Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Best Places to Celebrate New Years Eve

Welcome to the "Night of a Thousand Uber Rides", formally known as the "Night of a Thousand Cab Rides". It's amateur night around the world, where adults and sort of adults all come together and become sort of adults. Some places have huge parties - Times Square, Sydney, London, Key West, Prague - but I have a feeling that if you're reading this and you're still in your home town that you probably don't have the time or resources to get to those party spots.

Well then, where is the best spot in your hometown to ring in the New Year? You might be amazed, but I know the best spot in every hometown - again if you're not at some iconic fireworks show over the Thames or partying with the Nivea crew in New York.

Yes, among all the amateurs, you have found a New Years Eve expert. I will say you're welcome before you read this list, because it's the only guide you will need for the night.

5. Not The Cool Bars Downtown

Every day life is full of things with blinky lights, drinks that are watered down and possible puke avoidance (all 3 of these if you're a parent), so why would you want to have your special night be surrounded by those very things. Keep your sight - and your shoes clean - and head to the corner tavern. If going out of the house is a must - and if you live in an environment that has a solid snow pack it is not a must - then head somewhere that conversations can be had and drinks can be, well, drinks.

4. McDonalds

"Come on man, McDonalds?" "How am I gonna take my significant other there?"

It's simple actually. Your plans for the night probably include getting some spirits into your body. Your night is probably going to cost a pretty penny as well if you're already going out. So, the simple solution is to put some cheap filling eats in your gut to save money and soak up alcohol. You don't have to do everything cool, sometimes you have to do it practically.

3, 2, 1. HOME

You know where the cheapest - and best tasting - drinks are served? HOME! You know where you can avoid every cover, tight squeeze and person who swears they remember you from high school even though you didn't grow up in that city, HOME. Do you know that I realize that I sound like a really crusty old man right now? YES! But I don't care. You can stock whatever you want to drink, stumble to bed without having to find a ride and - I'm jinxing here - rarely worry that an idiot is going to crash into your house unlike a highway scenario.

In all seriousness, Happy New Year to all. I hope that you have tons of fun, have some good local drinks and also have a safe evening. If you need me I'll be at home, now get off my damn lawn!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Traditional European Christmas Market Glühwein Recipe

Traditional Glühwein Recipe
Forralt bor, Hungary's version of glühwein or mulled wine.
We recently returned from a trip with Viking River Cruises.  We cruised along the Danube and visited European Christmas markets at every port of call, including Budapest, Vienna, and a few German towns in Bavaria.  European Christmas markets are full of great gifts, food, and drinks.  Our favorite treat from the Christmas markets was glühwein.  Glühwein, or mulled wine, is a warm beverage made with wine and spices, perfect for warding off the cold of winter.  As our Christmas gift to you, we provide you with this traditional glühwein recipe.

Traditional Glühwein Recipe

1 bottle red wine
1 cup water
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup sugar
6 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 orange cut into pieces

Put water and sugar in a pot and bring to just under a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved.
Reduce heat to just under a simmer and add 
wine, lemon juice, orange pieces, cloves and cinnamon sticks.
Let steep for 10 minutes to an hour, covered.
Remove cloves and cinnamon.
Serve in a mug, preferably a souvenir mug from a European Christmas market.

This can also be done in a crock pot.

Serves 2 to 4 (depending on how much evaporates).

With this simple glühwein recipe, you can be transported to the Christmas markets of Europe from the comfort of your own home.

From Passports & Cocktails

Travel the World: A simple and traditional glühwein recipe (also known as mulled wine) inspired by the Christmas markets of Europe.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

2015 Travel and Booze Review and 2016 Preview

As the year winds down (holy hell I can't believe 2015 is done) and the winter ales flow through taps around the world, I feel like this is as good of a time as any to reflect on another great year and take a look ahead to 2016. Unlike many travelers - my esteemed partner being one example- my travel schedule gets very lite towards the end of the year. Most of that is due to a hectic end of the year schedule with kids and the money to play Santa as well. Never a big deal though, it has been a fun year of finding new drinks in new spots while following some new trends in the travel and alcohol industries.

The first - and best - part of 2015 was that the Passports and Cocktails crew were able to find time for a few drinks together again. As we live half way across the country from each other -and have day jobs, kids or other obligations - a meet up isn't as easy as meeting at the bar. For me that is one of the toughest parts about our little site here. Not because we don't have the ability to communicate, but because Katherine and Rome are such fantastic people and above all I consider them friends. This years get together was in Denver - a place dear to my heart - and though it was short, the times that were had were fabulous (as were the drinks). I am crossing fingers that 2016 is a year of multiple good times in each others company.

"Wipe the tears away Steve, come on man!"

2015 was another year of fabulous beer finds on the road, but also a year of uncertainty in the American beer industry. More kings of the craft beer world joined forces with some of the worlds largest brewing companies in 2015. That still didn't hold back small brewers from opening their doors this year, or hold back their fighting spirit.

