Picnic Picks

Three beer cans surrounded by greenery
Picture of Bennett Porter

Bennett Porter

Bennett (he/him) is one of our Beer Cave Trolls, is a Certified Cicerone® and holds his WSET Level 3 Certification in Wines. You’ll see him lurking about the German pilsner and kölsch sections most often. He also enjoys Steel Toe, Odell, and La Croix and chocolate milk on occasion. If he wasn’t at France 44, he’d be trying to make it work as a full-time snowboard bum. He and his wife share a great Anatolian Shepherd named Bear.

Memorial Day weekend is here, marking the unofficial start to summer in the US. As you gather with friends and family to honor those who have served and enjoy the warmer weather, don’t forget to include some refreshing beers to complement your meal. Whether you’re firing up the grill or lounging in the park, here are some of our top recommendations for elevating your Memorial Day picnic experience.

Though they originated across the pond, IPA has become the quintessential American craft beer style. This new-school take on the West Coast IPA is the latest year-round offering from Plymouth’s Luce Line Brewing. An abundance of Citra Cryo, Simcoe and Strata hops deliver bright tangerine, peach and melon notes to complement the tapered malt bill. This is an IPA that delivers on flavor while retaining a great drinkability.

Late spring is when wheat beers emerge from their winter slumber to accompany beer drinkers on warm, sun-dappled afternoons. Fair State Hefeweizen offers refreshing aromas of banana, clove, vanilla and a prickle of citrus. On the palate it has a softly-textured bready malt flavor, restrained fruitiness and a crisp finish that begs another sip. Bavarian-style hefeweizens like this are particularly enjoyable alongside your favorite fruits, salads and picnic snacks. 

Feel free to disregard the snow-covered mountainscape that adorns this crispy pilsner’s label. Originally a limited winter release, Slopes has recently been upgraded to year-round status. This French-style pils drinks like freshly-fallen champagne powder: light, dry and smooth. French pilsner malt, a kiss of corn and a healthy dose of spicy, herbal Strisselspalt hops makes this a perfect thirst quencher for après-waterski.

The State of Craft Beer

Beer!
Picture of Bennett Porter

Bennett Porter

Bennett (he/him) is one of our Beer Cave Trolls, is a Certified Cicerone® and holds his WSET Level 3 Certification in Wines. You’ll see him lurking about the German pilsner and kölsch sections most often. He also enjoys Steel Toe, Odell, and La Croix and chocolate milk on occasion. If he wasn’t at France 44, he’d be trying to make it work as a full-time snowboard bum. He and his wife share a great Anatolian Shepherd named Bear.

From my decade-plus experience of selling beer at France 44, I have been fortunate to get a first-hand perspective of the craft beer boom. My favorite quip about working in craft beer is that “the only constant is change”, one of the principal reasons I have enjoyed this industry so much. As new beers arrive daily, often hourly, the beer cooler exists in a fluid state. Every week is different, requiring a constant effort to keep your finger on the pulse. With near limitless choices of ever-improving quality, there has never been a better moment to enjoy craft beer; yet behind the rose-colored lenses the industry faces a new version of change.

Beer Cooler

I’ve been reflecting a lot on what got us here, and what the future holds. How “fully fermented” is craft beer? Early craft beer drinkers were like yeast introduced to sugary wort: consuming, metabolizing, multiplying in numbers, along the way generating by-products of more breweries, more craft beer in more styles, and more flavor. The chemistry of this industry developed quickly, thriving like an active fermentation. It seemed like a new brewery was opening every day.

We rode that high for quite a while. Then the pandemic hit, fraying the fabric of in-person social interaction—the main environment in which craft beer is enjoyed. Its toll magnified a reality we learned to be true: the market had matured and become much more competitive. For the confluence of these reasons and more, I believe we’ve reached the “secondary fermentation” of craft beer, a period of slowing change and maturation.

•••

Bennett in the Beer CoolerAround the time I took my first shifts in the beer cooler was a particularly exciting time in the Minnesota craft beer scene. The recently passed “Surly Bill”, which allowed distributing breweries to sell their beer on-premise, opened the floodgates for new local craft breweries to plant their roots.

