter Beerworks (Knoxville, Tennessee)
Another brewery with a tremendous kitchen (blackened Mahi wrap), Balter is located in downtown Knoxville and provides a full bar in addition to a dozen craft beers. I went with a flight that included the Good Neighbor Kolsch, Maypop American Pale Ale, Firebelly IPA, and Bear Blend Coffee Oatmeal Porter.  These are solid beers, interestingly the Maypop was more intense than the Firebelly. The Good Neighbor was well made - refreshing with a little breadiness - and worthy of a crowler to the hotel room.

Back Forty at Sloss Docks (Birmingham, Alabama)
On Friday nights it looks like half of Birmingham descends to the Sloss Docls to hang out at Back Forty Beer Company. Full kitchen, plenty of seating and outdoor space, wine, and lots of beer choices. I tried two Pale Ales side by side, the Naked Pig Pale Ale and the Barrel Smash American Pale Ale. Both are full of flavor with the Naked Pig a bit easier on the palate. We also had a glass or two of the Bama Mosa Brut Ale which is a tasty light ale fermented using champaign yeast and augmented with orange juice. A fan favorite for one in our party. Finally, we brought home a 4-pk of the Slur Bight Fruited Sour. Fermented with oranges and aged in vanilla it is soft with definite tropical flavors.

Southern Prohibition Brewery (Hattiesburg, MS)
Unfortunately, our timing was not optimal for stopping in Hattiesburg as the brewery's tasting room is closed for renovations. However, I was able to try two of their beers at the Crescent City Grill while getting our first exposure to cajun cooking. The Suzy B is an unfiltered Blonde Ale packing plenty of flavors and a lasting finish. The Devil's Harvest is a Breakfast IPA weighing in at a mere 4.9% and carrying some oats in the mash bill. No need for high alcohol with this much flavor. Excellent.

Tin Roof Brewing Co (Baton Rouge, Louisana)
This brewery is the closest to LSU and I was able to try their Paloma Gose which lead me to visit the next day.  Their Voodoo juicy pale ale is their most popular but I was more overwhelmed by their experimental beers like the King Cake Cream Ale brewed with malt, corn, rice, and two locally commissioned king cakes! The Parade Ground Porter was brewed with plenty of coffee beans and dozens of donuts. Each is delicious but don't overlook the Doubtfire Banana Coconut Cream Berliner Weisse. This is far beyond the traditional sea salt and coriander. Loads of flavors. 

Parish Brewing Company (Broussard, Louisana)
Broussard is located about five miles south of Lafayette so it's a quick trip to Parish Brewing from the Hub City. It's also apparent that berliner weisse and coffee stouts and porters are popular beer styles in the south as Parish provides several. The Greetings from Holly Beach is a tiki-styled Berliner Weisse with pineapple, mango, passionfruit, coconut cream, and toasted coconut. Fantastic. The Sips Pinot Noir Black Currant is dry, but juicy with dark fruit and a lasting finish. The Parliament of Owls is a powerful Espresso Blend Imperial Stout with graham crackers, chocolate, and toasted marshmallow. At 13% this packs a wallop of flavors and alcohol. On the lighter side, the Parish Pilsner and Canebrake Wheat ale are solid. 

Natchez Brewing Co (Natchez, Mississippi)
This brewery is located in perhaps the oldest city in Mississippi with scenic views of the mighty river and plenty of historic homes and museums. The city also doesn't have an open container law so a nice way to spend an afternoon is to grab a crowler from the brewery and sit along the river at Natchez Under the Hill.  I purchased two of these for destinations later in the trip. The first was the German Pilsner Frölich which is spot on stylistically with a refreshing, bready profile. The second was the Southern Grace Berliner Weisse keeping the traditional profile with very creamy sea salt and a slightly sour finish. 

Ghost River Brewing Co. (Memphis Tennessee)
The brewery has two locations in Memphis, their original location on South Main and on historic Beale Street.  This last location was within a short walk from our hotel so we had a quick visit before the Redbirds baseball game. This location also has a large backyard patio where a band was setting up that couldn't get started before we finished our flight. This was a random flight generated by a pourer and started with a delightful Grindhouse Cream Ale.  The flight also included the Dom’s Barrel-Aged Red Ale which spent six months in Old Dominick whiskey barrels. Definitely taste the whiskey.  It ended with the Rocket 88 Stout which is a solid roasted malty beer. Finally, the brewery's flagship beer, the Ghost River Gold, is available throughout the city - like at the Lookout Restaurant at the Bass Pro Shop Pyramid. 

TailGate Brewery (Nashville, Tennessee)
This brewery has three Nashville tasting rooms with one in Music Row, just up the street from the original Tin Roof.  Witness the long tasting board showing over 40 beers, seltzers, and ciders. Over a Lent pizza and Calabrese fries, I drank a flight of four well-made beers which consisted of the Solar Eclipse Hazy Pale Ale, Cranberry Gose, Tennessee Lager, and Peanut Butter Milk Stout. I appreciate the opportunity to taste locally inspired beers like the Tennessee Common Lager which includes some corn in the mash bill. I also had a pour of their house-made hard cider - delicious apple flavors with tartness and acidity. With this expansive beer menu, I hope to return before we leave Nashville to taste so many styles in my wheelhouse: Lager Projekt: German Pilsner; SHNACK Sour SeriesBarrel Project: Coffee, Coconut, HazelnutMixed Culture StoutTrees: Hop in Smoke, and so much more. 

