Pairing Books & Wine

Picture of Jennifer Simonson

Jennifer Simonson

Jennifer is a writer, photographer and wine enthusiast who publishes a blog called Bookworm, in which she pairs wine with books. It combines two of her favorite pastimes and is intended to make both reading and sipping wine more enjoyable. She recently received her WSET Level 3 in Wines certification through France 44 Wine & Spirits Education. She lives in Linden Hills and enjoys running around the city lakes, gardening, cooking and making art.

Have you ever noticed how your most memorable conversations about wine and about literature can sound much the same? Think about some descriptors you might use to tell a friend about a recent wine discovery or an immersive new novel, and observe the overlap. Intriguing, complex, provocative, vibrant, gripping, lingering.

While reading tends to be a solitary activity, we come together in book clubs seeking an exchange of ideas. As humans we crave this connection – one that occurs so naturally when we share a bottle of wine, as well. At their best, both pastimes allow for engaging discussion, laughter, mild disagreement, and fresh insight.

So, why not combine the two? I pair wine with books (not unlike food pairing) in hopes of creating an experience that elevates my enjoyment of both. Fiction, nonfiction, poetry, even graphic novels and cookbooks are all candidates for a pairing. If you are hosting a book club and are wondering what to pour, you can try it, too. Here’s a guide to find that “perfect” wine partner for your book.

Truthfully, most books will pair wonderfully with several wines. We all have different preferences, and an outstanding pairing for one person might not work for another. You will have the most success if you let curiosity and creativity be your guides.

A straightforward starting point is to consider the literary genre, the author, or the author’s intent. For example, if the book is a mystery, I might look for a complex wine that would require all of my senses to discover its various aromas and flavors. Or, if the novel is an author’s debut, pair it with a wine from a new or up-and-coming winemaker. Is the story intended to uplift? Then, perhaps, bubbles are appropriate.

Another approach is to think about which elements in a book are essential to the story and/or resonate mostly strongly with you. Noteworthy considerations are the characters and their relationships, the point of view, and the setting. Ask yourself if you learned anything new or surprising, and think about your overall impression after finishing the book. There’s pairing potential in each of these details.

For example, in Hernan Diaz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Trust, four characters tell the same story, each from his or her own perspective. I paired this book with Chardonnay, a grape variety that is as malleable as this story. Chardonnay can taste very different, depending upon the winemaker telling its “story.” This pairing’s success is less about a specific bottle of Chardonnay – any of your favorites will do – and more about how winemakers shape it to achieve specific results on the nose and palate.

And lastly, remember not every pairing needs to be congruent. It can be interesting to seek out contrast. For example, can a grief-filled novel be balanced with a bright and fruity wine? The decision is up to you. Sometimes I taste several wines before settling on the just the right one.

The search for new and interesting connections between fine wine and literature is a process of discovery. Happily, with so many wines to taste and books to read, the possibilities are truly endless. For more pairing ideas, visit my Bookworm Blog. Each monthly post includes a complete book review, a wine tasting note, and a detailed explanation about why the pairing works.

Shaking Up Your Home Bar

Picture of Jake Rollin

Jake Rollin

Jake (he/him) can be found primarily working in the Beer and Spirits departments, though he occasionally dabbles in Wine. He loves helping customers brainstorm ideas for new and interesting cocktails (ask him about his Caprese Sour cocktail), and talking all things whiskey. His fridge is stocked with a healthy combination of local hazy IPAs, Belgian beers, and Riesling, and he has an ever-growing whiskey collection.

Summer is in full swing! With spring cleaning behind us, leases ending, and new adventures beginning, it’s the perfect time to make this the summer of cocktails (or mocktails!). Starting a home bar can be intimidating, but this blog is here to guide you through everything you need to start making fantastic drinks at home.

Take it one step at a time, start small with just the basics. We’ve laid them out for you below.

The Equipment

First, let’s get the equipment covered. With so many different styles of bar tools out there, it can be daunting to buy equipment. However, for a basic set up, you really only need three pieces of equipment:

  1. cocktail shaker
  2. strainer
  3. jigger
2-Part Boston Shaker with Hawthorn Strainer

Cocktail shakers come in a few different formats. The two most common are a two-piece Boston shaker and a three-piece cobbler shaker. Both have pros and cons, and ultimately it comes down to personal preference. Boston shakers tend to be more widely used in bars and restaurants because of their ease of use. A firm strike on the side of the shaker will release the two halves easily. The drawback is that you will need to buy a strainer (more on that later) to use with a Boston shaker.