Up to this point, our beer selection looked much different. Swaths of shelf space were dominated by mid to large-sized regional breweries, most from out-of-state (e.g. Bell’s, Deschutes, Odell, etc). The local craft scene was just beginning to blossom. Brewery release calendars were steady and predictable back then. I could usually tell someone when to expect a certain seasonal offering. It was specifically the limited release bottles, often barrel-aged imperial stouts in tall glass and a fancy crown, that really generated peak excitement. I reflect fondly on my first few Surly Darkness releases when lines of people, lawn chairs and thermoses in hand, would form outside our doors in the early morning hours. Acquiring bottles of the most limited beers like these had become a sort of tradition for craft consumers.

This perpetual hunt to find the next rare beer was a nascent gamification for the widespread “gotta catch ‘em all” mentality that took over craft beer in the following years. BeerAdvocate, RateBeer and especially Untappd were all platforms on which users could rate and review the beers they had tried. Much like on social media, people became more aware of what beers their friends and peers were drinking, and if it was any good. Limited beers began to take on new faces: hazy New England-style IPAs featuring newly-developed hop varieties, pastry stouts with candy factory adjuncts, and smoothie sours saturated with fruit puree.  

Double False PatternThe “haze craze” was born, as hazy IPAs quickly became the hottest-selling beer style in our cooler. People who once lined up for stout releases turned to “truck chasing”: tracking down the freshest, juiciest, most-limited IPA drops from breweries like BlackStack, Drekker and Junkyard. Funny example, our Junkyard delivery driver would post his delivery route on Instagram, and by the time he arrived we’d have a crowd waiting to buy their beer. Genius! It was so crazy I actually had people actually grab beer out of my hands as I tried to keep the shelves stocked.

Like fuel to fire, soon we were juggling 50, 60, 70+ new beers coming through our doors every week. Sell out of one, replace it with another–wash, rinse, repeat. This became the environment in which most breweries had to operate to be successful. If you weren’t constantly developing new beers and flavors, you weren’t “staying atop the feed” in consumer’s minds. The results of these flavor pursuits were admittedly varied. It led to some of the best beers I’ve ever tried, and some of the worst. It was a time in craft beer when people responded well to gimmicks, us included. However, I think we reached a point of overstimulation that coincided with the eventual maturation of the craft beer market.

Today, it feels like we’ve come full circle. The onslaught of new beers continues, though at a more sustainable pace. Much to our satisfaction, maturing beer tastes have put a new focus on well-made craft lager styles (e.g. Pilsner, Helles, Bock) . Consumers are responding less to overengineered brews, as the risk of disappointment rises with the price point. Beer also faces fresh competition from the surging non-alcoholic and THC categories. In this “secondary fermentation” of craft beer, providing honest, dependable beer has become paramount.

Fairstate FestbierIt has never been tougher to decide what to stock our shelves with. Amongst the beer available to us there is a bit of amazing, a lot of great, and a sea of good, acceptable or worse. Our goal is to offer the freshest selection of the best quality beer we can provide. Although we make these decisions as a team, we rely on guidance from the most important people, our customers. Sharing your tastes and feedback with us is invaluable in shaping our selection and helps us best support the breweries that you want to thrive.

At this stage of craft beer, the future is in your hands. Support your local breweries and your locally-owned beer shops!

Valentine’s Day Guide to France 44

Plate of pink macarons

It’s that time of year again – check out our favorite Valentine’s Day picks below!

The Valentine's Pairing Box

Graphic with a heart shaped cheese and bottle of sparkling wine that says "The Valentine's Pairing Gift Box"

Celebrate Valentine's Day with our brand new Pairing Box! Nothing signifies a special occasion like bubbles, soft cheese, and chocolate, and we're excited to share some of our favorites with you. Enjoy this curated box with a loved one for a perfect Valentine's evening, containing Cowgirl Creamery's Heart's Desire, Argyle Brut Rosé, France 44 crostini, single origin chocolate, and a beeswax candle.

Wine & Cheese Exploration

Sign up a loved one by January 31st and they’ll receive their first box the week of Valentine’s Day! 

Dinner for Two

Our Valentine’s menu this year features a delicious, hand-made dinner for two – including beef tenderloin, roasted vegetables, macarons, and more! We also have individual desserts and cheeses available for pre-order.

For the bourbon lover in your life, we have a couple of special bottles in stock that you can’t get anywhere else! A truly one of a kind gift. 

Romantic Wines by Argyle Vineyards

Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2021

Light in color and texture, this Pinot displays pretty watermelon and cherry flavors that ride smoothly over velvety tannins, hinting at mint as this all lingers enticingly.

