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  • Missouri Wine: Excelsior Springs is a Craft Beverage Destination

    Posted: 2019-06-24 06:00
    In 1880, what is now downtown Excelsior Springs was a wheat field. Yet, within the end of the decade, Excelsior Springs was a vibrant town with transportation links provided by stage and rail and with a resort hotel – the Elms Hotel. The discovery of healing mineral springs instigated this growth and eventually more than 40 mineral water wells and springs were identified. In fact, “there are more groupings of mineral springs in Excelsior Springs than anywhere else in the world”. (1)

    Over the next several decades the town expanded fueled by healing tourism and a water bottling plant. The current Elms Hotel was completed in 1912 (the first two were destroyed by fire) and the Hall of Waters was completed in 1938. This facility was built as a Federal Public Works Administration project and at its “height was the most completely outfitted health resort in the state”. (2) President Franklin Roosevelt was a visitor and most likely used a wheelchair enabled ramp to bath in the mineral waters. And only a few years later, President Harry Truman was residing at the Elms Hotel when it was declared he won the 1948 presidential election. Since that heyday, the mineral water industry and spa tourism faded so that the Hall of Waters is now occupied by government and business organizations. Only the Elms Hotel operates in its past grandeur.

    Recently, however, tourists are starting to return to Excelsior Springs partly attracted by the growing wine industry surrounding the town. This industry is anchored by the Willow Springs Mercantile, a bistro craft beverage shop that houses the largest selection of Missouri wines in the Show Me state. In addition, they sell a large assortment of Missouri craft beer and spirits as well as other items. The Mercantile is also the start of the Excelsior Springs Chamber Trolley which through various tours safely transports visitors to the area’s three wineries: Van Till Family Farm Winery, Fence Stile Vineyards & Winery, and Four Horses and a Dog Vineyard. And for craft beer lovers, two microbreweries are located within walking distance of both the Elms and the Mercantile.

    Van Till Family Farm Winery
    This winery is celebrating its 10 year anniversary as Cliff and Debbie Van Till established the winery after first planting a vineyard in their Rayville property. This small vineyard includes several grape varieties well accumulated to the local climate such as Norton, Chambourcin, Vignoles, Traminette, Brianna, and Edelweiss. Because they offer 36 wines, they augment this fruit from other Missouri vineyards and attempt to “create the highest quality wine that we are able to do”. That’s a lot of quality control and expect plenty of intriguing options. They provide three versions of Missouri’s signature grape Norton with a Van Till Estate, Missouri Reserve, and Missouri Special Reserve. Also try the Missouri Vignoles and the Van Till Brianna and Van Till Edelweiss in order to compare and contrast the tropical notes from the Brianna with the stone fruit of the Edelweiss. Before setting down for a glass and wood-fired pizza, don’t forget the Norton Dessert Wine or Chocolate Rose.

    Fence Stile Vineyards & Winery
    Also celebrating 10 years of operation, Fence Stile is located just a few miles southeast of town and also creates wines from estate and Missouri fruit. Six grape varieties were first planted in the estate in 2007 with two more added in 2016. Chambourcin and Norton are the predominant red grape varieties and are often blended together like in the Backpack Red. This wine is fruit forward with plenty of cherries, spices, and a noticeable friendly acidic finish. Vidal and Vignoles are the primary white wines and the Missouri Vignoles is particularly delicious with its pineapple dominated flavor and textured fresh finish.



    Four Horses and a Dog Vineyard
    This partnership is situated north of town and is run by two couples, Mike + Cheryl Jennings and Stephen + Jeanine Stubbs. Their joint love for wine enticed them to plant grapes in 2008 and release their first vintage in 2013. For red wines, they feature Chambourcin, Noiret, and Chancellor, with the Original Cin Chambourcin particularly interesting with its dark fruit, spices, and easy tannins. As expected Vignoles is a popular white option but seek out the Missouri Sunday Ride Viognier if available. The grapes are sourced from a vineyard in Missouri’s boot (far southeast corner) which must have a suitable micro-climate for this finicky viniferia grape. The wine itself well represents the grape with soft peaches and vibrant acidity.

    Atlas Saloon Brewery
    Atlas Saloon first opening during Excelsior Springs’ major expansion in 1894 and served as Schlitz bar even through prohibition – illicitly of course. In 2009 Jim McCullough, owner of nearby Walbash BBQ, purchased the saloon and in July 2018 introduced a brewery. He hired Keith Hudson as the brewmaster who continues to brew in the German tradition with beers that would make Joseph Schlitz proud. In fact, the Atlas Special Brew is a replica of the original Schlitz lager, fermented using Bohemian yeast that is similar to what Schlitz used in the 1860’s and six row barley in the German tradition. Crystal Lithia Kolsch and Maurer's Munich Helles are two other excellent German-inspired beers with the portfolio rounded out with two Scots-Irish: a Siloam Irish Stout and McCleary's Scottish Ale.

