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
Melissa, er, Lou blogs over at My Loueyville and I just love her. Cincinnati is a wonderful city, but we’ve also got two other wonderful cities – Louisville and Lexington – around or under 2 hours drive south. I have ties to Louisville, I admit, as my brother-in-law just graduated from UofL, I went to school at Kentucky Wesleyan (where I swear everyone was from Louisville), and I don’t know if I’ve ever missed a Kentucky Derby in my life. I’m thrilled that Lou decided to guest post for me here at Wine-Girl!
I’ve been a proud Louisvillager and self-proclaimed cheerleader for the city for almost four years now. And one of the many, many things I love about this city is its proximity to Cincinnati. I relish my quarterly weekend trips to Cincy to avail myself of some of the luxuries that my corner of the midwest doesn’t possess. I’m an IKEA fiend, but I go as much for the meatballs as for the home decor. I’m a recent convert to Trader Joe’s– as a single person, I am bonkers for their frozen food entrees. And if there’s a prettier bar in the entire region than the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza, I haven’t seen it.
That being said, I sure hope you Cincinnatians take advantage of your proximity to my fair city. There’s no better time to make your way upriver to our neck of the woods than summer. And some of the best reasons to visit are free or cheap as heck.
I’m a 4th generation Red Sox fan, but now that I’ve moved here, I’ve embraced your Reds as my secondary team. And if you have even a passing love of the Reds, you need to get down here to a Louisville Bats game to see some of your future stars at work. Last year, Homer Bailey was my favorite “boy of summer,” and now he’s pitching down your way almost full time. This year, the star to watch is Aroldis Chapman… you may want to watch him because, at least right now, the Reds’ $30M man seems to be falling apart a bit. But the best reason to hit Slugger Field to see a Bats game is that it is, hands down, the cheapest fun this city has to offer. As little as $7 gets you inside (watch for deals, like a AAA discount) — I rarely ever sit in an actual seat as the park features abundant picnic tables with great views. Beer is about $4.50, but again, keep your eye open for deals — happy hours can reduce that down to $1-$3. And there’s more than hot dogs and nachos for food. The stand under the Jumbotron sells pork chop and ribeye sandwiches as well as really excellent grilled corn on the cob. Slugger Field is also a gorgeous place to watch a sunset over the river.
If you’re lucky like I am and enjoy summers off, the best free fun the city has to offer during the summer is Waterfront Wednesdays, the last Wednesday of every month from April-September. Waterfront Wednesdays is a free concert at Waterfront Park sponsored by public radio station WFPK. Every WW features three acts, most of them nationally known — this month (June 30) features Carney (fronted by Reeve Carney, who will next appear in the Julie Taymor-directed Spiderman musical on Broadway), Sonos, and Joshua James. Feel free to bring a picnic, but no outside alcohol is allowed. That’s no big deal because the WW stands feature great beers and a full bar at reasonable prices. It’s spitting distance from Slugger Field, so in addition to good beer and great music, you’re treated to the same gorgeous riverfront sunset. Waterfront Wednesdays are like my birthday and Christmas rolled into one, six times a year.
Big news recently in the ‘Ville is that our own 21c Hotel has announced intentions to expand to 15 more cities, starting with Bentonville, Arkansas — home of Walmart HQ. (Weird, I know.) Cincinnati is going to get one too. While it isn’t cheap to either stay at or eat at our most beautiful and interesting hotel (but it is so-o-o-o worth it!), it is absolutely free to check out 21c’s contemporary art museum. Conde Nast Traveller’s #1 US hotel is way at the top of the list of things that make me proud to be a Louisvillager. If it’s possible to have a crush on a business, I have a raging crush on 21c. (Check out my blog post about my 21c love.)
We are an art-loving city, and this year we landed the Glass Arts Society annual conference, and so lots of our downtown galleries and museums feature some really beautiful and groundbreaking glass arts. The conference is June 10-12, but most of the exhibits will last all summer long. And the best time to take advantage of all those exhibits is on the first Friday of every month, during our First Friday Gallery Hop. This art show/street fair is totally free, including parking and trolley transportation during the event. The Gallery Hop goes from 5pm-11pm, and most of the participating galleries and museums offer snacks and drinks — some even offer wine and beer tastings.
This just scratches the surface of all the fabulous things that Louisville has to offer this summer. I like to believe that whenever I fill my cooler at Trader Joe’s, another Cincinnatian gets his/her wings to fly to Louisville. Of course for more goings-on in Louisville, you can check out my blog, Loueyville. Other stellar Louisville blogs include, Consuming Louisville, and for music lovers, Backseat Sandbar.
Hope to see y’all downriver soon!
By the time you read this, I’ll be on my way to San Diego … then Pennsylvania … then DC … then Walla Walla and Seattle. Hopefully while we’re in Seattle and Walla Walla, we’ll get some posts in from the Wine Bloggers Conference. No promises though.
However, so that you still get information on a regular basis, I’ve lined up a group of guest bloggers. They’ve already given me their posts (so that I don’t have any surprises) and they are scheduled and ready to go. For the times Kevin and I are gone, you’ll be hearing from our friends and colleagues, both locally and in other exciting cities.
I hope you enjoy their insight! They’ll be bringing you different perspectives based on their locations, jobs, and interests.
You’ll be hearing from
Kevin will also be chiming in while I’m on the business portion of the trips.
Thanks, and “see” you in July!
As I mentioned, a week or so ago I did a coast-to-coast run of the country, from Seattle to Orlando. April doesn’t look much better for staying home, as my business is taking me to Baltimore, West Virginia, and Miami.
I have no complaints at all about Miami. In fact, I’m taking the Miami trip (starting this Thursday) and extending it into a couple of quiet days in Key West. Now, while Key West does have wine bars, it’s not exactly known for its wine. Is there anything in particular that you, my readers, would like me to hunt down while I’m in the southernmost place in our country? Anything Key-West-related that you’d like me to write about? Let me know in the comments (or via email, of course).
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