Thursday, May 29, 2014

Buffalo Milk and Other Catalina Island Cocktails

Luau Larry's Catalina Island California
Luau Larry's mural puts Catalina Island visitors in the mood for an island cocktail.
A short ferry ride deposits travelers on the shores of Southern California’s island getaway, Santa Catalina Island.  Catalina Island visitors can fill their days exploring Catalina’s waters or touring Catalina’s interior.  There is nothing better after a day of outdoor activities than sitting down with a refreshing cocktail, preferably with an ocean view, and Avalon has quite a few options for thirsty holidaymakers.

Catalina Island’s Signature Drink

Luau Larry's Buffalo Milk Catalina Island California
Luau Larry's Buffalo Milk.
Did you know Catalina has a signature drink?  It does, and that drink is called Buffalo Milk.  The Buffalo Milk cocktail doesn’t actually contain milk from buffaloes.  Buffalo Milk is a tasty alcoholic milkshake which gets its name from the bison that roam the island, which are descendants of bison that were brought over for a movie shoot and left behind.

Antonio's Pizzeria & Cabaret Buffalo Milk Catalina Island California
Antonio's Pizzeria & Cabaret's
Buffalo Milk.
Buffalo Milk can be ordered at most bars and restaurants on the island with some slight variations.  Our first introduction to Buffalo Milk was at Luau Larry’s, a colorful tiki bar on Avalon’s main drag along the water.  Luau Larry’s Buffalo Milk contains vodka, Kahlua, crème de cacao, milk and fresh bananas, all blended with ice and topped with whipped cream and a sprinkle of nutmeg.  The fresh bananas somehow make ordering this cocktail feel like a healthy choice.  Luau Larry’s has a second signature drink, the Wiki Wacker.  The Wiki Wacker is a mix of light rum, brandy, pineapple juice, orange juice, and grenadine, and also comes with a hat or a sticker so you can advertise to the rest of the island that you got your Wiki Wacked.

We asked some locals where they thought the best Buffalo Milk could be enjoyed.  I half expected a response to the effect that Catalina’s residents don’t drink Buffalo Milk and that it is just a drink for tourists.  Instead, I received three suggestions, with the surprising winner being Antonio’s Pizzeria & Cabaret.  Antonio’s has outdoor seating right on the waterfront, which is what pushed it over the edge as the location of choice to enjoy a frosty Buffalo Milk.  Antonio’s recipe is the same, except it has a fourth alcohol, crème de banana, instead of fresh bananas.

Other Catalina Island Cocktails

Another great choice for Catalina Island cocktails with a view is Bluewater Avalon.  Not only is Bluewater Avalon one of the best restaurants on the island with fresh seafood and flavorful meals, it also serves refreshing signature cocktails which can be enjoyed on the waterfront patio.  My favorite was the Cucumber Mojito with Shellback Silver Rum, VeeV Acai Spirit, fresh mint, cucumber, lime, organic agave nectar, and soda water.  I’m a fan of mojitos, and Bluewater’s mojito is refreshing, not too sweet, and has an added interesting layer of flavor from the cucumber.  Another Bluewater favorite is the Pilikia Margarita made with Sauza Hornitos Plata Tequila, Cointreau, fresh lemon juice, fresh orange juice, and lemon lime soda.

Bluewater Avalon Cucumber Mojito Catalina Island California
Mojitos and margaritas with views of the water and Casino at Bluewater Avalon.

If you’re looking for a spicier option, look no further than Catalina’s newest restaurant, Maggie’s Blue Rose, which is just next door to Luau Larry’s.  Maggie’s Blue Rose is a Mexican restaurant serving a number of margaritas and other signature cocktails.  I tried their most popular margarita, the Cucumber & Jalapeno Margarita.  This spicy concoction contains Patron Silver Tequila, fresh cucumber and jalapeno muddled with tequila, Cointreau, and sweet and sour.  The Cucumber & Jalapeno Margarita has quite a kick which is cooled down by the addition of cucumber.  I can see why it has quickly become popular.

