Thursday, March 27, 2014

Tap into the Business of Craft Beer infographic

The resurgence of craft beer is in full effect, with drinkers embracing eclectic ales, with hints of caramel, orange, pumpkin and cocoa. This is not the everyday faint-colored beer with the light fizz on top. Craft beers, brewed the old-fashion way, boast an endless parade of eclectic natural flavors to accent the traditional hops, barley, wheat, and other grains. The true craft lager maker knows how to create a distinctive blend that will have layers of character, an appealing fragrance and a beautiful hue. Artisan beers are all about ambiance and experience – and they’re steadily catching on across multiple age groups.

It’s not the 1880s, but microbreweries are sprouting up as if it were. To date, there are more than 2403 small breweries churning out a wide array of tasty ales. These breweries have been heavily scouting for employees to meet public demand. More than 103,000 job positions have been filled so far. Craft lagers are suddenly big business. In 2007, $5.7 billion worth of craft beer was sold across America. In 2012, that number doubled to $12 billion. By 2017, be on the lookout for beer enthusiasts to buy nearly $36 billion worth of craft drinks.

Craft Beer Infographic

So who’s buying? Baby Boomers, perhaps feeling nostalgic for homemade brews popular in their youth, have affection for craft brews. A third of them list it as their preferred beer. Among Millenials, the thirst for artisan beer is even higher: 43 percent would choose one over a mainstream beer. However, nearly half the population admit to being intrigued by craft drafts and would gladly try one if they understood more about what it was, the brewing process, the flavor selections and what how to pair it with food.

Here’s a quick primer. For garden fare, like salads or veggie appetizers, a Saison goes well. Vegetarian meals and pasta pair well with Pale ale. When eating ethnic foods with strong flavors balance the experience with a gentle beer, such as an Indian Pale Ale, which goes superbly with curry, or a standard Wheat brew, which complements Japanese and Chinese dishes. If you want to drink a fine, sweet Irish Red, this is a very flexible beer that can go with most pub foods, from wings to burgers to melted cheese sandwiches. Dessert beers with sweet, rich undertones like barley wine and chocolate stout go great with pies, cake and pastries.

Aficionados of beer who want to rove around the U.S. sampling different brews have three venues to target. In addition to microbreweries, there are regional craft breweries and brewpubs that stock hundreds of different craft beer selections on a daily basis. While mainstream beers till dominate the market, the Brewers Association reports that 98 percent of breweries currently in operation are actually craft facilities because small, independent ones are popping up everywhere. You can also visit Kendall College, new home of the Siebel Institute, which has a beer teaching hall and a brewery.

So, next time you’re in the mood for a cold one, consider a craft one with chamomile or caramel instead of going for the mass-produced standard.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Wine Bloggers Conference Scholarship Fund

Wine Bloggers Conference Scholarship Fund

It's that time of year again, when wine bloggers cast their covetous eyes towards the Wine Bloggers Conference, wherever it may be (this year, in Santa Barbara County, California). Those with ample trust funds, the childless, the ones with a handle on their finances -- they're all ready to go. For the rest of us, there's the Wine Bloggers Conference Scholarship Fund (WBC Scholarship).

The WBC Scholarship allows wine bloggers, who otherwise could not attend, a stipend that pays for some or all of the costs associated with the Conference. Kovas received a grant last year, allowing him to enjoy the wines of British Columbia. We'd both love to go this year, but, as always, our budget is directed mostly to our kids, so the Conference is unlikely to happen without donors' generosity.

That's where you come in - donate today (or tomorrow), ask your local winery to pony up, and send some wine bloggers to California. WBC14 is fast approaching and the Scholarship Committee cannot do it on their own. Even if we do not end up attending the Conference, it truly is a worthwhile effort to support.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Winechat: Danubia

Winechat: Danubia

One thing I enjoy almost more than anything is tasting new wine, especially from countries new to me. A new varietal makes it even more cool. Last week, for winechat, we benefited from a trifecta of education, new varietals, and new tastes in wine, which Blue Danube Wine provided in spades.
A Brief Introduction to Hungarian Wines:

"Bisected by the Danube River and a gateway between East and West, Hungary has been largely defined by invasion, occupation or alliances ranging from the Mongolians, Turks, Germans, Austrians, Italians, French, Czechs, Slovaks, Serbs, Croatians and Communist Russia. Hungarian cuisine, language, and wine culture is the remarkable transformation of these foreign influences into something uniquely their own. Over the past 2000 years, its continental climate, fertile soil, volcanic terroirs, and native grapes make it the only country in the world to sing about their wine in their National Anthem. That said, the Communist period that followed World War II focused on quantity over quality and the greatness of the many regional wines were largely forgotten. Today, only 20 years after the re-establishment of private and family wineries, Hungary is in the midst of a wine renaissance. The potential of its 22 distinct appellations and breadth of indigenous varieties and traditions of winemaking are only now being truly (re)discovered."

