Thursday, June 25, 2015

What to Drink in Sweden

Swedish Beer

Heading to Sweden?  Wondering what kind of tasty alcoholic beverages characteristic to Sweden you’ll find on the drinks menus?  Here are the local drinks you can expect to enjoy when traveling through Sweden.


Nausta and Kallholmen Swedish Beer

Beer is the drink of Sweden.  Similar to the United States, Sweden is embracing the growth of craft brewing.  Five years ago there were 30 craft breweries in the country while today there are 150.  The Swedish beer culture is quickly expanding and breweries are constantly trying out new flavors.  We were surprised how popular IPAs were throughout Sweden, though they taste nothing like the hop-centric west coast IPAs of California.  Even Swedish Lapland has its own local beer.

Pubologi Beer Pairing Pang Pang Brewery Swedish Beer

Beer is so popular that many fine dining restaurants offer beer pairings for their set menus in addition to the usual wine pairings.  In fact, we dined at a few restaurants that actually worked with a local brewery to develop a line of beers strictly for the restaurant.   For instance, one of our favorite restaurants in Stockholm, Pubologi, paired up with Pang Pang Brewery to create a lineup of five very different beers to pair with their five course menu, all named after staff members of Pubologi.  The evening we dined at Pubologi the beer list included Soffan, a fruity Belgian-style blond ale; Samuele, a juniper Mombasa Gin infused pale ale; Solo & Dan Japan, a Dewasakura Ichiro Sake infused rice gluten-free ales; and Big Malta, a smoked porky port porter literally infused with a smoked pig.


Facile Swedish Punsch

Swedish punsch was a drink that was popular in the 18th century.  It was mixed in a large porcelain bowl and oddly contained many ingredients that weren’t Swedish like Indonesian arrack (a distilled spirit), lemon, and tea.  Arrack first arrived in Sweden in 1733 on the East Indian Company’s first ship.  Because of its exotic ingredients, punsch was very expensive to make, but became more readily available towards the end of the 19th century when it began being delivered readymade in bottles. 

The traditional way to drink Swedish punsch is to drink it warm as an accompaniment to pea soup.  We enjoyed Swedish punsch in a more untraditional manner, in a mixed drink at Tweed called the Gothenburg, made with Facile XO, aquavit, grenadine, and lemon juice. Facile XO was created in 1993, was the first new punsch Sweden received in 76 years, and has been served six times at the Nobel dinner at the City Hall in Stockholm.


ICEBAR Vodka Cocktails Swedish Drinks

I’ve always thought of vodka as being from Poland or Russia, but it’s actually also very popular in Scandinavia, especially Sweden.  In fact, one of the most well-known brands of vodka, Absolut Vodka, comes from Sweden.  Before Swedish vodka was called vodka, it was known as brännvin, which means burn-wine.  A fun place to have vodka that is also very Swedish is one of Sweden’s ice bars.  Sweden has an ice bar in Stockholm and, of course, an ice bar at the original ice hotel.


Aquavit is a popular distilled spirit in all of the Scandinavian countries.  Aquavit is a special kind of vodka spiced with caraway or dill.  Aquavit is incredibly popular in Denmark (where it is called snaps) and was served everywhere we went, oftentimes enjoyed with pickled herring.  While we saw aquavit on many menus throughout Sweden, we didn’t really see it being drank much.  In Sweden, aquavit is often enjoyed along with smörgåsbord, a buffet of hot and cold dishes which originated in Sweden.  Towns and regions of Sweden have their own special blends of aquavit, and the classic Swedish blend contains caraway, aniseed, and fennel.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Specialty Wine Experience in Connecticut

Guest Post by Nicollete Orlemans

When I first heard of a winery in Connecticut, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but I was intrigued. I wondered which fruits would inspire the winemaking, where they would grow, and above all, how they could withstand the (harsh) New England temperatures.

We often associate wine with well-known regions in France, Italy, Spain, Argentina, and Australia, but nowadays it is celebrated and consumed in many countries of the world. The United States is a key player, and California dominates its wine production.

But, the family-operated White Silo Farm and Winery sets itself apart by adapting to the local environment and focusing on various homegrown fruits (including berries, rhubarb and grapes).

