Archive for the ‘Food & Drink Reviews’ Category

Iron Hill is a chain of  brewpubs in the Delaware valley region. Their beers have medaled at every World Beer Cup since 2002 and at every Great American Beer Festival (GABF) since 1997. At the 2008 GABF, their Roggenbier, Vienna Red Lager, Saison, and Lambic de Hill were awarded gold medals. Their Cherry Dubbel took silver and Cassis de Hill took bronze. At the 2012 World Beer Cup, in addition to their beers earning two gold and a bronze medals, Iron Hill repeated their 2014 honors as the World Beer Cup Champion Brewery and Brewmaster.

While visiting Lancaster, PA we tried their location at 781 Harrisburg Pike twice during the week. This location is adjacent to Franklin & Marshall College with abundant parking and easy access. On each occasion, we were seated quickly and the waitstaff were friendly and attentive.

IronHill

The beer here is really good, and I enjoyed quite a few glasses of their Pumpkin Ale which was well balanced and enjoyable.

The Kabouter Belgian-style tripel is delicious and pleasantly complex with an earthy personality. At ~8% ABV it certainly does not disappoint.

Their Flannel Shirt ESB was not as exciting…it was on nitro with pleasant mouthfeel, but seemed muddled. Not horrible, just not what I expected at all.

The Witberry pleased the ladies in our group and even the snobs said it wasn’t bad – Belgian wheat beer, low ABV, with a hint of raspberry – what’s not to like?

Food-wise, they have modern American fare. We enjoyed the fish tacos, Bavarian pretzels (Not spectacular, but most delicious), and fried goat cheese (very good indeed). The Fried Brussel sprouts were very nicely prepared and flavored with pecorino romano. Very good indeed.

Their hamburgers were particularly tasty. We shared the Big Bold, Brewski, and Santa Fe burgers. All were distinctively good, and my favorite was the Brewski with Swiss Cheese.

My girlfriend enjoyed the Triple Chocolate Hill for desert. She loved the peanut butter-caramel sauce, but it was a bit too sweet to me.

Fun place. Good food, good drink, definitely worth visiting.

Pyramid Discord IPAThe Hype: “Discord Dark IPA celebrates the marriage of two distinct styles, the Dark Ale and the IPA. The traditional bitterness of an IPA is juxtaposed against a black malt canvas, creating an ale that keeps your taste buds working to discover all the unique flavors imparted by the 5 different hops and 5 different malts.”

The Review: This is a very interesting beer; I enjoyed it with friends at a party tonight. The beer is dark like an imperial stout and pours with minimal foam. In the glass, it smells like chocolate, coffe, pine and has a mild hint oc citrus. First drink is like an imperial stout; but then the hops kick in and the flavor intensifies. Each sip seems to unlock more flavor complexity, especially coffee and yeasty notes. This is not an excessively bitter beer, with the hops accentuating the ale flavor. I think I like “dry-hopped” beers a lot more these days; they seem crisper and more aromatic. Aftertaste of this beer is very pleasant, not unlike a good coffee.

After the first two bottles, I enjoyed this beer with a Nub Maduro 460 Cigar and they make excellent companions indeed.

This is an interesting beer. Uintah touts it as a hemp seed infused Imperial black IPA. They describe the flavor  as “Toasted, chocolaty dark malts align with an astronomical amount of hops.”

I had friends over tonight, so I thought it would be fun to try some different Utah brews. Dubhe (Utah’s centennial star) pours much like Guinness with a creamy white head and very pleasant aroma. It is inky black and has a different aroma; grassy, piney, chocolatey and a hint of coffee in the background. This brew does indeed smell “hoppy”.

First sip is very bitter, almost astringent. Breathing and swallowing brings the next sip…chocolate, malt and hops. Mouth-feel is tight and bitter, full and heady. Drinking more and savoring the flavor accentuates the hops with an espresso aftertaste.

We were eating cheeses while drinking this beer and there certainly is a difference after a mouthful of Camembert! – each style of cheese reacted with the beer to enhance and detract from the flavor. I like eating Gorgonzola and Stilton while drinking this beer, but aged Gouda is simply sublime!

This is not a normal stout, it has everything an imperial stout offers; the body, fullness and slight bitterness, but it offers a more exciting taste and mouthfeel. It took a while to become accustomed to the flavor profile, but after a bottle I was ready for more.

The hops make this beer very different….the 9.2% ABV doesn’t hurt either…This is a very entertaining beer. I like it.

A pioneer in the craft beer movement, North Coast Brewing Company opened in 1988 as a local brewpub in the historic town of Fort Bragg, located on California’s Mendocino Coast.

Under the leadership of Brewmaster Mark Ruedrich, the brewery has developed a strong reputation for quality having won more than 70 awards in national and international competitions.

In addition to Red Seal Ale, Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout, Scrimshaw Pilsner, and other fine North Coast brands, the brewery has resurrected the old Acme label with a heritage dating back to the San Francisco of the 1860’s.

These exceptional beers are available in 47 states now and also are exported to Europe and the Pacific Rim.

Their Pranqster Beer is touted as a Belgian Style Golden Ale and I have to say that it certainly doesn’t miss the mark!

North Coast Brewing’

s Pranqster is brewed with “antique” yeast to impart a delightful flavor that tastes just as good as a young Trappiste.

This Belgian-style ale is a dark straw color and pours with a very attractive white head and minimal lacing. In the mug, this beer has floral aroma with a pleasant hint of cloves. First mouthful is light and citrus with little bubbles that dance across the tongue in a most delightful way.