I'll have to admit, that the Kadarka, Furmint, and Olaszrizling just didn't do it for me when first tasting them. But, in all 3 cases, they warmed up and we warmed up to them. Definitely wines that needed to be tasted on the warmer side of the scale. Modern Hungarian wines have come a long way from “Bulls Blood,” and are worth seeking out, not just for their novelty, but because they offer a chance to try something you're unlikely to find anywhere else.

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Pontificis 2012 G-S-M Pays d'Oc

Pontificis 2012 Grenache Syrah Mourvedre Pays d'Oc

Pontificis 2012 Grenache Syrah Mourvedre Pays d'Oc

Trader Joe's purchase so, unfortunately, very little information available on this 40% Grenache, 40% Syrah and 20% Mourvedre blend. At the checkout, the clerk did say that this wine tastes much more expensive than it's priced, so we were excited to try it, and he was right, good QPR. Deep, dark, inky purple color; earthy dark fruit aromas; leather, earth, plum, smoke, and meaty flavors; medium mouthfeel into a very slightly tannic finish;  cork closure; SRP $6.99.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Southern Tier Crème Brûlée Imperial Milk Stout

Southern Tier Crème Brûlée Imperial Milk Stout

A sweet find on my trip to Minneapolis and my first beer from the Southern Tier Brewing Company. Smells and tastes like dessert. Decent head, but fast-disappearing, leaving a beautiful lace; espresso brown black in color; vanilla, caramel, and brown sugar aromas; creamy caramel, coffee, brown sugar, vanilla flavors; medium body; well-balanced with just the right touch of bitterness at finish; minimal, almost hidden carbonation - well integrated; ABV: 9.5%, SRP $8.99 (22 oz).

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Crest Mountain Grill, Afton Alps, MN

The Crest Mountain Grill, Afton Alps, MN

Last week, on a business trip to the Minneapolis area, I had the good fortune to ski at Afton Alps, a resort in the area. How big? 300 acres, 50 runs, 18 chairlifts. It really is remarkable - you should check it out yourself if you ski. With restaurants at the base and a grill at the top, as well as space to bring picnic fare, there are plenty of options to choose from. I opted to head up to the Crest Mountain Grill, for ski ski out simplicity.

Typical ski lodge ambiance, the Grill was recently redone by new owners Vail Resorts, and they had the good sense to leave the original fireplace. A minimal menu, a few beers on tap, and a full bar keep the choices simple but good. A wrap around deck allows for alfresco eating when the weather is good, while views from the windows inside allow you to keep track of the action on the slopes. Order and pay at the bar and the food is brought out when it's ready.

I ordered The Crest Hamburger: Half pound patty, with apple wood smoked bacon, melted cheddar cheese, and barbecue sauce. Jumbo Beer Battered Onion Rings were my choice of sides, a good litmus test, in my mind, to the quality of the cooking (it's hard to make onion rings well). To accompany this fine meal, I opted for a local craft beer, from Surly Brewing Company. Their Furious American IPA is all about the caramel and hops, perfect foil for the sweetness of the barbecue sauce. The burger was outstanding, perfectly cooked, with maybe a bit too much sauce, but tasty nonetheless. The onion rings were hot, crispy, really well prepared, but unfortunately didn't have much flavor. Not sure if they forgot to salt them or what the deal was, but it was a shame.

The Crest Mountain Grill really hit the spot after a few hours on the slopes and I would suggest it's not a bad place to hang out at any time. Well prepared food, local beer options, and a view - can't ask for much more in a restaurant.

Crest Mountain Grill on Urbanspoon

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

#Winechat: Bodegas Carrau

When Our World Our Community (OWOC) invited us to participate in the Bodegas Carrau winechat, we jumped at the chance. I tasted Uruguayan Tannat at the Wine Bloggers Conference, so I knew we'd be in for a treat. OWOC works with four small, family-owned wineries in Argentina and Uruguay: Bodegas Carrau, Cuyum Mapu, Bodega La Azul and Malbec de Angeles.