Maggie's Blue Rose Cucumber & Jalapeno Margarita Catalina Island California
Maggie's Blue Rose's spicy
Cucumber & Jalapeno Margarita.
The Lobster Trap, a restaurant on one of Avalon’s side streets, serves a sweeter lineup of cocktails, including the Raspberry Lemondrop.  The Raspberry Lemondrop looks like a sunset in a glass and is made with Pinnacle Raspberry Vodka, Pinnacle Vanilla Vodka, sweet and sour, and raspberry liqueur.  The Lobster Trap also serves their own version of Buffalo Milk with chocolate sauce squeezed up the insides of the glass.

The Lobster Trap Raspberry Lemondrop Catalina Island California
Enjoying a Raspberry Lemondrop
on the boat inside The Lobster Trap.

Catalina Island Watering Holes

If an ocean view with your cocktail isn’t quite enough and you’d rather feel the sand between your toes while enjoying an alcoholic beverage, the Descanso Beach Club fits the bill.  The Descanso Beach Club, just past the Casino, is the only place in Avalon where drinks can be enjoyed on the beach.  Drinks can be ordered while lying out on the beach or enjoyed at the outdoor bar.

Just in case cocktails aren’t your thing, Catalina Island Brew House has a continuously rotating collection of eight craft beers on tap, which can be ordered by the glass or in a flight.  During our time on the island, Catalina Island Brew House was serving Golden Road Cabrillo Kolsh, Big “O” Brown, Hangar 24 Orange Wheat, Monkfish Belgian Amber Rosa’s Hips, Denogginizer Double IPA, Bootlegger’s Belgian Golden Ale, Eagle Rock Populist IPA, and Inland Empire Porter.

Catalina Island Brew House Catalina Island California
Beer flights at Catalina Island Brew House.
Finally, Catalina cocktails cannot be discussed without mentioning the Marlin Club.  The Marlin Club is the oldest bar in Avalon and has been serving drinks for over 60 years.  The Marlin Club is your standard bar with a pool table, foosball, darts, and a jukebox, except the bar itself was built to resemble a World War II boat.

Thank you to the Santa Catalina Island Company and Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau for hosting our trip to Santa Catalina Island and making this post possible.  As always, all opinions are my own.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Benson Brewery and Infusion Brewing Companies of Omaha aiding in the Rebirth of a Neighborhood

Booming suburbs are as an iconic of an image of the past half century of America as hot dogs and apple pie. Freeways leading out of downtowns are packed with people every day at 5 pm trying to get home to their quiet tree lined streets. Familiar franchises have popped up on every corner of every city of a certain size. When one lawnmower revs up in these neighborhoods, a chorus of garage doors can be heard opening as lawnmowers down the street are let out to make sure the uniformity of this landscape is being maintained.

When the mass exodus to the suburbs began, historic neighborhoods in every city suffered the same fate as the small towns that we have been chronicling. Family run restaurants suffered as the population moved to neighborhoods served by shiny new menus with goofy names and big drinks. The local pharmacy now had 2 names to deal with on every corner of the suburbs. The hardware store and local specialty shoe dealer suffered the same fate. Homes that once signaled an age of growth and hard work were reduced to being located in the place you really don’t want— or need– to go to anymore because they had become empty and a bit dodgy.

An example of one of these neighborhoods is the Benson neighborhood in Omaha, NE. Many people traveling to Omaha don’t hear much or make their way to Benson very often, or at least they didn’t. There is no cluster of hotels in Benson. The Henry Doorly Zoo and downtown entertainment district are off on the horizon for those visiting the area for events such as the College World Series. But this once proud Omaha neighborhood (that at one time was home to an amusement park and an iconic small town “Main Street” of local shops that shrank due to the suburbs movement) is making a proud comeback. Benson, which became a few streets of closed storefronts and “don’t go there after dark” talk, is now one of the premier districts to find genuine nightlife in Omaha. And one of the reasons for this revival is craft beer. Two new breweries with tap rooms have opened and have aided immensely to the continued growth of this great neighborhood, and the city as a whole.
Welcome to Benson Brewery 
Benson Brewery

Benson Brewery is a heavy weight even though it is one of the new kids on the block. It has only been open for just over a year and the head brewer, Andy Elliott, is in his first head brewing position. Elliott, a Colorado native, honed his craft by not only home brewing, but also spending his final semester in college as an intern for Odell Brewing in Fort Collins. With that experience under his belt he was offered multiple assistant positions, but when the opportunity arose to become the master of his own craft beer destiny he packed up and moved to Omaha. For the record, Omaha is lucky that he made that choice.