Eath mouthful of this beer is progressively more pleasant and I certainly enjoy the subtle hopping; making it an intersting blend of Belgian spiciness with a pleasant nod towards the IPA category. Yeastiness is certainly Belgian with a bready note when you breath in after a drink – not entirely unpleasant at all. The 7.6% ABV is subtle and contributes a nice body to the drink with pleasant mouth-feel and aftertaste. After a bottle or two, I noticed a slightly metallic aftertaste, but it passed when opening the next bottle, so one has to assume that it is an irregularity.

I finished 10 of these tonight (Just to be sure that I liked it) and I DO like it.

North Coast brewing company produces very fine beers, this one will be part of my regular rotation.

 

Driving the Jag back from Alaska allowed for some entertaining food and beverage adventures. One of which was in Oregon.

The Bridgeport Ale House at 3632 SE Hawthorne Boulevard in  Portland is a fine little establishment offering decent pub fare and an excellent selection of specialty brews.

From their promotional literature:

The specialty beer movement in the Pacific Northwest began in 1984 when Richard and Nancy Ponzi teamed up with Karl Ockert, graduate of the University of California at Davis’ Malting and Brewing Sciences program, to establish the 600-barrel Columbia River Brewery. Setting up shop in a three-story, century-old former rope factory in Portland’s industrial Northwest neighborhood, they founded what is better known today as BridgePort Brewing Company, Oregon’s Oldest Craft Brewery™, and a pioneer of the state’s craft brewing revolution.

Today, BridgePort Brewing Company is one of the top specialty brewers in the state of Oregon. As BridgePort Brewing grew in popularity, it also grew in its brewing capacity from its 600-barrel beginnings to over 100,000 barrels per year. Distribution has grown from Portland to 18 states, and the brewery’s emphasis on producing quality, innovative ales has provided it with an international following and numerous awards.”

We walked into the Bridgeport Ale House expecting yet another tired faux-restaurant serving greasy food as an accompaniment to their selection of beers. Thankfully, we were wrong.

I chose their Cottage Pie and enjoyed an American slant on traditional pub lunch. Good beef, creamy potato and delicate seasonings. My traveling companies shared a “Steel Pizza Pie” which they described as perfectly crusted with a good balance of cheese and sausage. – I’m not a pizza pie man.

I wasn’t there to eat though…..I was there to drink!

I started with their bottled Kingpin – A red-ale that is very hoppy and easily drinkable. This “Double Red” is characterized by higher alcohol content and citrusy hoppy overtones – just the way I like it.

Next up was the Summer Squeeze – a seasonal varietal that is apparently enhanced with lemongrass and yuzu – an “exotic fruit. This missed the mark completely for me and tasted like a blend of heffeweizen and lemonade – I barely mad it through even half a glass.

I gave BridgePort the opportunity vindicate themselves with their famous Blue Heron Pale Ale – It did not disappoint. Typical of “Northwestern” Pale Ales, it is crisp and eminently drinkable.

Moving on to the Cafe Negro Porter, I tasted something pleasantly unique. This porter is a fusion of malt an coffe that created a delightully layored coffe/beer flavor. The porter deliver its own espresso-esque flavor, but the coffee infusion rounds it to make for a delightful drink. A predict a growler of this escaping into the wild…

I ended my excursion with “Hop Czar”, their Imperial IPA. This IPA definitely boasts 7.5% ABV and delivers a hoppy, malty mouth-feel  reminiscent of Belgian beers. This beer made my day.

As with many American establishments, they are not tobacco-friendly, but the good bears vindicated them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’ve been on a sushi kick this week, so I drank far more Japanese beer and sake than I usually would:

Asahi Super Dry

The hype: “SUPER DRY went on sale in Japan on March 17, 1987. As soon as the product hit the store shelves, it became an instant bestseller. Sales expanded rapidly from major cosmopolitan areas to nationwide. While we were all convinced that we had achieved our goal of realizing the taste that the customer wanted, the actual production of SUPER DRY fell short of the growing demand. Once again, we had to take an unprecedented action: placing an apology in the newspapers for not producing SUPER DRY fast enough to meet the demand. The taste that the customer waited for Soaring sales and the popularity of SUPER DRY shook the beer industry in Japan. Other breweries also introduced dry beer in the following year, and so-called Dry Beer War broke out. Nonetheless, ASAHI SUPER DRY has continued to grow its sales, consistently being chosen for its original taste.  In response to an expanding demand for SUPER DRY, we pushed ahead with a large-scale capital investment in order to bolster our production. By 1990 all our production facilities were updated with most advanced technology and equipment. The revamping of production helped us supply more SUPER DRY, and its sales passed the milestone of 100 million cases* only 3 years after its introduction. *One case is equivalent to 20 large beer bottles, approximately 12.66 liters.  Since the launch of SUPER DRY, we have hitherto continued to improve on its production technology and quality management, and we have conducted various activities to bring the fresh and crisp taste of SUPER DRY to customers around the world. Our challenge and our search for innovation will go on to ensure that SUPER DRY tastes as good as ever.

The review: This pale lager pours very well and looks like any European lager. Aroma is hoppy with hints of pine and grass. This is pleasant and mild, the girlfriend liked it. Carbonation is medium-high, but not unpleasant. This is my favorite “Japanese” beer  so far. Nothing massively exciting, just like a Stella. This is one time where rice didn’t ruin a beer. I like this one for “light” drinking, but still prefer Stella.

 

Kirin Special Premium Reserve

The hype:With his gold label and Special Premium Reserve appellation, Ichiban outclasses and outperforms. In 1990, Ichiban’s debut made a splash in the world of super premium beers. The luxurious single wort (or first press) process yields a unique, complex flavor. With his gold label and “Special Premium Reserve” appellation, Ichiban outclasses and outperforms. But don’t be fooled by a snooty attitude — this is a great beer that goes with anything. What makes Ichiban great – Prominent wort. Finest barley malt, premium hops, smooth finish, no bitter aftertaste.”