Many states, including Florida, fought outdated laws and corrupt politicians in a bid to make the playing field more fair. And in most cases, small breweries won. This year - even more than previous - the drink local crowd has visibly grown. What I mean is that both at home and on the road, the impact of local breweries is very apparent. So much so that many states are using breweries to their advantage within their tourism strategy. So no matter how many of the "big boys" of craft brewing sell out, the little guys have continued to gain momentum and the plateau of craft beer seems to be far off.

"What was your favorite new beer this year?"

My tastes didn't fully change this year - I still love a nice stout or porter - but I really enjoyed Lakefront Brewery's (Milwaukee, WI) Red IPA. The extra malt compared to other IPAs is a real treat. Plus, it's in Milwaukee (who doesn't love the Brew City). Plus the brewery tour is about as fun as it gets.

"What was your favorite new wine this year?"

2015 was a (I have no idea) year for wine. Seriously 2016 has to be a wine year for me. I should be embarrassed with how little wine I brought to everyone this year, but I didn't really drink any -except some good mead in Denver - so I'll continue to write about beer until someone throws me into a vat of grapes (which should be a contest on our site, "winner gets to toss Steve into grapes".

"What was your favorite.....?"

Don't even ask about cocktails, I drank Brandy Old Fashioneds when I didn't have a beer in my hand, but I did find the best one I've ever had so YAY 2015. I should actually make my resolution for 2016 -now that I'm reading what I'm writing - "I will try new drinks this year, and I will be having them with Katherine, Rome and my wife". That was easy and more fun than losing weight (which I broke for next year already).

"What is on tap for 2016?"

First, 2016 will be our 3rd year together as a fermented travel team, WHOA!!! What started as a fun idea has turned into a lot of drinks and a lot more new knowledge.

As every year begins on my end, the outline is rough. More tropical drinks in Florida are on tap (RUM), new brews in the Colorado high country will be imbibed (I'm coming for you Tommyknocker Brewery) and so far at least one trip across the pond is planned (I'll be in France and there's my wine chance). Beyond that I assume places - Canada, Canada, Canada - will fall into place. Has your favorite spot not been toured yet? Let me know and we'll put it on the list.

With that I'd like to wish everyone a happy holiday season, I'll be back on amateur day (New Years). Stay safe and drink local.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Wine Tasting at Virginia’s The Winery at La Grange

The Winery at La Grange Northern Virginia
The Winery at La Grange restored manor house.
During our Virginia weekend getaway, we decided to do a little wine tasting.  There are over 200 wineries in Virginia.  Virginia wineries make both wine we’ve heard of and drink in other parts of the country and also wine that perhaps isn’t so well-known.  We visited the first winery in Prince William County, The Winery at La Grange (the nearby Winery at Bull Run is technically in Fairfax County), to taste what kind of wine they’re making in Virginia.

The Winery at La Grange used to be the historic La Grange farm.  The manor on the property was built in the late 1700s.  As many places in Virginia do, the house has a Civil War connection as it was used as a hospital during the Civil War.  The owner, Benoni E. Harrison, passed away in 1869 and the manor fell into disrepair.  Investors purchased the property as a fixer-upper and decided it would be the perfect location for a winery.  The restored house and cellar are original. 

Vineyards The Winery at La Grange Northern Virginia
The vineyards of the Winery at La Grange.
The Winery at La Grange opened Labor Day 2006.  The Cabernet Sauvignon vines on the property were planted in 2007, mostly for aesthetic.  In 2010, they decided to use the fruit from the on-property vines and the first harvest was in 2012.

La Grange’s wine is made by Fletcher Henderson who was one of the original investors in the property and winery.  After a short departure, he returned to be the onsite winemaker in 2012.

Rosé The Winery at La Grange Northern Virginia
Rather than creating fruit-forward California-style wines, The Winery at La Grange seeks to create European-style wines that are more terroir-driven.  The gentleman pouring our tastings described Virginia wines as seeking subtle, secondary flavors rather than slapping drinkers in the face with rich fruit flavors.

La Grange’s wines are mostly made with grapes from Virginia, but also with some from Washington State and California. 

General's Battlefield The Winery at La Grange Northern Virginia
General's Battlefield.
During our visit to The Winery at La Grange, our wine tasting included the following eight wines:

2013 Fletcher’s Chardonnay – The Chardonnay is made in the French Burgundy style.  It is not malolactic, but is rather crisp.  It is fermented and aged in French oak for 11 months.  The wine was named after the winemaker because it was different for a Chardonnay and the owners didn’t think it was going to work.  It does work and was one of my favorites.

2014 Rosé – The Rosé is very unique.  It is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon from the property’s Benoni Vineyard and Vidal Blanc.  Unlike most Rosés which are light pink, this Rosé has more of a light copper tint.  It has a sour, tart quality, and is dry, crisp, and acidic. 