Boarding our first flight!
This Brewpub with growlers for takeaway and a beer garden that just opened for summer fun is located in the heart of Benson. Benson Brewery is located inside a turn of the century movie house. The inside is a mix of old and new with reclaimed flooring and beams along with modern lighting and a great bar to saddle up to. The brewing operation is enclosed in glass, running constantly between the brewery and a walk-in cooler out back.  New and innovative brewing techniques are on the horizon as well with clay pots and barrels at the ready to try new recipes and flavors.

A flavor for all 
The flavors, though, already jump out of your glass at Benson Brewery. I started with a flight of 4 and then also sampled from friends. My flight consisted of the Maple Street Porter (a chocolate porter so rich it evoked thoughts of Belgian Chocolatiers), the Brewers Duet Coffee Cream Stout (not overwhelmingly coffee flavored but well stouted), the Dirty Blonde ( a smooth golden Ale) and an Alt-Er Ego English Mild Ale (a hoppy ale with a nice citrus note).

All of these beers were full flavored without being overwhelming. The porter with its wonderful chocolate notes does not over or under do it. There is a perfect blend of beer, malt, and chocolate to make this beer a go-to when you arrive at Benson Brewery. The same can be said for the stout. I am not a huge coffee fan but the subtlety of the coffee pushes this cream stout to a higher level of smooth. The Benson Brewery, unlike other breweries, is not focused right now on having flagship beers though. There is a good rotation in and out of Elliot’s creations. At some point down the road there may be a full brewery cranking out regular selections to a broader audience. With that being said, I hope a few of the above selections stay on regular rotation.

Welcome to Infusion Brewing
Infusion Brewing Company

Just up the street from Benson Brewery is the Infusion Brewing Company and Tap Room. Infusion Brewing is located in another wonderful turn of the century building (this time a former butcher shop) that has been restored to showcase its history. Infusion Brewing is the brain child of Bill Baburek. Bill is the owner of 2 great craft and import beer bars in Omaha. The Crescent Moon (one of Bill’s bars) has been noted by many publications as 1 of the top 100 beer bars in America. With that history and love of craft beer, the next logical step for Bill was to open a brewery to bring his own recipes to the public. After finding the perfect spot in this burgeoning craft beer neighborhood, Bill’s dream was realized in the form of Infusion Brewing.

Let's take another flight!
With a seat secured and menu in hand I looked for 4 choices for my inevitable tap room flight. My flight at Infusion Brewing consisted of the Re-Fresh Wit (the signature pale Belgian Wit with its sweet orange easy drinking flavor), the Joel Porter ( an English Porter with a roasted malt hint), the Butcher Block Brown (a malty American Brown with a little bitterness that sets it apart from other browns) and a Vanilla Bean Blonde (a crisp blonde ale with a great Bourbon Vanilla flavor).

May the good beer be with you!
I had 2 favorites with the Butcher Block Brown and the Vanilla Bean Blonde, though I did enjoy my whole flight. The Butcher Block Brown was a nice escape from the standard brown. The hoppy bitterness with the traditional brown ale caramel hints make this beer a must try at Infusion Brewing. The other one I really enjoyed was the Vanilla Bean Blonde. It was smooth, almost like a cream ale with a wonderful vanilla aroma and flavor. Like coffee, I’m not a huge vanilla fan but this combo made for a very refreshing and fun taste. As stated, the rest of my flight was very good. The traditional Joel Porter was a nice, not overly heavy porter, and the Re-Fresh was what you expect from a very good wit bier (meaning it was much more drinkable then the macro imposters), but the brown and blonde were my favorites.