As the family who owns it puts it, “Twenty-six years ago, our family purchased a portion [of] the spectacular Upland Pastures dairy farm. Our intention was to continue the farming tradition and preserve the land for generations to come. We planted our first crop of raspberries, then blackberries and rhubarb. For the next fifteen years, we operated as a pick your own berry farm. In 1990, we opened our winery. The 1800s dairy barn was renovated and converted to our wine tasting room and production area. In 2010, we planted our first acre of grape vines.”

Only an hour's drive from New York City, it’s the perfect day trip to enjoy wine sampling in the scenic area of Sherman, Connecticut. As you drive through the mountainous town, you pull up to the white silo that marks the winery. Prior to getting there, we signed up (through Amazon Local) to enjoy a wine tour, a wine tasting, and a picnic for two. And, it certainly did not disappoint.

As we walked in, we were welcomed with two boxed lunches (including salads, cheese, chocolates and sandwiches) and enjoyed the brisk and sunny temperatures prior to the wine tour. The wine tour took us around the fields, where we learned about the wine production of the farm-grown fruit, and later about its fermentation, bottling and corking on the premises inside the silo. Known for the rhubarb wine, sparkling red raspberry, black currant, cassis and more, White Silo Farm & Winery is not your typical winery experience and it doesn’t have to be.  

Brisk fall days aside, if you want to escape NYC or simply experience a unique winery, why not stop by White Silo Farm & Winery? Be sure to ask about the rhubarb wine and enjoy the New England scenery.

Nicolette Orlemans grew up in a multicultural, bilingual home in The Netherlands to a Polish mother and a Dutch father. When she’s not working as a communications strategist, Nicolette loves to travel, and has visited much of Europe, seen many of the U.S. states, been to The Caribbean, and traveled to Egypt. In November 2014, Nicolette founded #CultureTrav, a Twitter chat that focuses on how travelers personally experience travel – adapting to cultural differences, bridging any language gaps, creating new homes as expats, and much more. You can read more about Nicolette on her website, and be sure to follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

3 Weird Shots to Drink in Tijuana

Tijuana is famous for watered-down cheap tequila being poured directly into the throats of partiers accompanied by the sound of blowing whistles and completed with a shaking of the head.  Other popular Tijuana drinks are margaritas and buckets of Corona garnished with lime wedges.  Of course there are also some very excellent craft beers, wines, and spirits for the more discerning drinker.  But as the saying goes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.  So when in Tijuana, even if you aren’t much of shot person, sometimes shots are in order.  When that happens, here are some weird shots to drink in Tijuana.

Mezcal: The Worm at the Bottom of the Bottle

Gusano Rojo Mezcal 3 Weird Shots to Drink in Tijuana

We’ll start off easy with a bottle of alcohol with a worm swimming around at the bottom.  A common misnomer is the image of a worm in a shot of tequila.  If you’re looking for a bottle of alcohol with a worm in it, you’re actually looking for mezcal, tequila’s cousin.  Tequila must be produced from the blue agave, while mezcal can be made from any type of agave plant.

The worm in the bottle of mezcal is not an ancient Mexican tradition.  Jacobo Lozano Paez of Mexico City decided in 1950 to put a gusano into mezcal bottles as a marketing gimmick.  Gusano are moth larvae found in the hearts of agave plants.  His idea was clearly a success as it is still going 65 years later and people still seek out the worm at the bottom of the bottle.

If you’re looking for crazy shots to try in Tijuana, a shot of mezcal with the worm is a good starting point.

Dandy del Sur Tijuana 3 Weird Shots to Drink in Tijuana

A great place to sample mezcal in Tijuana is Dandy del Sur, a dive bar that’s been around since 1957 and the oldest remaining cantina of Tijuana.  Dandy del Sur used to be a seedy bar but now, with the popularization of dive bars, it is a hip place to go while still retaining its dive bar patina. 

Fandango Mezcal Reposado 3 Weird Shots to Drink in Tijuana

For mezcal with a worm, try Gusano Rojo Mezcal.  For a much higher quality mezcal, you’ll have to trade the worm for flavor with a shot of Fandango Mezcal Reposado.

