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.

The Best Summer Spritz – A Mother’s Day Reflection by Melissa & Tom

Line of aperol spritzes
Picture of Melissa Waskiewicz

Melissa Waskiewicz

Melissa (she/her) is our Systems Manager, Curbside Program Manager, and our resident Cider Pro. She is a Certified Cider Professional, and is particularly interested in ciders that are made with a lot of crab apples. In her spare time, Melissa is an avid reader who is always looking for good book recommendations.

Picture of Tom Schneider

Tom Schneider

Tom (he/him) is on France 44's Spirits Team. He loves doing side-by-side comparisons of different wild agave mezcals. If he wasn’t working at France 44, he’d probably be a bouncer like Swayze in Roadhouse. He and his wife have a three-legged Pitty mix named Pickles. He’s also extremely colorblind.

Make Mom a Spritz this Mother’s Day!

“Mother’s Day is upon us and I’m sure you are looking for ways to celebrate the women in your life. As a Mom, I can assure you that we do not want cleaning supplies! A bottle of wine or bouquet of flowers are fine. Most of us, however, want to have a little fun and drink some cocktails! For a lively celebration and a cocktail that goes GREAT with a home-made Sunday brunch, consider a bubbly spritz! Spritzes come in every shape and size and can be classic, low-alcohol, and no-alcohol. Mothers make the world go ‘round and they should be celebrated accordingly. Below is your guide to spritzes to make sure you give that special person in your life the toast they deserve!” – Melissa 

The Spritz is a quintessential celebratory cocktail. There is no one way to make this classic cocktail, but we do have some simple guidelines and ratios that will allow you to spruce up your Mother’s Day spritzes to help celebrate that special person in your life this weekend! 

The Mimosa

1 Part Orange Juice 

3 Parts Dry Sparkling Wine or Dry Sparkling Cider for a lower ABV option 

The Mimosa is the most classic brunch cocktail. Traditionally made from orange juice and sparkling wine, it’s refreshing and light, perfect for a bottomless brunch. We love to switch up the sparkling wine for sparkling cider, and play around with the fruit juices. Switch to peach juice and you’ve got yourself a classic Bellini, or go with Melissa’s favorite: Chinola Mango Liqueur & Seattle Dry Cider!  

The Aperol Spritz

1 Part Seltzer 

2 Parts Aperol 

3 Parts Sparkling Wine  

The Aperol Spritz is perhaps among the most popular cocktails at the moment. It’s a refreshing balance of bitter and sweet and will transport you straight to a busy Italian piazza. The traditional recipe calls for a 1:2:3 ratio of seltzer : Aperol : Sparkling wine. The While Aperol is a fantastic product, we also like to substitute other aperitivos such as Cappelletti (similar flavor, but wine based), Cap Corse Blanc (a more citrusforward alternative), or a lighter amaro such as Cardamaro to provide a more digestive punch. 

Lastly, if you are looking for an alternative to alcohol, you can substitute club soda or tonic water for the sparkling wine base. Products such as Ghia (an NA Campari alternative) and Giffard Aperitif (an NA Aperol alternative) are also great substitutes!  

Rosé All Day

shelves full of rosé
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.

Rosé wine is something that we all know and most of us love. In the last handful of years, rosé has entered its cool kid era. Modern rosé wines are different from generations past in that they are fermented to a dry or just off-dry level of sweetness. Rosé can come from any wine region in the world and can be made from virtually any dark-skinned grape varietal.  

There are three different production methods to create a rosé wine. The first and most common is simply the skin contact, or direct press, method. Once the grapes are crushed, they are allowed to sit on the skins for anywhere between 2-48 hours and in that time the juice picks up the rosé color. The longer the wine sits on the skins the darker the color of the final wine. The second method is the saignée method (French for “too bleed”). This is essentially a byproduct of red wine making, when the winemaker bleeds off a portion of the young ferment to make a rosé with a bit fuller body and more tannin. The final method of rosé production is simply the blending of red and white wines together. This is the least common method as in many regions of the world it is illegal to blend red and white wine together. This method is predominantly seen in Champagne, to produce rosé Champagne. 

Generally speaking, rosé wines are extremely easy to pair with food. The lighter the rosé the lighter the food that should go with it. Something like our Peyrassol La Croix rosé is delightful for sipping on its own or enjoying with a picnic basket by the lake that is full of cheese and charcuterie from the Cheese Shop. For something with a little more body, the Alexander Valley Vineyards Sangiovese Rosé is absolutely delicious this year. It gives off great aromas of guava, raspberry, and mint, with an overlay of strawberry that translates to the palate. It also has a bit more body than the Peyrassol and would stand up to heartier food such as lamb or roasted chicken. The last rosé that we’re excited to pair is the D’Aqueria Tavel Rosé. This is a 2022 vintage rosé, but it is a style that takes a little while to open up and show its true colors and this wine right now is drinking just beautifully. This Tavel rosé is an absolute perfect match for any food, from barbecue to steak and desserts. 