Miscellaneous Beers

Great Raft Brewing Reasonably Corrupt Dark Lager - Shreveport, Lousiana
Flying Tiger Brewery Burma Blonde Lager - Monroe, Lousiana
Yellowhammer Brewery Sunliner Fruited Sour - Huntsville, Alabama
Wiseacre Brewery Tiny Bomb American Pilsner - Memphis, Tennessee
Crosstown Brewing Siren Blonde Ale - Memphis, Tennessee
Little Harpeth Chicken Scratch Pilsner - Nashville, Tennessee
Yazoo Brewing Hopry Hazy IPA - Madison, Tennessee
New Heights Brewing Coffee & Cream - Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville Brewing Company Nashville Lager - Nashville, Tennessee

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Grape Spotlight: Wairau Valley Sauvignon Blanc with Wairau River Wines

New Zealand's Wairau Valley wine zone provides an extended growing season where the warm days and cool nights allow grapes to develop boisterous acidity balanced with noticeable fruit.  The valley is located in the larger Marlborough region in the northeast section of the South Island and follows the Wairau River from the Spenser Mountains in the west to the Pacific at Cloudy Bay. The Richmond Mountains in the north separate it from the sunny region of Nelson, and the Wither Hills in the south protect the valley from harsh weather systems from the south-east. 

Wairau Valley has a warm, dry climate that is moderated during the growing season by sea breezes from Cloudy Bay. Hot sunshine during the day and cold ocean winds at night extend the ripening period in the grapes, leading to a balance of fruit complexity and acidity. This diurnal temperature variation is essential to the terroir in the Wairau Valley – without it, much of the classic punchiness of the wines made here would be lost. (

Sauvignon Blanc accounts for over three-quarters of New Zealand's wine exports which focus on the fresher styles -- fermenting and storing in stainless steel to retain the grape's naturally high acidity. has an interesting note that "the original plant material for much of the Sauvignon Blanc planted in Marlborough in the 1980s, 90s and today traces its way via Australia and the University of California, Davis. This latter institution sourced their rootstock from Wente Vineyards (the cuttings were taken by the legendary grape breeder, Dr. Harold Olmo, in 1958) who got theirs from a vineyard established in the late 19th Centruy with cuttings from the Sauternes estate, Château d'Yquem".

Wairau River Wines is a Wairau Valley producer located on the eastern side of the valley within the most prolific wine-growing area where the Wairau River meets the Pacific Ocean. The winery was founded in 1978 when Phil and Chris Rose planted their first vineyard. After a decade of contract growing, they established the Wairau River Wines brand in 1991 and currently release ten varietal wines including New Zealand's signature Sauvignon Blanc. Their sons Hamish (viticulturist), Sam (winemaker), Pip (hospitality), and Rose (chef) have assumed the major responsibilities showing that the Rose family implemented a succession plan that is sadly missing for so many family operations. 

I received their Wairau River Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2021 ($20.99) in conjunction with a #BackToNature campaign highlighting the confluence of quality wine and heading outdoors.  With the industry-wide adoption of screwcaps, New Zealand wines are at the forefront of enjoying these wines outdoors.  The Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc is an excellent choice for both indoor and outdoor consumption. The wine starts with tangly grapefruit on the nose that leads to a textured body of stone fruits and finishes with a long, dry, and refreshingly acidic tail.  For a family that likes to hike and fish the wine pairs nicely with freshly caught trout cooked using the Wairau River Solos Stove.  Cheers. 

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Grape Spotlight: Mosel's Leiwen & Weingut Nikolaus Köwerich Riesling

The previous Grape Spotlight focused on Mosel's Bernkastel district and specifically the Bernkasteler Doktor vineyard.  In this post, the focus remains on Bernkastel but specifically on Riesling grown in the Leiwen sub-region. The town of Leiwen is located on the western side of a hairpin in the Mosel river near Trittenheim and far upstream from Bernkastel. As opposed to the south-southwest exposure of the Bernkasteler Doktor, Leiwen vineyards follow the river and can face east, north, or as in the case of the Leiwener Laurentiuslay vineyard, west-southwest. Vineyards facing east are planted on more gradual slopes, whereas vineyards on the northeast-oriented banks and west-southwest are planted on steep slopes. 

Leiwener Laurentiuslay is the farthest upstream of all the Bereich Bernkastel sites rated as Grosse Lage by the VDP (Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter). "The grey slate soil provides excellent natural water management, balancing good drainage with sufficient water retention for warmer summers. Lizards can be found sunning themselves on the slate in the near-Mediterranean mesoclimate". --

Weingut Nikolaus Köwerich is a German producer utilizing Riesling grown in Leiwener Laurentiuslay and on the similar sunbaked blue devon slate soils of the Köwerich Allemagne vineyard.  Church records show that Nick Köwerich's family has been living in Leiwen since 1548, potentially part of the Riesling Mosel wine tradition that began in 1465.  Both he and his wife Annette are agricultural engineers and apply modern techniques to the traditions Nick learned from his father's vineyard.

Weingut Nikolaus Köwerich Allemagne - Mosel Herr Mosel Köwericher Laurentiuslay - 2020 Riesling
If you seek a dry, minerally driven Riesling, then look no further. Expect bright lemons, racy minerals, a hint of tannins, and a long dry finish.