Argyle Brut Rosé

Brut Rose Willamette Valley 2020

Strawberries and Rainer cherries leap from this Vintage Brut Rosé with zesty acidity, fleshy volume, and strong character. This vintage’s warmth and dryness allowed for us to play with youthfulness through time en tirage, intentionally creating another perspective of approachable Brut Rosé sparkling wine that is ground yet spunky.

Argyle Brut Willamette Valley 2018

A light, airy style delivers plenty of pear and pineapple fruit, keeping the balance delicate and fresh. This shows a refreshing balance, and the flavors persist. An incredible deal especially considering it is a vintage sparkling wine!

The Ultimate Holiday Gift Guide of 2023

The holiday season is officially here and it’s time to start shopping for the special people in your lives. Between our Cheese & Wine subscriptions, our gift boxes, and our classes, theres something for every food & beverage enthusiast at France 44. Browse below for a taste of what we can offer!

Don’t see exactly what you’re looking for? Come talk to our staff for inspiration or feel free to fill out this custom gift form. Cheers!

Gift Boxes

A few of our exciting gift boxes available this holiday season. 

Cheese & Wine Subscriptions

Gift Cards

France 44 Gift Cards

Still can't decide? We have gift cards available for use at France 44 Cheese, France 44 Wines & Spirits, St. Paul Cheese Shop, & St. Paul Meat Shop.

Gift a Class

Give the gift of education & experience this holiday season with a class at France 44! We have more classes on our calendar than ever before. Coming up early 2024: Wines & Cheeses of Italy, The Art of Scotch, Baguette Making, and more! Not sure which class to choose? No problem. Buy a "Gift a Class" gift card!

France 44 Holiday Market

Join us for our first-ever Holiday Market on Sunday, 12/3, from 11am-3pm! This open-house style event will feature a variety of local makers, producers, and artists. Peruse unique handmade gifts and treats while you take in our gorgeous holiday decorations and sip on a hot drink, all within the coziness of the France 44 Event Space. No reservations necessary—just come on up and join the festivities! Here’s a sneak peak at some of the incredible vendors:

Single Barrel Spirits

We have a couple of single barrels in stock right now that we’re super excited to share with you! Gift an exclusive taste of spirits this holiday season!

Bring this true one of a kind bourbon to your feast this year. Aged for 8 years, this could be our best Elijah Craig barrel to date. Rich caramel and vanilla dominate the nose, with subtle notes of apple and cherries following. The palate is bold and oily, starting with cedar wood that evolves into sweet toffee and balancing spice.

Rittenhouse Rye

Our second Rittenhouse Single Barrel! Sweet baking spices lead on the nose with caramel, subtle herbaceousness, and hints of black pepper following.  On the palate, bright baking spices evolve in to deeply savory notes of black pepper, black tea, cardamom, and leather. The finish is surprisingly sweet and develops further as it sits. 

Holiday Wines

VOIRIN-JUMEL TRADITION BRUT CHAMPAGNE NV - $44.99

The Brut Tradition is a stable and fruity Champagne. It's a great card to play at any moment : a big celebrations or a cocktail party. The smell brings out hazelnut, fresh almonds, fresh pie. The creamy mouthfeel is balanced by a pleasant liveliness.

CLOS DE LA ROILETTE BEAUJOLAIS FLEURIE 2022 - $27.99

Bursting with aromas of crunchy red berries, peonies, spices and plums, this Beaujolais is medium-bodied, ample, and enveloping, with succulent acids, melting tannins and a pretty, perfumed finish.

ADELSHEIM PINOT NOIR - $44.99

Sleek and slender, but fleshy enough to deliver cinnamon-accented cherry flavors, showing a hint of coffee as the finish lingers. Deftly balanced.

Holiday Cheeses

Check out our selection of holiday exclusive cheeses – available in shop only!

Thanksgiving Beverage Guide 2023

Thanksgiving is just a few days away, so we wanted to offer you a few suggestions for the big day. Unlike other holidays, Thanksgiving is a long celebration. For some, it may start as early as 4am when the turkey goes into the oven, and for others, it may last well into the night.

This year, we’ve categorized our beverage suggestions based on different parts of your day. We have something for the football game, something to pair with appetizers, impressive options for dinner, and even a drink to enjoy while digesting the massive meal.

Whether you’re hosting a traditional Thanksgiving feast or trying something completely new this year, you’ll find something here to enhance your day.