Both of these breweries have some fun seasonal and specialties as well. The Blood Orange IPA from Infusion Brewing truly takes a bitter west coast IPA and mixes it with an intensely strong orange flavor. The combo is a great match if you like bitter and sweet. Benson Brewery has a chai tea inspired brew called Karha T which must be sampled. Cinnamon, spice, Far East inspired, it is a beer for any temperature.

Taco Trucks! The perfect nightcap
Craft brewers around the country are innovative, creative, and inspired to do new and great things. These attitudes, and these 2 breweries, fit perfectly into a space (or neighborhood) on the rise. As Benson has woken up from its hibernation through new bars and fresh restaurants, these 2 breweries not only fit the new mold of the neighborhood but they also provide a vehicle to propel this neighborhood to new heights as the absolute place to be in town. When you come to Omaha (or if you live in Omaha already) head to Benson for a few beers, a food truck taco, and the chance to be a part of the area's revitalization.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Tour of Carlsberg’s Brewery and History

Carslberg Taps Carlsberg Brewery Copenhagen Denmark

Carlsberg is an internationally distributed beer and one of the world’s largest brewery groups.  I would be willing to bet there may be quite a few people who know of Carlsberg beer and yet don’t even know it’s Danish.  It is easy to forget that such a conglomerate came from small beginnings, and what is really interesting about Carlsberg is its history.  Carlsberg did more for Denmark than just brew beer.  It all comes down to Carl Jacobsen’s motto: laboremus pro patria, let us work for our country.  Carlsberg’s history is nicely illustrated in a tour of the Carlsberg Brewery in Copenhagen.

Carlsberg was established in 1847 by J.C. Jacobsen.  The name Carlsberg came from a combination of his son’s name, Carl, and the Danish word for mountain, as the brewery was situated on the hill of Valby.  Twenty years later Carlsberg was an internationally recognized brewery.  Around the same time, in 1867, the brewery burnt down, but was rebuilt the same year and is now listed as an industrial monument.  As a result of the fire, J.C. Jacobsen bought a large number of fire pumps both for the brewery and the city’s fire service. 

Carlsberg Brew House Carlsberg Brewery Copenhagen Denmark
The old Carlsberg brew house.
In 1882 Carl Jacobsen opened his own brewery, New Carlsberg.  Father and son differed over brewing methods and marketing.  Carl Jacobsen used advanced technology and experimented with shorter beer maturation times.  New Carlsberg flourished, and in 1906 Carl Jacobsen united the two breweries.

A tour of Carlsberg begins in the old brew house where Gamle Carlsberg, or Old Carlsberg, was brewed in the 18th century.  Visitors have the opportunity to taste beer made from the 1854 recipe while reading about Carlsberg’s early history.  Visitors can even taste the Münchener malt which was used in the Gamle Carlsberg beer and is now used in the Jacobsen Dark Lager, which is based on the original recipe.

Carlsberg 1854 Recipe Beer Carlsberg Brewery Copenhagen Denmark
Tasting Carlsberg's 1854 recipe.
Upstairs is the world’s largest collection of unopened beers.  The collection, which was first started by Leif Sonne but was later transferred to Carlsberg in 1993, was certified by Guinness World Records in October 2006 when the collection contained 16,384 bottles.  The collection continues to grow, and as of March 2014 had reached 22,250 bottles.  The beers come from all over the world, and there is a section dedicated to Carlsberg bottles from multiple countries in different languages.

Guinness World Records Unopened Beer Collection Carlsberg Brewery Copenhagen Denmark
Carlsberg's Guinness World Record holding collection of unopened beers.
A tour of the Carlsberg Brewery continues through the old brew house where visitors can read their way through an illustrated exhibit explaining the history of Danish beer and Carlsberg.  The tour then moves into an exhibit displaying the working conditions of the brewery employees.  J.C. Jacobsen was a kind employer who paid his employees well.  He felt an obligation towards his workers and provided social assistance such as medical care and pensions in a society where such things were not required nor were they the norm.  Carl Jacobsen followed the principals started by his father.  However, this type of management ceased with the formation of the brewery workers’ union in 1897.