    Dubious Claims Brewing Company
    The brewery is named after the reports from national media on the “dubious claims” of healing mineral water. So, “forget the water and drink the beer”. The facility is located within eyesight of the Elms Hotel and actually a block away from the boundary of the original hotel. The pub-kitchen microbrewery offers a balanced beer menu so don’t be shy descending to the dark and heavy brews listed at the bottom. The Elixir Stout is made in the German Dry Stout style with hints of chocolate and coffee. The Embalmer Milk Stout provides more coffee – this time with cream and the Whiskey Barrel Aged Milk Stout feels like you spiked your morning coffee. Finally, try the Chocolate Cherry Delight Porter if available it’s just what its name suggests.


    (1) Visit Excelsior Springs Missouri - Our History

    (2) Visit Excelsior Springs Missouri - Hall of Waters
  • River Hill Wine and Spirits - From Moonshine to Bourbon to Country Wine

    Posted: 2019-06-21 10:50
    I couple years ago I started purchasing the River Hill Distillery Corn Whiskey as it provides a clean, textured, sweet corn flavor with little burn. Hard to do that at 100 proof, but old family recipes have their secrets.  An opportunity occurred this month while driving past Lurey Caverns and suddenly realizing we were close to River Hill and theCompass Craft Beverage Finder provided quick navigation. That's when I discovered that the distillery had re-branded to River Hill Wine and Spirits since they also produce a range of country wines.

    Proprietor Fred Foley greeted me when entering the tasting room and we discussed the origins of the operation and the distilling process during a short tour. He and his wife Ann board horses, raise beef cattle and grow corn to feed these cattle. After a few years of excess corn in 2013, they spent a year applying for a distillery license and in 2014 started distilling corn whiskey.

    River Hill now produces three whiskeys, the clear 100 proof 100% corn whiskey mentioned above and two bourbon whiskeys. Each is double distilled, once through a new still and the second through their original still where the condensation coils are threaded within a copper pipe. Very ingenious.

    The original River Hill Bourbon Whiskey ($25) is produced from a corn-dominated mash bill with the addition of roasted barley that Foley smokes himself in an outdoor smoker. This is a very smooth whiskey, cut to 90 proof,  with a slight smoky and spicy profile due to eight months aging in new American (Minnesota) oak barrels. And recently they released a new bourbon, the River Hill 100 Bourbon Whiskey ($39) -- 100 proof and 100% corn aged in new oak barrels. This was a first - there's some burn but it's toward the front with the sweet corn blending with vanilla notes from the oak  Very interesting.


    Ann handles the wine tasting as they must separate both endeavors within the same facility. Each wine sells for $15, resides around 10% r.s., and except for the Pineapple is sourced from the farm or locally in the valley. The sugar doesn't seem to come into play as the individual fruit character dominates each wine. The grape wines are a traditional Concord and Niagara; the fruit an Apple (Golden Delicious), Peach, and the Pineapple. And as a special offering, they produce a Sweet Potato wine after a neighbor had an abundant surplus. The potatoes had to be shredded and boiled with the resulting juice fermented. But it works and is very intriguing. Cheers to River Hill.
  • Silver Branch Brewing Company - A World of Beer

    Posted: 2019-06-19 06:00
    As downtown Silver Spring Maryland revitalized it is also becoming a craft beverage destination with three breweries and a winery within a two-mile radius. Silver Branch Brewing Company opened in February 2019 as the latest addition and is well worth a visit. Proprietors Christian Layke and Brett A. Robison produce a wide selection of Central European, British Isles, Belgium, and Americas styled beers that will impress most visitors. They also pour wine - including those from Austrian grapes - and offer German sausages. But on the beer.


    During our visit, we tasted through their entire lineup finding several immediate standouts. On the Central European side, the Killer Castle Kellerbier is basically an unfiltered version of their Czech Pilsner Glass Castle and is more refreshing with enhanced minerality. Our group split on The Oracle Speaks Weizenbock disagreeing on its powerful banana character but returned to an agreement on the Fashion Killer Altbier. The two Belgians were solid particularly the Sacred Table Abbey Single Pale Ale. The spices were adequate to entice but not overwhelming. The Americas provided the greatest enjoyment as well as the great disappointment. Everyone disapproved of the Down w/ The Raj sour IPA but loved the Sisyphus hazy IPA and all three volumes of the Quantum Shift East Coast IPA. IPA lovers rejoice. Finally, the British Isles were a solid trio of the Chronicle Tropical Stout, Ruby Dragon Mild Ale, and the Cheshire Grin ESB. The last two were completely enjoyable particularly to those of us accumulated to the room temperature of the beers.

    theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you to Silver Branch Brewing Company or take Metro's Red Line and walk across the street. Cheers.
  • Old Westminster Winery, Burnt Hill Farm, & The Summer Solstice Festival

    Posted: 2019-06-17 20:28
    “We’re going to challenge current beliefs with unique and transparent wines – wines that offer balance, nuance, and character. We’re going to farm thoughtfully, using biodiverse cover crops, biodynamic principles and incorporating animals. And then, in the winery, we’re going to craft wines with a light hand, ferment with indigenous yeast, and bottle it all without fining or filtration. These wines will be made without makeup – a pure reflection of the time and place where they’re grown and the people who guided the process." Drew Baker.