The review: This is beautiful to look at, it is a straw yellow, develops a nice head of foam and looks great in a Pilsner, the iconic “glass of beer”. Aroma is mild, almost grassy, but not unpleasant. First sip reminds me of Stella Artois; crisp and clean. Aftertaste is slightly metallic, but not unpleasant. Carbonation is heavy and makes the mouth-feel pleasantly sharp.

Sapporo Imported

The hype: “With lush use of aroma hops, Sapporo Premium has an amazingly crisp taste, refreshing flavor, and refined bitterness to leave a clean finish.  Whether in our iconic \”Silver Can\” that is long loved by our American fans, in bottles, or on tap, Sapporo Premium can be enjoyed on any occasion.
*Sapporo Premium is not a gluten-free product.”

The review: Yes, you guessed it, straw-colored, white head, carbonated, crisp mild drinkable beer. This is not imported from Japan, it is made in California by Anheiser Busch.

 

I suppose growing up in IOM and the UK has conditioned my taste-buds; I prefer stronger ales and stouts, I find these Japanese beers too light for my general consumption. The Asahi is my favorite of the three, but none of them will find a place  in my home bar. The flavor profile of all three lends themselves well to consumption with fish, since they are very light and fizzy. I suppose that’s why they are served with Sushi. These beers are certainly better than many of the Mexican brews, but are just too light for me.

The hype: Bobsled Brown is patterned as an American-style Brown Ale with a roasted malt undertone and the generous use of American-grown Willamette hops. This is one beer to be sure not to miss!

The review: When I’m in Salt Lake City, I enjoy visiting Squatters Brewpub and having a beer with friends or even visiting over diet Pepsi with my teetotalling Mormon friends. I enjoy most of the Squatters brews, especially their rauchbier and heffeweizen. I noticed and bought one of these at a little store in Phoenix today. I presume this has now been moved from the Squatters brand to Wasatch with their little merger/alliance that they’re doing. Bottle is pretty and packaging is inviting. Opening this produced an aroma of fresh bread dough with a hint of sourness. Pour was heady and dark amber. First sip was akin to burnt coffee with an oily aftertaste. Continuing to drink was an exercise in futility as it seemed to get worse with each sip.  I finally resigned this gastronomic assault after consuming half a glass. What a disappointment indeed.

The hype:Turbodog is a dark brown ale brewed with Willamette hops and a combination of pale, crystal and chocolate malts. This combination gives Turbodog its rich body and color and a sweet chocolate toffee-like flavor. Turbodog began as a specialty ale but has gained a huge loyal following and has become one of our flagship brews.

This ale pairs well with most meats and is great served with hamburgers or sausages. It is a good match with smoked fish and can even stand up to wild game dishes. Turbodog is also great for marinating and braising meats and cooking such things as cabbage and greens. Colby, Gloucester, Cheddar and Blue cheeses go nicely with Turbodog. It’s perfect with spicy Louisiana jambalaya or Spanish paella. Some even like it paired with chocolate!

The review: I love my Guinness, so whenever I get a chance to compare dark ales, I fall back to Guinness as a frame of reference. Turbodog hails from Louisiana and is one of many brews from the Abita beer company. I drank Turbodog from the bottle at a quaint little restaurant in Houston this week. The aroma from this beer is very intriguing; bready and sweet, but with a hint of coffee. The brew is dark and suds are creamy like the Irish stuff.  This is a 5.6% ABV brew so the alcohol isn’t obviously noticeable. First mouthful is hearty and slightly bitter, but quickly mellows into a chocolatey goodness. Mouth feel is pleasant; it is smooth and coats the tongue with yeasty flavors…it tastes a little like a chocolate babkawith a hint of espresso. Easy to drink and savor, but not a lightweight in the flavor department. I drank 6 of these over dinner with friends, so I suppose that says it all. Very nice beer.

 

This purple port epitomizes my vision of a ‘desert’ port. The nose is fruity with a hint of berries and caramel.

Swirling it around, there is a deep ruby body with minor tawny yellowing at the top. First mouthful is tannic and sweet without being cloying. Holding a mouthful draws in the cheeks without being completely astringent. The alcohol is there, but nicely balanced by the fruit and adds to the exciting mouthfeel.

Nosing this port further after a few mouthfuls and allowing it to warm in the snifter, it begins to exhibit a strawberry odor with a hint of banana and pears.

Continuing to drink I find even more fruitiness with a currant undertone; even hints of tobacco and leather…this would go very well with a CAO Brazilia anaconda. – Delicious!

By UNIVERSITY OF LEICESTER  Friday, March 18, 2011

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http://www.chem.info/News/2011/03/Instrumentation-New-Technologies-to-Crack-Down-on-Counterfeit-Whisky/

Experts at the University of Leicester’s Space Research Centre are working with colleagues at De Montfort University to create a handheld device which will detect fake whiskey and wine — through the bottle.

The technology has already been developed by the University of Leicester team to spot counterfeit medicines by scrutinising the packaging. Now the experts are working to transfer the technology to analyze liquids in bottles.

As well as helping to stamp out the big problem of counterfeit whisky and fine wine, this could also have major potential for airline security systems, they believe.

The technique relies on detecting the differences between the characteristics of light reflected from printed packaging. Originally developed from a spectrometer designed and built by the Space Research Centre for astronomical research, the technique was adapted for use in the pharmaceutical world by the University of Leicester team in conjunction with university spin-out firm Perpetuity Research and Consultancy International Limited which is a specialist crime and security consultancy.

Now the technology is being adapted again by the University of Leicester team for use in detecting fake liquids, with experts at De Montfort University providing skills in product design and rapid proto-typing so that a handheld device can be created.

