Thursday, August 5, 2010

Belgian Style India Pale Ale: A style in development

In honor of International Beer Day (August 5th), your host decided it might be useful to address the category of Belgian style IPAs.

For those who are unfamiliar with the category, BeerAdvocate offers the following description:

"Inspired by the American India Pale Ale (IPA) and Double IPA, more and more Belgian brewers are brewing hoppy pale colored ales for the US market (like Chouffe & Urthel), and there's been an increase of Belgian IPAs being brewed by American brewers. Generally, Belgian IPAs are considered too hoppy by Belgian beer drinkers.

Various malts are used, but the beers of the style are finished with Belgian yeast strains (bottle-conditioned) and the hops employed tend to be American. You'll generally find a cleaner bitterness vs. American styles, and a pronounced dry edge (very Belgian), often akin to an IPA crossed with a Belgian Tripel. Alcohol by volume is on the high side. Many examples are quite cloudy, and feature tight lacing, excellent retention, and fantastic billowy heads that mesmerize (thanks, in part, to the hops). "

Belgian IPAs are frequently now being brewed by California Brewers. While they often are seasonal or special offering, a few companies, such as Green Flash located near San Diego, offer a version year round. Green Flash's version, titled Le Freak, has the strong Belgian character of spice and banana, along with a pleasing bitterness in the finish. Stone Brewing also occasional bottles a Belgian style IPA.

Yesterday, your host had the chance to stop by the Rose & Crown Pub in Palo Alto. This bar tends to stock draft beer by local Peninsula brewers such as Palo Alto Brewing, Devil's Canyon, Mayfield, and Firehouse. On tap was "Pete's Support" Belgian IPA from Firehouse. The name being a spoof on the acclaimed "Pizza Port" brew chain in San Diego. This beer was excellent. It had a great spicy flavor, rich color, good lacing, and a pronounced bitterness as a result of additional dry hopping.

BevMo, City Beer, and Jug Shop all have excellent beer selections. You may also be available to find Belgian IPAs at select Whole Foods stores.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Gran Classico...a new bitters in town

It is not a secret that your host is a fan of bitters. Campari, Cynar, Averna, Fernet...all add an alluring bitterness to cocktails and can often balance against sweeter components.

Recently, a new bitter arrived on the San Francisco market, and is making a big impact on the cocktail scene. It's called Gran Classico, an original bitter based on an 1864 recipe from Turin, Italy.

Unlike its cousin Campari (also another bitter in the Turin style), Gran Classico is darker in color, with a pronounced wormwood bite. Enthusiasts of absinthe will recognize that wormwood provides a bitter taste to absinthe and can help balance its licorice overtones. The taste of Gran Classico is different than most other bitters on the market and the wormwood and gentian stand out, as does rhubarb and bitter orange peel. Gentian is one of the main flavoring ingredients in Angostura bitters. Unlike Fernet, there are no minty/menthol overtones. Bottled at 28% abv, Gran Classico packs a punch and makes a flavorful Negroni when combined with gin and a high quality sweet vermouth.

While Gran Classico is now manufactured in Switzerland at a boutique distillery, its U.S. distribution rights are owned by Tempus Fugit spirits, based in Petaluma. Tempus Fugit imports and markets a variety of French and Swiss absinthes. (as well as Voyager Gin from Washington State). During their research, they came across Gran Classico bitter and decided to add it to the catalog due to its unique and wonderful flavor. In addition, the 2007 U.S. legalization of wormwood opened up access to the U.S. market (previously, thujone, a chemical in wormwood was illegal in the U.S. due to perceived hallucinogenic properties).

The bitter can be purchased at K&L Wine & Spirits and retails for $29.99.

Helpful Links:

Select Bars in SF that have Gran Classico cocktails on the menu:

15 Romolo
Comstock Saloon
Cafe Des Amis

Featured Cocktail:

Old Pal
1/2 oz. Gran Classico Bitter
1 oz. dry vermouth
2 oz. bourbon
Stir and serve over ice in a double old-fashioned glass. Garnish with a flamed orange peel.

Created by Jonny Raglin
Comstock Saloon, San Francisco

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Patriotic Libations: Applejack and the Marconi Wireless Cocktail

Given that today is the 4th of July, it seemed timely to comment on one of America's oldest spirits: applejack.