Weingut Nikolaus Köwerich Allemagne - Mosel Fräulein Mosel Leiwener Laurentiuslay - 2016 Riesling
On the other hand, if you prefer a sweeter, more full-bodied Riesling with similar salinity then Miss Mosel is your wine. There are a plethora of fruit flavors from citrus to stone fruits to green apples -- all combined in a creamy body -- and balanced with sufficient acidity. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Grape Spotlight: Mosel's Bernkasteler Doktor & Weingut Wwe. Dr. H. Thanisch Riesling

Viticulture started in the Mosel in the 2nd century when Romans planted vines on the steep slopes bordering the Mosel River. These slopes can reach 68-75 degrees and adds to the picturous charm of this wine region.  As the river meanders from its confluence with the Rhine River to Germany's border with Luxembourg and France, it passes through famous wine villages along the valley such as Brauneberg, Erden, Graach, Piesport, and Bernkastel. 

Bernkastel is located right on the banks of the Mosel river, between Graach (to the north) and Piesport (to the west). This is the very heart of the Mittelmosel ("middle Mosel") and is arguably Germany's top wine-growing location. The Mosel river forms a hairpin bend here, inside which lies a finger of land dominated by steep, towering, vineyard-lined slopes. -- 

This sub-region shares many characteristics of the larger Mosel region, a long growing season featuring a cool, northern continental climate. Yet there are several factors that facilitate the ripening of grapes. The vineyard slopes optimize the vines' exposure to the sun while simultaneously solar radiation is reflected off the rivers' surface. And the dark slate soil absorbs heat during the day and radiates it back to the vines at night.  The disadvantages of such steep vineyard sites and porous soil are that it requires hand harvesting and in winter, after heavy rain, workers must carry back soil that has run off the vineyards.  

One of Bernkastel's most famous vineyards is Bernkasteler Doktor -- a small (3.25 acre / 1.8ha) plot that directly borders the village of Bernkastel. The Riesling vines are planted on a south-southwest exposure and a steepness between 60 and 70 percent -- providing ideal conditions for all-day sunshine. The vines are also predominantly ungrafted as the grey slate provides protection against phylloxera and average 60 years of age with some over 100 years old.  

Parcels of the Bernkasteler Doktor vineyard have belonged to members of the Thanisch family for more than 200 years and the family has a documented winegrower pedigree since 1654. Today Weingut Wwe. Dr. H. Thanisch is now up to its twelfth generation and is also proud of their female tradition. The name “Wwe. (widow) refers to Katharina Thanisch who was only 30 years old when her husband, Dr. Hugo Thanisch, died. In 1996 Sofia Thanisch became the fourth successive female family to operate the winery and will be succeeded by her daughters, Juliane and Christina. 

The grapes from the Bernkasteler Doktor vineyard are handpicked, slightly squeezed, and then left for 14 hours to macerate before being gently pressed. The wine is then naturally fermented without any addition of cultured yeast or enzymes for a period of four to five months. After fermentation, the wine matures for several more months on the lees in order to gain more stability and complexity. A recent Hopwine salon provided me an opportunity to sample two of their Bernkasteler Doktor wines along with another Bernkastel Riesling.  

Weingut Witwe Dr. H. Thanisch, Erben Müller-Burggraef Allemagne - Mosel Berncasteler Doctor 2020 Riesling
Lots of senses in play here. Petrol, herbaceous, spicy, stone fruit, minerals, and lively acidity.  

Weingut Witwe Dr. H. Thanisch, Erben Müller-Burggraef Allemagne - Mosel Berncasteler Doctor 2020 Riesling Grosses Gewächs (GG)
A beautiful wine, full-bodied and complex with citrus and ripe apples finishing with refreshing acidity. 

Weingut Witwe Dr. H. Thanisch, Erben Müller-Burggraef Allemagne - Mosel Bernkasteler Riesling Kabinett 2020 Riesling Bernkasteler Kabinett
The non-Doctor but still excellent with creamy citrus and stone fruit, racy minerality,  and lively acidity. 

Thursday, March 17, 2022

CiderCon 2022 Sessions - Designed for Professionals, Beneficial for Consumers

Although CiderCon 2022 was a conference devoted primarily to cider professionals and members of the American Cider Association, there were plenty of seminars that benefited a layperson like me.  I attended four of these seminars that were at times very complimentary. In the future, the organizers may want to schedule the seminars on a goal-based path so that each builds upon previous sessions. 

400 Years of American Alcohol: Cider, History, Cocktails and More
This session was hosted by mixologist Tiffanie Barriere and over two cocktails using Potter's Craft Cider, she highlighted the history of cider - particularly through the eyes of Black historical figures. These figures included James Madison Ruffin -- an emancipated slave who managed many agricultural projects before and after the Civil War, including the planting and maintenance of Appomattox Plantation’s apple orchards and its cider fruit.  She told the story of Antoine Amedee Peychaud, who "came to New Orleans from the island of San Domingo, the former French colony that is now Haiti. By 1832 he owned an apothecary in the French Quarter where he made his famous bitters ... which was the essential ingredient in the official Sazerac cocktail. Among many bartender guides, Barriere introduced us to Tom Bullock, the famed bartender at the St. Louis Country Club and author of the 1917 bestseller The Ideal Bartender.  According to George Herbert Walker, a club member and both the grandfather and great-grandfather of a chief executive, "I doubt if he has erred in even one of his concoctions."  

Introductory Palate Training
This session was hosted by Darlene Hayes who also oversees the American Cider Association's Certified Cider Professional program. This was a foundational seminar on participants can familiarize themselves and train their palates to individual structural elements within cider.  We sampled a control cider in terms of that cider with different levels of sugar, acids, and tannins.  Worth repeating often. 

A Cider Among the Faults
Nicole Leibon hosted this session on determining which cider was the innocent control cider and which were fatally flawed. The panelists discussed several faults such as Volatile Acidity from Acetic acid (vinegar) and emphasis on Ethyl acetate (nail polish), Diacetyl (overly buttered), and Acetaldehyde (stale bread). 

