After we left Prosser, we drove a couple of hours west to Seattle. On our first night in the city, we met up with some old friends from Cincinnati and headed over to Elysian Brewing Company in Capitol Hill. Elysian also has a brewpub down by the stadiums, fittingly called Elysian Fields.
Elysian Brewing Company – A short bus ride from our hotel up to Capitol Hill from our hotel was our first stop in Seattle. We had a great dinner with friends and were able to try through a brewmaster’s sampler. Michelle found the Dry Wit (a “guest beer” from Pike Brewing) a better fit for her tastes than the current offerings.
I was able to try:
My notes are definitely incomplete as it was more of a night out with friends, but my overall impression was that Elysian enjoys using hops in varied and creative ways. If hops are your thing, you will not be disappointed by their beers.
The Pike Brewing Company – We stopped for a small lunch here on our last day in Seattle. I had a nice little cheese plate and Michelle had a gigantic bowl of macaroni and cheese that used Washington cheeses.
The six tastes (4-oz pours) rang up at a reasonable $9.00.
Pyramid Breweries – This was our last stop on the way out to the airport to catch a redeye home. One of the oddest experiences that I had on this trip occurred while we were working through a sampling at the bar. The gentleman who sat down next to me also had on an Irish Kevin’s shirt from Key West, FL – and we were both on the opposite end of the country from the original bar. It was weird, but I was able to continue tasting though Michelle’s laughter.
Here’s a quick run down on the beers I tried:
The sampler was a deal at $5.00 for the 5 2-ox pours.
We ended up buying two bottles of the Lipstinger, as the saison style blended well with the pepper. A very distinctive beer that was a hit for both Michelle and myself.
Did I miss anything that I should have tried? There were a bunch of great looking breweries, but only so much time.
After wrapping up the Wine Bloggers Conference, Michelle and I transitioned from wine to Washington’s other known commodity: beer. We had a quick stop in Prosser, then a few brewery visits in Seattle proper before we headed home. We also stopped an snapped a quick photo of some hops growing as we drove across the state. Washington accounts for 75% of the hops grown in the United States, which might account for the number of breweries that we found.
We started off our beer tasting in Prosser, WA, which was roughly halfway between Walla Walla and Seattle.
Horse Heaven Hills Brewery – As the official Kentucky visitors to the Brewery, this one made for a nice transition from wine to beer. This little brewery only sells by the growler and shares the parking lot with the Prosser AutoZone.
We walked on in and sat down at the bar where we tried the following:
We picked up an empty growler for ourselves as Michelle was taken by the image of the horse as well as the story of wild horses roaming the local hills. It was Michelle’s favorite brewery of the trip as she liked most of the beers we tried for different reasons. $5.00 for 4 samples.
Whitstran Brewing – This was our second stop in Prosser and luckily they served food. My burger was excellent and Michelle had no tr0uble finishing her sandwich as well.
Another nice selection of samples (9 for $9.50) was split between the two of us.
Lunch was a very nice at Whitstran and it was worth a stop in Prosser to start making the switch from wineries to breweries. We had a great afternoon and if we had been able to keep the beer refrigerated, I think we would have had a few full growlers as we continued into Seattle. For anyone on the wine trail, I strongly recommend stopping and trying something a little different. From Seattle, I think it would be well worth the drive to the desert to see a little sun.
Kevin and I really enjoyed our time in Washington state at the end of June. I’m completely in love with the place, from the gorgeous mountains, waterfalls, and lush green-ness around Seattle to the desert, sun, and heat in the southeast corner where so many vineyards exist.
I took way too many photos, which is not unusual for me, and I have them in two separate slide shows. You can also view the photos individually on Flickr.
The first pack, which covers the conference itself, includes a lot of vineyards. We visited Reynvaan Family Vineyards, the Walla Walla Community College, and Spring Valley. The photos include Walla Walla itself, which is definitely one of the cutest towns in the US and the streets are lined with tasting rooms. Finally, we took an all-day excursion to the Red Mountain AVA, which turned out to be absolutely beautiful. The vineyards and the scenery were positively breathtaking.
The second pack starts out with a visit to my beloved Airfield Estates Winery in Prosser, Wa. If you’re in it for the wine, stop there. We very quickly make the switch over to beer, with visits to the remarkable Horse Heaven Hill Brewery and Witstran Brewery. We even stopped and took photos of hops growing along the highway.
The photo pack diverges into our vacation shots, which include shots of food and beer, shots of Seattle in general, waterfalls and mountains, the space needle, Pike Place Market, and even some road-side oddities.
Enjoy! We fell in love with Washington and I hope to go back soon, and wrap in a trip to Oregon as well.
For this post we again welcome Jay Erisman, our favorite instructor from The Party Source EQ Center and quite the wine and spirits expert. This is actually part 2 of a 2-part Mexican adventure he took in 2007 (part 1).
Tequila country did not prepare me for the Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal producers in Oaxaca. Del Maguey mastermind Ron Cooper took me on a four day tour of Oaxaca. From village markets where we feasted on things like pit roasted goat (and—bonus!—the blood of the goat, cooked in the stomach with mint, swear I’m not making this up), to cutting edge restaurants in Oaxaca City, I was immersed in the most vibrant, colorful culture I’ve ever experienced.