Applejack was born out of America's early fondness for hard cider. In the 1600 and 1700's, New Jersey apple farmers would leave hard cider out overnight in the winter cold, and would then skim off the ice in the morning. The resulting liquid residue was higher in alcohol, and earned the name New Jersey Lightning. The term "jacking" is another name for freeze distillation. Eventually, producers became more refined and started distilling the hard cider in traditional pot stills. This allowed for a cleaner spirit without excess cogeners and troublesome methanol that could cause blindness and a nasty hangover. While popular in America's early years, applejack waned in popularity over time as bourbon and rye whiskey became more prevalent.

Founded in 1780, Laird and Company is one of America's oldest distilleries and is the main producer of applejack and apple brandy today. Unlike many distilleries that closed down during prohibition, Laird was able to continue distilling apple brandy for "medicinal purposes."

By law, applejack is a blend of 35% apple brandy and 65% grain neutral spirit (at some point post-prohibition the law was changed to distinguish applejack from apple brandy). However, a much better product is Laird's 100 proof bottled-in-bond apple brandy (which is actually much truer to the classic applejack style). The flavor is more concentrated and is perfect for on the rocks sipping or perhaps with a splash of soda water. Some with sensitive palettes may find the spirit a little rough neat. Over 20 lbs of Virginia apples go into a single bottle of the 100 proof version.

Traditional American apple brandy differs significantly from its French counterpart, Calvados. Chiefly, American apple brandy is made from American apples and is aged in charred American oak barrels. This charred oak barrel aging makes the American product have a taste profile and color more in common with bourbon or rye whiskey. Calvados is made from French apples and is aged in French toasted Limousin oak, resulting in a lighter color and more delicate flavor.

In addition to Laird and Company, a number of boutique distilleries have started to make apple brandy including Clear Creek in Portland, OR, Germain-Robin in Ukiah, CA and St. George Spirits in Alameda, CA. However, their products, while excellent, tend to have a flavor and profile more in common with Calvados.

Due to the recent interest in classic and well made cocktails, applejack and apple brandy have seen a revival. An excellent drink that showcases the 100 proof version of Laird's is the Marconi Wireless.

Originally created at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City, the Marconi Wireless is essentially an apple brandy Manhattan. It was supposedly named after the wireless genius himself when he came to visit the hotel in the early 1900's.

On this 4th of July, drink to a traditional American spirit!

Marconi Wireless Cocktail

2 oz Laird's 100 proof apple brandy
0.5 oz sweet vermouth (Carpano Antica is best, or to keep the cocktail patriotic, domestically made Vya works too)
Dash of bitters (Angostura works, or continuing on the patriotic theme, use Fee brothers barrel aged bitters)
Orange twist garnish

Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and flame orange twist over the rim. Serve cold. It is important not to add too much vermouth, or the delicate apple flavors will be lost.

Note: Many liquor stores on the West Coast now carry Laird's products. If you must, you can use their more common blended "applejack" product, but it is worth seeking out the pure 100 proof version.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Your host is back! (The Vieux Carre Cocktail)

Well folks, it has been a little longer than expected, but your host is back to share more about liquor and unique sights.

The trip to South America was indeed interesting and well worth while, and the time since then has been filled with career research.

But now, it is time for a drink.

Your host recently went for cocktails at Alembic, a great bar located on Haight Street in San Francisco. On their menu was an usual twist to the Manhattan Cocktail, called the Vieux Carre.

This cocktail was originally developed by Walter Bergeron in New Orleans in 1937. He was the head bartender at the Monteleone Hotel. A boozy combination of cognac, rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, and 2 types of bitters, it is not a cocktail for session drinking.

Traditionally, this cocktail is served in a rocks glass over ice. The Alembic recipe calls for an "up" preparation, complete with a flamed orange peel. This difference in preparation makes a huge difference, as the flavors are deeper and more pronounced.

Also, it is important to use high quality ingredients in this cocktail. Use a 100 proof rye whiskey like Rittenhouse. As for cognac, a decent VSOP or older will add additional complexity. Using Carpano Antica sweet vermouth will ensure the drink does not become too sweet. A cheaper vermouth, as in the type in most well Manhattans, will destroy the drink and give it a syrupy flavor.


Vieux Carre Cocktail

1 oz Rye Whiskey (Use Rittenhouse 100 proof)
1 oz Cognac (Use a V.S.O.P. or older)
1 oz Sweet Vermouth (Use Carpano Antica, or other higher end product)
1/2 oz Benedictine
Dash of Angostura Bitters
Dash of Peychaud's Bitters (A bitters native to New Orleans)

Stir above ingredients with cracked ice. Strain into cocktail glass. Twist and flame orange peel over top of the glass and drop into the drink. The orange oils will float on top providing pleasing aromatics. Shaking this cocktail may lead to excessive dilution. Drink cold.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Your host is in South America.