Top of the Mitten: High Latitude Ciders from Northern Michigan 
Another session hosted by Nicole Leibon and where we finally started tasting retail ciders by exploring Michigan's 45th parallel.  Through two ciders each from Tandem Ciders, Left Foot Charley, and Presque Isle Farm. The beauty of this session is that these producers source the same apple varieties from the same orchards and use different fermenting methods to produce completely different ciders. Some are produced using controlled fermentation whereas others by wild ferments with some creamy and round and others funky and chewy.

Wild, Clean & Free: Harnessing the Beauty of Wild-Fermenting, Without the Flaws
This session hosted by Christine Walter of Bauman's Cider would build upon the previous by continuing the tasting of wild-fermented sparkling cider and Pet-nats.  We started with the delicious Kossah Wild Fermented from Raw Cider, followed by the 2017 Roxbury Russet Pet-nat from Artifact Cider, and finishing with the Sponti 2020 from Sundstrom Cider.  This last is fantastic, a wild fermented cider, aged on lees, and bottled unfiltered. Sparkling apple funk. 

Saturday, March 12, 2022

A Cognac Refresher with Pierre Vallet

The latest Hopwine fair provided a great opportunity to refresh my knowledge of Cognac in terms of geographic location (80 miles or so north of Bordeaux) grapes, crus, and terrior through samples from Pierre Vallet. This is a brand of Famillie Vallet, a six-generation estate founded in 1837 through their primary estate Château Montifaud.  The family farms over 125 hectares in two of the six crus of the cognac area: in Grande and Petite Champagne. The soils in these centrally located regions contain a large proportion of limestone, a soil type favored by the predominate grape variety Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano).  The wine made from Ugni Blanc is characterized by high acidity and low alcohol which has encouraged distillation. This generally occurs twice in copper pot stills with aging protocols using Limousin or Tronçais oak barrels.  Before bottling, the spirit is cut to 40% abv.

The production capability of Chateau Montifaud is controlled by the output of this estate, the Pierre Vallet brand augments their supply of Ugni Blanc from vineyards in the other four Cognac crus: Borderies, Fin Bois, Bon Bois, and Bois Ordinaires. The soils in these crus are similar to the two Champagne crus just a little less chalkiness.  

Cognac regulations define four categories that reflect the time each has spent in the barrel. VS (Very Special) cognacs must contain brandy no younger than two years old; VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) must be at least four years old; XO (Extra Old) must be at least 10 years old; and the newest category, XXO must be at least 14 years old.

During a virtual session tasting through the Pierre Vallet samples, I learned that the two Famillie Vallet brands have unique methods of implementing the Cognac regulations that may date to Pierre Vallet himself -- the son of founder Augustin.  Wine intended for the older Cognacs is distilled with lees providing additional body to the spirit. Younger Cognac is expected to be fresher so the wine for these categories is double-distilled without lees. In either case, the spirit weighs in at 70% and is cut with water between 64 and 68% depending on the cognac's target age. They have learned that cutting too fast introduces a soapy taste so between 60% to 41.5% of the spirit is cut 5% on a designated schedule - three months for younger, 12 months for older. Once reaching 41.5% abv, water that has been aged in barrels is added drop by drop until 40% is reached. This provides a deeper color.

Pierre Vallet Cognac VS
The youngest spirit is three years instead of the mandated two and this is an extremely fresh, floral, and fruity cognac - characterized by a noticeable body.  The local favorite is VS, tonic, and lime. 

Pierre Vallet Cognac VSOP
The youngest spirit is between six and eight years instead of the mandated four, aged in new French casks, and the 5% reduction every three months. Still floral with pear and cinnamon starting to stand out from this more complex cognac. Moving into the sipping cognac territory. 

Pierre Vallet Cognac XO
The youngest spirit is 20 years instead of the mandated 10 years. Dried fruits on the nose followed by an intensity and explosion of flavors. Dry spices like cinnamon and cloves lead to a long finish. This cognac has been aged in mature barrels with a 5% reduction every six months.

Pierre Vallet Cognac XXO
The youngest spirit is 30 years instead of the mandated 14 years and was aged in mature barrels with the 5% reduction every 12 months. Aromas of vanilla and licorice with prune and other dried fruits on the palate. Think of finesse throughout the extended finish. 

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Grape Spotlight: Brachetto DOC Rosé Spumante

Brachetto is a black-skinned Italian wine grape grown in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy. The grape specifically is suited for the soils in Monferrato, in the Province of Asti, noted for their limestone, calcareous clay, and marine minerals.  Brachetto is regulated both by the Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG (established in 1996) and the Brachetto DOC (established in 1969) where it is made in sweeter styles usually frizzante or spumante. Brachetto wines are light-bodied and very low-alcohol (typically around 5 percent), yet these wines are also highly aromatic and flavorful.  In addition, these wines have a deep ruby red color, produced by macerating the must with the grape skins for approximately two days, during which time the characteristic ruby pigment leaches out.  The spumante style is then created using the Martinotti method (Charmat method) in which the brief secondary fermentation takes place in large vats, preserving all the natural aromas. 

We recently received a sample of the Acquesi Brachetto DOC ($17.99) which is imported into the United States by Mack & Schuhle and produced by the Cuvage winery in Acqui Terme. The winery was founded in 2011 as a sparkling wine house specializing in the traditional method (Metodo Classico) and Charmat method (Metodo Martinotti) using native varieties like Nebbiolo, Moscato, and Brachetto. Cuvage sources grapes from vineyards that are located on a hilly ridge that travels from Acqui terme to Nizza Monferrato and are located at an altitude between 250 and 350 meters above sea level. The majority of the soils are characterized by light limestone marl while a minority has a strong sandy component. According to the winery, "the different microclimates affected by this selection of musts offer a complete photograph of Brachetto".