You would be hard pressed to find a bad pairing or occasion to drink a bottle of rosé. Our wine team as always is here to help you find the perfect match for whatever event or meal you may be having. You can also just pick a bottle based on your favorite label and still be satisfied with what is in your glass.  

Earth-Friendly: Wine Beyond the Labels

Mary Certain

Mary is a wine enthusiast and Level 3 WSET graduate. She loves walking around Lake Harriet to admire all the happy pups, cooking with her foodie friends and family, and is extremely competitive about jigsaw puzzles.

Wine may technically be a luxury item vs. a necessity, but for many (myself included) it greatly contributes to the enjoyment of life, and is not something I’m looking to cut out. So, with our wine habit here to stay, how can we reduce the environmental impact of our consumption? As with most goals that seem too big or unclear, the important thing is to get started, do the best we can, and keep going!

Buzzwords (Organic, Biodynamic, Sustainably grown, Eco-friendly, etc.) can be a helpful place to start, but can also be redundant or confusing. Beyond that, many wines are made using the same conscientious techniques, and yet for one reason or another they don’t use these terms overtly. The following are a few other pieces I think about when seeking a wine that will be better for the Earth (and taste better, too!)

Vineyard Care

This encompasses everything from water use to pest control to soil stewardship, and beyond. Grape vines take years to mature and are high-maintenance to keep in healthy condition, annually producing the best possible fruit. 

So, I say the single best indicator of a sustainable wine is a wine-maker’s enthusiasm for the site and soil where their grapes are grown. When they have pride in the land they tend, they are judicious with their resources, cautious with interventions, and careful in how they manage the fruit once picked. They take a long-view approach and do what is best for the earth, because that same ground will continue to grow the vines for future years and they know exactly how special it is. 

Love of the land and masterful winemaking knowledge translates to a delightful bottle in Christina Gruner’s Veltliner Austria 2022. 

(Full disclosure; I happened to meet Christina recently and can vouch that she is a lovely gracious person as well as being a passionately responsible winemaker!)

Barrels

Using oak barrels to ferment and age wine is a longstanding tradition, but mature oak trees are a slow-growing resource and add significant cost as well. By using neutral (previously used) barrels for their wine, a winemaker can take advantage of the benefits of oak, allowing it to soften and gain complexity, but without imparting oaky flavor notes. 

This means the hard work of growing healthy grapes in the vineyard isn’t overshadowed by the wood and they are able to reuse existing barrels. Win(e)-win(e)! Queen of Sierra Amber Calaveras County 2023 uses only neutral oak for barrels (as do all wines from Forlorn Hope).

Packaging

This is where we as consumers have the most direct impact! Aside from packaging being a source of waste, the weight of heavy glass bottles is relatively high compared to alternatives and the space required to ship is double. 

If you’re serving wine for a large gathering, consider a boxed wine. The quality and range of options in boxes is constantly increasing as more people are appreciating this flexible option. And if serving a boxed wine feels too informal, simply transfer it into a lovely pitcher or carafe. Bandit Pinot Grigio from California is a great choice and a crowd pleaser!

Riesling Reflections: Literary Inspirations & Wine Explorations

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.

Pairing books and wine is not unlike pairing food and wine, in that I look for areas of congruence and/or contrast, always in search of balance. The pairing can be inspired by many things – a character’s personality, the writing style, the author, where the novel takes place, or my final impression after reading a book. Most books have multiple pairing options, and to create your own, simply consider what elements speak most to you.

Below is a summary of a recent pairing that incorporates one of my favorite grape varieties, Riesling. While it’s made in a range of styles from dry to sweet, with its naturally high acidity, Riesling is always refreshing. (Perfect for spring and summer!) If this pairing inspires you to explore more Riesling, consider the additional recommendations at the end of this post.

And visit my Bookworm blog for the complete book review, wine tasting note, and a lengthier explanation about why the pairing is successful.

The Book: North Woods by Daniel Mason

North Woods by Daniel MasonBroadly, this novel is about a home in New England and all of its inhabitants from colonial times to the present day. It’s filled with evocative language, imaginative characters and delightful surprises – and it’s one of the best books I’ve read in years. While the story is dark at times, it’s also humorous and hopeful.