Beers for the Football Game

Uffda, these are dangerous! Brewed with finest select malts, this working man’s Pilsner is lavish with flavor. Crisp, light, sessionable, and perfectly balanced with a trusty dry-hop of Citra. It’s the great outdoors, the call of the wild, and the often fresh and cheerful elder. Available in three distinct nature scenes- Deer, Duck, & Pheasant. Pitter patter, let’s get at ‘er!⁣ 

Castle Cream Ale was created while sitting around the kitchen table during our start-up days, and the need for a sessionable beer became clear. Castle Cream is our version of a Cream Ale. Deep gold in color, it has a soft malty aroma, slightly sweet creamy texture with a balanced bitterness, while finishing smooth and clean. 

Noshing Hour

A blend of old and new apples only picked from our organic orchard. Including Liberty, Northern Spy, Nova Spy, Keepsake and more. Bubbled naturally with the Charmat Method. All sugars are from the apple, none added. Just Cider. This sparkling hard cider is the perfect way to start out the Thanksgiving meal – festive & bright. 

France 44 Pointettia

This festive cocktail is the best of Thanksgiving flavor. The Cranberry Liqueur by Tattersall (local!) adds the perfect touch of sweetness and the brut champagne balances the sweetness and texture beautifully. Add some sugared cranberries and you’ve got yourself a showstopper. 

Pour 1oz Tattersall Cranberry Liqueur into a flute. Top with 5oz Kraemer Blanc de Blanc Brut. Garnish with sugared cranberries and a sprig of rosemary or thyme. 

Dinner Time

Twisted Cedar is a tribally owned and sustainably farmed winery in California. The brand is wholly owned by the Cedar Band of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah. Their Petite-Petit is a perfect choice to celebrate Native American heritage this Thanksgiving. Juicy blackberry and bold blueberry notes show in this wine, with a vibrancy of color, aroma, and flavor. 

This deep, ruby colored, mineral driven, California Pinot Noir shows deep savory red fruit tones, shitake mushrooms, and wet stones. A very elegant wine at a very competitive price. This Pinot Noir will pair beautifully with your turkey as well as with roasted butternut squash.

This is the perfect choice for the white wine drinkers at your dinner. Gustave Lorentz Gewurztraminer Reserve has a clear and pale-yellow color, with an expressive floral and spicy nose. On the palate, it is a warm attack, but the acidity gives it its remarkable length. The wine is complex and rich but still elegant and food-friendly due to its freshness. 

Post-Feast

We just got this new Single Barrel Bourbon last week and we’re so excited to share it with you. Bring this true one of a kind bourbon to your feast this year. Aged for 8 years, this could be our best Elijah Craig barrel to date. Rich caramel and vanilla dominate the nose, with subtle notes of apple and cherries following. The palate is bold and oily, starting with cedar wood that evolves into sweet toffee and balancing spice.

Our second Rittenhouse Single Barrel! Sweet baking spices lead on the nose with caramel, subtle herbaceousness, and hints of black pepper following. As is breaths, expect sweeter notes of cinnamon and maple to come through. On the palate, bright baking spices evolve in to deeply savory notes of black pepper, black tea, cardamom, and leather. The finish is surprisingly sweet and develops further as it sits. 

A Few 2023 Oktoberfest Picks

It’s impossible as always to pick true favorite Oktoberfest beers and seasonal fall brews, but as September wraps up soon, we did want to get a few on your radar!

This is the Fest Beer (golden in color) that you’d be drinking under the tent in Munich right now.  Only shipped to the US during the Fall.  Golden, crisp and snappy.  A style that makes you want to have another.  One of our go-to Fest beers each year and we celebrate when it arrives.  

Our most popular selling German Oktoberfest Marzen (amber in color) and most of the staffs favorite Marzen Oktoberfest.  When I close my eyes and think of what a Marzen Lager smells, looks and tastes like, this is the beer I picture in my mind.  A true Classic. 

We’ve been selling Andechs are a while now, but this is the 1st time the Festbier has been available in Minnesota.   A monastic brewery at the Abbey run by its monks, this Festbier has been flying off the shelf here at the store.  One of the more limited items on this list.  Grab it while you can.  Classic is every way.  You’ll love it. 

This Sauvignon Blanc is super fresh and zingy with bright lemon citrus, chalk and wet stones. It’s a medium-bodied, transparent sauvignon with a taut palate. Dry and delicious!