Cobbler Shaker with built in strainer

On the other hand, cobbler shakers have a built-in strainer, meaning you have one less item to buy. Due to their design however, cobbler shakers can sometimes be very difficult to open. 

Strainers also come in a few formats. The most common type is a Hawthorne strainer. Hawthorne strainers prevent large pieces of ice and citrus pulp from getting into your finished cocktail. Finer ice chips and pulp can sometimes make it through however, which is where something like a fine mesh strainer can come in handy. By double straining through a mesh strainer, you can catch those fine pieces of ice and pulp, leaving you with a silky smooth cocktail. Fine mesh strainers are not necessarily a required piece of equipment, but they can be very useful. 

Jigger, used to measure ingredients in cocktails

Finally, you’ll need a jigger (or a 2oz liquid measuring cup). Jiggers come in different styles and sizes. Some of the most common sizes have a 1oz side and a 2oz side, often with lines for 0.5oz, 0.75oz, and 1.5oz measurements on the inside.

I cannot stress this enough: measure your ingredients. We measure so that cocktails are well balanced and consistent every time. If you eyeball ingredients, you might make a really fantastic cocktail one time and never be able to replicate it. So, for the sake of consistency and quality, measure. 

The Ingredients

So, now that you have all this fancy bar equipment, you’re going to need ingredients that you can use to make some fantastic cocktails.


There are literally thousands of products out there, so choosing spirits can be tough. The most important thing to remember is that you don’t always need expensive liquor to make good cocktails. There are many budget brands that are fantastic for cocktails. 

As far as base spirits go, you’ll want three to start. These can be anything you prefer, but my choices would be bourbon, gin, and tequila. These three spirits will allow you to make classic drinks like an Old Fashioned, a Gin and Tonic, and a Margarita, but also give you the opportunity to make slightly more advanced cocktails like a Mint Julep, a Bee’s Knee’s, or a Paloma. 


Citrus juice is an essential element of many cocktails, providing both flavor and balancing acidity. While the stuff from the bottle works in a pinch, your cocktails will almost always turn out better with fresh squeezed juice. The flavor is more vibrant and will help take your cocktails to bar quality. 


Where citrus provides acidity, simple syrup or liqueur provide sweetness, another important element in a balanced cocktail. Basic simple syrup is made with just water and sugar, but flavored syrups can be made using fruits and extracts. Syrups also add more than just sweetness. The viscosity of the syrup adds essential body to a cocktail that gives it a rich mouthfeel. Feel free to experiment with making your own syrups, or buy them in the store! Liber & Co makes some of our favorites, and locally too! 

Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can start exploring advanced techniques like split bases, infusing liquors, and fat washing, though we’ll save those for another blog. While this guide isn’t an exhaustive list of all the equipment or ingredients available, we hope it makes setting up a home bar a little less intimidating. For specific recommendations on spirits, mixers, or equipment, feel free to ask our exceptionally knowledgeable staff!

So You Think You Hate Chardonnay…

Three glasses of white wine
Picture of Ty Robinson

Ty Robinson

Ty (he/him) started his career in the wine and spirits industry 14 years ago right here at France 44! He took some time away to get a Masters in Gastronomy and since, has worked in every facet of the industry, from restaurants to retail. Ty is a Certified Sommelier by the Court of Master Sommeliers of America. He returned to France 44 in the Fall of 2023 and is happy to have been welcomed back. His favorite wines are Chenin Blanc, Syrah and anything from Germany or Austria.

So you think you hate Chardonnay… So did I. Chardonnay is a grape that has no one true “style.” It’s a chameleon in the wine world. It can range in style from enamel ripping acidic to rich, luxurious and buttery. I feel like Americans have a skewed vision of Chardonnay because here in The States, we have become known for the big rich buttery popcorn laden Chardonnays that our moms all drank growing up. But that is only the beginning of the story for Chardonnay.  

Chardonnay is one of the most famous varietals in the world, and rightfully so. It can really be made in so many styles that there is one that will certainly suit you. I always thought I hated the varietal until I came back to the store and have been able to taste different iterations and styles of the grape. I have since come to love the varietal and differences between the many styles of Chardonnay. 