“The support from the Food and Drink iNet will allow us to take the technology and apply it in the case of whisky and fine wines,” said Tim Maskell, Knowledge Transfer Manager in the Space Research Centre at the University of Leicester. “The iNet funding will enable us to design, build and test a laboratory prototype that will allow us to prove the technology works. If we can then take the technology and do something similar with other liquids there are potential airport security opportunities too.”

For more information, please visit the University of Leicester at www2.le.ac.uk.

 

The Hype: Ayala’s Herbal Water just got a little boost! Enjoy the smooth and refreshing herbal taste you love now enhanced with the sparkle and flutter of delicate bubbles in a 750ml elegant glass bottle. Bring on the sparkle… Buy a Sparkling Sampler Pack and experience three of our classic blends lightly carbonated for a pleasant sparkle.

Sparkling Lemongrass Mint Vanilla

Discover refreshment anew! A flood of gentle bubbles opens your palate to the cool kiss of spearmint, the citrusy zing of lemongrass, and the deep sweetness of vanilla. Drink it midday for a rejuvenating lift on life, and try it with all your favorite foods. This blend naturally complements East Asian cuisine and pairs well with Mediterranean fare.

Sparkling Cinnamon Orange Peel

Get your dose of sparkling sunshine! The citrusy-cinnamon medley comes to life in warm bursts of cinnamon and bright orange notes. It’s perfect all by itself and suits a variety of foods, especially spicy cuisines like Tex-Mex, traditional Mexican, and Indian.

Sparkling Ginger Lemon Peel

Try a bit of spritz and spice for your drinking delight! Enjoy the rush of spicy ginger and zesty lemon activating your taste buds bubble by bubble. This blend is a natural choice for sushi and other Japanese and Chinese dishes, and with a light lemony taste, it suits custards, pies, and other sweet-treats, too. Set a place for natural elegance … Whether it’s white linen or red gingham, there’s always room for Sparkling Ayala’s Herbal Water. A beautiful, frosted glass bottle and the refreshing aroma of culinary herbs create tabletop harmony for any meal.” The Review: I tasted the Sparkling Ginger Peel version at a friend’s house in Denver last week over a sushi dinner. Once I returned home, I ordered a couple of sampler packs to try all their flavors. Sparkling Ginger Lemon Peel is very subtle but the ginger flavor is definitely “there”, creating a great mouth-feel and making for a very refreshing drink that quickly cleanses the palate. Cinnamon Orange Peel is somewhat underwhelming. It tastes like someone left cinnamon stick overnight in a bottle of club soda. The “orange peel” tastes a little bland to me. This one was hard for me to drink. I don’t think it is worth $4 per bottle Sparkling Lemongrass Mint Vanilla is certainly different from what one would expect. I really like this one, since it reminds me of India. I enjoyed this with a chicken vindaloo and it rounded out the meal quite spectacularly. Ayala’s flavored waters are good. At $4/bottle, I’ll keep a few cases around but it’s certainly not an everyday drinker for me.

I read an intriguing review of Cockburn’s special reserve on Stogie Life. I’ve always been a fan of their 20-year old tawny, but still hadn’t tried the special reserve. I picked up a few bottles at the local vintner and headed home for a relaxing evening…

Cockburn’s touts their Special Reserve as follows: “Cockburn’s Special Reserve is the world’s favourite Port and a fitting testament to the blending skills of our winemaker.
Cockburn's Special Reserve
First blended over 40 years ago it offered wine drinkers a new style of Port. Four-fifths of the blend is from youthful wines but the remainder is from more mature wines which give the wine roundness and a seductive, velvety feel.

The overall effect is a vintage character Port, mellow and rounded on the palate with deep autumn fruit flavours.

It is produced from grapes grown in the spectacular higher reaches of the Douro river in northern Portugal. The wine is ready to drink and gentle filtration at the winery ensures that decanting is not necessary.

Special Reserve is in its element served with rich dark chocolate desserts, fruit tarts, berry or nutty puds, and complements most cheeses incredibly well.

After dinner, we settled down to enjoy port and some of my latest acquisitions from igourmet: Royal Blue Stilton, Butlers Blacksticks Blue, and Idiazabal. There are few things that I enjoy as much as wine & cheese; especially port!

Cockburn’s has now been purchased by the Symington family, so I am curious to see where they take the product line.

The Cockburn’s special reserve is a beautiful bottle with a mild nose: fruity, leathery, with a hint of spice. This port is dark in the glass almost purple. It looks like a blend of ruby and tawny (Appropriate, since it is classified as an aged ruby). I loved swirling it around watching the streaks slide down my glass…a hint of pleasures to come.

First sip of this Port is tannic which really enhances the mouth-feel for me. Grape flavor permeates, with hints of strawberry and clove, and a hint of anise. Aftertaste of this Port is medium to long and slightly bitter. As I continued to drink this port and intermix samples of the various cheeses, various flavor nuances manifested themselves. The tannin is extremely pleasant in cleansing the palate between courses. I particularly enjoyed pairing this for the Royal Blue Stilton; they compliment each other well.

This is a good Port, but I don’t think it warrants the ‘Special Reserve’ rating; I still prefer my Graham’s Six Grapes.

Cockburns Special Reserve

After a hectic week in the UK, we rode the chunnel to France and enjoyed some fantastic culinary adventures. One place we visited was the Michel Cluizel chocolate boutique. Michel Cluizel chocolatier is a shop definitely worth visiting in Paris. A family-owned business since 1948, The Cluizel family fabricates their chocolate art at a small plant in Normandy and sell to the public at boutiques in Paris, New York, and Riyad.

Their artisinal craft is unparalleled, and it is very evident when shopping in their boutique that they’re proud of the product and it’s heritage.