Among the memorable characters are an orchardist, spinster sisters, a painter, a spirit medium, a mother devoted to her schizophrenic son, and an amateur historian. Their emotional lives are rich with longing, delight, absurdity and deceit. While the people in the home come and go, it is a testament to Mason’s skill as a writer that we remain immersed in their stories.

Nature is featured as largely as any of the characters in the book, and the wooded, rural landscape is described with extraordinary attentiveness. The natural world is a constant, albeit evolving, presence. The chapters follow the months and seasons, illuminating the interconnectedness of all living things.

The author links the home’s inhabitants – and the landscape around them – in extraordinary ways, shining a light on the mystery and magnificence of human existence. North Woods is at once a majestic exploration of the centuries and a detailed study of a specific place. Both undergo tremendous change, filling us with curiosity about the past, wonder at the present, and inevitably, hope for the future.

Ravines RieslingThis dry Riesling comes from the Finger Lakes AVA in central New York State, which is known for it’s deep glacial lakes, gorges, waterfalls and woods. In this cold climate, producers Morten and Lisa Hallgren seek to make wines that “embrace mother nature’s variability.”

Floral aromas of honeysuckle and orange blossom mingle with lemon zest, lime, fresh apricot, just-ripe pineapple, yellow apple and wet stones. This wine is medium bodied with a citrus-forward palate and refreshing acidity, and it’s absolutely delicious.

Why the Pairing Works

For me, Ravines Dry Riesling evokes the lush, forested environment that Mason describes so eloquently in North Woods. Imagine a New England landscape where “(s)lugs leave hieroglyphs on the beech bark,” and a brook “splits the hillside like a tear in the fabric of the earth.” Just as the seasons are integral to this story, so too is climate to wine producers in the Finger Lakes.

While winter here is generally too cold for Vitis vinifera, the exceptionally deep lakes create a special microclimate that allows for viticulture. (Several of these glacial lakes are deeper than the sea floor!) Large bodies of water cool down and heat up more slowly than the surrounding land, which circulates air and moderates temperatures in the nearby vineyards. The best vineyards in the region are located on the steep-sloped shores of lakes Seneca, Keuka and Cayuga.

This Riesling embodies its extraordinary growing region and pairs perfectly with North Woods, where nature takes center stage.

Other Rieslings to Try

While cold-tolerant, late-budding Riesling thrives in the Finger Lakes, most world-class Riesling comes from Germany. Autumn is long, cool, and generally dry, allowing grapes to reach peak sugar ripeness and to retain acidity. Stylistically, the wines range from dry to very sweet. Riesling is known for its ability to age in the bottle where it develops aromas and flavors of honey and toast, but maintains freshness.

The following two German Rieslings are among my favorites at France 44, and they are quite different from one another:

This dry sparkling wine is made using the traditional method, just like Champagne, but it’s produced in the Pfalz from 100% Riesling. The organic grapes are hand harvested, and only the first 50% of the pressing goes into this wine. The base wine is fermented in stainless steel and large oak barrels. Then, it undergoes the traditional second fermentation in bottle, capturing the carbon dioxide, and spends 30 months on the lees.

The lees, which are dead yeast cells, break down and impart texture, richness and notes of brioche. Ripe apple, pear and lemon zest round out the nose and palate, and the bubbles are energetic and refreshing.

I first tasted this wine in a German Wines class at France 44, and I immediately loved it. I was told it’s phenomenal with fried chicken – a pairing I can’t wait to try!

The Karthäuserhof winery in the Mosel is the eighth oldest in the world, dating back to 1335 when Carthusian monks farmed the vineyards. Today, it’s managed by the 7th generation of a family who has owned it since 1811.

While this estate produces mostly dry wines, this one is sweet. Spätlese means late harvest, so as the grapes hang on the vine they accumulate sugar. The riper grapes produce wines with greater flavor concentration and body, which is immediately evident in this wine.

On the nose and palate, expect ripe fruit like apricot, peach, apple, pear, and pineapple, as well as orange blossom, wet stones and ginger. And while the sweetness is noticeable, it’s perfectly balanced by high acidity and fruity flavors.

At 8.5% ABV, this low-alcohol wine pairs nicely with spicy foods as alcohol tends to exacerbate the burning sensation of chili heat.

Women in Wine

Winemakers Cris Yagüe Cuevas and Maria Falcón
Picture of Nicole Collins-Kwong

Nicole Collins-Kwong

Nicole is a wine enthusiast who has completed the WSET 3 certification through France 44 and continues her education with tasting groups and events around town. She adores all wines, especially the unique and unusual styles. When she's not popping corks, Nicole loves to cook, hang with her husband and two boys, and tend to her urban zoo complete with dogs, a cat and chickens!

