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  • St. Augustine: A Craft Beverage Destination

    Posted: 2020-07-06 14:57
    For two decades now, while driving to South Florida, we have been inclined to include a detour into St. Augustine to visit the historical sights such as the Old Town, the Spanish Quarter, the Castillo de San Marcos, the Lighthouse, and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine.  These visits also included a stop at the city's only craft beverage establishment - San Sebastian Winery - as we had become fans of their Blanc Du Bois and Port styled wines. They also provided an excellent tour of their facilities as well as a rooftop pavilion with satisfying glasses of white sangria.

    In the past few years, other craft beverage outlets joined San Sebastian along the Trolley Tour Route such as St. Augustine Distillery - situated only a couple blocks away in the Historic FP&L Ice Plant (the first commercial enterprise to produce block ice in Florida over 100 years ago). The distillery is a business collaborative of 28 local entrepreneurs who utilize local sugar cane, wheat, corn, and citrus to produce whiskey, rum, vodka, and gin. They also contacted the world’s leading distilling experts to assist in crafting the spirits recipe and local bartenders on drafting recommended cocktails. They also emulated San Sebastian's tour design and provide one of the most insightful free walking tours of a distillery. Each station includes a free cocktail sample and the museum provides a history of block ice production as well as a legality neutral history of distilling in The Sunshine State.

    For this trip, we intentionally targeted the distillery in order to purchase a bottle of their Port Finished Bourbon ($80, 102 proof).  This whiskey starts as their Florida Double Cask Bourbon which is made from a mash bill of 60% regional corn, 22% malted barley, and 18% regional wheat that is then finished in used San Sebastian Port barrels. For both the Florida Double Cask and Port Finished bourbons, distiller Lucas Smith worked closely with the late Dave Pickerell on the first blends and barrel selection as well as the final proof. Interestingly, the Florida Double Cask weighs in at on odd 93.8 proof as that was the proof that all "blenders" agreed upon.  The Double Cask refers to the use of initial 25-gallon barrels in which the spirit was then transferred to seasoned 53-gallon casks in order to slow the maturation process. The result is a phenomenon whiskey
    and with the additional Port finishing imparts a slight sherry profile along with the raisins and cinnamon.

    We also left with a bottle of the Pot Distilled Rum ($45, 90 proof) and the Florida Cane Vodka ($28, 80 proof). The rum is produced from regional sugarcane syrups and molasses and aged in used St. Augustine bourbon barrels. The spirit is straw-colored with a surprising coconut and baking spices profile. There's a mild dose of heat but the finish is very smooth and clean. The vodka is pot distilled from 100% Florida-farmed sugar. This provides a subtle molasses character with a clean finish.  The Florida Mule was its primary purpose and here are several other recommended cocktails:

    •  2 ounces Pot Distilled Rum
    •  1 ounce honey syrup
    •  1 ounce lime juice
    •  few dashes of bitters
    Garnish with orange peel.

    The Lolita
    •  1.5 ounces Florida Cane Vodka
    •  0.5 ounce fresh lemon juice
    •  0.5 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
    •  0.5 st. germaine
    •  0.25 ounce simple syrup
    •  3 dashes of peychauds bitters
    Garnish with a grapefruit peel.
    •  2 ounces Pot Distilled Rum
    •  0.75 ounce lime juice
    •  0.75 ounce simple syrup
    •  10 leaves of fresh mint
    •  top with soda water
    Garnish with fresh mint.
    The Florida Mule
    •  1.5 ounces Florida Cane Vodka
    •  1.5 ounces ginger-lime simple syrup
    •  Top with soda water
    Garnish with fresh mint leaves.
    Classic Vodka Collins
    •  2 ounces Florida Cane Vodka
    •  1 ounces simple syrup
    •  1 ounces lemon juice
    •  Top with soda water
    Garnish with a lemon peel

    During this visit, we also stopped into two of the four craft breweries that have surfaced in the last couple of years. Ancient City Taphouse is located next to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine and the two standouts were the Castillo Coconut Porter and Brazilian Pepper Tree Honey IPA.  Old Coast Ales is located a short walk or drive over the Matanzas River and we walked out with crowlers of Salt Run Gose and the Hopper 2.0 N.E. IPA. Both nice beach beers.  Another solid beer is the Dog Rose Brewing Co. Palace Pale Ale which I had with lunch at the A1A Ale Works Restaurant & Taproom where Dog Rose owner and brewer, Doug Murr, used to brew. And finally, Bog Brewing Company and City Gate Spirits will have to wait until our return visit to America's oldest city.
  • Grape Spotlight: Michigan Blaufrankisch

