Thursday, June 26, 2014

Sipping Snaps in Denmark

Told & Snaps Copenhagen Denmark
Snaps tasting at Told & Snaps.
You may think I spelled snaps wrong, but I didn't.  In Denmark, what we as Americans usually identify as schnapps is called snaps, also known as aqvavit.  Danish snaps are distilled liquors infused with some sort of herb or other flavoring agent.  Snaps are served straight in a small glass, usually paired with food. 

We received our first introduction to Danish snaps at Told & Snaps in Copenhagen.  If you’re looking for a snaps tasting education, Told & Snaps is the place.  Told & Snaps is one of the most popular restaurants in Copenhagen for smørrebrød, the most traditional accompaniment to snaps.  Smørrebrød are open-faced sandwiches topped with strongly flavored ingredients such as pickled herring, shrimp and eggs, roast beef, cheese, and pâté.  As snaps are also strongly flavored, smørrebrød and snaps make a good flavor team.

Smørrebrød and snaps at Told & Snaps Copenhagen Denmark
Smørrebrød and snaps make a perfect pair.
When our waiter learned we had never had Danish snaps before, he offered us a snaps tasting so we could sample multiple flavors of snaps, rather than the traditional one glass of snaps filled to the rim.  We were served two types of mass produced snaps including Aalborg Akvavit, the most common Danish snaps.  Aalborg Akvavit is clear with the flavor of caraway and has been made in Denmark since 1846.  We were also able to sample some of Told & Snaps’ house-made snaps which are infused with many different herbs and spices including dill, sea buckthorn, sweet gale, and thyme.  I found the house-made snaps to be the most enjoyable as they were so flavorful.

We tried another flavor of snaps at Kähler Spisesalon in Aarhus.  Here we tried Hr. Skov snaps.  The choices included snaps made with rosehips, sweet gale, or crowberries.  We tried the Klithyben made with rosehips grown in Jutland, which was both bitter and lightly sweet.  Here the snaps were served with our dessert of breads and cheeses.

Snaps at Kähler Spisesalon Aarhus Denmark
Tasting snaps at Kähler Spisesalon.
Our final experience with snaps was in Roskilde at the Hotel Prindsen bar.  Roskilde’s popular brewery is Herslev Bryghus, but in addition to beer, they make snaps.  Two kinds were being served at the Hotel Prindsen: Brændevin Korn, a single-estate snaps made from grain, and Brændevin Stjerneanis, a blend of two distillates with star anise.  This was the first time we tried snaps by itself, without any food.  It had seemed strong before, but it was even stronger without food.  Our bartender watched us with concern as we took our first sip.  She finally asked if we liked it or if it was too strong.  She said it was strong for her and that she only drank snaps with food.  Which is when we learned snaps is really only to be had with food.

 Herslev Bryghus Snaps Roskilde Denmark  Herslev Bryghus Snaps Roskilde Denmark

When traveling through Denmark, beer is the most readily available beverage to consume at restaurants and bars.  But don’t forget to add some snaps into the mix.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

10 Tips to Help You Get the Most Out of Your Beer Festival Experience

The word festival has a number of dictionary definitions.  Most of the definitions center around the common theme of celebration. These celebrations have been around since the idea of communal living (communities) took over for the life of nomads wandering the earth. Most of these celebrations center around a source of local pride.  Common themes range from local food harvest celebrations (an apple festival) to celebrating a local hero every year. There is one festival theme that (over the last decade) has expanded more than any other, the craft beer festival.

As the craft beer industry has taken off, so have the number of celebrations for the industry.Beer fans the world over have traveled in mass to open spaces dotted with tents decorated in familiar craft beer logos. The craft beer fest has become a popular way to showcase local and regional brews to people who may be inclined to stay inside the (macro beer) box when shopping for beverages at their local market. It’s also a great way to introduce new creations to legions of craft beer fans and get a “buzz” going for new products. With all that in mind, the craft beer festival is not just a place to get drunk on a multitude of flavors. There is an art (as craft beer is an art) to attacking and enjoying your experience at this festival. As lovers of craft beer and the festivals that celebrate them, we offer these 10 tips to help you get the most out of your beer festival experience.

