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.