Chardonnay is grown across the globe with the main producers being France (Burgundy) and the USA (California and Oregon mostly). What makes Chardonnay unique is the the way winemakers can stylistically manipulate the grapes to produce a range of expressions.

Within Burgundy, you can see bright high acid fruity expressions with no oak (Chablis) AND rich, oily and textural versions that have almost a honeyed tropical fruit note (Meursault).

Oak barrels commonly used to age Chardonnay wine

The story is similar stateside, where our classic California Chardonnays range from rich and buttery, reminiscent of movie theater popcorn, to unoaked varieties that are bright and zippy, with driving acidity and minerality.

Oregon chardonnays tend to be more like Burgundy as they can’t get quite the same level of ripeness as in California, and they generally utilize oak in their winemaking with a lighter hand.    

Through all our wine team tastings, I have found that I love unoaked Chardonnay or Chardonnays that use oak in a well-integrated, not overbearing manner. Recently I have been loving the Alois Lageder Gaun Chardonnay from Italy. It sees some oak but it’s there for structure and imparts no flavor components to the wine. Beautifully bright and acidic with aromas of apple and lemon peel, this Chardonnay is light and easy to drink with enough complexity to keep you coming back for another sip.

I also have been loving the Martin Woods Chardonnay. The winemaker lets the purity of the fruit shine through and uses minimal oak (and what he does use is neutral) to create a wine that is reminiscent of Chablis. Bright, fresh, high in acid and a lovely mineral tone to keep the wine zippy. 

For oaked Chardonnay, my favorite of late has been the Becker “Schweigener” Chardonnay from the Pfalz in Germany. This Chardonnay is big and bold, much like its California brethren, but it uses oak only to create a rich, mouthfeel and a creamy texture. Beautiful, lush and well made, it made me appreciate what oak can do for Chardonnay.  

So get out of your comfort zone – pick up a bottle of Chardonnay and learn about the diverse wines this grape can produce!

Along the Alsatian Wine Road


Julie Drysdale

Julie is a France 44 WSET 2 and WSET 3 graduate who lives in Golden Valley with her husband Mike. They have 3 adult children who enjoy tagging along on their mom’s wine travel adventures whenever they can.

The first week of June, our great friends’ son got married in a castle in the Netherlands. Since no trip to Europe should go without a wine tangent, northeastern France called. In my WSET classes, we learned about important wine regions all over the world, including Alsace AOC, which is described as a sunny little haven on the border between France and Germany, between the Vosges Mountains and the Rhine. The Vosges Mountains block the rain from the north, and the eastern slopes forms the stunning 90-mile Alsatian Wine Road. The region offers the best of two countries & two cultures in many many stunning glasses of wine. 

We started our trip in Strasbourg. We explored the city in the afternoon – the Old Town, the Cathedral and Museum — then our wine adventure started with happy hour at a local wine bar.  

As a bit of background – Alsace is the region of the Riesling. If you think of Riesling as a sweet wine, this is the region to prove you wrong and offer some of the world’s most stunning examples of dry riesling. But it’s also so much more than that.

Graphic by Wine Folly

The four noble grapes of Alsace are: Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurtztraminer, and MuscatBut vin d’Alsace can also be made from Sylvaner, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Chasselas and Auxerois. And there is Chardonnay grown in the area for Cremant d’alsace (sparkling). Cremant came on the scene in Alsace about 20 years ago, and it’s made in the same method used to produce Champagne. All this to say, it’s a robust wine region, full of innovation. 

Our first dinner in Alsace!

Our first tastes of wine in Alsace were two crémants: a Pinot Noir and a Grand Cru (designated wine classification) Pinot Gris. Both were excellentIn particular, the Pinot Gris was intensely fruity and full bodied – likely due to the Alsatian sun and Grand Cru vineyard location. The Pinot Noir was full of cherry notes – somewhat like an Oregon or burgundy Pinot Noir, but more fruit driven and less earthy/woodsy. We had dinner at a place called L’eveil de Sens – recommended by a fellow WSET buddy – with another bottle of Pinot Noir! Though this is largely a region of white wine, Pinot Noir is still prevalent and very good!