Don’t let the summer pass without attending one of these great festivals of beer. Most cities have a number of them. Omaha where I am based has at least 5 and I’d like to thank the Omaha Beer Fest for letting us in to cover their festival two weeks ago. We have scheduled festival stops all summer long from San Diego to Denver to Omaha and beyond. Let us know when and where you’ll be attending so we can share, laugh, and eat tacos with you.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Pinot and Pups: Paso Robles Dog Friendly Wineries

Paso Robles Dog Friendly Wineries
Someone is tired after a long day of tasting wine at some of Paso Robles' dog friendly wineries.
When deciding on a weekend getaway for a three-day holiday, we settled on wine tasting in Paso Robles.  Paso Robles is Central California’s premier wine country. There are numerous wineries to choose from, but our criteria for the weekend was dictated by our furry travel companions, so I was on the hunt for wineries that not only created excellent wines, but were also dog friendly.

Paso Robles, unlike some of the more widely visited wine regions, is still reasonably priced, with wineries many times providing free wine tastings if any bottles are purchased.  For us a bonus was that many of Paso Robles’ wineries are dog friendly.

The first winery we visited ended up being my favorite.  Castoro Cellars is family owned and makes some dam fine wine.  That isn’t a spelling error either.  The owner’s son’s nickname is Beaver, and when he went to Italy, they called him il castoro, which means beaver in Italian.  Thus also the pun on dam fine wine.

Castoro Cellars Dog Friendly Wineries Paso Robles
You can just feel its going to be a good day of wine tasting while walking under Castoro Cellars' grape arbor.
Our visit to Castoro Cellars corresponded with their thirtieth anniversary.  In celebration they held a two day event with live music and food and also had some crazy sales on their already reasonably priced wines.  After tasting their vintages I was hooked and ended up taking home a case and a half of wine, which is far and away a record for me.  Castoro Cellars has a large but homey dog friendly tasting room, as well as an art gallery in an adjacent building.

While tasting the Castoro wines we befriended a couple who were wine club members and insisted Castoro Cellars made some of the best wines of the region.  It pays to befriend wine club members while tasting because not only will you gain some additional knowledge, you may also gain access to tasting some wines you would not have otherwise been offered.  The first wine we tried was the Tango, one of Castoro’s signature white wines, which is a blend of Viognier, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Moscato that dance well together.  The Tango was refreshing and bright with a subtle sweet flavor.  Some of our other favorite Castoro Cellars wines included the Barbera, Carignane, and Tempranillo.  Because of our newfound friendship with the wine club members, we also got to taste the XXX, Castoro’s 30-year anniversary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Petit Verdot.  The wine had just been bottled that week and yet was already delicious. 

Our next dog friendly winery in Paso Robles was Windward Vineyard, which focuses solely on Pinot.  Windward is a small, more intimate tasting room.  There is also a covered patio where wine and cheese sold in the tasting room can be enjoyed.  We had their vertical tasting, which is a style of tasting that progresses from newest to oldest wine, all of the same varietal.  It was a warm day, so I actually enjoyed the newer Pinot the best as it had a cleaner, fruitier taste.  The older Pinots were more robust.  Our wine pourer stated her preference also fluctuated based on the day.

After hitting two wineries it was time for lunch.  We stopped at Opolo Vineyards which has a huge covered patio, also dog friendly, where they offer a few options for lunch. Lunch choices can include grilled meats or fresh pizzas made in their outdoor pizza oven.  And of course lunch comes with a glass of Opolo wine.

Opolo Vineyards Dog Friendly Wineries Paso Robles California
A wine and lunch stop at Opolo Vineyards' dog friendly patio.
Our next tasting stop wasn’t wine, but locally made olive oil at Pasolivo in Los Olivos.  The dogs had to sit this tasting out.  Pasolivo has a number of olive oil varieties, mostly flavored, which can be tasted with bread pieces and flavored salts.  My favorite was the citrus olive oil.  Pasolivo also makes vinegars, sweets, salts and spices, and more.  I fell in love with their unique olive oil tins.

Pasolivo Citrus Olive Oil Paso Robles California
I am a sucker for packaging, but the contents are delicious too.
We drove deeper into Paso Robles’ wine country and visited Whalebone Vineyard, a tiny dog friendly tasting room on top of the hill.  Whalebone’s featured wine is Bob’s Wine.  Bob (Robert Simpson) is a doctor who decided to take his winemaking hobby to the next level.  The Bob’s Wine label mimics duct tape which is a reminder of Whalebone’s humble beginnings.  Whalebone also makes food for their customers.  On the day we visited they were serving tri-tip chili made from the leftover tri-tip from the day before.  It was some of the best chili ever.  Paso Robles seems to have a love affair with tri-tip, and they do it well.