Employee Beer Rations Carlsberg Brewery Copenhagen Denmark
Cupboards workers used to store their daily beer rations and packed meals.
Another example of Carlsberg’s motto, let us work for our country, is illustrated by a visit to the 1871 laboratory.  The Carlsberg laboratory was meant to provide a “complete foundation for the company’s malting, brewing, and fermenting operations.”  J.C. Jacobsen made the declaration that “no result of the laboratory’s activity of theoretical or practical significance shall be kept confidential.”  In this laboratory in 1883 Dr. Emil Christian Hansen developed the world’s first pure yeast.  True to Jacobsen’s word, rather than taking a patent out on this discovery, it was shared with other brewers, which changed beer production around the world.  Another discovery made in the laboratory was S.P.L. Sørensen’s formulation of the pH concept.

Carlsberg Laboratory Carlsberg Brewery Copenhagen Denmark
Helping out in the Carlsberg laboratory.
The Carlsberg Brewery tour next moves through the Sculpture Garden, which contains a few pieces of the Carlsberg art collection.  More of the Carlsberg art collection can be viewed at Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen’s art museum built by Carl Jacobsen.  The next building on the tour route contains the Carlsberg stables.  There are horses in the stables, along with some of the early Carlsberg delivery vehicles.

The Carlsberg Brewery tour ends in the Jacobsen Brewhouse & Bar.  In this building is the modern brewery.  Here is also where visitors can sample the products of this prolific brewery.  Tasting possibilities are practically endless, as Carlsberg now makes a number of brands including Tuborg, Somersby and more. 

Carlsberg Brewery is not the only place where the influence of the Jacobsen family on Denmark can be seen.  In addition to building the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek for Copenhagen and commissioning the sculpting of The Little Mermaid, Carl Jacobsen paid for the restoration of a number of churches and public buildings.  When part of Frederiksborg Slot was consumed by fire, J.C. Jacobsen and the Carlsberg Brewery helped fund the restoration.  When traveling throughout Denmark, there are little reminders here and there of how far reaching this family was.

Carlsberg Brewery is a 15 minute bus ride from the city center of Copenhagen.  But touring the Carlsberg Brewery is well worth the trip.  In fact, it was one of my favorite things to do in Copenhagen.  Allow a couple hours for the Carlsberg Brewery tour, and arrive in the morning so you can eat lunch in the Jacobsen Brewhouse & Bar.  Visit the Carlsberg Brewery website for more information about opening times. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Washing Down all that New Orleans Jazz

New Orleans wears many hats for many different people. It can be a party spot, a music destination, a food mecca, a place to absorb a culture like no other in America, or a place to just leave your inhibitions at the door. My wife and I spent part of last week focusing on three of New Orleans’ hats: great music, great local food, and great local drinks. We were lucky enough to find all three of these in three different areas of the Crescent City.

Wednesday At The Square

The first stop on our New Orleans music, food, and drink adventure was Lafayette Square for Wednesday At The Square. This 12-week free evening concert series gives everyone in New Orleans a chance to enjoy outdoor live music while digging into fare from local restaurants all washed down with local craft beer.

As we walked around the square the cool sounds of the All Star Lineup of Eric McFadden, Jerry Joseph, Norwood Fisher, Eric Bolivar & Special Guests filled the air. The other thing filling the air was the rich welcoming smell of Cajun cooking. From Cajun barbecue to gumbo, this Yankee (goofy accent and zero tan) was in aroma heaven. On a recommendation I went for the BBQ pulled pork tacos from Squeal Bar-B-Q. I couldn’t have been happier with that choice. I won’t step into the role of food writer, but I will say the bbq pork, slaw, and chipotle combo was smoky and savory and the perfect match for a craft beer.

We're in New Orleans, why not have 2!
You can enjoy this whole event with a drink in hand from the Abita Brewery—one of the area's original craft breweries. Abita’s story is much like that of another brewery we toured previously, Capital Brewing. Both Abita and Capital were founded in 1986, and like Capital, Abita's emphasis is largely on lagers. Both breweries are privately owned by local shareholders. 