The Acquesi Brachetto DOC is a spumante produced using Metodo Martinotti and weighs in at only 6.5% alcohol. Despite that, this wine explodes with flavor -- raspberries in both the aroma and palate. The acidity dampens the sweetness and the entire character begs for funky aged cheeses. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Grape Spotlight: IGP Méditérranée Cellier des Princes Herose Rosé

IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée), is a quality category of French wine, positioned between Vin de France and Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC). The category superceded Vin de Pays in 2009.  --

IGP Méditérranée is an IGP title that covers wine produced in a large swath of the southeast coast of France. It incorporates all of Provence, parts of the Rhône Valley such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and even the island of Corsica. This designation provides an alternative geographical indicator without the stringent winemaking requirements and grape variety selections imposed by the area’s multiple AOC laws. 

Because of this large area, the terroir varies but is "broadly characterized by both the very southern edges of the Alps, and the warm, dry Mediterranean climate. Most vineyards can be found in the hills and valleys of the Alpine foothills as the higher altitude provides an excellent ripening situation with plentiful sunlight and cold nights. The Mistral wind from the north and sea breezes from the south often collide in spring and autumn, creating periods of heavy rainfall providing ample hydration for the vines throughout the growing season." (

As for wine styles, IGP Méditérranée is predominately rosé, made in the typical Provençal style using. Grenache, Syrah, Carignan and Cinsaut. One such producer of this rosé is Cellier des Princes, the only cooperative winery in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This winery was founded in 1925 and consists of 150 cooperative winegrowers located in the southern Rhône Valley. According to the winery, "they cover 580 hectares of vineyards on the exceptional terroirs of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the surrounding communes (Sarrians, Courthézon, Orange...). The cultivation methods are inspired by those of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, so most of the Côtes du Rhône are hand-picked for optimal quality".

This week I received a sample bottle of their À l'Ombre des Parasols Hérosé - 2021 a blend of 70% Grenache, 15% Syrah and 15% Cinsault. The grapes for this "In the Shade of Parasols" were grown on mostly clay and siliceous soils and lightly pressed and fermented at low temperatures in stainless steel. Before bottling, the wine was aged an additional three months in stainless.

The wine exudes perfume - a vibrant floral and citrus character that masks the strawberry and raspberries that come through on the palate.  The dry character is excited by the bright acidity which carries the light flavors on a long journey.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

A Popup New York Cider Tasting at Cidercon 2022

One unexpected and memorable event at CiderCon 2022 was a popup cider tasting organized by the New York Cider Association.  This consisted of a handful of Empire State cider makers, mostly from the Hudson River Valley, pouring multiple ciders to attendees. This tasting not only showed off the array of different apple varieties favored in New York, but also a range of styles.  

I started with a familiar sight: Graft Cider and Pennings Farm Cidery pouring at the same station. Although Graft has not opened a tasting room, their Flagship ciders are widely available in the mid-Atlantic -> try their  Farm Flor Rustic Table Cider.  I've visited Pennings in the past, but until this tasting, didn't appreciate their single varietal ciders as I've always brought home their light & dry Simple Cider. I really enjoyed the English Yarlington Mill with its astringency and tart flavor. Two more English apples were the Cox's Orange Pippin -- which bursts with various flavors -- and the tart Harry Masters Jersey. Can't wait to return to Warwick, NY. 

Abandoned Hard Cider, from Woodstock, poured the most interesting ciders, some made from a single tree. They also bottle and can cider made from foraged apples. The bottled 2020 Foragers Reserve was fermented naturally and carries a fresh yet farmhouse feel, whereas the canned The Forager is finished in a barrel to promote a rounder structure. Abandoned also cans a Barrel-Aged cider that provides even more vanilla and spices to the fresh cider. 

For true farmhouse ciders, search for those produced by Elizabeth Ryan at Hudson Valley Farmhouse Cider.  The apples are grown from two Hudson Valley orchards and made using "classic European cider making techniques". This includes natural fermentation, unfiltered, and sometimes naturally effervescent.  Expect plenty of complexity and a pleasant funk in these ciders. 

Clarksburg Cider is located just outside of Buffalo and releases a plethora of ciders. Their Dry Hard Cider is very solid but I had a special affinity to their Savory Citrus which is made with a twist of lemon and a touch of sea salt.  A Gose cider. In addition, their Bourbon Barrel Cider is delicious where the bourbon notes do not overwhelm the apple flavors. 

Another non-Hudon River Valley cider producer was Lindner’s Cider located just east of Binghamton in Delaware County. They poured their 2021 Highlands made from Newtown Pippin, Winesap, and Gold Rush apples. This is a refreshing cider, slightly effervescent with some oak-induced notes and roundness from barrel finishing. 

The final, yet perhaps most interesting portfolio, was presented by Angry Orchard Hard Cider. The first was the single varietal Potter's Perfection - a medium bittersharp English apple. This was far from the semi-sweet ciders which Angry Orchard is known for and provides savory, tannic, and sharp acidic elements to the cider. They also produce a "manufactured" Ice Cider ($36) where the juice is left outside to freeze. This concentrated juice is then fermented producing a delicious dessert cider. Finally, Angry Orchard created a Pommeau (Pommeau of Walden - $48) where they blended eau de vie spirit with traditional French bittersweet apples and then aged three years in French oak. Fantastic.  I need to plan a trip to their Walden tasting room to purchase each one of these. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Richmond Cider Roundup During CiderCon 2022

CiderCon 2022 provided Richmond cideries a tremendous platform to showcase their ciders during several after-hour events. Augmenting the River City's vibrant craft beer scene are three cideries, Buskey Cider and Blue Bee Cider (located in the popular Scotts Addition neighborhood) and Bryant's Small Batch Cider -- situated just south of the State Capitol.  A few weeks ago I was able to visit Bryant's primary orchard tasting room in Nelson County and gained an appreciation of that operation. However, the first night of the conference was my first visit to both Scotts Addition cideries. 