A Fall limited release cider that tastes like fresh pressed orchard apple juice, pumpkin and chai spice.  We sell A TON of this and it’s very hard not to like this cider.  Almost guaranteed to put a smile on your face when you drink it.   Drinking this outside as the leaves change colordoesn’t get much better.

We LOVE Hard Cider!

by Melissa Waskiewicz

As anyone who has read my blogs (opinions) before, you know that Milk and Honey is the local cider that introduced me to the world of local cider and craft cider as a beverage. I still feel the love for them and all cider they create. But for this blog, I wanted to introduce you to the other local cider makers you can regularly find in our cooler. 

We carry an average of 12 local (MN and WI) cider makers in the store. Each brings something different to the cooler and many of them have seasonal flavors that come and go. This gives us a great variety of ciders to choose from that can’t be found elsewhere while giving us all a chance to enjoy local goodness. 

Easton Cider is based out of Minnetrista at Minnetonka Orchards. They are one of the newer cider makers and are in very few retail locations. We are one of those lucky few and currently carry their Apple Blend and Blueberry Blend ciders.  If you like Blueberry, you will enjoy their Blueberry Blend. 

Keepsake Cider is based in Dundas. All of their ciders are wild fermented which means they leat the natural yeasts on the apples do all the work rather than adding a produced yeast. We carry seven of their ciders currently. Their Sunset Dry is a treat! It is cider aged on grapes and berries.  

Loon Juice is in Spring Valley. They promise no loons are used in the making of their cider. We currently are carrying their Flagship, Extra Juicy, and Honeycrisp Haze. This is a great choice for people who like sweet cider without a lot of excess sugar. 

Maiden Rock comes from just across the river in Stockholm, WI. They have been growing apples that they make into cider for almost 25 years. We carry their Honeycrisp. It’s on the sweet side, and quite refreshing. 

Milk and Honey can be found in St. Joseph. They have been making cider for 12 years and are definitely one of our most popular brands. At this time, we have eight of their ciders, including their new non-alcoholic cider. Something fun to try from them would be their Bagnum which is 1.75L of still cider that really shows how closely wine and cider are related.  

Minneapolis Cider Company is, as you can guess from the name, here in Minneapolis. Their urban cider house is a great place to visit (and play pickle ball) when you have a chance. In the meantime, you can grab one of their five ciders we are carrying to take home and enjoy. Their Brut makes a great cidermosa (mimosa using cider instead of bubbly wines.) 

Number 12 Cider is another urban cider house we have here in Minneapolis. They started out on a farm and came into the city to expand their tasting room and their production. Five of their ciders can be found in our cooler these days. Siren is really unique with its use of pomegranate in the cider. 

Restoration Cider is another WI maker based in Madison. It is a Veteran owned company that donates a percentage of proceeds back to saving streams. They have a Driftless Dry, Door County Cherry, and Central Sands Cranberry. The Cranberry is a tart cider that is perfect for sitting by a bonfire. 

Sociable Cider is the first to make cider in the city. They have a very large variety to choose from that includes a handful of regulars and rotating seasonals. We have seven of their options available. If you want to have a last taste of summer, grab some Beach Cruiser Tropical Cider before it’s gone! 

String Theory comes to us from a private orchard in WI. They spend three years (!!) producing each bottle of cider for our consumption. New to the market, we are happy to have them join our selection. We are carrying the three offerings they have which are Pirouette, Picnic, and Meadow Lark. The staff all varied on which their favorite is, so you can get one of each and let us know what you think.  

Sweetland Orchard is down in Webster. Gretchen and her team have been making rustic ciders for years and we are proud to carry six of them. You can taste the orchard in each sip. The Cherry Rhubarb is a great cider to bring to gatherings and share with friends. Fun fact – our Cheese Shop is a drop off location for their CSA! Want to sign up?! Click Here!   

Wild State is located in Duluth. They are full of flavor and fun! We currently have six of their ciders available. They have a great variety pack that you can get if you can’t choose which individual flavor you want. 

Though not available for a few more weeks, we do have one more local cider coming back to the store. Crispin is making its return to the market thanks to Minneapolis Cider Company. They will launch with their Original, an Imperial (higher ABV) and a Mango Mimosa. Look for those in the cooler in October!  

 

Of course we have a lot of great national and international ciders as well as these locals, but I want to make sure you know what you can get from “your own backyard” in the cider section. 