With pork in my belly we headed off to the Abita tent. We grabbed an Andygator (a high alcohol Helles Dopplebock with a slight sweetness to it) and a S.O.S or Save Our Shores Pilsner. Not only is this Abita brew popular, but 75 cents of every bottle of Abita S.O.S. sold goes toward the restoration of the Gulf, another great cause. After sampling these two selections I found my favorite Abita beer, the Abita Amber. Abita Amber is the original offering of the brewery, and its classic malty smoothness with a hint of caramel is, to this day, the brewery's top seller. We also tipped our hats to Abita for the sheer fact that they were a sponsor of the event. In days gone by, the High Life delivery guy or Bud Man would have been vending their swill. It was great to see a local special event like this team up with a local craft brewery.

Besides just supporting local food and beer vendors, purchases made at Wednesday At The Square also benefit the Young Leadership Council. The YLC’s primary focus is leadership development and retention through community projects in the New Orleans area. While traveling I like to find ways to somehow support or "give back" to the community I'm visiting. Being able to do that while eating and drinking from local vendors made us appreciate the experience even more.

Frenchmen Street

A few blocks outside of New Orleans' famed French Quarter is the entertaining and less crowded Frenchmen Street. For 5 blocks, the establishments on this less touristed New Orleans street serve up an eclectic mix of food, cocktails, and music. Some of New Orleans' best dining options are found on Frenchman Street, and in all of these establishments you will be inspired by the locally infused drinks and cool jazz sounds.
Our first stop was Ruthie’s Bar at the Marigny Braserrie. Ruthie’s is at the end of Frenchmen Street. Ruthie’s feels like a neighborhood joint. The bar area is laid back with seating at tables and stools. You can enjoy a few cocktails and be entertained by live music. On the night we were there , the sounds of the Washboard Chaz Trio set a great mood in the place. A highlight of Ruthie’s was the warm staff who wanted to help a few travelers pick out some great drinks. In our limited amount of time we weren’t able to taste the whole drink menu, but we were able to tuck into a strawberry mojtio and Ruthie's Signature Rum Punch. The mojitio was refreshing with generous amounts of fresh strawberries, mint, and booze. I enjoyed it as much as any mojitio I’ve had. Ruthie's Rum Punch was a nice mix of coconut rum and tropical juices with an added kick of 151 at the end to make sure that you endured a little New Orleans kick with your drink. With great drinks, live music (we don't get washboard players at home), a relaxing atmosphere, and from what we were told by another restaurant on the block, exceptional food, Ruthie’s is a must hit on Frenchmen Street.

Champagne glass happiness
After Ruthie’s we moved down Frenchmen to Three Muses for dinner, drinks, and more music. Three Muses is a popular spot, so expect a wait any night you go. As with many great local spots in New Orleans this restaurant doesn’t have an overabundance of seating, which is great because it keeps the food fresh and the menu options interesting. The small seating area allowed us to be close to the band, which happened to be the popular Luke Winslow King. Three Muses was established by 3 people (a food specialist, a drinks specialist, and a music specialist) and it shows in their unique menu. Their food is meant for sharing. It comes in small portions of interesting combinations. We indulged in the lamb sliders, falafel sliders and a local cheese plate. Our drinks were served in champagne glasses to encourage sipping and soaking up the ambience. We tried the Spaghetti Western (a combo of Bulleit Bourbon, Campari soaked orange and rosemary syrup) and a West Bank Daiquiri (NOLA rum, pineapple/lemongrass syrup, and lime juice). The drinks were as intricately crafted as the food, and by the spirit of the crowd (and the wait at the door) the rest of this well put together cocktail menu is worth sampling on a visit to Frenchmen Street.

After dinner the wild sounds of booming brass funk were calling as The Heard (a Chicago based funk band) was playing down the street at The Maison. The Maison is a 3 stage, 2 story, legendary club serving up, you guessed it, local drinks and great music (and no cover charge). We went straight for the bar at The Maison and were impressed to learn that they make their own bourbon and vodka in-house for some of their cocktails. With that bit of knowledge we chose to sample the house-made alcohol drinks. I was intrigued by the Old Fashioned. As a Wisconsinite by birth I know the Old Fashioned as a brandy drink with muddled cherries. This southern Old Fashioned was a bourbon drink (house-made) with muddled oranges. The outcome is obviously a much different drink, but very refreshing with a touch of sweet from the oranges (a drink worthy of a southern gentleman). My wife eyed up the Southern Peach (house-made peach and ginger infused vodka, peach bitters and simple syrup with soda water and Sprite) and fell in love with it. It was also refreshing and to me almost tasted like an Italian peach soda. Both drinks paired well with the unbelievable brass style of The Heard and the energetic Maison. The Maison, with its great music and solid drinks, is an establishment that must be experienced on Frenchman.