Buskey Cider

Buskey seemed to be the center of attention at CiderCon hosting tasting events on consecutive nights. They started by pouring cider from almost a dozen other Virginia cideries including Albemarle CiderWorks and Old Town Cider.  This Winchester cidery's dry Albemarle Pippin cider is excellent and its sharp dry finish was very similar to Buskey's dry cider.  Both are very worthy everyday refreshing ciders.  CiderCon also allowed me to meet a few orchard growers who tutored me on the intricacies of the Black Twig apple which led to a more interesting tasting.

On the second night, I participated in a seminar presenting Buskey's barrel program.  This session consisted of a sampling of five barrel-finished ciders, all but one currently bottled. These ciders all started from Nelson County apples which were fermented dry then placed in different barrels they purchased through a broker. One of these was a Gin barrel and this imparts several botanicals into the cider's aroma leaving citrus and some coconut on the finish. The Brandy barrel overwhelmed the cider with too much apple fruit and was the least favorite. The Mezcal barrel imparted an abundant amount of smokiness, but in an enjoyable amount, which elevated this as one of my favorites. The Sherry was also appreciated because of the nuts and dried fig and raisin flavors that the cider absorbed. Finally, we were served their Scotch cider, straight from the holding tank and peat was everywhere.  This was a fascinating tasting both from the ciders and the opportunity to talk to the Buskey personnel and other attending cider makers. 

Blue Bee Cider
After apprenticing at Albemarle CiderWorks, Courtney Mailey headed to the city to open her own cider operation and plant an urban orchard. From that orchard and another in Nelson County, she creates some of the most delicious ciders in the Commonwealth.  Many of these are single varietal ciders that you can sample through a Manchester flight. This penta-flight starts with the Harrison, a colonial-era cider apple from the northeast where the full-body, tannic, and abundant acids match the tasting sheet.  The Hewe's Crab follows and this was the most common fruit variety grown in eighteenth-century Virginia. It is thought to be a cross between the native American crabapple, Malus angustifolia, and a domesticated European apple. The funkiest of the group was the Spitzenburg, discovered in the late 1700s by an early Dutch settler of that name. It was found at the settlement of Esopus, on the Hudson River, in Ulster County, New York.  Lots of sweet and tart flavors but also some funk. The English Dabinett cider apple was the most interesting of these single varietals. The aroma is pure apple, like biting a kid's packaged lunch apples.  However, the flavor is bittersweet and tart. The final cider was the Golden Russet, a cider apple that arose in upstate New York in the 19th century, possibly derived from an English russet variety.  This cider showed a nice balance between tannins and acidity.

On a return trip, I had a glass of their Aragon 1904 which is one of Blue Bee's original ciders. This off-dry cider is made from a blend of modern and heirloom apples and is full of flavor, slightly tart - nice acids.

Bryant's Small Batch Cider
As much as I love Bryants'Brite Good dry brut cider, I used this visit to taste some of their flavored ciders.  For the conference, they made sure they had on tap a Banana Bread cider that tasted as advertised.  Not over the top, but noticeable walnuts and banana. I also went with a Coffee Chai cider for a little caffeine boost. The tea strongly presented itself and adversely overwhelmed the coffee.  I definitely preferred the version I sampled at their Nelson County barn. The Richmond taproom has another difference from the barn. With the paintings and other art, you feel like you are tasting in a Victorian parlor as opposed to a 1900s barn. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Loudoun History along the W&OD Railbed & The Barns at Hamilton Station Vineyards

Soon the weather will allow for longer bike rides along Virginia's W&OD Railbed and that means trips to its terminus at Purcellville.  A few miles away at Mile Marker 41, and at the intersection with Hamilton Station Road, is a historical marker designating the old Hamilton Station Train Depot. It reads: 

One of the oldest on the line, Hamilton's train station dates from 1870. It was not in the original plan. When the Alexandria, Loudoun & Hampshire Railway (later the Washington & Old Dominion) was established in the 1840s, its owners intended to head the tracks westward along present Route 9 (Charles Town Pike), across the Blue Ridge at Keyes Gap, and on to the Ohio Valley coal country.

The railroad reached Leesburg by 1860. Construction and operations ceased during the Civil War. By the time the railroad was up and running again, ownership had changed and so had the destination. The new route through western Loudoun County was slightly to the south of the original one, heading toward Snicker's Gap and sparking the growth of towns including Hamilton, Purcellville, Round Hill, and Bluemont. Unlike the other towns, however, Hamilton grew up along the automobile turnpike (Route 7) rather than along the railroad.
Historically, Loudoun County was part of the Fairfax Proprietary which King Charles II granted to seven noblemen in 1649. During the 1720s and 30s, Quakers settled in the area and formed the settlements which eventually became known as Waterford and Hamilton (Harmony).  Soon thereafter this region was incorporated into a new designated Fairfax County and in 1757 the Virginia House of Burgesses divided Fairfax County with the western portion named Loudoun. This name was based on John Campbell, the fourth earl of Loudoun, a Scottish nobleman who served as commander-in-chief for all British armed forces in North America and governor of Virginia from 1756 to 1759. 