    Photo Courtesy of
    Old Westminster Winery
    This is the guiding principle behind the next phase of Maryland's Old Westminster Winery as this accomplished and innovative winery attempts to challenge contemporary winemaking through The Burnt Hill Project. The Baker family has been very successful in their previous endeavors, first by immediately impressing consumers and critics after an initial launch of Old Westminster Winery, being the first to can and successfully market Maryland wine, and creating a custom crush facility for other aspiring winemakers.  So there's little reason to conclude this next phase will not be as successful.

    Burnt Hill Farm is located in northwestern Montgomery County and its name comes from the late 1800s, when the owners "despaired of growing crops in the nutrient-poor soils and made money by burning trees and brush to make charcoal, potash, and lye". The farm has the ideal gradient and clay-limestone soils congruent for Gamay and Pinot Noir, grapes normally not planted in the Free State. But why stop there. They are also planting "90 experimental varieties bred by Cliff Ambers, an iconoclastic viticulturist who pollinates native grape vines with pollen from European vinifera varieties” Dave McIntyre Washington Post.

    The Bakers will continue the viticulture philosophy from their Home Vineyard in Westminster, all work done by hand, sustainable farming, minimalist winemaking, and fermenting with native yeast. They have also incorporated bio-dynamic vineyard practices at Burnt Hill Farm  -- starting two years before planting their first vines - in order to create a living organism. Biodynamic farms generate their own fertility through composting, integrating animals, and cover cropping. This effort at Burnt Hill includes rotating cover crops like wheat and daikon radish, planting manure filled bull horns that will eventually fertilize the vineyard, and introducing sheep next year.
    "We choose to think of our farm as a living, breathing organism. Like a human body with a system of organs, our farm is a complex system of interacting substances and processes...> biodynamics." Drew Baker
    Consumers can discover Old Westminster's minimalist approach to winemaking as well as taste a preview of what should come from Burnt Hill at their Summer Solstice Festival on June 22, 2019. Under a circus tent at Burnt Hill Farm, low-intervention winemakers from across the globe will pour 100+ unique wines. The lineup includes Broc Cellars, Hiyu Wine Farm, Zafa Wines, Floral Terranes, Margins Wine, Methode Sauvage, Iapetus Wine, Wild Arc Farm, Inconnu Wine, Johan Vineyards, The Scholium Project, Fable Farm, Purity Wine, En Cavale, Fausse Piste, Old Westminster, Lightwell Survey, Liten Buffel, Maitre de Chai, Old World Winery, Les Lunes, Ruth Lewandowski, Brooks, Art+Science, Native Selections, Zev Rovine, Williams Corner, Plant Wines, MFW, Domestique, Wines of Georgia, Revel Wine, and more...

    And to learn more about the festival and Old Westminster Winery tune to #Winestudio on Twitter Tuesdays in June at 9PM E.T. Cheers and hope to see you at the Summer Solstice.
  • Villa Maria's First Sip Of Summer

    Posted: 2019-06-15 07:00
    This week Villa Maria Estate presented their seasonal #FirstSipNZ witter campaign and this chat featured a trio of ready for summer wines.  The winery is one of New Zealand's most famous having operated for six decades starting as a one acre - one man shop in 1961 and growing to where founder George Fistonich is inducted to Restaurant and Hospitality Hall of Fame.  Fortunately, these wineries are widely distributed across the United States so here are some tweets why you may want to pick up a bottle or two...


    Villa Maria 2018 Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough ($14)

    The grapes were sourced from the Awatere and Wairau Valleys - spreading from coastal Wairau to a higher altitude in Awatere (900 feet). This provides a  mixture of warmer and cooler vineyard sites which showcase the herbal and tropical notes.




    Villa Maria 2018 Private Bin Rosé, Hawkes Bay ($15)

    This blend is predominately Merlot, which is the most widely planted red variety in Hawkes Bay as this region is a much warmer climate than Marlborough.




    Villa Maria 2015 Cellar Selection Pinot Noir, Marlborough ($26)

    The grapes for this wine also derive from diverse sites in the Awatere and Wairau Valleys with the 2015 vintage considered a strong year. As the Cellar Selection label designates this wine offers more aromatics, weight, and complexity.






    Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this wine free from Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and Villa Maria as part of their First Sip Of Summer Twitter Tasting. I was not required to write a positive review and the opinions I have expressed are entirely my own.

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