Tuesday, August 27, 2013

SakéOne: Oregon’s Saké Brewery


When you think of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, I bet you think of wine, pinot to be specific.  Did you know Oregon also has a saké brewery?  SakéOne is Oregon’s only saké brewery, and there are only six total saké breweries in the United States.

I am actually not a huge saké fan.  To me, many taste like water with a little alcohol and not much flavor.  I am sure there are some fantastic Japanese sakés out there; I just have not had them yet.  However, SakéOne really opened my eyes to the possibilities of saké.  The gentleman who served us our tastings was really excited about sharing with us.  You could see this was not just a job for him, but that he was proud of what they served.  He listened to what we liked and built our tastings around that information.

Our favorites were the g Saké, which is their most popular, and the Moonstone Asian Pear.  The g Saké has a very clean taste, but has more flavor than traditional sakés I have tasted. The Moonstone Asian Pear is perfect for drinking chilled on a hot summer day.  I also enjoyed the Murai Family Sugidama, which had an earthy, mushroom flavor.  They also have a saké of the month club, with the monthly saké on tap, called draft nama.  When we were visiting, the nama was Momokawa Ruby, a berry flavored saké.  It was delicious on tap, but not as good bottled.

Some of the many flavors of saké on offer at SakéOne.

Not only does SakéOne brew quite a variety of delicious sakés, they also have created a number of saké cocktail recipes that are available on their website, including the Master Cleanse-Tini, which I find to be hilarious.  Why not mix your cleanse with a cocktail?

One of Oregon’s resonating themes is to keep everything as local as possible.  SakéOne is no exception.  Saké has two important ingredients, water and rice.  The reason SakéOne was started in Oregon in the first place was because of Oregon’s high quality water, and the rice comes from the nearby Sacramento Valley.

SakéOne is located in Forest Grove, Oregon, not too far from Portland.  The tasting room is open daily, except for select holidays, and they also offer tours.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Great Lakes Distillery Pumpkin Seasonal Spirit

Great Lakes Distillery

So it is already August.  You know what that means, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas paraphernalia will be available in stores any second now.  Instead of fighting it, I’m giving in, and therefore sharing a spirit that must be enjoyed during the holiday season, but can and should be enjoyed year-round.  The delightful spirit of which I speak is Great Lakes Distillery Pumpkin Seasonal Spirit.

My discovery of Great Lakes Distillery Pumpkin Seasonal Spirit involved traveling for work.  I traveled to Edina, Minnesota for work for a quick two night trip.  There was no time for sightseeing or sampling what Minnesota had to offer until the last evening, when four of us were able to take a couple hours to visit one of St. Paul’s restaurants, Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market.  We arrived early for our reservation and grabbed some seats at the bar to enjoy a cocktail.  We had a fantastic bartender and the cocktail list had some very unusual and interesting choices.  The Spiced Old Fashioned, with Great Lakes Distillery Pumpkin Spirit, Minnesota maple syrup, and bitters, caught my fancy.

Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market
Some of the unusual cocktails offered at Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market
The bartender quickly prepared my cocktail with a scoop of ice, a pour of the spirits, a splash of the bitters, and a squeeze of maple syrup, which he explained was better mixed with a little water to thin it out, topped with a curled orange peel.  When I tasted my beverage, I fell in love.  I immediately had visions of my husband and me sitting in front of the fire, him cradling a tumbler of scotch or a snifter of brandy and me holding my brand new tasty cocktail.  My husband loves scotch, whiskey, and brandy, and in our travels I have found some spirits that I can tolerate, but I am by no means a whiskey girl.  Give me a glass of wine, a pint of beer, or a fruity cocktail any day.  Bring a glass of whiskey near me and my nose immediately begins to crinkle.  But this spirit is different.  It starts with Lakefront Brewery’s Pumpkin Lager, which is based on a Thomas Jefferson recipe and contains a blend of spices including cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom, and is distilled and aged in bourbon barrels by Wisconsin’s first small batch distillery.  It is a hard alcohol that I can actually drink without making a screwy face.

Great Lakes Distillery Pumpkin Seasonal Spirit
Pumpkin Old Fashioned made with the last drops of my Great Lakes Distillery Pumpkin Seasonal Spirit
When I came home I ordered myself a bottle of Great Lakes Distillery Pumpkin Seasonal Spirit.  I also found a number of drink recipes, including one similar to the one I had at Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market, on Great Lakes Distillery’s website.  I also had to purchase bitters, because who has bitters lying around?  I have made a few of the recipes I found online, all of which have been fantastic.  In addition to the Pumpkin Maple Old Fashioned, I made the Pumpkin Spice Martini, with heavy cream, hazelnut liqueur, and maple syrup, and the Pumpkin Old Fashioned, similar to the maple version, but with a muddled sugar cube and orange slice, a dash of bitters, and a splash of seltzer.  I almost feel like I should be vacuuming the house in a dress, pearls, and heels . . . almost.