    Posted: 2020-06-19 06:00
    "Blaufrankisch is a variety that has shown it can not just grow well here, but can also make stylistically unique wines that can stand out on a broader stage. It's a wine that is exciting to introduce to people as it opens up a different definition to them of what a great red wine can be", Drew Perry, winemaker at Aurora Cellars
    Blaufränkisch was the prized red grape in the Austro-Hungarian Empire having originated in Lower Styria, now part of Slovenia, and planted across the Carpathian Basin. Its name translates to 'Blue Frankish' or perhaps 'Blue Francs' based on either the blue coats or currency used by Napoleon’s troops after their conquest of Vienna. Blaufränkisch's offspring, Zweigelt, is the largest planted red grape in Austria whereas Blaufränkisch is centered in Burgenland - just across the border from Hungary and the Magyar plantings of Kékfrankos. From this Capital of Kékfrankos near Sopron, the grape spread where it is now the most planted red grape variety in Hungary -- Szekszard and Villany in particular. In Germany, Blaufränkisch is known as Lemberger most likely from the Lower Styria town of Lemberg pri Šmarju where the grape was apparently export to Deutschland.

    In the United States, the grape is labeled either Lemberger or Blaufränkisch, with the later adopted in Michigan.  In the Great Lake state, Blaufränkisch is planted primarily in the northern wine regions of the Old Mission Peninsula and the Leelanau Peninsula - regions suitable for this late-ripening and cold-tolerant grape. Aurora Cellars has four acres planted in this last peninsula, the first three planted in 2007. According to Perry, the grape requires a long ripening season because "it tends to stall a bit at the end" and proper canopy management encourages early skin development and provides airflow that reduces disease pressure.  One result of this process is the Aurora Cellars 2016 Leelanau Peninsula Blaufrankisch ($34)  - aged 18 months in  French oak.  Like its Central European counterparts, this wine provided distinct black pepper notes upfront and a spicier pepper profile in the tail accompanied by a proper mouthfeel.  On the other hand, its fruit profile was dominated by blueberries as opposed to red or black cherries usually associated with Central Europe Blaufränkisch.  Nicely done.

    Before Perry became the winemaker at Aurora, he was the assistant winemaker to Brian Ulbrich at Left Foot Charley. This winery grows Blaufränkisch at their Benzie vineyard (located on Lake Michigan) and at a new vineyard on the Old Mission Peninsula, in addition to sourcing from other small family-owned vineyards.  Ulbrich believes that the grape is well-suited for Michigan because it’s relatively winter hardy. With bud break arriving early and its late ripening, assuming no spring frost, then the grape has a long season to ripen. In the case of the Left Foot Charley 2018 Blaufränkisch ($22) - a blend from both the two vineyards mentioned above - this means a brighter fruit-forward profile showing juicy red cherries and developing structure.  Little spice on the front end and finish leaving a refreshing and friendly wine.
  • Puerto Rico Distillery: Providing Maryland with Clandestine Pitorro Rum

    Posted: 2020-06-05 11:49
    Pitorro is Puerto Rican moonshine -- and not of the corn whiskey persuasion that we are familiar with within the United States. It is, in fact, an artisan rum produced by distilling sugar cane and traditionally cured with fruit and buried for several months.  This process helps to balance the high alcohol volume.  And Puerto Rico's unofficial national spirit is now available in the Old Line State courtesy of Frederick's Puerto Rico Distillery

    The distillery is led by the father-daughter team of Angel and Crystal Rivera and focuses on an unflavored pitorro weighing in at 100 proof.  This spirit is distilled from sugarcane molasses and has a funky character that seems to transcend other Caribbean moonshines -- thinking particularly of Hammond from Nevis. They are also currently aging batches infused with coconut, pineapple,
    almond, coffee, and passion fruit that should be available later this year.

    For now, the best use of the pitorro rum is in cocktails and the funkiness livens any concoction. A mojito is the top choice, but also consider with any fruit juice or with equal parts grapefruit juice and ginger beer. It is addicting.

  • Lockdown Cocktails - A Recap

    Posted: 2020-06-01 07:00
    During the COVID lockdown, I replaced my normal routine of simply pouring a neat glass of my favorite spirit and instead became more creative by mixing various cocktails using ingredients that were already available. This process including replacing some ingredients with equivalents such as tonic water with seltzer or simple sugar with dissolved honey. The cocktail recipes were posted on Instagram but with the lockdowns slowly easing the series will most likely be discontinued and thus recaptured in this post.

    Tonight's #lockdowncocktail is a salute to Route 15 from Frederick MD to Harrisburg PA. The #cocktail contains a base of equal parts grapefruit juice and Appalachian Ginger Beer then augmented with a large shot (or two) of Puerto Rico Distillery Clandestino Pitorro Diaspora Rum and a dash or two of Tenth Ward Smoked Corn Whiskey for added aroma.  I will discuss the Clandestino in the near future, but for now, it's a style of moonshine that dates to 1797 and still an integral part of Puerto Rican culture.