2023 Cabin Crushin’ Beverages

Margarita in a glass with lime wheel and pink umbrella, in front of a bottle of Margarita mix and a can of Indeed Mexican Honey Light

This holiday weekend, we wanted to share with you some of our favorite refreshing beverages, to inspire your festivities. Here’s what we’ll be drinking this weekend!

It’s everything a great craft pilsner should be. Crisp and snappy with a solid backbone of hoppiness. It’s been our #1 selling pilsner in the store for many years now, and I just never get bored with it.

11.5% ABV, lightly effervescent, and $11. Need I say more? Raza is an infinitely crushable wine from Portugal that has some lovely tropical notes backed up by great acidity. It’s a year round favorite for me personally, but it’s truly meant for summer!

It’s crisp, refreshing and my go to when I’m on my dad’s boat fishing and hanging out.

Goes down so easy, my go-to summer beer. V crushable.

The idea of a watermelon beer puts a lot of people off right away—and rightfully so—but hear me out! This light-bodied wheat beer has just a hint of natural watermelon flavor—no Jolly Rancher notes to be found. Ice cold, it’s sooo refreshing and honestly too easy to drink. It’s been in their lineup for over a decade at this point and remains a nostalgic favorite for me. Giesenbrau Bier Co “Hildy’s Helles” – This New Prague brewery has been around for years, but their recent rebrand captured my attention as an unabashed can nerd. Fortunately, in this case, the gorgeous cans happen to contain some delicious brews! This Helles lager is the standout hit of my summer, but you can’t go wrong with any of their beers in my opinion.

Un vino frizzante! This liter bottle is all you need to please your entire crew — from the geeky cool-kid wine nerds to the no-nonsense folks who “just want wine.” Spritzy, light, and fresh, this Grignolino from Piedmont is perfect by itself or with any summer fare. Did I mention it’s in a liter bottle?

Pour over rocks, garnish with an orange slice, put your feet up and imagine you are soaking in the Catalan sun.

This low ABV bottled spritz is perfect for enjoying in the summer heat. Citrusy orange flavors dominate with a lively effervescence and a touch of bitterness, it tastes like summertime in a glass. Grab your sunnies, a floatie, and enjoy this delicious libation on the lake!

I’m in a pet-nat phase this summer, and Ercole’s is a perfect easy-drinking, somewhat sweet pet-nat. It’s full of red fruit flavor with just that hint of funk associated with pet-nats that keeps you on your toes. Perfect to sip on the porch while enjoying a nice piece of cheese. 

Affordable, low alcohol, smooth, and refreshing.

This beauty is the Hazy IPA of wine. It is a lightly unfiltered skin contact white blend that tastes like a rose smoothie. Lush and dense peach, apricot, and tangerine flavors dance across your tongue and don’t stop until the bottle is gone.

A true cabin crusher! If it’s hot out I want nothing more than something simple, clean and refreshing. I love craft lagers and IPAs but after a long day in the sun, Banquet hits the spot. Plus it’s brewed with Rocky Mountain water!

Rob, the self-proclaimed connoisseur of peculiar tastes, insists on Hamm’s Beer as the ultimate summer beverage, with a conviction that can rival a penguin’s commitment to sliding on ice. His reasoning? Picture this: as the sun kisses your skin with its fiery rays, a can of Hamm’s materializes in your hand, emanating a cooling aura like a mythical frosty orb. One sip transports you to a tropical oasis where pineapples harmonize with hops, and palm trees sway in syncopation with the carbonation bubbles tickling your tongue. Rob’s whimsical recommendation defies logic, but who are we to deny the summertime enchantment of a whimsical Hamm’s adventure?

Tom & Dustin go to Kentucky!

Man poses in front of white barn with Jim Beam logo

by Tom Schneider & Dustin Harkins

Here at France 44, we love to bring our customers ‘barrel picks’—bottled spirits from exclusive barrels that we handpick ourselves. These barrels are most often bourbon or rye, but we have dabbled in tequila and scotch exclusives as well when the right opportunity arises. The process differs from distillery to distillery: some will send us samples, some bottled straight at cask strength, and some cut down to normal proof.   