View from the tour

The next day we took an Alsace Wine Discovery Tour with a company called Ophorous. Our guide, Maxime, was a well-traveled young man with Ukrainian and Portuguese passports and many, many stories. He explained that Alsace has gone back and forth between the French and German borders for centuries. In fact, during World War II, Germany annexed Alsace and declared the Alsatian people to be de facto German citizens who fought for Nazi Germany –  a fact that the Alsatians are, understandably, quite sensitive about.  Maxime also introduced us to a grape called Klevener de Heiiigenstein. Fromthe vineyard we could see the Vosges Mountains, the Rhine river and the Black Forest in Germany.   

Stoeffler Winery
Vincent Stoeffler Winery

Most of our tour time in Alsace was spent in a little town called Barr. We visited the Vincent Stoeffler winery, a small family winery that doesn’t export much, but makes a lot of really interesting wines from the noble and other Alsace grapes.  In addition to the regional basics such as Crémant, and Riesling – they make orange wine with Pinot Gris and another orange wine from Gewürztraminer grapes.  The latter is said to be a great pairing with Indian food! We also visited Domaine Zeyssolff much bigger and more commercial winery – though still most of their wine is consumed in Alsace.  We tasted a very similar line-up of wines from the noble grapes plus a Crémant. Crémant is popular here and clearly was a favorite amongst our tour group! In fact Crémant today makes up 25% of the wine production in Alsace.  

All of the wines we tasted were unique, delicious and unexpected. The Muscat and Pinot Gris lean toward stone fruit aromas and flavors. The Riesling is smooth and dry with notes of apple and lemon. Many of the wines made from Muscat, Gewurtraminer and Pinot Gris were notably aromatic, a characteristic brought out by the sunny climate in the region. Everything we sampled had excellent pairing possibilities – many would go great with Indian or Indonesian food.   

And because of the dry, sunny, climate, Alsace has long been a pioneer of organic farming so most of the wines we had were organic! 

As with much of Europe, many of the wines in Alsace are hard to find outside the region, harder still outside of France, and seldom in the U.S. So my goal was not only to enjoy the wines in Alsace, but also to find comparable bottles I could buy back home.  

The Alsatian wines we usually see here in the U.S. and at France 44 – big names such as Trimbach and Hugel – export much greater volumes. In fact, we heard that Trimbach exports nearly 90% of their volume!   

We rented a car and drove south where we visited some of these larger wineries. Trimbach is in the magical small town of Ribeauville and Hugel is in another delightful village called Riquewehr. Riquewehr is known for its lineup of wineries right in the main part of town – you can walk from winery to winery to taste.  We tasted at a place called Dopff, which was credited with starting the Crémant movement in Alsace. We spotted the Albert Boxler winery, which makes some very good wines that are exported to the US and sometimes available at France 44 (I love their Edelzwicker).

If at this point, as I hope you are, you’re convinced and ready to try some Alsacian wine, here are a few favorites you can find at France 44:

Our final stop on the journey was to see the town of Colmar. No wine tasting here, but we did spot a full Trimbach line up I the window of a wineshop – including their iconic Clos St. Hune Riesling available for a mere 289 Euros! Colmar also has a claim to fame as the inspiration for the buildings and town in the gorgeous Miyazaki Japanese Anime film Howl’s Moving Castle.   

Leaving Alsace, we headed toward Metz, France via a beautiful drive through the Vosges Mountains. We’d hoped to visit Maison Lelievres – winemaker David Lelièvre was recently at France 44 for a pop-up tasting. But unfortunately, rain and time got in the way of this plan!  

From there – on to Luxembourg and our ultimate destination the wedding in Maastricht Netherlands. Overall, I would highly recommend a visit to Alsace and Lorraine. The countryside and towns are beautiful, sun-drenched but not scorching, and an excellent area to try an array of interesting and mostly reasonably priced white wines!  

A Beginner’s Guide to Wine Tasting

Picture of TK Mehlhaff

TK Mehlhaff

TK (she/her) is part of our wonderful wine team and has her WSET Level 2 Certification in Wines. Thank god, wine is gluten free! TK is proudly Deaf & an LGTBQ ally, and can communicate with you either in sign language or with her phone's text notes. She enjoys learning about wines and how they pair with food, and off duty, is a dog mama and loves to spoil her fur baby, Marv.

Whether you’re new to wine or already a fan, learning how to properly taste wine can open a whole new world of aromas, flavors, and experiences. Here’s an easy guide to help you get started with wine tasting. 

First, I encourage you to taste a variety of wines, made in different places and made from different grape varietals. 