The Hamilton Station depot served the town of Hamilton which was originally called Harmony in the late 1700s based on an estate built by Richard Tavenner his wife Ann Hatcher.  At the turn of the century, the town became known as Hamilton Store because of a store opened by Charles Bennett Hamilton. The population increased due to the Leesburg and Snickers Gap Turnpike and in 1835, the town's name was shortened and codified when John Quincy Adams approved a post office located in Hamilton's store and the town's name was recorded as Hamilton.  

After the Civil War, a steam railroad from Alexandria passed near Hamilton along the future route of the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad. Fleeing the summer humidity, tourists filtered into the town, and a 1+1⁄2-mile boardwalk was built to accommodate the new foot traffic. By 1900, the Town of Hamilton was Loudoun County's second-largest town. However, this growth was short-lived as the rise of the automobile slowed tourism traffic and a fire in 1926 consumed most of the town's central businesses. Today, Hamilton is known as a residential community.

In 1910, just before the automobile swept aside the Old Dominion Railroad, a dairy barn was built that a century later would house the tasting room for The Barns at Hamilton Station Vineyards.  This winery was founded by the Fialdini family and two of their most enlightened decisions were to restore the dairy barn and to hire acclaimed Michael Shaps as the winemaker.  Their wines are made from grapes grown on their small estate as well as other mature Virginia vineyards such as Carter's Mountain and Mount Juliet Vineyards. Here's the review of my visit posted on Instagram

I'm embarrassed to confess that yesterday was my first visit to The Barns at Hamilton Station Vineyards. The wines were what you would expect from Michael Shaps with the 2019 Cascina ($26) -- Seyval Blanc, Traminette, & Petit Manseng -- the table's favorite. I was also impressed with their 2018 Cabernet Franc ($24) and Petit Verdot ($28) for not only salvaging the rain-soaked grapes but producing very drinkable wines with them. The 1910 era barn is very cozy during the winter months and Ryan Jewel Music has a great country voice beyond his years. We look forward to returning in the spring to lounge on their patio and enjoy more wine and the surrounding views.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

CiderCon 2022 – Interview with Keynote Speaker Diane Flynt

CiderCon 2022
, the annual trade conference of the American Cider Association will be held in Richmond, Virginia from February 1-4, with excursions scheduled for two days prior. I published a preview and interview with Keynote Speaker Diane Flynt at BevFluence, but thought our readers would be interested in some of her comments on the industry since closing Foggy Ridge Cider (click the link above for the entire interview).  And privately we reminisced about our long-ago video with The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band.  

During the conference, I plan on attending these sessions: Top of the Mitten: High Latitude Ciders from Northern MichiganA Cider Among the Faults; and 400 Years of American Alcohol: Cider, History, Cocktails and More. I will also spend most of the after-hours at Bryant's Cider.  Let me know on social media if you plan on attending and we will share a pint of cider. Cheers. 

What have you been doing since the last release of Foggy Ridge ciders? 
Since releasing Foggy Ridge Cider’s Final Call blend in 2018, we have sold our apples to cidermakers in Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. In early 2020 I signed a contract with the University of North Carolina Press to write a general trade book on the history of apples in the South. This book focuses on the stories and history behind the South’s almost 2,000 apple varieties. Through research at University Special Collections, the National Agricultural Library, and interviews with multi-generation apple growers I’ve learned surprising stories about southern apples. The book should be published in 2023. 

What can content creators do better or more in helping to promote the cider industry?
Many in the cider world are proud to say we are a “big tent” industry, and that there is a place for every price point, every method of production, and every quality level for ingredients…from apple juice concentrate to estate-grown cider apples. While this view has merits, it also flattens the discussion. I’d like to see content creators dig deeper into the ingredients and production methods of top-quality cider. Content creators are smart people, “thinking drinkers” if you will, and you should be able to see what is a “marketing message” from producers and what is an authentic practice or value that is carried out in cider-making every day. I see too much content that seems generated by a PR engine for a cider company large enough to hire a PR engine. 

Monday, January 17, 2022

Nelson County Route 151: Bryant’s Cidery & Brewery

This Saturday I had an engaging visit to Bryant’s Cidery & Brewery where founder Jerry Thornton was managing the taproom. Over a couple of flights of cider and beer, he provided an overview of his operation and the significant history of the Century Farm property.  In 1865, Maj Waller Massie Boyd returned from the Civil War and was given a tract of land by his father that included an overseer’s log cabin.  Boyd established an orchard called Edgewood which has remained in the same family through six generations for these 155+ years establishing the Century Farm designation. Thornton recalled the reasoning behind the name, "by the early 1900s a granddaughter of Boyd married R.L Bryant whose family farmed nearby. R.L expanded the orchards and built the infrastructure to support the farm".  Historic photos document the family and property's response through aviation in both world wars and to national calamities. 

In establishing the cider house, Thornton refurbished a barn for the tasting room and the overseer’s log cabin for the production facility. The taproom has a very rustic feel with the walls populated with historic photos documenting the family and property's response through aviation in both world wars and to national calamities. He also kept the feeding trough and reclaimed beams and boards & planks from the 1700s.

Bryant's offers a diverse selection of ciders with many infused with fruit or aged in barrel. For the tart sour beer fam in me, I enjoyed the Unicorn Fuel, a brut cider infused with organic rosehips and hibiscus. The Legend (I believe that was the name) was another favorite - a cider infused with coffee and cocoa bits. For the beer, the Roberta's Revenge Stout is solid - far from an Irish stout and more an American stout with chewy malts and dark chocolate on the tail.