I was acquainted with the traditional production methods used by such Mezcal masters as Paciano Cruz Nolasco of San Luis del Rio.
To actually see these distilleries operate with technology that was virtually pre-industrial was totally amazing. The techniques are positively pre-industrial, such as roasting the maguey in an earthen pit of smoldering wood and hot rocks for up to three weeks, and crushing the cooked plants with a mule-powered stone. Señor Nolasco harvests maguey plants (a relative of the blue agave used for Tequila) from very high hills, in his very high village, at the end of a very bad road. (Paciano is a Mezcal maker, a palenquero, but this generous, forward-thinking man is training his daughter to become a palenquera, possibly the first female Mezcal distiller.) The term “rustic” does not do justice to his distillery, hugging the dusty banks of the rio amidst a cluster of banana trees, vines and lizards. His Mezcal might offer the single most complex aroma of any spirit I sell, a kaleidoscope of smoky earth, pineapple fruits and mountain herbs, citrus leaves and rinds, black and white pepper and more. Nosing a glass of San Luis is like approaching the event horizon of a black hole; inevitably, it pulls you in, and you’re done for.
In the village of Minero, Florencio Sarmiento uses two stills made of clay and bamboo from a unique design of ancient Chinese origin.
Florencio’s distillery is also the only one I saw that used electricity, with a small pump circulating cold water to the internal condenser bowls in his far-out stills. The resulting Mezcal cuts across the palate like a lightsaber, with a breathtaking citrus intensity.
Like El Tesoro, all Del Maguey Mezcals are 100% natural with no added flavors or chemicals used in production/ On top of that, these Mezcals possess full organic certification. Having been there, I can better appreciate where the potent, smoky flavor of these Mezcals comes from. If they are drop for drop the most intensely flavored spirits in The Party Source, surely that reflects the rugged land—and the hand of the maker—from which they spring.
– Jay Erisman
Photos © Jay Erisman 2007-2010
View part 1 of the Mexican adventure – Tequila.
For this post we welcome Jay Erisman, our favorite instructor from The Party Source EQ Center and quite the wine and spirits expert. This is actually part 1 of a 2-party Mexican adventure (part 2 appears tomorrow).
My 2007 tour of Mexico will last forever as one of the great cultural experiences of my life, filled with warm and friendly people, fantastic food and a colorful aesthetic sensibility everywhere we turned. But for sure the highlights of the trip were the distilleries. From finding the flat-out Best Tequila Distillery to mind-bending tours of four single village Mezcal producers, I found the state of this Mexican art to be perhaps the most traditional of all the spirits in the world.
Shortly after meeting Carlos Camarena*, I decided he is a really cool guy. The passion he holds for his ultra-traditional El Tesoro 100% Agave Tequila comes burning off him like the steam that fires his old-fashioned agave ovens. Working the La Alteña distillery in his father Don Felipe’s footsteps, Carlos does things with Tequila that other distillers would consider insane.
Carlos’ estate-grown blue agave plants are the ripest in the industry, covered with brown spots like a banana.
The workers laboriously trim by hand the part of the male plant that creates bitter flavors in the finished product. (Hmm. Bitter male parts. There’s a joke in there somewhere.)
He persists in crushing the cooked agave—which are baked three days in brick ovens—with a giant millstone (as opposed to a modern mechanical shredder).
Unlike nearly all other Tequila producers, Señor Camarena ferments his agave totally naturally, with no added chemical fermentation accelerators. He then distills the fermented juice with the agave fibers for added flavor, in pot stills so small they could fit in the back of a van.
All this obsessive attention to detail leads to the most flavorful Tequila I’ve ever had, bar none. El Tesoro has a crackling intensity, a sustain, a hang-time in the mouth that simply outclasses other Tequilas. You don’t just get stony, mineral, earthy flavors—you get a faceplant into the red highland Tequila soil. You don’t just taste green bean—you get the snap of the bean, the juice of cucumber. The difference between El Tesoro and other Tequilas is like the difference between normal and high-definition TV. The operative word is clarity.
*I’m pleased to say there is another Camarena-crafted Tequila on the market. (No, not the “Camarena” brand owned by Gallo; that’s made by Carlo’s cousin from another branch of the family.) Carlos’ brother Felipe joined forces with a Tequila ambassador Tomas Estes to create Tequila Ocho, which takes the Camarena family estate-grown agave to its logical conclusion. Ocho is a single vintage Tequila, chosen each year from only one agave field. Ocho reveals the terroir of an agave field very much like the cru system in Burgundy reveals the truth of Pinot Noir. I’ll write more about Ocho another time, but suffice to say that Felipe’s Ocho surpasses even Carlo’s El Tesoro, with the fattest, ripest, most glisteningly fresh and viscerally thrilling Tequila I’ve ever had.
– Jay Erisman
Photos © Jay Erisman 2007-2010
Want to know more about Mezcal? Tune in tomorrow morning for the conclusion of Jay’s adventure and a primer on Mezcal.
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