2014 Pinot Gris – The Pinot Gris is made with Washington grapes.  It has a fruity aroma, is slightly sweet, and is a great wine for enjoying in hot weather.

N/V General’s Battlefield – This signature wine was first created in 2011 for the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War and the Battle of First Manassas.  The unusual bottle shape is in the style of gin bottles of the Civil War.  Fallen oak trees from the Manassas battlefield that were alive during the Civil War were used to make the barrels in which the wine was aged.  The first edition of this wine was bottled in bottles with a blue eagle.  A white eagle graced the bottle the second year, and a gray eagle has been used in subsequent years.  The gray eagle wines were not aged in Civil War oak barrels.  I was excited to try this special wine, but unfortunately it ended up being my least favorite.

2013 Meritage – The Meritage is an American Bordeaux style blend made with Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot.  The Meritage has a very earthy taste.  Meritage is a combination of the words merit and heritage and is a universal term for Bordeaux-style wines made in the United States.

2012 Tannat – Tannat is a French grape that grows near the Spanish border.  It is an unusual grape because the juice comes out red.  Usually grape juice turns red from the skins.  The 2012 Tannat is aged for 16 months in American and Hungarian oak barrels.

2014 Norton – The Norton is a Virginia grape, but oddly enough it is not the state grape.  (The state grape is Viognier.)  While the taste of most wines include terms like cherry, raspberry, tobacco, etc., this wine has a very prominent grape flavor.  The Norton was another of my favorites because it was quite different from other wines I’ve tasted.

2014 Benoni’s Red Blend – Benoni’s Red Blend is a blend of Chambourcin, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tempranillo.  It is off-dry and slightly sweet.  It is a very drinkable American table wine that pairs well with food.

Ghost Wine The Winery at La Grange Northern Virginia
Ghost wine.
On top of the winery making good wine and having centuries of history including a Civil War connection, the winery also has a ghost.  The ghost of Benoni is thought to haunt the manor, so every day a glass of red wine is left on the mantle in the tasting room for the ghost.  It is said the wine level goes down as the day goes by.  Ghostly thirst or scientific evaporation?  You decide.

In addition to visiting the tasting room, visitors can enjoy the outdoors at picnic tables and Adirondack chairs or head downstairs to the old stone-walled cellar.  Visitors are allowed to bring in outside food if they want to have a picnic outside or dine at one of the tables in the cellar or upstairs.  We grabbed lunch boxes from nearby Annie’s Kitchen Table.

Thank you to Discover Prince William & Manassas for hosting our trip to Virginia and making this post possible.  As always, all opinions are my own.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