As a cigar afficionado, I’m drawn to the strong flavor and aroma of dark chocolate. My biggest frustration with dark chocolate has always been finding one that has the right balance of cacao, alkalinity and sugar. My favorite has always been Cadbury’s Bournville, but I have now tasted something better…Michel Cluizel’s Noir au Cafe.

Noir au Cafe is touted as “Ground arabicas from Brazil and selected cocoas are blended in a deep chocMichael Cluizel - Noir au Cafeolate – coffee harmony: A superb balance of strengths and flavours“. The 100g bar is beautifully packaged in gold-colored  foil and cradled in a cardboard box that assures you that this is good quality chocolate. My friend translated the packaging to reveal that it is pure cocoa with bourbon vanilla and contains no soys or lecithin. The ingredients list is simple:

  • Cocoas
  • Cane Sugar
  • Cocoa Butter
  • Coffee Beans

The aroma is very inviting, with hints of espresso and cocoa. The chocolate is uniform in color without blooming or blemish.

Breaking a piece is easy, and it immediately coats the palate in chocolaty goodness. The chocolate is smooth without being plastic and has no graininess. There is a delightful balance of cocoa fat and sweetness, offset by the coffee to stimulate both bitter and sweet sensors at the same time, making it absolutely delicious! The 2nd,3rd,4th, and 5th pieces were just as great.I stopped at 5 because my “friends” had polished off the rest of the bar! I really liked the fact that there was a pleasant espresso aftertaste without the off-tasting bitterness you get from so many other dark chocolates.

I spent way too many Euros in this shop, but everything was simply scrumptious.

Tanqueray London Dry Gin - Made in ScotlandBeing a Brit, I’ve always considered Beefeater to be the only gin worth drinking, but I finally gave Tanqueray a try today and was most suitably impressed. I’m back in the UK this week visiting my parents and I asked for a G&T before dinner. The drink steward brought me what looked like a standard gin & tonic – Highball glass, ice,  carbonated liquid and a wedge of lime.

I brought it up to my nose and noticed it smelled considerably different to my standard beefeater version. This had a decidedly stronger juniper aroma and less citrus nose than I was accustomed . I queried the steward and he informed me that they only stock Tanqueray gin, since the owner of the club  is also Scottish. I decided that now was the time to explore Tanqueray…

Tanqueray is a reputable Gin brand, currently owned by  the Diageo group who is one of the powerhouses in the spirits industry. Tanqueray is named after it’s creator, Charles Tanqueray; who first distilled gin in 1830.

It is said that Gin was invented around 1650 in the Netherlands by Dr. Sylvuis. This man -who is also known as Franz de la Boé- was Professor of Medicine at Leyden, Holland. Originally, he intended this “medicine” as a remedy for kidney disorders. He used neutral grain spirits flavored with the oil of juniper. He called it genever after the French term genièvre meaning juniper. By 1655 it was already being commercially produced and English soldiers serving in the area, took affection to the spirit.

During most of the early 17th century, drinking in England had almost entirely involved fermented liquors, such as ale, cider and beer that were produced by “natural” processes. Distillation depends on an alcoholic liquid, such as wine or grain mash , being heated and the resulting vapor condensed, producing a  purer and more powerful form of alcohol, but quite unpalatable until flavoring ingredients have been added.  As a result of this new man-made process, it was suggested by some wags that spirits were “unnatural”, while beer and wine were not. Fermented beer was made by God, while spirits were made by man.

In 1688 King William III and some English soldiers in the Low Countries introduced gin to England. “In the alcohol ‘family’ gin stands close to absinthe and aquavit, which use different flavoring agents, and not far removed from vodka, which is based on potatoes”. English gin became very popular after 1690, when the government tried to make a market for low-grade corn unsuitable for brewing. The government heavily increased the duty on imported spirits and opened the spirit industry to the public, without any license or control. During the English reign of William and Mary1 (around 1689) home production of Gin was encouraged. Some sources claim that one reason for this was the fact that drinking Gin was safer than drinking water. Another factor of course was that production and distribution of Gin was rather cheap. The local landowners produced it as a by-product of grain and taxes were very low. As a result Gin was even cheaper than beer or ale. Thus, popularity spread, it became synonymous with the poor and abuse of the drink was rampant. In 1751 William Hogarth created the engraving ‘Gin Lane’ to display just how rampant the abuse really was.

Within a few years, 7,000 dram-shops sprang up all over England. As brewers tried to protect their trade, the number of ale-houses also multiplied. By 1740 more than 15,000 of the 96,000 houses in the capital sold drink, about 9,000 were gin-shops. Despite all the evidence that the ‘free gin’ policy had failed, the government did not act immediately. The new duties and taxes that had been imposed on manufacturers and retailers were avoided. The gin-shop owners would sell their drink under fancy names like ‘Cuckold’s Comfort’, ‘Ladies’ Delight’ and Knock-me-down’, a mixture of hot spiced ale and punch.

In 1736 the famous Gin Act was implemented. It imposed a prohibitive duty per gallon on the retailer and raised the cost of a spirit license. This legislation led to riots in the streets and the gin trade simple went underground. As a result, in 1743 the government loosened the restrictions of the earlier law and passed acts that permitted the gin-shops to abide by the same rules as the ale-houses. As the 19th century rolled in the focus of legislation shifted to containing the “moral danger” in drinking, instead of just the economic concerns of the earlier century. The Gin produced around that time was the forerunner of what was known as Old Tom’s Gin, which was heavily sweetened. In the 1870’s Dry Gin was introduced and Gin took on respectability in England once again. Finer establishments served “Pink Gins” (with angostura bitter) and the cocktail age dawned in England. About the same time prohibition began in the U.S.