Start by understanding the four main components of wine tasting: appearance, aroma, taste, and finish. Assessing each of these on their own, and as they relate to each other, will help you better enjoy and understand wine. Try both red and white wines to see how they differ. Notice the differences in sweetness, acidity, and body. 

Let’s start. 

Pour a little wine into your glass and look at the color and clarity. Tilt the glass against a white background (can be piece of white paper) to see the color better. Is it pale in color? Is it opaque or translucent? Swirl the wine gently and watch the “legs” or “tears” form. Legs or tears tell you that the wine is fuller bodied, which also often tells you it has a higher alcohol content.  

Swirl the wine in your glass to release the aromas and take a few quick sniffs. Try to pick out the different scents. Fruits, flowers, spices, or herbs are common aromas. Some wines might also have aromas from the barrels in which they were aged. Aromas of vanilla, cinnamon, or toasted bread can tell you that the wine was aged in oak barrels. Fresher floral and fruit aromas often tell you that the wine was aged in stainless steel.  

Now, take a small sip and let the wine cover your tongue. Pay attention to the first flavors you taste, then notice how they change, and which flavors linger. Think about the balance between sweetness and acidity. Does your mouth water? Does the wine dry the sides of your mouth? These clues can tell you about the dryness of the wine, the tannins in the wine, the body of the wine. Take notes! There’s no right answers, it’s all personal preference. 

Once you have a good sense for your wine tastes, try tasting wine with different foods to see how they go together. Notice how the flavors of the wine and food change and enhance each other. This can make both the wine and the food taste better. There are general rules for wines & foods that go well together; i.e. fatty foods and acidic wines, sweeter wines and sweeter foods, but again, there’s no one right answer.  

Write down your thoughts about each wine you taste. Note the name, year, and producer, as well as what you liked or didn’t like about it. Over time, this will help you understand your preferences and will help you ask the right questions in restaurants and wine shops.  

Taste with others! Discuss what you see, smell, and taste. Compare and contrast your opinions on each wine. Learn from each other! Make it a group activity.

Join wine classes, workshops, or tastings at France 44 to learn more. Talk to wine team at France 44, sommeliers, or other wine lovers, to get tips and recommendations. Wine tasting is a journey, and there’s always more to learn and it is ALWAYS okay to ask questions!  

By following these simple steps, you’ll start to appreciate the art of wine tasting. So, pour yourself a glass, take your time, and enjoy discovering the world of wine. Cheers! 

Now, we’ll guide you through a tasting of a couple great wines. 

We recommend starting with a Chardonnay. Known for its versatility and range of flavors, Chardonnay can offer a variety of tasting experiences. You’ll often find notes of green apple, pear, and citrus in unoaked versions, while oaked Chardonnays might have hints of butter, vanilla, and caramel. This wine pairs beautifully with dishes like grilled chicken, seafood, and creamy pasta, making it an excellent choice for both tasting and pairing. Give it a try and see why Chardonnay is a favorite among wine enthusiasts! 

Illahe Chardonnay | $23.99

This wine is characterized by its fresh and vibrant profile.The aroma delivers quince, pear, Fuji apple, with just a hint of vanilla. The wine exhibits notes of green apple, pear, and citrus, with a balanced acidity that makes it crisp and refreshing. The mouthfeel is gorgeous and smooth.

You also need to try red wine, and we recommend starting with a Cabernet Sauvignon. Known for its rich flavors and deep complexity, Cabernet Sauvignon offers bold tastes of dark fruits like blackberries and plums, with hints of spices and vanilla. This wine pairs wonderfully with rich foods like steak, lamb, and strong cheeses. Give it a try and see why Cabernet Sauvignon is a favorite among wine lovers! 

Tassajara Cabernet Sauvignon | $14.99

The wine is deep in color and offers a complex aroma. You will detect aromas of elderberry and dried berries. As it opens, herbal notes like oregano and anise also come through, adding to its complexity. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied with well-structured tannins that give it a smooth texture. The taste features dark fruits, like elderberries, with a hint of herbs. This wine pairs well with hearty dishes such as wild game and mushrooms, which complement its dark fruit and herbal notes.

From Scotland to Japan: How Masataka Taketsuru Crafted Japanese Whisky’s Future

Picture of Dylan Hager

Dylan Hager

Dylan (he/him) is a manager and part of our spirits staff. He finds Kentucky Bourbon and Rye Whiskey particularly riveting, and also keeps a decent amount of beer and too much vermouth in his fridge. He once tore his MCL doing the limbo, and has been to Bonnaroo 29 times.