#Winechat: Bodegas Carrau

2013 Sauvignon Blanc Sur Lie

From the highest vineyard in Uruguay (1000+' above sea level); hand harvested grapes; native yeast strain; 6 months sur lie in stainless; light yellow color with flecks of green; an explosion of aromas: grapefruit, melon, and citrus blossom; more of the same on the palate - lively citrus, melon, and floral flavors; beautifully balanced; somewhat creamy mouthfeel into a refreshing finish; 13.5% ABV; 2,250 cases produced; cork closure; SRP $14.

2010 Tannat Reserva

Vineyard grapevines are 25 years old on average; hand picked grapes; fermented in stainless with native yeasts; aged 18 months sur lie in French oak barrels;  cocoa, black cherry, and cream soda aromas; bright red fruits, cedar, and green pepper flavors; tannic and unexpectedly tart finish; 13.5% ABV; 5,000 cases produced; cork closure; SRP $14.

Both wines were tasted with a lemon pepper, salt, and butter roasted chicken and crispy green beans. Both pleasant on their own and great with the food. High quality examples of current wines coming from South America, unfortunately only sold in California. We are definitely excited to try more wines from OWOC!

These wines were provided as media samples.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Wine Wednesday: Martin Luther

Wine Wednesday: Martin Luther

Whether made by men or gods, beer and wine are two of my favorite things - Martin Luther sure had it right. Happy Wine Wednesday, hope you're having some great ones this week!

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Provence in the City 2014 - Chicago

Provence in the City 2014 - Chicago

Even though this has been one of my favorite winters in recent memory, despite the cold and snow, it was with slight relief to attend the Provence in the City 2014 - Chicago, and imagine myself beachside, sipping dry Rosé.
Provence, the site of France's oldest vineyards, is the world's largest wine region specializing in rosé. The physical environment of Provence – with its plentiful sunshine; its mistral winds; its Mediterranean Basin soils; and its hillsides covered with wild lavender, rosemary, and thyme – is reflected in the refreshing flavors and zesty aromas of the rosé wines made there. Provençal winemakers make rosé from the red grape varieties traditionally grown in the region: Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvedre, Tibouren, Carignan, and, occasionally, Cabernet Sauvignon. All Provence AOP rosés are estate bottled – made and bottled by the grower under Appellation d'Origine Protégée (AOP) rules. This guarantees the quality of the wine and ensures the reputation of the AOP system.
Though slightly crowded, the Pump Room restaurant was a classic and classy place to hold this wine tasting. While we were uncertain where to get started, it turned out that it didn't matter - the Provencal winemakers are a friendly bunch, and held to strict standards in the production of Rosé, so every wine was pretty much amazing. When's the last time you could say THAT about a tasting? Tasty food pairings were offered, along with bottled water and sodas (does anyone still drink soda anymore?). Though not all to our taste, every wine was well-made and beautifully explained by the winery rep, often the winemaker themselves.

Add in meeting some well-known winemakers, like Sacha Lichine (he made the mistake of inviting us to visit him) and the event was beyond our expectations - thanks Wines of Provence!

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Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Mac+Cheese Cookbook

The Mac+Cheese Cookbook

Most of us share a childhood memory of macaroni and cheese, most likely of the unearthly orange-hued mix from Kraft (nothing more disappointing than having it served to our kids at a restaurant). For years, we've tried to create one of the luscious, creamy, and cheesy versions that you get served in a restaurant that understands it's a comfort food. HOMEROOM, a restaurant in Oakland, CA, appears to be just such a place, serving primarily mac and cheese plates with some sides and desserts. Allison Arevalo and Erin Wade decided to share their secret recipes, with some of their sides and desserts, and also present new recipes like patatas bravas mac, shepherd pie mac, four-cheese mac and more. Delectable.

Unfortunately for me, while we were able to make amazingly tasty dishes, I'm still struggling to master the texture of the sauce, but more practice (yes, please!) will hopefully ameliorate the situation. Texture aside, there may not be a more perfect dish than Smoky Bacon Mac, the basic recipe improved. A failed side, Roasted Carrots with Citrus Vinaigrette (nobody liked the vinaigrette) and a new fave, Crispy String Beans were the extent of our attempts to add veggies to these meals. Laima did make Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting, and this is a recipe sure to remain in the mix for quite some time.