America's 10 Best Airports for a Local Beer

“It’s the holiday season, and whoop-de-do and hickory dock”… sorry I get carried away since holiday music starts playing in October now. It’s the holiday season, which means millions, upon millions of folks will be hitting the friendly skies with presents and holiday cheer all over the world.
Here in the US well over 50 million people will be flying to see family, friends or Christmas markets from the period between Thanksgiving and New Years Day. As is tradition here, much of that time spent in our airports will focus on the negative (long lines, the TSA in general, oversized bags getting pulled from carry-on, etc…). Put that together with the “stress” of the holidays and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
Amidst all of that stress, chaos and general disdain that my fellow countrymen have for airports (I love spending time in an airport personally), there has been a real shift in the drink offerings in many of the busier transit hubs in America. Yes, airports have always had bars where you could get a few whiskey and cokes before you boarded. But now – as local breweries continue to expand their foot print – breweries have made their way into airports.
Craft beer itself had made its way into terminal bars many years ago. The difference now is having an actual brewery (or branch of that brewery) next to your gate! So walk away from your delayed flight and let’s drink at the best airports for local beer options in the US.
MSP International Airport- Twin Cities, MN
MSP has all things Minnesota, including moose and Summit beer photo courtesy Wally Gobetz
The Twin Cities are home to one of the pioneers in craft brewing in America, Summit Brewing Company. This holiday season – or whenever you visit “The Cities” – you’ll be happy to know that even though your Delta flight – it’s a hub – may be late, you can have a Summit Pale Ale (or 5 other Summit taps) in Terminal 1 at Ike’s on Summit.
CLE International Airport- Cleveland, OH
A Midwest icon, in the airport photo courtesy Angelskiss31
"Moon over Parma bring my love to me tonight". Who doesn’t think Cleveland rocks? Cleveland Aiport isn’t as bustling as it was back in its Continental hub days, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter anymore. Whether you’re going to see your grandma for the holidays or LeBron, you’ll be glad you have some time to hit Terminal C for a stop at Great Lakes Brewing Company. There aren’t many porters as good as the Edmund Fitzgerald, especially while flight watching inside the airport.
TPA International Airport- Tampa, FL
I love flying to Tampa. It usually means I’m sneaking out of winter for a little while and hitting the beach. Tampa has become a hot bed for craft brewing, and Cigar City Brewing has planted their flag as king of the hill. As sad as it is to be back in Concourse C at Tampa (waiting for your flight back to some frozen reality) grabbing a pint at Cigar City’s location is a great send off. It may even encourage you to just move to a place without winter.
SAN International Airport- San Diego, CA
Great beer and planes, that's the life photo courtesy San Diego International Airport
Craft beer, sun and sand were probably on your San Diego list of things to do. Even though you’ll be leaving the sun and sand behind once you check in to the airport, San Diego International will keep your craft beer dreams alive. It won’t be just any beer either. Terminal 2 offers a Stone Brewing Company bistro and beer garden. There really is no reason folks should not be going to San Diego, as my good friend calls it the “Greatest City in America”. The nice thing is before you leave you can have one last taste of what helps make San Diego so great.
PDX International Airport- Portland, OR
There aren’t many places that do “weird” better than Portland. There also aren’t many places that do beer better than this area. So as is the case in many airports, “weird” is actually having a great brewing company operate a location inside a terminal. Well Portland is weird again because Rogue Ales – one of the best in the business – has a location in PDX. Concourse D is your destination when flying out of Portland to find one of the best stouts out on the market, so local, so weird.
MSN Regional Airport- Madison, WI
Mmmm...cheese and beer photo courtesy Dane County Regional Airport
You may never get the chance to fly through this regional airport, but you should consider it. I’ve put my love for Madison in words many times. The one thing the city has had going for it for a long time has been beer, and through my travels the Great Dane Brewing Company was the first brewpub I ever noticed in an airport. MSN is a 1 terminal airport which makes the fact that a brew pub as one of the few choices to eat at even more astonishing. Say goodbye to Madison the responsible way, with a toast to a local brewing institution before departing.
BOS International Airport- Boston, MA
Boston has been synonymous with bringing craft beer to the mainstream over the past few decades because of the Boston Beer Company. But this heavily traveled East Coast hub goes even more local than the Sam Adams giant and offers you a tap room for the Harpoon Brewing Company from Boston. There aren’t many places in America that hold as much history as Boston, and after a well spent vacation discovering that history you’ll be happy to enjoy a great Harpoon brew in Concourse A looking though all your photo memories.
MCI International Airport- Kansas City, MO
Oh what could have been for Kansas City. The airport was supposed to be the grand launching point to the world from the Midwest for TWA, but design flaws meant TWA would move. Then MCI was a hub for Midwest Express (oh those cookies) but then they ceased to be an airline. Despite that Kansas City international is still a great – and busy – airport servicing people from all over the Heartland. What makes this airport great? Boulevard Brewing Company, that’s what! Make the walk to Gate 56 and enjoy the beer that has redefined KC over the past few decades, at their brewpub.
STL International Airport- St. Louis, MO
Bud is a huge influence, but Schalfly wins on taste photo courtesy Matthew Hurst
St. Louis is the gateway to the west, or it at least has the cool arch to mark that point. The city has many great things to do that involve beer including the Budweiser brewery, but Lambert International Airport boasts a brewpub from local craft brewer Schalfly that will make your flight or connection in St. Louis a little tastier. Make yourself to Concourse E in Terminal 2 and enjoy a great beer in a town that has made beer for a long time.
DEN International Airport- Denver, CO
DIA your gateway to beer heaven photo courtesy David Jones
Beer heaven. That’s what Denver is, beer heaven. Because it’s heaven to me, I’m always sad when I’m waiting for a plane here. But even though I’m sad, I actually love this airport. The Rocky Mountain views are spectacular and – if you’re in the Jeppesen Terminal – you can hit a tap room from the wonderful Boulder Beer Company. As a hub for United, Southwest and Frontier Airlines, chances are you’ll be in this airport someday which means a Shake Chocolate Porter is destined to be in your future. Skip the chain restaurants and find this tap room and enjoy your beer the way the locals do, in the tap room.
As I said, I love airports and could spend a day wandering around them watching the departure board flip through flights. Hopefully more local brewing companies will be able to find space to give a flavor of their area to all who travel through. I know that would make my airport wandering even more fun than it already is.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Sweden’s ICEHOTEL Gets Even Cooler with Signature Beer


Sweden’s ICEHOTEL, the original ice hotel, is quite literally one of the coolest places to stay on earth.  When it opens this year’s cold rooms on December 11 for the 26th season, it will be even cooler.  This year the ICEHOTEL will have its own signature beer, Torne Islager (Torne Ice Lager), made from the same ice that builds the ice hotel every year. 

Ice Sculpture at ICEHOTEL Sweden

Every year the ICEHOTEL harvests ice from the Torne River, which, during the warmer months, flows behind the ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjärvi.  The Torne River ice is used for the ICEHOTEL cold rooms, the ICEBAR, and also ICEBARs around the world and ice sculptures and ice glasses that are exported worldwide.