Japanese whisky traces its origins to the early 20th century, with Masataka Taketsuru playing a pivotal role in its development. Often referred to as the “father of Japanese whisky,” Taketsuru studied organic chemistry at the University of Glasgow and apprenticed at several Scottish distilleries. In 1920, he returned to Japan, armed with extensive knowledge and experience, and was instrumental in establishing the country’s first whisky distillery. 

Then in 1923, Shinjiro Torii, the founder of Suntory, established the Yamazaki distillery near Kyoto, and hired Taketsuru as his first distillery manager. This event marked the official birth of Japanese whisky. Inspired by the techniques and styles of Scotch whisky, Yamazaki aimed to create a product tailored to Japanese tastes. 

Taketsuru left Suntory in 1934 to establish his own company, which would become Nikka Whisky. He founded the Yoichi distillery in Hokkaido, a location chosen for its climate and environmental similarities to Scotland. Nikka’s first whisky, released in 1940, helped cement Japanese whisky’s reputation for quality and craftsmanship. 

Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky - $69.99

Today, Suntory and Nikka remain the two powerhouses of Japanese whisky. Both produce a wide variety of whiskies that are popular not only in Japan but also in the US. Nikka's use of the Coffey still, a continuous column still originally invented by Aeneas Coffey in the 19th century, stands as a hallmark of their whiskey-making artistry. This technique infuses their expressions with a unique character and unparalleled smoothness, showcasing a harmonious blend of tradition and innovation. Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky is a great example of what the Coffey still can bring to the table. Distilled mainly from corn, it’s exotic, fruity and rich. A great Japanese Whisky for a bourbon drinker and a great Father’s Day gift.

Suntory Toki Whisky - $34.99

Japanese whisky highballs have become a beloved classic, offering a refreshing and effervescent way to enjoy the nuanced flavors of Japanese whisky. Typically made with a base of whiskey, soda water, and ice, these highballs are served tall and garnished with a twist of citrus or a sprig of mint. I recommend trying a highball using Suntory Toki Whisky. It’s a fairly light bodied, but well-rounded blend of whiskies from the Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita distilleries.

Zero Proof Pours: Navigating Non-Alcoholic Beers

Beer on Event Table
Picture of Jake Rollin

Jake Rollin

Jake (he/him) can be found primarily working in the Beer and Spirits departments, though he occasionally dabbles in Wine. He loves helping customers brainstorm ideas for new and interesting cocktails (ask him about his Caprese Sour cocktail), and talking all things whiskey. His fridge is stocked with a healthy combination of local hazy IPAs, Belgian beers, and Riesling, and he has an ever-growing whiskey collection.

Non-alcoholic and low ABV alternatives are currently all the rage. You may have preconceived notions of what non-alcoholic beer will taste like, but the category as a whole has come a very long way. Gone are the days of products that only vaguely resemble beer. The non-alcoholic beers of today present much of the same flavor as their full strength counterparts, but without the potential side effects of alcohol. 

Non-alcoholic beer dates all the way back to prohibition when, in order to stay in business, some breweries began to brew beers capped at 0.5% ABV. But after the 21st amendment passed, the prevalence of non-alcoholic beer decreased drastically.

Now, jump forward to the 1990’s. Anheuser-Busch launches O’Doul’s, arguably one of the most well known non-alcoholic beers of all time. While most people won’t claim that O’Doul’s was an award winning example of non-alcoholic beer, the effect it had on the non-alcoholic beer movement is undeniable, forever creating a market for non-alcoholic beer. 

Malted BarleyIn order to understand the process of making non-alcoholic beer, we first need to start with the process of making regular beer.

At the most basic level, hot water is added to malted barley and left to soak, extracting fermentable sugars and creating a sugar-rich liquid called wort. This wort serves as the perfect food source for yeast.


However, before the yeast is added, the wort is boiled with hops, which serve as both preservatives and a flavoring agents. Once the boil is complete, the wort is cooled, and the yeast is introduced. The yeast consumes the sugars in the cooled wort, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide as byproducts. After fermentation is complete, the beer is kegged, bottled, or canned, ready to be enjoyed.