Tequila Con Vibora: Tequila with a Bite

Rattlesnake Tequila El Museo Restaurante 3 Weird Shots to Drink in Tijuana

How about we make it a little more interesting?  What do you think of a jug-o-tequila with some dead rattlesnakes residing at the bottom?

El Museo Restaurante on Avenida Revolución is a restaurant, bar, and museum.  The space is filled with mementos from the Agua Caliente Casino, which opened in Tijuana in the 1920s, including the Art Deco chandelier that hangs overhead.  But what they also have is that jug of rattlesnake tequila.

Sadly rattlesnake tequila, or tequila con vibora, starts with a live rattlesnake.  The rattlesnake is put into a jar which is then filled with tequila.  The snake emits something into the tequila as it dies that is said to have medicinal properties.  The snake is removed, gutted, and then returned to the jar, where it sits for a few months before the tequila is served.  Supposedly this medicinal tequila is good for the kidneys, arthritis, and the nerves, and even cancer.  Mexico isn’t the only country that makes a spirit with snakes.  China, Vietnam, and Cambodia have snake wine.

As you can imagine, a shot of rattlesnake tequila is not the clearest shot you’ll drink.  It’s a bit cloudy and has small pieces and parts floating around.  At El Museo Restaurante it tastes surprisingly smooth and, well, it didn’t kill me.

Caliente Casino Tequila: The Manly Tequila

Caliente Casino Penis Tequila 3 Weird Shots to Drink in Tijuana

So this section of the article may be NSFW, but this tequila really does exist.  Based on my limited knowledge of Roman history, I’m pretty sure those Romans would have approved too.  This phallic red bottle can be found at the Mujeres Divinas Restaurant Bar of Caliente Casino.

I first learned about Caliente Casino’s tequila when my friend W. Scott Koenig of A Gringo in Mexico posted a picture of the bottle on Facebook.  He described an añejo tequila aged for five years with the male members of seven animals, including bull, bear, deer, rattlesnake, wild boar and others.  Scott knows tequila (here are his picks for 5 Tequilas Everyone Needs to Experience), so I figured if he drank it, I should too.

The owner of Caliente Casino, Jorge Hank Rhon, commissions the tequila, so it is only available in his casino.  Each bottle is marked with the edition number and one shot will set you back $35.  Rhon’s tequila is very smooth and actually almost tastes more like gin than tequila as the flavor hints at containing aromatics.

Again, Mexico is not the only place to find such a manly spirit.  In China, you can find similar spirits, like three-penis rice wine.

The next time you’re in Tijuana, spice it up a bit with one of these weird shots.  They're sure to put some hair on your chest and give you a story to tell.

Thank you to Descubre Tijuana for hosting our weekend getaway to Tijuana and making this post possible.  As always, all opinions are my own.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Get a Beer Education in Brookings, South Dakota at Wooden Legs Brewing

"Great Faces. Great Places"

Though the state slogan of South Dakota above refers to a famous presidential carving, the actual number of faces living in the state is very low. South Dakota ranks 46th out of 50 in population. That means that even smaller cities -compared to cities of the same size in your state- have tons to offer culturally and shouldn't be skipped.

One of those cities -which we recently had the pleasure of spending some time in- is the 4th largest city in South Dakota. That city is Brookings. As I noted, Brookings probably wouldn't be the 4th largest city in your state. With 22,000 people it is not a metropolis, but since there are only 3 larger cities in South Dakota and it is also home to the largest university in the state -South Dakota State University- Brookings has a wealth of things to do and see.

Main Ave. in downtown Brookings
For those culturally minded travelers, Brookings is home to the South Dakota State Art Museum, the South Dakota historical Agriculture Museum, and an annual art festival. For travelers with kids, the wonderful South Dakota Children's Museum is located in town. And for those of you who travel just to check out the town itself, Brookings has one of the better preserved turn of the 20th century main street/downtown areas that I have been to. There are no empty store fronts on Main Ave in Brookings and each occupant has mixed in a little modern to go along with the traditional features of the buildings. Like any good sized university town, downtown Brookings also has a number of great bars. But Brookings also has something that not every university town has, it's own brewing company and tap room.

Drink Local, Brookings style.
Without further adieu, let me introduce you to Wooden Legs Brewing Company.

"Hmmm...that's a funny name. What does it mean?"