For the first time, the Torne River ice harvested by the ICEHOTEL will also be used to brew beer.  Nya Carnegiebryggeriet (New Carnegie Brewery) is the Stockholm brewery that is heading this endeavor.  Ice from the Torne River was harvested and transported to Nya Carnegiebryggeriet where the ice was held while it melted. 

Torne River Ice for Torne Islager ICEHOTEL Signature Beer
Photo courtesy ICEHOTEL
Brewmaster Anders Wendler had the idea to make beer from a fun water source.  What better water source to tap than that of the pure Torne River?  Thus the idea of a collaboration with the ICEHOTEL was born.

The melted ice from the Torne River is some of the purest water in the world, so it makes the perfect ingredient for an ice cold lager.   They will brew 4,000 liters (80 full-size kegs) which will supply the ICEHOTEL for their winter season until it starts to melt in the spring.  New Carnegie Brewery will also have some bottles to serve in their restaurant at the brewery.

New Carnegie Brewery is using the melted Torne River ice to make Torne Islager (Torne Ice Lager), a Vienna lager.  The brewery and ICEHOTEL came up with a beer style they both liked and that would taste good in a cold environment.  The Vienna lager is both refreshing and full of flavor, and it pairs well with the ICEHOTEL's restaurant menu.  The Torne Islager is brewed with Pilsner and Vienna malts, and the hops are Perle, Hallertau Mittelfrüh, and Cascade.  The combination of malts, hops, yeast, and ice from the Torne River, which has a low salt content, allows the beer to be "a nice fest in the bottle" according to Anders Wendler.

The Torne Islager will be ready just in time for the opening of the ICEHOTEL on December 11.  The Torne Islager will be served in both of the ICEHOTEL's restaurants as well as the ICEBAR.  


There are multiple good reasons to stay at the ICEHOTEL in Sweden this winter.  First, Sweden’s ICEHOTEL is the original ice hotel, and staying in a cold room is bucket list worthy.  Second, now is the time to go to Swedish Lapland to see the Northern Lights as the 11-year solar cycle is winding down and it may be another 10 years before we’ll be able to see such spectacular Northern Lights shows again.  And now third, it is the inaugural year for the ICEHOTEL’s signature beer, Torne Islager made by Swedish brewery New Carnegie Brewery, and this may be the only season that this special beer will be available.

Sweden's ICEHOTEL has a new signature beer, Torne Islager, made from ice from the Torne River.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Revisiting and Helping Make Dreams Become Reality at Nebraska's Backswing Brewing

It has been a wild year in the beer world, and I mean all over the world. Mergers and acquisitions by some of the largest brewers both globally and on the American craft scene – which includes acquisitions by global giants of American craft breweries – will leave anyone’s head spinning.
“Is my California beer being brewed in Holland, Missouri, China or California?”
“I love supporting my local brewery…wait why is my money going to Spain?”
Forecasts from analysts at points during the year flipped the craft beer industry to a “sell” for the first time in a long time. 2 of the world’s largest brewing companies are going to be one combined company. Everyone feels the need to brew a beer with damn pumpkins. And I haven’t been in a brewery tap room in a damn month. I think I even saw some cats and dogs giving hugs and negotiating a cease fire.
Is this finally the beginning of the end of true local success brewing stories as we know them?