During prohibition, the Americans used a different recipe to produce Gin: by taking the poisons out of denatured alcohol to recover the ethyl alcohol. This was then flavored with juniper, diluted, and bottled. The name for this was “bathtub gin” and it probably tasted like the name. There were seventy-five different formulas to denature the alcohol, so if the purification process was not done by a skilled chemist, vile, and even deadly results occuTony Sincliar - Tanqueray's Spokesmanrred. In those days the meaning of the line “to die for” was totally different from today’s meaning… A little more literal.

Gin and Tonics were -like Gin itself- originally developed as a medicine. In this case to help fight malaria. When the British were in the East they became susceptible to malaria and eventually found out that quinine (an ingredient in Tonic Water) was useful for getting rid of the disease. Well, as you would probably expect, drinking Tonic Water by itself is pretty nasty (unless you’ve acquired a taste for it) and they had problems getting the British in the East to drink it.

Along comes our friend Gin to be mixed with the Tonic Water, which not only made drinking it much more pleasant, but also created an excellent drink that would be remembered from then on, even if its relationship to the disease was forgotten. So, as you can see, Gin and Tonic Water came about due to medicinal reasons, then caught on later for thier more pleasurable aspects.

On a minor note, the Lime (served in any GOOD Gin and Tonic) being a citrus fruit (and therefore containing Vitamin C) helps to prevent scurvy. Usually the limes are not the dominant ingredient of Gin and Tonic, so they won’t actually get rid of scurvy if you’ve already got it – unless you drink A LOT of Gin and Tonics of course.

Coriander, angelica and Juniper are listed as the primary botanicals used to give Tanqueray its unique flavor, but the company declares that there are numerous other ingredients that are “inconveniently sourced from around the world”.

After two more G&T’s, I had him bring  me the bottle to try it straight to separate the flavors from the tonic & lime. Tanqueray smells wonderful neat, with notes of juniper and citrus. The first sip is very strong, and the alcohol shows through boldly, obscuring some of the flavor. Letting it sit in the mouth and breathing in allowed me to better appreciate the flavors and aromas of the essential oils. – Magnificent!

I really like the stuff, it is my new favorite gin.

“Sincerely” is a lively Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa.  Hailing from the Neil Ellis stable in Stellenbosch, this wine is one of the more exciting offerings from South Africa.

From their website:

Neil Ellis Wines differs from most South African wineries in that instead of owning vineyards we have focused on producing the best wine possible and sourcing the grapes from top quality growers.

Recognizing that different grape varieties thrive under different soil and climate conditions which are not likely to be found on a single estate, from our company’s start our philosophy has been to locate those areas that produce a distinctive grape quality and work closely with quality-minded growers in those areas. Today our grapes come from three main vineyard sites: Oude Nektar Farm in Jonkershoek, Stellenbosch; Contreberg Farm in Groenekloof, Darling; the Whitehall farm in Elgin.


Oude Nektar Farm, Jonkershoek, Stellenbosch

The 40ha of vines on Oude Nektar are the primary source for our red wines. Most of Jonkershoek Valley is a nature reserve, well-known for its fynbos, hiking trails and waterfalls, but at the mouth of the valley sit a few farms privileged to its unique micro-climate. The inner valley is known to have the highest rainfall in South Africa and in an average year Oude Nektar receives about 1200mm (although in the last three years of drought we have been closer to 900mm). The soils are mostly deep, red, clay soils. We initiated a complete replanting program in 1989 which was completed this year with a final 3-hectare block of shiraz.


Contreberg Farm, Groenekloof, Darling

Recognizing the unique quality of the grapes from the Groenekloof ward, in 1996 Neil Ellis Wines entered into a partnership with Alex Versveld to farm the 120ha Contreberg farm which is the source of our Groenekloof Sauvignon Blanc. Groenekloof is situated near Darling on the West Coast and here the hills rise to 385 metres above sea level. The vineyards are only 8 km from the cold Southern Atlantic with its cool prevailing southwesterly winds. Soils are deep, red, decomposed granite and produce lively, complex Sauvignon Blanc wines. This area has particularly consistent weather.

Whitehall Farm, Elgin
Elgin is the Cape’s coolest viticultural area (Region I-II on the Winkler system) and has a unique climate and topography, consisting of an upland basin plateau, surrounded by mountain ranges on all sides. This region shows climatic similarities to Burgundy, only slightly cooler by comparison. Elgin tends to show more vintage difference than most other South African viticultural areas.

This 2007 Sauvignon Blanc is surprisingly good. The nose is very pleasant with hints of a meadow in springtime.  The flavor of this wine is light and crisp with strong notes of apple, straw, melon and a hint of citrus. Finish is strong yet clean, making it a great value at $17/bottle.

From the importer:Graham’s wines come primarily from its own Quinta dos Malvedos, Quinta do Tua and Quinta das Lages in the Rio Torto. Two others, privately owned by a member of the Symington family, Quinta da Vila Velha and Quinta do Vale de Malhadas, also supply Graham with finest quality grapes. All five Quintas are among the best in the
upper Douro valley. Graham’s also buys grapes from selected farmers in the finest districts. Some of these farmers have been selling their grapes to Graham’s for generations.

Peter Symington, responsible with his son Charles for the vineyards and wine making, has been made ‘Fortified Wine Maker of the Year’ an extraordinary 6 times by the ‘Wine Challenge’. Nobody else has won this important award more than once. In 2003, his son Charles won the same award.

GRAHAM’S 10 YEARS OLD TAWNY
Graham’s 10 Years Old is made from wines of the very highest quality which, following careful selection, are matured in seasoned oak casks of 534 litres until their peak of maturity is reached. These are among the most demanding and challenging styles of Port to produce requiring great skill and years of experience from the winemaker and blender. It is essential to strike the correct balance between the delicacy and elegance which results from prolonged cask ageing while retaining the fruit quality which lends this old Tawny its structure and longevity.