Hello friends,

I apologize for the lack of recent posts. Your host is in the middle of a six week trip to Bolivia and Argentina, visiting the sights, and sampling the Singani brandy, wine, beer, and local beverages.

Look for new posts in early May!



Friday, March 19, 2010

Takara Sake USA: Immerse yourself in the Japanese Rice Wine

A recent dinner with sake at Betelnut got your host thinking about the beverage and the fact that there is a very good sake factory just across the Bay in Berkeley named Takara Sake USA. A subsidiary of the larger Japanese business, Takara Sake is located in a white industrial building near the railroad tracks and has been producing fine Junmai and Junmai Ginjo sakes from Sacramento Valley rice since 1982. Most know of the company through their flagship "Sho Chiku Bai" brand. Though sake is often known as rice wine in English, often due to its non-carbonated nature and bottle appearance, the manufacturing process is more like beer, in that the rice must first be converted from starch to sugar.

Current students and alums at Cal Berkeley may be well aware of Takara, as their tasting room has historically been popular with the college set. So much so, that the company now limits the quantity one can consume at each visit.

That being said, the visit is still a great way to get acquainted with the Japanese beverage. The museum and tasting room is on the second level of the factory, which allows one to peer down into the fermenting and manufacturing rooms. The potent smell of yeasty rice lingers in the air, a decidedly different aroma than one would find at a winery or brewery. There is a small museum detailing the process of making sake, along with a collection of antique sake making equipment. There is an airy Japanese styled tasting bar where you can choose one of several flights to try, depending on how dry or sweet you like your sake. Each flight costs $5 and allows you to try several products, ranging from milky white unfiltered Nigori sakes to super premium Junmai Dai-Ginjos. The tasting is an excellent chance to try more expensive sakes on the cheap, as a few of the flights contain sake from bottles in the $30 to $50 range. Unfortunately, the staff is strict about limited visitors to one flight (even if you offer to pay another $5), probably to discourage the rowdy group spectacle of years past.

However, there is no limit on how many bottles you can buy and take home and they offer their full range of USA and Japanese made products for sale at attractive prices, including organic and extra fine sakes. For those wanting a crash course in sake making, Takara's webpage offers a good overview of the manufacturing process and sake's differing characteristics, including how the different levels of rice polishing affect taste.

Before or after the visit, a good lunch option is Brennan's, located in the nearby historic mission-style 1913 Southern Pacific Railroad Depot under the University Avenue overpass. Known for its hand-carved sandwiches, Brennan's offers filling and reasonably priced pub fair in a classically detailed environment. Amtrak and freight trains still pass by out front.

Important Information:

Takara Sake USA
708 Addison St.
(Between 3rd and 4th street)
Berkeley, CA 94710
(510) 540-8250
Mon-Sat 12 p.m. - 6 p.m.
Sun 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Brennan's Restaurant
700 University Ave.
(Between 3rd and 4th street)
Berkeley, CA 94710
(510) 841-0960
Mon-Wed 11 a.m. - 9:30 p.m.
Thu-Sat 11 a.m. - 10:30 p.m.
Bar stays open later.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Little Fun Between the Sheets...

Your host recently returned from a short trip to Honolulu and Waikiki. While Hawaii is more known for blended and umbrella style drinks, there are several bastions of cocktail refinement. One of these is the Lewer's Lounge at the Halekulani Hotel on Waikiki Beach.

According to their bartender, the lounge is the only establishment on Oahu to own its own Kold-Draft style ice machine, which makes special hard ice that melts more slowly. While Lewer's cocktail list is not inventive by SF or Seattle standards, they do make reliable classic drinks without the excessive use of sugary mixers. One drink that appears on the menu is the "Between the Sheets," a variation on the Sidecar, and a drink seldom seen today.

While its origin is unclear, the "Between the Sheets" cocktail actually has two variations, one with white rum, and one with Benedictine, a bitter french liqueur. It is the Benedictine version that is most complex, and the one they serve at Lewer's Lounge. For an extra kick, add a few dashes of Regan's Orange Bitters. The general bitterness matches well to the sweetness of the Cointreau and brandy.

Between the Sheets Cocktail

1.5 oz cognac or fine brandy
1/2 oz Benedictine
1/2 oz Cointreau
3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
Few dashes Regan's Orange Bitters #6.

Shake with good quality ice in cocktail shaker. Strain into cocktail glass and garnish with an orange twist.