As is the case all over New Orleans walking with a drink in hand is fine on Frenchmen. And, with music emanating from every open door, you can spend all night enjoying different sounds and flavors.

Lite beer looming on the Jazz Fest horizon
New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

We could have traveled to New Orleans any time of the year but we chose our dates because we wanted to attend Jazz Fest. Jazz Fest is a celebration of the culture of New Orleans and greater Louisiana spanning 2 weekends every spring.  It doesn’t matter what you love most about New Orleans (food, music, drink, crafts, hats) because Jazz Fest has it all covered on the infield of one of the oldest race tracks in America.

With a lineup of bands that we love and food that I couldn’t wait to stuff my face with, Jazz Fest sounded like the perfect festival for us. We were very excited during our Jazz Fest planning that the Alabama Shakes, one of our favorite bands, would headlining on the Friday we would be in New Orleans. The Alabama Shakes are lead by Brittany Howard, the one singer in the world we would want to hang out with. The power and soul she puts into her vocals are unrivaled and the short yet real fan interaction she has puts her in a class of people we want to share a drink with. 

So, how does the food and drink at Jazz Fest rate? The sheer volume of local favorites was almost overwhelming. Name any variety of Po-Boy and it is available at Jazz Fest. The soft shell crab Po-Boy stand was dubbed by past Jazz Fest attendees as the 1st stop at Jazz Fest for the best food item at the festival. There were also fried oyster, Andouille, shrimp, pork, and catfish Po-Boys to be found, and on and on it went. There were gumbo, craw fish, jambalaya, pulled pork, tacos, desserts, and snow balls stretched as far as the eye could see. I dove into gumbo (it wasn’t too hot out and I hadn’t had gumbo in New Orleans yet) and was overly satisfied. It was now time to wash down my gumbo.

Was that a tiny can of Shandy?
Unfortunately, the washing down is where I did have one small issue with the festival. I love a local craft beer, I think I’ve shown that in past scribbling. I heard there were 2 tap lines of Abita Amber somewhere, but I couldn’t snuff them out. What we saw everywhere were big Miller Lite stands serving Lite, Coors Light, Blue Moon, and Leinie’s. With a wealth of local artisans and food it was almost a shame that the beverages weren’t local as well vs. just being snobby, because I had to drink a Summer Shandy. With 10 craft breweries in the state, and for the most part we know craft brewers work together for the greater good of beer, we hope that somehow Jazz Fest and those breweries can pull together to send the big macro packing. We know Miller/Coors kicks in cash to sponsor the festival, and of course money is always a concern. But if it comes down to being able to service enough lines to serve a bunch of thirsty music fans, we hope that somehow the local craft brewers like Abita can come together and devise a plan so that all of the art of Louisiana (brewing is an art) can be showcased at the 46th annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2015. For you slushy booze drink fans, the New Orleans punch was fantastic and available at multiple places on the grounds.

Typically, New Orleans nightlife evokes images of beads, hurricanes, and Huge Ass Beers on Bourbon Street with people from all around the world. But New Orleans also has you covered if you love music, food, and drink with locals in a more relaxed environment.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Sonoma In The City – A Virtual Tour Of Sonoma Through A Wine Glass

Sonoma in the City Pinots
First flight of Pinots from the far Sonoma coast.
Northern California is practically littered with wineries and wine regions, all producing world-class wines served all over the planet.  I had the chance to learn more about the wines of one of these regions, Sonoma County, at a recent Sonoma in the City event.  Sonoma in the City is an event that occurs in cities across North America to educate trade, media, and consumers and showcase multiple wineries from all over the Sonoma region in one convenient place.