The process for non-alcoholic beer is essentially the same, but there’s no one way to ensure the ABV is under 0.5%. The simplest method is heating the alcohol out of the beer, though this can have a detrimental effect on flavor, as beer and heat don’t often mix well. Another option is to use specific yeast strains that don’t produce alcohol. In theory, these preserve the flavors of the beer, thereby creating a product that is closer to a beer made in the standard way. Other breweries have their own proprietary methods for producing their non-alcoholic beers (like Athletic Brewing). There is still constant innovation happening in the industry as non-alcoholic beer becomes more widely enjoyed. 

With an ever expanding selection of non-alcoholic products, there has never been a better time to get into non-alcoholic beer. Many of our favorite local companies have started to create non-alcoholic products that we’re proud to sell and enjoy. Our beer staff is extremely knowledgeable about the newest non-alcoholic beers in the cooler, so if you have no idea where to start, please don’t be afraid to ask! 

It Doesn’t Add(itive) Up

field of agave plants
Picture of Jake Rollin

Jake Rollin

Jake (he/him) can be found primarily working in the Beer and Spirits departments, though he occasionally dabbles in Wine. He loves helping customers brainstorm ideas for new and interesting cocktails (ask him about his Caprese Sour cocktail), and talking all things whiskey. His fridge is stocked with a healthy combination of local hazy IPAs, Belgian beers, and Riesling, and he has an ever-growing whiskey collection.

100% Agave: a term we often see on tequila bottles boasting a product made using only Blue Weber Agave. Here’s the issue: 100% agave tequila can still contain additives. In fact, tequila can contain up to 1% by weight in various additives and still boast 100% agave on the label. 

These additives come in the form of sweeteners, flavorings, and colorings, all to create a product that is more easily marketable to consumers, and ultimately, more profitable.

Additives don’t necessarily make a product good or bad, but do raise the question of “why?” In this blog we’ll dive briefly into what additives are, why they’re used, and what additive free options are available. 

Green & red drawing of an agave plantAdditives have been used in tequila since the mid 1800’s when agave plants suffered a blight that was producing faulted tequila.

Today, only four types of additives can be used, though the concentration of these additives is unregulated. The four types include caramel coloring, oak extract, glycerin, and flavored sugar syrups that are made with both agave nectar and artificial sweeteners like aspartame.

As tequila sits and ages in a barrel, it extracts color (and flavor) from the wood. Caramel coloring is used to make aged tequila appear older than it is. Caramel color allows producers to make their 3-month aged tequila look more like a 12-month aged tequila.

Oak extract can also contribute to color, but mostly helps tobourbon barrel contribute flavors that are generally added to the tequila through the barreling process. If you’re drinking a blanco tequila, which can only be left in oak for a maximum of 60 days, and you get strong vanilla notes, that’s usually a good sign that oak extract is present.

Glycerin is a chemical with a syrup-like consistency and mild sweet taste. It’s used in tequila as a way to add body to the final product. Glycerin can also dull tastebuds by temporarily coating them, thereby hiding harsher flavors, and creating a smoother drinking experience.

Finally, flavored sugar syrups known as “jarabes” can be used to sweeten the final product, as well as add fruit and herb flavors.

I want to stress this again, the use of these additives does not inherently make one product better or worse than any other, it’s just something to note when choosing between products. 

So, what are some additive free options?

Tequila on shelf

Tequila producers can apply to be certified as an additive free product. This means that those tequilas are 100% Blue Weber Agave, and that’s it. We at France 44 have tried to make it as easy as possible for you to find additive free tequila by putting all of the certified brands next to each other. 

Staff favorite brands include Siete Leguas, Mijenta, Arette, G4, and Cimarron. These producers let the agave, terroir, and their own distilling practices speak for themselves. So, next time you’re looking to grab a bottle of tequila, consider grabbing one that’s certified additive free, and see what 100% agave tequila is truly all about. 

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 Season for Chillable Reds

Three bottles of red wine on a sunny sidewalk next to a picnic basket
Picture of Jennifer Simonson

Jennifer Simonson

Jennifer is a writer, photographer and wine enthusiast who publishes a blog called Bookworm, in which she pairs wine with books. It combines two of her favorite pastimes and is intended to make both reading and sipping wine more enjoyable. She recently received her WSET Level 3 in Wines certification through France 44 Wine & Spirits Education. She lives in Linden Hills and enjoys running around the city lakes, gardening, cooking and making art.