The city of Brookings gets it's name from an early South Dakota politician, Wilmot Brookings. I won't delve into his whole story -or the fact that he only visited the town twice- but Brookings himself lost both of his legs in a blizzard and had wooden prostheses fitted. Wooden Legs Brewing is a tip of the cap to this early South Dakota pioneer.

Most places are aesthetically pleasing with these beauties nearby
Phew, with the history lesson out of the way let's hit the brewery. Wooden Legs is set right off Main Ave in Brookings. The brewery -like everything else in that area- is set in a reclaimed turn the of the century building. Because of different codes, the inside had what I would describe as an industrial beer hall vibe to it. It's not a wood beams and sipping by the fireplace kind of joint, but it's also not like drinking on a farm equipment assembly line. It actually reminded me of a couple places in Prague that we have had drinks in. Beyond that it's another brewery to bring the kids to because they serve food -really good pizza- and have games as well.

I love it when these are my toughest decisions
Since we had a great place to grab a bite, entertained kids, and a menu of beer in front of us the next logical thing to do was try the beer. Like many other tap rooms that we have been to, Wooden Legs has a mix of their own brews and guest taps and bottles on hand as well. What you don't always get is true pallet analysis. As the title of this post suggests you can get a beer education at Wooden Legs. All of the servers are certified beer servers, which means if you have no idea what kind of beer you like the servers can decipher your favorite flavors into either one of the house beers or any guest beers available. It is a GREAT way to build a loyal base. I was very impressed.

1st stop cream ale. Yes I brought my matchbox cars to the brewery.
I sampled 5 of the 8 rotating taps -which consisted of 5 signature taps and 3 seasonals. I was a little disappointed that Wooden Legs take on a farmhouse ale wasn't on tap when we were there, but that just means I get to head back another time for a taste. And besides they had -the ever growing in popularity among Midwestern brewers- a cream ale on tap. Yum as usual! Wooden Legs take on the cream ale was nice and light with a subtle sweetness. There was little bitterness at all making it a beer you can enjoy more than one of -whether you are just dipping your toes into craft beer or are already a local drinking veteran.

The cream ale -Wild Hare Cream Ale to be exact- also was the base for another beer becoming popular in these parts, the Pub Shandy. The recipe for this style is simple, but has created an absolute summer favorite in recent years -just ask Jake Leinenkugel. Wooden Legs takes the cream ale and adds a "dash" of San Pelligrino Limonata to the batch and voila, one of the perfect hot summer day beers is born. I loved the fact that a small brewery had dabbled into this fun style. It takes some stones to occupy one of your tap lines with an off the path style, no matter if you know it "should" be popular in your region. Kudos for the stones.

Our flight is now boarding
My other 3 were finely crafted takes on 3 completely different styles. Milk stout, black IPA, and sour. I am a stout fan -I've had stouts at every brewery they've been available at. Wooden Legs stout is low ABV and low hops making it very drinkable. The recipe was crafted by the owners while they were in Ireland together and it has a very familiar drinkability to a famous Irish stout.

The sour is a style that I am not sure if I'm on board with yet. I was impressed again though that a small brewery was taking up a line with a beer that is just starting to catch on in America. I will say that I wasn't turned off and if you like sours you will like what Wooden Legs did with their wild yeast.

Last but not least, the black IPA -fingers crossed that this wasn't some black hop bomb. It wasn't! It was actually my favorite of the bunch. Wooden Legs black IPA was -to me- a hopped up imperial stout. Again I am a stout fan, so having a similar style with a little more bitterness was a fun change of pace. The black IPA and cream ale should be on the top of your tasting list when stopping in.

Brookings: Good  people and good beer. A great South Dakota stop.
Eastern South Dakota -where Brookings lies- is a different landscape than the South Dakota of Rushmore. This portion of the state is the visual definition of the Great Plains in full force. Rolling green hills and farms with lakes dotting the landscape make this area very peaceful. The people of Brookings are as down to Earth as you'll find as well, which was evident when we were chatting with Brant -one of the co-owners of Wooden Legs. One of the many things Brookings has going for it -unlike much of the state at this point- is a great spot to sit down and grab a truly local brew. No matter where your South Dakota vacation is taking you, make some time for a stop and a beer in Brookings.