I recently attended a talk by a prominent importer who specializes in small growers, especially generational family-owned wineries. What struck me most about his talk had nothing to do with the wines, but the casual way he described all winemakers and growers as men. This left a bad taste in my mouth, which was unfortunate, because he was pouring some really great wines!

The phenomenon isn’t entirely surprising, though, given the history of leadership roles passing down from father to son. Or in the absence of a son, son-in-law. Women were typically only allowed to step in when there was a death (check out the book Widow Clicquot about one of the most infamous examples of this).  Things are slowly beginning to shift, with daughters taking over more and more.

 There’s still a long way to go, though. So, what can we do?  

  1. Listen to stories about women in wine: Winesplaining – a podcast hosted by an LA-based sommelier and owner of a female-focused wine shop, the show peels back the layers of the women‘s journeys that are shaping the wine business.
  2. Bolster careers of women who want to BE in wine:
    • March 25 is National Women in Wine Day! Created by two female winemakers from California, the celebration aims to support and empower women seeking to enter the wine business. Their website features dozens of accomplished women and their stories, and invites visitors to nominate more. They also offer scholarship and donation resources to help women on their journey. 
    • Dream Big Darling – a non-profit aiming to help women in the early stages of building their wine careers, they offer education, mentorship, community and access to opportunities.
  3. And perhaps most importantly, drink wine made by women! The wines featured below are all available in the shop. Or ask a staff member for guidance finding MANY additional women-made wines we carry in stock.

Anónimas Wines

Winemakers Cris Yagüe Cuevas and Maria Falcón make Albarino from their home base in the northwest Rias Baixas region of Spain, and also source grapes from other areas of Spain to create highly-rated wines. “Anónimas is a project from the vine to the consumer, a tribute to the anonymous women that should have had their place in history and were never recognized. We collaborate with other women in the world of winegrowers, winemakers and enologists to make these personal wines.”

Anónimas Albariño Os Dunares Rias Baixas 2022 – $25.99

This Albariño is grown less than a mile from the ocean on 30+ year old vines, using sustainable winegrowing processes. No oak aging, unfiltered, this natural wine is dynamic and fun to enjoy on its own or with seafood or Manchego.

Anonimas Wine

Knudsen Vineyards

Page Knudsen Cowles is the owner and managing partner, taking over the family business from her parents, who were some of the first wine pioneers in Oregon in the 1970’s. Fun fact: she also has roots established locally, splitting her time between Minnesota and Oregon.

Knudsen Vineyard Pinot Noir 2019 Willamette Valley – $64.99

This fresh-faced Pinot noir brings light body and a good balance of youthful fruit and complex spices with a whisper of oak in the background. The fruit turns pleasantly tart on the palate with suggestions of orange blossom and allspice, supported by crisp acidity and a pleasantly long finish.

Penley Vineyards

Winner of the 2024 Australian Winemaker of the year, Kate Goodman brings a contemporary winemaking style to the Coonawarra valley. She joins sister owners, Ang and Bec Tolley, to round out this award-winning winery full of women in leadership roles. They make bloody good wine, too!

Penley Cabernet Sauvignon Phoenix Coonawarra 2021 – $21.99

This wine shows dominance of spicy cabernet fruit, a dense ripeness with hints of smoky oak and grape tannin. A wine made to enjoy while young, ripe but elegant, distinct Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon characters are evident.

Penley Vineyards

Zulal

Meaning “pure” in Armenia, Zulal is the creation of Aimee Keushguerian, second-generation winemaker who celebrates native Armenian grape varietals. Her story was recently featured in the documentary, “Somm: Cup of Salvation,” a film about Aimee and her father’s journey to make exceptional wines in one of the most historic, and tumultuous, regions in the world. 

Zulal Areni 2019 – $24.99

Made from the native Armenian grape Areni, this wine brings aromas of red cherries, plums and black pepper. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied with refreshing acidity and concentrated flavors of berries and spices. 

Zulal

The Sláinte Buck

Cocktail in a highball glass sits on a coffee table

🍀 Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in style with a cocktail that pays homage to the Emerald Isle’s rich whiskey tradition: the Sláinte Buck. This delightful cocktail combines the smooth warmth of Irish whiskey with the crisp tang of an Apple Rosemary Shrub, topped off with a touch of ginger beer. The result? A refreshing, crushable cocktail that perfectly balances sweet, tart, and spicy flavors, making it an ideal choice for toasting the occasion. So raise your glass and toast to the luck of the Irish! Sláinte!