Nah. Because within this year of horror headlines for the craft industry, success stories are still all around if you look for them. And I’m as excited as can be to revisit a story we were able to share this January. It’s the story of the smallest brewing company that we’ve highlighted – Backswing Brewing Company.
11 months ago I was able to try the first offering from Nebraska’s newest brewery – Backswing’s flagship IPA – before it hit local taps. After I tasted their bold, not overly bitter, IPA I was excited to share the Backswing Brewing Company story. At that point the Backswing team was garage and contract brewing for a launch at Brewsky’s Sports Bars in Nebraska.
At the time I wrote: There is plenty of room for guys like Pat, T.J., and Cory to not only be successful, but also to take the next step and open a standalone brewery as well.”
Well, this year dreams can come true very fast. The team at Backswing Brewing have the ability to take that next step as the brewery that they have been contracting through is coming available and the first people they reached out to for purchase was Backswing. Woo Hoo!
“But wait a second. Can they sustain a whole brewery with just one flagship brew?”
More equipment equals more great beer!
Glad I asked myself - I do talk to myself a lot - because since the launch of the Backswing IPA in February, they have also brought 2 wheat beers - yes more than 1 wheat - to the public and have a stout, pilsner and others in post production right now. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t taste and then continue my story after tasting.
The Backswing Wheats are very distinct in their flavor from each other and from other wheat beers on the market. Without a true name yet, I’ll refer to them as wheat and hop wheat - don’t be scared off by the word “hop” because in this case it has more to do with taste than bitterness.
The Backswing Wheat has the flavor and consistency of a traditional American unfiltered wheat. It’s a refreshing full bodied wheat - translated a wheat with flavor - that has a nice citrus backbone little after taste. It’s an easy drinking beer that actually has taste. It’s a welcome entry into a market that sometimes ignores a need for a good beer that has a great flavor but doesn’t overwhelm every sense. The hop wheat takes the wheat beer to a different level, but not a hop bomb level. The hops - and the malt as well -  add some color and actually a little bit more citrus. The difference in the hops between the two isn’t how much is added, but when they are added. The character of the hop is very noticeable, but again because you will taste more flavor rather than bitterness. This beer may teeter on the edge of a pale ale/wheat hybrid, but I’d like to think that these two beers are more an unfiltered wheat and a traditional wheat instead.
Both wheat beers from Backswing are a hit though, and that’s all that matters. Put those together with the already popular IPA and this brewery has moved from flagship brew to a consistent line of beers. Why the follow up on this team though? Well, Backswing needs all of our help to achieve the dream. I’d like to throw out that I have no vested interest in the brewery. I have not been offered beer for life from them (but maybe I should ask).
With many crowdfunding campaigns out there though, the question still stands: “why the follow up?”
I like them, and you need a new t-shirt (I know I do)
For me it’s simple, I really like these guys. I like the story of 3 guys with different paths that had no idea they had a gift. I like their personalities, their story and – as a resident of a state that is still short on go to beers – I like their beers. With even the most subtle tilt this year in the beer industry that hints at big beer grabbing back some of its losses, it is refreshing to be able to follow a brewery from birth to terrible twos – or whatever infancy metaphor you’d like to use.
There are many folks that try their hand at brewing beer – my own hand included. Most of it is fit to be poured down the drain – my own brew included. That is not the case with Backswing Brewing. Their beer has had a limited release, but it’s ready to be unleashed on the market. In the time of thanks, giving, reindeer and elves on shelves, I – again not getting any beer – hope that we can band together and help these guys achieve the dream of their own brewery. Click here to help:
Fly Over Country - yes I know fly over is meant as a put down but I embrace it - deserves more good beer on the shelves.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Drink Local at Northern Virginia’s Tin Cannon Brewing

Tin Cannon Brewing Tasting Flight Northern Virginia

Just a couple years ago, Virginia only had a handful of craft breweries.  Now there are over 100 and Virginia’s craft beer scene is quickly growing.  One of Virginia’s new breweries is Tin Cannon Brewing Company, which opened November 2014 in Gainesville, a town in Northern Virginia a short drive away from Washington, D.C. 

Tin Cannon Brewing Company is a nano-brewery though you wouldn’t know it just by stepping into their tasting room.  When we visited, Tin Cannon had a total of 12 beers on tap.  You would imagine with that kind of lineup the back room would be filled with large, shiny, stainless-steel tanks.  We were shocked when we were led into the brewing area to find out they use a two-barrel brewing system to make all their beer.  This two barrel system makes four kegs or 64 gallons of beer at a time. 

Two-Barrel Brewing System Tin Cannon Brewing Northern Virginia

Tin Cannon brewers Aaron Ludwig and John Hilkert met at church.  They both enjoyed home brewing and decided to open a craft brewery in Northern Virginia.  They brought in Jose Ortiz shortly thereafter.  To keep up with the demand for their craft beer, the brewery is closed Monday through Wednesday for brewing and they produce six batches a week.

You may be wondering why the brewery is named Tin Cannon.  Sure, it’s in Civil War battlefield country and there are cannons everywhere, so the cannon reference makes sense.  But if a tin cannon ever existed, it was surely a disaster that didn’t last long.  The story is that one of the guys was trying to draw a logo with a keg.  The others joked that it looked more like a tin can than a keg.  That sparked an idea, with tin cans being the pre-runner of aluminum cans (in which Tin Cannon’s beer is not found) and cannons being a big part of the Virginia landscape, and the name Tin Cannon Brewing Company was born.

Tin Cannon Brewing Beer Taps Northern Virginia

During our visit, we tasted all 12 beers they had on tap (it’s a hard job, but someone’s got to do it).  Their beer list illustrates how diverse Tin Cannon’s offerings are.

Virginia Blonde: This golden colored ale is an easy-to-drink day beer.

Virginia Harvest Ale: This amber ale has a surprising amount of flavor and was one of my favorites.  This is also a special beer because all of the malts and hops are products of Virginia.

Smokey Bear Experimental: Another of my favorites, this brown ale is a twist on Oktoberfest beer with smoky malts.

Unkel Dunkel: Unkel Dunkel is a dunkelweizen, a darker version of a wheat beer.