Occasionally, we are offered a special barrel that can only be picked out in-person at the source. We go down to Kentucky to pick out straight from the source. We were lucky enough this year to be invited down to Four Roses to pick out a cask strength barrel from one of their 10 unique recipes. The catch is we must get to Cox’s Creek outside of Bardstown, Kentucky to select our special barrel. Tom & Dustin did just that at the end of May to secure our customers a barrel that will be showing up right in time for the fall and bourbon season.  

Six barrels of Four Roses Bourbon sit against a wall with a Four Roses sign

Getting the chance to pick out a Cask Strength Private Barrel of Four Roses is certainly a treat but to get one you must get invited down to their bottling facility in Cox’s Creek a half hour south of Louisville. This is where Mandy Vance, the Manager of the Private Barrel Selection Program, rules her roost. Mandy hosts Four Roses best customers from all over the country giving them an opportunity to pick out a unique barrel from one of their ten recipes. If you are lucky enough, they will have a barrel of each for you to sample and choose from.

Four Roses has two mash bills:

  1. High rye: 60% Corn, 35% Rye, 5% Barley (known as their “OB” mash bill, their flagship)
  2. Low Rye: 75% Corn, 20% Rye, 5% Barley (known as their “OE” mash bill, much rarer)

To get up to 10 recipes, they also have five unique yeast strains (SV, SK, SO, SQ, SF) that control most of the fermentation process and much of the final flavors of the bourbon:

  1. OBSV: Delicate fruit and rye  
  2. OBSK: Rye and baking spice  
  3. OBSO: Rich fruit  
  4. OBSQ: Rye and light floral character  
  5. OBSF: Delicate rye and mint  
  6. OESV: Delicate fruit and caramel  
  7. OESK: Baking spice  
  8. OESO: Rich fruit and vanilla  
  9. OESQ: Delicate grains and light floral character  
  10. OESF: Herbs and mint  

Mandy sits you down with plenty of water and salty snacks to help guide you through ten single barrels. Some people ask about the recipes beforehand, but we chose to taste them blind and let the chips fall where they may. Only after we narrowed down the field from ten to closer to three, then we find out the recipe, ages, and the rough estimate of how much bourbon is left in the barrel.

We landed on a ten-year barrel of OESK. This recipe is known for its sweet cinnamon and clove properties, the barrel we chose has a good dose of rich dark cherry fruit to complement its complex spices. Hopefully this barrel will be arriving the beginning of September!

The bourbon trail is an amazing experience when done correctly. It is an experience unlike no other, but it does take some patience and planning. Most distilleries are in either Frankfort or Bardstown, about an hour away from Louisville in different directions, east and south respectively. While you may not be drinking that much on these tours (they are not open bars by any means), it is important to eat and drink beforehand, plan out a designated driver, and try not to visit more than two distilleries a day. The heat, travel, and any alcohol consumption will tire you out faster than you may anticipate. Both Frankfort and Bardstown should take at least two days each if you want to savor the experience and experience it to the best of your ability.

 

We made it a point to check out Jim Beam for some amazing food before we ventured to Four Roses to pick our single barrel. Jim Beam comes highly recommended if you want some great food and ambiance before you hit the road. We also made it out to the Bernheim National Forest, highly recommend going, and saw some forest giants! 

In the meantime, while we wait for these barrels, we do have a small amount left of our Barrel Proof Ezra Brooks High Rye Bourbon brimming with raspberry fruit and spice and our caramel forward Stellum Single Barrel Bourbon available right now. In the coming months we will also have a brand new 8-year barrel proof Elijah Craig Bourbon Barrel brimming with light fruit and creamy vanilla as well as our second ever Rittenhouse 100 proof rye single barrel boasting bright spice and complexity, perfect for cocktails and sipping alike. We are always looking for more unique single barrels to bring our loyal patrons and we’ll keep you updated on future offerings when we have more news! 

Memorial Day Beverage Pairing Guide

Peach Bourbon Cocktail garnished with mint sits in a garden bed

Memorial Day is here, summer is beginning, and we’re embarking on a summer of pairing! Here at France 44, this is our favorite time of the year. We get to dust off our grills and pull some of our favorite summer bottles off the shelves.  

Our talented butchers prepare gorgeous cuts of meat & house-made brats to grill, and lovely charcuterie to serve. If you have not checked out the case in our cheese shop yet, you absolutely must this weekend. Of course, you can also order online here

Cookout style dining might feel casual, but you can and should still be intentional about the drinks you serve. Just as you may spend hours seasoning, marinating, smoking, and grilling meat, you should spend time finding just the right beverages that accompany and enhance your meal and take it to the next level. Luckily for you, Bennett, Tom, and Dustin of our beer, spirits, and wine teams, respectively, have put together a couple of beverage recommendations for you this week, to make your Memorial Day barbecue a night to remember.  

