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.
One of my dearest friends picked up and moved to San Francisco a few years back. I hate that she’s gone, but it does mean I get to visit with her when I’m in the City by the Bay and I even get to cajole her into the occasional guest post. Jen Rizzo is a great freelance graphic artist (she did the logo and such over at the Hoperatives) and is quite the foodie. In this post, she’s filling us in on her recent tour of Anchor Steam Brewery.
I have always been a big believer in drinking locally. It’s just better. You’re supporting local businesses and decreasing your carbon footprint. Even above those two very important things, it connects you to the local flavor and allows you to explore some new options. If I’m in a new city, I always want to know what their local craft beer is like. I’m originally from Kansas City, where we have the lovely Boulevard brewery. It is probably surprising to no one that a brewery out of Kansas City specializes in wheat beer – but you can find it everywhere. The most divey of all dive bars will at least have bottles of Boulevard Wheat. When I lived in Cincinnati, I threw down Bell’s like it was candy. (The Two-Hearted and Oberon were my favorites, but I try to not discriminate.) And, of course, I had the pleasure of living in New York during the winter, so I had my share of Brooklyn Black, which is still among my favorite reasons to travel east during the holiday season.
Here in San Francisco, we are incredibly spoiled with the Anchor Steam Brewery.
The Anchor Brewing Company first opened its doors in 1896, and was purchased by Fritz Maytag in 1965. He learned west coast beer from the ground up, and eventually settled on the brews we have today. Recently, Fritz sold the brewery to a holding company a few miles north of San Francisco (owned by two former Skyy vodka representatives), which sent our beer world into a little bit of a panic. Fritz Maytag is greatly respected for his accomplishments in craft brewing, and a lot of us are on the edge of our seats anticipating what comes next. When a friend told me she had an extra ticket to an Anchor tour, I jumped at the chance. The Bay Area Beer Socials group takes this specially-organized after-hours tour once a year, but the organizer fears that this may be the last year for it due to the brewery changing hands.
Anchor produces both seasonal and year-round beers. Anchor Steam is their flagship beer. It’s rich and a little hoppy – a classic west coast beer. (When I was still living in Cincinnati, Northside Tavern kept it on draft, but I’d have to defer to the Hoperatives as to who has it now.)
“Steam” beer was originally a term used to describe west coast brews, but is now a trademark of the Anchor Brewing Company. There are many stories about where the name “steam beer” came from. My favorite is that around the turn of the century, there was no way to effectively chill the beer after boiling, so San Francisco breweries had large, shallow, open-top tanks on the roof to allow the climate to cool it naturally. When beer was being brewed, clouds of steam rose off the top of the buildings – hence, steam beer!
Today, Anchor replicates the process by using these open-top tanks inside:
The beer sits in these tanks for three days, at which point it’s nearly flat. It’s combined later at about an 85/15 ratio with beer that’s only sat there for one day and isn’t quite done, so it balances out in the end.
Liberty Ale is like Anchor Steam’s big brother. A little hoppier, a little richer, a little higher in alcohol content. (6%, compared to Anchor Steam’s 4.9%.) Its name honors Paul Revere’s bicentennial ride, but the recipe stems from older variations of Our Special Ale, their winter seasonal. Anchor Porter is their darkest offering. Dark, rich and roasty with a hoppy back to it, it’s one of my favorite porters. Not too malty, not too smoky. Old Foghorn is a barleywine-style ale. A little lower in alcohol content than most barleywines, at 8-10% (Anchor claims it varies), it’s still the heftiest of the Anchor brews. A little sweet, incredibly rich, and a little bubbly. On draft, it’s particularly lovely, but it holds up pretty well in its bottled version. If the Liberty Ale is Anchor Steam‘s big brother, Anchor Small Beer is Old Foghorn’s little brother. At a teeny tiny 3.3%, it’s created from a second running of the mash used to make Old Foghorn. Even though they come from the same place, they couldn’t taste more different. Small Beer is light, but rich, and takes on a much more bitter flavor than any of Anchor’s other beers.
Anchor makes four seasonals – Our Special Ale, their winter offering, Anchor Bock, for spring, Anchor Summer, and the newest addition, Anchor Humming. Humming Ale was originally created last year to honor the 30th anniversary of the current location. Bars in San Francisco snatched up what they could, since it was intended to be a limited run. About the time that everyone was running out of it, Anchor announced that they would be bottling it as their new autumn seasonal.
Brewery tours are available by reservation during the week. If you’re in the San Francisco area anytime soon, it’s a wonderful piece of history. Plus, the tour wraps up with a tasting, so you can choose your favorites! (While you’re in the area, do what we did and trek up the hill a couple blocks to Goat Hill Pizza, where you can get a pitcher of Anchor Steam as well as sourdough-crust pizzas. Thank me later.)
- Jen Rizzo
Photos © Jen Rizzo, 2010
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