Graham’s 10 Years Old Tawny is a perfect match to sweet pastries, such as apple pie with cinnamon. Taste slightly chilled to appreciate the full complexity and sensuous pleasure of this wine. An excellent alternative to Vintage Port at less formal occasions. Will keep for some weeks after opening.

Graham's 10-year tawny portThe review: I love Port! There are few drinks that you can enjoy in so many different situations as a fine Port wine. I’ve always enjoyed Graham’s, since their aged port’s aren’t frightfully expensive but taste fantastic. This 10-year Tawny is a great “everyday” port. The 10-year is an indication of the average age of the wines in the bottle, so don’t be mistaken into thinking that this is a 10-year vintage. Nonetheless, it tastes great, isn’t harsh, and has a great finish. This Port is sweet with a distinct fruity flavor, which makes it great for after-dinner or as a pick-me up in warm weather after a long day at work.

This port decants well, and has no sediment to be concerned about. The Port has a fruity nose with a warm, velvety  mouth-feel that hearkens to a more genteel time. The finish is sweet and lingering, with hints of grape, currants, maple syrup, plums, and raisins. 20%ABV makes this a fun after-dinner drink and tastes spectacular drizzled over ice cream.

The hype:Six Grapes is one of Graham’s original Port marques. It is a big-hearted wine, sourced from the same vineyards (essentially Quinta dos Malvedos and Quinta das Lages) that contribute to Graham’s famed Vintage Ports in ‘declared’ years. As such, it closely resembles Graham’s Vintage Port style: full-bodied, with rich opulent black fruit on the palate and fragrant brambly aromas. We think of it as the ‘everyday Port for the Vintage Port drinker.’ Six Grapes is bottled relatively young (between 3 and 4 years) in order to retain the freshness and vigour comparable to a young Vintage Port.

The distinctive depiction of grape bunches on the bottle is taken from the identification symbols long used in the Graham’s lodge to identify the wines destined to make up the Six Grapes blend.

Six Grapes has won a remarkable 3 gold medals at the International Wine Challenge, most recently, in the 2006 edition of this, the world’s biggest and most prestigious wine competition.

The Symington Family are descended from Andrew James Symington and Beatrice Atkinson who were married in Oporto in 1891. Andrew James arrived as a young man from Scotland in 1882. Beatrice Atkinson was descended from John Atkinson who had lived in Oporto since 1814, and both her father and uncle were Port producers. On her mother’s side, Beatrice Atkinson was a direct descendent of the 17th century Port merchant, Walter Maynard, English Consul in Oporto in 1659. He is recorded in the official archives of the city of Oporto as shipping 39 Pipes of Port in 1652. This is the second oldest shipment of Port (by one year) ever made by a British merchant and pre-dates the foundation date of any British Port company.

Thus the Symington family’s ancestry in the Port trade spans a period of over 350 years, through 13 generations, from Walter Maynard to the present generation of Symingtons, who are owners and managers of Graham’s and the family’s other Port companies. With their roots long established in northern Portugal, the Symingtons have gained a wealth of experience as producers of Port and have shown the resilience to withstand the upheavals of history, from revolutions and world wars to difficult trading conditions which drove numerous families out of the Port business altogether. No other family involved in Port production today possesses such an unbroken lineage, stretching right back to the very beginnings of Port.

Currently five members of the Symington family (from the 13th generation in the Port trade) are actively involved in Graham’s day to day management, with the dedication and long-term commitment that are unique to a family-run business. From the vineyards through the winemaking, ageing and blending, a member of the family is directly responsible for every bottle of Graham’s Port produced. The family’s commitment to its wines is stronger than ever after 350 years, an unparalleled tradition in the Port trade.

Besides Quinta dos Malvedos, Grahams flagship vineyard, held by the company itself, the Symingtons are individually significant owners of vineyards in the Douro Valley. Each member of the family has vineyards that he or she owns privately and manages. The grapes from these vineyards are supplied to Graham’s. This extent of private family vineyard ownership is unique to the Symingtons in the Port trade. In none of the other principal Port companies do the partners or owners possess vineyards directly as is the case with the Symingtons. This reflects the family’s centuries-long dedication to the Douro and to its wines.

During the vintage, family members spend most of their time in the Douro Quintas, determining when to pick the grapes, supervising vinification, while at the same time often hosting visitors from all around the world. Members of the next generation of the family have already spent time during their school and university holidays working both in the Malvedos winery and in the lodge in Gaia.

The Symingtons’ unmatched experience acquired over the centuries affords a special understanding of the Upper Douro vineyards as well as an unrivalled expertise, which they apply to the production of consistently outstanding wines. W & J Graham & Co. is 100% owned by the Symingtons and along with the family’s other firms it is the only remaining Port producer of British origin in the hands of a single family.

The Symingtons are members of the exclusive Primum Familiae Vini, a grouping of eleven leading wine families in the world. Fellow members are Antinori, Joseph Drouhin, Egon Muller Scharzhof, Hugel, the Perrins of Beaucastel, Mouton Rothschild, Pol Roger, Sassicaia, Torres, and Vega Sicilia. The criteria for membership of this highly prestigious association is simple; all members have to be entirely family owned and they must have been for many years amongst the finest producers of their respective wine regions, with an outstanding international reputation. Very few can achieve these qualifications.

The review: Well to say that I am biased to Grahams is certainly an understatement; I love Graham’s entire stable of fine fortified wines, from the their while all the way through their rubies, LBV’s, select vintages and Colheitas.This bottle is beautiful, it just exudes the charm and personality that once has come to expect from high quality port like this.

Opening this bottle produces a heady aroma of plum and grape that is sweet, but not cloying. I enjoyed this in a large snifter to maximize the aroma and I was not disappointed; along with grape overtones, there are hints of melon, nutmeg and tobacco.