Paso Robles Countryside Dog Friendly Wineries California
Traveling deep into Paso Robles' wine country also provides some pretty nice views.
We visited the last dog friendly winery of the day, Villicana Winery & Vineyard, not for the wine, but for the spirits made by the related RE:FIND Handcrafted Spirits.   Due to California regulations, a spirits manufacturer cannot also sell those spirits. However, the loophole is that since they are also a winery, they can create and sell brandy.  Therefore, instead of making vodka they make Neutral Brandy, and instead of crafting gin they create Botanical Brandy.  These were excellent, but the seasonal Cucumber Brandy stole the show.  RE:FIND’s Cucumber Brandy tastes fantastic when mixed with homemade lemonade.

RE:FIND Handcrafted Spirits Dog Friendly Paso Robles California
Tasting brandy at RE:FIND Handcrafted Spirits.
RE:FIND Handcrafted Spirits Cucumber Brandy Dog Friendly Paso Robles
RE:FIND Cucumber Brandy and homemade lemonade makes a delightful summer cocktail.
We finished off our day of tasting at Vivant Fine Cheese for cheese tasting.  A selection of cheeses can be sampled outside on their dog friendly patio.  I suggest the Holey Cow, a semi-soft whole cow milk cheese.

Dog Friendly Vivant Fine Cheese Paso Robles California
Making a cheese stop at Vivant Fine Cheese.
Whether you are traveling with your canine companions or not, Paso Robles is a great destination for wine tasting.  Paso Robles is an especially good choice for those looking for a dog friendly wine tasting destination.  But note when saying the name of the town in the area, it is not pronounced like Paso Robe-less, but like Paso Roe-bels.  Their Spanish pronunciation might not be so good, but they sure know how to make good wine.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Tracking Down the Legend of the Spotted Cow in New Glarus, Wisconsin

Throughout history the world has been obsessed with legends and mythical creatures. From the Lochness Monster, to Big Foot, to the legend of the big lake they called “Gitche Gumee” (that’s right, I just quoted Gordon Lightfoot) people have always chased things that are elusive and mysterious. The craft beer universe has a legend of its own—a fabled brewery. The beer from this brewery can only be purchased in one state in the U.S., and yet, the brewery is the 32nd largest in the United States. The mention alone of this brewery’s most well-known beer sparks wonder and stories of pilgrimage. The brewery is New Glarus Brewery. And, unless you’re lucky enough to know someone from Wisconsin, you’ve probably only been able to hear about the famous Spotted Cow.

Little Switzerland in America
New Glarus Brewing Company is nestled in the rolling hills of southwestern Wisconsin, just 20 minutes south of Madison, in the village of New Glarus.  New Glarus, like the brewery that bears its name, is very unique. Since its founding in 1845, by immigrants from Glarus, Switzerland searching for a place to a void poverty back home, New Glarus has been America’s “Little Switzerland”. The village itself is a mix of chalet style buildings, cobblestone streets, and blossoming flowerboxes that really make you feel like you are in a small Swiss village (minus the towering Alps). 

One of the things I think is so great about New Glarus is that it’s not overdone. When you drive into town you aren’t greeted by gaudy billboards directing you to the best Swiss chocolate west of Bern. What you find are tastefully decorated shops, taverns, and bakeries that have a Swiss feel and a friendly small town Wisconsin attitude. (Tip: travel to New Glarus during one of its many festivals that involve cheese, chocolate, or Swiss culture to enhance your experience.)

Drink Indigenous in Wisconsin
The ultimate purpose of my most recent New Glarus experience was to visit the celebrated and legendary New Glarus Brewing Company. With slogans such as “Only in Wisconsin”, “Drink Indigenous” and “Buy Local…Drink Yokel”, I was giddy to make a trip to the brewery. It’s the Wisconsin spirit that makes New Glarus Brewing Company extra special in my mind. Founders Deb and Dan Carey have never wavered (and I’m sure they’ve had a million opportunities to distribute regionally or nationally) on keeping their beer local to Wisconsin. It’s what gives New Glarus its mystique, and it also brings extra tourism dollars to the area (and the state as a whole) from those looking to find the mythical Spotted Cow.

Part of the Hilltop Brewery
After making a few stops in town for a bite of cheese and a search for the perfect urban cowbell, I headed up to the New Glarus Hilltop Brewery. New Glarus Brewing Company has been in operation since 1993, but the brewery on the hill has only been operating since 2008. The brewery, which is wonderfully perched on a hilltop just south of town, overlooks the rolling hills of Green County and the village of New Glarus itself. Like the rest of the village, the façade of the brewery has a contemporary old world feel. It is also—in comparison to many small town breweries—pretty big. 