Great Lakes Distillery Pumpkin Seasonal Spirit can be purchased online from Binny’s Beverage Depot, Caddell & Williams, or Merwin Liquors.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The St. Goar Wine Festival

What’s the one thing you think of when you hear Germany in late September?  I think great weather, the Bundesliga in full swing, and a great festival dedicated to drinking.  A scenic 3 hour train ride from Munich took us to one of the great festivals of Germany.  Confused? Yes I said train ride from Munich in late September. The St. Goar Wine Festival may not have the hype or attendance of the other great German festival at that time, but what it does have is great wine in a picturesque Rhine hill town with the same festive atmosphere that Germans bring to the table.

As we pulled into this area nestled along the winding Rhine I couldn't help but think how quiet, relaxing, and full of vineyards the hills are. Bacharach and St. Goar pack great views, great wine, and some of the most inviting people in Germany. We had to find out where our delicious Riesling came from, so being there was a real treat. Picking Bacharach as our home base at this particular time was choosing the sleepier of the 2 towns.  No worries though as there are frequent trains and boats running between the 2.

At Fritz's, she gets the good ones and I get the average ones
We also chose Bacharach because of Fritz’s wheel of 16 wines. 16 varieties of Rhine wine in their own individual glass on a wheel for you to sample before settling on your favorite. Being a couple who never likes to waste a drop we did the wheel proud. We forgot half way through which ones we liked, so we had to guess once we made our after wheel choices.  It was an awesome recommendation and a nice change up from the copious amounts of beer downed on the previous legs of this trip in Belgium and Munich. Add the fact that you are in a sleepy town with a choice of 5 streets that your B&B is on and your stumble back is not quite the adventure it is in say Munich.

We feel no shame in the fact that we'll be
trying your friends soon and enjoying it
We also found that the bike ride between the 2 was good for our health and gave us lasting memories of our time on the Rhine. Who knew though that renting a bike for the day would not only lead to a train ticket purchased? Beyond that it also landed us smack dab in the middle of a festival we didn't know existed. We had just left the largest beer festival on Earth and now were right back into another festival. As we rode along the river on our Mary Poppins bikes complete with basket, I soaked up everything that I could. Endless stretches of hills dotted with vines and castles jutting out of those vineyards around every corner.

As we finally arrived in St. Goar the town was buzzing with action. Every café and restaurant was bursting at the seams (oh yeah and no fast food to be found in these 2 towns, major cultural bonus). The distinct sound of Oom-Pah in the distance along with loud people filled the air. This of course is the mating call of people ingesting some sort of spirits. We rode to the town square to find the sign “Annual St. Goar Wine Festival”.  Jackpot, and it was stumbled upon. That’s like having all 6 numbers plus the Powerball.  1 drink to start and we’d come back later as we had a long bike ride back.

Great way to see the Rhine towns
We parked our bikes and went into the local market as we had planned a wonderful Rhine picnic before heading back. A nice lunch including Paprika Pringles (why can’t we have Paprika flavor in the US, they’re the best) and back to our bikes we strolled. And there it was, a flat tire staring right back at me with an hour bike ride also staring at us.  I knew I had consumed too much sausage and Augustiner in Munich. Thank goodness for the frequent milk run trains and the kind gentleman who actually couldn’t stop laughing as I walked the bike in. I had actually blown out the tube, no hole, no leak, just 10 too many pretzels in Munich.

Cheap train ticket to great wine
That night we hopped back on the train. We were greeted by revelers from around the globe plus fireworks, polka, and wine that never stopped. St. Goar Wine Festival is held annually around the 3rd or 4th weekend in September. All the vintners across the region attend, and you must taste and talk to them about the subtle differences they all bring. Beyond the wine you must also sample the other spirits that they provide. From the most amazing Peach Brandy my lips have ever tasted to their own take on the “Pure” Beer recipe. As always in Germany I took down way too much sausage and this time some great wine. We danced and chatted the night away. We Stood and Sing Ein Prosit even though we were not at the great beer festival that song is for, we still wanted to say Cheers to all.