Vaughn’s Peanut Butter: While not quite as good as one of my favorite beers, Peanut Butter Cup Porter by Karl Strauss, Tin Cannon’s English Porter is a good beer with a mild peanut butter flavor and a strong peanut butter aroma achieved from adding natural peanut butter directly to the boil.

Abbi’s Drool: We learned that Abbi’s Drool is named after the grown daughter of one of the brewers, but we didn’t learn why the drool.  This northern English style brown ale was another of my favorites of Tin Cannon’s beers.

Cavalier Joe: Yet another one of my favorites, the Cavalier Joe is a Bourbon Porter made with malts infused with Tennessee Bourbon Whisky. 

Single Cannon: West coast IPA is a term coined to describe the signature super hoppy IPAs brewed in my home state of California.  They are not my favorite.  So, while I didn’t particularly enjoy Single Cannon, if you are a fan of west coast IPAs, you will probably enjoy this beer.

Twin Cannons: If you enjoy Tin Cannon’s Single Cannon but find yourself thinking, “I gotta have more hops!,” then Twin Cannons is the beer for you.  It’s a double IPA with a lot of hop flavor.  Twin Cannon was the predecessor to Single Cannon, which was toned down a notch.

Busted Pipe Black IPA: Tin Cannon’s black IPA is another hoppy beer with a lot of roasted malts to balance it out.

Humble Admiration: The Tin Cannon brewers are fans of California brewery Stone Brewing Co., so they brewed Humble Admiration as a tribute to Stone’s Arrogant Bastard.

Punk’Tin Ale: The Punk’Tin Ale is a seasonal pumpkin ale and a huge hit with the locals, and with me.  The pumpkin ale was brewed with 10 pounds of pumpkin and is perfectly spiced.

Tin Cannon Brewing Kegs Northern Virginia

We also got to get a sneak peek at Tin Cannon’s limited release Barleywine which will be released for Christmas.  They added 13 pounds of rum-soaked raisins to the beer which raised the alcohol content from 11% to 13%.  They believe it will age well and suggest buying one to drink immediately and one to age when it is released.  When aging bottled beer, store it upright in a cool dark place.  Another beer in the works is an anniversary beer, a vanilla coffee hazelnut stout.

When you head to Northern Virginia for civil war history and nature, set aside some time to throw back a beer or a flight at Tin Cannon Brewing Company and celebrate the growth of craft breweries in Virginia.

Thank you to Discover Prince William & Manassas for hosting our trip to Virginia and making this post possible.  As always, all opinions are my own.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Ultimate US Presidential Primary Drinking Challenge

Ah, Presidential election time in America. What used to be a 1 year process has now turned into a 2 year blitz of stump speeches, babies kissed and hearts broken. If you travel throughout the US for the next 12 months you will be greeted by yard signs and commercials targeted to specific audiences in whatever part of the country you’re in.
Before we elect our next president we have to pick the 2 candidates for the main event. And finally - after a year of hearing from the contenders - the light of primary season can be seen at the end of the tunnel. With all of this build-up, it almost seems like the results are a little bit of let down. All of the pomp and circumstance of a 12 month media blitz commences with Wolf Blitzer announcing Iowa is won by candidate D. Woo-Hoo!
So I feel it is time to take America’s love for drinking games and step it up a notch. There are many ways to make those spring primary nights entertaining and challenging at the same time (hell you may need to travel before February). This idea was born from election night 2008. We had a certain candidate that was our candidate, and every time he won a state, we took a shot. Simple right? Did I mention the shots were from novelty shot glasses from the state he had won? That’s right, a geographical presidential shot fest.
As fun as that was, it wouldn’t be as fun during the primaries as the dates are spread out and there are candidates all over the place, vs. the 2 candidates on actual election night in November. Which leads to the treasure hunt, travel and bargain portion of our new Presidential Primary drinking challenge (if you are overseas you’ll definitely win a prize). The first part involves getting your hands on what I consider the best drink for each state (ok some are more fun than "the best" but you'll get the picture). Luckily you have some time to pull this off and if you haven’t let your grandma know what you want for Christmas she can get it for you.
Without further adieu, here is a list of primary dates, states and what local libations you need to obtain to get your primary drinking game started.
Monday, February 1
  • Iowa Caucus- Toppling Goliath Brewing PsuedoSue

Tuesday, February 9
  • New Hampshire- Smutty Nose Brewing Robust Porter

Saturday, February 20
  • Nevada caucus (Dem)- Las Vegas Distillery Grandma’s Apple Pie Moonshine
  • South Carolina (GOP)- Palmetto Brewing Company Amber Ale (red beer for the GOP primary)
Tuesday, February 23
  • Nevada caucus (GOP)- Tenya Creek Brewing Monsoon IPA

Saturday, February 27
  • South Carolina (Dem)- Palmetto Distillery White Lightning Moonshine (blue label for the Dems)