  • 2oz Irish Whiskey
  • 1oz Sharab Shrubs Apple Rosemary Shrub
  • Ginger Beer to top
  • Rosemary sprig to garnish (optional)
Shake the whiskey and shrub in a cocktail shaker with ice until lightly chilled and diluted, about 5 seconds. Strain into a highball or Collins glass over fresh ice. Top with ginger beer and lightly stir. Optionally, garnish with a rosemary sprig.
With light notes of toffee and dried fruit, Irish whiskey pairs incredibly well with apple. The acidity from the Shrub provides bite, while the ginger beer rounds out this cocktail with a little sweetness and spice. Undertones of rosemary tie the whole drink together and will leave you wanting a second one. Sláinte!

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!

Complicating the Black Relationship to Wine: Part 2

Barrel holding two wine bottles
Picture of Kaleigh Swift

Kaleigh Swift

Kaleigh has been working with the France 44 events team since January 2023. She received her WSET 1-3 certifications through France 44. Kaleigh also works in communications at the University of Minnesota. In her free time, she enjoys playing and watching volleyball, spending time with her cats, and working on house projects. Kaleigh is an avid vermouth fan and never misses an opportunity to introduce someone to Spanish-style sweet vermouths!

If you read part 1 of this blog post duo, you’ll know a bit more about the early history of fermented alcoholic beverages in pre-colonial Africa, along with some mentions of the first Black viticulturists and vinters in the United States.

Now, we can look more at the “why” behind that history, to help make sense of how we got to today, where Black presence in wine is becoming more visible. This post will look more closely at false stereotypes, Black perceptions of wine, and on my own personal experiences as a consumer and professional in the industry.

While researching the origin of the stereotypes I mentioned last week, which assert that Black people don’t like fuller-bodied, complex wines, I ran into quite a few interesting finds. Several articles that re-affirmed these stereotypes with less than impressive lines of reasoning, some blog posts pushing back, and even a few published research papers.

Quite a few modern pieces hypothesized an explanation for these stereotypes that I think is logical. Racism and white supremacy is a socialization process and system of power that dehumanizes Black and indigenous people, erases their cultures and histories through colonialism, and insists that they are fundamentally incapable of producing complex and “civilized” societies. Through the normalization of these beliefs, especially in America, harmful stereotypes have emerged, rooted in the assertion that Black (and indigenous) people are too uncivilized to understand, participate in, or comprehend the complexities of society.

Black people, almost by default, get excluded from, or written out of wine history because acknowledging our ancestors and their contributions also forces society to reconcile with the fact that, as I mentioned last week, “undoubtedly, where grapes were grown and wine was produced in the new world, slave labor was being used to do so”. Black history and the history of wine are intertwined. We, in fact, are fully capable of understanding wine, having complex palates, and knowledgeably producing quality products.

Articles seeking to broaden the discourse on the Black experience in the wine industry often begin with personal narratives of authors encountering assumptions about their presence at industry events or being directed towards budget and sweeter products. These anecdotes underscore the persistent challenges of racism in the field.

And in my research for this blog, I started to question whether or not this stereotype I’ve been researching, the preference for sweeter wines like moscato among Black wine drinkers, actually existed, or whether it had in some way been manufactured by the industry insisting and marketing folks into believing that was the case.

On the one hand, let’s acknowledge that moscato is an easy drinking wine that is a great intro for folks who are new to wine, or just looking for something a little sweeter. On the other hand, that is the case for all people, not just Black people. And our ability to enjoy wine doesn’t stop at moscato alone, as evidenced by Mother Vines: A History of Black Women and Wine, a research project explaining over 400 years of documented history of Black women’s relationships to wine and exploring this intersectionality between race, class, and gender.

My own experiences of wine have included very little moscato that I can recall. Even prior to studying wine, I purchased primarily Pinot Noirs or Sauvignon Blancs. I was always willing to try new things and found wine to be utterly fascinating.

Some years ago, I started visiting my uncle regularly in the Bay Area, and one of our favorite things to do was go up to Napa wineries. It was during these visits that my journey to becoming a wine professional started. Not because I was in awe of the folks presenting us wines in Napa, but often because I felt like I wanted to know more and my inquisitiveness was often met with derision and hasty answers, lacking depth.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be nurtured by the wine professionals at France 44 who saw my interest as a positive quality and happily answered my questions throughout WSET (a wine certification program administered by France 44), and beyond. I am excited and proud to be Black in wine, and have found a lot of joy in this journey. Unfortunately, this is not the experience of many. We have a long way to go before people who have historically been written out of wine are able to be fully recognized and appreciated for their value and contribution to the industry.