Sonoma has more than 400 wineries, most of which are open for tours and tastings, and many of which are family owned.  Sonoma actually has three distinct wine regions: the far Sonoma coast, the Russian River Valley, and the range.  Wines produced in these three different regions have distinctive characteristics unique to their region.

The trade and media event introduced us to 28 Pinot Noirs from across the Sonoma wine region, broken into three segments for the three different sub-regions.  Our introduction to Sonoma Pinot Noirs started with a flight of nine Pinots from the far Sonoma coast.  The wineries represented were Flowers Vineyard & Winery, Martinelli Winery, Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery, Dutton-Goldfield Winery, Peter Michael Winery, Siduri Wines, Red Car, MacRostie Winery & Vineyards, and Papapietro Perry Winery.  The wines from the Sonoma coast are gentler with smaller grapes left on the vine longer because of the cold.

I had two favorites from the flight of Sonoma coast Pinots.  One was the 2011 Three Sisters Vineyard “Sea Ridge Meadow” from Martinelli Winery.  The Pinot had a smoky aroma, a floral taste, and was very smooth.  The Martinelli family has been growing grapes since the 1880s and their wine making practices have been passed down through the generations.  My other favorite was the 2011 “Ma Danseuse” Estate from Peter Michael Winery.  This Pinot stood out from the rest because of its intense dark ruby color, much darker than the others.  The small berries create the deep color, as there is less juice and more pulp.

The next flight included nine Pinots from the Russian River Valley.  The wines were provided by Inman Family Wines, Williams Selyem, Sojourn Cellars, Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery, Davis Family Vineyards, Paul Hobbs Winery, Benovia Winery, Kosta Browne Winery, and Joseph Swan Vineyards.  The Russian River Valley grapes are bright red.  The Pinots obtain their textural element from time on the vine. 

This flight included three of my favorites.  Sojourn Cellars’ 2011 Wohler Vineyard was the most affordable option of the day, with a suggested retail price of $48.  The Wohler Vineyard was an easy, smooth, drinkable wine.  Sojourn Cellars is a boutique winery making 8,000 cases a year.  I also enjoyed Davis Family Vineyards’ 2011 Starr Ridge Vineyard.  This Pinot was spicy with a slightly sweet finish.  The Davis Family Vineyards’ vines were planted 18 years ago.  The 2011 Katherine Lindsay Estate from Paul Hobbs Winery was surprising because it had very little aroma.  The wine had a deep berry color and a smooth fruity taste which seemed as if it would have been accompanied by a heavier aroma.  While not necessarily one of my favorites, the 2011 Thorn Ridge Ranch from Inman Family Wines had a very interesting taste with complex flavors of fruit and spice and almost a salty ocean taste.

Sonoma in the City Wine Tasting
The third flight being poured while producers from the Russian River Valley answered questions about their wine.
The final flight included 10 Pinots from the range.  These Pinots came from Keller Estate, MacPhail Family Wines, La Follette Wines, Iron Horse Vineyards, Emeritus Vineyards, Bruliam Wines, Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards, The Donum Estate, Hartford Family Winery, and Patz & Hall.  The wineries in this area are still learning what defines them and are considering becoming their own AVA region.  The land used to be covered by dairies and have larger areas of one rootstock.

I found three favorites in the final flight of Sonoma Pinots.  The Emeritus Hallberg Ranch 2011 Estate Bottled was very fruity and is described as one of their more delicate and feminine vintages.  Bruliam Wines’ 2012 Gap’s Crown Vineyard was one of the darker Pinots with a smoky tobacco aroma.  All of Bruliam’s profits go to charity.  The 2008 Jose S. Ferrer from Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards had a chocolate aroma and was very smooth.  Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards are actually known for their sparkling wines.

After our Pinot Noir education, we were invited to the Grand Tasting, which was open to the public.  The same wineries were represented, along with many others.  Much like our tastings, the venue had wineries separated by region so tasters could experience the different tastes of the different regions of Sonoma County.

The wineries listed above welcome travelers to visit their tasting rooms.  Or if you can’t make it to Sonoma County, visit the Sonoma in the City website to find future Sonoma in the City events near you.