BEER

Perhaps the most common Memorial Day beverage is beer, so we’ll start there.  

When pairing beer with food there are a few main principles that you’ll want to consider. The first is to pair a beer and food that have matching intensities. Think about what contributes intensity to each. For beer: alcohol, hop bitterness, malt flavor (caramelized, bready, toasty, roasty) and residual sweetness can all add intensity. In food: fatty richness, sweetness, spices and cooking techniques (searing, roasting, broiling, etc) can add intensity. The browning process that occurs while cooking food, called the Maillard reaction, is also the process that changes flavors in modified malt.  

Let’s use that to segue into our second principle: identifying harmonizing flavors. Choosing a beer and food with similar Maillard flavor components will create a natural bridge between the two. Consider other components, like how a citrusy or herbal hop character might accentuate a dish containing fresh herbs.

The last principle is to identify potentially contrasting or balancing elements. For me, the main focal point here is hop bitterness. Hop bitterness is great for cutting through fat and richness in food, achieving balance. On the other hand, when a hoppy beer is paired with spicy food, it will amplify the perceived spiciness which could cause imbalance. Other components to consider are carbonation and alcohol (which cut through and balance richness), and malt sweetness (which balances spice and acid). 

Hefeweizen + Watermelon

May is the beginning of watermelon season, so why not have a big ‘ol slice at your Memorial Day cookout. I would suggest taking sips of a bright fruity and spicy hefeweizen as you enjoy your fruit. The tangy yeastiness, soft texture from high-protein wheat, and dancing notes of banana, citrus and clove match the refreshing qualities of watermelon. 

Cream Ale + Corn on the Cob

Ahhh, the wonderful simplicity of grilled corn on the cob with a little butter. It still counts as a vegetable, right? Pair this staple with a Cream Ale, a lighter ale style that mimics some of the characteristics of lager. Similarly smooth and light, but with subtly more malt and sweetness from the use of flaked maize – no wonder it works so well!   

Pale Ale + Cheeseburgers

IPAs get all the attention and glory these days, but let me remind you that Pale Ales were the foundation upon which that castle was built. A quality Pale Ale can be a sort of multi-tool for beer pairing, and it goes especially well with burgers and pizza. Softly-sweet crystal malt harmonizes wonderfully with a brioche bun while the citrus and pine-like hop bitterness cuts through the richness of beef and cheese. Perfect! 

COCKTAILS

Raspberry Gimlet + Grilled Chicken

Our Raspberry Gimlet is bright and refreshing on a hot summer day, like the ones we will hopefully be getting this weekend. The bright fruitiness will blend right in with the fresh fruits served at the beginning of a cookout and will cut right through the char and salinity of grilled chicken. If served as a long drink with ice and club soda this cocktail can be enjoyed all evening long.  

2.5oz New Harbour African Dry Gin 

0.5oz lime juice 

1oz Mathilde Framboise Liqueur 

Shake & Strain into a coupe glass 

OR 

top with club soda and ice for a longer lighter drink 

Garnish with raspberries 

Peach Bourbon Sour + Pork Chops

Peach and pork go together through the contrast of sweet and savory; this is also why peach glazes are so common. Both have milder flavors that blend together quite nicely, especially on a hot day. This drink also has the freshness of a mint garnish and the spice of bourbon to keep everything nice and balanced. if we didn’t need a reason for a peach cobbler for dessert, we definitely have one now! 

2oz Woodford Reserve Bourbon 

1oz lemon juice 

1oz Mathile Peche Liqueur 

Shake & Strain into a lowball glass 

Garnish with a mint sprig 

Wine

Lambrusco/Rosè + Brats

I am a huge fan of Lambrusco and pink wine for grilling. Lini Lambrusco Rosso is killer with any brat. The lambrusco lends a dry but fruitful accompaniment to the salty grilled flavors of the meat.  Rose helps in a similar capacity, leading with a beautiful fruitful body that welcomes salt and rendered fat. Peyrassol Rose from France or GD Vajra Rossabella Rosato would be great choices.  All of these wines are also great served chilled.
Two brats on a plate with kraut and potatoes
Bottle of Rosabella Rose