First sip has a markedly tannic backbone with acidic mouth-feel that enlivens the palate. This port is 20% ABV so it has enough bite without being overpowering. Savoring each sip allows more flavors to be unmasked; plum, slight citrus and a hint of aniseed in the aftertaste.

I particularly enjoy the lingering aftertaste of this port, since it doesn’t taste musty, it is uniformly pleasant. Licking one’s lips while imbibing further enhances the experience, since cherry flavor seems to linger on the lips and rim of the glass. My only critique of this fine port is that the bottles are never quite big enough. Kudos to the Symingtons!

I’m a man who appreciates fine flavors and aromas. I’m highly selective about my booze, my women, my cigars, and especially my food. I believe that I’m a true foodie; I enjoy choosing, preparing and eating fine foods. Since I travel a lot I get to sample flavors all over the world so my palate has been challenged by a number of interesting flavors…

I am especially partial to beef. Not the trash you buy at the supermarket, but artisan beef that has been carefully butchered and properly aged. I’ve tried many types of beef: angus, piedmontese, holstein, charolais, beefmaster, longhorn, brahman, limousin, maine anjou, hereford, simmental and of corse the wagyu (kobe). I’ve also experimented with organic, grass-fed, corn-fed, and even grass-fed/corn finished and come to some profound conclusions:

1. Different breeds of cattle do actually taste different.
2. Cattle taste like what they eat.
3. Proper dry aging makes a world of difference.
4. NEVER overcook beef.
5. Don’t drown beef with crazy rubs and overwhelming spices, let the seasonings compliment the real beef flavor not mask it.

My good friend (and fellow foodie) Greg gave me a sample-pack of “Viking Beef”. His friend owns the Viking Cattle Company, a Utah-based beef company. Greg wanted my opinion on whether this beef was good enough to market nationally.

What apparently makes “Viking” beef different is that the herd is a genetically controlled Friesland hybrid. I had to do some research on the Friesland breed as relating to beef, since I though tit was a dairy cow. Apparently the Friesland and the Holstein are “sister” breeds that originated from an area which is now in Holland. In the USA, the term “Holstein” generally refers to a high producing dairy cow that originated in Europe but now is exclusively American. The term “Friesian” refers to European stock beef cattle known for their large frame and medium yield of beef. So live and learn, I always though the black-and-white cows were for milk only, not beef.

Although I prefer buying beef fresh from the butcher, it’s hard to do that these days, especially with premium beef from far-away places. Greg sent the beef frozen with dry ice in a Styrofoam cooler and it arrived without a hitch yesterday. All the cuts were packaged cleanly and labeled so it was easy for me to choose some cuts to experiment with.

I left the sirloin steak to thaw overnight in my refrigerator and cooked it up today. My initial impression of the beef was upon unwrapping it. There was none of the fishy odor so commonly associated with “freezer beef”. My rancher buddies tell me the fishy flavor is from feedlots where they add animal byproducts to the feed during the “finishing” process.

The steak was uniformly red without showing brown spots, so evidently the aging was done properly. According to their website they age from 14-21 days. I’m a fan of dry aging to increase tenderness and enhance the natural flavor of the beef.

I rubbed the steak lightly with extra virgin olive oil, kosher salt and cracked black pepper. After letting it rest for 30 minutes, I broiled it in the oven about 6″ from the heating element in a pre-heated iron skillet.

This steak certainly smells fantastic during cooking, it has strong savory overtones and I started to salivate after just a few minutes. After cooking each side for slightly over 7 minutes I could barely contain myself. This cut cooked up beautifully, exhibiting a light brown pigment with none of the disgusting gray so common with cheaper cuts of beef.

I slid the steak gently onto my warmed plate and prepared for the promised culinary delight. I chose a nice NorthStar Merlot to accompany the meal.

My first cut into the steak surprised me, it was firm but yielding demonstrating the tenderness of the beef. Mouth-feel of this beef is very good, it wasn’t greasy or rubbery and yielded a complex juicy flavor.

It is clear to me that this beef is higher in iron than some of the other breeds like piedmontese or brahman. I demolished this steak in record time while still trying to pace myself and enjoy the flavors.

So how would I describe this steak?

  • It is tender, but not as tender as wagyu or piedmontese
  • It is delicious with a complex, rich beefy flavor that definitely beats angus and many of the other beef breeds
  • It is making me hungry for more

I’ll report on the other cuts as I try them, but so far I really like the Viking Beef!

I smoked a genuine Cuban Romeo y Julietta Belicosos after dinner to reward myself, I’ll post that review later….It was a good day.

Draper Valley Vineyard

Draper Valley Vineyard

Draper Valley Vineyard is one of the few “juice only” vineyards in the world to produce actual varietals that truly represent the vintners art. These are not dealcoholized wines like the offerings from Jung or Fre, and I thoroughly enjoy these juices. They have a strong heady flavor and are beautifully packaged.  You can purchase Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Cabernet Sauvignon and experience rich bold flavors like never before. Draper Valley Vineyard doesn’t adds water or sugar, just the natural goodness of the wine grape. Take for example the deep red Draper Valley Pinot Noir, its rich flavor is reminiscent of black cherry, currents and black berries. Perhaps the rose-colored Draper Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is more to your liking, with its lighter taste of strawberry and cherry, with hints of peach and raspberry. The Draper Valley Chardonnay is a light blend of Granny Smith apple, pear and peach flavors, while their Riesling tastes like Golden Delicious apple, mango, and hints of honey & lemon.

The Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling are particularly great accompaniments to a fine cigar. You can order directly from their website, and Al Curtice the vineyard owner is frequently available via telephone or email to handle questions and customer support issues.

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