Tuesday, March 1 (Super Tuesday)
  • Alabama- Stills Crossroads ‘Shine
  • Alaska (GOP)- Anchorage Brewing Company Anadromous Wild Ale
  • Arkansas- Post Famile Vineyards Prophecy Red Wine
  • Colorado Caucuses- Tommyknocker Maple Nut Brown (since marijuana’s likely illegal in your state)
  • Georgia- Terrapin Beer Company Maggie’s Peach Farmhouse Ale
  • Massachusetts- Samuel Adams Boston Lager
  • Minnesota Caucuses- Grain Belt Lager
  • North Carolina- Foothills Brewing Company Sexual Chocolate
  • Oklahoma-Mustang Brewing Washita Wheat
  • Tennessee- Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey (because you need shots on Super Tuesday)
  • Texas- Lone Star Lager “The National Beer of Texas”
  • Vermont- The Alchemist Heady Topper
  • Virginia- Brothers Craft Brewing Hoptimization IPA

Saturday, March 5
  • Kansas Caucus- Tallgrass Brewing 8-Bit Pale Ale
  • Kentucky (GOP caucus)- Bulleit Bourbon
  • Louisiana- Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey (every drinking game needs Fireball)
  • Nebraska (Dem caucus)- Spilker Ales Hopluia

Tuesday, March 8
  • Hawaii Caucus (GOP)- Koloa Rum Company Kauai Dark
  • Idaho (GOP)- Grand Teton Brewing Pursuit of Hoppiness
  • Mississippi- Southern Prohibition Brewing Mississippi Fire Ant
  • Michigan- Founders Breakfast Stout

Sunday, March 13
  • Puerto Rico (GOP)- Ron Llave Blanco Supreme (for rum runners)

Tuesday, March 15
  • Ohio- Thirsty Dog Brewing 12 Dogs of Christmas (seasonal, so get on it quick)
  • Florida- Drum Circle Distilling Siesta Key Gold Rum
  • Illinois- Pipeworks Brewing Company Crimson Snapper
  • Missouri-Bud Heavy (We are not a monarchy, but it’s the damn King of Beers)

Tuesday, March 22
  • Arizona- Mexican Moonshine Tequila
  • Utah- Epic Brewing Company Big Bad Baptist

Saturday, March 26
  • Alaska Caucus (Dem)- Alaska Denali Winery Riesling Ice Wine
  • Hawaii Caucus (Dem)- Maui Brewing Company CoCoNut Porter
  • Washington Caucus (Dem)- Pacific Distillery Pacifique Absinthe Verte Superieure

Tuesday, April 5
  • Wisconsin- New Glarus Brewing Spotted Cow

Tuesday, April 19
  • New York- Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard Riesling

Tuesday, April 26
  • Connecticut- White Solo Farm and Winery Rhubarb Wine
  • Delaware- Dogfish Head Brewing 90 Minute IPA
  • Maryland- Flying Dog Brewery The Truth Imperial IPA
  • Pennsylvania- Yuengling Amber Lager
  • Rhode Island- Grey Sail Brewing Captain’s Daughter

Tuesday, May 3
  • Indiana- Three Floyds Brewing Apocalypse Cow

Tuesday, May 10
  • Nebraska (GOP primary)- Moonstruck Meadery Capsumel Mead
  • West Virginia- Mountain State Brewing Cold Trail Ale

Tuesday, May 17
  • Kentucky (Dem primary)- Evan Williams Kentucky Bourbon
  • Oregon- Rogue Chocolate Stout

Sunday, June 5
  • Puerto Rico (Dem)- Don Q Rum Gold (served neat)

Tuesday, June 7
  • California- Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin
  • Montana- Bayern Brewing Bayren Dopplebock (it’s seasonal from Nov-Feb, get on that now)
  • New Jersey- Laird and Company Applejack
  • New Mexico- SilverCoin Blanco Tequila
  • South Dakota- Wooden Legs Brewing Three Five Three Stout

Tuesday, June 14
  • District of Columbia- 3 Stars Brewing Company Peppercorn Saison

States with no firm dates:
  • North Dakota- Maple River Distillery Black Currant Brandy
  • Maine- Foundation Brewing Company Epiphany
  • Washington (GOP)- Fremont Brewing Company The Brother
  • Wyoming- Wyoming Whiskey

The games you play with these beverages native to each state can be as simple as drinking when the state closes to more complex, like taking a drink every time a state is called too close to call, taking a shot when a candidate concedes that state or just have a drink when the words “Breaking News” flash on the screen. On days like Super Tuesday – you’ll need to definitely take Wednesday off – it may behoove you to have some flight glasses instead of pints because I don’t want to be responsible for any poisoning. The one thing that this challenge (list) shows is that it is a great time to be a friend of local booze in the US, and it is a lot of fun to try and get your hands on it. Hope your trunks have a lot of room and please share some pictures as you collect your bounty before and during this primary season.