    Tonight's #lockdowncocktails are dueling recipes based on a post the week from the Wizard of Whiskey we followed his recipe using grapefruit tonic, Left Foot Charley 2017 Dry Riesling, and for gin, the Barr Hill Gin from Vermont's Caledonia Spirits and made from honey. Completely refreshing and the Riesling creates a creamy body and tamps down the botanicals.  On the other hand, when replacing the Riesling with the 12 Corners Vineyards 2017 Traminette, the botanicals burst forward in conjunction with the wine's aromatics. Combining the two creates a happy medium.

    Tonight's #LockdownCocktail is The Bishop, a rum - red wine cocktail that comes from the 1935 printing of "The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book" by A.S. Crockett. I used Cotton and Reed Sherried Cask Strength Rum and its honeyed nut character blended well with the 12 Corners Vineyards River Stone Red wine. The wine is a unique blend of five grape varieties leading with Chancellor and Chambourcin then rounding out with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Its quite pleasant, fruit-forward berry flavors with a velvety texture, and a chewy smooth finish. 

    3 ounces Cotton & Reed Sherried Cask Strength Rum ($50)
    1 ounce 12 Corners River Stone Red wine ($14)
    1 teaspoon simple syrup
    1/2 lime (juice of)

    The Cotton & Reed Sherried Cask Strength Rum starts out as White Rum ($29) made from Lousiana grown raw cane syrup and blackstrap molasses (6,000 pounds per batch) and fermented with a Rhum Agricole yeast strain and a Chenin Blanc yeast strain. The rum is then aged in used bourbon barrels just like their Mellow Gold Rum ($29). Afterward, the aging rum is transferred to PX Sherry seasoned casks where PX refers to Pedro Ximénez grapes aged in a solera system where the grape brandy undergoes oxidative aging for an Oloroso.

    Today's #lockdowncocktail is the Horsefeather, a Kansas City favorite that legend says originated in nearby Lawrence, Kansas. It's related to the Moscow Mule trading the bourbon for J. Rieger & Co. Kansas City Whiskey ($40), Appalachian Ginger Beer, squeeze of lemon, and using the equivalent of Angostura bitters - Peychaud's Aperitivo. The cocktail sizzles in the mouth with a long spicy tail. And that's the last drop of an amazing whiskey where the corn, malted, and rye mash was fermented then aged in part in 15 year Oloroso sherry casks.

    1.5 oz J. Rieger Whiskey
    4 oz ginger beer
    4-5 dashes Angostura bitters
    1 squeeze of lemon

    Here's a refreshing cocktail suggested by Golden Moon Distillery using their single varietal Grappa (2 oz), lime juice (1 oz), and simple syrup (3/4 oz). The grappa is made using chardonnay pomace from Bookcliff Vineyards. The cocktail is truly refreshing, any grappa sharpness is mediated by the lime juice and syrup. Cheers.

    Tonight's #lockdowncocktail is based on an Italian recipe using grappa, cocoa liqueur, and coffee served in a martini glass as a dessert cocktail. I used my mead glass and combined equal parts Springfield Manor grappa and Blacksnake Meadery Red Queen Coffee Mead with a dash of FloraLuna Apothecary Cayenne bitters. Perhaps my favorite so far.

    Another lockdown cocktail using existing spirits. This unnamed drink is 2 parts River Hill Spirits bourbon, .5 parts Golden Moon Distillery  Kummel, .5 parts honey water, and a dash of bitters. The Kummel and honey tame the heat, and the bourbon blends in with the caraway liqueur.

    Cocktails with miniatures. Last night I discovered that Grappa Nonino Amaro is a great partner with Bourbon or Tennessee Whiskey and FloraLuna Apothecary Orange bitters. 
  • Grape Spotlight: Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan Pinot Blanc

    Posted: 2020-06-04 21:33
    Pinot Blanc, the pale-skinned Pinot mutation that shares a genetic fingerprint with Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, is favored in cold climate regions such as the Alto Adige region of Italy (Pinot Bianco), Alsace in northeast France, Baden and Pfalz in Germany (Weissburgunder), Niederosterreich and Burgenland in Austria (Weisser Burgunder), Canada's Okanagan Valley, and in Michigan.  The grape itself is quite versatile where globally it is used in the production of still, sparkling, and sweet dessert wines and in general produces a medium to full-bodied style of wine with apple and almond characters and finishing with abundant acidity. Oak treatments are possible but often overwhelm and mute the mineral and smoky characteristics.

    In Michigan, Pinot Blanc thrives in the cool conditions and sandy soils of the Old Mission Peninsula AVA where Lake Michigan creates a very favorable grape growing environment. The “lake effect” snow protects the vines in the winter from freezing temperatures and provides a diurnal change in temperatures during the summer. Think refreshing acidity which is the case for the Left Foot Charley Old Mission Peninsula Michigan Pinot Blanc ($18).  This wine also features green apple and pear flavors along with racy saline and a round mouthfeel. Left Foot Charley also produces a single vineyard Pinot Blanc, the 2017 Island View Vineyard Pinot Blanc ($25) which is Michigan's oldest Pinot Blanc planting dating back to 1995. Cheers. - a Tradex Consulting company
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