One interesting thing the authors do is to suggest a wine and beer pairing for each of the recipes. The Classic Mac, for example, is paired with a Nut Brown Ale, very tasty. The Smoky Bacon Mac's Red Ale falls a bit short, though the Cabernet Sauvignon was quite good. Nice to try their recommendations and try to come up with some of our own.

The beauty of this cookbook is that mac and cheese is, for the most part, really simple. There's a recipe in this cookbook for every taste and, if you don't find any of the variations appealing, simply try some experimenting with the amazingly delicious basic recipe. And here's the kicker -- even if the texture doesn't come out quite right (as it hasn't for me), the taste is so good that it just doesn't matter.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Jade Dragon, Hinsdale, IL

Jade Dragon Restaurant Food

This weekend, while picking up my skis from being waxed, I noticed that there was a Chinese restaurant, Jade Dragon, next door to the ski shop. After checking out the reviews on Yelp and Urbanspoon, it sounded like it was a quality place to eat, which got me very excited, as it's not easy finding quality Chinese here in the 'burbs.

Typical in decor to many of my other faves, the design is spartan, with plastic flowers and basic furniture being the key motif. A huge crowd of middle schoolers whooped it up in the front of the restaurant, with other diners scattered here and there. A steady flow of diners picking up orders to go was a positive sign as well.

Dinner started out with a bang, with enormous kiddie cocktails sprouting fruit and umbrellas were brought to the table - our kids could hardly contain their glee. Following were vegetable spring rolls, which unfortunately, while quite tasty, were literally dripping oil. This, however, was the only misstep of the night.

Jade Dragon Restaurant

Beef Chow Fun, Hong Kong Style Cantonese Pan Fried Noodles, Sweet and Sour Chicken, and Moo Shu Pork were all brought tableside and enjoyed immensely. Freshly prepared, fresh tasting, not overly sauced, these were classics done right.

Friendly, fast, and efficient service was taken up a notch by the care taken in the service. Our kids were not ignored - the server asked them all how they were enjoying their meals. The apparent owner walked around the restaurant, greeting the numerous regulars by name, showing why, along with the food, people keep coming back. I know we'll be back - one of our kids now says it's his favorite restaurant!

One of my favorite cuisines, good Chinese food has become very difficult to find, so it was great luck to find a restaurant with so much going for it. Fresh, crisp veggies, tasty sauces, and a varied menu were paired with friendly and efficient service. If you're ever in Hinsdale, IL and are in the mood for Chinese, this is the place for you.

Jade Dragon Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Jade Dragon Restaurant on Foodio54

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

SakéOne Virtual Tasting

Every time we do a virtual tasting, I'm reminded of just how much I have to learn, especially about things like saké. Happily, Steve Vuylsteke, CEO of SakéOne, and Greg Lorenz, SakéOne's Brewmaster, are more than able as educators, demystifying the drink and enhancing the experience with their breadth of knowledge. Some of their product is brewed in Oregon, with others imported from Japan. In honor of the traditional Japanese holiday "White Day," we tasted 3 of SakéOne's signature sakés: Momokawa Diamond and Momokawa Pearl, both Domestic, along with SakéMoto, an Import. The saké provided for the tasting was in 300mL bottles, perfect for sampling without having to commit to a certain style.

SakéOne Virtual Tasting

Much like craft beer, saké is brewed with four ingredients: rice, Koji mold spores, yeast, and water.

SakéMoto Junmai Saké - light-bodied, low acid and a full mouthfeel make this a good introductory saké. A real surprise was a suggested pairing with parmesan cheese - amazing combination!

Next up was the Momokawa Diamond Junmai Ginjo - probably our least favorite, contrary to what most others were saying. Perhaps a need for more exposure to drinking this style. As with the last style of saké, tasted with dark chocolate, this one with sea salt caramel filling - simply amazing.

The last was the most unusual and maybe the most interesting. Momokawa Pearl Ginjo Nigori Genshu Saké - a milky saké, this is less filtered, with rice particles imparting a creamy look and texture. To drink, one must first turn the bottle over several times to mix, before pouring. Paired with a straight dark chocolate, like milk and cookies for adults.

Ultimately, we learned so much and are excited that a U.S. producer is working hard to bring quality saké to the States. Next up is a possible exploration of terroir - sakés brewed from single rice paddies. Fascinating stuff. Saké is an interesting beverage, with some misconceptions out there, but plenty of upside to trying it out. As Martin Redmond so simply summarized: "Essence of saké: brewed like beer, tastes like wine."

Disclaimer: These sakés were provided as media samples.

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