My first stop at the brewery was the tasting room to pick up (for a reasonable $3.50) my souvenir flight glass that allowed me to sample three different brews. This was perfect for me since I was there to try a few flavors and really wanted to see the brewery with a beer in hand. The beer that I chose as my tour beer was the Back 40 Bock. This seasonal bock has a dark-copper, unclouded color to it. It’s a smooth, ever so slightly sweet lager that has a lot of flavor. With the bock in my glass I was ready to walk the hallowed halls of the brewery.

The Back 40 Bock and landscape    
From the tasting room I walked through the Biergarten on my way to the actual brew house. The outdoor seating area (like everything else about the brewery) is tastefully put together. Picnic tables sit aligned with great views of the area in a very well-kept, landscaped stone area. It is a relaxing area for sitting down and enjoying a great beer with friends. It’s not covered, so sunlight splashes down on the whole area adding to the enjoyment of the Biergarten. Paths extend down the hill and offer wonderful views of the area. They’re dotted with little stopping points to sip your beer in a very natural setting. I give the brewery a big “thumbs up” for the outdoor area.

I must not cross that line!
After catching a few rays in the Biergarten, I proceeded to the house where the magic happens. The gift shop was actually first, but if I’d have stopped I would’ve finished my beer in there and then been empty, so I decided to leave the shop for the end. I proceeded along and checked out some of the awards the brewery has won for its beer and many contributions to the community. Then I moved into the guts of the brewery where I found my favorite site, (something every brewery doesn’t have the space for) the copper kettles. There they were, four shiny German beauties. If I didn’t still have two beers to sample I probably would have crossed the line and given them a quick rub for good luck. I’m not advocating that behavior and respect the sanitary nature of the brewery, but I do love a kettle.

Stairway to heaven
From the kettles I continued on through what I contend is one of the most state of the art brewers paradises I’ve ever stepped foot in. The brewery is lined with different fermenting tanks (not in just a solid boring row but artfully set up), rooms for brew testing, and a pilot brewery set for 30 litre testing. It was all designed for more than just brewing though, it was created with a love for the entire process in mind. Walking through the brewery I really got the sense from the employees I spoke with that this is a place they love very much. There is a lot of passion in the whole process, and that passion is not only evident in the great beer that is produced, but also by how the whole brewery complex was built. My last stop in the brew house was the bottling line. Like the rest of the brewery, this area is not just a boring old assembly line cranking out bottles, but an open and bright area where the final place of the craft of brewing takes place. 

The Spotted Cow comes home!
After seeing a bunch of bottles get branded with New Glarus’ unique labels, I realized that I was empty and thirsty. I headed back to the tap room for a sample of that mythical beer, the one and only Spotted Cow. As someone who grew up in Wisconsin—and still has family there—I have been lucky enough to enjoy a few (I will not define “few”) Spotted Cows in my day. The cloudy farmhouse ale has a very unique fruity taste with a hint in the aroma of the local corn used to make it so special. Spotted Cow never disappoints and is the perfect go-to beer for any occasion. I frequently get requests from people to bring them some Spotted Cow when I travel to and from Wisconsin. Spotted Cow is a very special beer that deserves the legendary status it receives. Mine tasted pretty darn good that day and I was happy to enjoy it while relaxing in the warm New Glarus sun. 

The last drink I had at the brewery was the Moon Man Session Ale. Moon Man is described on the bottle as a “No Coast Pale Ale”. It’s brewed with five different hops and has a nice malty back end. There is not an overly “hoppy” flavor to this pale ale which is why I’m assuming they gave it the “No Coast” moniker. It’s not in your face just for the sake of being hip, though there is still a lot of bold flavor to it. This is another solid offering from the brewery and it adds to the legacy of wonderful beers in their line.

Though I didn’t have time to continue down the line of beers on the menu that day, I have had most every beer that New Glarus produces. Beyond Spotted Cow I am a gigantic fan of Fat Squirrel and I was so happy to hear that it came back to the seasonal rotation. Fat Squirrel is a hazelnut brown ale that is unfiltered and hearty. Toasted caramel notes arise from the local malts used, and the hazelnut sets it apart from traditional brown ales. One other must find, especially if you enjoy a fruit beer, is the Wisconsin Belgian Red. It is brewed with whole Door County Cherries and Wisconsin wheat. The beer is described as having a whole pound of cherries in every 750 ml bottle and I can say from experience it is an explosion of flavor.


I don’t live in Wisconsin anymore, so getting an opportunity to stop by New Glarus was a real treat. From the Swiss bakery, to the Swiss imports store, and finally the one of a kind brewery, the whole town is a perfect getaway. If you’ve heard of Spotted Cow but never tasted it, do whatever you can to get your hands on some. If you’ve had beer from the famed New Glarus Brewing Company but never made the pilgrimage, head down to Green County because you are in for a treat.