However, the cider that immediately captured my attention and proved that Thornton was a serious producer was the brut Brite Good.  This cider is bone dry but packs plenty of tart apple flavor, finishing with refreshing effervescence. I mentioned the possibility of blending with Campari and confirmed the next day that this combination works beautifully.

I'm looking forward to visiting their Richmond taphouse during CiderCon early next month. But for those who are touring Nelson County's Route 151 or staying at Wintergreen, just keep driving south -- over the mountain pass -- to Bryant and the cider house. It's well worth the extra 20 minutes.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Grape Spotlight: Croatian Korčula Grk

Grk is an autochthonous Croatian grape variety that grows exclusively on the south Dalmatian island of Korčula. More specifically it is planted in the sandy and very dry soils around the village of Lumbarda at the easternmost tip of the island. Here, the strip of land between two coastlines is very narrow thus the grapes receive plenty of exposure from sunlight and reflection from the sea.

Grk is also an ancient grape, perhaps older than the vines planted by the Greeks who settled in Lumbarda in the third century BC. They named the island Korkyra Melaina (Black Korkyra) for its dense Mediterranean vegetation.  Interestingly Grk translates to Greek in Croatian but DNA analysis does not match any known Greek grape. In the local dialect, Grk refers to "bitter" which resembles the naming of Negroamaro across the Adriatic in Puglia. Since inhabitants of Korčula were seafarers and travelers (Marco Polo (1254-1324) was purportedly born on Korčula) perhaps the concepts in the naming grapes traveled across the Sea. This happened with actual grapevines for Primitivo as the Croatian Tribidrag was transferred to Italy between 200-300 years ago.

The quest to determine the origins of Zinfandel to Primitivo and to eventually Tribidrag & Crljenak Kastelanski also includes Grk. Dr. Carole Meredith analyzed various DNA fingerprints of vines in search of a match for Zinfandel and this led to Plavac Mali being designated an offspring. In addition, her analysis showed that Grk (along with other local varieties Plavina and Vranac) shared genetic markers with Zinfandel. This helps prove the antiquated nature of these grapes. 

Like two other central European grapes, the Hungarian Kéknyelű and Herzegovinian Blatina, Grk has only the female functional parts of the plant. Thus it is not self-pollinating like the vast majority of grapevines and requires a male pollinator. On Lumbarda, its relative Plavac Mali is the primary pollinator, planted in alternative rows as both varieties blossom at the same time and with hopes that the wind will carry the pollen to the appropriate plants. 

Winemaking on Korčula probably started with the Greek settlers and continued with the Romans but its practices were codified in the Statute of Korčula of 1214.  This is the oldest legal code of the Croats and a subsequent version from 1265 has been preserved to the present day.  It codifies both winemaking practices as well as the trading of wine - specifically the prohibition of imports in large quantities. In contemporary times, winemaking has been modernized particularly from young oenologists such as 30-something Igor Radovanović.

After graduating from high school, Radovanović enrolled at the Faculty of Agriculture in Zagreb, and afterward consulted with several wineries in Smokvica and Čara. This led to working with Testament Winery near Šibenik and Black Island Winery on Korčula and specifically Posip and Grk. On Korčula he created his own small garage winery where he produces several craft wines which are noticeable by their "kružić križić" (circle cross) label. 

One of these wines is the Radovanović Grk 2020 ($39) available in the United States through Croatian Premium Wine Imports and not to be confused with the Serbian winery Radovanovic.  This wine is exceptional and showcases the heavy density and body of Grk wines. It features candied summer fruit, melons, a hint of that Black Korkyra, and surprisingly sufficient acidity. Yes, it stretches the budget but with the small-scale production - well worth the outlay.

Monday, January 3, 2022

Grape Spotlight: Herzegovina Tamjanika (Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains) from Wines of Illyria

Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains is an ancient white wine grape that originated in Greece and spread through southern Europe. In Italy, it is known as Muscat Blanc and the source of sparkling Asti and the semi-sparkling Moscato d’Asti. In France, it is one of that country's most widely planted white grape varieties -- particularly in southern France. And in the Balkins - specifically Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina -- local clones of Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains are called Tamjanika

Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains is named for its small berries and seeds (petits grains) and requires a long growing season as its buds early and ripens relatively late. Because of the small and dense berries, it is susceptible to mildew diseases and requires regular canopy management.  Like other muscat grapes, it produces a very aromatic wine either spicy, floral, and\or fruity.  It's high sugar density and acidity encourage vinification into sparkling and off-dry styles. That being said, in the Balkins, Tamjanika wines are generally drier since the hot Mediterranean climate inhibits the accumulation of sugar and acidity. 

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, Tamjanika is grown in the Mediterranean climate of Herzegovina near Mostar where agriculture is influenced by the Adriatic Sea (about 20 miles distance), several rivers, and the Herzegovinian mountains. The vines are generally planted in sandy loam soils at 150 to 1,000 feet above sea level. 

For this Wines of Illyria Galerija Vukoje Tamjanika 2019 ($21.99), the grapes are sourced from Vukoje Cellars -- located near the town of Trebinje on the banks of the Trebišnjica river. Trebinje is the southernmost city in Herzegovina and only 20 miles or so from Dubrovnik. Vukoje Cellars farms two estates with the Zasad Polje vineyards being the source of the Tamjanika. These vines are planted along the Trebišnjica riverbed with the dry and rugged country nearby. This wine starts with a floral aroma then transitioning to lime, grapefruit, and melon with some depth and finishes with food-friendly acidity.