It’s nearly summertime, which means I’m craving easy-drinking wines to enjoy at the lake, on a picnic, or with friends in the backyard. While you can’t go wrong with bright and fruity rosé, did you know that some red wines can be equally as refreshing? The key is to choose the right wine and to serve it chilled to intensify its freshness.

The great news is that “chillable” red wine need not be expensive. Red wines that are fruity, light- to medium-bodied, with low tannin and high acidity, are great candidates to be chilled. Consider Gamay, Cabernet Franc, Zweigelt, Dolcetto, Lambrusco, and some red blends.

I generally refrigerate chillable red wine for several hours, moving them to the countertop 30 minutes before I intend to serve. If the wine seems muted, it might be too cold, so give it some time to warm up in your glass. Feel free to experiment and see what temperature brings out the best aromas and flavors in your favorite wine. Light-bodied reds should be served at 55 F, whereas the range for ‘chillable’ reds is slightly cooler, around 50-55 F. (And you might be surprised to learn that the recommended serving temperature for medium- and full-bodied red wine is a somewhat cool “room temperature” of 59-64 F.)

Chillable reds are delicious on their own, but they’re also extremely food-friendly because of their fruity character and high acidity. There’s no need to be fussy with your pairings – it’s summertime after all! Think about meals that come together easily and incorporate fresh vegetables and grilled foods or picnic fare such as pasta salads, cheeses and charcuterie. One of my favorites pairings with a chillable red is the fennel salami sandwich and potato chips from the France 44 Cheese Shop.

The wines I recommend below are made with care, but they’re not wines for cellaring – these youthful wines are drinking beautifully right now! In this line up, the first wine has the most broad appeal, the second is for adventurous drinkers, and the third offers a surprising twist on a familiar grape.

This juicy wine strikes the perfect summertime balance between ripe and tart fruit. On the nose find red cherry, red raspberry, blackberry, cranberry, red currant, plus a touch of baking spice. With light body, high acidity and low tannin, this wine can be paired with just about anything. Buy a case for your next patio party on a hot summer day – everyone will be happy!

The wine is a blend of 59% Carignan, 33% Zinfandel, 6% Petit Syrah, and 2% Mataro.

Three Wine Co. is a family-run, sustainable winery. Winemaker Matt Cline and his wife Erin, who runs the tasting room, work primarily with California’s historic, pre-prohibition varietals, including Zinfandel, Mataro, and Carignan. Cline utilizes blending in his winemaking to find “a perfect balance between the grapes.”

In the carefree spirit of summertime, this expressive red wine made from 100% Brachetto is a sensory adventure. It’s fermented with indigenous yeast in stainless steel and then aged for 5+ months on the lees of Arneis, a white grape variety native to Piedmont. It’s unfiltered and might appear a bit hazy.

Pronounced floral and fruity aromas jump from the glass – think rose petal, hibiscus, violet, fresh strawberry, raspberry, sour cherry, red fruit punch and orange peel. The acid is refreshingly high, but this wine has a bit more body and texture than the ‘Faux Pas,’ as well as an enjoyably, long finish.

Serve this wine to impress your most curious friends. It’s aromatic, intriguing and complex, but remains easy drinking. It’s a wine you’ll reach for all summer long, and I think it pairs perfectly with wood-fired pizza. Recommended serving temperature is 50-59 F.

The Negro estate, which dates to 1670, practices organic viticulture in the Roero subregion of Piedmont. Winemaker Angelo Negro works exclusively with the region’s native grapes, including Arneis, and Nebbiolo.

Most of us are familiar with full-bodied, rich and jammy California Zinfandel. But what happens to the wine when those Zinfandel grapes are grown in a cooler climate? The wine becomes almost “Beaujolais-esque,” like this one from Blue Quail exhibiting a lighter body, elevated acidity and medium alcohol at 13%.

The climate in Mendocino County’s Potter Valley AVA is cool with high diurnal range. Grapes ripen slowly during warm days, but cool nights preserve their acidity. They can hang on the vine longer under these conditions and develop a full flavor.

The fruity character of this dry wine is more candied than the previous two, but that sweetness is balanced with freshness. On the nose and palate, look for cherry vanilla cola, strawberry jam, cranberry, blackberry, and a bit of black peppercorn and earth. Of the three wines, this one can withstand the heartiest food pairing.

The McFadden Family planted these Zinfandel vines in 1971, and they’re some of the oldest in Potter Valley. The organic grapes are whole cluster pressed and fermented in oak.